If you’ve ever experienced a Charley (or Charlie) horse, you can vouch they are not pleasant experiences. They do, however, have kind of a funny name. And some say the etymology of that funny name is rooted in baseball.
A popular story revolves around a pitcher named Charley Esper. At the beginning of the twentieth century, groundskeepers often brought in old and lame horses to pull the equipment used to keep the playing field in good condition. Charley Esper of the Baltimore Orioles walked with a bit of a limp, the result of years of injuries. Because his limp reminded his teammates of the groundskeeper’s lame horse, they called Esper “Charley Horse.”
A different origin story also involves the Orioles organization. Several players had gone to the racetrack and backed a horse named “Charlie.” Unfortunately, Charlie ultimately pulled up lame and lost the race. The next day, when one player pulled a tendon in his leg, his teammates likened him to “our old Charlie horse.”
As for the actual, true origins of the term, nobody knows for sure. A number of stories, even beyond these, seem to relate to baseball and/or the racetrack, which makes sense since these were the primary American pastimes from the 1880s into the twentieth century.
The first professional sports team to visit the White House was the Forest Cities ball club, a recently defunct franchise of the National Association, brought to Washington, D.C. by President Chester A. Arthur on April 13, 1883. Later in the season, President Arthur also hosted the new National League’s New York Gothams (who would become known as the Giants in 1885).
I occasionally go on binges of television shows that I never watched when they were actually airing on television (for one example, see my posts here about various episodes of the Simpsons). My parents didn’t condone a lot of TV-watching as I grew up, and as an adult, I don’t bother with wasting money on cable or even Netflix. However, I do have a library card, and many public libraries have vast collections of DVDs, including television series. This has afforded me the opportunity to do a tiny bit of catching up on some shows.
My current TV show project, The West Wing, has thoroughly captured my interest and attention. As of this writing, I am about halfway through the third season of the series, and in the first minutes of episode 15, “Hartsfield’s Landing,” C.J. Cregg makes mention during a press briefing of the origins of the seventh inning stretch. Stretch time, she informs reporters, was founded by President William Howard Taft. Naturally this caught my attention, so I had to do a little poking around to find out whether this was true.
It seems the actual origins of the seventh inning have faded with time, but the story of President Taft does circulate. According to the story, during a game he attended on April 4, 1910, the obese Taft stood up during the seventh inning to stretch his legs and find some respite from sitting in the small, wooden chair. When other fans at the ballgame saw Taft stand, they also stood in a gesture of respect for the commander-in-chief.
Another possibility for the tradition’s origins dates back to 1869. According to an article in the New York Herald, following a particularly long second inning of a game between the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Brooklyn Eagles, the entire crowd at the park simply stood up to stretch. Actual stretch time, of course, then was moved to later in the game.
A third story, this one also dating back to 1869, comes from a letter written by Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings. According to Wright, “The spectators all arise between halves of the seventh inning, extend their legs and arms and sometimes walk about. In so doing they enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a long posture upon hard benches.”
Today, of course, stretch time comes with singing the chorus of Jack Norworth’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” as well as an end to alcohol sales for that game. Whatever the actual origins of the seventh inning stretch, there seems to be no doubt that it was borne out of a need for fans to take a break from the long period of sitting.
This piece, written by an anonymous author, was first published in the Chicago Record in 1896. I find the poem a touch humorous in that it indicates that for all the incredible accomplishments these great men of history achieved, they missed out big time because they didn’t have the opportunity to experience baseball.
George Washington was President
and honored in his day,
He was the father of the land and
all things came his way;
He had a basketful of fun, a wagon
load of fame—
But he never was a rooter at a base
Napoleon conquered half the world
and had a crown of gold,
And in his time his cup was just
as full as it could hold.
It looks from here as though he
should have had his share of fun-
But her never strained his vocals
when the home team won.
And also Julius Cesar, who had his
share of sport,
He won his share of battles, and
always held the fort.
He killed lost of people, regard
less of the cost—
But he never booed the umpire
when the home team lost.
And also Alexander, he turned most
And then shed tears because there
were no more worlds to lick,
He climbed ‘way up the ladder, as
high as people get—
But he never pawned his scepter to
pay a baseball bet.
The Chicago White Stockings sold National League batting champion and future Hall of Famer Mike Kelly to the Boston Beaneaters on February 14, 1887 for what was at that time a record $10,000. Kelly would earn the nickname “King” while in Boston, where he would hit .311 during this three-year span with the team.
Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson was born on April 17, 1852 in a log cabin in Marshalltown, Iowa. He was the youngest son of Henry and Jeannette Rice Anson. Henry and Jeannette Anson had moved westward to the area from New York state with their oldest son, Sturgis, in a covered wagon, and young Adrian was the first pioneer child born in Marshalltown. Jeannette Anson died when Adrian was merely seven years old.
Henry Anson enrolled his sons in a preparatory course at the College of Notre Dame, and then later again at the state college in Iowa City (now the University of Iowa), but Adrian Anson was more interested in baseball and skating than in his studies. As a teenager, Adrian earned a place on the town baseball team, the Marshalltown Stars. With Henry Anson playing third base, Adrian’s brother Sturgis in centerfield, and Adrian at second base, the Stars went on to win the Iowa state championship in 1868.
In 1870, the Rockford Forest City baseball club and its star pitcher, Al Spalding, came to Marshalltown for a pair of games. The Forest City team won both games, but the Anson men played so well that Rockford management sent contract offers to all three of the Ansons. Henry and Sturgis turned the offer down, but Adrian accepted and joined the Forest City team in the spring of 1871.
Adrian Anson batted .325 for Rockford while playing third base, but the team disbanded at the end of the season. He was then signed by the Philadelphia Athletics, where he batted .415 in 1872, third best in the National Association. In 1874, Cincinnati Red Stockings manager Harry Wright and pitcher Al Spalding organized a three-week trip to England. Both the Athletics and the Red Stockings sailed across the Atlantic to play both baseball and cricket in front of British crowds. Anson led both teams in hitting throughout the tour, and he and Spalding developed a friendship during this trip, as well.
Anson’s numbers declined slightly in 1874 and 1875, but he still captured the attention Chicago White Stockings president William Hulbert. Anson signed with Chicago, and he went on to be named captain-manager of the club in 1879, moving across the diamond to play first base. His new role as captain-manager led to his nickname, “Cap,” short for “Captain Anson.” Under Anson’s leadership, the White Stockings won five pennants between 1880 and 1886. Anson introduced new tactics to the game, including the use of a third-base coach, having fielders back up one another, signaling batters, and the pitching rotation.
Anson played twenty-two seasons for Chicago, hitting at least .300 in twenty of those years. He led the league in RBIs eight times between 1880 and 1891, winning batting titles in 1881 and 1888. He retired after the 1897 season at the age of forty-five, having collected big league records for games, hits, at-bats, doubles and runs. He also finished with 3,081 hits, making him the first player ever to cross the 3,000-hit line.
After leaving Chicago, Anson managed the New York Giants for 22 games in 1898 before his big league career came to an end. He died on April 14, 1922 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
George Rolfe Humphries was born in 1894, the son of Jack (John) Humphries, an 1880s professional baseball player. Rolfe Humphries grew up to write poetry, translate literature, teach Latin, and coach athletics, but naturally, his interests also gravitated towards baseball. “Polo Grounds” is his tribute to New York Giants baseball — as well as, it appears, to his father.
Time is of the essence. This is a highly skilled
And beautiful mystery. Three or four seconds only
From the time that Riggs connects till he reaches first,
And in those seconds Jurges goes to his right,
Comes up with the ball, tosses to Witek at second,
For the force on Reese, Witek to Mize at first,
In time for the out—a double play.
(Red Barber crescendo. Crowd noises, obbligatio;
Scattered staccatos from the peanut boys,
Loud in the lull, as the teams are changing sides) . . .
Hubbell takes the sign, nods, pumps, delivers—
A foul into the stands. Dunn takes a new ball out,
Hands it to Danning, who throws it down to Werber;
Werber takes off his glove, rubs the ball briefly,
Tosses it over to Hub, who goes to the rosin bag,
Takes the sign from Danning, pumps, delivers—
Low, outside, ball three. Danning goes to the mound,
Says something to Hub, Dunn brushes off the plate,
Adams starts throwing in the Giant bullpen,
Hub takes the sign from Danning, pumps, delivers,
Camilli gets hold of it, a long fly to the outfield,
Ott goes back, back, back, against the wall, gets under it,
Pounds his glove, and takes it for the out.
That’s all for the Dodgers. . . .
Time is of the essence. The rhythms break,
More varied and subtle than any kind of dance;
Movement speeds up or lags. The ball goes out
In sharp and angular drives, or long slow arcs,
Comes in again controlled and under aim;
The players wheel or spurt, race, stoop, slide, halt,
Shift imperceptibly to new positions,
Watching the signs according to the batter,
The score, the inning. Time is of the essence.
Time is of the essence. Remember Terry?
Remember Stonewall Jackson, Lindstrom, Frisch,
When they were good? Remember Long George Kelly?
Remember John McGraw and Benny Kauff?
Remember Bridwell, Tenney, Merkle, Youngs,
Chief Meyers, Big Jeff Tesreau, Shufflin’ Phil?
Remember Mathewson, Ames, and Donlin,
Buck Ewing, Rusie, Smiling Mickey Welch?
Remember a left-handed catcher named Jack Humphries,
Who sometimes played the outfield, in ’83?
Time is of the essence. The shadow moves
From the plate to the box, from the box to second base,
From second to the outfield, to the bleachers.
Time is of the essence. The crowd and players
Are the same age always, but the man in the crowd
Is older every season. Come on, play ball!