Posts Tagged ‘Kenesaw Mountain Landis’

Ed Walsh, the White Sox, and Comiskey Park’s First Game

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Chicago welcomed an addition to its iconography on July 1, 1910.  Comiskey Park, that structure serving as a second home for baseball fans on the Windy City’s south side, débuted in an era of new stadia—Fenway Park in 1912, Ebbets Field in 1913, Weeghman Park (later rechristened Wrigley Field) in 1914.

It was about time that White Sox fans received a reward for their dedication to the team, according to I. E. Sanborn of the Chicago Tribune.  “For years the loyal rooters who have done so much to make this the greatest baseball city in the world have contented themselves as uncomplainingly as they could with accommodations inadequate to their needs while watching the fans of other and smaller cities rewarded, with far less reason, by modern steel and concrete edifices, each designed to surpass all its predecessors,” wrote Sanborn.

The White Sox opened this epoch of its history with a 2-0 loss to the St. Louis Browns.  Sanborn estimated the crowd at 28,000.

Comiskey Park saw one World Series champion team—the White Sox beat the Giants in 1917.  There were two other opportunities:  1919 and 1959.  The former, of course, has an ominous aura because of the “Black Sox” scandal that resulted in eight players being kicked out of baseball with the force of a sonic boom, otherwise known as Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s newly minted commissioner and a former federal judge.

Accused of purposed losing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for payoffs from gamblers, the eight players were acquitted in court.  Landis argued that the integrity of the game superseded the legal process result.

In 1959, the “Go Go Sox” compiled a 94-60 record to stand atop the American League.  The Dodgers defeated the White Sox in six games; it was the National League champions’ second year in Los Angeles.

What began in 1910 lasted 80 years—Comiskey Park finished its service as the home of the White Sox in 1990.  It was demolished the next year, which saw U.S. Cellular Filed become the team’s new site.

Ed Walsh got the loss for Comiskey Park’s opener, went 18-20 for the season, and led the American League in losses.  His career statistics earned him a place in White Sox lore:

  • 1.82 Earned Run Average
  • Led American League in Earned Run Average
    • 1.60 in 1907
    • 1.27 in 1910 (led major leagues)
  • Led major leagues in wins
    • 40-15 in 1908
  • Led major leagues in games started
    • 46 in 1907
    • 49 in 1908
    • 41 in 1912
  • Led major leagues in complete games
    • 37 in 1907
    • 42 in 1908
  • Led American League in shutouts
    • 10 in 1906 (led major leagues)
    • 11 in 1908 (led major leagues)
    • 8 in 1909
  • Led American League in strikeouts
    • 269 in 1908
    • 255 in 1911
  • 195-126 career win-loss record

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Walsh in 1946.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 26, 2016.

The First Fan

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

William Howard Taft invented—unintentionally—the seventh inning stretch, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to continue Major League Baseball during World War II, and George W. Bush skyrocketed American morale after the 9/11 attacks when he threw out the first pitch of the 2001 World Series.

Baseball pulsates through the presidency, indeed, whether it’s Ronald Reagan sitting in the dugout of an Orioles game or Harry Truman being the first president to attend a night game.

It all started with Benjamin Harrison in 1892.

On the eve of the Republican National Convention—which took place in Minneapolis from June 7-10, 1892—Harrison churned through his presidential duties, despite tension surrounding the possibility of not being selected to represent the party in the upcoming election.  The Washington Post reported, “If the President was worried about the turn of affairs at Minneapolis he failed to let that worriment be detected by any one who conversed with him.  Secretary [of Agriculture] Rusk, upon leaving the White House, said that Mr. Harrison was not at all disturbed by the rumors that had emanated from the convention city but was, on the contrary, in the best of spirits and had spent a very pleasant day.”

After an inquiry by [Secretary of State John] Foster about attending the Cincinnati-Washington baseball game at Boundary Field, President Harrison acquiesced.  Foster’s baseball fandom manifested in restlessness—the Cabinet member “paced up and down the big stone port of the White House, now and then glancing at his watch, fearful that he would be too late to see the first game,” reported the Post.  The Reds beat the Senators 7-4.

It was the first presidential visit to a major league game.

Harrison lost the 1892 presidential election to Grover Cleveland.  Had the political winds shifted in the Democratic Party, Harrison might have faced a baseball fan—Senator David B. Hill of New York ran for the nomination.  A Post profile of Hill on June 5, 1892 described the senator’s nighttime activities as a combination of work and play.  “Night is Hill’s favorite time for work, and he manages to do considerable after he is through with callers.  That is the general programme [sic] of the New York Senator’s days.  He varies them by going to the theater, of which he is more than fond, and he has patronized the Washington theaters continually.  Then he is a baseball crank, it must be confessed, and finds time to get out to hurrah for the diamond kings very often.”

When Cleveland resigned his post as New York Governor, Hill, a former New York governor, earned the ire of some quarters for holding dual offices. On April 7, 1892, the New York Times declared, “He showed a contempt for common decency in holding the office of Governor for ten months after his term in the Senate began, and he left his seat in that body vacant for more than a month after the season of Congress opened.  He used that time in carrying out the infamous scheme for stealing a majority in the State Senate, and afterward secured the elevation of his most subservient and useful tool in the performance to the bench of the Court of Appeals, thus putting a dark stain upon the judiciary of the State.  Since he took his oath as Senator he has hardly spent two consecutive days in the Senate, and has taken no useful part in any of its proceedings.  He showed himself intent only upon selfish political schemes of his own.  He tried to bully a committee of the House into making a report favorable to retaining one of his devoted henchmen in the seat to which he was plainly not entitled.  Then he went off on a trip to the South, the sole object of which was to drum up delegates for himself to the Democratic National Convention.  That hunt was a dismal failure and only resulted in exposing to the Southern people his lack of principle and courage and turning them against him.”

Harrison’s presidency included appointing four justices of the United States Supreme Court, admitting six states to the union, and codifying the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Land Revision Act.  While Harrison’s ignition of presidential attendance at professional baseball games began a ballpark tradition, the sports world enjoyed other landmark events in 1892, including the playing of the first basketball game, the founding of the Liverpool Football Club, and the creating of the Stanley Cup—thanks to a proposal by Lord Stanley of Preston.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 7, 2016.

The Black Sox: Fact vs. Fiction

Friday, December 30th, 2016

Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book Eight Men Out provided the source material for the eponymous 1988 movie written and directed by John Sayles, who also played sportswriter Ring Lardner.  Starring Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, Bill Irwin, Gordon Clapp, Clifton James, Christopher Lloyd, Kevin Tighe, David Strathairn, and John Mahoney, Eight Men Out revived the debate about the involvement of eight White Sox players in fixing the 1919 World Series as part of a conspiracy engineered by gangsters.  Scandalized, the players suffer eternal banishment from Major League Baseball, thanks to a 1920 ruling by the newly installed baseball commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Jim Murray, sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, clarified the undercurrent of Eight Men Out.  “They say baseball pictures don’t make it at the box office,” wrote Murray.  “Well, this isn’t about baseball.  It’s about greed and ignorance and betrayal.  The Lou Gehrig story, it ain’t.  The actors are wearing baseball uniforms, but they could be wearing Roman togas.  Their story is universal, timeless.  It’s as old as Adam and Eve.  It’s an immorality play.  Man loses to temptation—again.”

Praising the aura in Eight Men OutChicago Tribune sportswriter Ed Sherman wrote, “With the exception of a few lapses into Hollywood sappiness, director/writer John Sayles does a nice job of sticking to the facts as recorded in Asinof’s book,”  He added, “Sayles captures the tension and ambivalence of the eight players as the conspiracy grew and was revealed.”

Sherman also commended ex-White Sox outfielder Ken Berry, the film’s technical adviser, for accuracy in the game scenes.  Citing Sayles’s need for “perfection,” Berry recalled a scene for Sherman involving Charlie Sheen, who played centerfielder Happy Felsch, one of the infamous eight players.  “We had a play where Charlie had to make a throw to the plate, and the runner was out, but the umpire called him safe,” Berry said.  “It was a bang-bang play.  We did 10 takes, and Charlie’s arm was about to fall off.  But on the 10th take, Charlie made the perfect throw.  That’s the way John wanted it.  He went out of his way to portray the game as it was.”

D.B. Sweeney strove for authenticity in his portrayal of Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, and, perhaps, the most vilified of the “Black Sox” of 1919.  Training with the Minnesota Twins’ farm team in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sweeney greatly improved his baseball skills.  In a 1988 feature article about Sweeney in the New York Times, George Vecsey detailed the actor’s journey in playing Jackson.  Quoting Sweeney, Vecsey wrote, “The first week, I couldn’t do anything in the batting cage.  But I got a batting tee and set it up on the hotel, and after a week I started to make contact.  Don Leppert and Dwight Bernard were coaching there, and they helped me a lot.  Cal Ermer would come through and give me pointers.  By the time I left there, I had more power from the left side than the right.”

As with any movie concerning historical events, facts are sacrificed for artistic license, continuity, and time.  In the 1950 movie Jolson Sings Again, a sequel to 1949’s The Jolson Story, Larry Parks plays legendary performer Al Jolson.  Told about the interest in a movie about his life, Jolson dismisses the importance of factual accuracy in favor of his story’s emotional impact.

Eight Men Out replaces fact with fiction at several points in the story.

During a trial scene, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey testifies that he “informed [American League] Commissioner Ban Johnson” about the “possibility of a conspiracy.”  Comiskey explains that his suspicions occurred “shortly after the series began.”  However, he found “hearsay” after hiring private detectives.

Actually, the American League and the National League do not have commissioners; Ban Johnson was the American League’s president.  Further, James Crusinberry of the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Comiskey “was not on speaking terms” with Johnson, so he approached National League President John A. Heydler after the first game because he believed his players fixed the series.

On September 26, 1920, Comiskey testified to this action.  Heydler confirmed it upon arriving in Chicago to testify.  “Commy was all broken up and felt something was wrong with his team in that first game,” quoted Crusinberry of Heydler.  “To me such a thing as crookedness in that game didn’t seem possible.  I told Comiskey I thought the White Sox were rather taken by surprised, that perhaps they had underestimated the strength of the Cincinnati team.

“The matter was dropped for the time.  That day the Reds won again and we moved to Chicago for the third game.  Comiskey called me on the telephone early that morning, and with John Bruce, secretary of the national commission, I went to his office at the ball park.  Once more he stated he felt sure something was wrong.”

Crusinberry added, “Comiskey also called Heydler into conference after the second game, more thoroughly convinced that certain White Sox players were trying to throw the games to Cincinnati.”

However, accuracy abounds in the scene regarding Comiskey’s initial belief that rumors of a fix did not amount to fact.  On December 15, 1919, I.E. Sanborn of the Chicago Daily Tribune quoted Comiskey:  “I am now very happy to state that we have discovered nothing to indicate any member of my team double crossed me or the public last fall.  We have been investigating  all these rumors and I have ha men working sometimes twenty-four hours a day running down clews [sic] that promised to produce facts.  Nothing has come of them.”

Another example of fictionalization involves White Sox player Dickie Kerr telling manager Kid Gleason that he saw Gleason pitch a no-hitter against Cy Young—Gleason never pitched a no-hitter.

Of course, the apocryphal quote “Say it ain’t so, Joe” is, perhaps, the best example of fiction replacing fact.  Eight Men Out would not be complete without depicting a kid expressing disappointment in Shoeless Joe Jackson and the White Sox.  The authenticity of this iconic quote is dubious, at best, because of the lack of evidence.  Nonetheless, it is part of baseball lore.

As a companion to Asinof’s book and the movie, Bill Lamb’s book Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial and Civil Litigation analyzes the legal angles of the 1919 World Series fix.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 13, 2015.

Shoeless Joe Jackson’s Hometown

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

When the Greenville Drive ball club of the South Atlantic League takes the field, they continue a baseball legacy kindled, in part, by Greenville’s most famous resident.  Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Sitting in South Carolina’s northwestern region, Greenville cares not that Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox players from Major League Baseball for allegedly conspiring to purposely lose the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in return for a payoff from gamblers—this, despite an acquittal of the players in court.  A legendary, though apocryphal, story about the World Series fix depicts a boy encountering Jackson with tears in his eyes as he pleads, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

Greenville honors its favorite baseball son with Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park, described by Greenville County Parks, Recreation & Tourism as a parcel boasting a strong baseball lineage: “This historic park is located on Greenville’s Westside in the Brandon Mill Community.  Once part of a thriving textile mill complex, the original park/ball field was home to mill workers who played baseball and competed against other mill leagues across Greenville County.”

Located at 356 Field Street, the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library faces the Greenville Drive’s ballpark, Fluor Field.  With an address number representing Jackson’s lifetime batting average, the museum—formerly Jackson’s home—educates visitors about the career of a baseball legend, misunderstood, perhaps, through portrayals in baseball scholarship.  Originally located on East Wilburn Street, the house was removed in 2006 for its new life on Field Street.  The museum débuted in 2008.

Jackson’s banishment from Major League Baseball is a sure-fire debate started for baseball history enthusiasts.  In the 1919 World Series, Jackson batted .375.  It’s hardly a number indicative of a player throwing a game.  Disputes abound regarding Jackson’s involvement, knowledge, and alleged payoff in the “Black Sox” controversy.  A former federal judge who broke the oil trust governed by John D. Rockefeller, Landis banned the eight White Sox players because he set a standard higher than the law.  After the scandal broke, the team owners selected Landis to remove the tarnish created by the gambling scandal.  Certainly, the owners thought, Landis could revive baseball’s image.

Landis declared, “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”

W.P. Kinsella introduced Shoeless Joe Jackson to a new generation of baseball fans in the 1982 novel Shoeless Joethe inspiration for the 1989 movie Field of Dreams.  In Kinsella’s story, Shoeless Joe emerges from the hereafter along with other Black Sox players on an Iowa farm transformed into a baseball field by the farm’s owner.  Kinsella incorporated J.D. Salinger into the storyline, portraying the reclusive author as a baseball fan captivated by the sight of dead ballplayers resurrected to play baseball for sheer joy.  Field of Dreams, because of legal action threatened, or at least suggested by Salinger’s attorneys, showcased the character with a name change—Terence Mann, played by James Earl Jones.

Kinsella named the farm’s owner Ray Kinsella in Shoeless Joe, though he denied a parallel to his name as the source of inspiration.  In ESPN.com’s 2014 article “Where it began: ‘Shoeless Joe,'” Kinsella explained, “Why Ray Kinsella?  The choice of name for my protagonist had little to do with me personally, and everything to do with Salinger.  While researching the novel, I found that Salinger had used two characters named Kinsella in his fiction: Richard Kinsella, an annoying classmate in The Catcher in the Rye, and Ray Kinsella, in the short story A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waist at All, originally published in Mademoiselle magazine.  I decided to name my character Ray Kinsella so he could turn up on Salinger’s doorstep and say, ‘I’m one of your fictional creations come to life, here to take you to a baseball game.”

In a review for the New York Times, Daniel Okrent praised Shoeless Joe: “Mr. Kinsella is drunk on complementary elixirs, literature and baseball, and the cocktail he mixes of the two is a lyrical, seductive and altogether winning concoction.  It’s a love story, really the love his characters have for the game becoming manifest in the trips they make through time and space and ether.”

Jackson died in 1951, but his imprint on baseball carries on.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 27, 2014.

World’s Finest

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Baseball’s history is highlighted by its heroes.

Lou Gehrig revealed unimaginable courage in his “Luckiest Man” speech as he faced the debilitating, horrific, and fatal disease of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis that took his life nearly two years later.

Ted Williams sacrificed prime playing years to fly combat missions in World War II and the Korean War.

Jackie Robinson pioneered civil rights by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first black player in the major leagues during the 20th century.

Superheroes, as well, occupy a rung on baseball’s ladder of history.

In its nascent years, the DC Comics title World’s Finest featured Superman, Batman, and Robin playing baseball on two comic book covers.  Issue #3 (Fall 1941) depicts Batman batting, Robin catching, and Superman umpiring.  Issue #15 (Fall 1944) shows Superman sliding into home plate while Batman tries to tag him.  Robin scratches his head, looking perplexed as to whether Superman is safe at home.  It’s an illogical scenario, given Superman’s superhuman speed.

In the Foreword to Batman: The World’s Finest Comics, Archives, Volume 1, R.C. Harvey points out that the early World’s Finest covers featuring Batman, Superman,  and Robin concurred with the the uncertainty surrounding America’s involvement in World War II.  “Over the next several years, this trio engaged in a variety of activities on the covers together, playing sports at first and then, after the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, patriotically engaging in scrap paper drives or raising vegetables for victory,” states Harvey, who also notes a baseline attitude on the covers.

“They all look like they are having fun,” opines Harvey.  “And that brings us to the most significant difference separating these stories from those of more recent decades: back then, superheroicism was infected with an exhilarating spirit of adventure.  One did deeds of derring-do because it was exciting, and one went into battle against the Forces of Evil charged up with an invigorating zest for the Good Fight.”

When DC graced its early World’s Finest comic book covers with patriotic scenes involving Superman, Batman, and Robin, it aimed to boost morale among younger readers in an uncertain time.  The two baseball-themed covers of World’s Finest provided an additional attraction.  At the time, baseball dominated the recreation of Americans.  For example, President Roosevelt suggested to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that baseball continue for the country’s morale during World War II.

In a letter dated January 15, 1942, Roosevelt wrote, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.  There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.  And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

During a period fraught with peril, fear, and uncertainty, the World’s Finest superheroes reinforced the power of baseball to inspire.  And vice versa.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 15, 2014.

Bob Feller’s Three No-Hitters

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

If Zeus were a pitcher, he’d be jealous of Bob Feller.  After getting noticed by Cleveland Indians scout and fellow Iowan Cy Slapnicka, Feller left the family farm to mow down American League opponents instead of grass.  Beginning his career as a teenager in 1936, Feller earned the nickname “The Heater From Van Meter” because of his blazing fastball and his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa.

Feller might not have played with the Indians had his father not taken action, though.  Written by Richard Goldstein, Feller’s 2010 obituary in the New York Times states, “The owner of the independent Des Moines minor league team, which had coveted him, contended that Feller had been acquired by the Indians in violation of baseball rules that governed the signing of amateurs.  The baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, could have made Feller a free agent who would have commanded huge contract offers in a bidding frenzy.  But Feller wanted to stay with the Indians, and his father threatened to sue if Landis did not allow that.”

Feller spent his entire career in a Cleveland Indians uniform, pitching three no-hitters in his career.  The first one happened on April 16, 1940 in the Opening Day game at Comiskey Park against the Chicago White Sox.  Feller’s career took a side turn toward the Pacific Theater in World War II.  After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Feller enlisted in the United States Navy.  Because of a sense of duty, honor, and patriotism, Feller put his career on hold during his early 20s, arguably the time of peak physical condition for an athlete.

Returning to the Indians in the latter part of the 1945 season, Feller prompted cheers from the Cleveland faithful.  In the 1946 season, it was as if he never left the pitching mound—Feller struck out 348 batters and pitched a no-hitter against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium; Feller’s third no-hitter came in 1951 against the Detroit Tigers.

Also known as “Rapid Robert,” Feller was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, the same year of Jackie Robinson’s entry.  Selected on 150 of 160 ballots, Feller used his induction speech to talk about the history of baseball’s origins.  “I was just thinking a moment ago that occasionally, when you’re in some outlying community outside here, there’s been a little controversy whether the first baseball game was ever played in Cooperstown, or elsewhere,” said Feller.  “I’m not concerned where the first one was played as long as it was played, and it certainly made a great deal of difference in the lives of most all Americans.”

In addition to his three no-hitters, Feller racked up other statistics that place him at the top of the pitching pyramid, including thrown 12 one-hitters, winning 20 games six times, and leading the American League in victories six times.  Feller’s career ended in 1956.

Finding a parallel to Feller in Indians history is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, an apt metaphor considering Feller’s farming roots.  He set the standard for excellence under Chief Wahoo’s aegis, hence the Bob Feller statue outside Progressive Field.  No hurler for the Indians ever matched Feller’s speed, accuracy, and endurance—except, perhaps, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.

 A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 1, 2014.

The Death of John McGraw

Friday, November 18th, 2016

John McGraw was to baseball what Henry Ford was to the automobile.  They did not invent their respective industries.  They reinvented them.

Straddling the line separating the 19th and 20th centuries, McGraw ended his career as a baseball player by performing the additional duties of manager, first with the Baltimore Orioles and then with the New York Giants.  He was full of fire, brimstone, and anything ignitable.  And the fans loved him for it, as did his players.

McGraw died on February 25, 1934 at the age of 60.  His was a game of strategy, fundamentals, and thought.  But a change in the ball during the 1920s eclipsed McGraw’s approach.  In the February 26th edition of the New York Times, John Kieran eulogized, “Then the lively ball came in and any hill-billy, hay-shaker, or plow-jockey might walk up there with a blundering bludgeon to ruin a whole afternoon of fine strategy by slapping the jack-rabbit ball over a distant fence.  It made a new game, a slam-bang affair in which stolen bases didn’t count, inside stuff ran for Sweeney and the hit-and-run gave way to the hit-and-walk style of play; hit one into the bleachers and walk around the bases.  That wasn’t McGraw’s type of game.”

With a career encompassing 10 National League pennants and three World Series championships, McGraw epitomized toughness bordering on pugilism.  Upon McGraw’s death, the New York Herald Tribune, in its February 26th edition, stated, “Baseball to John J. McGraw was a feud, not a game.”  Age softened him up some, but even on the day he quit the playing field in 1932, thirty years after he had joined the Giants, he was the truculent and red-faced “Muggsy,” a name he hated with all the bitterness that could come of the McGraw nature of pride and arrogance.”

The Herald Tribune also noted McGraw’s impact on the game through his tutelage.  “He brought to the Polo Grounds dozens of players whose deeds made separate chapters in baseball’s history, and through his knowledge of baseball, knowledge that made popular the phrase ‘master minding’ and made McGraw ‘The Little Napoleon,’ he trained many players who learned their lessons so well that they afterward became rivals of their old master.”

Baseball mourned McGraw with an abundant admiration that might have shied the fiery manager.  Babe Ruth said, “What, John McGraw dead!  He was one of the three greatest baseball generals.  I rank him with my late friend, Miller Huggins, and Connie Mack.”  Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis said, “The man who first talked of ‘rugged individualism’ may well have had John J. McGraw in mind, for nobody was ever further removed from the commonplace than he.  I can think of no man whose name was more universally associated with the virile competitive spirit of baseball than McGraw.  To me his death is a personal affliction.”

McGraw’s players soaked up baseball knowledge like a sponge, cultivating an invaluable approach.  Bill Terry, the Giants manager, said, “The man who made the Giants stand for what they do is gone, but his code lives on.  It was under McGraw that I learned what I know about baseball and I will try to carry on and teach the same things to those who never had the chance to benefit directly from the greatest manager baseball has ever known.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 15, 2014.

Tactical Strikes: Baseball and the American President

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

When President George Walker Bush threw out the first pitch at that most hallowed of baseball cathedrals—Yankee Stadium—on October 30, 2001, the eyes of the world focused on him.  The setting was Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, just a few weeks after the blindsiding 9/11 attacks and just a few miles from Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan.  It was a surreal moment that demanded an elevation beyond ceremony.

President Bush threw a perfect strike.  And a tactical one, as well.

It was a symbolic act showing the world that America would neither be intimidated nor dissuaded.  Not by terrorists.  Not by wartime.  And the baseball setting was appropriate as a step toward healing.

In the movie Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones captured the essence of baseball’s connection to the country:  “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

A former owner of the Texas Rangers, President Bush had a tangible connection to the National Pastime.  Other presidents also enjoyed a genuine nexus to baseball.

President George Herbert Walker Bush—George W. Bush’s father—played on the Yale baseball team.  As president, he went to an Orioles game with Queen Elizabeth in a gesture of social diplomacy.

President Taft unknowingly invented the 7th inning stretch when he rose from his seat during a game.

Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon threw out first balls from their box seats for the hometown Washington Senators.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt perpetuated baseball during World War II.  With the country absorbed in the daily actions of American forces in Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific during World War II, Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote a letter dated January 14, 1942 to President Roosevelt inquiring about continuing the leagues’ operations during the crisis.

FDR responded the next day.  He gave Landis a green light to continue baseball for morale:  “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.  And that means they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Baseball suffered a drain of its players, however.  Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, and Stan Musial reported for duty along with more than 500 other players.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 30, 2013.

 

FDR’s “Green Light” Letter

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

By the time 1941 turned into 1942, the exclamation point in the phrase “Play Ball!” became a question mark with the nation at war in two theatres, European and Pacific.  Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis sought counsel from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt regarding baseball as a continuing industry.  The commissioner’s missive of January 14, 1942 shows deference with a hint of wonder in the closing.

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