America's National Game/Chapter 33
PROSE LITERATURE OF THE GAME—CONTRIBUTIONS OF BASE BALL WRITERS ON THE SCIENTIFIC FEATURES AND VAST ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE NATIONAL PASTIME.
THE prose literature of Base Ball began with the game itself, and has kept pace with it in attractive form. If it is true, as has herein been said, that whenever the elements are favorable and wherever grounds are available the game is in progress, it is quite as true that whereever and whenever newspapers and periodicals are printed in America literature of the game is in process of making. Not only volumes but libraries have been written. Historical, statistical, descriptive, narrative, technical and humorous articles and books, in unlimited numbers, have flooded the country for years, and the cataclysm continues its supply of literary matter in an ever-increasing deluge. Recently the high-class magazines have taken up the subject, and the foremost publications of America are devoting much valuable space to the exploitation of features of the American game.
From out of this vast ocean of material one can only present, in a work like this, a few excerpts, touching divers phases of the general theme. In selecting these, I have only chosen such as here appear as representing types of Base Ball writing, each peculiar to its author or its class.
The following characteristic editorial is from the New York Sun of April 18, 1908:
"THE GREATEST LIVING WRITER.
"Our valued and vertiginous contemporary, the Chicago Tribune, has not given up to stockings and gloves what was meant for the permanent happiness of mankind. In spite of its ferocious war on Gloversville and Hosierdom it is still true to the felicities, rarities and preciosities of style. Ithuriel Ellery Sanborn was present with all his squadron of language at the 'christening' of the Chicago Base Ball season last week. We invite students of the living speech to the works of the 'master':
- "'The Cardinals were outbatted by many parasangs.
- "'Big Jeff Overall cut the cardiac region of the plate.
- "'The turnout from Bugville was surprisingly large.
- "'Zimmerman makes winning clout.
- "'One on a pass, the other on a puncture.
- "'Compiling a double.
- "'There was a gay yelp when Steinfeldt smashed.
- "'After Overall had whiffed.
- "'Overall caught him off balance, accomplishing Roger's demise.
- "'But for Brown's unfortunate decease he could have scored pulled up.
- "'Moran poked a hot one.
- "'The little fellow stabbed it.
- "'There were two dead Cubs.
- "'A couple of underground shoots.
- "'Manager Frank had not touched the pan.
- "'Arbiter Klem showed him a slewfoot print on the edge of the rubber.
- "'Opposed to the Cubs' star was Left Handed Lush.'
- "If Mr. Joseph Medill were here to exult in the glory of the 'master' and the Cubs he might need an interpreter at first, but he would instantly applaud the originality, the tang, the bite, the procession of home bagging parts of speech that belong to the Hon. Ithuriel Ellery Sanborn. May his vocabulary increase, if such a thing is possible. We take the liberty of nominating him as a member of the Hon. Henry Cabot Lodge's Academy. Is there another living writer who can produce in quantities to suit such muscular, meaty and animated English?"
The following appeared a few years ago in the editorial columns of the Memphis Appeal:
"THE GAME OF BALL.
The following was published in the Chicago Inter-Ocean, Tuesday, May 5, 1891. It is in a vein characteristic of its author, Leonard Dana Washburn, an Inter-Ocean writer, who lost his life in a railway accident, in Indiana, a few months after this Base Ball story appeared:
"You can write home that Grandpa won yesterday.
"And say in the postscript that Willie Hutchinson did it. The sweet child stood out in the middle of the big diamond of pompadour grass and slammed balls down the path that looked like the biscuits of a bride. The day was dark, and when Mr. Hutchinson shook out the coils of his right arm, rubbed his left toe meditatively in the soil he loves so well, and let go, there was a blinding streak through the air like the tail of a skyrocket against a black sky. There would follow the ball a hopeless shriek, the shrill, whistling noise of a bat grippling with the wind, and a dull, stifled squash like a portly gentleman sitting down on a ripe tomato.
"Then Umpire McQuaid would call the attention of a person in a gray uniform to the fact that circumstances rendered it almost imperative for him to go away and give somebody else a chance.
"There were ten of the visiting delegation who walked jauntily to the plate and argued with the cold, moist air. Mr. Field lacerated the ethereal microbes three times out of four opportunities to get solid with the ball, and Brer Lewis Robinson Browning walked away from the plate with a pained expression twice in succession. The Gastown folks found the ball six times. Two of their runs were earned.
"Mr. Staley, who pitches for the strangers, did not have speed enough to pass a street car going in the opposite direction. His balls wandered down toward the plate like a boy on his way to school. If our zealous and public-spirited townsmen did not baste them all over that voting precinct it was because they grew weary and faint waiting for them to arrive. Dahlen continued his star engagement with the bat, getting a single, a slashing double, and a triple that missed being a four-timer only by the skin of its teeth.
"Even with all this, it is probable that Pittsburg would have won the game had it not been for a party named Miller, who played short for the wanderers. He covered about as much ground as a woodshed, and threw to first like a drunkard with a cork leg. By close attention to details Mr. Miller rolled up four errors, and three of them cost three runs.
"The town boys won the game in the first and second innings. Ryan hit an easy one to Miller as soon as the procession started. Mr. Miller picked up the ball with great agility and hurled it with wonderful speed at an elderly gentleman on the top row of the bleachers. Then Reilly threw Cooney's effort so that Beckley could easily have landed it had he been eighteen feet tall. Carroll's two-bagger brought both Colts in.
"In the second Wilmot removed the ball to the left field fence. Mr. Browning threw to Miller, who at once fixed his eye on third base and threw the ball with unerring directness at President Hart, who was posing on the roof of the grandstand with a haughty smile. Wilmot scored. And in the seventh Willie-Forget-Me-Not Hutchinson hit the ball a lick that brought tears to its eyes. Kittridge, who was just due, got a strong reverse English on the leather and started an artesian well in far-away left. Willie came right home.
"Bierbauer's single and a measly throw by Kittridge gave a run to O'Neil's pets in the second. Beckley's beautiful triple, and a sacrifice by Carroll fetched another, and in the ninth Reilly hit the ball a welt that caused it to back out over the north wall. That was all.
"Grandpa Anson wasn't feeling real well, and said several saucy things to the umpire out loud. He was on first and Dahlen was on second when Carroll hit down to Bierbauer. That person choked the ball on the ground and thereby removed both the man Anson and the man Dahlen. The former claimed interference and tried to explain things to McQuaid in a voice that could have been heard at the stockyards. McQuaid pulled out his watch and began to study the figures, whereupon the big captain moved grandly to the bench, and the show went on."
Mr. Ralph D. Paine prefaced one of his able articles on our national game, published in the Outing Magazine a few years ago, with these words:
"After the allied armies had stormed the walls of Peking, seven years ago, the British officers hastened to lay out cricket and hockey fields in the spacious grounds of the Temple of Heaven. Before skirmish-firing had ceased to vex the city's suburbs 'The Peking Field-Sports Club' had been organized, with an 'honorary secretary' of the Bengal Lancers. We correspondents viewed these proceedings with much interest and began reluctantly to agree with the popular opinion that the English are the only genuine sporting race.
"Not long after this, however, a squad of British officers rode into the vast enclosure of the Temple of Earth, where were encamped the khaki-clad troopers, 'dough-boys,' and gunners of Uncle Sam. The visitors were amazed to hear from beyond the yellow-tiled roofs a mighty roar as if an army were shouting itself black in the face. The terrific commotion rose and fell in waves of wrath and jubilation, and the puzzled Englishmen pushed on until they came to rows of templed walls and marble terraces, swarming with hundreds of blue-shirted fighting men.
"Here in one of the most sacred and inviolable places of all China—a place for ages dedicated to an annual pilgrimage of solemn worship by the Emperor—a thousand lusty Americans were using the very altars for 'bleachers' while they 'rooted' for the rival nines of Riley's Battery and the Sixth Cavalry squadron. The American Army League was in full swing for the Peking championship, and the hoarse volleys of 'Rotten umpire!' 'Soak it to her, Kelly!' 'Wow-w, slide, you lobster!' re-echoed from gray parapets that had never before been profaned by a foreigner.
"It was all as typically American as it was a unique episode in history. Those athletic Englishmen from India had their eyes opened to an appreciation of the national pastime of eighty-odd million Americans, and before the occupation ended they were deserting their own fields to enjoy the thrill of a fiercely fought nine-inning battle on the diamond of Chaffee's Camp.
"These Yankee exiles fell to 'playing ball' as naturally as to foraging, and while they were engaged in driving the festive three-bagger through the startled air of North China, jackies in white duck were circling the bases in blazing Cuba and Honolulu, or landing from revenue-cutter patrols to stake out a home-plate on frozen Alaskan beaches; and soldier and sailor teams were swinging their bats from one end of the Philippines to the other. As the British drum-beat has encircled the globe, so has the slogan of 'Play ball!' followed the Stars and Stripes, proclaiming the reign of the finest outdoor game ever devised."
In the May number of the American Magazine for 1911, writing on "Hitting the Dirt," Mr. Hugh S. Fullerton, of Chicago, had a forceful paper from which the following is a reprint:
"Base stealing, the gentle art of sprinting and 'hitting the dirt,' is the finest drawn and most closely calculated play in Base Ball, and the one that, above all others, reveals the mathematical exactitude of the national game. A player who can run eighty-five feet in three and one-third seconds from a flatfooted start, ought to reach second base exactly tied with the ball, nine times out of ten starts, if the play is perfectly made by the runner, pitcher, catcher and baseman. The slightest inaccuracy or hesitation decides the play.
"It seems a simple matter to run ninety feet while a ball is being thrown sixty-eight feet and caught and thrown back, approximately one hundred and thirty-two feet, caught again and held in position to touch the runner. Yet there is art and science in the feat. All pennant winning teams are base running teams. Every manager urges base running, tries to train his men to it; and then, except in rare instances, refuses to permit them to run, and plays the hit-and-run and sacrifice game instead.
"The figures show that the sacrifice hits average about one-third more per season than the stolen bases, and that the hit-and-run is used sixty per cent. oftener (this in major leagues) than stealing bases. The figures also prove that base stealing succeeds in about sixty-three per cent. of the times tried, and the hit-and-run in less than sixty-six per cent., and further, that the hit-and-run results in almost seven per cent. of the times it is attempted. In the face of these figures and of the expressed desire to increase base running, few managers will order a base running attack except when a pitcher opposing his team is notoriously weak at 'holding up' runners and watching the bases.
"In the average seasons of the two major leagues—the American and National—89,156 face the pitchers. Of these 27,058 reach first base—19,154 of them on safe hits, 1,303 on errors that permit them to achieve the first ninety feet—645 by being hit by pitched balls, and 5,950 on bases on balls. These figures are the averages of the two leagues for five seasons. Of the 27,058 who reach first base, 17,138 arrive at second, 12,822 at third, and 8,272 score.
"Yet the average number of stolen bases in the 1,232 games of the two seasons of the major leagues is only 2,744. That is, out of 55,988 opportunities to steal bases, only 2,744 are improved.
"The figures appear to prove that the pitchers and catchers have acquired a mastery over the runners. The truth is that the cause of the degeneracy of the art of base running is twofold; first, the hit-and-run play and the sacrifice, and, second, the tendency toward stereotyped playing. Of the 2,744 pilferings, 1,951 are of second base, 744 of third, and 19 from third to the final goal."
It would be of interest, did space permit, to present Mr. Fullerton's deductions to prove his proposition that it is easier now than ever before to steal bases.
In Pearson's for May, 1911, Christy Mathewson, the famous pitcher of the New York "Giants" of the National League, wrote under the caption, "Outguessing the Batter," and the following incident is from his article:
The following extract from some periodical was also found among Mr. Chadwick's effects without a credit or date attached:
"The revision of the rules has always been entrusted to the professional experts, and their edicts are obeyed by at least a million of players, all the way down to the barefooted tots who whang a three-cent ball with a barrel stave and wrangle over 'the foul-strike rule.' The vast army of amateurs must, therefore, look to the leagues for every change or improvement in the game, and in this way the professional element dominates the Base Ball of eighty millions of Americans. Unlike the history of other sports, professional Base Ball has helped instead of hindered the game of the amateur. Where one State league plays its circuit of six or eight small cities, a hundred amateur nines are springing up to pattern after the organization of the professionals, and with uniforms, managers, and regular schedules, boom the game for the pure fun of it. In Greater New York alone more than two hundred clubs of amateurs and semi-professional players contest regular series of games in private grounds and in the public parks.
"As a 'national game,' Base Ball has no more than begun its conquest. One of the great, popular awakenings of this generation has been the 'outdoor movement,' in which the gospel of fresh air and wholesome exercise has been preached from every housetop. The public schools are teaching it, employers are promoting athletic clubs for their working people, and a million dollars is not considered an extravagant sum to invest in the equipment of a college athletic plant. The average American is so constructed that athletic endeavor bores him unless it is enlivened by the spirit of competition. He must be trying to 'lick the other fellow' or he will quit the game in disgust. Base Ball is the one sport open to all, without any barrier of expense, and with rivalry enough to rivet the interest of its players.
"The pallid student with bulging brow may croak that it is a wicked, economic waste for thousands of grown men to be paid large salaries for hitting a ball with a stick of wood. On the contrary, these clean-built, sunburned, vigorous athletes of the league diamonds are the faculty members of the National University of Base Ball Culture, and their pupils are to be found in every other American home.
"The greatest day of the sporting calendar is 'the opening of the league season.' Then it is worth the price of admission just to see twenty thousand cheering Americans banked half way round the velvet turf in the sparkling April weather; when the heroes in their spick-and-span uniforms parade grandly across the field behind the band; when the big flag soars to the top of the tall pole; when the Mayor or Governor tosses the dedicatory horsehide sphere from his box; when the first gladiator strides up to the home plate, and the umpire croaks 'Play ball!'"