Tris Speaker: The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend

Tris Speaker: The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend

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by Timothy Gay

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All serious baseball fans know the name of Tris Speaker. A Hall of Fame hitter, Speaker compiled a career batting average of .345-career—5th all-time best and tallied more doubles than anyone in history. But Speaker was so much more than just a Hall of Fame hitter. As baseball historian Richard Johnson says, "Speaker was Willie Mays before there was Willie


All serious baseball fans know the name of Tris Speaker. A Hall of Fame hitter, Speaker compiled a career batting average of .345-career—5th all-time best and tallied more doubles than anyone in history. But Speaker was so much more than just a Hall of Fame hitter. As baseball historian Richard Johnson says, "Speaker was Willie Mays before there was Willie Mays." Regarded by his peers as the greatest center fielder of all time, Speaker's range was so great that his outfield area was known as the place "where triples went to die." He still holds the all-time records for assists, double plays, and unassisted double plays by an outfielder. A World Series winner as both a player and a player-manager, Speaker devised the modern-day platoon system and also the infield rotation play. The Texas native and descendant of Confederate soldiers would also go on to tutor Larry Doby, the first black man to play in the American League. The author offers an honest look at Speaker's larger-than-life, roughshod, frontier-forged personality. Simply stated, Tris Speaker is the long-overdue biography of one of the best players of all time.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Timothy Gay has accomplished something special with this book..."—David Maraniss, author of Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero "In this riveting account of the rough-and-tumble world of baseball a century ago, Timothy Gay revives the reputation of a player who has not been given nearly his due. Go ahead: Read this book and then try to keep Tris Speaker out of your all-time outfield."—George F. Will "Tristam 'Spoke' Speaker sits, statistically, alongside baseball's greatest sluggers and fielders, but his story and name have been largely forgotten....Gay has insured the righting of history with this biography."—Publishers Weekly "Tris Speaker was the prototype for Willie Mays...Timothy Gay has crafted an enjoyable and important book about one of the most dominant yet underrated players in baseball history."—Richard A. Johnson, coauthor of Red Sox Century and The Dodgers: 120 Years of Dodger Baseball "Gay has filled a serious gap in baseball history, and his effort compares favorably with Charles Alexander's acclaimed biographies of John McGraw and Ty Cobb."—Booklist "[A] richly detailed biography"—Library Journal "Tris Speaker is a most attractive figure for a biographer - a consistent winner, a defining athlete at his centerfield position, a Hall of Fame hitter but whose life has to this point remained untold. Timothy Gay, a journalist and essayist, has done an admirable job of bringing to life this powerhouse hitter and fielding spectacle. Gay presents a meticulously researched gem of a biography, full of colorful anecdotes of the baeball legends of Speaker's early century career, most notably his stint with the Red Sox, a ramshackle dysfunctional team that Speaker nearly singlehandledly molded into World Series champs. . ."Gay is most fascinating when he explore Speaker's difficult relationship with the Boston culture. A Texan, a Southerner, a Protestant, Speaker was a most awkward fit in the sports city to which he brought so much. He never abandoned his open prairie ways and was always at odds with the Catholic establishment . . . "The writing here is never simply anecdotal. Gay understand the role of the historian. He is more intersted in placing Speaker within his era than in merely capturing moments of Speaker's career. Consequently, the prose is vivid and appealing (Gay frequently quotes Grantland Rice and Gay's own prose recalls that impeccable proseline full of rich description and careful detail), but the presentation is never so pretentious that Gay forgets he is writing about the games grown up kids play; the cameos of the famous athletes are deeply involving and immediate. This is a wonderful read - and an important read as it becomes the definitive account of this nearly forgotten legend."—Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature
"Gay has filled a serious gap in baseball history, and his effort compares favorably with Charles Alexander's acclaimed biographies of John McGraw and Ty Cobb."
Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature
"Gay presents a meticulously researched gem of a biography. This is a wonderful read-and an important read as it becomes the definitive account of [Speaker]."
Library Journal
Tris Speaker (1888-1958) is a member of the most exclusive fraternity in sports, baseball's 3500 hit club. The "Grey Eagle" is also recognized as one of the greatest defensive center fielders in the history of the game: he played so close to the infield that he succeeded in recording a half dozen unassisted double plays! A multi-World Series winner, sadly he agreed to "tank" at least one game and most probably others, staining his reputation for decades as documented in this richly detailed biography, the first on Speaker to succeed in situating him within an epoch of great promise and of great shame. Indeed, the gambling scandals of that period are mirrored in today's widespread substance-based cheating. The ultimate value of this biography resides in its portrayal of personal redemption. Speaker learned from his brushes with infamy to cast aside racial and bigoted views and to contribute to the development and acceptance of black athletes while surmounting bigotry in his personal life. This warts-and-all account is true to a rugged individualist and offers insights to a general public often dismayed by the lack of values found in the sports world. It certainly belongs on the sports shelves of general libraries. Since it also offers a rich analysis of a complex life and of a fascinating time, it garners a place in the non-sporting biographical section as well.-Gilles Renaud, Ontario Court of Justice, Cornwall Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Sport Literature Association

“Gay, who spent four years researching Speaker’s life, has crafted a rugged, no-holds-barred look at a player who encompassed all the complex magic of early twentieth century baseball. Speaker’s story exemplifies why baseball holds such an important place in the American imagination. It is our story—a story of sin and expiation, of loyalty and love, of courage and dignity. This should be required reading for any serious baseball fan.”—Sport Literature Association
The Inside Game

"There are many passages where Gay captures the spirit of the Gray Eagle as he describes a moment of Speaker in action. These are effective because they are done selectively; this book is anything but prone to monotonous game by game summaries."—The Inside Game
Dallas Morning News - Ed Bark

"An eye-opening look at baseball’s now seemingly prehistoric ‘dead ball’ era, which also was rife with gambling scandals, grudges, amoral team owners and spring training in Hot Springs, Ark., where training regimens included mandatory hikes through the woods.”—Ed Bark, Dallas Morning News
The Miami Herald - Mark E. Hayes

“Fans of the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians will likely enjoy this book. . . . Timothy Gay’s thoughtful biography lays bare the ugly fact that many players were often involved in sketchy gambling arrangements. . . . Speaker is now largely forgotten, and this well-told story bridges the gap between baseball before World War I and its more modern form.”—Mark E. Hayes, The Miami Herald

“The on-field brilliance and off-field shortcomings of Hall of Fame centerfielder Tris Speaker are recounted . . . Warren native Timothy Gay.”—Times-Observer
Aethlon - Hal Benjamin

“[Gay] has done an admirable job of bringing to life this powerhouse hitter and fielding spectacle. . . . A meticulously researched gem of a biography. . . . A wonderful read—and an important read as it becomes the definitive account of this nearly forgotten legend.” —Hal Benjamin, Aethlon


Timothy Gay, a journalist and essayist, has done an admirable job of bringing to life this powerhouse hitter and fielding spectacle. Gay presents a meticulously researched gem of a biography, full of colorful anecdotes of the baseball legends of Speaker’s early century career. . . . This is a wonderful read—and an important read as it becomes the definitive account of this nearly forgotten legends.”—Hal Benjamin, Aethlon

Time Magazines-Observer
"The on-field brilliance and off-field shortcomings of Hall of Fame centerfielder Tris Speaker are recounted . . . Warren native Timothy Gay."—Times-Observer

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Tris Speaker

The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend

By Timothy M. Gay

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2006

University of Nebraska Press

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8032-2206-8

Chapter One

October 1912

The mood of many of the fans filing into Fenway Park that October
afternoon mirrored the foul weather. Even by Boston's often-dank fall
standards, it was a dreary day. Heavy clouds hung over the Back Bay all
morning and afternoon, further dampening already soggy spirits. The
previous day's game at Fenway had been played in fog and drizzle so
impenetrable that even Bostonians in the best seats had trouble seeing
what was happening on the field. Considering the way their Red Sox
had played, that was probably a blessing.

Boston's "Olde Towne Team" hadn't merely lost the last two games;
it had disgraced itself in a way that enraged the city. The past forty-eight
hours had been a fiasco. Days that had started with so much promise for
Red Sox fans had ended in bitterness and recrimination.

The Red Sox, the American League champions, and the New York
Giants, the National League champions, were concluding the 1912
World Series - or, as it was known back then, the "World's Series."
It had been a hotly contested postseason that riveted fans throughout
the country. Extra trains had to be added to shuttle all the hangers-on
between Boston and New York. Torchlight parades drewhuge crowds
in both cities. Special platforms were erected in Times Square and along
Boston's "newspaper row" on Washington Street so that tens of thousands
of passersby, in those pre-radio days, could follow the action on
mammoth boards with diamonds carved into the middle. Pitch-by-pitch
and base-running updates were flashed to board operators via telegraph,
then displayed on the diamond, triggering deafening roars and groans.
The Times Square board was hailed as a technological marvel; it was
run by electricity.

Boston mayor John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, whose yet-to-be-born
grandson would become the thirty-fifth president of the United
States, and New York mayor William Gaynor engaged in good-natured
public jousting. Thousands of people - quite likely the two mayors
among them - engaged in not-so-good-natured private betting. Saloonkeepers,
bookmakers, and sportswriters all agreed it was the most heavily
wagered event they'd ever seen. Gamblers hung out in Fenway's
bleachers, hollering out the odds. Scalpers were hawking tickets for as
much as fifty or even sixty bucks a throw - double the take from the '11
Series. Many commentators were calling the '12 Series - the ninth ever
played - the finest yet.

The Red Sox had gone into the previous day's game holding a 3-2 lead
in games won in the best-of-seven series. (The second game, lengthened
by a nasty scuffle that cleared both benches, had been called a tie and suspended
after eleven innings because of darkness.) A Boston win looked
assured in the seventh game, however, because the Sox were sending
their ace, twenty-two-year-old "Smoky Joe" Wood, to the mound. Wood
had dominated opponents that season, winning thirty-four games while
hurling a Gibsonian ten shutouts. Smoky Joe had acquitted himself well
in the Series, winning games one and four while striking out a total of
nineteen Giants. In game one, Wood was particularly stout, snuffing
out a Giants rally in the ninth to preserve a 4-3 win. "I threw so hard
I thought my arm would fly right off my body," Joe supposedly declared
in the clubhouse afterward.

President William Howard Taft, cruising off the Newport coast
aboard the yacht USS Mayflower - a floating Xanadu replete with wine
cellar and solid marble master bath - insisted that a naval wireless keep
him apprised of game seven's progress. Taft was a huge man and a huge
baseball buff. Two years earlier he had become the first president to take
part in Opening Day ceremonies. In retrospect, perhaps Taft should
have been trolling for votes instead of trolling Rhode Island Sound. In
less than three weeks he would lose all but two states to the combined
forces of Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the winner, and Bull Mooser
Theodore Roosevelt, the spoiler.

Despite the interest evinced by their portly commander-in-chief,
Wood and his Red Sox teammates had not been enthused about the
prospect of clinching the Series the day before. In fact, quite the opposite:
two incidents earlier in the Series had incensed them.

First, baseball's governing National Commission, which served as a
rubber stamp for the club owners and league presidents, decided not
to share the proceeds of the tied second game with the players. The
commission reckoned that since there had been no conclusion to the
contest, the ballplayers had not earned their stake in the gate.

The other issue that left nerves raw was Boston president James McAleer's
insistence that spitballer Buck O'Brien - not the peerless Wood - start
the sixth game of the Series. With the Sox holding a three-to-one
advantage in games won, Wood was primed and ready to go in game
six at the Polo Grounds in New York. But McAleer doubtless wanted
the Series to move back to Boston for one more day of big box office.
Despite the protestations of Red Sox player-manager Jake Stahl, second-year-man
O'Brien started the sixth game and was battered around for
five runs in the first inning. The Sox went on to lose 5-2.

As explored in Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson's Red Sox Century,
the postgame innuendo floating around Boston was that O'Brien didn't
know he was scheduled to pitch until he arrived at the Polo Grounds
just before the game started. Supposedly nursing a hangover from too
much revelry in Manhattan the night before, Buck was in no condition
to take the slab. Joe Wood's brother Paul, under the misconception that
his unhittable sibling would start, had bet a hundred bucks - a tidy sum
in those days - on the Sox in game six. On the train ride back to Boston
following the game, Paul Wood was so bent on revenge that he reportedly
baited O'Brien into a fight, inflicting a black eye.

It wasn't the first time that Boston's American League franchise had
been suspected of postseason shenanigans to hype the gate. In 1903, the
year of the first modern World Series, the great pitcher Cy Young and
his Pilgrims (as the team was then called) allegedly "threw" game one
against the Pittsburgh Pirates to protest the meager financial incentives
- and manipulate more favorable odds for the Boston club for the remainder
of the postseason. Young got scuffed up in the top of the first
inning, his fielders made several embarrassing gaffes behind him, and
the Pirates managed to pull off not one but two double steals - all before
a peeved overflow crowd in Boston's South End. Boston's players and
the club's owner, the story went, had taken full advantage of those more
lucrative stakes once the odds evened out following Pittsburgh's victory.
Boston fans knew that story all too well - and they thought history was
repeating itself.

Another rumor swirling around Boston pubs was that owner McAleer,
knowing O'Brien would falter, had wagered a bundle on the Giants in
game six. Patrons of a Roxbury saloon called "Third Base" (so named
because "it was the last place you stop before going home") were sure
that the Red Sox president was larding both pockets.

The sixth game of the '12 Series was knocked off the front page of most
newspapers around the country because it took place the same afternoon
as the attempted assassination of presidential candidate Theodore
Roosevelt. A deluded bartender named John Schrank shot Teddy in the
chest as the former president was working his way toward a stage in Milwaukee.
Schrank's pistol shot was deflected by Teddy's metal eyeglass
case and by a fifty-page speech that was fortuitously folded in his vest
pocket. Undeterred, Roosevelt held up his speech text with the bullet
hole in it, vowing to the crowd, "I will make this speech or die." He
finished his remarks before submitting to medical attention.

The tension on the field and in the stands at Fenway got even uglier as
the seventh game approached. There was no rest day between the sixth
and seventh contests; the players got off the train and - bleary-eyed - were
back at Fenway after a short night's rest.

Brand new that year, the ballpark was packed to the rafters as it had
been throughout the Series, so crowded that standing-room-only sections
had been cordoned off on the field itself. Thousands of people
were craning their necks behind roped-off areas in the outfield, barely
three hundred feet from home plate. Many of them were bellowing the
chants for which Red Sox fans had become infamous. One of them, sung
to the tune of a popular ballad called "Tammany," went:

Carrigan, Carrigan
Speaker, Lewis, Wood, and Stahl.
Bradley, Engle, Pape, and Hall
Wagner, Gardner, Hooper, too.
Hit them! Hit them! Hit them! Hit them!
Do, boys, do!

But with the first pitch of the seventh game just minutes away, Boston's
biggest cheerleaders were conspicuously absent. They were the self-anointed
"Royal Rooters," a group of several hundred überfans led by
Mayor Fitz and Ned "Nuf Ced" McGreevey, the proprietor of the Third
Base saloon. McGreevey earned his nickname by thundering "Enough
said!" when his customers' arguments over sports or politics grew too
loud or long. Either nervous that the Royal Rooters wouldn't show
or acting out of spite - or perhaps both - McAleer's green eyeshade
deputy, club treasurer Robert McRoy, sold the Rooters' usual seats to
fans queued up outside the ballpark. Since the club had sold Series
tickets in strips of three games, in management's view duckets to the
seventh game could only be secured on a first-come, first-served basis - a
pesky little detail that was never communicated to the Rooters, nor
anyone else, for that matter.

A few moments later, waving pennants and accompanied by a brass
band, Fitz, McGreevey, and company marched through the then-opening
in the center-field bleachers, only to discover that their seats had
been bartered out from under them. McAleer and McRoy had relegated
the Royal Rooters, whose allegiance went back, literally, to day one in the
franchise's history, to standing-room-only in left field. Outraged, Mayor
Fitz demanded a huddle with team officials, which took place in front
of the pitcher's mound. No soap, His Honor was told: the Rooters were
stuck in standing room. After their leader's appeal was denied, many of
the Rooters went berserk, knocking over a temporary restraining fence
and refusing to leave the playing field. Adding insult to injury, fans seated
along the third base line began pelting the Rooters with peanuts, Cracker
Jack, scorecards, and anything else they could get their hands on. The
situation became so frenzied that mounted police were called in to restore
order, galloping headlong into the throng from the open area in
center field, billy clubs in hand.

Amid this chaos, Smoky Joe Wood was trying to warm up. In forbidding
conditions, the start of the game was delayed for more than a half
hour as the police and coaches and players from both teams herded the
Rooters behind the restraint in left field. Wood's unsettled warm up and
the mayhem all around him could not have helped his frame of mind.
Like his brother Paul, Joe, too, reportedly had a confrontation with the
hapless Buck O'Brien. The two supposedly had to be separated outside
the clubhouse a couple of hours before the ball game started; a bat allegedly
had to be wrung out of Wood's hands. O'Brien not only had the
misfortune of losing game six, he was guilty of another sin in Wood's
eyes. Buck was an immigrant kid and a practicing Roman Catholic, a
background and a religion abhorred by Wood and a certain faction of

When the game finally started, Smoky Joe Wood was awful. For the
only time all season, he got knocked out of the box early. Before being
replaced in the top of the second, he threw barely a dozen pitches, giving
up seven hits and six runs. Tim Murnane of the Boston Globe, whose observations
commanded universal respect (Murnane's pronouncements
were considered "pretty much ex cathedra," in the words of modern
Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan), volunteered that Wood appeared to be
"cutting the ball over the heart of the plate." With runners at first and second
and nobody out, Wood curiously chose to pitch from a full windup
instead of the stretch, allowing the Giants to dash off an easy double

Wood's teammates dragged the Sox further into the mire; behind him,
one of the finest fielding teams in history made a peck of mental and
physical errors. The hijinks didn't stop after Wood left the game. As
reported in the next day's New York Times, in the top of the second, relief
pitcher Charley Hall tried to pick a Giants runner off second base. Hall's
throw eluded both the Sox shortstop and its all-world center fielder. It
eventually had to be tracked down by Boston's right fielder as the Giants
runners sauntered around the bases.

When the game mercifully ended in the cold and mist, it was 11-4,
Giants. The Series was now even at three games each. "When he walked
to the pitching mound ... Wood wore a halo," the Times asserted. "But
before three hours had gone, fickle fandom was looking about for someone
else to put on the pedestal."

To "fickle fandom" - the Red Sox faithful - the whole episode stunk
to high heaven. It wasn't just the Royal Rooters who suspected the fix
was in; Murnane and other reporters hinted that game seven wasn't on
the level. The Chicago Daily Tribune's respected baseball seer, Hugh
Fullerton, deplored the suspicious turn the Series had taken. "Stamp
out gambling and the end of talk of crookedness is at hand," he snapped
in a column that week. Many people feared the worst: that the Red Sox
had deliberately thrown the game to recover their losses from the "tied"
contest. With Wood pitching, the conspiracy theory went, the Giants
had been heavy underdogs. If the Sox players had laid money on the
Giants, they would have made a killing.

The Royal Rooters felt so betrayed they gathered en masse on Jersey
Street after the game, singing sarcastic songs of praise to the Giants.
Cries of "The hell with the Red Sox!" and "Who gives a damn whether
they win or lose!" rang through the Fens. The Rooters' cause was taken
up by an editorial in the next day's Globe, which likened the club's use
of mounted police to Cossacks putting down a Russian peasant revolt.

A coin was tossed to determine the location of the eighth and final
game. The Giants' surrogate called "heads"; it came up "tails." The
clincher would be at Fenway the next day, October 16, 1912.

Red Sox fans were in a tizzy. With many of them convinced that the
team's owner had compromised game six and that their beloved players
had thrown game seven, they stayed away from game eight in droves.
The Rooters angrily boycotted, with Mayor Fitz leading the catcalls.

Sadly, then, only a half-capacity crowd was on hand to witness the
final match-up of the 1912 World Series - one of the best baseball games
ever played.

Game eight was everything the previous two contests weren't: beautifully
pitched, taut, gut-wrenching baseball. Joe Wood had thrown only a
handful of pitches the day before and could easily have been sent to the
mound again. But given Wood's mercurial behavior over the past forty-eight
hours, manager Jake Stahl couldn't trust him. He turned to rookie
Hugh Bedient. Bedient had pitched well as both a starter and reliever
during the Series, starting and winning the fifth game, 2-1.

Almost everywhere those seventeen thousand fans looked that day, they
glimpsed baseball immortality. Six of the people in uniform were later
enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Planted in the Giants' dugout was their combative manager, John
McGraw. The son of an Irish immigrant railroad worker, "Muggsy"
McGraw was revered by his players and Giants fans - and reviled by
practically everyone else. He taught his charges to play the rugged brand
of baseball pioneered by his old Baltimore Orioles teams of the 1890s.
Muggsy, Hughie Jennings, and "Wee Willie" ("hit 'em where they
ain't!") Keeler played baseball with sharp knuckles and sharper cleats.
McGraw infused the same spirit in his Giants clubs, winning nine pennants
and three World Series championships in his three decades as
manager. He courted the Big Apple's Runyon-esque characters, counting
Broadway stars, bookies, and professional gamblers among his many
cronies. Muggsy even owned a casino in Havana, Cuba, which in short
order became the wintertime playground of New York's better-endowed
hustlers. The considerable girth of McGraw cohort (and some would
say past and future co-conspirator) Wilbert Robinson was parked near
McGraw in the Giants' dugout. Grantland Rice once wrote of McGraw
that "his very walk across the field in a hostile town is a challenge to
the multitude." Muggsy reveled in his bullyboy image but despised his
bullyboy nickname.


Excerpted from Tris Speaker
by Timothy M. Gay
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Timothy Gay has accomplished something special with this book.-David Maraniss, author of Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero

Meet the Author

Timothy M. Gay is a writer based in northern Virginia. His essays and articles on the Civil War, politics, baseball, college basketball, and golf have appeared in USA Today, The Washington Post, and other publications.

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Tris Speaker: The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Old fashion hard nose player who could do it all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This author is an excellent writer. The material is well- researched. But more important, this author writes extremely well. Arguments are well-thought out. Support is broad and accurate. Large issues are presented with accuracy and style. This is a masterful work. Perhaps it will have fewer readers than for greater stars (since Speaker), but the book captures the era of Speaker as well as any other book I've read, and I've read many.