James T. Farrell and Baseball: Dreams and Realism on Chicago's South Side

James T. Farrell and Baseball: Dreams and Realism on Chicago's South Side

by Charles DeMotte
James T. Farrell and Baseball: Dreams and Realism on Chicago's South Side

James T. Farrell and Baseball: Dreams and Realism on Chicago's South Side

by Charles DeMotte


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James T. Farrell and Baseball is a social history of baseball on Chicago’s South Side, drawing on the writings of novelist James T. Farrell along with historical sources. Charles DeMotte shows how baseball in the early decades of the twentieth century developed on all levels and in all areas of Chicago, America’s second largest city at the time, and how that growth intertwined with Farrell’s development as a fan and a writer who used baseball as one of the major themes of his work.

DeMotte goes beyond Farrell’s literary focus to tell a larger story about baseball on Chicago’s South Side during this time—when Charles Comiskey’s White Sox won two World Series and were part of a rich baseball culture that was widely played at the amateur, semipro, and black ball levels. DeMotte highlights the 1919–20 Black Sox fix and scandal, which traumatized not only Farrell and Chicago but also baseball and the broader culture. By tying Farrell’s fictional and nonfictional works to Chicago’s vibrant baseball history, this book fills an important gap in the history of baseball during the Deadball Era.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496218704
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 12/01/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 330
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Charles DeMotte is an adjunct professor of sociology at the State University of New York College at Cortland. He is the author of Bat, Ball, and Bible: Baseball and Sunday Observance in New York (Potomac Books, 2012).


Read an Excerpt


Growing Up on the South Side

Family Background

James Thomas Farrell was born into the world on February 27, 1904, the second son of James Francis "Jim" and Mary Daly Farrell. His elder brother, Earl, had been born four years earlier. The Farrells lived in a four-story brick tenement located in a mixed ethnic working-class region southwest of the Loop within smelling distance of the Union Stockyards. Farrell's maternal grandparents left Ireland during the postfamine years as part of the wave of Irish immigrants to the New World. His grandmother, Julia Brown, came to the United States with her sister Mary in 1860. Soon after their arrival Mary entered a convent, while Julia worked as a domestic servant in Brooklyn. At some point she met and married John Daly, whom she had known in Ireland. The couple eventually made their way to Chicago and settled in one of the city's emerging Irish neighborhoods. They had five surviving children, including Farrell's mother, Mary Rose Daly, born September 22, 1874; a son Richard Thomas "Tom," born August 26, 1871; and Ella, born June 10, 1883. All three would have a significant impact on young Farrell's formative years.

Farrell's biological family was working class and relatively poor. Farrell's father, Jim Farrell, like his paternal grandfather, was a teamster, one of about thirty-five thousand such workers in Chicago at the turn of the century, eking out a living by transporting goods in horse-drawn wagons around the city. His mother was a devout Roman Catholic, and there is some suggestion in Farrell's writings that she considered becoming a nun before deciding to marry. An obedient Catholic, she followed the church's teaching against birth control and, consequently, was repeatedly pregnant. Altogether the Farrell family had seven children born between 1900 and 1914. The hardship brought on by having more mouths to feed on a meager income led to a decision to farm out their second son, and later one of their daughters, to be raised by Mary's mother and siblings. Becoming part of the Daly household would have a profound impact on young Farrell's upbringing.

While the Dalys did not fall into the category of "lace-curtain Irish," they enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle thanks in large part to Tom Daly, a successful traveling salesman for the James A. Lawrence & Company boot and shoe firm, and Ella, a hotel cashier. Another sibling, Bessie, born in 1886, made her contribution working as a stenographer. Material comfort, however, did not translate into domestic happiness. Though protective and doting toward her grandson, Farrell's grandmother was feisty and given to stirring the pot of family quarrels. She could neither read nor write, which is ironic considering her close relationship to a prodigious future author. Farrell's aunt Ella, characterized as smart and attractive, fell hopelessly in love with Wirt H. Cook, a lumberman from Duluth, Minnesota, who was an older married man, also a Protestant as if being married weren't enough. Cook led her along with promises of marriage but then jilted her. Poor Ella turned to drink and drowned her sorrows with frequent binges, leading to outrageous behavior that had public as well as private consequences. Though an optimist and a great believer in the "American Dream" of success in spite of only having an eighth-grade education, Uncle Tom had bouts of anger that he meted out in verbal and physical abuse toward family members. Together the tensions within the Daly household made for a heady mix of emotional conflicts.

Nor was the relationship between Farrell's biological and adoptive families smooth sailing. Class differences lurked beneath the surface and often came to the fore through memories of old wounds or perceived wrongs. Quarrels between Ella and her sister Mary inevitably provoked personal attacks and references by Ella to Mary's poor housekeeping and the Farrell family's impecuniousness. In return Mary criticized Ella's drinking. Spousal relations between Farrell's natural parents rode a roller coaster of conflicting emotions. Jim Farrell also harbored feelings of inadequacy for not being able to provide for the children placed in the care of his in-laws. The relationship between Farrell and his father was highlighted by a series of misunderstandings and they remained distant, although there was no question of the affection the father harbored for the son. The love-hate relationships within and between the two families were subordinate to an abiding loyalty and sense of kinship that surfaced in times of crisis and expressed itself in numerous acts of goodwill. The tensions and uncertainty of family life no doubt contributed to Farrell's feelings of inferiority and confused sense of identity. Decades later Farrell, in a letter to H. L. Mencken, wrote that the alienation from his parents separated him from the normal family life experienced by most boys, giving him a dual focus on personal relationships.

It was characteristic among the Chicago Irish to forego home ownership in favor of rental property. The Farrells changed residences no less than five times within a span of two decades, while the Dalys kept pace with multiple moves, generally within the space of a few blocks. The direction of these relocations was always southward. Prior to James's joining the Daly household, they resided at 4816 South Indiana Avenue. In 1910 they moved briefly several blocks away to 4953 South Calumet Avenue, and then within a six-year period to successive rental apartments at 5131 South Prairie Avenue, 5704 South Indiana Avenue, and finally 5816 South Park Avenue. These last three relocations placed Farrell within the boundaries of a thirty-six-block neighborhood, stretching six blocks in each direction, within which he lived and moved. This defined space served as the environment for many of his stories and novels. "The neighborhoods of Chicago in which I grew up," wrote Farrell, "possessed something of the character of a small town. They were little worlds of their own. Many of the people living in them knew one another. There was a certain amount of gossip of the character one finds in small towns."

The Washington Park neighborhood lacked the high density that one might expect in an urban environment. The Daly and Farrell families lived in three-story stone or brick apartments, usually interspersed with alleys or vacant lots. Those of a higher social standing lived in slightly more commodious two-story apartment dwellings. "It was a district racially composed of Irish and Irish-Americans," wrote Farrell, "with a considerable proportion of Jewish families, and on the fringes of it some colored and some Polish and other Slavic families. The neighborhood had no clearly defined composition; it was a neighborhood of home owners, of small businessmen, of workingmen, part of the workingmen considered to be the labor aristocracy, and then a number of poor families." He went on to say that the assortment of first- and second-generation boys in the neighborhood exacerbated a sense of difference based on race, religion, and color that intensified hostilities, often leading to gang fights. However, there were "ambition and confidence of success in the social atmosphere" and a "belief in America." The idea of the future was one of endless progress.

On a broader scale, at the turn of the century the South Side, covering the region east of Washington Park and the neighboring Englewood district, contained a number of Irish communities in which relations between ethnic groups were more or less compatible. Mary Thometz, who was born three years after Farrell, resided at 1106 West Garfield Boulevard. Even though she was of German Croatian extraction, she went to the predominantly Irish Visitation church and school and enjoyed the friendship of her Irish American peers. Mary's father was a doctor, and class made a difference in terms of social acceptance. Her family's assimilation led Mary's mother to quip that they were Irish by consent.

The degree to which "outsiders" were welcomed within the largely Irish neighborhoods, however, was nevertheless circumscribed. The Irish, who throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century suffered discrimination and prejudice, largely from the Anglo-Saxon nativist population, returned the same with interest against the new wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe who poured into the city in record numbers. In 1914 the population of Chicago was around 2.5 million people, up from just over 300,000 in 1871. Of this number, over 1.7 million inhabitants were foreign born. Typically, these newcomers were not welcome. Farrell made repeated references in his novels to what his family and neighbors referred to as "dirty dagos," "drunken Slavs," and "lousy foreigners." Said Margaret (Ella's alter ego) to her mother in Farrell's novel A World I Never Made, "You can never trust a nigger or a Jew. The Jews killed Christ, and the nigger is a Jew made black till the Day of Judgment as a punishment from God."

At the bottom of the heap, almost in a category of their own, were the blacks. Racial disdain among Farrell's people and their neighbors had its roots in fear. From the second decade of the century, African Americans moved to Chicago from the South in droves and settled in the ever-expanding Black Belt that was encroaching into the white regions of the South Side. What appears throughout Farrell's novels and stories about Chicago is the propagation of self-serving negative stereotypes toward alien ethnic and racial groups.

Scholar Ellen Skerrett has noted that three predominant forces shaped the emerging Irish community in the nineteenth century: Catholicism, politics, and nationalism. These factors carried over into the next century as well. Unlike other immigrant groups — the Germans, Poles, and Lithuanians in particular — the Irish did not establish cultural and social clubs within their neighborhoods. For the most part their center of focus was the parish church. Therefore, priests held positions of great respect and authority within the Irish community, often adjudicating disputes between neighbors, dispensing comfort to the sick and poor, and establishing clear-cut moral boundaries for their parishioners.

Leading an immigrant church, the Catholic hierarchy sought to connect churches to schools for the purpose of reinforcing the faith and acculturating foreign-born Catholics to their new surroundings. Archbishop James E. Quigley, who ran the Chicago archdiocese from 1903 to 1915, was a fervent promoter of Catholic education. Even before his time, most of the city's parishes had schools attached. Furthermore, church and school isolated life within the parish. In 1911, when the Daly family lived at 5131 South Prairie Avenue, Farrell began first grade at Corpus Christi elementary school. Four years later, when the Daly clan moved six blocks south into the parish of St. Anselm, Farrell was not only confronted with a different environment and altered circumstances, but was completely cut off from his earlier associations. Such was the parochial nature of parish life.

For the Irish in Chicago politics was all about personal connections. At the turn of the century, first- or second-generation Irishmen dominated the city's politics and, as masters of the political machine, controlled vast amounts of patronage that filtered down to friends and nepotistic relations. Those in need of food, money, or coal could always count on their ward organization for some assistance. In the O'Neill-O'Flaherty pentalogy, which reproduces the lives of the Farrells and Dalys in fictional realism, there are numerous references to the clannish style of Irish politics. As an example, around the time of the 1915 local elections Mary Daly's alter ego, Lizz, tells her mother about a favor rendered by her cousin, Paddy Slattery, an alderman. Slattery has doled out a crumb of patronage to her husband by giving him a job on Election Day overseeing one of the precincts, as a way of earning a little extra money. Boasting that Paddy is the most popular politician in their ward, Lizz proclaims that "all you have to do in our ward if you get into trouble with a cop is to say to him, 'Say you, I'm a cousin of Paddy Slattery.'" On one such Election Day Farrell's father may have needed Paddy's help. Working at a polling station, Jim Farrell was confronted by one of Chicago's most notorious gangsters, who began to throw his weight around. Jim told the man "to cut it out," but he kept on acting obnoxious. Never one to shy away from an insult or a fight, Jim "beat the living Hell" out of the man with his bare fists and then chased him down the street. The man he beat up was known as Big Tim Murphy. He was later rubbed out by Al Capone's mob, so it was believed.

Farrell was a second-generation Irish American and carried, as he put it, "the effects and scars of immigration ... upon my life." The reference point for Farrell's grandmother was her life in the "Old Country," where she roamed the fields as a peasant girl and was never at home in the New World. Farrell himself had deep roots in the "old sod," and although the subjects of his novels and stories were drawn from his own circumstances, he did turn his attention to Irish literature and history, compiled in the book On Irish Themes. On the other hand, of all the ethnic groups in Chicago the Irish seemed the least ethnic. While their neighborhoods possessed distinctive Irish characteristics, the fact that they were English speakers gave the illusion of being assimilated Americans.

With respect to Farrell's generation, such was the case. The Irish in Chicago prided themselves on being 100 percent American. They defended the country's economic system and its political institutions. Farrell wrote that neighbors from his district, while listening to radicals spout unorthodox opinions in nearby Washington Park, were bewildered and annoyed by such heretical views. This was certainly true during the First World War, when anti-German feeling was pronounced and those within the Irish communities stood solidly behind the war effort. Patriotic feelings among the Irish also surfaced during the "Red Scare" in the postwar period.


One of the first boys Farrell met after the family moved on May 1, 1915, to 5704 Indiana Avenue in the Washington Park community was Studs Cunningham. His family was solidly middle class. Both parents came from Ireland. Studs's father, Paddy, who was about forty-five in 1915, worked as a plasterer and later did quite well for himself as a plastering contractor. They resided in a comfortable flat on South Wabash Avenue, two blocks from the Daly's Indiana Avenue home, prior to their move to Michigan Avenue. The Cunninghams were considered good Catholics, went to church every Sunday, and raised their children to do the same.

Studs is the central character immortalized by Farrell in his first three novels, Young Lonigan, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, and Judgment Day. This trilogy is considered to be the author's most acclaimed work. The three books cover fifteen years in the life of Studs, from his graduation at St. Patrick's Grammar School (St. Anselm's) on June 16, 1916, to his untimely death in 1931. Studs is portrayed as a person who lives for the moment and has been shaped by the confining world of his neighborhood. Lacking any sense of direction, he drops out of high school and soon drifts into the company of a crowd of boys who spend their time hanging around Charlie Bathcellar's Billiard Parlor on Fifty-Eighth Street, drinking, engaging in fights between themselves and others, "goofing the punk kids," ogling and flirting with girls who pass by, and generally killing time. Whereas street-corner society initially gives Studs a sense of security and identity, he becomes stuck in patterns of behavior that eventually lead to his destruction. As his mates one by one depart or die off, Studs is left to contemplate what might have been. At the age of thirty-one he dies of tuberculosis brought on by a life of dissipation, leaving a pregnant girlfriend (Catherine) as the product of one of his few creative acts.

The tragedy of Studs Lonigan is reinforced by his very conventional view of the world. He remains a practicing Catholic and never questions the dogmas or the authority of the church. As a second-generation Irish American, Studs is overtly patriotic and shares the racial and ethnic prejudices of his community, often carrying them to extremes in the form of physical attacks on blacks and others who encroach on the neighborhood. Likewise, he is disdainful of book learning, respecting those who have practical skills or whose accomplishments are of a physical nature. Though conventional, Studs is not a traditional person but the product of traditionalism, which according to Farrell is the dogmatization of tradition. The distinction he makes is between having a healthy respect for the past and being trapped in the past.

What Studs Lonigan shares with his peers is a bifurcated view of the opposite sex. Girls are divided into two classes: those who are deemed pure and good, such as their sisters, and the ordinary lot who are looked down upon and may be used for pleasure. Throughout the trilogy, Studs is infatuated with Lucy Scanlon, a former classmate to whom he can never express his feelings or form a relationship. Always, she is the idol of his imagination. Girls of the other sort become the butt of derisive comments from Studs and the Fifty-Eighth Street gang, and some they treat inconsiderately or abuse.


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Table of Contents

1. Growing Up on the South Side    
2. Farrell, Baseball, and the Making of a Literary Mind    
3. Danny O’Neill’s Baseball Dreams    
4. Chicago’s Summer Pastime    
5. The College Game, Baseball Diplomacy, and the Summer Controversy    
6. Rube Foster and Chicago’s Black South Side Teams     
7. Comiskey and Chicago’s White South Side Team    
8. The Business of Baseball     
9. The Fix, the Scandal, and the Response    
10. Looking Backward    

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