Tag Archives: Ty Cobb

“I Know I Made a Bum Play”

4 Jun

Harry George “H.G.” Salsinger spent nearly 50 years as sports editor of The Detroit News and was posthumously honored with the J. G. Spink Award in 1968.

In a 1924 article he said:

“Baseball historians, setting down how a pennant was won, often point to one series that was the break in a season’s race. One can point to a certain game as the deciding one of that particular series and that game probably had one play that was the break of the game and that one play came on a certain pitched ball.”

Salsinger said in the Tigers 1907 pennant winning season:

“All who studied the matter were agreed that one series decided the pennant, a series between Detroit and Connie Mack’s crack Philadelphia machine, played late in the season (September 27 and 30). And one game decided that series, a 17-inning tie that broke the Athletics.”

The pennant, he said, was won because “that game was snatched from Philadelphia” when Ty Cobb hit the game-tying home run off Rube Waddell in the ninth.

“The most important hit of the season of 1907,” was “because Cobb outguessed” Waddell.

The story of how the pitcher was “outguessed” was told to him by Waddell himself:

“Up comes this Cobb, and I feeds him a fast one on the inside where he wasn’t supposed to particularly like to see ‘em pitched. I always figured that if this fellow had any weakness is was on a ball pitched close in. The way he stood at bat made him shift too quick to get a good hold of the ball.

“Well, I shoved the first one in over the inside corner of the plate an’ he never looks at it. The umpire calls it a strike, but he pays no attention to it. I immediately figures this bird is looking for a certain ball, thinking I’d give him just what he wanted on the next one or the one after that. He figures I’m going to be working him. So, I see my chance to cross him up. I says to myself, ‘I’ll feed this cuckoo on in the same spot an’ get him in a hole then guess what’s coming.’”

Rube

Waddell threw the next pitch:

“Once more I shoots a fast one for the inside corner an’ the second the ball leaves my hand I know a made a bum play. This Cobb, who didn’t seem to have noticed the first one, steps backlike he had the catcher’s sign, takes a toe hold and swings on her. I guess that ball is going yet.”

Waddell told Salsinger he talked to Cobb about the pitch:

“Later on, I meets this Cobb on the street, and I says to him, “Listen here Cobb, it’s all over an; everything, an’ there ain’t no hard feelin’ or nothin’, so tell me, why don’t you swing at that first one, the fast one I sends over. You don’t give it a look an’ you’re all set for the same thing when I repeats. Did you have the catcher’s signal or something.”

“An’ this Cobb says to me: ‘Why I figures if I lets the first one pass and makes out I don’t notice it and is lookin’ for somethin’ else, you’ll try to cross me up and shoot the next one over the same spot, feeling sure you double crosses me. I feel so sure that so soon as the ball leaves your hand I jumpback, take a toe hold an’ swing. Sure enough I was right. You hand me the same thing back.’

“An’ I says to this Cobb, ‘Kid you had me doped 100 percent right, an sure enough the lucky stiff did.”

Cobb

Cobb, Salsinger said, “made this observation,” to the reporter, about outguessing pitchers:

“Most pitchers follow a set system of pitching to you. You can get them once or twice. If they throw you a fast ball, slow ball, curve, fast one, in that order the first time at bat it is almost certain that they will throw you the same thing in the same order the next time you come up. Few pitchers vary from the system, and the few that do are the leading pitchers.

“Knowing what is coming is one thing but hitting the ball is another. You often know just where the ball will be pitched, but often it carries so much stuff that you cannot get the proper hold on the ball and you fail to hit safely even when you have the advantage of knowing what it is.”

“Most of These Kids Today Can’t Take it”

17 May

Grantland Rice of The New York Herald interviewed Ty Cobb on a fairly regular basis when the retired star was living on the West Coast.

In 1940, after the two met in San Francisco, he said, “Cobb was the bluebird harbinger of spring,” and recalled when, in 1904, “Cobb kept writing me letters, signing Smith, Jones, Brown, and Robinson—all telling me what a great player young Tyrus Raymond Cobb was.”

Rice

Rice said he “fell for the gag,” and thanked Cobb for making him, “quite a prophet” for writing about him based on the letters.

Rice asked Cobb about his famous batting grip:

“It shows what habit will do in sports. I began playing baseball with much older and bigger kids.” I couldn’t grip the big bats that they had near the handle. I had to spread my hands to poke at the ball.

“I couldn’t swing the big bats any other way. After that I couldn’t change. But I was probably better off as a place hitter than I might have been as a slugger. I never believed in slugging anyway.

“I believe in getting on—and then getting around. Today they only believe in hitting a fast ball out of the park.”

Cobb said he was “still for speed and science,” over power:

“Base stealing today is a lost art. It seems to be gone forever. Did you know that several high-class ballplayers last season failed to steal a base? I remember one year I had 96 steals. That’s almost the same as 96 extra base hits, for those steals put me in a position to score.”

Rice asked the 56-year-old Cobb what the biggest difference between the “present crop” and the players of his era was:

“Stamina, I mean legs and arms. I’ve lived on my legs most of my life. As you may remember in 24 big league years, I never spared my legs. I’ve played many a game with almost no skin on either thigh.

“I believed then and I believe know in toughening up your system—not sparing it. Between seasons I hunted all winter, eight or ten hours a day. That’s what Bill Dickey has done—and you know where Bill Dickey stands in baseball.”

Cobb

Cobb had little use for current pitchers either:

“The modern crop has weak arms. Look at Cy Young, winning 512 ball games. Show me a pitcher today who can even pitch 400 games. Remember Ed Walsh? One year Ed won 40 games and saved 12 others [sic, 6]. He worked in 66 games that year, around 1908. And then pitched through a city series, working in almost every game.

“Most of these kids today can’t take it. They have come up the easy way. They have to be pampered. A lot of them need a nurse. We had to come up the hard way. What a difference that makes—in any game.”

Cobb lamented that any current pitcher “is almost a hero” for winning 20 games:

“Can you imagine Cy Young, who averaged over 20 games for wee over 20 years, out there today.

“The kids today rarely use their legs. They ride in place of walking. I always had to walk.  Maybe five miles—maybe 20 miles. The old-time pitchers had to work in 50 or 60 games. Maybe more. I’ve seen them come out long before the ball game was scheduled to start in order to get the kinks out of their tired arms, working out slowly for over 30 minutes. But not today.”

Cobb said he believed Dizzy Dean would be “a throwback” until he hurt his arm:

“He always wanted to pitch. To be in there. But there are not many left like that. They’d rather be resting up.

“In my opinion, a real pitcher should be good for at least 45 ball games—maybe 50 if he is really needed. I mean men like Walsh, Cy Young, Alexander, Matty, Chesbro, Joe Wood—the top guys. They could take it—and they loved it. Not this modern crowd. At least most of them. They haven’t the stamina needed to go on when there is no one to take their place.”

Cobb had good things to say of two other modern stars:

“I’ll say this for Babe Ruth. He could always take it—and like it. So could Lou Gehrig. You never had to pamper Ruth or Gehrig. They were ballplayers of the old school. So was Matty. So was Alexander, drunk or sober. What a pitcher.”

Cobb said what mattered in all things was stamina, fortitude, brains and speed:

“They still count. When they don’t then you haven’t either a game or civilization. You haven’t anything worthwhile.”

Note: As indicated below, Cobb conflated Walsh’s 1908 regular season performance and his 1912 post-season work in Chicago’s City Series. I failed to include that note and this link in the original post: https://baseballhistorydaily.com/tag/chicago-city-series/

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.”

“Gibson Comes as Close to Ruth as You’ll Ever get”

24 Mar

In July of 1944, Jim McCulley of The New York Daily News sat with two men watching a game:

“’The greatest ball players I ever saw?’ Said the fellow on my left. ‘That’s easy.’

“’Pitchers? Well, there was Christy Mathewson, old Pete Alexander, Walter Johnson and Three-Fingered Brown. There was Ty Cobb, a fat guy named Ruth and Joe Jackson in the outfield. Catchers? Let’s see now; there was Roger Bresnahan and I guess I have to put Ray Schalk in there along with Roger; There was (Pie) Traynor at third and the old Dutchman at short, of course, but do I have to tell you his name, Hans Wagner? Rogers Hornsby at second and Georg Sisler at first. They were the greatest I ever played against or saw, anyway, and I don’t think they can come much better.

“’Speaker? He was great all right, but naw, not in their class.”

McCulley’s other companion responded that Hal Chase belonged in place of Sisler.

“The fellow on the left smiled and said: ‘Leave me out of it.”

Hal Chase, 61 years old and in failing health, was on the East Coast “on a little vacation” attending games and attempting to rehabilitate his reputation. Although he shaved three years off his age and told McCulley his birthday was in a “couple of days, July 21st to be exact;” Chase’s birthday was February 13.

Chase

McCulley said the former first baseman, despite his many illnesses and injuries, “still has that athletic figure and moves around quickly and with the same grace which made him so outstanding on the ball field.”

Chase said he watched a dozen games on his trip East:

“Even went out to see Josh Gibson play the other day. There’s a hitter. One of the greatest of all time. He hit two home runs and they were belts. Say, if he played in the Polo Grounds 75 games a year, he’d hit 75 home runs.”

Chase even told an apocryphal story about the Negro League star:

“’You know how Gibson happened to start playing pro ball?’ asked Chase. ‘Well, one day the old Pittsburgh Crawfords were moving out of Pittsburgh in a bus. They happened to stop along side of a sandlot diamond on account of a traffic tie up. So they all took a look out the windows to watch the in progress. There was a mighty loud crack and a couple of seconds later a ball bounced off the top of the bus, which was parked about 400 feet from the home plate. Oscar Charleston, who managed the Crawfords at the time, got right out of the bus and hot-footed after the kid who had socked the ball.”

It is not clear whether the story was invented by Chase or a story he had picked up, but it ignores that Gibson began his professional career with the Homestead Grays and was well-known as a semi-pro player before his first professional game.

Chase said Gibson was the second-best player he’d ever seen:

“That fat guy was the greatest, of course. Nobody can come close to Ruth. He was the greatest that ever lived, better than Cobb or anybody else. If Ruth ever shortened up on the bat, he’d have hit over .400 every year. But Gibson comes as close to Ruth as you’ll ever get.”

Gibson

As for his own legacy:

“Chase still gets emotionally upset when the talk gets around to his final days as a player. It’s a well-known fact that he didn’t leave the game of his own accord, but we won’t go into that here.”

McCulley said the “name of Chase belongs alongside those of other all-time greats of the diamond,” and:

“The fact that his name isn’t listed in the Cooperstown museum cuts deeper and deeper into Hal as time goes on. It’s the one regret and the one dark thought in an otherwise brilliant baseball saga.”

Chase was dead less than three years later with thesame regret and dark thought unresolved.

His first major league manager, Clark Griffith told Shirley Povich of The Washington Post:

“You wouldn’t believe a man could do all the things on a ball field Chase could do. There wasn’t a modern first baseman who can come close to him. There wasn’t ever any ‘second Hal Chase.’ He was in a class by himself.”

“The People’s Pastime”

24 Feb

In 1911, The Chicago Tribune invited American League President Ban Johnson to write about the state of the game in the Twentieth Century.

Johnson said:

“I desire to state that I do not subscribe to the opinion entertained by a majority of the patrons, that the game’s progress in prestige and popularity in recent years is due solely to the improvement in individual and team work on the ballfield.”

Johnson

While Johnson said he did “not yield in admiration and appreciation,” for the players, he could not, “withhold recognition from other agencies” in putting “the people’s pastime on a higher plane.”

Johnson cited, “The splendid governmental system under which baseball has been operated since 1902,” enforcement of discipline, first class players, and providing patrons with superior accommodations as “potent factors “in the growth of the game.

“Skill and sportsmanship in the players, fairness and firmness in the umpires, well-kept fields of such dimensions that a fast runner may complete the circuit of the bases on a fair hit to their limits in any direction, skirted with mammoth fireproof stands crowded to their capacity with real enthusiasts from all walks of life, are from my viewpoint, essential elements in Twentieth Century baseball.”

Johnson said baseball had reached the “exacting requirements of the ideal game,” the previous season when every major league city had a “modern baseball plant,” and he said the “guarantee of the American League goes with the purchase of every ticket to one of its parks that the game will be decided on merit and will not be marred by rowdyism.”

The “best asset” of baseball was “public confidence,” and Johnson insisted that fans understand the “difference between a team in a championship race” and playing in exhibition games:

“At the close of the American League race last fall a team composed of (Ty) Cobb, the champion batsman of the year, (Ed) Walsh, (Tris) Speaker, (Doc) White, (Jake) Stahl, and the pick of the Washington club under Manager (Jimmy) McAleer’s direction, engaged in a series with the champion Athletics at Philadelphia during the week preceding the opening game of the World Series.

“The attendance, while remunerative, was not as large as that team of stars would have attracted had it represented Washington in the American League.

“Although the All-Stars demonstrated their class by repeatedly defeating (Connie) Mack’s champions, many admirers of the Athletics preferred reading the scores to seeing the contests. It was not lack of loyalty to the home team or appreciation for the visitors that was responsible for this apathy, but simply indifference toward baseball of a high quality unless it be vouched for by a league.”

The All-Stars, dubbed “the scintillating bunch” by Jim Nasium (Edgar Forrest Wolfe) of The Philadelphia Inquirer took the first four games, the Athletics won the final game.

Jim Nasium cartoon after game 3 of the All-Star–Athletic series

Johnson pointed out that “26,891 people saw the Athletics defeat the Cubs, and 24,597 came back the next day.”

The attendance at the first all-stars versus Athletics game in Shibe Park was announced as 5,000; there was no announcement of the attendance at the other three games in Philadelphia—game four was played in Washington D.C., and the crowd was reported as 1500.

Johnson said of the difference:

“No better ball was played in (the World Series) games, for which advanced admission rates were charged, than in the All-Star—Athletic series, but the World Series games were conducted under the auspices of the National Commission and the result of each figured in the winning of the game’s highest honors.”

The American League president vowed that everything was being done to ensure that there was not widespread ticket scalping “and kindred evils.” He said, “Nothing will do more to estrange patrons,” than the “treatment accorded” to fans in Chicago during 1908 World Series, when it was alleged that wide-spread scalping took place with the approval of Cubs management. Johnson said:

“It is a prudent and sensible club owner who does not have the dollar always in mind in the operation of his baseball property. The national game’s best asset is the public’s faith in its honesty. Destroy that confidence and baseball will decline rapidly as the nation’s sport.”

Johnson lauded the Athletics as an organization for whom “one of the main planks…has been clean ball.”

He said during the 1910 season he had not had to discipline a single member of the club.

“The enactment and enforcement of wholesome laws, the confidence of those who supplied the capital when investment was a speculation, as well as the conduct of those who have played and are playing baseball for a livelihood, are factors in giving the American people twentieth century ball.”

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #44

7 Jan

Flint’s Hands

In 1896, Hugh Fullerton said in The Chicago Record:

“It is not hard to tell ‘Old Silver’ (Flint) is a ballplayer.”

Silver Flint

Fullerton told a story about how a train carrying the catcher and the rest of the White Stockings had derailed during their “Southern tour” the previous season:

“The train jumped the track and several of the passengers were injured. Silver stood near the scene of the wreck watching the proceedings, when one of the surgeons who had tendered his services caught sight of Silver’s fists.

“’Too bad, my man, too bad,’ said the man with the scalpel, ‘but both those hands will have to come off.’”

King Kelly told Fullerton that Flint “had to shake hands with the doctor before the latter would believe that Silver’s hands were not knocked out in the wreck.”

Young’s Perfect Game

In 1910, The Boston Post said Napoleon Lajoie asked Cy Young about his 1904 perfect game while the Naps were playing a series in Boston.

Cy Young

“’Oh,’ remarked Cy in that native natural dialect that six years’ residence in Boston did not change, ‘there ain’t nothing to tell. Nothing much at any rate. They just ‘em right at somebody all the time that was all. Two or three drives would have been good, long hits if Buck (Freeman) and Chick (Stahl) hadn’t been laying for ‘em. I didn’t know nobody reached first until we were going to the clubhouse. Then Jim (Collins) told me.’”

Young beat the Philadelphia Athletics and Rube Waddell 3 to 0 on May 5, 1904; the third perfect game in MLB history; the previous two had both taken place 24 years earlier during the 1880 season–making it the first one thrown under modern rules.

The box score

Cobb’s Base Stealing

 Before the 1912 season, Joe Birmingham, manager of the Cleveland Naps told The Cleveland News that Sam Crawford was the reason Ty Cobb was a successful base stealer.

“I haven’t made such a statement without considering the matter.”

Birmingham said:

“Put Sam Crawford up behind any one of a half dozen players in this league and their base stealing records would increase immensely…In the first place, every catcher is handicapped almost five feet in throwing to second when Sam is up. You know Sam lays way back of that home plate.

“A catcher would take his life in his hands if he dared get in the customary position behind the plate, for Sam takes such an awful wallop. Five feet doesn’t seem like a great distance, but when it is taken into consideration that a vast number of base stealers are checked by the merest margin of seconds, five feet looms up as considerable distance.”

Cobb

Then there was Crawford’s bat:

“(He) wields a young telegraph pole. There are few players in baseball who could handle such a club. And Sam spreads that club all over an immense amount of air. It’s usually in the way or thereabouts. At least it’s a factor with which the catcher must always reckon. Finally, Sam is a left-handed batter. Any time a pitcher hurls a pitchout to catch Cobb stealing the catcher is thrown into an awkward position. He can’t possibly be set for a throw. There’s another portion of a second lost.”

Cobb and Crawford were teammates from 1905 through 1917; Cobb led the league in steals six times during that period.

Sam Crawford

Birmingham’s overall point was to suggest that Joe Jackson, of the Naps, would be a better base stealer than Cobb:

“Joe has shown more natural ability during his first (full) year in the league than Cobb did.”

Birmingham said Jackson was as fast going from home to first as Cobb and “No one can convince me to the contrary.”

While he said Jackson did not get the same lead off the base as Cobb, he said:

“When that is acquired you’ll find little Joey leading the parade or just a trifle behind the leader.”

In 24 season Cobb stole 897 bases; Jackson stole 202 in 13 seasons.

“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.

“He Seems to Possess a Sixth Sense”

4 Dec

In 1912, the Continental News Service which served several newspapers in the South and Midwest, published a long interview with 24-year-old Cleveland Naps outfielder Joe Jackson.

“The lanky Southerner’s prowess with his formidable black bat has won him an enviable niche in the baseball Hall of Fame, and his work in the outfield is only slightly less remarkable. He seems to possess a sixth sense—a sort of second sight—that enables him to guess just where a given batsman will place a hit, if it is in the direction of right garden, where Jackson holds sway.”

Jackson was asked, “how he sizes up the intentions of an opposing batter, as it appears from the different positions he takes as various men com to bat, he seems to sense just where each man will hit.”

His response:

“I’m not any surer than you where any particular player will hit, but a man isn’t in the game very long before we learn his failings and endeavor to use them to his disadvantage.

“With such men as (Ty) Cobb, (Joe) Tinker, (Heinie) Zimmerman, (Tris) Speaker and other well-known sluggers I know that if they hit out of the infield I have got to be playing deep in order to stand  any chance of getting them. On the other hand, I also know certain players who never hit further than back of the bases. These hitters cause the fielders more trouble than the sluggers because it’s anybody’s ball. That is to say, a baseman may be just as close to it as a fielder, and where two men are going after the same fly the chances of a collision sometimes causes an easy out to be turned into a safe drive. A fielder coming in on a ball has a much better chance of getting it than a baseman who has got to run back for it, even though the latter has a shorter distance to cover.”

Jackson

Jackson said while less balls were hit to right; it was the most difficult position:

“Balls hit to right field if not caught are always dangerous, and especially so when there are men on bases. I am so far from third that the average runner can easily go from first to third if I am not able to make a quick recovery and return.”

Jackson said even as a child he never liked playing infield and:

“Center and right field are the only two positions I have ever played (he had played three games in left field for Philadelphia in 1909)…I was always considered a speedy runner and won many a sprint race back home before I took to playing ball for a living. My father was, and is today, opposed to the playing of the game for money, but as I have six other brothers, all ballplayers, two of whom are in the minor leagues. It looks as though he’ll have to get used to it. Last Fall was the first time he ever saw me in a game, and then only because he had a business engagement in Cleveland.”

Jackson recounted his greatest play in right field:

“I have made several ‘grandstand’ catches in the outfield but the one I feel the proudest about occurred when I nailed (Del) Gainer’s drive off the cement wall in our home grounds.”

Jackson said Cobb was the fastest player he had seen going from home plate to first base:

“Still, a Cleveland fan claims that he clocked me going from home plate to first, and that I covered the distance in less than three seconds. It may be possible that I did, but I rather think the watch or something else was out of order.”

Jackson said the claim made him curious and he tested his speed from hoe to first:

“I got a stopwatch and made several trials. The best I was able to do was a fraction over three seconds. It’s just possible that the excitement of the game may have made me go faster than I did in practice, but with all due respect to the gentleman who timed me I hardly think there is a player in the game today that can hit and make first in less than three seconds.”

“Spalding Threw a fit”

3 Jun

“The applause of thousands that once thundered across the baseball fields of the National League still echoes in the ears of a quiet man of sixty-three [sic, 68] who goes so unobtrusively about his simple duties in caring for a furnace at the plant of the New York Continental Jewel Filter Company at Nutley, NJ, that few know he was once one of the greatest figures in baseball.”

So, said Joaquin B. Calvo, writer for The New York World in 1922. The man he was describing was George Gore who played 14 major league seasons from 1879 to 1892:

georgegore

Calvo noted that Gore had done some catching before his major league debut and, “his gnarled and twisted fingers today bear mute testimony to this.”

Gore (or Calvo) knocked five years off the former player’s age, saying he was born in 1859 rather than 1854.

Gore repeated the story of having been “the first holdout” when in 1878 he negotiated his first contract with Albert Spalding before signing with the White Stockings. While the story was substantially the same as his other telling’s over the years, Gore added the detail that his asking Spalding for $2500 after initially being offered $1500 was the suggestion of Giants manager Jim Mutrie:

“He gave me some good advice, and one day I set forth to meet A. G. Spalding. Mutrie had told me to ask for $2500 and when I mentioned the figure Spalding threw a fit.”

Calvo said of Gore’s current activities::

“One of Gore’s greatest delights today is in teaching the young boys on the sandlots how to stand up at the plate, how to swing their bodies, and how to get that all important snap in the wrists as bats crash against balls. He is extremely active and has never lost his love for the game and, as he says, he tastes a little of the glory of yesterday when he plays with the youngsters and hears their cries of delight when he pounds out a home run.”

gore

Gore

Calvo asked him about being forgotten:

“Ah, well, it’s a busy world, he says modestly enough and the Cobbs and the Ruths of tomorrow will just as surely shove Babe and the Georgia Peach into oblivion, as they in their turn, have helped a thoughtless public to forget the diamond heroes of nearly half a century ago.”

Gore said of the differences in baseball in those nearly 50 years:

“The ball is livelier, but I don’t think the game is. In fact, I don’t think there is much science in baseball today as there was in the days when Anson and Spalding and others were putting their wits against some of the brightest minds baseball has ever known.”

Of Ruth, he said:

“I think he is a wonderful hitter, with a style all his own. I have never seen anything like it. There is a snap to his wrists when he hits the ball that accounts for the tremendous distance he knocks the pill. It isn’t his weight or strength; it is just his knack of hitting the ball.”

In closing, Calvo said Gore:

“(O)n days that he can get away from his furnace, he slips unnoticed into the stands at the Polo Grounds, the roaring applause of the mob blots out the picture of 1922 and brings back in sweetened memory those plaudits of the ‘80s that were for him alone.”

“The Realization of Their Carelessness”

1 Jun

After the 1910 season, Hugh Fullerton, writing in “The American Magazine” said baseball had no universal language.

“Each team has its different system of coaching, its different language of signs, motions, cipher words, or phrases, and no one man can hope to learn them all.”

Fullerton said the “worst of trying to study” the signs of various clubs was trying to track when they changed:

“If Arlie Latham jumps into the air and screams ‘Hold your base!’ it may mean ‘Steal second,’ today and tomorrow it may mean ‘Hit and run.’ One never can tell what a sign means. Hughie Jennings hoists his right knee as high as his shoulder, pulls six blades of grass and Jim Delahanty bunts. You are certain that Jennings signaled him to sacrifice, so the next day when Ty Cobb is bat and Jennings goes through the same motions, you creep forward and Cobb hits the ball past you so fast you can’t see it.

“If Connie Mack tilts his hat over his eyes and Eddie Collins steals second as the next ball is pitched, naturally you watch the hat, and lo, Jack Barry plays hit and run. You hear Clark Griffith yelp ‘Watch his foot!’ and see two of his players start a double steal. The next time he yells ‘Watch his foot!’ you break your neck to cover the base, and both players stand still.”

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Arlie Latham 

Fullerton said most fans gave up trying to figure out signs but they “mustn’t do that. Someday right in the middle of a game, you’ll strike the key to the language and read through clear to the ninth inning.”

He compared that moment to getting “away one good drive,” in golf, “forever afterward you are a victim,” and can’t stop.

“Did you ever watch Hugh Jennings on the coaching line near first base during a hard-fought game? He doubles his fists, lifts one leg and shakes his foot, screams ‘E-yah’ in piercing tomes and stooping suddenly plucks at the grass, pecking at it like a hen. It looks foolish. I have heard spectators express wonder that a man of ability and nearing middle age could act so childishly. Yet hidden somewhere in the fantastic contortions and gestures of the Tigers’ leader there is a meaning, a code word, or signal that tells his warriors what he expects them to do.”

Jennings said of his signs:

“I change almost every day. I change every time I suspect there is a danger of the meanings being read. I am a believer in as few signals as possible and of giving them when they count, and I find that a lot of antics are effective in covering up the signals.”

Fullerton said Mack was “one of the most successful men” at “interpreting” opponents’ signs:

“Before the Chicago Cubs went into their disastrous series against the Athletics they were warned that if such a thing were possible Mack would have their signals. At the end of the game they called a meeting to revise signals, changing entirely, being certain the Athletics knew almost every kind of ball that was going to be pitched.”

Fullerton allowed that the Cubs instead might be tipping their pitches, because he was sitting with Ty Cobb during the series, and:

“(He) repeatedly called the turn on the ball that would be pitched before it was thrown, judging from the pitcher’s motion, and the Athletics may have been doing the same thing.”

Fullerton also said of the Cubs, that although they were “the cleverest baseball team in America, composed of smart men and a great manager, for years paid less attention to active coaching on the baselines,” than other teams.

“Possibly the reason was the confidence in their own judgment and their continued success, Frank Chance’s men made few blunders and the neglect was not noticeable, except to constant observers until 1908. Any player who happened to be idle went to the coaching lines and most of the time inexperienced substitutes did line duty. In 1908 during their fierce fight for the pennant, the realization of their carelessness was brought home to them and since then Chance has employed quick-thinking, clever men on the base lines, principally relying on (Ginger) Beaumont and (John) Kane.”

john kane

John Kane

Fullerton dated Chance’s new appreciation for competent coaching to July 17, 1908; that day the Cubs beat Christy Mathewson and the Giants 1 to 0 on an inside the park home run by Joe Tinker. Heinie Zimmerman was coaching third base for the Cubs.

The Chicago Inter Ocean described the play:

“Joe, the first man up in the fifth, hit one of Matty’s best as far as any ball could be hit in the grounds without going into the stands. Where the center field bleachers join the right field 25 cent seats is a V-shaped inclosure. Joe drove the ball away into this dent, and it took Cy Seymour some time to gather the elusive sphere. When Cy finally retrieved the ball, Tinker was rounding third.

“Zimmerman grasped this as the psychological moment to perpetrate one of the most blockheaded plays ever pulled off. He ran out onto the line and seized Joe, trying to hold him on third, when the ball was just starting to the diamond from deep center field. Joe struggled to get away, as his judgment told him he could get home, but Heinie held on with a grip of death. Finally, Tink wriggled away and started for the plate.”

 

heinie

Zimmerman

The paper said Tinker would have been thrown out had Al Bridwell’s throw to the plate been on target:

“Had Tinker been caught at the plate the 10,000 frenzied fans would have torn Zim limb from limb. Chance immediately sent Evers out to coach at third base and retired Zim to the dark confines of the Cubs’ bench.”

Thus, said Fullerton:

“Chance began to develop scientific coaching, and discovering its full value, took the lead in the matter, employing skilled coachers.”