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Mining Nuggest From Our National Pastime
By Dan Schlossberg
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2007 Dan Schlossberg
All rights reserved.
In the Beginning
Brooks Robinson Remembers ...
I was interested in baseball history at an early age. I grew up in Little Rock, and Bill Dickey grew up in a house about eight or nine blocks away. I certainly knew about Bill Dickey being with the Yankees and being from Little Rock. And Lon Warneke, the Arkansas Hummingbird. I knew all about the Gashouse Gang long before I met Paul Dean's son playing golf. I played against one of his other sons, P.D. Junior.
Too many players today do not know the history of the game. Maybe the Latin players know the history of the game in their own countries, like the importance of Roberto Clemente to Puerto Rico, Juan Marichal to the Dominican, and Minnie Minoso to Cuba, but there's no reason they should know the history of the game the way I do. I'm not even sure how much history the American guys know. When I was growing up, I knew that Johnny Vander Meer pitched back-to-back no-hitters, and I knew a lot about the very early players in baseball.
On Opening Day in Baltimore in 1957, I played third base and George Kell played first. He was always very special to me, on and off the field. In fact, I saw my first stage play in New York with George and his wife. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. I've always been a big admirer of his. In 1983 I was inducted into the regular phase of the Hall of Fame and George came in through the Veterans Committee. It was a big thrill to be inducted together.
There's a reference to baseball in the Little Pretty Pocket Book, a tiny handbook produced in 1787 and owned by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. An independent research library, the American Antiquarian Society contains nearly two-thirds of all items printed in the United States from 1640 to 1821.
The key phrases from the book:
The Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin'd Post,
and then Home with Joy.
The city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, gave baseball a 215th birthday party on September 5, 2006. The date was selected because it matched the date that the town passed a bylaw that banned baseball games within 80 yards of a newly built meeting house — not only because of noise but also out of fear windows might be broken. That ordinance was passed on September 5, 1791.
The New York Knickerbockers, who began play in 1845, became the first ballclub to wear uniforms, six years later. Those suits consisted of long navy blue trousers, webbed belts, white shirts with collars, and straw hats. Although the team initially took considerable teasing from opponents, the wearing of uniforms soon became standard throughout the game.
The word bullpen became part of the baseball lexicon in the 19th century. Theories for its adoption include:
Relief pitchers warmed up near an outfield sign advertising Bull Durham tobacco
Enclosures used by pioneers to protect themselves were called bullpens
In bullfighting, bulls are kept in pens and let out one at a time
Railroad worker shanties, where they rested during breaks, were called bullpens
During the 1850s, Massachusetts baseball was played on a square-shaped field that had 10 to 14 players per side and four-foot-high posts for bases. Umpires asked fans for advice and awarded victory to the first team that scored 100 runs.
Henry Chadwick was a New York baseball writer who refined the box score for newspaper use, established the scoring system of numbering each position, and edited the Ball Players Chronicle, the first weekly baseball publication. The British-born Chadwick, who later spent 27 years as editor of Spalding's Official Baseball Guide, was named "the father of baseball" by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, four years before he died at age 84. Modern media guides, record books, and rosters are all the result of Chadwick's creative thinking. The one -time cricket writer began covering baseball in 1858 and published his first rule book a year later. He was the first foreign-born member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Lincoln: News Can Wait
Abraham Lincoln was playing in a closely contested baseball game in 1860 when a message arrived for him. He told the messenger not to interrupt him during the game. Afterward he found out he had been nominated for president by the Republican Party.
Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States when a Brooklyn ballpark became the first to boast a clubhouse. The Union and Capitoline Grounds had a clubhouse large enough to host three teams — the Eckfords, the Putnams, and the Constellations — and also had an enclosed field and graded pitcher's mound. It cost 10 cents to gain admission to the ballpark.
Throwing a Curve
William Arthur "Candy" Cummings invented the curveball during his tenure as ace of the Brooklyn Stars, an amateur club, in 1867. He later pitched for Hartford, a charter franchise in the National League in 1876, before becoming president of the first minor league, the International Association, at age 29 in 1877.
Early handicaps on hurlers helped hitters immensely. Forest City, based in Cleveland, beat the Brooklyn Atlantics 132 — 1 in a five-inning game in 1870. In another game that year Forest City scored 90 runs in the first inning and had the bases loaded with nobody out when rain halted play at Utica, New York.
Where Teams Dressed
In the early days of the National League, teams changed into their uniforms at their hotels and rode horse-drawn wagons to the ballpark. Ballparks were not required to have visiting clubhouses until 1906.
Spalding's Big Year
In 1875, one year before the formation of the National League (and several years before modern pitching rules were established), A.G. Spalding of Boston (National Association) posted a 57 — 7 record using only fastballs and curves.
The National League not only banned Sunday ball when it was founded in 1876 but also voted to expel clubs that violated the rule. The NL relented in 1892 after merging with the American Association, but many cities still avoided games on the Christian Sabbath. Teams tried to skirt local laws by sandwiching concerts around games, declaring that contests were exhibition games, or increasing the price of scorecards to match the price of tickets (which couldn't be sold on Sunday). Cities finally lifted their bans, with Philadelphia relenting as late as 1934 after a public referendum.
The Wright Stuff
Baseball had its own version of the Wright Brothers. George, Harry, and Sam all played pro ball, with George the star of the first professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings (49 homers in 56 games). Famous for his defensive innovations, George was the first shortstop to "play in the hole" and the first to cover second base. He later became the first batter in National League history, on April 22, 1876, for Boston against Philadelphia. George served as player/manager of the Providence Grays in 1878, beating brother Harry's Boston club for the pennant; umpired games of the world tour taken by Albert Spalding's All-Stars in 1888; and helped lay the groundwork for the Baseball Hall of Fame, which admitted him in 1937.
The Name Game
When Bobby M. Jones of the Rockies started against Bobby J. Jones of the Mets on May 11, 1999, they became the first pitchers with the same first and last names to start against each other in more than 100 years. There were two previous matches: John B. Taylor (Reds) against John W. Taylor (White Stockings) in 1899 and George H. Bradley (Boston) versus George W. Bradley (St. Louis) in 1876, the first year of the National League. It was hard to miss the second Bradley: he started all 64 St. Louis games that season!
The sloppiest baseball game ever played occurred in the inaugural season of the National League. On June 14, 1876, Boston made 24 errors and St. Louis made 16. St. Louis won the game, 20 — 6, before 800 fans — only half of whom stayed for the entire contest.
Candy Cummings, best known as inventor of the curveball during his amateur days, was a minor league president and major league pitcher at the same time. It happened in 1877, when the 29-year-old Cummings was named president of the first minor league, the International Association. Released after pitching poorly for the Lynn (Massachusetts) Live Oaks, Cummings hooked on with Cincinnati of the National League. He lost 14 of 19 decisions that summer and his minor league job a year later, when the International Association disbanded.
The Real Casey
"Casey at the Bat," the famous baseball poem written by Ernest Thayer in 1888, was based on a real-life player. Dan M. Casey was a Philadelphia pitcher who came to bat against the New York Giants in the last half of the ninth inning with two outs and men on second and third. Trailing 4 — 3 (the poem says 4 — 2), Casey took two called strikes and then swung mightily but missed, ending the August 21, 1887, game. A solid pitcher, Casey was remembered instead for his ineptitude in a single at-bat. He pitched for several other teams before becoming a streetcar conductor in Binghamton, New York.
Bid McPhee spent 18 years with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, playing second base without a glove. Though the 5'8" infielder hit just .271 for his lifetime, his fielding prowess persuaded the Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame to enshrine him in 2000.
Because of his strong defense and 2,004 hits, pioneer shortstop Dave Bancroft was elected to Cooperstown in 1971. But he's best remembered for his nickname, "Beauty," applied after rivals heard him say that word whenever his pitcher threw a strike.
Batters didn't know whether they were facing a righty or a lefty when Tony Mullane pitched. The 19th-century star, who pitched without a glove, held both hands on the ball before throwing it with either arm. A century later, in 1995, Greg Harris of the Montreal Expos pitched a scoreless inning of relief while using both arms.
Abner Doubleday's credibility as the inventor of baseball wasn't helped by the 67 diaries he wrote after retiring from the U.S. Army in 1873. Neither the diaries nor the Doubleday obituary that appeared in The New York Times 20 years later made any reference to playing baseball in Cooperstown in 1839.
Roger Connor, first baseman of the Troy Trojans, hit the first bases-filled homer in baseball history in 1881 — five years after the establishment of the National League.
Old Hoss Power
Old Hoss Radbourn, who won 309 games in 11 seasons, was the winning pitcher in the most lopsided shutout of all time — a 28 — 0 win for Providence over Philadelphia on August 21, 1883.
One-armed Cleveland pitcher Hugh Daily no-hit Philadelphia, 1 — 0, in 1883.
Good Old Days
The St. Louis Browns were once a good team. They won four straight pennants in the American Association, then a major league, from 1885 to 1888, and twice beat NL rivals in a forerunner of the World Series.
Who Bats First?
The home team often batted first in 19th-century games.
According to Retrosheet.org, Cincinnati forfeited a game to Louisville in 1887 because the ballclub was delayed by a railroad accident and did not make it to the stadium.
Catcher Jack Doyle, asked to bat for pitcher George Davies in an 1892 Cleveland Spiders game against the Brooklyn Bridgegrooms, was the first pinch-hitter in baseball history.
Long Way Down
On August 25, 1894, Chicago NL catcher William Schriver became the first player to catch a ball thrown from the top of the Washington Monument.
When the 1897 Washington Senators invited women to attend a free game pitched by handsome George Mercer, thousands accepted. But Mercer's fifth-inning ejection by umpire Bill Carpenter provoked a postgame riot. Female fans attacked the umpire, who needed a player escort to leave the field safely, and trashed National Park before police could stop them.
Wait 'til Next Year
The 1899 Cleveland Spiders of the National League won 20 and lost 134 for a .130 percentage — the worst ever recorded.
The Delahanty family sent five brothers to the major leagues: Ed Delahanty, a Hall of Famer, and younger brothers Frank, Jim, Joe, and Tom.
Young Never Aged
Though long deceased, Cy Young remains the major league leader in wins (511), complete games (749), and innings pitched (7,356 2/3). Young, who lived from 1867 to 1955, was a control artist who walked only 29 while working 380 innings in 1904. He was 44 when he lost his final game in 1911 by a score of 1 — 0. It was his 316th defeat — by far the most losses incurred by any pitcher.
Too Much Trouble
Reaching Cy Young's records would require a 20-year average of 26 wins, 38 complete games, and 368 innings pitched.
Cy of Relief
Cy Young went 33 — 10 in 1901, his first season with the Boston Americans, and led the fledgling American League in wins.
First Expansion Draft
In the middle of the 1902 season, New York Giants owner Andrew Freedman obtained controlling interest in the Baltimore Orioles of the American League and assigned most of its players to the Giants (plus a few to Cincinnati). Unable to field a team, Baltimore forfeited a scheduled game against St. Louis on July 17. AL president Ban Johnson removed the franchise from the league and added a new one, stocking it with surplus players from other clubs. That team moved to New York a year later and eventually became the Yankees.
Pittsburgh players matched a $10,000 bet by St. Louis owner Frank DeHaas Robison that the Pirates wouldn't repeat as National League champs in 1903. Then they smothered all opposition, wining the 1903 pennant by 27 ½ games.
Tinker to Evers, No Chance
Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers, the famed double-play combination of the Chicago Cubs, had an on-field fistfight during a 1905 exhibition game and never spoke to each other again. The fight began after Evers took a taxi to the ballpark and left the rest of the team behind.
Early DH Booster
The concept of the designated hitter was first suggested by Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack in 1906.
The first hit ever yielded by Walter Johnson was a bunt single by Ty Cobb, on August 2, 1907. Both men were among the five charter selectees for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Late in the 1908 season, rookie Philadelphia left-hander Harry Coveleski — younger brother of future Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski — defeated the New York Giants three times in five days, helping the Giants lose the NL pennant to the Chicago Cubs. Seething New York manager John McGraw spent the winter plotting to get even, then hit upon an idea during spring training. Told by a scout that Coveleski's inept drum performance in the local band soured a local lass on dating the pitcher, McGraw borrowed a tom-tom and banged on it from the third-base coaching box during Coveleski's next outing against the Giants. Distracted and unnerved, the pitcher couldn't get the ball over the plate. He lost the game and was never able to beat the Giants again. Soon, he was back in the minors — with McGraw telling one and all how he drummed a Giant killer out of the league.
Rube Waddell, a star pitcher of the dead-ball era, once woke up in a hospital covered with bandages. Asked what happened, catcher Ossie Schreckengost obliged with this story: "You said you could fly, so you opened the window and jumped." The pitcher pondered the thought, then queried his battery mate. "Why didn't you stop me?" he said. "I bet $100 you could do it," the catcher replied.
Rube Waddell missed the 1905 World Series with a dislocated shoulder — suffered when he tried to swipe a straw hat off a teammate's head, missed his target, and crashed into a pile of luggage about to be loaded onto a waiting train. Without Waddell, the Philadelphia A's lost a five-game World Series to the New York Giants.
The 1905 Boston Braves had four 20-game losers: Vic Willis (11 — 29), Kaiser Wilhelm (4 — 23), Irv Young (20 — 21), and Chick Fraser (14 — 21). No pitcher has ever lost more games in a season than Willis.
When A's manager Connie Mack needed an extra outfielder in the sixth inning of a 1906 game against the Boston Pilgrims, pitcher Chief Bender volunteered. He also responded with a pair of inside-the-park home runs.
Excerpted from Baseball Gold by Dan Schlossberg. Copyright © 2007 Dan Schlossberg. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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