Nicknamed “The Freshest Man On Earth,” Walter Arlington Latham was born March 15, 1860 in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. Latham’s father served as a bugler for the Union Army in the American Civil War, and at the conclusion of the war, young Arlie became interested in baseball when soldiers returning from the battlefield brought the game home with them.
By the time he was fourteen, Latham had become good enough to play with the General Worth nine, a local team in Stoneham, Massachusetts, where the family had moved. Latham started out as a catcher, but later took up playing third base to avoid getting beat up behind the plate. In 1877, Latham played with the Pittsfield, Massachusetts club as their third baseman, and then in 1879, he made his professional debut in minor league baseball with Springfield in the National Association.
Twenty-year-old Latham made his Major League debut on July 5, 1880 with the Buffalo Bisons of the National League, becoming the first man from New Hampshire to play in the majors. He then played for the Philadelphia Athletics of the National Association in 1881, then the Philadelphia Phillies of the League Alliance in 1882.
Latham then joined the St. Louis Browns of the American Association in 1883. He stayed in St. Louis through the 1889 season, during which time the Browns won four consecutive pennants (1885-1888) in the American Association. Latham led the AA in runs scored with 152 during the 1886 season. He also batted .316 and stole 142 bases, then tacked on another 12 stolen bases in the playoffs. Adding to a reputation as an excellent base stealer, in 1887, Latham stole 129 bases, and he also led the league in stolen bases with 109 during the 1888 season.
In 1890, Latham jumped to the Chicago Pirates of the Players’ League. Later that year, in July, he returned to the NL with the Cincinnati Reds, where he served as a utility player and coach. Latham played for Cincinnati through 1895, then was traded to the Browns after the 1895 season. The Browns then released Latham after the 1896 season. Latham bounced around the minors for a few years before winding up with the Washington Senators in 1899. He later made four appearances for the New York Giants in 1909 at age 49.
Personality-wise, Arlie Latham was considered one of the funniest players in baseball. I’m not sure exactly how he earned the nickname “The Freshest Man on Earth,” but Latham was well-known for playing practical jokes. According to one account, the existence of the third base coach’s box is thanks to Latham. He would taunt opposing players third base coach, taking advantage of the lack of a coach’s box by running up and down the third base line yelling insults at the pitcher while he was in the middle of his windup.
His tendency to shout and gesticulate, not only as a coach, but also as a player, earned Latham the unofficial title of “the father of ‘chatter’.” The implication, of course, being that the practice of infield chatter that exists to this day had begun with Arlie Latham.
Latham finished his playing career with 742 stolen bases in seventeen professional seasons with a .269 batting average, .334 OBP, and .341 slugging. Latham died on November 29, 1952 at the age of 92 in Garden City, New York. He is buried in Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale, New York.
When you turn on a Major League Baseball game, you can often tell within moments which team is the home team and which is the away team. The common practice by teams in the MLB is to wear white (or mostly white) uniforms at home and to wear gray (or mostly gray) unis when on the road.
While this is a regular exercise now, baseball legend has it that this tradition began due to the fact that visiting teams had no access to laundry facilities, and so the players were not able to clean their uniforms. The darker uniforms, or the “road grays,” could conceal the dirt and grass stains better than white uniforms.
Not every team does this today, of course. And given better access to laundry facilities, they don’t need to. But it’s an interesting story and practice, all the same.
The Philadelphia Quakers (later known as the Phillies) won their first game in franchise history on May 14, 1883 again the Chicago White Stockings (later known as the Cubs). The Quakers had lost their first eight games of the season, but then proceeded to pound the White Stockings 12-0 at Chicago’s Lake Front Park. The Quakers would finish the season with a depressing 17-81 (.173) record, putting them in last place in the National League.
On May 9, 1871, Cuban infielder Esteban Bellán became the first Hispanic player to appear in a major league game. The twenty-one-year-old joined the Troy Haymakers of the National Association as they lost 9-5 to the Boston Red Stockings.
Cy Young threw the first perfect game in American League history on May 5, 1904. In the game, Young led the Red Sox to a 3-0 victory over Rube Waddell and the Philadelphia A’s. It also marked the first perfect game in the majors since 1893, when the distance from the mound to the plate was changed from 45 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches.
The Pittsburgh Alleghenys, now known as the Pirates, played their first game in the National League on April 30, 1887, defeating the defending league-champion Chicago White Stockings, 6-2, at Pittsburgh’s Recreation Park. Formerly an American Association team the Alleghenys posted a 55-69 record in their first season, finishing in 6th place in the eight-team circuit.
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.