This day in baseball: John McGraw passes

Less than two years after retiring, John McGraw died on February 25, 1934 at his home in New Rochelle, New York.   McGraw passed away due to prostate cancer and uremic poisoning at the age of 60 and is interred in New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.  In 1937, he became a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s second induction class.


John McGraw in 1910 (Wikimedia Commons)

This day in baseball: Charles Stoneham dies

Charles Stoneham, the owner of the New York Giants baseball team, passed away on January 6, 1936.  Stoneham was the last remaining owner of the trio (along with John McGraw and Frank McQuade) that purchased the team in 1919.  He passed the team on to his son, Horace Stoneham, upon his death.  During his time as owner, Stoneham saw the Giants win the World Series in 1921, 1922 and 1933.

Frank McQuade - Charles Stoneham - John McGraw

Quote of the day

One percent of ballplayers are leaders of men. The other ninety-nine percent are followers of women.

~John McGraw



This day in baseball: RIP Ross Youngs

New York Giants rightfielder Ross Youngs passed away on October 22, 1927 of Brights disease.  The future Hall of Famer had a career batting average of .322, having batted over .300 for seven straight seasons, including reaching an average of more than .350 twice.  Youngs was also one of John McGraw’s favorite players, who said at Youngs’s funeral, “The game was never over with Youngs until the last man was out.  He could do everything a ball player should do, and do it better than most players.  As an outfielder he had no superiors, and he was the easiest man I ever knew to handle.  In all his years with the Giants, he never caused one minute’s trouble for myself or the club.  On top of all this, a gamer ballplayer than Youngs never played ball.”

Ross Youngs New York Giants

Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Second Inning


Gushing with patriotism, the Second Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns begins with proclamations of the game of baseball being America’s “safety valve” and a montage of old baseball photos being scrolled to the sound of the national anthem and a spoken list of various American accomplishments during the early twentieth century.

Not all was perfect in the country, however, as Burns also points to an increase in racism across America, the growth of tenements, and a decline in baseball’s popularity.  As it always does, however, baseball managed to recover.  It was a time when small ball dominated the style of play, and pitchers like Christy Mathewson, “Three Finger” Brown, and Walter Johnson became legends on the mound.

Major league baseball entered the twentieth century in trouble, beset by declining attendance, rowdyism, unhappy players, and feuding, greedy club owners, but then divided itself in two, cleaned itself up, and succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. The World Series began, and season after season more than five million fans filled stadiums to see their heroes play, and countless millions more, who had never been lucky enough to watch them in person, followed their every move in the sports pages.

In part two of this documentary series, we see the rise of players like Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, two of the most diametrically different players as the game has ever seen.  We meet player-manager John McGraw, who approached the game with a furious kind of passion recognized throughout baseball.  The “Christian Gentleman,” Christy Mathewson, also appeared on the scene playing for McGraw, and his precise pitching captured the attention of teams and fans across America.  Together, Mathewson and McGraw’s Giants dominated the sport.

2nd inningWe also see the rise of Ban Johnson and the American League.  The National Agreement brought peace between the new AL and the older National League, though the reserve clause remained intact, leaving ballplayers themselves with no voice in the administrative side of the game.  And to no one’s surprise, I’m sure, overpriced concessions have been a staple of ballparks since the game became a business.  This time period saw the introduction of hot dogs, served to fans in buns to allow them to hold them while watching baseball.

Once again, we see descriptions of racism in baseball followed closely by an update on the life of Branch Rickey.  Burns hints at the impact of seeing discrimination on Rickey’s views.  Later in this disc, there is a more in-depth discussion of black baseball, including the creation of the Negro Leagues led by Rube Foster.  The documentary also introduces (though it really doesn’t dive much into) the concept of “bloomer girls,” women playing baseball during this time period.

Some of the most recognizable pieces in baseball pop culture also came into existence in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  Franklin Pierce Adams’s poem, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” also known as “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” was written in 1910, Ernest Thayer’s iconic poem “Casey At the Bat” (1888) was recited frequently by performers, and Jack Norworth’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” became the game’s anthem.

The Second Inning ends at the conclusion of the 1909 season, following a discussion of Fred Merkle’s 1908 boner and a more direct rivalry between Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner in the 1909 World Series.  It’s hard to tell if Burns is particularly fascinated by Cobb, or if there are just too many good stories there to ignore, but Cobb does garner a fair amount of attention in this inning.  Not that I’m complaining — I wouldn’t have wanted to play against him (and probably not even with him), but Cobb does add some color to the game’s history.

Ken Burns’s Baseball: The First Inning

In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing base, a certain game of ball…Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms…the game of ball is glorious.  ~Walt Whitman

Thus begins the first disc of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns.  This is a series that I’ve checked out from the library and started watching multiple times, yet never managed to finish.  In an effort to change this, I’ve decided to commit myself to writing about each “Inning” of the series here.  This way, I have a form of accountability to encourage me to get through the whole thing.

Approximately the first twenty minutes of the first disc serve as kind of a nostalgic, feel-good introduction to the series and the game.  Images of Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, and several others flash across the screen to a background of melodic music and various speakers ruminating about what an incredible game baseball is.

The First Inning then begins with the myth of baseball’s founding by Abner Doubleday.  Burns describes the story behind Doubleday’s supposed invention of the game, then immediately refutes it, asserting that Doubleday likely never even saw a professional game.  Baseball, rather, is most likely a direct descendant of two British sports: rounders and cricket.  The game went through multiple variations until the founding of the New York Knickerbockers and the codification of rules by Alexander Cartwright.  Henry Chadwick soon appears on the scene and becomes instantly enamored with baseball.  Chadwick went on to invent the box score, using statistics to track players’ performances.  The National Association of Base Ball Players was then formed to help maintain control over the sport and further codify the rules.

The outbreak of the American Civil War presented a disruption to organized baseball.  On the other hand, it also served to help spread the game’s popularity as soldiers returning home at the end of the war took knowledge of the sport with them.  In spite of the end of slavery, black teams found themselves banned from organized leagues.  Women and girls, also, struggled for the right to play ball, as it was deemed too violent and dangerous for the fairer sex.

Burns chronicles the evolution of baseball from its status as an amateur pastime to a professional sport — a business.  It is evident from his focus on the establishment of the reserve clause that Burns intends to delve into the subject further.  It only makes sense to do so, of course, given the impact that this clause would have on the occurrence of so many events throughout the game’s history.  Burns also puts some attention on gambling, which, as we know, would also impact baseball’s timeline of events.

The First Inning covers the development of the NL, the AA, the Players’ League, and the rise of Albert Spalding.  A number of players are introduced, including Cy Young, Cap Anson, King Kelly, and John McGraw.  We also meet Moses Fleetwood Walker and the bigotry he faced in the big leagues as a black player.  This, followed closely by a discussion of Branch Rickey’s early life, present a foreshadowing recognizable by anyone familiar with the game’s history.

Most histories I have seen covering this period in baseball seem to treat the game with a kind of veneration.  Personally, this is perhaps my favorite period in the game’s history to learn about, possibly in part due to this sense of awe that it brings out about baseball.  So much of what happens next has already been established, yet there is still something pure and clean about baseball during the 19th century.


This day in baseball: McGraw’s debut

John McGraw made his debut as a major league manager on April 18, 1899 at the age of twenty-six.  His Baltimore Orioles defeated the New York Giants (McGraw’s future team) 5-3 that day.  McGraw’s managerial career would span 33 years, during which time he won ten pennants and three World Championships.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.



Quote of the day

The main thing is to win.

~John McGraw


Chicago Eagle, 1919

This day in baseball: Charlie Grant

On March 11, 1901, John McGraw, manager of the American League’s Orioles, attempted to surreptitiously integrate the major leagues when he signed Charlie Grant.  McGraw tried to pass off the black infielder as a Cherokee Indian named Tokohoma. When the team later traveled to Chicago, however, McGraw’s ruse was uncovered by Charles Comiskey, who recognized the second baseman’s true identity.  Grant maintained his disguise, claiming that his father was white and that his mother was a Cherokee who lived in Lawrence, Kansas.  McGraw initially persisted with the scheme, but later claimed that “Tokohama” was inexperienced, especially on defense. Grant returned to the Columbia Giants of the Negro Leagues and never played in the major leagues.


Charlie Grant (Wikipedia)


Charlie Faust and the 1911 New York Giants

Week one of classes has come to an end, and the baseball literature class has thus far exceeded my hopes and expectations.  On day one, the professor came into the classroom and commented, “By the way, this class is baseball,” for the benefit of the unsure.  His appearance, no doubt, did leave some students unsure, as it was difficult to ignore the all-white mop of hair, the thick glasses, and the large belly — all indications that his days of actually playing any form of baseball were long behind him.  He intends to retire at the end of the year, an announcement that made me realize that I could very well be sitting in on the final offering of this course.

Then he started talking, and it quickly became evident that this man’s knowledge of baseball and its history made my own seem amateurish by comparison, and I certainly know more than the average Joe off the streets.  He first taught this class in 1974, and while it has been offered at sporadic intervals over the years, his love for the subject matter shows through.  We spent time talking about the Royals and talking about baseball history.  He explained, “Of course, we’re going to talk about baseball literature, but we’re also going to talk about history and about what’s going on in the game today.  We may even go to a game, and if you don’t know how to keep score… well, you’re gonna learn.”

We have begun bouncing around the stories in The Glory of Their Times, and one figure we focused on in class yesterday was Charlie Faust, the good luck charm of the New York Giants during the 1911 season.  Fred Snodgrass discusses Faust’s time with the Giants in his oral history recorded in Glory of Their Times.  Faust approached manager John McGraw during spring training, after a Kansas fortune teller supposedly told him that he needed to join the Giants and help them win the pennant.  McGraw, being the superstitious type, allowed Faust to join the team, though he did not actually grant Faust an actual salary.

Charlie Faust (Wikipedia)

Charlie Faust (Wikipedia)

Faust’s daily needs were covered by the Giants, but otherwise, he mostly just tagged along with the team as a sort-of mascot.  Every day, Charlie Faust warmed up as a pitcher, with a windmill wind up against which even Billy Butler could steal his way home.  But while Faust believed he was an actual member of the team, he really served as little more than an entertainment piece.  Snodgrass describes how fans showed up at the ballpark just to watch Faust warm up, and my own impression as I read Snodgrass’s account was that Faust seemed completely clueless about what was really going on.  Throughout his time with the Giants, Faust served as the butt of a countless number of jokes, entertaining crowds and players both.  Reading more about the topic outside of Glory, Faust clearly had some mental shortcomings, which Snodgrass hints at, but really doesn’t make clear.  Nevertheless, according to Snodgrass, Faust’s presence did turn out to be a good luck charm for the team, as they consistently won while Faust was around, but lost in Faust’s absence.  As fate would have it, the Giants did win the 1911 pennant — the first of three consecutive.

John McGraw did put Charlie Faust into a couple of games in 1911, on October 7 and on October 12.  He is in the record books as having pitched a total of 2.0 innings, giving up two hits and an earned run for a 4.50 ERA.  But while Snodgrass recalls Faust staying with the Giants for a couple more seasons, research by Gabriel Schechter shows that McGraw actually dismissed Faust at the start of the 1912 season, fearing that Faust was becoming less and less an innocent form of entertainment and more and more of an unstable threat to the safety of the team.

Charlie Faust never overcame the disappointment of rejection by, he believed, his true destiny.  In 1914, he was sent to a mental hospital in Salem, Oregon.  On the admission form to the institution, he listed his occupation as “professional ballplayer.”  The hospital diagnosed Faust with dementia, before releasing him into the custody of his brother.  Charlie Faust died of tuberculosis on June 18, 1915.