Tag Archives: Nap Lajoie

“Now Everyone has to be a Star”

19 May

Charles Hazen Morton played, managed, and served as a minor league executive. He was Moses Fleetwood Walker’s manager in Toledo in 1884 and caused a brief sensation when he went missing for two months and turned up with no recollection of what happened.

Seven months before his disappearance, Morton, who was then president of the Pennsylvania-Ohio League, said something to The Detroit Free Press that made him an outlier among players from the 19th Century:

“At last an old-time baseball player has come forward and acknowledged that the game as it is now played in the big leagues is speedier and better than it was in the so-called ‘good old days.’”

“We hear a lot about the old star players during the years when I was a player. Of course we had good men then and we played good games, but it always has seemed rather foolish to me to compare these men with the ones who are in baseball at present.

“Our facilities were crude then and even if improvement had been made in the player’s physical makeup, the improvements in apparatus, gloves, and such would put the present day player in a class far removed from that of the men who were engaged in the game in my time.”

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Charles Hazen Morton

Morton said the hitters in his day had it easier because pitchers “When I played ball knew much less about curves, the ‘spit’ ball was unheard of, and many little things which contribute to pitching success had not been devised.”

As for strategy, Morton said:

“The squeeze play, the hit and run and a lot of other combinations of patting and base running which are supposed of be of modern invention were practiced then, but not to the extent they are now.”

Morton said, “I recall the squeeze play as early as 1883, but it was not worked extensively. Such plays were considered ‘freaks,’” and rare.

And, he said:

“(To) say that the men engaged in baseball then covered more ground, hit harder and were more graceful fielders is ridiculous. It would be a sad thing to think that our great national game had not kept pace with other American institutions and had not progressed in twenty years. Nobody ever hit the ball any harder than (Honus) Wagner and (Napoleon) Lajoie, nobody ever fielded faster than a half dozen big league men do now.”

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Honus Wagner

While, the great players were just as good, the average players were better:

“In the old days, each team had a few stars—now everyone has to be a star, or the manager is looking for somebody else to take his place.”

Morton said, “good old days are nice to look back a upon,” but he said:

“I can find more to admire, more to enthuse over, and more to enjoy in modern baseball than I could back in the 80s.”

“Almost Every Ballplayer has his Individual Superstition”

4 May

“Almost every ballplayer has his individual superstition,” said The Philadelphia Record in 1918:

On days when Cy Young pitched, “he would always see that the bat boy placed the bats with the handles towards the infield,” Young would not tolerate crossed bats.

“Christy Mathewson always placed his glove, face up, near the sideline, and would never allow anyone to hand it to him when returning to the box.”

Bob Harmon wore his hat crookedly on the right side of his head during his first big league win, and “always wore his cap on one side of his head when working.”

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Harmon

Philadelphia’s two former aces, Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, had theirs:

“Bender always pitched his glove to the sideline as he walked out of the box, He never was known to lay it down. He would get his signal from the catcher and step into the box from behind and always right foot first…Plank would never warm up with a new ball on the days he worked. He always hung his sweater on a certain nail in the dugout and ‘woe be unto’ the player who moved it.”

Eddie Collins—arguably the most superstitious player among his contemporaries— “has a certain way to put on his uniform. He always dresses from his feet up.”

Johnny Evers—who believed himself to be one of the most superstitious among his contemporaries— “always believes that his club would win if he put one stocking on with the wrong side out.”

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Johnny Evers

Napoleon Lajoie and Honus Wagner’s superstitions were tied to bats:

“Lajoie had a certain bat which he used in the game and under no conditions would he allow anyone to use it, for the reason that the player using it might get a hit which really belonged to the owner of the bat…Wagner would never allow a player or bat boy to make any move to disarrange the bats or to start putting them away until the last man was out in the last inning, no matter how the score stood.”

Prince Hal Chase, said the paper, believed he could not get a hit “unless he spits in his hands and touches his cap before a pitcher delivers a ball.”

“The Future Emperor, Napoleon Lajoie”

17 Apr

John L. Sullivan “wrote” his life story for The Boston American in 1905.  The former heavyweight champion had always been a baseball fan, played some semi-pro ball, and was once arrested for participating in a Sunday game.

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John L. Sullivan

In the 1905 article, he talked about the evolution of personal responsibility of the ballplayer:

“What with firing away his money and having fun with (Cap) Anson, King Kelly had a merry life, but a short one. He was a king among ballplayers and a prince among spendthrifts. Once he lectured me on the wisdom of getting the savings bank habit.

‘”You’ll need it someday, John L.’ he said.

“’How about yourself going broke, Mike,’ I asked.

‘Not me. When I need money, I can take my turnout and go selling milk,’ he replied.

“The turnout he referred to was the horse and buggy given to him before a ballgame on the National League grounds in Boston. The rig was a present to the king by his subjects in my town.

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Mike “King” Kelly

“When King Kelly passed out, the future emperor, Napoleon Lajoie was driving an ice cart in Woonsocket. Prosperity almost carried the Frenchman off his feet, but the lesson of Mike Kelly and some more of us foolish ones was drilled into him. He cut out the red-eye and got a bank book, and today he is the king of them all and getting rich. He doesn’t intend to get off the water wagon and go back to the ice cart. The difference between King Kelly and Emperor Lajoie is the difference between the old style and the new in all kinds of sport, and the stayer is the man behind the pledge.

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Napoleon Lajoie

“Kelly died early. Lajoie grows better every year, and if he were to take up boxing, he could sprint faster than (Jim) Corbett, punch as hard as myself, get away as quick as Fitz (Bob Fitzsimmons), and handle his fists like Tommy Ryan. Moreover, his hat fits. I call the attention of all the temperance lecturers to Larry Lajoie as one of the best examples they can use in their business.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things: Clark Griffith

3 Feb

Griff out West

Griffith loved to tell stories about his time playing in Montana, one story the “truthfulness” of he “vouched” he told The Cleveland Leader in 1912:

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Griffith

“The scene was at Butte, back in the nineties (1892), and the story resulted from a baseball game between Missoula and Butte at the latter town. There were a lot of gamblers in Butte who wanted to back the team, so about $5000 was bet on the game.”

Griffith was on the mound for Missoula:

“Everything went along nicely for a while, with a monster crowd on hand hollering for everything it was worth for Butte to win.

“In the ninth inning Missoula was leading by one run, but after two were out Butte got a man on third and then the catcher let the ball get away from him. It rolled a short distance, but when the catcher went to retrieve it one bug leaned over the stand with a six-shooter in his hand. ‘Touch that ball and you are dead,’ he shouted. And the catcher stood stock still in his tracks.”

Griffith said the players “were scared stiff” and watched the tying run cross the plate.  He claimed Missoula scored in the 10th and won the game 5 to 4.

Griff on Lajoie

In 1900, Griffith and Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune were watching Napoleon Lajoie take ground balls during practice:

“He looks less like a ballplayer, handles himself less like an infielder, goes at a ball in the strangest style, and gets them more regularly than any fellow I ever watched. He fights every ball he picks up, scoops them with without looking, and keeps me nervous all the time.

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Napoleon Lajoie

 

“Every time a grounder goes down to him, I want to bet about three to one he will fumble, but he always gets them. He has some system for making the ball hit his hands which I don’t understand.  And I’ll tell you a secret: He has a system of making his bat hit a ball which drives pitchers to drink.”

Griff’s All-Time Team

In “Outing Magazine” in 1914, Griffith presented his all-time team:

P: Amos Rusie

P: Walter Johnson

P: Cy Young

P: Christy Mathewson

C: Buck Ewing

1B: Charles Comiskey

2B: Eddie Collins

3B: Jimmy Collins

SS: Herman Long

LF: Bill Lange

CF: Tris Speaker

RF: Ty Cobb

Griffith’s most surprising pick was choosing Comiskey over his former teammate and manager Cap Anson. He told the magazine:

“(Comiskey) was the first man to see the possibilities of the position. Before his day a first baseman was only a basket. He stood glued to the bag, received the balls thrown to him, but never moved away.”

Charles Comiskey

Charles Comiskey

He said Anson, “Although a great player, was not Comiskey’s equal.”

He chose Long over Honus Wagner he said, because “Hans has a barrel of ability, but he’s not such a foxy player as many persons think, but he is a wonderful batter.”

Griffith called Jimmy Collins, “The most graceful fielding third baseman the game has ever seen,” and said Tris Speaker ”is the most remarkable outfielder that ever lived.”

As or his chosen catcher, Griffith said:

“Buck Ewing never has known an equal as a catcher. I call him the best ballplayer the world ever has known. The only man who approached him was Mike Kelly of the old Chicago White Sox, Kelly too, was a wonder, but not quite equal to Ewing.”

“That Night I was as Chesty as a Pouter Pigeon”

23 Aug

Red Donahue spent five seasons, and part of a sixth, during his 13-year major league career as a teammate of Napoleon Lajoie. In 1905, he told The Cleveland News that before they became teammates for the first time in 1898:

“For just a few days once, I imagined I had discovered how to cut down Larry’s batting average.

“I was with the Cardinals and Lajoie was with Philadelphia, when someone told me the big Frenchman could not hit a slow ball. When my turn came to face the Phillies, I handed up a slow teaser to Lajoie and he hit the ball to me for an easy out. Four times I tossed him out at first and each time on a high slow one.

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Donahue

“That night I was as chesty as a pouter pigeon and told the other pitchers to hand slow ones to Larry and he was easy money. Later, I again pitched against the Phillies and with visions of retiring the king I cut a fast wide one over and followed it with a slow ball just like those he had failed to get out of the diamond the last time I faced him.

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Lajoie

“Well, Larry met the ball and it went out of the lot. Next time I served him a high fast one, but the result was the same. He had a three-base hit.  I tried everything I had that day, but no matter where the ball went, high, low, wide or in close. Fast or slow, when Larry got ready to wallop it he did, and I was chalked up with four hits to my discredit.”

Everyone had Donahue’s number in 1896 and ’97–he was 17-59 with a 5.99 ERA—in 1898 he joined Lajoie in Philadelphia.

Lost Advertisements: An Interview with Lajoie

5 Jul

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“This superb ball player was almost lost to the game. He tells the public how he saved himself this spring.”

A 1903 advertisement for Father John’s Medicine. The ad said that Lajoie, “the best paid and greatest ball player in the world,” had been thrown “into an illness which lasted all winter and spring, after the 1902 season. Lajoie said:

“During my illness I did not begin to improve till I took Father John’s Medicine. It quickly built up my body to its former strength and made me active as at any time in my career. Now I carry a bottle of the medicine with me on the trips with my club and it keeps me well all the time.”

Lajoie, a popular endorser of patent medicines, and back to his “former strength” won his third consecutive batting title in 1903.

 

 

 

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #29

2 Jan

McGraw on Brouthers, 1907

T.P. Magilligan covered baseball for Bay area newspapers during the first two decades of the 20th Century.

In 1907, he talked to John McGraw during the New York Giants’ West Coast tour:

“Dan Brouthers was the greatest hitter I ever saw.  Lajoie is a good and wonderful hitter, and so was the late Ed Delahanty, but for straightaway slugging I think the equal of big Dan never lived.  He used to take a nice healthy swing at it, and I tell you that when Brouthers rapped the ball on the nose that she sped with the force of Gatling gun.  Getting in the way of one of Brouther’s shots generally meant the loss of a hand for a time.  He was the best batter of them all, and that bars none of them.  Brouthers seldom hit them high in the air.  He had a way of smashing them on a line to right field and they fairly whistled through the air.

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Dan Brouthers

McDonough on Anson, 1910

Ed McDonough played semi-pro ball in Chicago before beginning his professional career at age 22.  The Chicago Evening Post said, “Mac played with and against (Cap) Anson for a couple of seasons,” when Anson owned and played for Anson’s Colts in the Chicago City League:

“’During practice Uncle Anson used to step up to the plate and offer fifty dollars to any man on the grounds who could strike him out,’ says Mac.  ‘He would give the fellow who attempted it the right to choose any player he wanted for his umpire.  Sometimes they would get two strikes on him, but I never saw anybody earn a fifty.  Cap didn’t ask them to give him anything if he kept from fanning.  That was before he went broke and he made the offer more to show the fellows he could still clout a few.”

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 “Cap” Anson

Foster on Bugs, 1911

After Arthur “Bugs” Raymond slipped from an 18-12, 2.47 ERA season in 1909 to an 4-11 3.81 performance in 1910, many still held out hope that Raymond, still just 28 years old, could overcome his demons.  When the pitcher checked himself into a hospital in Dwight, IL that winter, John B. Foster of The New York Telegram wrote:

“If Raymond does not break up the institution with his pranks, and if he really makes an effort to put himself in proper condition, the chances of the New York National League club in 1911 will be greatly enhanced.

“If some of the self-constituted friends of this unfortunate young man—and he is unfortunate, for he has the skill of a great ball player and the physical ability to earn thousands of dollars for himself—will be kind enough to let him alone, and assist in the good work which has been begun, they will prove their friendship to be far more lasting that if they cajole him away from those who are doing their best to help him.

“There are some who think it funny to encourage a man of Raymond’s peculiar temperament in a line of conduct which leads to his downfall…There are more than ball players who would like to see Raymond have a real chance to show what is in him.  The skill of the man as a player is too great to be thrown away in idle rioting.

“Help him out.”

Raymond quickly reverted to his old ways in 1911, and despite a 6-4 record and a 3.31 ERA he was released by the Giants in June.  He was dead 15 months later, at age 30.

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Raymond

White on Risberg, 1916

Doc White, the former White Sox pitcher was working in the front office of the Pacific Coast League Vernon Tigers—he managed the team on an interim basis the previous season as well—and told The Los Angeles Times that the “greatest arm in baseball” was playing in Vernon:

“(Charles) Swede Risberg…in addition to being everything else, is a pitcher of real ability.  White says if the Swede would perfect a wind-up that would enable him to get his body behind his delivery he would have more speed than Walter Johnson.”

The 21-year-old Risberg, the starting shortstop, appeared in two games as a pitcher for Vernon in 1916, he was 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA.  It would be the last time he pitched in organized ball.  He was purchased by the Chicago White Sox the following season.

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Swede Risberg

“I knew but Little, but Schaefer Taught me.”

19 Sep

Ty Cobb had a dilemma in the fall of 1910.  After being presented with a new Chalmers automobile (along with Napoleon Lajoie) for leading the league in batting.  Ed Grillo of The Washington Evening Star said he found a solution:

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Cobb in his Chalmers

“Ty Cobb has presented Herman Schaefer with his old automobile.  The car which he has been using will be of no further use now that he has received the one offered for the best major league batsman.

“In giving Schaefer the machine Cobb is repaying ‘Germany’ for the many kindly turns he did for Cobb.”

Cobb told Grillo:

“If it were not for Schaefer’s interest in me I would not have made myself the ballplayer I am…When I joined the Detroit club (in 1905) I knew but little, but Schaefer taught me.  The very first day he got after me because I did not pick my feet up and run as he thought I should.  Then he told me to turn toward second when going to first so that if anything happened to the ball I could take another base.”

Schaefer told Grillo his most difficult task was teaching the 18-year-old Cobb to slide—Cobb agreed:

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Schaefer

“I thought it was too dangerous in those days and would not try.  But one day in an exhibition game at Indianapolis I saw Schaefer slide away from the baseman holding the ball, and I made up my mind that I would learn the trick.  I asked Schaefer to teach me, and for the next two weeks we would go to the park every morning and he would go through the motion of catching and touching me with the ball.  He would tell me just when and how to slide, and if I made a mistake he would change places and he would do the sliding.

“In that way I learned everything I know about base running, and I owe it all to Schaefer, and I gave him my machine in appreciation of the many kindnesses he has shown me.”

“None of Them Were Slick Enough to Carry the Dutchman’s Glove”

20 Jul

Chester L. Smith, sports editor for The Pittsburgh Press recalled several stories about Honus Wagner after the Hall of Fame shortstop died in 1955:

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Wagner

Cy (Young) once said that Ty Cobb, Wagner, Napoleon Lajoie, Ed Delahanty, and Cap Anson were the best all-around hitters he ever faced.:

“’Ty was the most resourceful,’ Young went on. “’He could push, pull, or bunt.  Odd thing though, he never could pull an outside pitch, while Wagner could.’”

Smith said:

“Of course, there will never be an end to the argument as to which was the better—Ty or Honus.  By why debate it? There’s room for both of them in the game’s Valhalla

“As a carrier of the Wagner standard pointed out: ‘The best hitting shortstop of recent years was Joe Cronin, yet Cronin couldn’t hit within 30 points of him.  The best fielding shortstops have been Leo Durocher, Marty Marion, and Lou Boudreau.  None of them were slick enough to carry the Dutchman’s glove.  Travis Jackson had a rifle arm.  Wagner had a better one. No shortstop was ever much of a base-stealer.  Old Honus stole 50 or more bags for five straight seasons with a top mark of 61.”

Smith said Wagner told him a story about “the harsh days when he broke in.” Wagner said during his third season (1899), in a game versus the Giants:

“(O)ne of their men smashed a home run.

‘”Nice hit,’ Honus said when the Giant passed by.

“’Go to hell,’ snapped the New Yorker.

“’I felt real good about that,’ Wagner said afterward.  ‘He was the first major leaguer who ever spoke to me.’”

“I have seen Men of all Nationalities do Splendid Work”

21 Jun

In 1911, Victor Munoz, the sports editor for the Cuban newspaper El Mundo spent part of 1911 traveling with the Cincinnati Reds and chronicling the experiences of Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida during their rookie season with the Reds.

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Victor Munoz

After several months in the states Munoz shared his observations about baseball in America:

“I have often heard the United States referred to as a melting pot into which are dumped men, women and children of all nationalities, to be reduced to a precious metal, possessing the best elements of all, known as that wonderful alloy, the American citizen.

“During the visits to this country I have taken pains to ascertain if this was true.  I found the truth had been told, but a very important factor in the making of good American citizens had been overloaded.”

Munoz concluded that if America was the world’s melting pot, baseball “was the flame which brings the human metal to that state which makes the American citizen possible.”

Munoz said in his “study” of the game:

“I have seen (Napoleon) Lajoie, a Frenchman; (Ed) Abbaticchio, an Italian, and (Honus) Wagner, a German, play ball.  I have seen men of all nationalities do splendid work in the field and at bat.

“In New York I heard Irish fans cheer the brilliant work of an English player, and in Cincinnati I saw Germans go wild, when (Mike) Mitchell, an Irishman, cleaned up with a triple.  Spaniards cheer Americans, Frenchmen enthuse when a German makes a great catch or throw and I have even seen an Indian, a stoic in everyday life, toss his blanket when a favorite player made an especially fine play.”

Munoz said Marsans and Almeida coming to America convinced him baseball was becoming an international sport based on, “The purchase of two Cuban players, born and bred on the island, men of Spanish descent, convinced me that baseball is reaching out and gaining more friends and devotees.”

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Marsans and Almeida

As for his home country:

“Cuba has gone wild over the American game…I am told it is the same in Japan and I will not be surprised to hear of American scouts going to that country for players.”

Munoz also said he was “deeply impressed” by what a cosmopolitan team the Reds were:

“I found (Hank) Severeid, a Norwegian, (Mike) Balenti, an Indian; Mitchell and other Irishmen,  (Bob) Bescher and other Germans; (Clark) Griffith, of Welsh-Irish descent;  (Johnny) Bates of English parentage; (Harry) Gaspar, whose father was a Frenchman, and my Cuban companions members of the team.

“Nothing could emphasize the attractiveness of the sport more than this gathering of men of all nations, working, fighting, and playing together, for the purpose of defeating other clubs of almost the same cosmopolitan character.

“These men have been thrown together without a thought of their religious beliefs of their nationality.  They all know that a man can learn to play ball no matter what country he hails from; that the fact that his father was a German, Irishman, Indian or any other nationality cannot prove a handicap.”