Posts Tagged ‘Ty Cobb’

Cooperstown’s Hall of Fa(r)mers

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Given America’s roots as an agrarian nation, it is appropriate that the legend of baseball’s birth begins in a Cooperstown cow pasture; Doubleday Field, just a baseball throw from the Hall of Fame, occupies the spot where the myth—long since debunked—of Abner Doubelday inventing baseball began.  It provides, at the very least, a nexus between farmers and the village’s world-famous icon located at 25 Main Street.

Goose Goslin worked on his family’s farm in southern New Jersey before journeying to the major leagues, which began by playing for DuPont’s company team.  Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968, Goslin retired in 1938 after 18 seasons.  Among his career statistics:

  • .316 batting average
  • 2,735 hits
  • .500 slugging percentage

The Hall of Fame web site quotes Goslin regarding his humble beginnings:  “I was just a big ol’ country boy havin’ the game of my life.  It was all a lark to me, just a joy ride.  Never feared a thing, never got nervous, just a big country kid from South Jersey, too dumb to know better.  Why I never even realized it was supposed to be big doin’s.  It was just a game, that’s all it was.  They didn’t have to pay me.  I’d have paid them to let me play.  Listen, the truth is it was more than fun.  It was heaven.”

Tom Seaver tasted success with a World Series championship, three Cy Young Awards, and 311 wins.  His palate presently determines quality of wine in Seaver Vineyards.  In a 2005 article for the New York Times, Eric Asimov profiled Seaver’s venture.  “I wanted to keep my name off it, so the wine could make its own name.  My daughter said, ‘Dad, you’re not living forever.  Your grandchildren will be running it one day.  You’re putting your name on it,'” Seaver explained.

Carl Yastrzemski spent his formative years working on his family’s Long Island potato farm before embarking on a career spent entirely in a Red Sox uniform.  He became a Boston icon, racking up:

  • 3,419 hits
  • .285 batting average
  • 452 home runs

On Yaz Day at the end of the Red Sox slugger’s last season—1983—Yastrzemski reminded, “I’m just a potato farmer from Long Island who had some ability.  I’m not any different than a mechanic, an engineer or the president of a bank.”

Ty Cobb, a member of the first Hall of Fame class, inducted in 1936, had farming in his DNA, thanks to the Cobb family farm in Georgia.  Knowsouthernhistory.net reveals that the future star gained respect from his father during one summer when he worked extra hours as punishment for pawning two of his father’s books—he needed the money to fix his glove.  “The fields looked good, and were growing well.  For some reason, this brought about a change in the older man’s attitude toward Ty, one that the young man never forgot.  W.H. began to confide in Tyrus about the market for cotton, the work animals, and the crops.  Thrilled with the sudden change in treatment from his father, Ty hurried out and won himself a job at a local cotton factory.  He ate up the information about growing, baling, processing, and marketing the crop and shared all that he learned with his father.  In turn, the Professor was happy with the boy making an effort to mature, and their bond strengthened.”

Tragedy struck the Cobb family when Ty’s mother mistook her husband for a burglar and shot him dead.  She was acquitted at trial.

In addition to Cooperstown’s farm connection, films have used farms as settings.  In the 1991 film Talent for the Game, Angels scout Virgil Sweet discovers Sammy Bodeen, an Idaho farm boy.  Bodeen’s promise is heightened in the public’s mind by a marketing campaign designed by Angels management.  It looks to be futile when Bodeen suffers a horrible first inning in his début before settling down, thanks to Sweet, who dons catcher’s gear for the second inning and calms Bodeen with empathy in a conference on the mound without anyone else figuring out his masquerade; Sweet catches Bodeen’s first career strikeout, presumably, the first of hundreds.  Thousands, perhaps.

In the 1984 film The Natural, the story of Roy Hobbs ends with a shot of him playing catch with the son of his paramour, Iris, on her farm.  The poster for The Natural depicts a photo of this scene.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 14, 2016.

Elysian Fields, Alexander Cartwright, and the Knickerbockers of New York

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

With civic pride running as deep as the Hudson River abutting it, Hoboken boasts a singer who defined the standard for American popular music, an Italian festival dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, and a Beaux-Arts train terminal built by the once iconic Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad.  Respectively, these cornerstones are better known as Frank Sinatra, St. Ann’s Feast, and Hoboken Terminal.

For baseball fans, Hoboken occupies vital territory in the National Pastime’s genesis.  This jewel of New Jersey was the location of the first official baseball game, according to lore—it happened on June 19, 1846, when the New York Nine defeated the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields; the score was 23-1.

Alexander Cartwright spearheaded the creation of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club during the previous September.  It was a turning point that established rules, including the setting of a diamond shape with 90 feet separating the bases, the recording of an out when a fielder possesses the ball on a base rather than the runner being struck by the ball, and the equaling of three strikes to an out.

In his 1969 book Baseball: An Informal History, Douglas Wallop described the barometer of 90 feet as optimal.  “Had the distance been, say, ninety-two feet, stealing second would have been so difficult as to be seldom achieved,” wrote Wallop.  “Had it been eighty-eight, stealing second might have been too easy.  Few baseball players in history—Ty Cobb and Maury Wills chief among them—have had the speed and base-stealing technique to give the runner the upper hand, and even they made no mockery of it.”

These were not, however, measures easily created.  “Even the steps the Knickerbockers did take toward organization and uniformity were made reluctantly,” stated baseball historian Peter Morris in his 2008 book But Didn’t We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball’s Pioneer Era, 1843-1870.  “According to [Knickerbocker Duncan] Curry, when Alexander Cartwright proposed standard rules: ‘His plan met with much good natured derision, but he was so persistent in having us try his new game that we finally consented more to humor him than with any thought of it becoming a reality.'”

Cartwright’s place in baseball history may not rest on bedrock, however, in light of recent scrutiny.  In her 2009 book Alexander Cartwright: The Life Behind the Legend, Monica Nucciarone peels away the layers of Cartwright’s involvement in baseball’s embryonic phase, resulting in a chronicle with a different conclusion than the one learned by every generation of baseball fans since the Polk administration.  It is an example of the continuing examination of myths, legends, and facts comprising history.

In his review of Nucciarone’s book for the Summer 2011 issue of Journal of Sport History, Thomas Altherr wrote, “Several baseball historians, including John Thorn and Randall Brown, have already undercut the Cartwright theories and attributed more influence to other Knickerbockers, such as Daniel Adams, William Wheaton, and Daniel Brown.  Nucciarone’s work should now inspire the complete toppling of the Cartwright mystique.”

Thorn, the Official Historian of Major League Baseball, has excavated 19th century baseball history for countless books, articles, and lectures.  “The length of the baselines was imprecise, although latter-day pundits have credited Cartwright with divine-inspired prescience in determining a distance that would yield so many close plays at first,” wrote Thorn in his 2011 book Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game.  “Sometimes referred to in histories of the game as an engineer even though he was a bank teller, and then a book seller, Cartwright was further credited with laying out the game on a diamond rather than a square.  Yet even this was no innovation in 1845.”

Wheaton, Adams, William H. Tucker, and Louis Fenn Wadsworth form a quartet with “legitimate claims to baseball’s paternity.  They were all present at the creation, although no lightning bolt attaches to any given date, and all played with the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York,” added Thorn.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 17, 2016.

The Innovative Charles Comiskey

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Decades before he elevated to the executive suite as owner of the Chicago White Sox, Charles Comiskey pioneered a fielding concept during his playing days.  Or so the legend goes.

After Comiskey died in 1931, a series of Chicago Daily Tribune articles examined his life, focusing, in part, on his playing and managing tenures.  In the article “Comiskey Worked as Train Butcher to Play Ball,” Irving Vaughan wrote of the 1880 season in Dubuque, “Commy conceived the notion that there was more to first basing than anybody had as yet realized.  He and Manager Ted Sullivan discussed the theory that a first baseman’s defensive value could be doubled if he could move away from the bag, thus protecting much of the vacant territory between first and second.  They put the theory to a practical test and found it a success.  That is, it was successful except in one particular.

“Commy discovered that by playing away from the bag he was able to field batted balls which ordinarily would have been safe hits.  But he couldn’t get over to the bag in time to retire the runner.  Necessity being the mother of invention, he and Sullivan figured out that a pitcher could cover the base.  After experimenting on this feature they decided it couldn’t fail.”

On the other hand, baseball historian David Nemec offers a contrasting view of Comiskey’s contribution to the first base position.  In Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 2, Nemec stated, “Historians traditionally have credited Comiskey with pioneering techniques such as playing a considerable distance off the bag, stretching to receive wide or high throws, and having the pitcher cover first on ground balls to the right side of the infield, but while none of these techniques was actually invented by him, his success at employing them popularized them to the extent that defensive play at 1B swiftly began to evolve into a more sophisticated style once he appeared on the scene.”

As a player-manager for the St. Louis Browns, Comiskey led his team to four straight American Association championships in the 1880s.  Moreover, he reshaped the team’s image.  “Under Comiskey’s strong hand the Browns shed their reputation solely as drunks and troublemakers and created a disciplined, aggressive squad that would win AA championships in his first four full seasons at their helm,” noted Nemec.

Comiskey embraced pugnacity as part of his style, though.  “Charlie Comiskey, the manager and first baseman for the St. Louis Brown Stockings, was a mild-mannered, cerebral man off the field, but on the field, he could act like a common thug,” described Peter Golenbock in The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns.  “He played the game with a controlled aggression designed to ground the opposition into dust.  His focus was on victory, and he never permitted anyone to lose sight of the fact that he was there for one reason only: to win.”

In turn, the team’s performance reflected Comiskey’s leadership.  Golenbock stated, “Comiskey encouraged his players to try to intimidate the opposition any way they could.  He was a nineteenth-century role model for Leo Durocher and Billy Martin.  He encouraged his players to knock over an opponent in the field or on the base paths, and if you didn’t like it, that was just too bad.  On the base paths, Comiskey was a terror.  In one game against Cincinnati, Comiskey threw himself into second baseman John “Bid” McPhee, causing him to throw wild to first, enabling the winning run to score.  Ty Cobb, who came to the game twenty years later with a similar nasty disposition, had nothing on Comiskey.

“His players followed his example.  The next day Curt Welch did the same thing, throwing himself at McPhee ‘as if hurled from a catapult,’  Said Welch, ‘Well, we’re playing ball to win.'”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 19, 2015.

Coca-Cola and Baseball

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

The Pause That Refreshes.  The Real Thing.  The Best Friend Thirst Ever had.

Coca-Cola.

With slogans changing nearly every year, Coca-Cola is entrenched in American culture through a barrage of advertising campaigns, marketing strategies, and celebrity endorsements.  During the height of American pride—some say jingoism— in Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” presidency, Coca-Cola plucked the country’s patriotic heartstrings in the 1980s with its Red, White & You slogan.

Naturally, baseball provides a fantastic distribution outlet for Coca-Cola to target thirsty consumers who want a cold beverage as a companion for hot dogs, Cracker Jack, and peanuts.  But Coca-Cola’s relationship with baseball goes beyond exclusive pouring rights in America’s ballparks and stadia.

AT&T park in San Francisco boasts an 80-foot Coca-Cola bottle.  Citi Field has Coca-Cola Corner.  In Buffalo, Coca-Cola Field is the home ballpark for the Bisons, a Triple-A team in the International League.  According to the Bisons web site, Coca-Cola Field has a seating capacity of 18,025.  Designed by HOK Architects, Coca-Cola Field débuted in 1988.  The Lehigh Valley IronPigs call Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania their home.

Beyond stadium naming rights, Coca-Cola ventured into the front office with ownership of the Atlanta Crackers, a team in the Negro Leagues.  The soft drink giant rescued the team from financial oblivion.  Honoring its history, Coca-Cola recounts the genesis on its web site coca-colacompany.com:  “When the Great Depression began, the economic slowdown hit baseball hard.  The Atlanta Crackers were floundering in a sea of debt and bad management.  By the end of the 1929 season, the team was sold to several local businesses, including the Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company and The Coca-Cola Company.  Famed golfer (and lawyer) Bobby Jones acting as vice president.”

The Crackers needed an investor with the financial strength to shoulder this financial burden.  With its headquarters in Atlanta, Coca-Cola saw an opportunity, perhaps an obligation, to invest in the hometown team:  “When the condition continued to worsen, Robert Woodruff, Coca-Cola’s president, stepped forward to buy the Crackers to keep the team in Atlanta.”

Coca-Cola also sweetened the investment portfolio of a baseball legend to epic proportions.  As shrewd with investments as he was in the batter’s box, Ty Cobb used his frugality to launch his roster of stocks.  In a 1991 Los Angeles Times article titled “A Money Player: Ty Cobb Was a Peach When It Came to Investments, Too,” Cobb’s autobiography ghostwriter Al Stump explained Cobb’s financial prowess, claiming that Cobb was worth $12.1 million when he died in July 1961.  He cited a Cobb quote regarding the initial Coca-Cola investment: “For example, Coca-Cola was a new drink on the market in 1918.  Wall Street didn’t think much of it.  I gambled the other way with a small 300-shares buy, then with bigger buys and then Coke jumped out of sight.  It brought me more than $4 million as time went by.”

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

Martín Dihigo Is the Best Baseball Player You Never Heard Of

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Keeping the flame of baseball history alive requires more than reading books, writing articles, and watching documentaries about well-known players, including Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Roberto Clemente, Lou Gehrig. For the flame to burn steadily, other players in the shadows cast by the spotlight must be recognized.

Such is the purpose of today’s missive.

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Happy Birthday, Baseball Hall of Fame!

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Today, we celebrate the birthday of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Opened on June 12, 1939 in Cooperstown, New York, the Baseball Hall of Fame is a time tunnel that journeys its visitors through a cornerstone of American history. More than a mere sport, baseball is a vehicle of social change.

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