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Authors: Jeff Silverman

At the Old Ballgame

BOOK: At the Old Ballgame
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Stories from Baseball's Golden Era



Guilford, Connecticut

An imprint of Globe Pequot Press

Copyright © 2003, 2014 by Morris Book Publishing, LLC


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission should be addressed to Globe Pequot Press, Attn: Rights and Permissions Department, PO Box 480, Guilford, CT 06437.


Lyons Press is an imprint of Globe Pequot Press.


Project editor: Staci Zacharski

Layout artist: Sue Murray



Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.


E-ISBN 978-1-4930-0721-9

To the Men of Claw . . .

Rarae aves, most of them . . .


Title Page




Why Base Ball Has Become Our National Game
by Albert G. Spalding


The Model Base Ball Player
by Henry Chadwick


Casey at the Bat
by Ernest Lawrence Thayer


Casey's Revenge
by Grantland Rice


The Color Line
by Sol White


A Whale of a Pastime
by Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston


The Rube's Honeymoon
by Zane Grey


How I Pitched the First Curve
by Candy Cummings


Discovering Cy Young
by Alfred H. Spink


Varsity Frank
by Burt L. Standish


Baseball Joe's Winning Throw
by Lester Chadwick


Mr. Dooley on Baseball
by Finley Peter Dunne


Jinxes and What They Mean to a Ball-Player
by Christy Mathewson


One Down, 713 to Go
by Damon Runyon


How I Lost the 1915 World Series
by Grover Cleveland Alexander


The Crab
by Gerald Beaumont


My Roomy
by Ring Lardner


The Longest Game
by Ralph D. Blanpied


Fullerton Says Seven Members of the White Sox Will Be Missing Next Spring
by High S. Fullerton


His Own Stuff
by Charles E. Van Loan


The Pitcher and the Plutocrat
by P.G. Wodehouse


The Slide of Paul Revere
by Grantland Rice




So, what's the essential quality that turns a baseball
story into a
baseball story? Let's touch base for a moment with America's other national pastime: the movies.

Every year, the American Film Institute hands out a Life Achievement Award to an honoree whose work—so the AFI's Solons assure us—has stood, or will stand, the test of time. What a nice sound—the test of time—and what an exacting criterion. To satisfy it, the work must certainly have legs—like Cobb and Brock and Ricky Henderson; personality—like Ruth and Stengel; power—like Big Mac and the Big Train; craft—like Koufax and Mathewson; grace—like DiMaggio and Williams; courage—like Robinson and Aaron; durability—like Ripken and Ryan; and character—like Clemente and Gehrig. As commendable, individually, as these qualities certainly are, they need more than themselves alone to pass the test; each needs at least a touch of the other. To be classic, in short, is a tall order.

Each of the twenty-two tales—the fictions and the facts—that make up
At the Old Ballgame
has stood this test of time. They all satisfy the most readily measured threshold—legs—with ease. The baby in the group—Gerald Beaumont's “The Crab”—was first published in 1921, and if we keep the comparison to the movies in play, that puts it squarely in the silent era. Indeed, the majority of the selections that follow gave voice to a game before the movies realized they had any voice at all. They are tales from a time when Cobb and Speaker were hitting .400, when Johnson and Matty (a contributor here, at least in name; his observations about play superstitions were actually penned by sportswriter John Wheeler) were moving 'em down, and when artists like Chaplin and Keaton and D. W. Griffith were taking cuts and making cuts, inventing, as they went along, the grammar of the movies frame by frame.

It was a good time for invention, those days, and in their own way, writers like Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, Grantland Rice, Zane Grey (yes,
Zane Grey, a helluva college outfielder by the way), Charles Van Loan, and even P.G. Wodehouse (more associated with a small, dimpled ball than one of horsehide stitched together) were also busy making up the language and syntax of the baseball story as they went along. With their pens and their typewriters, they would teach us a new way of seeing and experiencing America's game; reaching into its heart, they pulled out what would become the ever more sophisticated language of baseball on the page.

There's magic in that accomplishment to be sure, and the best way to fall under its spell is to continue reading what they batted out. Granted, some of their words and phrases and idioms feel dated—what doesn't after a century or so of service—but that hardly matters because what they discovered about the game and its hold over us—fans and players alike—is as fresh and excited as a busher's face the first time he puts his Major League polyesters on. Keaton and Chaplin are still funny; so are Lardner and Wodehouse. They're old, sure, but their bones don't creek. What they've set down remains energetic and bright, keenly observed and keenly wrought. All these decades later, the words continue to tingle.

Of course, when you understand human nature and baseball nature—as these writers did—the work doesn't really age, just the paper it's printed on. New generations may find more dazzling or sophisticated ways to say things, as new generations of filmmakers keep upping the ante on their special effects, but is what they're revealing to us about who we are any sharper, clearer, more incisive or passionate? A home run is a home run whenever it's hit.

Let me suggest one more connection that ties the early days of baseball writing to the early days of motion pictures: There's a history, memory and sheer enjoyment that's lost when we fail to preserve and keep contact with the legacy handed down to us.

Twenty years ago, when I was a novice screenwriter, I became friends with an older writer-director named Richard Brooks. In the late 1950s, he created one of the most memorable on-screen fires in his classic—I use that word with no reservations at all—adaptation of
Elmer Gantry
. Since the blazing tabernacle scene climaxing the movie would be shot indoors on a soundstage, every inch of the set had been treated with heavy fire retardent before the cameras rolled. Starting a fire 20,000 leagues under the sea would have been a snap by comparison.

Naturally, Brooks couldn't get the flames to go, so he asked the fire marshall on set what to do. The answer stunned the filmmaker. The fire marshall told him to raid the studio vault, pull out as many old cans of the silent moves stored inside as he could, then coat the set with their contents. “Are you mad?” Brooks, a noted rager, raged. “That's the heritage of our craft.” The fire marshall shook his head sadly. He knew that. But he also knew that no one had put much thought into how best to preserve it. When Brooks opened those precious cans of ancient history, what he mostly found was highly combustible silver nitrate powder; the old film had decomposed as badly as a forgotten corpse. Brooks spread it around the set, and, as the past exploded around him, a remarkable movie moment rose from its ash. Still what was lost in those cans remains lost forever.

Thankfully, baseball's past has been better preserved in archives and libraries from coast to coast. But preserving the past isn't enough. These stories aren't just museum pieces; they live with the spirits of their creators and the spirit of the game. Now and again, they need to come out, stretch their muscles, and show off just how good they are. For them. And for us.

In collecting these twenty-two stories, I feel honored by the chance to dust off some deserving old warhorses—familiar ones like “Casey at the Bat,” and the deliciously arcane, like Philippine war hero Frederick Funston's 1894 account of baseball in frigid Alaska—insert them into a new lineup, and send them up for another cut. I have no doubt they'll connect—with that part inside every fan that dies a little bit each October only to be reborn again in the spring.

Why Base Ball Has Become Our National Game

Albert G. Spalding

Have we, of America, a National Game? Is there in
our country a form of athletic pastime which is distinctively American? Do our people recognize, among their diversified field sports, one standing apart from every other, outclassing all in its hold upon the interest and affection of the masses? If a negative reply may truthfully be given to all or any of these queries, then this book should never have been published—or written.

But, if we have a National Game; if we know a form of athletics which is peculiarly American, and have adopted it as our own; if it is American in its spirit, its character and its achievements; if it conforms in every way to the American temperament; if we have a field sport outranking all others in popularity, then it is indeed time that the writing, in personal reminiscence, of its story in book form should begin, “lest we forget” the salient points in the inception, evolution and development of so important a factor in the widespread entertainment of the American people and the physical upbuilding of our youth.

To enter upon a deliberate argument to prove that Base Ball is our National Game; that it has all the attributes of American origin, American character and unbounded public favor in America, seems a work of supererogation. It is to undertake the elucidation of a patent fact; the sober demonstration of an axiom; it is like a solemn declaration that two plus two equal four.

Every citizen of this country who is blessed with organs of vision knows that whenever the elements are favorable and wherever grounds are available, the great American game is in progress, whether in city, village or hamlet, east, west, north or south, and that countless thousands of interested spectators gather daily throughout the season to witness contests which are to determine the comparative excellence of competing local organizations or professional league teams.

The statement will not be successfully challenged that the American game of Base Ball attracts more numerous and larger gatherings of spectators than any other form of field sport in any land. It must also be admitted that it is the only game known for which the general public is willing day after day to pay the price of admission. In exciting political campaigns, Presidential candidates and brilliant orators will attract thousands; but let there be a charge of half a dollar imposed, and only Base Ball can stand the test.

I claim that Base Ball owes its prestige as our National Game to the fact that as no other form of sport it is the exponent of American Courage, Confidence, Combativeness; American Dash, Discipline, Determination; American Energy, Eagerness, Enthusiasm; American Pluck, Persistency, Performance; American Spirit, Sagacity, Success; American Vim, Vigor, Virility.

Base Ball is the American Game
par excellence
, because its playing demands Brain and Brawn, and American manhood supplies these ingredients in quantity sufficient to spread over the entire continent.

No man or boy can win distinction on the ball field who is not, as man or boy, an athlete, possessing all the qualifications which an intelligent, effective playing of the game demands. Having these, he has within him the elements of pronounced success in other walks of life. In demonstration of this broad statement of fact, one needs only to note the brilliant array of statesmen, judges, lawyers, preachers, teachers, engineers, physicians, surgeons, merchants, manufacturers, men of eminence in all the professions and in every avenue of commercial and industrial activity, who have graduated from the ball field to enter upon honorable careers as American citizens of the highest type, each with a sane mind in a sound body.

It seems impossible to write on this branch of the subject—to treat of Base Ball as our National Game—without referring to Cricket, the national field sport of Great Britain and most of her colonies. Every writer on this theme does so. But, in instituting a comparison between these games of the two foremost nations of earth, I must not be misunderstood. Cricket is a splendid game, for Britons. It is a genteel game, a conventional game—and our cousins across the Atlantic are nothing if not conventional. They play Cricket because it accords with the traditions of their country so to do; because it is easy and does not overtax their energy or their thought. They play it because they like it and it is the proper thing to do. Their sires, and grandsires, and great-grandsires played Cricket—why not they? They play Cricket because it is their National Game, and every Briton is a Patriot. They play it persistently—and they play it well. I have played Cricket and like it. There are some features about that game which I admire more than I do some things about Base Ball.

But Cricket would never do for Americans; it is too slow. It takes two and sometimes three days to complete a first-class Cricket match; but two hours of Base Ball is quite sufficient to exhaust both players and spectators. An Englishman is so constituted by nature that he can wait three days for the result of a Cricket match; while two hours is about as long as an American can wait for the close of a Base Ball game—or anything else, for that matter. The best Cricket team ever organized in America had its home in Philadelphia—and remained there. Cricket does not satisfy the red-hot blood of Young or Old America.

The genius of our institutions is democratic; Base Ball is a democratic game. The spirit of our national life is combative; Base Ball is a combative game. We are a cosmopolitan people, knowing no arbitrary class distinctions, acknowledging none. The son of a President of the United States would as soon play ball with Patsy Flannigan as with Lawrence Lionel Livingstone, provided only that Patsy could put up the right article. Whether Patsy's dad was a banker or boiler-maker would never enter the mind of the White House lad. It would be quite enough for him to know that Patsy was up in the game.

I have declared that Cricket is a genteel game. It is. Our British Cricketer, having finished his day's labor at noon, may don his negligee shirt, his white trousers, his gorgeous hosiery and his canvas shoes, and sally forth to the field of sport, with his sweetheart on one arm and his Cricket bat under the other, knowing that he may engage in his national pastime without soiling his linen or neglecting his lady. He may play Cricket, drink afternoon tea, flirt, gossip, smoke, take a whiskey-and-soda at the customary hour, and have a jolly, conventional good time, don't you know?

Not so the American Ball Player. He may be a veritable Beau Brummel in social life. He may be the Swellest Swell of the Smart Set in Swelldom; but when he dons his Base Ball suit, he says good-bye to society, doffs his gentility, and becomes—just a Ball Player! He knows that his business now is to play ball, and that first of all he is expected to attend to business. It may happen to be his business to slide; hence, forgetting his beautiful new flannel uniform, he cares not if the mud is four inches deep at the base he intends to reach. His sweetheart may be in the grandstand—she probably is—but she is not for him while the game lasts.

Cricket is a gentle pastime. Base Ball is War! Cricket is an Athletic Sociable, played and applauded in a conventional, decorous and English manner. Base Ball is an Athletic Turmoil, played and applauded in an unconventional, enthusiastic and American manner.

The founder of our National Game became a Major General in the United States Army! The sport had its baptism when our country was in the preliminary agonies of a fratricidal conflict. Its early evolution was among the men, both North and South, who, during the war of the sixties, played the game to relieve the monotony of camp life in those years of melancholy struggle. It was the medium by which, in the days following the “late unpleasantness,” a million warriors and their sons, from both belligerent sections, passed naturally, easily, gracefully, from a state of bitter battling to one of perfect peace.

Base Ball, I repeat, is War! and the playing of the game is a battle in which every contestant is a commanding General, who, having a field of occupation, must defend it; whom having gained an advantage, must hold it by the employment of every faculty of his brain and body, by every resource of his mind and muscle.

But it is a bloodless battle; and when the struggle ends, the foes of the minute past are friends of the minute present, victims congratulating victors, conquerors pointing out the brilliant individual plays of the conquered.

It would be as impossible for a Briton, who had not breathed the air of this free land as a naturalized American citizen; for one who had no part or heritage in the hopes and achievements of our country, to play Base Ball, as it would for an American, free from the trammels of English traditions, customs, conventionalities, to play the national game of Great Britain.

Let such an Englishman stand at the batter's slab on an American ball field, facing the son of an American President in the pitcher's box, and while he was ruminating upon the propriety of hitting, in his “best form,” a ball delivered by the hands of so august a personage, the President's boy would probably shoot three hot ones over the plate, and the Umpire's “Three strikes; you're out,” would arouse our British cousin to a realization that we have a game too lively for any but Americans to play.

On the other hand, if one of our cosmopolitan ball artists should visit England, and attempt a game of Cricket, whether it were Cobb, Lajoie, Wagner, or any American batsman of Scandinavian, Irish, French or German antecedents; simply because he was an American, and even though the Cricket ball were to be bowled at his feet by King George himself, he would probably hit the sphere in regular Base Ball style, and smash all conventionalities at the same time, in his eager effort to clear the bases with a three-bagger.

The game of Base Ball is American as to another peculiar feature. It is the only form of field sport known where spectators have an important part and actually participate in the game. Time was, and not long ago, when comparatively few understood the playing rules; but the day has come when nearly every man and boy in the land is versed in all the intricacies of the pastime; thousands of young women have learned it well enough to keep score, and the number of matrons who know the difference between the short-stop and the back-stop is daily increasing.

But neither our wives, our sisters, our daughters, nor our sweethearts, may play Base Ball on the field. They may play Cricket, but seldom do; they may play Lawn Tennis, and win championships; they may play Basket Ball, and achieve laurels; they may play Golf, and receive trophies; but Base Ball is too strenuous for womankind, except as she may take part in grandstand, with applause for the brilliant play, with waving kerchief to the hero of the three-bagger, and, since she is ever a loyal partisan of the home team, with smiles of derision for the Umpire when he gives us the worst of it, and, for the same reason, with occasional perfectly decorous demonstrations when it becomes necessary to rattle the opposing pitcher.

But spectators of the sterner sex may play the game on field, in grandstand or on bleachers, and the influence they exert upon the contest is hardly less than that of the competitors themselves.

In every town, village and city is the local wag. He is a Base Ball fan from infancy. He knows every player in the League by sight and by name. He is a veritable encyclopedia of information on the origin, evolution and history of the game. He can tell you when the Knicker-bockers were organized, and knows who led the batting list in every team of the National and American Leagues last year. He never misses a game. His witticisms, ever seasoned with spice, hurled at the visitors and now and then at the Umpire, are as thoroughly enjoyed by all who hear them as is any other feature of the sport. His words of encouragement to the home team, his shouts of derision to the opposing players, find sympathetic responses in the hearts of all present.

But it is neither the applause of the women nor the jokes of the wag which make for victory or defeat in comparison with the work of the “Rooter.” He is ever present in large numbers. He is there to see the “boys” win. Nothing else will satisfy him. He is bound by no rules of the game, and too often, perhaps, by no laws of decorum. His sole object in life for two mortal hours is to gain victory for the home team, and that he is not overscrupulous as to the amount of racket emanating from his immediate vicinity need not be emphasized here.

And so it comes to pass that at every important game there is an exhibition in progress, in grandstand and on bleachers, that is quite as interesting in its features of excitement and entertainment as is the contest on the field of sport, and which, in its bearing upon the final result, is sometimes a factor nearly as potent as are the efforts of the contesting players.

It must be admitted that as the game of Base Ball has become more generally known; that is, as patrons of the sport are coming to be more familiar with its rules and its requirements, their enjoyment has immeasurably increased; because, just in so far as those in attendance understand the features presented in every play, so far are they able to become participators in the game itself. And beyond doubt it is to this growing knowledge on the part of the general public with the pastime that its remarkable popularity is due. For, despite the old adage, familiarity does
breed contempt, but fondness, and all America has come to regard Base Ball as its very own, to be known throughout the civilized world as the great American National Game.

Finally, in one other particular Base Ball has won its right to be dominated the American National Game. Ever since its establishment in the hearts of the people as the foremost of field sports, Base Ball has “followed the flag.” It followed the flag to the front in the sixties, and received then an impetus which has carried it to half a century of wondrous growth and prosperity. It has followed the flag to Alaska, where, under the midnight sun, it is played on Arctic ice. It has followed the flag to the Hawaiian Islands, and at once supplanted every other form of athletics in popularity. It has followed the flag to the Philippines, to Puerto Rico and to Cuba, and wherever a ship floating the Stars and Stripes finds anchorage to-day, somewhere on nearby shore the American National Game is in progress.

BOOK: At the Old Ballgame
6.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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