“Line-Up for Yesterday: An ABC of Baseball Immortals,” by Ogden Nash

I have a feeling that I have seen this particular poem before, though for the life of me, I do not recall where.  In any case, this piece by Ogden Nash was originally published in the January 1949 issue of SPORT Magazine.  Nash uses the letters of the alphabet to pay tribute to some of baseball’s most popular players.

You can find a chart listing the players each stanza stands for here.

*

A is for Alex
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.

B is for Bresnahan
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren’t born.

D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When they asked, Who’s the tops?
Said correctly, I is.

E is for Evers,
His jaw in advance;
Never afraid
To Tinker with Chance.

F is for Fordham
And Frankie and Frisch;
I wish he were back
With the Giants, I wish.

G is for Gehrig,
The Pride of the Stadium;
His record pure gold,
His courage, pure radium.

H is for Hornsby;
When pitching to Rog,
The pitcher would pitch,
Then the pitcher would dodge.

I is for Me,
Not a hard-hitting man,
But an outstanding all-time
Incurable fan.

J is for Johnson
The Big Train in his prime
Was so fast he could throw
Three strikes at a time.

K is for Keeler,
As fresh as green paint,
The fastest and mostest
To hit where they ain’t.

L is for Lajoie
Whom Clevelanders love,
Napoleon himself,
With glue in his glove.

M is for Matty,
Who carried a charm
In the form of an extra
brain in his arm.

N is for Newsom,
Bobo’s favorite kin.
You ask how he’s here,
He talked himself in.

O is for Ott
Of the restless right foot.
When he leaned on the pellet,
The pellet stayed put.

P is for Plank,
The arm of the A’s;
When he tangled with Matty
Games lasted for days.

Q is for Don Quixote
Cornelius Mack;
Neither Yankees nor years
Can halt his attack.

R is for Ruth.
To tell you the truth,
There’s just no more to be said,
Just R is for Ruth.

S is for Speaker,
Swift center-field tender,
When the ball saw him coming,
It yelled, “I surrender.”

T is for Terry
The Giant from Memphis
Whose .400 average
You can’t overemphis.

U would be ‘Ubell
if Carl were a cockney;
We say Hubbell and Baseball
Like Football and Rockne.

V is for Vance
The Dodger’s very own Dazzy;
None of his rivals
Could throw as fast as he.

W is for Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.

X is the first
of two x’s in Foxx
Who was right behind Ruth
with his powerful soxx.

Y is for Young
The magnificent Cy;
People battled against him,
But I never knew why.

Z is for Zenith
The summit of fame.
These men are up there.
These men are the game.


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Third Inning

3rd inning

The Third Inning of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns explores the game during the 1910s.  This disc opens with a discussion of fan involvement, and how the setup of the field during this time period gave fans a greater amount of influence in the events of the game.  Fans often spectated standing in foul territory or directly on the field behind the outfielders, allowing them not only to yell at players more effectively, but also to potentially become physically involved in some plays.  And it wasn’t just fans rooting for their teams who sought to influence the outcome of games.  Gamblers during this time period were heavily involved in the sport.

Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics dominated the first half of the decade.  Meanwhile, the saga of Ty Cobb continues, from his 1910 race for the batting title against Nap Lajoie to Cobb’s suspension from organized baseball for beating the snot out of a fan in 1912.

Buck O’Neil, who has contributed to the commentary of the documentary series in the first two innings, was born in 1911, and now discusses his experience with baseball as a boy.  Baseball’s “gentleman’s agreement,” however, continued to exclude black players from the game, though teams at times undermined this agreement with light-skinned minority players.

The 1912 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants became an unusual eight-game Series when the second game was called due to “impending darkness.”  Game eight of this Series was the one in which Fred Snodgrass dropped an easy fly ball, which allowed hitter Red Sox Clyde Engle to make it all the way to second.  Engle would later score, tying the game at 2-2, and Red Sox went on to first load the bases, then score the winning run.  Poor Snodgrass joined the ranks of dubious fame with Fred Merkle as a result.

The clouds of scandal appear early with the figure of Hal Chase.  His willingness to throw games was so well-known that even fans took to chanting, “What’s the odds,” whenever Chase took the field.  Players throughout baseball expressed their own discontent with the reserve clause and the complete control of owners over their contracts.  The formation of the Federal League attempted to address this discontent in promising players the opportunity for free agency.  The new league only lasted two seasons, however, and the players found themselves still without a voice.

On this disc, we meet pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, and we see more of the progression of Branch Rickey’s baseball career.  The 1916 World Series went to the Boston Red Sox over the Brooklyn Superbas.  The 1917 Series went to the Chicago White Sox over the New York Giants, then Boston returned to win the 1918 Series, this time over the Cubs.  When World War I broke out, Major League Baseball as a whole seemingly turned a blind eye.  Some players did serve during the war, including Grover Alexander, Ty Cobb, and Christy Mathewson, and Branch Rickey joined the effort as well.

The last half hour of the Third Inning went into detail covering the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  I particularly found it fascinating that Burns managed to find a Chicago fan who had been fifteen years old at the time of the scandal.  This fan recalled his disbelief that the White Sox had managed to lose the Series, being too young to understand the world of gambling at the time.  His shock and disappointment no doubt reflected the feeling of baseball fans everywhere at the time.  Though as Buck O’Neil describes at the very end of this disc, while the scandal turned a lot of folks away from the game at the time, it wouldn’t be long before a new hero would draw them back — a man named Babe Ruth.


This day in baseball: Lajoie hits 3,000

On September 27, 1914, Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie became just the third player in baseball history to reach 3,000 hits, joining Cap Anson and Honus Wagner.  His 3,000th hit was a double off New York’s Marty McHale as the Indians won 5-3 at League Park.

Nap_Lajoie_Dugout

Nap Lajoie, c. 1908 (New York Public Library)


Deacon McGuire

Deacon McGuire was a baseball player, coach, and manager in the major leagues during the late-19th and early-20th centuries.  His professional career began in 1883 at the age of 19, and lasted until 1915.  He was known as the most durable catcher of his time, setting major league records for most career games caught (1,612), putouts (6,856), assists (1,860), double plays turned (143), runners caught stealing (1,459), and stolen bases allowed (2,529).

 

deacon mcguire

 

James Thomas McGuire was born in Youngstown, Ohio on November 18, 1863, during the Civil War.  He grew up in Cleveland, where he learned to play baseball on the streets, then later moved to Albion, Michigan where he worked as an apprentice iron molder, playing baseball during the weekends.  His large hands proved ideal for playing catcher.

Playing baseball for a team in Hastings, Michigan, McGuire first drew attention catching for a pitcher named Charles “Lady” Baldwin.  Baldwin was known for his “snake ball,” and McGuire gained a reputation as the only catcher who could handle the pitch.  In 1883, McGuire began his professional career with the minor league Terre Haute Awkwards in Indiana.

In 1884, McGuire signed with the Cleveland Blues of the National League.  He was released shortly thereafter, however, and signed with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association.  He made his major league debut with the Blue Stockings in June of 1884.  He shared the catching responsibilities with Moses Fleetwood Walker, who is credited as being one of the first African-American players in Major League Baseball, each catching 41 games.  McGuire only hit .185 at the plate, and the Blue Stockings came in eighth place out of thirteen with a 46-58 record.

Starting out the 1885 season, McGuire played 16 games with the minor league Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Western League.  He and eight of his teammates then signed with the Detroit Wolverines of the National League, upon the disbanding of the Western League.  With the Wolverines, McGuire caught 31 games as backup to primary catcher Charlie Bennett, who caught 62 games.  McGuire hit .190 in 121 at bats, and the Wolverines finished 41-67.

McGuire then spent the 1886 and 1887 seasons with the Philadelphia Quakers.  While 1886 proved another poor offensive season for McGuire, hitting .198, the 1887 season proved to be a year of dramatic improvement, as he hit .307 in 150 at-bats.  His two-year stint with a single team came to a close as 1888 saw him bounce from Philadelphia for 12 games, back to Detroit for three games, then onto Cleveland for 26 games.  1889 saw McGuire return to the minors with the Toronto Canucks of the International League, where he batted .282 in 93 games.

In 1890, McGuire returned to the big leagues with the Rochester Broncos of the American Association.  He batted .299 with a .356 on-base percentage, .408 slugging, and 53 RBIs.

In 1891, he joined the Washington Statesmen of the American Association (which later became the Senators of the National League), where he would finally stay for nine seasons.  He led all starters in batting with a .303 average in 1891.  In 1892, however, he only hit .232 and led the league’s catchers in stolen bases allowed.  The Senators finished that season in 10th place out of twelve teams.  The 1893 season saw McGuire splitting time at catcher with Duke Farrell, playing 50 games behind the plate while Farrell caught 81.  In spite of his limited playing time, McGuire committed 27 errors and the Senators finished in last place with a 40–89 record.

Farrell was traded to the New York Giants in 1894, leaving McGuire to carry the catching load.  McGuire’s performance at the plate experienced a recovery, as he hit .306 with 78 RBIs for the 11th-place Senators.  The following season, 1895, would prove the best of his career.

In 1895, McGuire caught all 133 games of the season, which set a major league record at the time.  He led the team with a .336 batting average, which included 48 extra bases hits, 10 home runs, 97 RBIs (which also led the team), and 17 stolen bases.  He also threw out 189 base runners attempting to steal, a record that stands to this day.  Unfortunately, the Senators as a team didn’t fare nearly as well, finishing the season 43-85 and in tenth place.

McGuire had another solid season in 1896.  He hit .321 and led the majors in games caught at 98 (Duke Farrell had been traded back to Washington, this time as McGuire’s backup).  He led the National League in putouts; however, he also led the NL in errors and stolen bases allowed.  That year, the Senators finished in ninth place at 58-73.  In 1897, McGuire caught 73 games to Farrell’s 63.  Both catchers had a solid year at the plate, as McGuire hit .343 and Farrell hit .322.  The team improved to 61-71, which put them in sixth place.

McGuire’s performance waned in the 1898 season, hitting .268.  After beginning 1899 with the Senators, McGuire found out in July that he had been traded to the star-studded Brooklyn Superbas, joining Duke Farrell yet again.  He hit .318 in 46 contests with Brooklyn, posting a .385 on-base percentage and .446 slugging.  The team finished 101–47 to win the National League pennant.

In 1900, McGuire once again shared catching responsibility with Farrell, with McGuire handling 69 games at the position and Farrell 76.  McGuire finished with a .286 batting average and .348 on-base percentage.  During one game in 1900, McGuire threw out seven runners attempting to steal second base.  Brooklyn won its second consecutive pennant with a 82–54 record.

Brooklyn dropped to third place in 1901 with McGuire hitting .296 and catching 81 games.  Then in 1902, McGuire was traded to Detroit in the American League, where he was the oldest player on the team at the age of 38.  He caught 70 games and hit .227.  He raised his batting average to .250 in 1902, but Detroit was never a contending team.

In February 1904, Detroit sold McGuire to the New York Highlanders, where he spent his final years as a full-time player.  In spite of the fact that he was now 40 years old, he caught 97 games and played in 101 total, though his batting average fell to .208.  In 1905, he caught 71 games and hit .219, and in 1906, McGuire played in 51 games and hit .299.

After taking a year to open a saloon with his brother George, McGuire joined the Boston Red Sox in 1907, primarily as a manager.  The team finished 45–61 in 1907 and 53–62 in 1908, with McGuire making occasional playing appearances as a pinch hitter.  In September of 1908, he signed on with the Cleveland Indians, first as a player.  He took over as manager in 1909, replacing Nap Lajoie partway through the season.  In 1910 McGuire managed his only full season, as the Cleveland club finished 71-81 and came in fifth place.  He caught one game, going 1-for-3 at the plate.  In 1911, McGuire resigned after the club started with a 6-11 record and would never manage in the big leagues again.

In 1912, McGuire signed with the Detroit Tigers as a pitching coach.  In May of 1912, when the Detroit players refused to play in protest over the suspension of Ty Cobb for attacking a fan, Detroit was forced to come up with a substitute team for a game in Philadelphia.  McGuire took to the field as one of the Tigers’ replacement players.  He went 1-for-2 and scored a run in what would be his final major league game, but the Tigers lost the game by a score of 24–2.

McGuire served as a coach with the Tigers until 1915 and he remained associated with the club as a scout until he fully retired in 1926.  He returned to Albion, where he coached the Albion College team in 1926.  Finally, he retired from baseball altogether.

Jim McGuire’s nickname “Deacon” supposedly came from his gentlemanly, fair-play approach to the game.  Most accounts support the widely-held claim that he was never fined or ejected from a game.  According to some sources, he never drank, though according to others, he had been a heavy drinker for years before becoming a teetotaler.  He wasn’t a flamboyant player, but he had a reputation for being a hard worker, and was considered a legend in his hometown of Albion.

His work ethic included a willingness to play through injury, which contributed greatly to his durability.  He reportedly broke every finger in each of his hands over the course of his career, leaving him with grotesquely gnarled hands, as depicted by this 1906 x-ray:

 

Deacon_McGuire_hand_x-ray

The New York World, 1906

This was a time, of course, that predated the advent of padded catcher’s mitts and other modern protective equipment.  To help protect his hands, McGuire was reported to have slipped a piece of steak into his glove.  According to his wife, the steak resembled hamburger by game’s end.

McGuire died of pneumonia in 1936 at the age of 72.

 


This day in baseball: No interest in Cobb

On March 17, 1907, the day after Ty Cobb had quarreled with a black grounds keeper and with teammate Charlie Schmidt, Tigers owner Frank Navin makes an all-out effort to trade Cobb.  Indians manager Nap Lajoie turned down a straight trade for Elmer Flick, a former batting champion, stating that Cobb was a problem player.  Connie Mack of the A’s showed little interest as well, given that he already had a strong outfield.

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb (International Film Service)


This day in baseball: And the winner is…

On March 25, 1910, Hugh Chalmers, president of Chalmers Motor Car Company in Detroit, announced that one of the company’s Model 30 automobiles would be awarded to the ballplayer with the highest batting average for the season.  On the last day of the season, however, Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie put down seven bunts, going 8-for-9 in a double header against a Browns infield that was intentionally playing deep.  The performance raised Lajoie’s average to .384, and Ty Cobb, who was also in the running for the batting title, complained about the circumstances to American League President Ban Johnson.  In the end, Chalmers awarded cars to both Lajoie and Cobb, and the true winner of the 1910 AL batting title remains disputed.

Nap Lajoie (Library of Congress)

Nap Lajoie (Library of Congress)