Tag Archives: Napoleon Lajoie

“The Most Graceful Player of All-Time”

25 Jun

Writing in The New York Herald Tribune in 1952, Grantland Rice, in his 51st year covering baseball, set out to choose his all-time “Most graceful” team.

The idea was borne out of a conversation with Charles Ambrose Hughes, who covered baseball for several Chicago and Detroit papers during a career that started one year after Rice’s–Hughes left the newspaper business to serve as secretary of the Detroit Athletic Club, he published the club’s magazine and led the group of investors who founded the National Hockey League Detroit Cougers in 1926–the team became the Red Wings in 1932 .

hughes

Hughes

In an earlier column that year, Rice quoted Hughes on Napoleon Lajoie:

“Big Nap, or Larry, was the most graceful player of all time.  Every move he made was a poem in action.  He was even more graceful in the infield than Joe DiMaggio was in the outfield—and that means something.”

Rice agreed:

“I was another Lajoie admirer.  I never say Larry make a hard play.  Every play looked easy—just as it so often looked to DiMaggio, (Tris) Speaker, and Terry Moore.”

The comments apparently caused a spike in the volume of mail Rice received, and he said in a later column:

“Old timers in baseball still have the keener memories.  This thought developed in the number of letters received by admirers of Napoleon Lajoie, the Woonsocket cab driver…they were writing of baseball’s most graceful player. But almost as many modern fans stuck with Joe DiMaggio.”

rice.jpg

Rice

Rice said the issue caused him to think about “grace or rhythm” among players:

“(It) does not mean everything.  Honus Wagner looked like a huge land crab scooping up everything in sight.  He had a peculiar grace of his own, but it was hardly grace as we know it. Yet he was the game’s greatest shortstop”

Rice based his team on “the beauty of movement,” on the field:

Rice’s team:

Pitchers—Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Bugs Raymond

Catcher—Johnny Kling

First Base—Hal Chase

Second Base—Lajoie

Third Base—Jimmy Collins

Shortstop—Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion

Outfield—Speaker, DiMaggio, Moore

Rice said:

“(T)his is the team we’d rather see play.  This doesn’t mean the greatest team in baseball…it leaves out many a star.

“But for beauty of action this team would be a standout…Looking back I can see now some of the plays Lajoie, Chase, DiMaggio, Speaker, Collins, Moore, Rizzuto, and Marion made without effort.”

Rice said Kling was not as good as Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey, “But he was a fine, smooth workman—smart and keen.”

He said he chose Raymond as one of the pitchers because of John McGraw:

“In an argument far away and long ago, I named Walter Johnson.  McGraw picked Raymond.

“’Raymond has the finest pitching motion I ever say,’ he said.  ‘It is perfect motion from start to finish—no wasted effort anywhere.”

bugspix

Bugs

Rice reiterated that the  “Woonsocket cab driver” was the most graceful of the graceful:

“The all-time top was Lajoie.  Here was the final word in grace, in the field or with a bat.  After Lajoie the next two selections belong to Hal Chase and Joe DiMaggio.  Speaker isn’t too far away.”

Rice concluded:

“Gracefulness does not mean greatness.  It means Jim Corbett in boxing, Hobey Baker in hockey, Bobby Jones in golf, Red Grange in football, Lajoie in baseball, (Paavo) Nurmi in running, It means (Eddie) Arcaro in the saddle. It means smoothness, ease, lack of effort where sensational plays are reduced to normal efforts.”

Lost Advertisements–“Napoleon Lajoie Official League Ball”

15 Jul

lajoieball

A 1906 advertisement for “The Napoleon Lajoie Official League Ball”  The $1.25 ball was produced “by special contract” by P. Goldsmith’s Sons–Phillip Goldsmith’s took over the Goldsmith Sporting Goods Companys and moved it from Covington Kentucky across the Ohio River to Cincinnati, Ohio after his death in 1894.

The ball was “(M)ade according to the requirements and specifications of the Major Leagues.  The highest quality materials are used in its construction and each ball is guaranteed for a full game of nine innings.”

There is no evidence that ball was produced in large quantities, and no ads appeared afeter 1906.

 

 

Cuban X-Giants In Washington D.C., 1901

7 Dec

xgiants

A 1901 advertisement for the Cuban X-Giants, managed by Soloman “Sol” White, in Washington D.C.  The team played the Capital City–described by The Washington Times as “a contingent of colored ball players of this city,” and the team representing the United States Census Bureau at American League Park.

Sol White

Sol White

 

According to the ad:

“The Cubans are known all over the United States and Cuba, having defeated such well-known clubs as the Cuban Giants of New York, Chicago Unions, Brother Hoods, Louisville, KY. Red Stockings, Norfolk, VA., Shelbournes of Atlantic City, and the San Francisco, of Havana Cuba.  The Cubans will have their own private band.”

The previous week, the X-Giants played an 11-inning tie with the Philadelphia Athletics at Columbia Park–although the Athletics three biggest stars, Napoleon Lajoie, Harry Davis and Lave Cross did not participate, The Philadelphia Inquirer said, “Both teams put up a splendid article of ball and the game resulted in one of the best that has been played on the grounds this season.”

The Philadelphia Times was even more enthusiastic:

“The game itself was beyond all doubt one of the greatest ever witnessed upon the local diamond.”

The 11-inning tie against the Athletics

The 11-inning tie against the Athletics

The ad said the club had won 114 games and lost just 22 in 1901, and described them as the “Colored Champion Baseball Club of the World.”  In both 1900 and 1901 the X-Giants and the Cuban Giants each claimed to be “Colored Champion.”

In addition to Sol White, the roster included, Robert Jordan, Ray Wilson, Clarence Williams, John Nelson, Danny McClellan, Will Jackson, Johnny Hill, Robert “Ginney” Robinson, and Charles “Kid” Carter.

The X-Giants won both of the advertised games.  The victory over the Capital City club was of such little note that no newspaper mentioned the score.  The Washington Colored American simply said the X-Giants “Played stars and circles around the Capital Cities.”

They also beat the Census Department 8 to 0.  The Washington Times said:

“The visitors had things their own way throughout the game, and at no time were they in danger of being defeated.  They had a twirler (McClellan) in the box that knew the fine points of the game.  He struck out nine of the localities and allowed but two of them to get the slightest semblance of a safe hit off his cannon ball delivery.”

Danny McClellan

Danny McClellan

The X-Giants beat one more local team, the Eastern Athletic Club, on October 9, and left the nation’s capital 117-22.

 

 

Lost Pictures–The Best Eyes in Baseball

4 Dec

eyeszimmerman

eyesdaubert

eysspeaker

Above, three sets of eyes, 1916.

Harold “Speed” Johnson of The Chicago Herald said:

“It’s the eye and not the wallop that counts in the national Pastime.  Some eyes are more durable than others.  Larry Lajoie possesses such a pair; so does Hans Wagner, Terry Turner, Tris Speaker, Jake Daubert, Frank Schulte, Larry Doyle, Heine Zimmerman, Tyrus Cobb, Joe Jackson and Bill Hinchman.”

Johnson informed his readers that “Most of these birds refrain from reading during the offseason, thereby sparing their eyes.”

As for the three sets pictured above, Jonson said:

“Heine Zimmerman is another notable example of the batter who possesses the keen optics.  He eccentric third sacker of the Chicago Cubs, when at peace with the world, is one the greatest natural sluggers of all time.  His eyes never have troubled him but his temperament frequently has caused him to slump, swinging frantically at any old pitch.  Right now Heinie is seeing in exceptionally good form as witness his average of .336 for 48 combats.”

[…]

“There is nothing wrong with Jake Daubert’s glims as a slant at the latest averages will indicate…His heavy cannonading has been a principal factor in the upward climb of the Robins…For a pair of eyes that have been in use as long as Jake’s in the big set they’re holding out famously.”

[…]

 “Nine seasons of big league milling haven’ dulled the lamps of Tristram Speaker who right now is going better than he did in his banner years with the Boston Red Sox.  Not only is the big Texan rattling fences  at Dunn Field, Cleveland, where for seven years he averaged .381 on visits with the Bostonese, but he is keeping up his terrific pace abroad.”

Zimmerman’s temperament caught up with him again.  He wore out his welcome in Chicago in August of 1916, was traded to the New York Giants and finished the season with a .286 average.

Daubert’s eyes held out.  He hit .316 and led Brooklyn to the National League pennant.

Speaker kept hitting at Dunn Field and everywhere else, finishing the season with a major league-leading .386 average.

Lost Advertisements–“Fireball” Johnson

30 Oct

walterjonsoncoke1915

“‘Fireball’  Johnson Drinks Coca-Cola–Says it’s the greatest drink ever for a hot, tired, and thirsty pitcher. All the stars in every  line of work star Coca-Cola–so will you.”

In 1913, The Washington Times presented Walter Johnson with a cup honoring him as “Greatest Pitcher in the World,” and published a special section including quotes from his contemporaries:

Cup presented to Johnson by The Washington Times

Cup presented to Johnson by The Washington Times

Napoleon Lajoie:

“I like to bat against Johnson.  There’s some satisfaction hitting against a hurler of such pronounced class.  When I make a hit off Johnson I know it’s well-earned, and the sound of a good, solid swat made off one of Walter’s curves is the most welcome music I hear during the season.”

George Stovall:

“I consider Walter Johnson the greatest pitcher in the game today and one of the finest fellows on and off the ball field.”

Nixey Callahan:

“You may say anything good for me regarding Walter Johnson that you care to. I consider him one of the greatest pitchers that the game has ever known and an ornament to the profession in every way.”

Russ Ford:

“He is the King Pin of them all, and yet remains just the same quiet, good fellow who broke in six years ago.”

Joe Birmingham

“May your curve always break and your speed never diminish.”

Murphy’s “Billion Dollar Team”

17 Aug

“Money will not buy a pennant winner;” so said William George “Billy” Murphy, the sports editor of The St. Louis Star.  In 1914, he set out to select a team that not even “John D. Rockefeller… (With) all his wealth could buy a club that would win a World’s championship from the one we have picked…The Billion Dollar Team.”

Murphy said:

“You fans of towns that have never won a flag, how would you feel to wake up some morning and find that Dame Fortune had so arranged matters that this club had suddenly been picked to represent your fair city.”

Jimmy Archer, catcher

Behind the plate he acknowledged “There are many who would doubtless pick (John) Chief Meyers…but considering the Indian’s slowness of foot and propensity for clogging up the bases and stealing when the bags are full, we must remark we cannot see the “Chief” for a minute with Jimmy Archer, who, although not so good a hitter, is faster, a quicker thinker, greater fielder and better pegger.”

Jimmy Archer

Jimmy Archer

Murphy was in the minority questioning the baseball intelligence of Meyers, who was widely considered one of the most intelligent and articulate players of his era.  He also rated Ray Schalk and Wally Schang as superior, saying:

“In the writer’s humble opinion they are much more valuable men to their team than Meyers.”

Walter Johnson, pitcher

“There will hardly be a dissenting vote cast against Walter Johnson.  Unquestionably he is the greatest of all the pitchers.

(Charles Chief) Bender and (Christy) Mathewson are also great—great when they should show class—in championship games.  Every nerve, every fiber of their brains, every muscle necessary to their craft, is at its best when big games are being fought.

“Wonderful as they are, we must pick Johnson, who also has class and is game to the core.”

Hal Chase, first base

“For first base, there is only Hal Chase.  He is a great hitter, marvelous fielder, can run the sacks, and is a brilliant tactician.

(John) ‘Stuffy’ McInnis, Jake Daubert, Eddie Konetchy, Fred Merkle, and Jack (Dots) Miller are all stars, but they are ‘also rans’ in the class with Prince Hal of the White Sox.”

Prince Hal of the White Sox

Prince Hal of the White Sox

Eddie Collins, second base

“At second base, Eddie Collins in the potentate.  Johnny Evers, Larry Doyle, and Larry Lajoie occupy seats in the second sackers’ hall of fame, but Collins rules over the roost.”

Honus Wagner, shortstop

“At short, notwithstanding his age, the palm goes to Hans Wagner.  Taken all in all he is still the greatest man at the position in the game.  He can do everything and does it better than any of his contemporaries.  When will we look upon his like again?”

Frank Baker, third base

“At third base, there is that wonderful silent son of swat, Frank Baker, the conqueror of the wonderful Mathewson and Richard (Rube) Marquard.”

Joe Jackson, right field

“In right field we have Joe Jackson, the young Southerner with the Cleveland club.  He is one of the greatest batsmen in the game today and is a fielder and base runner of unusual ability.”

Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson

Ty Cobb, center field

“In center, there is Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the Royston, Georgia marvel, who is the greatest player baseball has ever known.”

Tris Speaker, left field

“And in left field, there is Tris Speaker of the Boston Red Sox—second only to Cobb.”

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #15

17 Jun

Fullerton’s Prediction

Seven years before he watched the events of the 1919 World Series unfold from the press box, Hugh Fullerton warned readers of The Chicago Record-Herald:

“Baseball as a great national sport is in greater peril today than ever before.  Not until the present week did I realize this fact.  The gamblers, bookmakers and handbook men, who ruined horse racing…and who made fighting a noisome scandal, have attached themselves to baseball this year as never before”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

“The King of them all for Superstitiousness”

In 1916, Napoleon Lajoie, then a member of the Philadelphia Athletics, told The Cleveland Press:

“I have known many a ballplayer who collected hairpins, held his breath if he saw a circus horse, but Bill Armour was the king of them all for superstitiousness.

Bill Armour

Bill Armour

“If you put a ladder in front of the door to his room Bill would have jumped out of the window sooner than have come under that ladder.  I think he would have stayed in there and starved to death rather than let the ‘jinx’ take him overboard because he went under a step-ladder.   Me?  No, I am not superstitious, it’s all nonsense.

“Going to fetch me a black cat?  Don’t bring it up here; we have enough bad luck as it is without any black cat hanging around the clubhouse.”

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

Black cat or not, Lajoie was correct about the Athletics “bad luck.”  The team finished in eighth place with a 36-117 record.  The forty-one-year-old Lajoie hit just .246; 92 points below his career average.  He retired at the end of the season.

“Any old Manager can run a Team of real Baseball Players”

Bill Dinneen pitched in the major leagues for 12 seasons, and a month after his playing career ended he began his 28-year tenure as an American League umpire

Bill Dinneen

Bill Dinneen

In 1910, he told Joseph Samuel “Joe” Jackson, sports editor of The Washington Post, how major league clubs should allocate money:

“’If I were a club owner, I would invest $15,000 in a scout and $5,00 in a manger  And old manager can run a team of real baseball players  But the best leader in the world can’t make bad material good  Every major league team needs a thoroughbred judge of raw material more than a teacher of baseball tricks’’’

Jackson said Dinneen’s observation confirmed what he thought while watching the Philadelphia Athletics beat the Chicago Cubs four games to one in that year’s World Series

“His remarks come merely to emphasize what the world’s series showed—that a club that is hitting the ball over the lot, and giving its pitchers support, will set at naught all schemes to beat it by carefully thought out plans that might be applicable if the other fellows would stop making so many base hits”