Early Dreams

Early Dreams

by David Nemec


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The classic 19th century base ball narrative features Earl "Ducker" Draves, a fictional yet all-too-real young player who recounts his remarkable 1884 base ball season and his whirlwind rookie campaign in Cincinnati. Early Dreams is crammed with insightful comments on base ball's pioneers, box scores, and Draves' surprising reactions to the drinking, gambling, and whoring activities that were central to early base ball. Early Dreams manages to cover nearly every nuance of the era, including evolving game strategy, financial squabbles, and racism--all against a backdrop of the rough-and-tumble milieu of the 19th century brand of ball. Nemec's book draws favorable comparisons to Ring Lardner's You Know Me Al. Cover illustration by Todd Mueller.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781929763047
Publisher: Pocol Press
Publication date: 12/20/2015
Pages: 220
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.46(d)

About the Author

David Nemec, author of numerous works on baseball and fiction, is a long-time member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). He is also a recognized authority on baseball, especially the 19th century game.

Read an Excerpt

Cincinnati, O., August 10

Dear Sam:

Before you leap to the conclusion that I’m back in Cincinnati because I was released again or else our club folded after the disastrous series in St. Louis, let me swiftly put your mind to rest. Before journeying to Kansas City we detoured here to play an exhibition game against the Maroons and then a makeup championship game today. Ridiculous, you say. What a waste of train fare in these hard times to come all the way back here for only two games, one of which won’t even count!

Well, Sam, the truth is Thorner and McLean had a very shrewd motive for staging these games now. What’s more, the train fare they expended is a pittance compared to the money they shelled out on Friday to sign three players who have made us, in one fell swoop, the equal of the Maroons.

We beat the immortal Sweeney this afternoon 7-4 and would have crushed him in yesterday’s exhibition too if our new trio hadn’t taken a day longer to report than anticipated, thus disappointing the mammoth crowd that came out to welcome them to Union Park. The turn-out today was only about half as big, probably because some people feared being stood up again. But those who came are sure to return and meanwhile to tell their friends the Outlaw Reds are now the go. The club still isn’t done cleaning house either. Ry Jones has already been ordered to pack his valise and Powell looks as if he’ll be next. I’d be worried for my own fair skin if I were not the team’s third-leading batsman at the moment.

Oh, incidentally, Sam, our new men are Jim McCormick, Jack Glasscock and Fatty Briody. It has now come out that we weren’t left dangling in St. Louis the other day because of some problem with the Kansas City team. Instead it was because Thorner and McLean had a coup in the works that has made even Lucas’s theft of Sweeney look pallid in comparison. On Friday, Frank Wright, our club secretary, took his check-book to Grand Rapids, where the Clevelands were playing an exhibition game that day, and filched Glasscock, Briody and McCormick right out from under the Blues’ noses. The first two reportedly each got $1,500 to join us for the rest of the season while McCormick got $2,000. But Briody has confided those figures are less than the true amount. He avers that Wright gave them each several hundred dollars more under the table.

The Clevelands are up in arms over our daring raid, not that it will do them any good. Mark my words, Sam, Friday will go down in history as the turning point. Now that we have allied with Lucas in wreaking havoc on the League, there will soon be no sacred cows. Already there’s a rumor afoot that Buck Ewing will desert the Gothams any day now and sign with us so he can play in his hometown. And if the peerless Ewing jumps ship, can King Kelly, Anson, Brouthers and the rest of the League’s stars be far behind? By the time we get to Kansas City we may not be just the equal of the Maroons-- we may be the most powerful nine ever assembled.

But as every cloud has a silver lining, so it must have a speck of gray. With Glasscock’s coming, so goes my last chance this season of playing short stop. Still, there is even a sunny side to this development. Glasscock ranks among the best short stops around now, rivaled only by Bill Gleason and Tommy Burns. So by playing beside him at third base I’ll be able to study at the feet of a master.

Already I’ve learned from him, Sam. Today I was taught that a short fielder should handle most pop flies hit into foul ground behind third base. His angle of pursuit is better than a third sacker’s, Glasscock says. To illustrate, he drew a diagram in the dirt with his finger. It looked so obvious when he made his point, yet none of the other diamond fielders I’ve seen play this year seem aware of it. On the Red Stockings, Fulmer always let Carpenter take charge of foul flies, and the only reason the Louisvilles don’t expect the same from Browning is because he never goes after air balls of any kind unless they seem ready to hit him on the head. And while I’m on the subject of those two teams, the Louisvilles were here in late July while we were in Chicago and the series, from what I’ve heard, was a joke. Ross, the umpire, robbed the Louisvilles of the first game at everything but gunpoint. And then the next day he ruled that one of Hecker’s pitches grazed Mountjoy’s blouse and awarded Billy his base to force home the tying run in the ninth inning. After the game Mountjoy gleefully confessed the ball had never touched him!

Before the series White laid a row of smooth stones in front of the box at American Park so that Hecker would slip on them if he finished his delivery outside it like he had down in Louisville. Dirty poo1, right, Sam? But the Louisvilles were no paragons of virtue either. When Cincinnati went to Eclipse Park for the return series earlier this week, Gerhardt piled stones on the right side of the box where White always stands to start his delivery. White hollered a blue streak, but Gerhardt just told him tough sugar, there was no rule in the book forbidding it.

So you see the level to which the game has descended in the American Association. And the League version is speedily becoming our own now that we’re in the process of purloining most of their leading lights.

I’m not done strutting, Sam. In the past few days there have been three other glorious occurrences. One is that Gerhardt has been stripped of his captaincy in favor of Walsh, his former assistant. It would be grand to report that Will White had suffered a like Fate, but I can’t as yet although many of the Queen City sharps believe it’s just a matter of time now before he too is asked to step down.

I can relate, though, that Briody’s arrival has knocked some wind out of Crotty’s sails. From thinking he was a superman among men of straw, he now is no better than second-string on the Outlaw Reds, rated to catch only on days McCormick doesn’t pitch. Which means about once a week since Scotch Jim was the League’s top heaver last year and doesn’t appear to have slipped at all contrary to the stories out of Cleveland that he was no great loss because his arm was about cooked anyway.

And last but far from least, Sam, today on my way home from Union Park I stopped at a drug store to buy some ointment for heat rash, and while I was paying for it there was commotion behind me, causing me to turn from the clerk. Whereupon I saw four young boys gawking at me. They immediately clamed up and shyly looked away, but when I went to leave the drug store they started up again. “It is, I’m sure it is!” I heard one of them say. “That’s Ducker Draves!” And, Sam, the awe and worship I heard in his voice was worth a million.

Your nephew, Earl.

P.S. We’ll return here from Kansas City on the 19th to play the Chicagos. Seats for that series are going like hot-cakes, but I still have one reserved in your name behind our bench for all three games. Just a single word letting me know what day you’re coming and I’ll be at the train depot with bells on.

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