Tag Archives: Lou Gehrig

Ed Barrow’s All-Time All-Stars

26 Mar

“The old-timers. They were better hitters! No question about it.”

Said Ed Barrow after he became president of the New York Yankees in 1939 and Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News had the 71-year-old pick his all-time team.

Barrow

Powers said of Barrow:

“The beetle-browed executive, one of the few remaining links between the gas-lit, coach-and-four, Wee Willie Keeler era and the moderns, boomed at us across his wide, flat-topped desk in the offices of the New York baseball club.”

Barrow was “a great believer in ‘natural born’ stars,’ telling Powers, “A fellow has it—or he hasn’t it.”

He explained his theory:

“Once in a while a manager will make a few minor corrections in stance, or change something here and there, but if player hasn’t the natural coordination, the God-given physique, the reflexes for rhythm and timing, he’ll never get ‘em. Sometimes one man will get more mileage out of his talents than another because he will work harder. That’s why the old-timers were better hitters. They looked at better pitching, and they practiced and practiced and practiced.”

Barrow said there was one reason in particular for why old-timers were better hitters:

“The tipoff is in the strikeout column. The moderns strikeout oftener—and there’s your answer. The present-day hitter is so homerun crazy that half the time he closes his eyes and swings; four bases or nothing! Usually, it’s nothing.”

Barrow’s told Powers:

“Now, on my All-Star, All-Time team I’d put Cobb, Speaker and Ruth in the outfield. Chase, Lajoie, Wagner, and Jimmy Collins in the infield. Matty, Johnson, Waddell, and McGinnity, pitchers. And Bill Dickey, catcher…I’d put Joe DiMaggio on that team as utility outfielder. I’d put Lou Gehrig as substitute first baseman and pinch hitter. Bill Bradley, Eddie Collins, Swede Risberg, and Buck Weaver would also get contracts on this ‘Dream Team.’ Keeler would be another utility outfielder and Bresnahan would be my second catcher. Ruffing and Gomez would fill out my pitching staff!”

Barrow’s All-Stars

Barrow said he could offer “a million reasons’ for the rationale for each selected player. 

“(R)ecords can be misleading…I won’t quote you records of my All-Timers…A man must be in the dugout or in the stands to weigh the merits of a player and not be influenced by a record book.”

He said in choosing his team, he held “no grudges,” which is why he selected Risberg and Weaver, “Black Sox scandal or not.”

He said he would add Joe Jackson to the team, “if I thought he was smart enough. But Jackson, strange to say, was the only dumb one on that whole team. Up until 1938s Yankees—those Black Sox were the best team in baseball!”

As for some of his picks:

“Chase on first base! Nobody near him. He could throw a ball through a knothole, covered the whole infield like a cat, and remember he used a glove that just covered his fingers and seldom had a palm. The ‘peach baskets’ first basemen use today would have been barred years back, Chase could hit behind the runner, bunt, steal, fake a bunt at third and then bunt over the third baseman’s head. He could do all the tricks.”

Chase

He called Napoleon Lajoie “the most graceful second baseman I have ever seen. He had a rifle arm and was as slick as a panther,” and gave him the edge “by a slight margin” over Eddie Collins.

Honus Wagner, who Barrow signed for the Patterson Silk Weavers in 1896, “is my nomination as the greatest individual ballplayer of all time.”

Of his first impression of Wagner, he said:

“He was pretty terrible when I first ran across him, looked awkward as all get-out. But suddenly he would come through with a perfectly dazzling play that had everybody on our bench swallowing his tobacco cud in astonishment.”

Like Lajoie, Barrow said Jimmy Collins just edged out the second choice—Bill Bradley—because:

“Collins could make perfect throws to first from any position. When an infielder makes an off-balance throw today the crowd gives him a big hand. The old timers did it every play because the old ball was slow dribbling out there. Today the lively ball comes out fast in one or two hops, and this gives the third baseman a chance to make his throw from a ‘straightened up’ stance.…Remember, in the old days the ball was dark, wet with slippery elm juice; often it was smudged with grass stains, hard to follow.”

In the outfield, Barrow said, “I don’t think anyone will give you an argument on Cobb-Speaker-Ruth.”

He called Ty Cobb “the greatest hitter of all time,” with “a lightning-quick brain and plenty of gut.”

Babe Ruth, he said was, in addition to the being the “great slugger of all-time,” changed the game because of “His salary, his magnetic personality, and his publicity.”

Tris Speaker “was superb. A good hitter, a great fielder, a brainy man. He was so confident of his ability ‘to go back’ he practically camped on second base.”

Of the pitching staff, he said Christy Mathewson “could do almost everything with a baseball—practically make it talk.”

Of Walter Johnson he said:

“He had awe-inspiring speed. You’d stand up there watching and suddenly—pfffft—pfffft—pfffft. Three phantom bullets whizzed past. Too fast for your eyes to focus ‘em.”

Rube Waddell was “the best lefthander” he had seen.

Joe McGinnity appeared to be a sentimental choice:

“(He) was a work horse, a competent soul who loved the game so much I believe he’d work for nothing.”

Bill Dickey, he said was not “given the credit” he deserved:

“He’s a hitter. A workmanlike receiver. Handles pitchers marvelously. Has a good arm. Is fast. Is always one jump ahead of the opposition. Dickey does everything well.”

“They Make just as many Fumbles as we did”

1 Mar

The summer before his death in 1932, 73-year-old Dan Brouthers, “Sat in the shade under the Yankee Stadium bleachers where Babe Ruth hits all those home runs.”

Brouthers spoke to Harold Burr of The Brooklyn Eagle:

“(He) admits that baseball has changed quite a bit…’But it hasn’t changed either,’ the old fellow, a giant of a man in shirt sleeves and straw hat contradicted himself. ‘I notice when the boys go out on the field nowadays, they make just as many fumbles as we did, pull just as many bones.”

Dan Brouthers

Brouthers said he didn’t believe players of his generation would have “ever made an error if,” they played on the current fields.

“’Do you know I never saw a groundskeeper until I played in Brooklyn in ’82? He was a curiosity. I used to take a rake myself and clean up around first base just before the game started. Then I’d pass it along to the second baseman, the third baseman.’

“’What about the shortstop?’

“’Oh, you mean Pop Smith?’ questioned Brouthers, the old eyes that were keen enough once upon a time in the past for their owner to lead the big-league batters for five seasons, lit up in admiration: ‘Pop didn’t need any rake.’”   

Brouthers told Burr he could not recall how many homeruns he hit but “remembers ever detail” of the 1887 World Series with the St. Louis Browns:

“Charlie Comiskey was on first base for them. Detroit slugged them to death, winning eight of the first 11 games. But the contract called for 15 games and we played it out. (Beginning with game 4) we went to Pittsburgh for a game—Brooklyn –New York—two games in Philadelphia—one in Washington—Baltimore—Boston—back to Brooklyn –Detroit—Chicago—and wound up in St. Louis. We traveled in a special train and were 28 days on the road.

“The crowds were good through all the barnstorming and the traveling World Series played to 15,000 and 20,000 people a day. Regular season prices prevailed—75 cents—in grandstand and 50 and 25 cents in the bleachers.”

Brouthers didn’t mention that he was injured and had just three at bats during the series, won by Detroit 10 games to five.

“No,” said Brouthers in the end, ‘the game hasn’t changed. But I guess there are more good hitters around.”

He said:

“’I see a lot of the Babe’s homers up there,’ pointing through the skeleton scaffolding of the bleachers looming above him. ‘I like to watch (Chuck) Klein and (Lou) Gehrig ride ‘em. Gehrig is strong as a bear. And Babe Herman. The kids are the same too wanting you to sign their books and baseballs. Only it was cigarette pictures we had to autograph.”

Brouthers then asked, “‘When will this story be in the paper, mister?’” Burr said Sunday:

“’I’ll bring you up some copies of it.’

“’Bring me one,’ said the quaint Dan Brouthers, ‘I’ll read it first and let you know if I want anymore.’”

“You Could Feel his Resentment”

22 Feb

After spending years as one of the loudest voices for the integration of professional baseball, Wendell Smith broke his own color barriers. He was the second African American member of the Baseball Writers Association of America–after Sam Lacy– and the first to have a byline in a big city white daily paper leaving The Pittsburgh Courier and joining the Hearst owned Chicago Herald-American in 1948.

Smith

Years later, William Rhoden quoted Smith’s widow Wyonella in his column in The New York Times regarding smith’s move:

“When he came to Chicago to write, he told the Hearst people. ‘I will not be your black writer. I’m not going to just write about blacks in sports. If you want me to be a sportswriter here, I’m going to right about all sports, and I’m going to do it fairly.’”

In 1963 he became a sports anchor, first at WGN-TV and later WBBM-TV in Chicago.  He also began writing a weekly column for The Chicago Sun-Times; but never gave up his new crusade for the recognition of Negro League stars; in 1971 he made the case for Josh Gibson’s enshrinement in Cooperstown:

“He hit home runs higher and farther than any batter of his time, including George Herman (Babe) Ruth, whose feats are immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

“He was a big, strong, intelligent catcher. He was as magnificent behind the plate as any of his major league contemporaries, including Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, and Gabby Hartnett, all of whom have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

“He played someplace summer and winter, spring and fall over a span of 16 years. He had the endurance and stamina of Lou Gehrig, who played in 2130 consecutive games from 1925 to 1939, a major league record. Gehrig is in the Hall of Fame. He is not.”

Gibson

Smith said of Gibson’s presence in the batter’s box:

“When he planted his immense, flat feet in the batter’s box, bent his knees slightly and cocked his bat with the most muscular arms and hands in baseball, apprehension invariably seized the defenders in the field.”

Because, said Smith, ”There are no authentic records, unfortunately to substantiate the thunder in Josh Gibson’s bat, nor his skills behind the plate,” he turned to “reliable former teammates who were there with him,” and other contemporaries to tell his story:

Roy Campanella told Smith about the night Gibson hit three home runs off Andy Porter in Wheeling, West Virginia. Campanella told a slightly different version of the story than he had 12 years earlier in his book “It’s Good to be Alive:”

“’He hit three home runs that night,’ Campanella recently recalled, with a note of awe and excitement in his highly pitched voice. ‘Each one was farther than the other.’

“’There was a mountain there, a good distance behind the left field fence…His first drive landed at the bottom of the mountain. The next one landed dead center, and the next almost cleared the mountain. When he came to bat the fourth time, I said to Porter, ‘what are you going to do with him this time?’ He said, ‘I’m going to walk him. ‘And we did.’”

In the book, Campanella said Gibson hit four runs in four at-bats, with each being longer until the fourth cleared the hill.

Bill Yancey told Smith about another Gibson three-home run performance, this one in New York:

“He walloped three that day and one of them was the quickest home run I ever saw. It was out of the park before the outfielders could turn their heads to watch it. It landed behind the Yankee Stadium bullpen, some 500 feet away. He didn’t loft it, he shot it out of there.”

Alex Pompez the one-time owner of the Cuban Stars and the New York Cubans, then a scout for the Giants, and had just joined Smith as a charter member of the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, told a story about a game at the Polo Grounds:

“Dave Barnhill was pitching for the Cubans. There were two on in the ninth and we were leading 3 to 2. Showboat Wright [sic, Dave “Showboat” Thomas] our first baseman, called time and walked to the mound. ‘Let’s walk him’ he said to Barnhill.

“Barnhill as a cocky pitcher. He refused (the) suggestion and insisted on pitching to Josh. He threw Gibson a curve ball and Josh hit it in the top tier of the left field stands. The last we saw the ball was when it went through an open door up there and disappeared.”

Pompez

After Pat Scantlebury gave up three home runs to Gibson in another game, he told Pompez:

“I pitched him high the first time and he hit it out of the park. So, the next time I pitched him low and he hit that one out, too. The third time, I pitched him tight and it followed the others out. When he batted the fourth time, I started to roll it to him, but instead I walked him.”

Smith also sought out Gibson’s sister, Annie Mahaffey and Ted Page who was “closer to Josh than any other player.”

Smith visited Mahaffey in her home in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s Northside. He noted “Strangely, there are no pictures of Josh Gibson,” in her home:

“The resemblance between Annie Mahaffey and her brother, Josh, is striking indeed. She has the same round, brown face. Her gentle smile is contagious.

“’He’d come here whenever he was in town,’ Annie recalls with a note of pride in her voice, ‘and he’d have us laughing about the funny things that happened on the road. He would sit here and talk, have a sandwich maybe, and just keep us amused with his stories. He loved life, Josh did.’”

Page said:

“He’d never talk about himself. I never heard him say one thing about himself that was intended to impress someone.

“He was extremely modest. I roomed with him in this country and South America and got to know him well.  If he hit four home runs in a game—which he did many times—you’d never know anything about it if you were getting your news of the game from him. He’d never walk up to you and say, ‘Well, I hit four of ‘em today.’”

Page

Page said Gibson was the opposite of Satchel Paige:

“When Satch pitched a no hitter, he told the whole world about it. We got little or no space in the daily papers, so he’d sit around and those third-rate hotels we lived in, and in taverns and restaurants, and tell everybody about his achievements. Everyone would gather round Satch and he’d spin tall tales for them, and they’d go away laughing and talking about him. Josh would never do that.”

Sportswriters, Page said, “always complained that he wouldn’t open up and talk about himself.”

Gibson’s sister said “he talked baseball all the time at home. He talked about other players and how good they were, and how many games were won or lost on certain types of strategy…Josh used to laugh so hard when telling a story he’d shake all over.”

Page said Gibson “loved baseball, never got bored with the game nor the terrible conditions we had to tolerate at times.”

Gibson also did not join his teammates “playing cards or meeting girls,” Page said:

“Josh was seldom with them. We’d go to an ice cream parlor or some other harmless place and talk baseball.”

Gibson’s sister and Page saw his reaction to baseball segregation differently.

Mahaffy said:

“There were all kinds of racial problems in those days, but Josh never let them get him down. If they ever bothered him, he never said so. He never once mentioned the fact that the color bar in the majors was a terrible injustice. He laughed off most of the things that happened to him.”

Page said:

“Josh never talked about the organized baseball ban against us. But he was always aware of it and it finally killed him. He kept things to himself, but if you knew him you could feel his resentment. We went to see a lot of big-league games and when he saw players who were inferior to him, he became sullen and the bitterness seemed to just ooze from him.”

Both agreed that Gibson didn’t drink until his final years.

After Jackie Robinson signed, his sister said:

“This was just about the time he started having dizzy spells and blackouts. He also became a heavy drinker.”

The dizzy spells, said Page, caused him to “stagger and stumble, whenever he looked up,” and “Josh’s drinking was a symptom of his affliction. He knew his time was short and that he’d never get a break in the majors…He tried to submerge his misfortune in drink.”

Smith closed:

:”The deadly curse that had been upon Josh Gibson all his life finally claimed him…Eighty days later Jackie Robinson became the first Negro player in modern big league history.

“That was 23 years ago.

“Josh Gibson should be immortalized in Cooperstown.

“What price, Hall of Fame?”

Less than a year later, Gibson was enshrined along with Buck Leonard; Smith died nine months later, he was 58. He was awarded the JG Taylor Spink Award 21 years after his death.

“An Awkward Bunch of Monkeys”

24 Dec

Arlie Latham was the oldest living former major leaguer in 1951—the 91-year-old made his major league debut 71 years earlier.

Will Grimsley of The Associated Press tracked down “The Freshest Man of Earth” and had him pick his all-time all-star team:

“(Latham) has seen them all from Cap Anson right down to Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial.

“’It is tough picking this team,’ said the thin, bent old infielder of baseball’s cradle days, whose memory is still razor-sharp. ‘There are so many good players—so many, especially today.”

Unlike many 19th Century veterans, Latham only selected three players whose careers began before 1900. He said:

“I think the players today are far better than back in the old times. Why, on the whole there is no comparison. Where we had one or two stars on a team back then today every man has to be standout to hold his position.”

Latham at 91

Latham’s team:

P: Cy Young, Rube Waddell, Carl Hubbell, Christy Mathewson

C: Bill Dickey

1B: Bill Terry

2B; Frankie Frisch

#B: Pie Traynor

SS: Honus Wagner

OF Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio

Latham called Cobb, “the greatest all-around player there was.”

He gave Terry the nod over Lou Gehrig because “he was a smoother fielder.”

Buck Ewing was the only catcher “he’d mention in the same breath” as Dickey.

He said “it was hard” to keep Walter Johnson off.

Of his own career, Latham said:

“I was the best man of my day at getting out of the way of a hard-hit ball.”

Arlie Latham

He called the players of his era, “an awkward bunch of monkeys.”

Latham died the following year at age 92.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #30

30 Jan

Reddy’s Last Words

When Tom “Reddy” Miller, the catcher for the 1875 St. Louis Brown Stockings, died in May of 1876 (he was, depending on the source, somewhere between 24 and 26 years old at the time of his death), The St. Louis Globe-Democrat noted his handling of pitcher George Bradley:

“The brilliant manner in which the plucky little fellow supported Bradley last season is a matter of record.”

gwbradley

Bradley

Apparently, according to The Chicago Tribune, catching Bradley was the last thing Miller thought about before his death:

“In his last moments he was delirious, and fancied he was at his place in the ball-field, facing his old pitcher, Bradley. His last words were ‘Two out, Brad—steady, now—he wants a high ball—steady, brad—there, I knew it; that settles it.’”

Altrock on Alexander, 1928

On June 11, 1928, 41-year-old Grover Cleveland Alexander held the Boston Braves to one run on nine hits in an 8 to 1 complete game victory. Nick Altrock, Washington Senators coach, told The Cleveland News:

“Boston got nine hits off Grover Alexander Monday, but got one run, which is why I claim Alex is the world’s greatest pitcher. He is as easy to hit as a punching bag, but you can’t knock him off the rope. Alex pitches like a busted chewing gum slot machine. You keep dropping your nickels in it but no chewing come comes out.”

oldpete

Alexander

Alexander was 16-9 with a 3.36 ERA for the pennant winning St. Louis Cardinals.

Baker’s Homerun Ball, 1911

Frank Baker’s game-tying ninth inning home run off Christy Mathewson in game three of the 1911 World Series quickly became legendary, and people began asking about the whereabouts of the ball.

baker2

Baker

The New York Bureau of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch solved “The great mystery of what became of the ball” three days later:

“In the Brush stadium Tuesday, occupying a seat in the eighth row on the projecting line drawn through home and first, sat Mrs. Charles F. Hunt of 537 West 149th Street. Her husband Dr. Hunt, is a physician to the Yankees.”

According to the paper, just as Baker connected:

“(S)omeone got up in his seat just ahead of Mrs. Hunt and she could not follow the course of the ball. The man apparently tried to catch it.

“Then as Mrs. Hunt sat still the ball flattened the left side of her head with a blow on the left temple.”

Despite being dizzy, the paper said Hunt continued watching the game, “pluckily refusing medical attention.”

Hunt also refused to be taken out of the stands, telling her husband:

“I feel so hysterical that if I try to go out, I’m afraid I’ll create a scene.”

After the Athletics won 3 to 2 in 11 innings, Hunt remained in her seat for another hour, and when she finally returned home, the paper said she spent the next 24 hours ill in bed, and “the bump” remained on her head:

“What became of the ball? Oh, yes. Mrs. Hunt didn’t get it. The moment it fell from her head to the floor, a youth grabbed it.”

Gehrig on the Greatest “Team man, 1937

Dan Daniel of The New York World Telegram did his part to add to the Babe Ruth/ Lou Gehrig feud in February of 1937—just days after Ruth questioned Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, calling it “One of the worst mistake a ballplayer could make.”

Daniel visited with Gehrig in his New Rochelle home, and asked readers if their was a “War between” the two.

He said he asked Gehrig to name the all-time greatest player; Gehrig responded

“Honus Wagner the flying Dutchman…I say Wagner because there was a marvelous player who went along doing a grand job without any thought of himself. He was the team man of all time.”

gehrig

Gehrig

In addition to his snub of Ruth, Gehrig talked about his “greatest thrill” and the best pitcher he ever faced:

“’The greatest thrill of my baseball career?’ Gehrig furnished the reply without a moment’s hesitation. ‘It came when I hit that home run off Carl Hubbell in the third inning of the fourth game of the World Series last October…You don’t hit against very many pitchers like Hubbell in a lifetime and you don’t hit very many homers off the Hubbells in such situations.’ The Iron Horse continued.

“’But the greatest hurler I have seen was not Carl. My vote goes to Lefty Grove. When that bird was powdering them in at the top of his form, he was about as terrible a proposition for a hitter as you could imagine, even in a wild nightmare.’”

“That Shows how a Baseball Player’s Mind Works Sometimes”

20 Apr

Associated Press (AP) reporter Paul Mickelson spoke with New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, “In the spacious reception room of his big brewery on Third Avenue,” in February of 1937.  The subject; Ruppert’s complaint about the “unreasonable demands” of his players, specifically Lou Gehrig and Lefty Gomez whom the “owner aimed punch after punch.”

ruppert

Jacob Ruppert

Ruppert said Gehrig and Gomez had cost the Yankees the pennant in 1935 because of their post season barnstorming tour of Japan:

“’Gehrig comes to my office contract in hand and says he ought to get more than $31,000 next season.’ The Colonel opened up on his star first baseman.  ‘He doesn’t say a word about his poor season in 1935 when he got $31,000 too.  He doesn’t mention that he made more than $6000 in the World Series.  All he could remember is what he did (in 1936).

“So, I told him about it, refreshed his memory.  I told him we were just getting back some of the money we lost in the lean years and that if he and Gomez hadn’t gone to Japan we would have won the 1935 pennant.  He hasn’t much to say but he leaves his contract.  Hmph.”

During his “poor season” in 1935, Gehrig hit .329 with 30 home runs and 120 RBI.

gehrig

Gehrig

He then turned his attention to Gomez, who followed his great 26-5 2.33ERA season with a 1215 3.18 ERA in 1935 after the Japan trip after his second straight sub par season in 1936 (13-7 4.39), Gomez’ salary was cut from $20,000 to $13,500:

“’And Gomez.  He’s got a lot of nerve saying we offered him a bat boy’s salary.  He’s lucky we didn’t cut him worse than we did.  After he got back from Japan, he couldn’t pitch up a dark alley.  He did a poor job in ’35 and not much better last season.  Still we paid him well. Hmph.”

 

gomez

Gomez

Ruppert wasn’t finished, and next directed his wrath at Jake Powell.  Powell was acquired by the Yankees from the Washington Senators in June of 1936, and hit .302 with New York, and led the Yankees with a .455 average in the World Series:

“’He beats them all,’ said the colonel.  ‘He calls my attention to the number of hits he made in the World Series.  That’s a laugh.  On that basis, what about poor (Bill) Dickey?  He made only three hits to Powell’s 10.  I suppose then, I should pay Powell three times as much as I pay Dickey.  That shows how a baseball player’s mind works sometimes.”

Powell got a raise to $9000 for the 1937 season.

Ruppert finished the interview with his favorite story from the 1936 series.  Catcher Bill Dickey hit .120.  Rupert said Dickey approached him in his box before one at bat:

“’Rub this bat for me Mr. Rupert,’ he said.  ‘Then I’ll hit a home run sure.’

“’Bill went up to bat with blood in his eyes,’ laughed the colonel.  “And struck out.’”

Gomez continued his holdout until March 5 when he accepted his pay cut, Gehrig signed March 18, The AP reported that he signed for $36,000; Gehrig had asked for $40,000.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #17

10 Feb

Honus Wagner on Integration, 1939

As part of a series of articles on the long overdue need to integrate major league baseball, Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier interviewed many of baseball’s biggest names.  One of the most vocal proponents was Honus Wagner.

Wagner

Wagner

The then 65-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates coach told Smith:

“Most of the great Negro players I played against have passed on, but I remember many of them well.

Rube Foster was one of the greatest pitchers of all time.  He was the smartest pitcher I have ever seen in all my years of baseball.

“Another great player was John Henry Lloyd.  They called him ‘The Black Wagner’ and I was always anxious to see him play.

“Well, one day I had an opportunity to go see him play.  After I saw him I felt honored that they should name such a great ballplayer after me, honored.”

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

Wagner said the “Homestead Grays had some of the best ballplayers I have ever seen.”

John Henry lloyd

John Henry lloyd

Although he misidentified one of them as “lefty,” Wagner also said of William Oscar Owens, a pitcher and outfielder for the Grays and several other clubs:

“He was a great pitcher and one of the best hitters I have ever seen.”

More recently, Wagner said Oscar CharlestonJasper “Jap” Washington, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson “could have made the grade easily had they been accepted.”

Wagner concluded:

“Yes, down through the years, I have seen any number of Negro players who should have been in big league baseball.”

 

Uniform Criticism, 1923

The Decatur (IL) Herald found the state of baseball uniforms worthy of an editorial in March of 1923:

“Pictures of baseball players in training reveal that the season of 1923 has brought no marked change in the style of uniform.  It is quite as baggy and unbecoming as ever.

“Baseball players refer to their costumes as ‘monkey suits,’ a term that is supposed to establish some sort of connection with the cut of the affairs worn by the little animals that pick up the organ grinder’s pennies.  However, that may be, no sensible man imagines that his uniform accentuates his good looks.  It is purely a utility costume and smartness has no place in it.”

ruthandgehrig

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in their “baggy and unbecoming” 1923 uniforms

 

The paper was most concerned about the uniform’s tendency to make players look foolish and appear to be out of shape:

“A collarless blouse with an awkward length sleeve bags at the belt in a way to emphasize abdominal prominence instead of athletic trimness about the loins.  Loose knickerbockers gathered at the knee resemble the khaki uniforms of the Spanish-American War period in their voluminousness and wrinkles…A cap fitting close about the head and bringing ears into striking relief is the climatic feature of this make-up.

“Underneath this covering of dirty gray or brown there are doubtless lithe limbs and well developed muscles, but the spectator doesn’t see them.  The baseball costume doubtless serves its purpose, it fails lamentably to make the wearer look like an athlete.”

No Women Allowed, 1912

Coming out of the 1912 winter meetings in Chicago, The New York Globe said:

“Nothing doing for suffragettes in the American League!  Not even if they march to the meeting.  They may be making great progress in their cause, but there will not be any Mrs. Brittons in the Ban Johnson organization.”

“Mrs. Britton” was Helene Hathaway Britton, who became owner of the St. Louis Cardinals after the death of her uncle Stanley Robison.

Helene Hathaway Britton with children Marie and Frank

Helene Hathaway Britton with children Marie and Frank

 “A decision was reached that no woman can own a club or even attend an American League meeting.  According to the owners it was a good decision, as they did not want to get into the same mess of trouble which the National League has encountered since one of its clubs fell into the hands of a woman.  Which shows the American League is constantly being benefitted by the experience of the National.”

The “trouble” referred to tension between Britton and Manager Roger Bresnahan, who she had given a five-year contract before the 1912 season.  The two feuded after the team struggled and Britton rejected numerous overtures from Bresnahan to buy the team.  She eventually fired the manager and a very public battle ensued.  Sinister “Dick” Kinsella, who along with Bill Armour comprised the Cardinals’ scouting staff, resigned claiming Bresnahan was “Not treated right.” Armour remained with the club and a settlement was finally reached when Bresnahan was named manager of the Chicago Cubs.

bresnahanandtoy

Bresnahan moved on to the Cubs

One American League owner told The Globe:

“I think it will benefit our league to keep the women out of baseball.  It is almost impossible to do so, but we must keep them out of baseball.  A woman owning a ballclub is about the limit, and the American League made a great move when they decided to bar female magnates.  Votes for the women may be alright, and we do not blame them for battling for them, but it would be a terrible thing to have them in baseball as owners.  It would mean the ruining of the game.”

Grace Comiskey, who became owner of the Chicago White Sox after the death of her husband John Louis Comiskey in 1939–she was forced to go to court to get control of the club from The First National Bank of Chicago; as trustees of the estate, the bank wanted to sell the team because there was no specific instruction in the will that his widow should take control.

She became the American League’s first woman owner.

The game appears not to have been “ruined” during her tenure.

“The Aristocrat of all Mascots”

1 Jul

Shortly after the 1920 World Series, The Associated Press (AP) claimed to have discovered why the Brooklyn Robins, after taking two out of three games from the Indians at home, dropped four straight in Cleveland:

“At last the secret…is out.  The Dodgers declined to take their mascot, Eddie Bennett, with them to the lair of the Indians, and without his lucky presence they were swamped.  And not only that.  Bennett, indignant over having been left at home, has quit the Brooklyns!  That’s revenge!”

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said, Bennett, a Brooklyn native, came to the attention of baseball fans in 1919 when he served as bat boy and mascot for the American League Champion Chicago White Sox:

“(H)e used to hang around the players’ entrance to the ballparks on both sides of the bridge.  The Yankees were playing at the Polo Grounds then, and one day one of the White Sox noticed a wistful little fellow in the front row of hero worshippers.”

Eddie Bennett

Eddie Bennett

White Sox outfielder Oscar “Happy” Felsch, noticed Bennett suffered from kyphosis (the excessive curvature of the spine—in Bennett’s case it was said to have been caused by an injury when he fell out of his stroller as an infant) and asked “’Are you lucky?’ ‘Sure,’ cried Eddie Bennett eagerly.”  With Bennett serving as bat boy, the Sox defeated the Yankees.  With that:

“Felsch spoke to Eddie Cicotte about taking him back to Chicago. Cicotte spoke to Manager (William) Kid Gleason.  Eddie Bennett became the official White Sox mascot.”

Bennett spent the rest of the season with the Sox and roomed with pitcher Dickie Kerr on the road. After the Black Sox scandal broke—Bennett told reporters, “I was one of the honest ones”—the 16-year-old returned to New York and went to work for the Robins.

Dean Snyder, writing for Scripps’ Newspaper Enterprise Association, said of Bennett during Brooklyn’s pennant run:

“(The Robins) bought the kid a swell uniform and told him to hang around.

“From the day he started as the official mascot…things began to look up.”

But, Snyder noted, Bennett was strictly a mascot and not a bat boy in Brooklyn:

“Little Eddie is a hunchback. The players positively forbid him to touch their bats.  They just want him to stick around. They’re might superstitious about their war clubs.”

After being left home by the Robins for the club’s ill-fated trip to Cleveland, Bennett jumped to the Yankees; he told The AP:

“I’m going to be with a real club this year.  Oh boy, to watch that (Babe) Ruth sock them every day.”

Bennett with Ruth

Bennett with Ruth

For the third straight season, Bennett was part of a pennant winner, and for the third straight year his team lost the World Series.  But this time he stayed put and remained a fixture with the Yankees for another decade.

American League Umpire Billy Evans, in one of his syndicated columns, said Bennett took his position very seriously and related a story about seeing him in a restaurant during a Yankee losing streak:

“Bennett was seated across from me at a table in the diner. We were served at about the same time, and I noticed he ate but little of the food he had ordered.

“’Something wrong with the food Eddie?’ I ventured.

“’The food is all right, I guess there is something wrong with me,’ replied Eddie.

“’Cheer up, Eddie.  The Yankees can’t lose all of them,’ I said with a laugh.

“’Babe hasn’t made a home run in a week.  The team never gets any runs for Bob Shawkey.  Every time Scotty (shortstop Everett Scott) makes an error it means a run.  Waite Hoyt has a bad inning every game,’ was Eddie’s come back.

“’Why worry about these things, Eddie?’ The Yankee mascot looked at me in a puzzled manner, as if I might be joshing him.

“’That’s my business, I’m a mascot,’ said Eddie in all seriousness.  ‘I am supposed to bring luck, to help Ruth make home runs, keep Scotty from making errors, have the team get runs for Shawkey, and no bad innings for Hoyt.’

“Eddie was disgusted at my failure to appreciate the importance of his position.”

In 1928, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle called Bennett “(T)he aristocrat of all mascots…eight flags in 10 years is the mark for other mascots, living and still to be born to try to equal.  It will probably never be beaten.”

Bennett’s career came to an end in May of 1932; according to The United Press (UP) he was riding in a cab which crashed and “was pinned to a pole,” Bennett suffered several broken bones, including a leg broken in several places, and spent months in the hospital. (The AP said he was hit by the cab while walking).

He made a brief, dramatic return to the Yankees a year later.

On May 23, 1933, Bennett entered the Yankees clubhouse on crutches in the midst of what The International News Service called “The great home run famine.”  Neither Babe Ruth nor Lou Gehrig had hit one since April 30:

“It was the longest home run slump for the twins since they started making life miserable for American League pitchers.  For weeks they rubbed their carcasses and bats with sundry kinds of magic oils and rabbit’s feet, consulted Yogi’s and employed every luck charm known to the superstitious in an effort to shake off the jinx.  It took Eddie Bennett, the little cripple who formerly was the club’s bat boy, to shatter the jinx.  Before yesterday’s game he solemnly tapped both sluggers with his magic crutch and that turned the trick.”

Eddie Bennett

Eddie Bennett

Both Ruth and Gehrig hit home runs off Oral Hildebrand (who came into the game with a 6-0 record) in an 8 to 6 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

It was a final happy moment for Bennett.

While he continued to be paid by Yankees owner Jacob Rupert, depression and alcoholism consumed the last years of his life.  The 31-year-old, “aristocrat of all mascots,” was found dead on January 17, 1935, according to The UP “cold and stiff in his drab rooming home…He lived out his days among his baseball trophies, drinking steadily”

Edit:  As noted in the comments, I say above that Bennett left the White Sox “when the scandal broke,”  which implies September of 1920 when the grand jury was impaneled. I should have said “when rumors of the scandal broke,” which began during the 1919 series and continued throughout the 1920 season.

“If Baseball is really the National Game let the Club Owners go out and prove it”

4 May

Haywood Broun, columnist for The New York World-Telegram, shook up the annual Baseball Writers Association dinner in February of 1933.  The Pittsburgh Courier said Broun “struck out boldly in advocacy of admitting Negroes to the charmed circle of big leagues.”

Heywood Campbell Broun

Heywood Broun

Broun said (and later wrote in The World-Telegram):

“I can see no reason why Negroes should not come into the National and American Leagues.

“Why in the name of fair play and gate receipts should professional baseball be so exclusive?”

[…]

“The introduction of a few star Negro ball players would do a great deal to revivify interest in the big leagues.  It would attract a number of colored rooters. And it would be a fair and square thing.  If baseball is really the national game let the club owners go out and prove it.”

Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News said he polled the dinner guests after Broun’s remarks:

“I made an informal tour around the tables asking club owners and players their reactions to Broun’s little talk.  I was amazed at the sentiment in favor of the idea.”

Powers claimed that Yankees owner Jacob Rupert, St. Louis Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey, and Babe Ruth were all in support of Broun’s statement.   John McGraw the dinner’s guest of honor—he had resigned as manager of the New Giants the previous summer due to his failing health—was, according to Powers, “The only prominent man present vetoing” the idea.

John McGraw

John McGraw vetoed the idea

 

Salem Tutt Whitney, a prominent star of the black vaudeville circuit, commented on McGraw in the pages of The Chicago Defender:

“John McGraw and his Giants have been the idols of the Colored baseball fans.  Whenever and wherever there had been talk about the color line in major league baseball, the Colored fans were a unit that declared that if John McGraw could have his way there would be no color line.  ‘Didn’t he play (Charlie) Grant at second base on the Giants!’  ‘Look how long he employed a Colored trainer (Ed Mackall)!’”

[…]

 “It is my opinion that if the Colored baseball fans of Harlem are not convinced that Mr. McGraw has nothing more to do with the Giants, there will be a lack of personal color in bleachers and stands at the Giants’ stadium this summer.”

Salem Tutt Whitney

Salem Tutt Whitney

Not content to simply report on Broun’s pitch for integration, Powers made his own:

“I would like to make a case for the colored baseball player.  In football, Duke Slater, Fritz Pollard and Paul Robeson and stars of similar complexion played with and against the cream of Nordic colleges.  Eddie Tolan, Ralph Metcalfe and Phil Edwards have conducted themselves in a gentlemanly—not to mention championship—fashion.  Boxing has known Joe Gans, Sam Langford, Joe Walcott and Tiger Flowers.  There are only three popular sports in which the dark-skinned athletes are snubbed—tennis, golf and baseball.”

The New York Age approved:

“Here’s hoping all the other big white sportswriters have the courage of Jimmy Powers.”

Chester Washington, a sports writer at The Pittsburgh Courier announced that the paper was launching “A symposium of opinion, coming from outstanding figures in baseball circles,” designed to demonstrate a broad coalition of support for integration.

The Courier reported “The first of these statements,” in response to Washington’s outreach the following week—and it was a rather incredible one from John Heydler, president of the National League, who said:

“Beyond the fundamental requirement that a major league player must have unique ability and good character and habits, I do not recall one instance where baseball has allowed either race, creed or color enter into the selection of its players.”

Gerald Nugent “aggressive young owner of the Phillies,” was next to respond to The Courier:

“Nugent calls attention to the fact that no ‘color line’ is drawn on the dollars which are spent by colored and white fans for admissions in the various big-league parks…He further declares that the average colored semi-pro league player is better than his white brother in the same category.”

Support continued to come.  Chicago White Sox President J. Louis Comiskey:

“You can bet your last dime that I’ll never refuse to hire a great athlete simply because he isn’t the same color of some other player on my team if the alleged bar is lifted.”

While Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis did not respond to The Courier, his right-hand man, Leslie O’Connor said “(T)here isn’t any rule which keeps colored players out.”  But, like Heydler, he made the incredible claim that “the subject of Negro ball players had never been brought up,” among the Major League Advisory Council.

Based on the initial responses, William Goldwyn Nunn, The Courier’s managing editor, expressed great, if premature, optimism:

“And the color will be black!

“As sure as the Ides of March are approaching, there’s going to be some added color in the Major Leagues.  AND, THAT COLOR WILL BE BLACK!”

Meanwhile Jimmy Powers quoted Lou Gehrig and Herb Pennock of the Yankees and Frankie Frisch of the Cardinals in The Daily News, all said they were “open-minded,” about the possibility integration.

pennock

Pennock “Open-minded”

 

Two more prominent sportswriters came out in support:  Dan Parker of The New York Daily Mirror, and Gordon Mackay, who had been sports editor of three Philadelphia papers—The Enquirer, The Press and The Public Ledger.

And then, as abruptly as it began, the movement died.

Despite the brief groundswell of support, by the time the major league season opened Alvin J. Moses, another writer for The Courier admonished the papers readers:

“Aren’t you somewhat ashamed of yourselves that you haven’t seen fit to spare the time to flood (the paper) with letters that cry out against these NEGROPHOBES who for more than half a century have kept Negro ballplayers out of league competition?

“The cry of ‘Play Ball, Play Ball, Play Ball?’ is heard today in hundreds of parks the county over, and baseball statisticians have figured to show more than 40,000,000 fans walk past the turnstiles.  But what does that cry mean to you, and you, and you? Well, I’ll tell you—absolutely nothing.”

 

 

Lost Advertisements–Connie Mack Day in Cleveland

6 Sep

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A 1938 Advertisement printed in Cleveland newspapers for Connie Mack Day.

The Philadelphia Athletics manager was honored on June 19 in front of 20,000 fans at Cleveland Stadium.  The ad listed every “star player developed by the grand old man of baseball.”

The baseball world pays tribute to that grand master of the National Game

Connie Mack

President and Manager of the Athletics

Connie Mack’s major league career dates back to 1886–52 years ago.

He became an American League manager in 1900 and had served as manager of the Athletics from 1901 to date–the longest record of continuous managerial service in the entire history of the sport.

He has to his credit nine American League pennants (1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1930, 1931) and five world championships (1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930).

The list of star players discovered and developed by him is a tremendous honor roll to his credit.

His city has awarded him the $10,000 annual award for outstanding performance to the credit of Philadelphia.

A kindlier man never lived.  A greater baseball strategist never lived.  We do ourselves credit to honor this great sportsman and gentleman.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer said Mack was presented with “a handsomely bound leather book in which were the signatures of every person in organized baseball from Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis down to the greenest rookie in the West Texas-New Mexico League.”  Cleveland’s baseball writers also presented Mack with an engraved gold pencil.

The Plain Dealer and The Cleveland News both noted that when Mack addressed the crowd he added an “n” to Indians president Alva Bradley’s first name; The Plain Dealer said:

“Mr. Mack always had a tough time with names of his friends and players.  For years he has called ‘Lefty’ Grove ‘Groves’ and Lou Gehrig “Garridge.’ In fact he never has attempted to call his second baseman, (Dario) Lodigiani, anything but ‘Lodi’ for this season.”

The league-leading Indians beat Mack’s Athletics 5 to 4.