By Joseph Vila
|J. J. Kelly, Kid Nichols, and Griffith |
of the Chicago American League
It has been contended that the palmy days of baseball were back in the eighties, and it is probably true that from 1882 to 1890, when two big professional leagues were in existence, more enthusiasm was developed in the cities where these flourished than has been known since. But the game is more extensively played now than ever before. It is estimated that at least a million persons saw it played on Memorial Day. It is truly our national sport, and too popular ever to die out.
While professional baseball has had many ups and downs—chiefly the latter, of late years—there is no reason why the same big crowds and fervent "rooting" by excited partisans should not again attend the matches. Winning teams have seldom lacked support. New York furnishes an excellent illustration. Potentially the best baseball city in the country, for the past four or five years interest has been dead. This season its team started well, and on Memorial Day thirty one thousand people paid to see the games. Two days later, on Saturday, eighteen thousand were inside the grounds.
THE POPULARITY OF BASEBALL
There is a decided revival in baseball this year, due largely to the advent of the American League. Lovers of the game are hoping that the new organization and the old National League will become friendly rivals instead of deadly enemies.
But even though the gate receipts of the professional games may decrease, there is no real decline in the deep seated love of the game. For one reason, it is our own, although it grew out of the old English rounders, and nowhere save in America has it found recognition. It is a fast, spirited, honest game, which makes great demands upon those who play it best. There are unlimited opportunities for strategy—a strategy verging upon the "smartness" which always arouses a gleeful enthusiasm in us. It is the Yankee spirit, I suppose. Furthermore, every player has a chance to distinguish himself, and this gives a powerful personal element, encouraging a remarkable kind of hero worship. At the same time, team work must not be neglected.
Baseball has developed into a wonderfully scientific game, and it has done much for the health of those who play it. No man, however naturally gifted, can be a good baseball player who does not look sharply to his physical well-being. He must have mental alertness, activity, technical proficiency, a quick wit. He plays in the open, and the spectators can see his every move. He must be a strenuous partisan, and work and scheme for victory. The keen spirit of rivalry that is a part of the game has done much towards making it our national pastime. Incidentally, it has been proven that a successful ball player has characteristics that make him a successful business man when he quits the game.
THE BASEBALL "ROOTER"
It has been my fortune to see most of the great sporting events of the last ten or fifteen years—college boat races and football games, boxing contests, field sports, and the big horse races; but none of them can arouse the wild and tremendous enthusiasm of a closely contested baseball match. Often I have seen crowds of from five to twenty thousand people conduct themselves in a manner suggesting inmates of a lunatic asylum under intense excitement. The game exercises as powerful a fascination for the bank president as for his office boy. Some of the most ardent baseball cranks I have known were clergymen.
The only thing comparable to the enthusiasm of those who love the game is their keen partisanship and their loyalty to individual players. When one stops to think about it, the idea of the people of a city being ready to fight for its team of players is absurd, inasmuch as not one of them is a native of the place, or has any interest in it. A particular favorite may have been on the team of the bitterest rival the year before. It is the sense of possession more than personal loyalty that seems to dominate baseball devotees. It isn't enough that the "rooter's" team must play good ball; it must win. Nowhere will a city support a team that doesn't win. In those years when three or four teams have a chance of winning the pennant, there are lively times on the ball grounds.
THE HISTORY OF PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL
George Davis, New York Team
Professional baseball, as it is now understood, is just thirty years old. It was not until 1871 that a regular organization was formed. It was known as the National Association of Professional Baseball Players. Men began playing under salary back in the sixties, about the time when the game began to take on its scientific dignity. Teams were organized, and they went about the country playing against one another, or with amateur nines. The most famous and the best of these early teams was the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first purely professional nine, which played from 1868 to 1870 without being once defeated. St Louis had a good team; so had Brooklyn, Troy, and various other cities, including Rockford, Illinois, where, in 1868, Adrian C. Anson began a professional career that continued uninterruptedly for thirty years. Albert G. Spalding also began with the Rockford team.
The first organization lasted five years, and demonstrated that the players were not successful as managers. There was too much contract jumping, for one thing. So club owners took the reins of government, and their organization, which dates from 1876, was succeeded, in 1878, by the present National League, which has since endured, its most serious setback being in 1890, when the disastrous Brotherhood movement seriously hurt baseball for a time, although in the end it no doubt did good. The American Association, formed in 1882, lasted ten years before it was absorbed by the National Le a g u e. The National and American were on a friendly footing, under an agreement which also controlled the minor leagues. This still holds good, by the way, but the new American League, organized two years ago, is not a party to it. The new league has teams in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston, which play in opposition to those of the older organization in the same cities.
THE NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
As a rule, the major leagues have included eight cities each, as they do now, making occasional changes in their membership. Once the National League went as far west as Kansas City for one of its members. In the eighties, post season games between the leading clubs of the two organizations were arranged, and that stirred up baseball interest to the boiling point. When the New Yorks or the Detroits, of the League, met the St. Louis Browns or the Brooklyns, of the Association, they attracted enormous crowds. There is a temptation to tell over again the stories of some of these old time struggles on the diamond, for the famous ones are many. But the same scenes are repeated over and over again. The sharp and deadly earnestness of the play, the element of chance that is never absent, the impetuous frenzy of the crowd that shrieks for the death of the umpire when his decisions displease, these will be known as long as the game endures. Perhaps there will be another contest like that between New York and Philadelphia when Rusie pitched for the Giants and Sullivan and Chamberlain for the opposing team, the score being tied at five each when the game was called at the end of seventeen innings. There will, no doubt, be scenes like those growing out of the play for the Temple Cup in 1894, when the New York Club had to be protected by the police of Baltimore, and spectators from the metropolis didn't dare to cheer for fear of assault, so bitter was the feeling.
|Amos Rusie, one of the greatest living pitchers|
In the twenty five years that the clubs in the National League have been struggling for the pennant, Chicago has won the championship six times, the latest being in 1886. She won it the first year, when Albert G. Spalding, the most famous pitcher of his day, left Boston, and took McVey and "Deacon" White from his old club, and Anson from Philadelphia, to form the nucleus of the winning tea,. These four men were already famous. Boston won the next two years, and in 1879 the Providence team were champions. Then Chicago won three years in succession, giving way again to Boston in 1883 and Providence in 1884. Chicago captured the pennant in 1885 and 1886, and hasn't secured it since. Next Detroit, strengthened by the famous "big four" — Connor, Brouthers, Richardson, and Thompson—won the prize. The Michigan city was one of the greatest "ball towns" in the country at that time, but when its team failed to win, the attendance dropped off. New York was braced up by three stars from the Haymakers of Troy, "Buck" "Ewing," Mickey "Welch, and Gillespie, and John M. Ward, of Philadelphia, and it won for two years. Since then Brooklyn, Boston, and Baltimore have captured the pennant.
SOME FAMOUS PLAYERS
Many names stand out prominently in connection with these victories. For instance, there is John Clarkson, the greatest pitcher of his day, who could win games when he could hardly throw the ball through, because he pitched with his head rather than with his arm; "Tim" Keefe, of New York; "Bobby" Carruthers, of Brooklyn, also a famous pitcher; Pfeffer, Gore, Dalrymple, and Sunday, of the Chicagos; Michael C. Kelly, "the ten thousand dollar beauty," so called because Boston paid that sum to Chicago for his release, and because he was one of the homeliest men that ever stepped foot on the diamond. Kelly was a great strategist. He was one of the first to develop the fine points of game—"inside ball," as they call it now. He was very mercurial. At his best, he had no equal; at his worst, he was as bad as any of them.
This trading in players was one of the abuses of the game. I should like to have all the money that Anson made for the Chicago managers by taking young players, developing them, and selling them to the other clubs. This practice, together with "farming," was the chief cause of the Brotherhood movement. A club could reserve the services of a player indefinitely, sell him to another club, or rent his services to a minor league team, and the player himself had no voice in the matter. If he refused to obey, he had to give up playing altogether. Last year the players formed a protective association, and this, together with the opposition of the American League, forced concessions from the rulers of the game. If the disgraceful rowdyism on the part of some players, and the senseless "kicking," could be done away with, baseball would be on a better plane than ever before.
How a curve ball is pitched
So far as the game itself is concerned, it has steadily improved. To him who loves it, there is never a dull minute. There is a dash and vividness about it. As Senator David B. Hill once said, it has more of the American spirit in it than anything he knew. The play has been developed to a point undreamed of twenty years ago. Individuals not only play far better, but the team work has come to have something of the automatic perfection of a machine. For instance, base runner and batter now work in harmony. The former signals the man at the plate that he is going to try for the next base. The batsman hits the ball if he can, the first object being to advance the base runner who gets a start of a few seconds that usually insures his safety.
STRATEGY IN BASEBALL.
But these plays are not sure. Nothing is sure in baseball, and it is the element of chance that increases the interest. The most valuable player is one who rises to emergencies, whose mind grasps possibilities, and whose muscles act as quickly as he thinks. The Brooklyns, the National League champions for the past two years, have had no intricate systems of play mapped out, as has been supposed. The team has won because it was made up of men quick to act, always on the qui vive to take advantage of a point, great or small. Much credit must be given to their manager, Edward Hanlon, for selecting men of this caliber, as well as for teaching them much in the way of improving their mechanical skill.
|Baseball game at New York Polo Grounds|
A few years ago those who watched the Boston team noticed that with a man on first base, the batsman would frequently drive the ball to a part of the infield that was unguarded. The trick was simple enough. The base runner would make a feint to run to second, and the player who was to cover second base would naturally start for that point. This would tell the batter whether the short stop or second baseman was to take the catcher's throw; and he would try to send the ball to the place just vacated.
Credit for evolving this bit of strategy was given to Thomas McCarthy. The first man on a rival team to discover the trick—but not before it had profited the Boston nine to a considerable extent—was John N. Ward, captain and manager of the New York team, now a successful lawyer. The success of the scheme depended upon the knack of "placing the ball," another department in which the game has greatly advanced. In the old days a man grasped his wagon tongue, spat on his hands, tapped the home plate with the bat, and slammed away with might and main, bent on knocking the ball out of the lot. Now the best batters are not the longest hitters, but those most skillful in placing.
A player like Keeler, of the Brooklyns, is always dangerous at the bat, not only because he is naturally a good batter, but because the other side never knows what to expect from him. Be takes in at a glance the positions of the opposing fielders, and tries to put the ball out of their reach. With such men it is design, not accident, as a rule, when the ball falls out of reach just back of the infielders, making what is seemingly a "scratch" hit. Davis, of the New Yorks; Tenney, of the Bostons; McGraw, of the Baltimores, and Burkett, of St. Louis, are also adepts at place hitting.
Bunting is another development of batting that has been practiced a great deal in late years, and has increased the variety and uncertainty of the game. This tapping of the ball so that it rolls only a few feet from the batter, if done successfully, quickly brings discomfiture to the other side. To contend with bunting there has come greater celerity in fielding, as witness the effective handling of bunts by Collins, the Boston third baseman, for whom the baby hit has no terrors.
Arthur Cummings, Edward Hanlon, and John J. McGraw
It is plain as the nose on one's face that the man who always hits to right field or left field, as the case may be, has less chance of having his hit fall safely, no matter how good an eye he may have or how hard and squarely he may meet the ball, than the man who possesses the "batting eye," and who can vary his direction. There have always been skillful batters, but nowadays attention is paid to suiting the style of hitting to the circumstances, rather than to banging away with all one's might. At the same time, there are players of the hard swinging type who are first class batsmen. Notable among these is Wagner, the Pittsburg player. Lajoie, of the Philadelphia American League team, for instance, can drive a ball harder than any other player, with the possible exception of Wagner and Hickman, of the New Yorks. He has a quick, free swing, not hard, apparently, but he meets the ball squarely and it goes swiftly. Kelley and Keeler, of the Brooklyns, and Burkett, of St. Louis, are first class batters who use a wrist movement, with no hard swing. Keeping the bat well under control all the time, they are able to tell on the instant whether the ball pitched is of the kind at which they wish to strike. Certain skillful batsmen sometimes resort to "chopping" the ball. The bat comes in contact with the ball with a quick downward motion, sending it to the ground and causing it to describe erratic bounds. All these wrinkles in batting have been gradual developments.
The greatest strides in scientific play in the national game have been in pitching. Men who are still young enough to run a foot race can remember when the ball had to pass below the hip. "Al" Spalding was the greatest master of that style. The curve ball, discovered by Arthur Cummings about 1869, was not developed until many years later. Until comparatively recent years the manner of gripping the ball determined the curve. But that warned the batsman, so now only one grip is used for all deliveries, the pitcher securing different curves by wrist movements. In throwing the out curve, the ball goes off the fore finger; for the in curve, it goes off between the second and third fingers, while the drop is secured by snapping it off the ends of both fingers.
Keeler, of the Brooklyns
The drop is a most baffling ball. Two pitchers of former days, Ramsay and Kilroy, were experts throwing the drop ball, and their records of strike outs were large. "Cy" Seymour, late of New York, but now with Baltimore, has a most baffling drop ball. But this curve is not much used because of the strain it imposes upon the muscles of the arm and shoulder. The most important thing is to control the ball. Seymour has the most remarkable curves of any pitcher that ever lived, but he cannot be sure of the ball, and so he is not a great pitcher.
THE BATTLE OF PITCHER AND BATSMAN
If a batter prefers a low ball well out, he dislikes to have a pitcher send it swishing around his ear with a sharp in-shoot. Then, too, there is change of pace. The pitcher whose motions indicate that the ball will be sent through like a shot out of a cannon, as was the last one, and who actually throws a ball so slow that it hardly carries to the plate, is pretty certain to puzzle the batter. Hughes, of the Brooklyns, is an expert in change of pace, and one cannot tell from his grip and motions when the slow ball and when the swift one is to be thrown. Hughes says that the only difference is that he holds the ball loosely when it is to be slow. It is the hardest of all to control.
From an amateur standpoint, the game has fully held its own. It is found in its highest development in the large universities, where the teams play practically as well as professionals. The colleges have produced many famous players. No professional battery has gained greater fame than Stagg and Dann, of Yale, and it is doubtful if there was ever a stronger pitcher than "Dutch” Carter up to the time when his shoulder failed him.
One of the stars of professional baseball this year is a college boy earning enough money to complete his course. At the beginning of the season, it seemed certain that Matthewson was one of those phenomenal pitchers who are occasionally developed. He has all the steadiness, the coolness, and the strategy of a veteran like Nichols, coupled with perfect control, all the curves, and an intuitive knowledge of the weaknesses of his opponent. This youth of twenty two restored baseball in New York, by giving its team the leading position in the championship race. He seems to be one of those players who will get along in the world, for there is more than one millionaire in this country who began his career as a professional baseball player. And most of the professionals earn enough to retire on a competence, and that is true of no other sport.
Pitcher McGinty, A. C. Anson, and Breitenstein of St. Louis
From the Junior Munsey, August 1901.