Tag Archives: Walter Johnson

“Yet, not one of them can Play Ball like Wallace”

3 May

Jack O’Connor needed to vent.  The St. Louis Browns manager had just led his club to one of the worst seasons in major league history—a 47-107 record.

 

oconnorcoke

1910 Coca-Cola ad featuring O’Connor

 

Having just piloted a team that batted .218—the leading hitter was 36-year-old Bobby Wallace, who hit .258, and whose best pitcher, Joe Lake, posted an 11-17 record, O’Connor had reached a few conclusions about the game.  He told a reporter for The St. Louis Republic:

“The only thing every free-born American, with a constitution and public schools, thinks he can do is to play ball and manage a ball club.  Yet playing ball and managing ball clubs are two of the most highly specialized professions in the world.”

O’Connor said of the second-guessers:

“Of some 10,000 boys and men who are playing ball one way or another not 50 can play one position well enough to be called first-class ballplayers.

“One million young Americans see (Ty) Cobb play ball every year; yet not one of them can even imitate him.

“All that Walter Johnson, the greatest of pitchers, has is speed.  Now any strong-armed young man has speed.  Yet in 10,000,000 strong-armed young men not one has speed like Johnson has.

“How do you figure it?

“I guess that 10,000,000 young men and at least 100,000 professional ballplayers have seen Wallace perform in the 17 years he has been playing. Yet, not one of them can play ball like Wallace. Not one can even throw like him.”

And, no doubt, with the Browns’ .218 team batting average on his mind, O’Connor said:

“Batting is simple.  How many boys and men have seen Lajoie in the past 15 years—yet why can’t some one of them bat like Larry?

wallace

Bobby Wallace

And with a 47-win season on his mind, O’Connor concluded:

“I have always held that ballplayers are born, not made…so many smart fellows who have good heads and the ball instinct think that they can take good-looking athletes with legs and arms and eyes and make ballplayers of them.  The smart fellows make the mistake of imaging that the object of their solicitude has the head and instinct that they—the instructors—have…Many boys have everything but instinct.  That is the quality that is hardest to find.”

Despite the Browns’ horrible record, it was O’Connor’s role in trying to assist Lajoie, his former teammate, to win the batting title over Cobb on the final day of the season—ordering third baseman Red Corriden to play so far back that Lajoie bunted in five straight at-bats—that led to his firing.

“When Wilson wanted to Play he was a Star”

10 Oct

When campaigning for Woodrow Wilson in 1912, former North Carolina Governor Robert Broadnax Glenn would tell crowds about the year he spent as Wilson’s teammate on the Davidson College baseball team.

Governor Glenn

Governor Glenn

The Baltimore American said, while stumping for Wilson in Maryland, Glenn told supporters that the candidate had an “(A)rm like iron and the speed of the wind,” and could have been a great player:

“Woodrow Wilson was a fine baseball player but too darn wrapped up in reading to come out for practice…(he) was a good player but he was too confounded lazy to make a star. When the team would be called out for practice, we’d have to go to his room and drag him away from a book.

Wilson

Wilson

“But when Wilson wanted to play he was a star. He played left field and while he had an awkward way of running, he covered a lot of ground and was the best pinch hitter on the team.  His only trouble was he cared more for history than for Spalding’s rule.”

Wilson withdrew from Davidson in 1874 when he became ill, Glenn said:  “After that, Wilson went to Princeton and I went back to the plow.”

Not much else was said about Wilson’s interest in the game, and after he was elected, some questioned if the new president would support baseball the way his predecessor William Howard Taft had.  The Associated Press said:

“Washington fans have wondered whether or not the new administration, of which a former college president is the head, would give as much support to the great game as did President Taft, an irrepressible fan.”

The question was answered April 11, 1913, when Wilson threw out the first pitch for the Washington Senators’ home opener:

The Washington Star said:

“Wind, weather, and press of duties permitting, President Wilson is believed likely to be a frequent attendant at the American League Baseball Park…The belief is based on the interest shown by the president in the first game of the season and his applause when the bird of victory which had shown itself exceedingly coy, finally decided to perch on the shoulders of the Nationals.”

The paper noted that excitement overtook the chief executive on one occasion:

“President Wilson at one point in the game arose to his feet in his enthusiasm.  Official dignity prevented his yelling.  A cheer arose in his throat, but did not pass his lips. He could and did applaud frantically, however, by clapping his hands.”

The American Press Association said:

“There is no doubt about it—President Wilson is a real baseball fan.  He knows all about the game, and he is going to be seen often at the ballpark here.  At the opening game of the season between the Washingtons and the Yankees the president was given a new ball in a box by Clark Griffith, manager of the Senators, and he threw it—not tossed it, mind you—with speed and precision into the hands of pitcher Walter Johnson…For a few hours he forgot all about the intricacies of the tariff situation and gave himself up to enjoyment.

Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Opener--"Catching new ball in Box from Clark Griffith" and "Wilson the fan."

Woodrow Wilson at the 1912 Opener–“Catching new ball in Box from Clark Griffith” and “Wilson the fan.”

And Wilson did appear often, attending five Washington games during the first six weeks of the 1913 season.  He would attend just one more that season and a total of six more during his presidency.

Wilson, program in hand, after throwing first pitch to umpire Billy Evans in 1915.

Wilson, program in hand, after throwing first pitch to umpire Billy Evans in 1915.

Lost Pictures–Ty Cobb’s “Outburst of Historic Art”

30 Sep

After the 1916 season, Ty Cobb spent four weeks on Long Island shooting the first feature film starring a major league ballplayer.

The story for “Somewhere in Georgia” was written by Grantland Rice, then of The New York Tribune.

Ty Cobb and leading lady Elsie MacLeod

Ty Cobb and leading lady Elsie MacLeod

Rice said of the film:

“For the matter of twelve years Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the first citizen of Georgia, has proved that when it comes to facing pitchers he has no rival…It may have been that facing such pitchers as (Ed) Walsh, (Walter) Johnson, (Babe) Ruth and others has acclimated Ty to facing anything under the sun, even a moving picture camera.  At any rate, when Director George Ridgewell, of the Sunbeam Motion Picture Company, lined Ty up in various attitudes before the camera he was astounded at the way the star ballplayer handled the job.

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

“These paragraphs should be enough to break the news gently that Cobb, wearying of competition with (Tris) Speaker, (Joe) Jackson and (Eddie) Collins through so many years, has decided to go out and give battle to Douglas Fairbanks and Francis X. Bushman.  Not for any extended campaign, but for just one outburst of historic art.”

Director George Ridgeway said of his star:

“The most noticeable thing about Cobb’s work was this:  I’ve never had to tell him more than once what I wanted done.  I had an idea that I would have to take half my time drilling him for various scenes in regard to expression and position. But, on the contrary, he seemed to have an advance hunch as to what was wanted, and the pictures will show that as a movie star Ty is something more than a .380 hitter.  In addition to this, he is a horse plus and elephant for work. Twelve hours a day is nothing to him, and when the rest of us are pretty well worn out Cobb is ready for the next scene. I believe the fellow could work twenty hours a day for a week and still be ready for overtime.”

Rice noted that Cobb balked at just thing during the filming:

“Ty was willing enough to engage in mortal combat with anywhere from two to ten husky villains.  He was willing enough ti dive headfirst for the plate or to jump through a window, but when it came to one of our best known pastimes, lovemaking, he balked with decided abruptness.

“Despite the attractiveness and personal appeal of the heroine, Miss Elsie MacLeod, Ty was keen enough to figure ahead, not what the spectators might think of it, but what Mrs. Tyrus Raymond Cobb of Augusta think. The love making episode, therefore, while more or less thickly interspersed, had to be handled in precisely the proper way to meet Ty’s bashful approval”

The "bashful" star

The “bashful” star

The New York Tribune claimed that “More than 100 motion picture scenarios” were presented to Cobb before he agreed to appear in Rice’s.  The paper said, “(H)e would not, he emphatically stated, appear in anything that was not compatible with both his dignity and his standing in the baseball world.”

The Ty Cobb character in “Somewhere in Georgia” is a bank clerk who plays ball for the local baseball team—he, along with the bank’s cashier are vying for the love of  the banker’s daughter.  Cobb is scouted and offered a contract by the Detroit Tigers but the banker’s daughter tells him he must choose between baseball and her.  At the same time, the cashier, Cobb’s rival for the banker’s daughter, bets against the home team and plots to have Cobb kidnapped by “a gang of thugs.”

Cobb accosted by thugs

Cobb accosted by thugs

After being held hostage in a cabin, Cobb escapes with the help of “a local farm boy,” and:

”Commandeering a mule team, Ty succeeds in reaching home just in time to make a spectacular play and save the game for his team.  He then turns the tables on the cashier, wins the girl and winds things up in a manner appealing to ball fans and picture fans alike.”

Cobb escaping with the aid of a local farm boy.

Cobb escaping with the aid of a local farm boy.

Billed in advertisements as “A thrilling drama of love and baseball in six innings,” no prints of the six-reel film survive, but Cobb received better reviews than most of his brethren who attempted a film career.

After the film’s release in 1917, The Tribune said:

“(A)s an actor Ty Cobb is a huge success.  In fact, he is so good that he shows all the others (in the cast) up.”

When the film premiered at the Detroit Opera House in August of 1917 The Detroit Free Press said:

Ad for the film in Detroit

Ad for the film in Detroit

“(The film) is not only a most interesting baseball picture, but it gives views of “The Georgia Peach” that one does not see at Navin Filed…One seldom gets a chance to take a peep at Ty in civilian clothes and he shows himself to be as much at home in this story of love and romance into which a few baseball surroundings have been woven as he is on the diamond.  He makes a pleasing film hero, wooing and winning the bank president’s daughter and performing other exploits that one would expect from Douglas Fairbanks and his like.”

“I am Sure I would have been a Better Pitcher”

26 Sep

In 1922, Hearst Newspapers’ International News Service asked Walter Johnson to share his pitching philosophy:

“If a pitcher has a good fast ball that is always his one best bet.

“I don’t mean just an ordinary fast ball, but one with a lot of ‘swift’ on it, as Nick Altrock would say.”

Johnson claimed he came to the major leagues with just one pitch:

“When I came to the American League I scarcely knew there was anything other than a fast ball in a pitcher’s repertoire.

Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

“For three years I used a fast ball entirely, to fool the great hitters of the American League.  I really believe I enjoyed my greatest success during those three years.”

From 1907 to 1909, the period of his “greatest success, “Johnson was 32-48 with a 1.94 ERA; he was 385-231 with a 2.20 ERA over the next 18 seasons.

“In those first three years, I could just about throw my fast one by the batsman, as we put it in baseball.  No pitcher could retain forever the terrific speed that I had when I came to the American League.  At the close of my third year (when he was 21).  I began to realize that I was slowing up a bit.

“I had been working on a curve ball in the meantime, and when it became evident to me that I was losing a bit of my speed, I began to resort to the curves to cross the batters up.

“I met with almost as much success with my curve as my fast one.  However, I will always believe that I made a mistake in using too many curve balls, after once acquiring a good ‘hook.’”

Johnson's grip

Johnson’s grip

Johnson, on his way to 417 career victories, concluded that had he been a more “wise” pitcher, he would have been a better

“I am convinced that the wise pitcher who has dazzling speed, holds his curve in reserve.  That is what I should have done.

“When I switched from to a curve ball pitcher from a fast ball pitcher exclusively, I still had perhaps more speed than any other pitcher in the American League.  I should have continued the use of the fast ball, with the curve as a constant threat.

“I am sure I would have been a better pitcher had I done so.”

Lost Pictures–Frank Leet Caricatures

31 Aug

leetjohnson

Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators, as depicted by Frank Rutledge Leet, a cartoonist for The Newspaper Enterprise Association, as well as the author of a number of children’s books, including one called, “When Santa was Late.

In 1912 and 1913 he provided caricatures for a number of articles featuring players telling their favorite baseball stories.  In addition to Johnson, Leet created images of Johnson’s teammate Germany Schaefer:

leetschaefer

Chicago White Sox pitcher Big Ed Walsh:

bigedwalsh

Johnson and Schaefer’s manager Clark Griffith:

leetgriffith

And, Detroit Tigers manager Hughie Jennings:

leethugh

Lost Advertisements–Home Run Baker, Ide Silver Collars

15 Jun

hrbakeradAn advertisement for Ide Silver Collars, featuring John Franklin “Home Run” Baker:”

“Your silver collars have certainly made a big ‘hit’ with me.  The buttonholes are the easiest and best ever.”

bakerpix

After Baker returned to baseball with the New York Yankees in 1916, he “wrote” a very short syndicated newspaper piece, part of a series which asked some of the game’s best hitters to name “The Six Hardest Pitchers I ever Faced.”

Baker said:

“In naming my six hardest and best pitchers, I must invade my old club for three of them, though I never batted against them in championship games.  From my standpoint, the six best during my career were:

“Walter Johnson–Washington Americans.

“Edward Walsh–Chicago Americans.

“‘Dutch’ Leonard–Boston Americans

“Eddie Plank–Philadelphia Americans

“Albert Bender–Philadelphia Americans

“John Coombs–Philadelphia Americans.

“Johnson is the present-day wonder; Walsh was the king in his prime, and young Leonard is a puzzle among present left-handers, but I must award the plum to my three great old pals.”

Baker 1916

Baker 1916

Lost Advertisements–“Come on, Boys!”

10 Jun

holmes

A 1916 advertisement for Holmes’ Milk-Made Bread featuring Walter Johnson.

“Come on, Boys!

“Get a Baseball Outfit for the whole team, Free!

“In order to promote the wholesome habit of eating Holmes’ Milk-Made Bread among the baseball Fans of Washington we have introduced a Great Baseball Outfit Contest.”

In order to win the contest, all 200 of the cards (one in each 10 cent loaf) would have to be collected and returned to the company.

The first prize was a complete set of 10 uniforms, second prize was 10 gloves, third prize was a complete set of catcher’s gear, and fourth prize was a framed sheet of the 200 cards.

The company encouraged kids to:

“Get busy–go around your home folks and friends, and tell them to buy Holmes’ Milk-Made Wrapped Bread every day and save the baseball pictures for you .  With a little hustling on your part, you will soon get the complete collection of pictures and cop out one of the prizes.”

Another ad included pictures of some of the cards–Hughie Jennings, Frank Baker, Johnson, Honus Wagner and Eddie Collins:

holmes'bread

There is no evidence that anyone actually collected 200 cards and won any of the prizes.

The Jim Thorpe card from the set

The Jim Thorpe card from the set

Lost Advertisements–“Walter Johnson says…”

22 Apr

goldsmithbb

A 1916 advertisement for the Goldsmith Official League Ball:

The Peer of All

“Walter Johnson says: ‘It is the best Ball I have ever pitched.’

“The only officially adopted League Ball played under the NAtional Agreement.

“Guaranteed for eighteen innings.”

The 18-inning guarantee and mentions of the leagues which had adopted the ball for use were a staple of Goldsmith’s advertising, like the one below from 1912, announcing that the ball would be used in the United States, Pacific Coast, and Western Leagues:

goldsmith1912

The 1912 ad used the same image–that of Honus Wagner–that appeared in the company’s 1911 sporting goods ad, which quoted Wagner: “Your baseman’s mitt and Professional Glove at hand and they are my ideal style of a glove.”

goldsmithwagner

By the 1920s, the 18-inning guarantee became generic throughout the sporting goods world

rawlings wilson yaleball

dm

Not to be outdone, the Goldsmith ball of the 1930s was “Guaranteed for 36 Innings:”

goldsmith30s

“Everyone seemed to be trying to pull off the Greatest Stunts of his Life”

28 Mar

Great plays are in the eye of the beholder.

Jack Lelivelt said the greatest play he ever saw came in the greatest game he ever witnessed; the first game of a doubleheader played during the dog days of August by fourth and seventh place clubs hopelessly out of the American League pennant race.

Jack Lelivelt

Jack Lelivelt

Lelivelt watched from the bench on August 4, 1911, as his Washington Senators played the  Chicago White Sox.  Months later, he told Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Examiner the game included “(S)ix plays in it that might any one be called the greatest according to the way a man looks at it.”

The game was a 1-0, 11-inning victory for the Senators; Walter Johnson getting the complete game victory over Doc White.  And Lelivelt was not alone in his assessment.

One Star Pitcher

Walter Johnson

William Peet of The Washington Herald said:

“An old-time fan in the grandstand correctly described the curtain raiser when he slapped his neighbor on the back and cried: ‘That was the best game of ball I ever saw in my life.”

Joe S. Jackson of The Washington Post said:

“No more freakish game than the opener has ever been played at the Florida Avenue field (Griffith Stadium).”

Lelivelt told Fullerton:

“First, (Ping) Bodie caught a home run while running straight out nearly to the center field fence; then (Clarence “Tillie”) Walker caught a fly off one ear while turning a back somersault.”

Bodie’s play robbed Walter Johnson of at least extra bases, with a runner on first in the third inning—and Walker robbed Ambrose “Amby” McConnell of the White Sox in the eighth; The Herald said he “spared it with his bare hand.”

Ping Bodie

Ping Bodie

Lelivelt continued:

(Harry) Lord made two stops on the line back of third, and (Lee) Tannehill grabbed two line drives and started double plays.”

While noting Lord’s “two stops,” Lelivelt failed to mention his most notable play during the game; when he fell into the Chicago dugout to catch a George McBride foul pop out, a play The Herald called “one of the best catches ever seen here.”

Lelivelt said:

“Everyone seemed to be trying to pull off the greatest stunts of his life in that game…with White and Johnson pitching magnificent ball.  It is as if you took a dozen great games of ball and crowded the most sensational parts of each into 11 innings.”

As for the best play, Lelivelt said it came in the third inning after Johnson walked McConnell and Lord sacrificed him to second:

(Jimmy “Nixey”) Callahan whipped a fast hit right down between third and short, a hit that seemed certain to go through to left field without being touched.  The ball was hit hard and was bounding rapidly when McBride went back and out as hard as he could, shoved down his glove hand, scooped the ball and snapped it straight into (William Wid) Conroy’s hands on top of third base.  The play was so quickly made that McConnell saw he was out, and by a quick stop tried to delay being touched and jockeyed around between the bases to let Callahan reach second. He played it beautifully, but he never had a chance.  McBride jumped back into the line and before McConnell could even get a good start back Conroy whipped the ball to McBride and McConnell was touched out before he had moved five feet.

Wid Conroy

Wid Conroy

“So rapidly was the play made that as soon as McBride touched McConnell he shot down to second so far ahead of Callahan that Cal was able to turn and get back to first…If Callahan had reached second on the play Chicago would have won, as (Matty) McIntyre followed up with a base hit that would have scored the runner from second easily.”

Curiously, the play Lelivelt said was the greatest in a game of great plays, the greatest play he said he ever saw, received no notice the next day’s coverage of the game in either Washington or Chicago.

The Herald ran a column listing fourteen key plays in the game but failed to mention Lelivelt’s “greatest play” at all. The Post said only that McConnell was out “McBride to Conroy, on Callahan’s grounder.”  It received no mention in the Chicago papers.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Clark Griffith, “How I Win”

14 Mar

In 1910, Cincinnati Reds Manager Clark Griffith spoke to journalist Joseph B. Bowles for one of  a series of syndicated articles in which baseball’s biggest stars described “How I Win.”

“If a fellow is going to cut any ice he needs ice picks and the first way for a manager to win is to get men who can deliver, and men intelligent enough to take care of themselves.

“My theories in regard to what constitutes a winner are the only ones, and I use them in instructing my players what to do.  I used them in pitching, and they worked out, and I believe any player will succeed if he follows them.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

Griffith said baseball was “Ninety-nine and fifteen sixteenths” courage and nerve:

“It is more than that—it is what ballplayers call ‘guts’—which is courage with aggressive confidence behind it…The first thing to do to win baseball games is to go after anyone who does not wear a uniform that looks like yours, and go after him hard.  Hand every opposing player anything that will make him weaken or show the yellow.  Anytime I can convince my men that they are going to win and the other fellows that they are going to lose, I’ll win a pennant.”

He believed his confidence could successfully intimidate opponents:

“The best system of winning games is to tell the other fellow that you are going to beat him.  Tell it to him before the game starts and tell him in a way that will convince him.  You cannot convince him unless you believe it yourself.  I keep telling them all the time, and I believe it myself until the game is over and sometimes even then.”

Griffith said what he wanted most was for his players to:

“Take chances; any chance to gain an inch of ground or a base…Go after the game with intelligence and force every point as hard as possible…The player who takes chances of hurting himself seldom hurts either himself or his opponent and he will make a weak opponent run away.  More players get hurt stopping up on their feet and giving up before they are touched than are damaged in sliding to bases.”

He said that aggressiveness should also be directed at umpires:

“Then claim every point and claim it quick.  Holler.  ‘No, no’ real quick and beat the umpire to it on every close play a la (Johnny) Evers.  The umpire may be perfectly honest and square but on a close play the fellow who yells quickest is much more likely to get the decision.  I do not believe in fighting umpires or nagging at them.  I believe in yelling quickly.  Yelling quickly beats yelling loud all to pieces.  It is not cheating a bit, but simply protecting yourself on close plays not so much to get the decision yourself as to keep the other fellow from getting it.”

Griffith led the Chicago White Sox to the inaugural American League pennant during his first season as a manager in 1901.  And despite not winning one since, was very confident about his “theories” for success:

“These things, taken together with a little good pitching and perhaps one star pitcher, will win any pennant if carried out correctly and persistently, regardless almost of the mechanical ability of the players on the team.”

In the end, Griffith was unable “to win any pennant.”

His Reds teams in 1910 and 1911 were both sub .500 clubs and finished in fifth and sixth place.  He joined the Washington Senators in 1912, and finally with “one star pitcher’ he managed the team to two-second place finishes (1912-13), but did not win a pennant there either.  He stepped down as manager after the 1920 season to devote himself full time to his ownership duties.

One Star Pitcher

One Star Pitcher

He ended his managerial career with a 1491-1367 record over 20 seasons.