On June 15, 1938, Johnny Vander Meer of the Cincinnati Reds became the only pitcher in major league history to pitch two consecutive no-hitters. Four days earlier, the left-handed Vander Meer held the Braves hitless at Crosley Field, leading the Reds to a 3-0 victory. Then, on June 15th, he defeated the Dodgers at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, 6-0.
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.
On June 8, 1909, pitcher Cack Henley of the San Francisco Seals set a Pacific Coast League record for longest complete game shutout when he held the Oakland Oaks scoreless over 24 innings en route to a 1-0 victory. Henley’s 24-inning mark is tied with three others for the most thrown by a PCL pitcher in one game.
A few weeks ago, a co-worker came by my office and mentioned that she would be going on a day trip to see the world’s biggest baseball. She knew the information would interest me (it did), and it amazed me to discover that this baseball resides just over an hour’s drive from where we stood, in Muscotah, Kansas. Muscotah also happens to be the birthplace of Joe Tinker, the famous Cubs shortstop of the renowned Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combination of the early 20th century.
I learned in my research that the self-proclaimed World’s Largest Baseball is not really a baseball. Rather, the people of Muscotah took an old water tank to create the twenty-foot diameter ball, using rebar to fashion the stitches. The eventual goal for the project is to create a Joe Tinker museum on the inside of the hollow, steel baseball. As things stand, my co-worker informed me the week after her visit, the World’s Largest Baseball isn’t much to look at. Nevertheless, I knew I wanted to check it out for myself, and I took advantage of the opportunity to do so this weekend.
I left in the morning, shortly after breakfast. The route consisted primarily of small, winding, two-lane highways through rural Kansas. I took a couple wrong turns along the way, thanks to some confusion in the directions, so the trip took slightly longer than anticipated, but fortunately I had no reason to hurry. I passed through a number of small towns on the drive, though I noticed that Muscotah never appeared on any of the highway distance signs. The population of Muscotah, it turns out, was a mere 176 people as of the 2010 census.
When one finally reaches the city limits along highway US-159, one of the first things you notice is the welcome sign:
I continued driving for a couple more blocks, and the giant baseball itself proved hard to miss. I turned off the highway onto Kansas Avenue, where the ball stood, and maneuvered my car into an acceptable parking position in the tall grass along the side of the street.
As for the World’s Largest Baseball, well, it definitely looks like a very large, steel baseball:
I walked around and poked my head into the entrance of the hollow tank, and while it seems it’s still going to be quite some time until any kind of museum takes shape, there was at least the faint promise of it in the form of building materials on the interior floor:
Not too far from the steel baseball stood a trio of baseball player silhouettes, no doubt intended to represent the threesome that was Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance.
As my co-worker forewarned, there really wasn’t much to see beyond the baseball and the silhouettes. It would have been easy (and it was tempting) to just hop back into my vehicle and head home straightaway, but I decided to walk around for a few minutes to stretch my legs. But in truth, there doesn’t seem to be much to Muscotah itself.
Some of the older, run down buildings do seem to carry echoes of a more vibrant time in the town’s past:
And I do have to comment that this is quite possibly the smallest post office I have ever seen:
All in all, Muscotah is just a quiet, rural Kansas town, silent and still with sleepiness on this warm May weekend. I certainly wouldn’t say that the World’s Largest Baseball is a “must-see” attraction worth traveling halfway across the country to catch a glimpse. However, for any hardcore baseball fans who just happen to be in the area, it does make for a different and relaxing daytrip destination.
These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
~”Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” by Franklin Pierce Adams
On May 20, 1918, Indians outfielder Tris Speaker was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Red Sox hurler Carl Mays. A right-handed submarine pitcher, Mays denied Speaker’s allegation that the beanball pitch was intentional. Mays pitched a complete game, winning 11-1 that day. The beanball would prove a precursor to the pitch that would kill Ray Chapman two years later.
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.
Though he wasn’t exactly the game’s biggest fan, on May 16, 1907, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues issued the first presidential lifetime pass to President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt preferred sports that were “more vigorous,” though he later admitted that he enjoyed watching his son Quentin participate in baseball. Nevertheless, Roosevelt never attended a major league baseball game.