Tag Archives: World Series

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.

 

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“Baseball will Never be a Science”

2 Sep

By 1912, Ed Remley of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram had had enough of talk of “scientific” and “inside” baseball, which he called a “Figment  of writers’ too active brains:”

“This ‘Inside baseball’ stuff and statistical dope that is being given so much space in the low-priced magazines, makes us tired.  Yesterday we read a story in which an attempt was made to prove that when ‘Good Night’ (Frank) Baker came to bat against (Christy) Mathewson (in game 3 of the 1911 World Series) the chances were 367 and 2/5 to 1 against his making a home run.  Once we read a story by (Hugh) Fullerton and Johnny Evers in which those gentlemen attempted to prove that there were just three places, six inches each in width, where a ground hit ball could pass safely through the infield.

"Touching Second," Evers' and Fullerton's collaboration on "Inside Baseball."

“Touching Second,” Evers’ and Fullerton’s collaboration on “Inside Baseball.”

“This line of bunk listens well to the public who attend all their baseball games through the newspapers—we sometimes think they are a majority of the fans—but to the close follower of the game they look like far-fetched attempts to make a story where no story is.  Some of this stuff is so thin that even a schoolboy athlete will snort when he reads, but the magazine editors but it up and illustrate it with cuts borrowed from the sporting page.”

Fullerton

Fullerton

Remley said it wasn’t about baseball, but selling magazines:

“Five years ago about one baseball story in three years drifted into the covers of the big 10-cent monthlies.  Now scarce an issue of any of the popular ones is without its baseball yarn of some character.  It can betoken one of two things, either there is  a stronger interest in baseball  or else the magazine editors are just beginning to wake  up and see its possibilities as a feature.

“If baseball has become a magazine subject because of a natural public demand for that species of pabulum, well and good, and the more of it the public gets the better…On the other hand, if this writing all around the subject of baseball is a result of an exaggerated view of its value on the part of the editors it is going to do the game no good, for the public will soon tire of that kind of hysteria just as it does of anything else that is boomed too much—towns, religions, etc…”

The emphasis on statistics bothered Remley more than anything:

“Meanwhile the fact remains that you can’t reduce the game to figures.  Not even the most skillful statistician can make out the story of a game from the box score.  The figures are an interesting commentary, sometimes, but the real story of baseball will not fit within the box.

“Analyzing the factors which go up to make a successful baseball team, the following ratio is discovered: physical fitness, 20 percent; skill, 60 percent; chance, 20 percent.  That’s mere opinion, too, for the exact ratio never can be determined, but it is evident that some such ratio must obtain.  It is the existence of this large percent of chance in baseball which makes it impossible to reduce the probabilities of the game to figures.  By tossing a dime in the air 2000 times it will be discovered the coin will fall heads up approximately half the time.  Just so, by taking a large enough number of cases generalizations may be arrived at in baseball, but when the attempt is made to apply these generalizations to concrete  cases, the theory falls down. “

Remley concluded:

Baseball will never be a science, therefore, and the attempts to make it appear so are bound to be discredited sooner or later.  It is about time for the magazines to can this statistical dope from their pages.”

The following year, Remley left Fort Worth and joined the staff of The Chicago Inter-Ocean.  Tne Inter-Ocean and The Chicago Record-Herald were consolidated into The Chicago Herald in 1914, and Remley for a time–until his death from pneumonia in 1915–became a co-worker of Hugh Fullerton, whose “inside baseball” he so abhorred.

 

“Squeeze that Bird, there’s $30,000 Depending on it”

17 Aug

In 1922, Eddie Collins—billed in the byline as “World’s Greatest Second Baseman-“wrote a syndicated article about his post-season experience:

Collins

Collins

“Frequently I have been asked the question, ‘How does it feel to play in a World Series?’  I can at least say, ‘not monotonous, even tho I have participated in six.’

“The toughest part of any World Series, as far as the mental or nervous strain is concerned, that I have experienced has been when I was out of uniform.  Once in my baseball togs out on the field and in the game, I’ve never felt it any different from any regular season affair.  But in between games, especially if a postponement occurs, or the team is idle traveling, that is when I’ve felt ill at ease, with a longing for it to be over and to be miles away from baseball.”

Collins said the 1911 Series—with six consecutive days of rain between games 3 and 4, the longest delay in Series history until 1989—was “(T)he worst in this respect…I remember some of our team went to Cuba after the series, but I was so glad to be thru with baseball for that year I wouldn’t have gone for a mint.”

Collins said a World Series could “make or break a promising player,” and used his former teammate Wally Schang as an example:

“In 1913, in his first game the first time he came to bat against the Giants, (Jack) Barry was on first, no one out. ‘Shangie’ leaned over the bench and said to Manager (Connie) Mack. ‘What shall I do?’  Meaning whether to bunt or hit.  Connie hesitated for a fraction of a second, then said to the kid, ‘You go up there and use your own judgment.’

Schang

Schang

“Schang attempted to bunt the first, fouled it off, and on the very next ball flashed Barry the hit and run sign.  And bang went a base hit to center to center on which Barry made third and ‘Schangie’ pulled up at second on the throw in.  That play alone I honestly believe gave Schang more confidence than base hit he ever made before.”

Collins said another question he was often asked was:

“’ Do you think the fact they are playing for big stakes has any effect on the players and do some often see a dollar sign coming their way instead of a ball?’

“In general, I’d say no, because every player is too absorbed in the game itself, striving to win, rather than figuring on his share of the gate.”

Collins said some players remained loose, even during a stressful post-season game:

“I do recall a certain bit of jest that was pulled by Amos Strunk in 1913 on the play that ended that series and one that afforded three or four of us a good laugh afterward.

Strunk

Strunk

“It was on the Polo Grounds, and Larry Doyle hit a high fly toward short right which Eddie Murphy caught.

“Amos, McInnis and I were close to him when he was about to make the catch.  Just before he did ‘Strunkie’ hollered, ‘Squeeze that bird, there’s $30,000 depending on it.’  Which had reference to the (Fred) Snodgrass muff of the preceding year.  Needless to say ‘Murph’ squeezed it, and the game and series were over.”

The excitement of the World Series even overcame the taciturn Connie Mack on one occasion according to Collins:

“Mack so forgot himself, so enthusiastic and joyful did he become, as to do a miniature war dance on the bench in the eighth inning of our final game against the Cubs in 1910.  Once later, I remember, he got up to get a drink of water during a game against the Giants, but these are the only two instances I can recall where he ever moved from his usual place on the bench.”

Collins summed up his World Series experience:

“It’s great to be in a series, but take it from me, it’s greater when it’s over—and you have won.”

In his reminiscences of his six World Series appearances, Collins made no mention of 1919.

“Tell the Babe to Choke Up on his Bat”

15 Aug

While Babe Ruth kept a low profile—or as low a profile as he could—in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and occasionally New York, during the winter of 1922, he received hitting advice from Christy Mathewson.

Ruth struggled—at least for Ruth, 35/96/.315—all season after starting the year suspended by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis for barnstorming during the 1921 off-season.

Babe Ruth

Ruth

Mathewson was in New York in December promoting the sale of “Christmas Seals for the aid of others stricken with tuberculosis.”  He talked to Thomas Cummiskey, writer for the Universal Service syndicate:

“’Tell the Babe to choke up on his bat a little when pitchers start tossing slow balls at him next season, and to smash some of the floaters into left field.  If he does, he’ll cross up a plan to stop his home run hitting.”

Cummiskey noted that the New York Giants pitchers shut Ruth down during the 1922 World Series—Ruth was 2 for 17 with 1 RBI—because they “slow-balled him to death.”

As for Mathewson:

“(He) saw the series, the first games he witnessed in two years because of his battle with tuberculosis that kept him at Saranac Lake.  As always, he was a close observer of everything.

“Once he says he saw Ruth choke up on his bat, instead of making his ‘follow-through’ swing at the ball for a homer, and cross up the Giants by hitting the ball to left field.

“’He should do this every time a slow ball comes up,’ Matty declares.  ‘Next season, it is a 100 to 1 shot, the American League pitchers will try to stop his home run hitting with slow balls.  If Babe chokes up a little, as I saw him do once in the series, he’ll hit them, it’s a cinch.  Then the next thing you know, the pitchers will stop throwing them.’“

Cummiskey said:

“Matty paid Ruth the compliment of ‘being a natural ball player and wise enough to realize this.’  The tip was given for ‘old time’s sake.’  Matty wants the Babe to stay in the spotlight and ‘hit them out as of old.’”

Cummiskey asked Mathewson if he felt “Use of the ‘lively ball,’ and the fact that pitchers are not permitted to rough the surface of a shiny new ball (was) tough on the pitchers.”

Mathewson, 1922

Mathewson, 1922

Mathewson said:

“Well, yes it is.  It is tough to see the ball banged out of the lot and around so much.  But they can learn how to pitch it.  They did when it came to Babe, didn’t they?”

He also said, “(I)n the old days if a batter swung like the home run leaders of the present day they would be fined.”

As for Mathewson’s health:

“Outwardly, he is robust and healthy.  He weighs 210 pounds, has a healthy color, his hand clasp is strong, his eyes clear.  Occasionally he is allowed to smoke a cigarette, but not to inhale.  Except for a slight slowness in his walk, as he tires easily, he appears ‘fine.’

‘’I haven’t a touch of T.B. anymore,’ he said.  “The X-ray and the stethoscope reveal no signs of it.  I am now a full exercise man; I can exercise all I want.  Until a few weeks ago I was restricted to twenty minutes a day.’

“He tires more easily than a man of his outwardly fine condition would indicate because he ‘has to get along on one cylinder as yet.’  This, he explained means that ‘one lung is flat but is receiving air treatment which is expected to make it function.’”

Ruth, of course, bounced back just fine from his disappointing 1922 season and World Series.  He hit .393 with 41 home runs and 130 RBIs and hit .368 with three home runs in the Yankees’ World Series victory over the Giants.

Mathewson did not bounce back from tuberculosis and died on the disease in 1925.

Lost Advertisements–“Oh! You ‘Dave’ Robertson!”

24 Jun

1917ws

An advertisement for Hart, Schaffner & Marx which appeared after game three of the 1917 World Series.  After losing two games in Chicago, the New York Giants won 2 to 0; the Giants scored both runs in the fourth inning of Eddie Cicotte; Dave Robertson tripled and scored on Walter Holke‘s double, Holke scored on a single by George Burns.

The advertisement after game two, a 7 to 2 White Sox victory, featured Chicago first baseman Chick Gandil, who:

“Makes a wonderful catch on (Bennie) Kauff‘s foul ball in (the) third inning.  Running over to the Giants bench he leaped in the air and with his left hand ‘speared the pill.'”

1917ws2

And, one more after game six, won by Urban “Red” Faber and the White Sox:

Long Live The King!

“Sox take final game, score 4 to 2.  Chicago now boasts two world’s champions ‘White Sox.'”

1917ws3

 

 

 

Lost Advertisements–Spalding’s 1908

20 Jun

asspaldingguide1908

“Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide,” 1908 advertisement.

“Edited by Henry Chadwick, the ‘Father of Baseball.’

“The best Guide Ever Published

“Containing the New Rules; pictures of all the leading teams in the major and minor leagues, as well as individual action pictures of prominent players.  The World’s Championship, 1907; complete review of the year in the National, American and all minor leagues.  All-American selections;  schedules; averages and interesting baseball data, found only in Spalding’s Guide.”

The 1908 Spalding Guide

The 1908 Spalding Guide

The 1908 edition also promised:

“The origin of base ball settled” with the guide’s “exclusive” publication of the Mills Commission report.

The guide also included interviews with the members of the 1907 Chicago Cubs, on “How we Won the World’s Championship.”

The ad featured part of the interview with right fielder Frank Schulte, who used his World Series money to buy a racehorse:

“I was far from pleased with my own work, but there were spots that seemed bright, and so I have no misgivings about spending my share of the winnings for a great piece of horse-flesh…”

Frank Schulte

Frank Schulte

Other comments from members of the Cubs that appeared in the guide included:

Joe Tinker—“We failed to see that brilliancy that the American League boasted of, and when the good old West side machine got under way, it seldom failed.”

Orval Overall—“I expected a harder time with the Tigers.”

Orville Overall

Orville Overall

Mordecai  Brown—“Never more confident of victory in my life.  I almost made a hit in my three times at bat.

Jack Pfiester (who won game two 3 to 1 while giving up 10 hits)—“After the two base hits in the first inning, I knew by some overpowering sense that I could not explain that I would be successful.”

“In Baseball Words, ‘I Wised up’”

17 Jun

Charles “Babe” Adams was on his way to an 18-9 season with a 2.24 ERA (on the heels of 12-3, 1.11) in his second full season in the major leagues.  The 28-year-old was asked by Chicago journalist Joseph B. Bowles to tell readers “How I Win,” for a series of syndicated articles.

Babe Adams

Babe Adams

Adams was initially reluctant:

“I have been asked to tell how I win, and it may sound immodest for a new man to try to tell such things.  You say it is for the benefit of young players, so I’ll tell some of the things I learned after coming to Pittsburgh.  The first thing I found out was that (Fred) Clarke was boss, and that he knew more about the game than I ever thought was in it. After a few bumpings, I learned that (catcher George) Gibson knew a lot more about what to pitch to batters than I did.  I think I began to improve as soon as I found out these things.  The next was that I had to have confidence in the team to make them have confidence in me.  In baseball words, ‘I wised up.’”

George Gibson

George Gibson

Adams’ view of what made a good pitcher was the same in 1910 as it would be nearly a decade later after he had been released by the Pirates and worked his way back to the team and reestablishing himself as an effective pitcher in his late 30s:

“Now a pitcher can have all the speed and curves and control in the world and still not be a good pitcher until he gets wise.  This Pittsburgh crowd plays the game to win, and it is because they work together, hit together, and because each man relies on the others, that they win.  At first, I thought Gibson made some mistakes in telling me what to pitch.  In fact, I was wrong most of the time.  He taught me what to do with a curve ball, and when my control was good enough to pitch where he wanted the ball pitched, things went right.   Sometimes I laughed at myself remembering the mistakes I used to make—some of them I still make…The pitcher must remember that the chances are the batter is as smart and experienced as he is, and keep thinking all the time;  trying to guess what the batter is thinking, and then pitching something else.”

Adams

Adams

Adams continued to credit his teammates for his success:

“It is a big help tp a pitcher to look around in a tight situation and see where Clarke, or (Tommy) Leach, or (Honus) Wagner are playing.  A fellow can learn a lot and get a lot of help by taking his cue from them and pitching the ball where they seem to want it pitched.  It gives a man confidence, too, to know he can make that batter hit the ball, and that back of him are a crowd of men who will come to the rescue and save him when he needs it.

“I think Gibson did more to make me a winner than anyone else.  He is a great catcher, and he rather inspires a pitcher, and makes him do better.”

Adams credited Gibson with his success in the 1909 World Series—when he won three games:

“In the World Series against Detroit, I made a lot of bad breaks in the first game.  Gibson steadied me up and coached me all the way.  He had a theory the Detroit team would not hit low curves , and after we began to study them and see how they hit, we fed them low curves , fast and slow, just inside the outside of the plate, but always low, and we beat them with that kind of pitching.”

Adams also shared a view of strikeouts that would be repeated by Hall of Famer Addie Joss during Joss’ final interview, two days before his death in 1911:

“I found out striking out batters is not the way to win, and that a pitcher must depend rather on making them hit bad balls or balls where the batter does not expect them to be, than in pitching himself out early in a game trying to strike out hitter.”

Addie Joss

Addie Joss

Adams, who won 194 games (losing 140) with a career 2.76 ERA, struck out  just 1036 batters in 2995.1 innings over 19 seasons.

Letters from the Front–Joe Jenkins

30 May

When Joe Jenkins, backup catcher for the Chicago White Sox, enlisted in the army shortly after the 1917 World Series, it didn’t cause much concern for the team’s prospects.  The Chicago Daily News said:

“With Ray Schalk behind the plate, the Sox could give away a dozen Jenkinses and not miss them.”

joejenkins

Joe Jenkins

Malcolm MacLean of The Chicago Evening Post said regardless of Jenkins’ value to the White Sox, the catcher was committed to the war effort.  He recounted a conversation with the usually “happy-go-lucky” Jenkins during Chicago’s spring trip to Marlin Springs, Texas before the 1917 season:

“(I) spied Jenkins sitting alone in the smoking compartment of the special car.  There was no smile on his face.  He invited us to have a seat.

“’”I’m thinking about this war,’ he said.  ‘It’s up to us young, unmarried fellows to get busy, and I’m going to be one of them within a few months.’”

Jenkins went to officer’s training school at Camp Gordon, Georgia, and then to France as a second lieutenant with the 132nd Infantry Regiment, composed primarily of soldiers from Chicago’s South Side.

Jenkins at

Jenkins at Camp Gordon

Shortly after the armistice was signed in November of 1918, MacLean was a given a letter Jenkins had written to a friend in Chicago several weeks earlier.  MacLean said Jenkins had been “promoted, while under fire from second to first lieutenant.”

According to MacLean, “At one stage of the game, all the other officers of his company being disabled, Jenkins commanded his company in an advance,” and as a result received the promotion.  MacLean said Johnny Evers mentioned in a letter that he had met Jenkins in France shortly after the latter was promoted.

Jenkins also wrote two letters to White Sox President Charles Comiskey—as with the letter MacLean was given, both letters to Comiskey were written before the armistice, but received weeks after—and were printed in Chicago newspapers.

In the first, Jenkins wrote:

“My Dear Mr. Comiskey…I have been in the front line for four days, having gone up to look over the situation with the major.

“Believe me, I am a brave man, but I did not bargain to eat any of these high explosives.  One of the shells just missed me about ten feet.  It hit on top of the trench and had it hit in the trench I would not be writing to you today.

“To be honest with you, this is some league that I am in and it is a lot faster than the old American, for you know that when you boot one in this league you are through and can’t come back.”

Jenkins wrote to Comiskey again, approximately three weeks later:

“Well I thought you had forgotten me, but today I got your letter, and you may be sure that I was delighted to hear from you.  We have been scrapping for the past ten days on the Meuse, North of Verdun, and believe me, the fighting has been hot and sharp.  We have just been moved to a more quiet sector, the purpose for which is rest, and believe me we can use it nicely.  It is becoming apparent that Germany is through, and in the last offensive I was in their spirit and morale was at a very low ebb.”

Jenkins also assured Comiskey that the Chicago Southsiders in the 132nd “can go some.”

The catcher  told Comiskey he planned on joining the Sox at Mineral Wells in the spring of 1919 and promised:

“I will bring something back in the line of a trophy for your office with me as shipping it would be risky.  This trophy that I refer to was taken where the fighting was thickest.”

There is no record of what the “trophy” was or whether Jenkins brought it to Comiskey.

Jenkins said in closing:

“Give my regards to all the boys and tell them that in this league over here the pitchers all have plenty on everything that they throw.”

Jenkins made it back to the US on April 15, 1919—on the same ship as Sergeant Grover Cleveland AlexanderThe Chicago Tribune said:

“Jenkins fought in Flanders, the Argonne, and St. Mihiel.  He escaped unwounded and looks ready to play baseball at a moment’s notice.”

Sergeant Grover Cleveland Alexander

Sergeant Grover Cleveland Alexander

He didn’t make it to Mineral Wells but joined the Sox for their opener in St. Louis.  The Daily News said he told manager Kid Gleason he was available to pinch hit:

“’You know I’m a valuable man in a pinch, Kid.  When I came up to hit in a pinch over there the Kaiser lit out for Holland and he’s been there ever since.”

1919 White Sox, Jenkins is bottom left

1919 White Sox, Jenkins is bottom left

Ready to play or not, Jenkins appeared in just 11 games for the pennant-winning White Sox—four behind the plate—and had three hits in 19 at bats.

He remained with the Sox through the 1919 World Series—a member of two World Series teams, he did not appear in a game in either series—and was released that winter.

His big league career over, Jenkins played 11 more seasons in the minors, retiring in 1930.

“Even when he Wins he Loses”

18 Apr

During his most successful season as a major leaguer, Bobby Byrne had some advice for the children who wished to follow in his footsteps:

“If they asked me I would tell them everything I could to keep them from starting.  Not that I knock the profession, but I think it is a poor one to choose, not because of the life itself, but because of its temptation and hardships, and worse than that, the small chances of being successful.”

Bobby Byrne

Bobby Byrne

That answer was given to syndicated journalist Joseph B. Bowles during the 1910 season when he asked Byrne questions about how he started in baseball “in order to help young and aspiring players.”

Despite being the starting third basemen for the defending World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and on his way to leading the National League in hits (tied with Honus Wagner) and doubles (178, 43), while hitting a personal-best .296 in 1910, he told Bowles:

“If I had it to do over again I do not think I ever would become a professional ballplayer, in spite of the fact that I love the game and love to play it.  I think a young fellow would do better to devote himself to some other line than to take the chances of success in the national game, for even when he wins he loses.”

He talked about how he started, and offered a theory about where the best players come from:

“I wanted to be a ballplayer and was educated at the game in a good school, on the lots around St. Louis.  I think that ballplayers develop faster when they are in the neighborhood of some major league team.  One or two of the players on a ‘prairie’ team are at every game the big league (team) plays.  They see how the game is played, and being at that age as imitative as monkeys, they work the same things on their own teams and teach all the other boys.  I have noticed when any city has a pennant winning club the quality of baseball played by the boys and the amateurs in that vicinity are much improved.”

Byrne

Byrne

Byrne said because of his time playing on the sandlots of St. Louis, he “picked up the game rapidly,” but said it wasn’t until he began to play professionally, first in Fort Scott, Arkansas, then in Springfield, MO, that he corrected the biggest flaw in his game:

“The hardest thing I had to learn was when to throw.   I think I must have thrown away half the games we played before I learned not to throw when there was no chance to get the runner. I think that is one of the first things a young player should learn; to look before he throws and only throw when he has a chance to make a play.  The next thing, it seems to me, is to learn to handle one’s feet and to keep in the game all the time, and be in position to move when the ball is hit.”

Even at the pinnacle of his career, the man who discouraged children from following in his path, was also somewhat cynical about his own experience:

“The biggest thing I had learned was that, no matter how far a fellow gets up in the business, there still is a lot he does not know, and by dint of watching and learning I held on, and still am learning and willing to learn.  When I know it all I’ll quit, or be released.”

Byrne continued “learning” for seven more seasons, and the end of his career was fitting for someone who warned that a young man should steer clear of baseball because “even when he wins he loses.” After being acquired on waivers by the Chicago White Sox in September of 1917, he appeared in just one game, on September 4.  He was with the team when they clinched the pennant 20 days later; and was released the day after he appeared in the team photo commemorating their American League Championship.

Group portrait of American League's Chicago White Sox baseball team posing in front of a section of the grandstands on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1917.

White Sox team photo after clinching 1917 pennant, Byrne is fourth from right in second row–he was released the following day.

While the Sox were beating the Giants in the World Series, Byrne was back in St. Louis operating a bowling alley.   After three years away from baseball, he managed minor league teams—the Miami (OK) Indians and Saginaw (MI) Aces—in 1921 and ’22 before returning again to the bowling business.

His admonition against professional baseball didn’t stop his two sons from having their own brief minor league careers; Bobby played for several clubs between 1939 and 1941, and Bernie (listed as “Byrnes” on Baseball Reference) played for the Paragould (AK) Browns in the Northeast Arkansas League in 1940.  Both had their careers interrupted by WWII, Bernie was an airforce fighter pilot in Asia, while Bobby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Purple Heart while flying for the airforce in the Mediterranean Theater.

“A Good Ballplayer must be Temperamental”

15 Feb

 

Idah McGlone Gibson was the most famous female journalist of the early 20th Century; in addition to publishing several books, she wrote for the syndicated Newspaper Enterprise Association, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Evening Herald, and The Toledo Blade.

idahmgibson

Idah McGlone Gibson

She also interviewed New York Giants Manager John McGraw twice, five years apart.

Their first meeting took place in New York shortly before the end of the Giants’ pennant-winning 1912 season.  McGlone told her readers:

“McGraw is surrounded by more ‘buffers’ to keep the public from him that Maude Adams (a notoriously press-shy actress), who is never interviewed, and that’s going some.

mcgrawgibson

Gibson and McGraw in 1912

“Neither his telephone number nor his home address is obtainable unless you reach one of his close friends, and at the Polo Grounds. he is never on view until you have passed all the police force and plain-clothes men.”

McGlone said former Giant turned New York attorney, John Montgomery Ward provided her with an introduction to McGraw.

“It was after the game that I saw the Giants’ manager, well-groomed, well-dressed, well-mannered. McGraw was evidently at peace with himself and the world…He is the most serious ballplayer I ever talked to.  He seldom smiles, and told me that he put one on to order when he had his picture taken with me.”

Gibson asked how McGraw thought the Giants would fare in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox:

“Of course, we are going into the game to win, not because of any glory attached to it, but because it is our business.  However, I feel that I shall be able to live through the winter if we lose the world’s championship.  I am not able to get up that high-water mark enthusiasm which exhilarates the fans to whom the game is a pleasure and not a business.”

She also asked McGraw about the biggest source of gossip surrounding his ballclub; the relationship between Rube Marquard, his 26-game winning pitcher and vaudeville star Shirley Kellogg—during August and September several newspapers published erroneous reports from Marquard’s mother that the couple had married:

“’Indeed, I don’t know whether he is married or not,’ he answered suavely, but his brown eyes narrowed and his lips came together firmly.  ‘You know I have nothing to do with the private lives of my men.’

“Marquard’s name and love affairs, however, did not bring a rosy glow to the manager’s face, and I imagine McGraw has helped make the course of true love run a little crooked, as ‘the Rube’ has lost the jump to his fast ball since his reported marriage.”

Rube Marquard

Rube Marquard

 

McGraw touted his other pitchers, telling Gibson that the greatest pitching performance “he had ever seen was in training camp last spring” when Jeff Tesreau and Al Demaree faced each other for 12 scoreless innings in an intersquad game in Texas.

Despite her fondness for McGraw, Gibson told her readers they “may trust a women’s intuition” and correctly predicted the Red Sox would win the World Series.

Gibson met McGraw five years later during a September series in Cincinnati, with the Giants on their way to another National League pennant. She said:

“I hope I have changed as little as he has in that time.

“His hair, the Irish hair that turns white early, has grown just a bit more optimistic—that is all.

“’Twenty-nine years is a long time to be in the game,’ he said as his eyes wandered over the field—‘longer than most of those boys can count their entire lives.’”

Gibson asked about temperamental players:

“In my nearly three decades of baseball I have learned one thing thoroughly—a good ballplayer must be temperamental, just as an artist, a musician, or a writer must have temperament.”

Gibson asked how he makes “a man’s temperament,” benefit the team:

“’By ignoring it,’ he answered.  ‘I must make every man think he has no temperament, even while making him use that most desirable quality in a ballplayer to its fullest capacity.’”

McGraw refused to say which player on the team was the most temperamental, but offered to tell who was the least.  Gibson said:

“’(Christy) Mathewson, I interrupted.’

“’Yes, Mathewson is always to be depended upon.  When he knows a thing is to be done he just does it.  Some men play best when a team is winning and some play best when spurred by defeat.  A baseball manager must not only be a good picker, but he must study each man individually and handle all differently.’

“’At the end of a season with a winning team you have to be more than ever on your guard.  Every man is a bundle of nerves, drawn taut.  At this time every little prejudice, every little idiosyncrasy, every little vein of superstition is laid bare and raw.  You get to know your men better then than at any other time during the season.’”

Christy Mathewson with John McGraw

McGraw and Mathewson

Gibson asked if the best ballplayers came from a particular nationality.  McGraw said:

“’I cannot answer that.  I think perhaps the Irish are the quickest thinkers and the readiest to take a fighting chance, but I would not like a team made up entirely of Irish.  You must have temperaments like the German to ballast the Irish.  Truly I think a winning ball team must be a melting pot of all nationalities.  This year there are more Germans among the Giants than any other nationality and they are just as temperamental as any other but they don’t show it in just the same way.’”

Gibson did not make a prediction about the World Series as she had done five years before; McGraw’s temperamental Giants were beaten four games to two by the Chicago White Sox.