Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hey! Get your Scorecard!

While going through the "hits" for  "Ebbets" or, in this case, "Ebbetts" in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of March, 1888, I found the following brief, but enticing entry:

"Charles Ebbett's new score card book will be the handsomest in the association or the league"

A slightly longer article 10 days later reported that the new version, which the paper called "a decided improvement," provided pictures and sketches of all the players and gave the credit to "Charley Ebbetts, who edited it."  The attraction for an Ebbets' biographer lies in the possibility of comparing the two scorecards, to see the nature of the improvements and perhaps find some insights into the capabilities of the then relatively young baseball executive.  Obviously the practical question was where to find copies of the two scorecards.  One possibility was the Hall of Fame or perhaps closer to home, the Brooklyn Historical Society which I knew from prior visits had some 19th century scorecards for the Brooklyn club.  I'm dating myself by not thinking first of trying the Internet and while it shouldn't have been that surprising, I was pleased to find the full 1888 card and a number of pages from the new and improved 1889 version on the web sites of different auction houses.  While the following pictures may not be worth the promised 1000 words, they do give a sense of Ebbets' creation.

The 1888 program pictured above and below consisted of only the four pages that are shown.  While the front cover is quite colorful, the scorecard provides only the bare necessities necessary to keep track of the game plus a few ads as well as making sure the purchaser knows about other home games he or she might attend.

The examples provided below from the 1889 program suggest that calling the new product a "decided improvement" may well have been an understatement.  Totaling some 32 pages, it is really more of a combined scorecard and yearbook anticipating by decades the issuing of two separate publications.

Although not serving any functional purpose, the below picture showing the record crowd at a Browns - Brooklyn 1888 Decoration Day doubleheader reminded fans of an exciting day from that year's pennant race and perhaps holding out the hope that 1889 might be different, which, in fact, it was.  Looking at it over 125 years later also gives a sense of what that first version of Washington Park looked like before the May 1889 fire.  That conflagration was limited to the enclosed grandstands behind home plate at least limiting the amount of work needed to rebuild the park which took only about 10 days.  If I understand it correctly, there were actually two covered grandstands behind the plate, one of which was built when the park opened in 1883 with the other being added later.

In more modern times, one incentive for a fan to go into his/her pocket to buy a scorecard is because you "can't tell the players" without one.  Since numbered uniforms didn't become the norm until the 20th century, Ebbets, as can be seen below, offered the next best thing by providing a reasonably sized picture of each player or at least most of the team's basic roster.  In almost every case, the opposite page contains an ad, in the below example, D. E. Harris was the contractor who built the first Washington Park and would complete the 1889 rebuilding in what seems like record time even for a wooden ballpark.

Examining the new publication makes it clear that no small amount of work went into the project.   It's not clear whether Ebbets came up with the idea on his own or it was assigned to him, but it must have kept him very busy.  Among other things, he had to have the pictures taken, or at least collect them, write the biographies, or again, collect them, sell the ads and arrange the layout.  The bottom of the left hand side of the below page shows that the team also used the program to push other sources of revenue, in this case, pictures of the team, doubtless suitable for framing.

Based on the number of ads in the score card/program, it seems likely the paid advertising covered the publishing cost and may have even generated a small surplus.  The selection below gives a sense of the baseball promotions of the day.

Ebbets was not one to rest on his laurels as just three years later, the media was praising him for another scorecard, better even than what had come before.  All I've been able to find from that program is the below pictured front cover which is certainly colorful.  It also subtly refers to one of Ebbets other great 19th century achievements.  The printed schedule on the cover is broken down into spring and fall championships as the 1892 season was divided into split seasons to accommodate the absorption of four American Association teams into a 12 team National League.  On Ebbets fell the daunting and thankless task of preparing the schedule and he once again emerged triumphant.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"The Lure of the Footlights"

When the Warren Club of Roxbury, Massachusetts decided to form a literary society for the 1860-61 off season, the members were making a decision about time, not money.  Although little is known about the team, it's certain the Warren Club members didn't earn their livelihood on the base ball field so devoting time to a literary society was simply substituting one spare time activity for another.  As professional baseball developed, however, the decisions players made about how to spend the winter had greater financial implications.  Although Rogers Hornsby claimed he spent his time looking out the window, lesser paid players needed some source of income and others were interested in using the off season to make money especially if they could put their baseball notoriety to advantage.  One way which became very popular during the Deadball Era was going into vaudeville.  According to Messers Zoss and Bowman in Diamonds in the Rough: The Untold History of Baseball, the first baseball/vaudeville act featured "Turkey" Mike Donlin in a skit with singing comedienne Mary Hite (the two would later marry) called "Stealing Home."  Another baseball/vaudeville marriage was that of Rube Marquard and Blossom Seeley.  Eventually a number of well known baseball names entered vaudeville in one way or another including some seemingly unlikely candidates like John McGraw, "Cap" Anson and Ty Cobb.  In fact, the first chapter of Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, Charles Leerhsen's interesting look at the controversial baseball immortal begins with Cobb applying makeup for a vaudeville performance.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle - January 24, 1911

Vaudeville, which was very popular from the late 1880's until the early 1930's, tried to offer entertainment that would appeal to the broadest possible audience including women and children.  To that end many vaudeville producers banned sales of alcohol and forbid any kind of "vulgar" material, with entertainers dreading the receipt of a "blue" envelope directing them to literally clean up their act.  As Robert Snyder wrote in the introduction to his book, The Voice of the City: Vaudeville and Popular Culture in New York, the whole industry was based on a simple idea "stage shows with something for everyone" which in practice meant a series of unrelated acts in theaters that sometimes operated around the clock.  Snyder further points out that since it was "a hybrid form of theater," vaudeville drew on audiences from a large range of subcultures for whom "going to vaudeville meant being part of the show."  This to a large degree explains why vaudeville was such a great financial opportunity for baseball players, some of whom offered precious little to the audience beyond their presence on the stage.  This was enough, however, for baseball was the country's most popular sport and a large number of paying customers were more than willing to part with their money just to be in the same space, especially one more intimate than a ball park, with one of their heroes.

George Crable about 1910

Status as baseball players also opened the vaudeville stage door to a smaller group who, because they could not fall back on their base ball achievements, had to provide real entertainment.  A case in point is George Crable who although not "Moonlight Graham," could boast of a major league career of only two games as a pitcher with the woebegone 1910 Brooklyn Superbas who finished a mere 40 games out of first place.  On August 3, 1910, the left hander, formerly of the Texas League, started against the St. Louis Cardinals and in spite of the fact that he hit two and walked four in 5 2/3's innings. managed to come away with a 5-3 win in front of less than 1000 fans.  The game itself was noteworthy as the last pitching performance of St. Louis manager, Roger Bresnahan, who although he was a Hall of Fame catcher began and ended his playing career as a pitcher.  Crable appeared in one more game, in what appears to be a mop up relief effort and like most players probably left Brooklyn for his off season home.  By early January, however, Crable was back with three minor league players, Bill Gleason, Tom Dillon and George Robertson to put on a vaudeville skit that Crable wrote and staged.

Houston Post - January 27, 1920

As described by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the skit starts after the morning game of a doubleheader which ended disastrously for pitcher Crable and his team.  The game was the latest in a long string of defeats due not to Crable's poor pitching (he's the author after all), but "hard luck" especially some bad defense by Gleason at third base.  As the other three disgruntled players wait in the locker room, they hear Gleason approach singing, "I Don't Care," which is the last straw for Crable who threatens Gleason with bodily harm.  Fortunately, however, the two make up and await the end of a rain delay before Crable starts the second game.  The interlude gives the four men a chance to "sing a few choice selections," with the Eagle praising their singing voices.  This is followed by some baseball jokes, "clever and up to date," as well as "a little burlesque baseball" where Gleason hits a "sure home run" only to be thrown out at the plate "while making a sensational slide" on stage.  As the act ends, the four come together to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in a performance that was apparently well received based on the attention it got from the Eagle.  In fact, the article is free publicity for the theater where the men are appearing, all based on baseball even though the performers were hardly household words (in either the ball park or the vaudeville house.)

Loew's Metropolitan Theater in Brooklyn about the time Burleigh Grimes performed there with the Baseball Four

The writer concluded the article by mentioning that according to Crable, he had not received official word of an impending release to Nashville of the Southern League, but that he would accept the same with a view of returning to Brooklyn in the future.  While the left hander did return to the city of Churches many years later, it was not as a major league baseball player since he would labor in the minors for almost another decade without returning to the majors.  Having used baseball to get on the stage, however, the southpaw hurler was smart enough to see the earnings potential of staying on it.  For more than 20 years after his one major league season, Crable, with or without his associates, appeared in vaudeville houses across the United States and Canada ranging from California to Texas as well as Pennsylvania and New England.  It was also a career move with some financial reward as around 1910 performers could supposedly earn over $3000 a year, doubtless more than Crable made on the diamond.  The members of the quartet sometimes changed with two other former major leaguers joining the group at one time or another - Frank Browning, a pitcher for Detroit who like Crable had a brief 1910 major league stay and Hugh Bradley who played from 1910 to 1915 in the American and Federal Leagues.  Bradley was also the member of another baseball quartet and has the distinction of hitting the first home run at Fenway Park.

The Baseball Four performing in conjunction with the move "Broadway Babies," a sign vaudeville was nearing its end - Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle - July 5, 1929

A career of that staying power with no significant baseball reputation to fall back on required real talent and numerous newspapers gave glowing reviews to the skit with a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania newspaper claiming "what harmony those boys do have.  You must hear them." That the act had its own appeal was demonstrated by a review in a San Francisco newspaper which said the skit was "a departure from the average baseball stunt."  After 20 years of this, Crable not only was game for more, but approached a most unlikely candidate as a potential new partner, future Hall of Fame pitcher, Burleigh Grimes, who not only joined, but bought 1/2 of the production company.  In a December 16, 1930 article in the Eagle, long time sportswriter Tommy Holmes said that he would have voted for Grimes as the "least likely to succumb to the lure of the footlights" since at the end of every season the Brooklyn pitcher typically retreated to the solitude of the Wisconsin lake country coming out looking like a "wind-bitten old trapper with hair on this face down to here."  Not only did Grimes enjoy himself, but was also an asset to an act as the four sang old time ballads and negro spirituals with "vim and vigor" and enjoyed the opportunity to "clown to their hearts content."  Testifying once again that memory is a terrible improver, Holmes claimed that Crable "used to be quite a pro ball player himself."

Burleigh Grimes shares the spotlight with Cab Calloway - Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 16, 1930

Crable's return to Brooklyn came at the time that vaudeville was on the way out as movies supplanted the live on stage acts as the most popular form of entertainment.  In fact, the act with Grimes at Loew's in Brooklyn was only part of a show that featured a movie as the prime attraction.  By 1931 Crable had returned to his native Nebraska to settle in Fremont where he opened a cigar store, hoping to pitch that summer in the Elkorn Valley League.  Unfortunately only six months later, the store burned to the ground, costing Crable inventory that was supposed to go up in smoke, but individually, not collectively and his collection of pictures of athletic stars acquired over 30 years.  Interestingly Crable is one of the few major league players whose death date and burial location have never been determined.   Although Crable never achieved star status in either profession, he could justly claim to have been part of two of the most popular institutions of the first part of the 20th century.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Year's End

Recently I finished reading Custer's Trials, A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T. J. Stiles, the Pulitzer Prize winning biographer of Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Not surprisingly the book is well written and some aspects of the approach Stiles uses to analyze Custer should help me as I think and write about Charles Ebbets.  One example is the idea that to understand someone, it's essential to understand their contradictions.  Another is that our demons define us as much as anything positive in our nature.  Both ideas are well worth further consideration and application.   The publication of another book about Custer demonstrates once again that well over 100 years after his death, Custer continues to attract a lot of attention.  I recall reading in another book that the fascination with Custer is largely due to the fact there were no survivors at the Little Big Horn and as a result no one knows what actually happened, especially since the Native American accounts differ.  Stiles, in fact, devotes only his epilogue to the massacre and after reading about the rest of Custer's life in more detail, I wondered why I was so interested in him as a kid in the 1950's.  I have a feeling it was due to the legend that was created after his death and which made up much of the content of the youth books written for my generation.

Edgar S. Paxson painting of Custer's Last Stand

Without question, the primary contributor to the Custer myth was his widow, Elizabeth, more popularly known as Libby.  She survived him by almost 60 years, living until 1933 and she used much of that time to write numerous books that helped fuel the romantic picture of her husband who in reality seems to have had few redeeming characteristics.  In his book, Stiles mentions something Libby Custer and one of her closest friends did every year on New Year's Eve prior to her marriage, when the two young women would write a letter to each other including something of their hopes and plans for the coming year.  The letters would remain unread until the subsequent December 31st when they could look back and see how things really came out.  It's an interesting idea and reminded me that in my last blog post for 2014, I wrote a little bit about my research/writing intentions for 2015 and thought it would be appropriate to go back and look at how that turned out.

Charles Ebbets - January 1898 on taking over Brooklyn presidency

Not surprisingly a number of things not only didn't get done, they really didn't get started.  Included in that category was more work on the early days of organized base ball both in New York and New Jersey as well as the African-American experience in that same period.  The one exception in the pre-professional period was the post about the possibility of a base ball club in Jersey City in the 1830's (thanks to Ben Zimmer and John Thorn for getting me started) which attracted more attention than any other 2015 post.  I also hoped to do more second looks at the "My Greatest Day in Baseball" essays, but that didn't happen either.  None of this is surprising because as I said at the time, the major priority for 2015 (and 2016 as well) was, and is, researching and writing the first full length biography of Charles Ebbets.  The long time Brooklyn owner was a topic of a number of posts, but the research also provided the material for other articles related to what's known as the Deadball Era (1901-1919).  Vintage base ball also provided a lot of 2015 content especially the tournaments and festivals like Gettysburg and Old Bethpage Village as well as the Neshanock's visit to the Essex Baseball Organization in Newbury, Massachusetts.

Charles Ebbets in his prime

It's safe to say that 2016 will see much of the same in terms of posts drawn from the Ebbets research, although not necessarily so much about the Squire of Flatbush himself.  The writing process began earlier this month and will take all of 2016 which means the book itself most likely won't see the light of day until early 2017.  However, the research material provides plenty of possible content beyond Ebbets which will most likely begin with a look at some baseball players acting on the stage and then some actors playing on the diamond.  This is the last post of 2015 and the plan is to resume around January 15th and post roughly twice a month until the vintage season gets going in April.  So, thanks to everyone who read the blog during 2015 especially those who have expressed their appreciation in one way or another.  Research and writing is also its own reward especially since writing helps clarify one's thinking - I hope the Ebbets book will ultimately be better because of things I've learned in the process of doing this blog.  Best wishes to everyone for the holidays and for another great year of baseball in 2016, contemporary, vintage and historical research wise.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Not Your Average Day at the Ballpark

When 16 year old Samuel Arnold plunked down his two quarters for a grandstand seat at Philadelphia's Huntingdon Street Grounds (later Baker Bowl) on August 28, 1911, he probably anticipated little more than an enjoyable day at the ball park.  Certainly he couldn't have had any idea his enthusiastic rooting for his beloved Phillies would set off a chain of events which would reach a meeting of the National League owners.  Arnold's support for the home team was understandable, led by rookie sensation, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Philadelphia was enjoying a successful season, comfortably in the first division.  And, if that wasn't sufficient attraction, the young fan was doubtless looking forward to a pitching match up between two future Hall of Famers the aforementioned Alexander and Cub star, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, both of whom would win 20 games that season.  While Arnold's Phillies at 8.5 games out of first were a long shot to catch the first place Giants, the defending National League champion Cubs approached September only 1.5 games back of McGraw's men.  Another intense pennant race between the two arch rivals seemed highly likely, lending even more anticipation to the day's events at Huntingdon and Broad Streets.

Philadelphia Inquirer - August 29, 1911

From his seat on the third base side, just behind the box seats, reportedly filled with a large number of ladies and gentlemen,  Arnold must have joined in the cheering when the home town heroes took the lead by scoring once off Brown during the bottom of the second, a lead Alexander preserved through five frames.  As the game headed to the sixth, the Philadelphia fans may have been hoping for a shut out from their young ace (he would record seven for the season), but the Cubs quashed those hopes and the Phillies' lead with a four run uprising.  Understandably depressed by this turn of events, Arnold and his fellow fans took heart as Philadelphia staged their own sixth inning rally, culminating with a Hans Lobert single which plated Sherry Magee with the tying run.  With two on and only one out, Brown was clearly on the ropes, and it was at this point that Arnold became more than just another fan.  With Fred Luderus coming to the plate for the Phillies, future Hall of Fame umpire, Bill Klem stopped the game and directed acting Philadelphia manager, Otto Knabe and the police to eject a fan, one Samuel Arnold or he would forfeit the game to the Cubs.

Baker Bowl 

Accounts of exactly what happened differ.  Writing in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Sam Weller, no doubt writing from a Dickensian moral view, claimed that Arnold had been "insulting the Cub players personally all through the game" before moving on to a "vicious and vulgar attack"on Klem himself.  According to Weller, however, the umpire's order to eject the obnoxious fan was based not on the verbal abuse directed at Klem, but concern about ladies being subjected to such reprehensible and unmanly behavior.  From the Philadelphia perspective, however, Jim Nasium (Edgar Forrest Wolfe) of the Philadelphia Inquirer dismissed Arnold's actions as nothing more than someone "trying to get more than his money's worth of yelling."  Nasium, who illustrated his game accounts with his own cartoons, said the whole thing was an overreaction on Klem's part, sarcastically wondering if instead of watching a a major league game, he was witnessing a contest between the "Fifth Ward Juniors and the Newsboys Home."  Perhaps not surprisingly, the fans strongly objected to the ejection, but unexpectedly the police all the way up to the captain in charge also resisted enforcing Klem's order.  So incensed were the umpires that Klem's partner, Bill Brennan went into the stands to pick out the miscreant.  After lengthy debate, Arnold was escorted outside the grounds and refunded his 50 cents which supposedly was forced upon him.

Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown

Given his passion for the Phillies and/or against the Cubs, Arnold may have been better off missing the rest of the game.  Brown retired the Phillies without further incident to end the sixth and Chicago scored four times in the eighth to defeat Alexander 8-4.  Nasium, however, was not willing to drop what seemed to be an unjustified ejection and after some investigative reporting, wrote that while the 16 year old had called Brown, "yellow," he never used profanity or any language that bothered the ladies seated nearby.  As the Inquirer writer and cartoonist understood it, Brown complained to Klem about the name calling which triggered everything that happened afterwards.  If the Cubs star was that sensitive to taunting, one wonders how he felt when Nasium referred to him as "Mr. Minus Digit" in print.  It's not clear whether the reporter ever spoke directly with Arnold, but regardless of where the idea may have come from, the ejected and no doubt humiliated fan was also unwilling to let the matter drop.  Less than two weeks later, the Inquirer reported that Arnold had sued the Philadelphia club for $5000, claiming the ejection was illegal and breached the contract established by the ticket purchase.

Bill Klem

Most club owners would have worked the whole thing out behind the scenes, but Horace Fogel, the Phillies president was no ordinary owner, if, in fact, he really was the owner.  A former sportswriter, sports editor and baseball manager, Fogel had purchased the Phillies in 1909, although it appeared the acquisitions was financed by Charles Taft, the half-brother of President William Howard Taft.  According to an article by Steve Steinberg in the fall 2012 issue of "Baseball: A Journal of the Early Game,"  Fogel was "a protege of the outspoken and acerbic" Charles Murphy, the owner of the Cubs, also reportedly financed by Taft.  Like his mentor, Fogel wasn't reluctant to share his opinions with his fellow magnates.  With the Arnold trial scheduled for February 29, 1912, Fogel wrote at length to National League president, Thomas Lynch and then raised the issue of the pending lawsuit at the owners meeting in early February.  In his letter, the Philadelphia magnate shed further light on what happened that August afternoon.  According to Fogel's account, Brown denied he had ever said a word to Klem about Arnold.  Taking responsibility instead was Chicago catcher Tom Needham who admitted he had fanned the flames because Brown was in trouble and needed time to recover.  In other words, Needham had simply "put a job up on Klem."

Horace Fogel 

If Klem didn't recognize he was being manipulated, the Philadelphia fans, according to Fogel, knew exactly what was going on.  Rather than being offended by Arnold, those sitting near him were "amused" by how he cheered and none of it was "in the slightest degree offensive."  That explained why the fans opposed Arnold's ejection so vehemently and the police were unwilling to enforce it since comments like "Take him out," "He is weakening" and the previously mentioned "yellow" characterization were hardly grounds for ejection.  None of this, however, was why Fogel was raising the issue with Lynch and the other owners.  Before finally giving in on the ejection which he knew would further infuriate the crowd, the police captain in charge, asked Klem if the National League would assume liability for any claims arising out of the incident, to which the umpire responded in the affirmative.  Such a claim had now been made and Fogel with a marginal franchise financially didn't want to be on the hook if a jury sided with the increasingly sympathetic looking fan.  Nor surprisingly, president Lynch and the owners took the position that crowd control was the club's problem and declined any liability.

Tom Needham

To date nothing has been discovered about the outcome of Arnold's lawsuit.  The apparent lack of newspaper accounts about the result of a lawsuit which attracted extended media attention when it was filed, suggests some kind of out of court settlement.  If the young man was as enthusiastic as it appears, he might willingly have accepted tickets for 1912 games in exchange for dropping his lawsuit and a commitment to moderate his vocal comments.  In any event, by the end of 1912, the lawsuit was the least of Horace Fogel's problems.  Fogel began his letter by suggesting the inappropriate ejection was another example of the umpires' prejudice against the Phillies.  While that was bad enough, Fogel was even less discreet later in 1912 when he wrote in the Chicago Daily Post that the National League pennant race had been fixed in favor of the Giants.  Understandably, the other owners couldn't and wouldn't tolerate such outbursts and Fogel was tried, convicted and banished from baseball in November of 1912.  How Samuel Arnold felt about this is hard to say, but one hopes that a few years later, in 1915, he was once again in the stands, cheering for his Phillies as they won the National League pennant.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Ebbets Guards the Gate - the Free Pass Gate

Anyone familiar with Charles Ebbets lengthy stewardship of the Brooklyn Dodgers knows the squire of Flatbush had the reputation of being a cheapskate.  The stories told in support of this characterization are legion, from his arguing over the cost of laundering the team's uniforms to his claim he was the only owner unable to afford a car.  Another incident contributing to this Scrooge like image was an interview that appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle early in the 1907 season.  As was typical for the day, the article didn't carry a by-line so its impossible to know if the writer was as naive about baseball and its ways as he claimed.  In any event, the self-proclaimed baseball novice asked Ebbets about his primary responsibilities as team president.  The Brooklyn owner responded by claiming his three highest priorities were to "dodge people who want passes to the base ball games" or if unsuccessful in dodging to "look pleasant and say agreeable things," but above all to "restrain myself from giving the requested pass."  Beyond dealing with this weighty problem, Ebbets dismissed the rest of his responsibilities as "merely perfunctory," which "give me no trouble whatever."

Baseball Hall of Fame Library - A. G. Mills Collection

Elaborating probably far beyond what most Eagle readers felt necessary, Ebbets claimed that over the last 25 years, he had granted only one pass that was truly justified and which wasn't even solicited.  That situation involved a disabled boy unable to reach the ticket window who was victimized by a wolf in Good Samaritan's clothing, who offered to take the boy's money and buy his ticket, but then absconded with the ducat.  Learning of the dastardly and unmanly deed,  Ebbets not only gave the lad a pass, but "put the little chap in the best seat in the grandstand."  Otherwise Ebbets claimed, he was importuned by everyone "from United States Senators to elevator boys and bootblacks," with "rich men ask[ing] for passes because they are rich, poor men because they are poor."  Ebbets did admit that no red-headed man had ever asked for a pass based solely upon his hair color, but, said Ebbets, "there is time for him yet."  There is, however, evidence that Ebbets was no soft touch for those seeking an "Annie Oakley."  The papers of F. C. Lane, editor of "Baseball Magazine," in the Baseball Hall of Fame Library, contain two letters from the Brooklyn president declining requests for a season pass.


Baseball Hall of Fame Library - A. G. Mills Collection

Clearly having spent most of the interview with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Ebbets finally admitted the club had "a regular free list of over 500 names," obviously a source of dismay and/or embarrassment to the supposedly tightfisted magnate.  If, however, Ebbets attitude toward free passes was evidence of his cheapness, it painted his fellow owners with the same miserly brush.  The pass issue was frequently discussed at owners meetings throughout the period and in no little detail.  Just one example is a proposal Phillies owner William Baker brought before the December 1915 National League owners meeting which was deferred for further consideration and action in February of 1916.  The debate on the proposal and the issue easily filled over 100 pages of the stenographic record with almost universal desire to reduce the number of "dead heads" going through "the sewer" of the pass gate.  Baker's proposal which provoked all the debate would have required the home team to pay the visitors their share of the base ticket price for free admissions.  Since the home club hadn't received any offsetting revenue, the possible net cash loss got everyone's attention which Baker indicated was the real purpose of his proposal.

                                        Baseball Hall of Fame Library - F. C. Lane Collection

Since the ensuing debate was recorded more or less verbatim and the magnates thought no one was "listening," they openly shared information that otherwise would likely have remained confidential.  Perhaps surprisingly the largest number of free passes were given not to politicians or business cronies, but to the local newspapers.  Ebbets refusal to issue passes to weekly and monthly publications was well justified by the apparently insatiable needs of the New York City press.  Brooklyn itself had four daily papers covering the Superbas which wouldn't have been so bad by itself, but he also had to provide for the hard to envision 16 daily newspapers in Manhattan.  Unlike the Giants and Yankees owners, Ebbets had to satisfy all 20 papers, a fact he never tired of sharing with his peers.  The problem was exacerbated by the fact that each publication got an average of 20 passes, not counting the reporters actually covering the game.  Nor was there much that could be done about it as the newspaper publishers considered the passes the only payment received for all the "free advertising" given to the baseball clubs.  One estimate was that theaters paid for 100 lines of advertising for every three purchased by the ball clubs.

                                        William Baker - owner of the Philadelphia Phillies

The second biggest group receiving free passes was also something of a surprise as the number of passes given to clergy also exceeded those given to politicians.   Ebbets didn't provide any figures, but the Cincinnati club reportedly gave out 300 passes to clergy which should have covered the complete ecclesiastical spectrum.  While the magnates might have been able to reduce the number in this category, there was unanimity that regular clergy attendance was worth the lost revenue.  Presumably clergy attending games was another form of free advertising, an endorsement that attendance at baseball games was a socially and morally acceptable activity.  Certainly Ebbets maintained good relationships with Brooklyn clergy including a Roman Catholic priest, a Rabbi and a Protestant minister who sometimes sat together in "clergy row" at Ebbets Field.  Ebbets also paid attention to elected officials as he felt local approval of Sunday baseball was on the horizon and he wanted the legislators on his side.  There were, however, limits in Ebbets largess in this regard as Phillies owner Baker and Boston owner, James Gaffney good-naturedly complained that Ebbets refused to give them passes when they held political office in New York City 

                             Typical Brooklyn Baseball Ad - Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 1915

But for all the talk and complaining, how much did these lost admissions really cost Ebbets and his fellow owners?  Here again the meeting transcripts shed some light on the subject.  The Brooklyn owner told his peers that in 1915, non-paying individuals passed through his turnstiles some 24,361 times out of total attendance of about 300000.  If the average admission was 50 cents, that means total potential gate receipts were reduced by just over $12,000 or about 8% of total possible revenue.  It's not an insignificant amount, especially given the fact that 1915 was the height of the Federal League War and the Superbas in head-to-head competition with the Brookylyn Tip Tops of that circuit.  According to Ebbets, the Tip Tops were so desperate to be able to claim higher attendance than Ebbets' club that delivery trucks for Ward's bakeries (the owners of the Federal League club) were giving out free passes while delivering baked goods.  Ultimately, the National League owners adopted pass limits for 1916 with a maximum financial penalty of $500, but it certainly didn't end concern or debate over the issue.

Theater Ad - Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 1915

Reading and thinking about the discussion, it appears the largest categories of passes were simply a cost of doing business that couldn't be avoided.  For the owners the real issue was passes the holder gave to someone other than the intended recipient.  Baker tried to solve this problem with some success by giving 40 game passes rather than the full 77, reasoning that no one person would use all 77, but if limited to 40 there would be less incentive to give the pass to another person who probably didn't merit free admission.   Was the attitude about passes and "dead heads" evidence that Ebbets and his brother (and one sister) owners were cheap?  The numbers above suggest it was a legitimate concern, reflecting once again how much the owners depended on gate receipts for revenue.  It's also important to note that when the issue is a large volume of quarters (small change to us today), each quarter lost is viewed not just on its own, but in multiples thereof.  All in all, it doesn't lead to definite conclusions about whether or not Ebbets was cheap, but it opens a window on his world and that of his fellow magnates.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bringing Down the Curtain

By now vintage teams throughout most of the country have concluded their 2015 campaigns.  Travel, time with grandchildren and other conflicts kept me away from the last three weekends of the Neshanock's season, but my sources have given me enough information to provide a brief summary of the season's final matches.  The last report in this blog was after Flemington took two games from the Athletic Club of Philadelphia at the Dey Farm in Monroe Township, New Jersey.  While the next Saturday was to be spent at a new event sponsored by the Saddle Brook Historical Society, playing two matches with the Gotham Club of New York, rain and cold intervened cancelling both games.  The rain out left the Neshanock one game over .500 with four games remaining, beginning with a trip to the Strasburg Railroad Museum near Lancaster, Pennsylvania for an event sponsored by the Elkton Club of Maryland.

William Cauldwell

The first game was a rematch with the Rising Sun Club of Maryland which defeated the Neshanock at the Old Bethpage Village Old Tyme Base Ball Festival back in August.  Although it took a come from behind effort to do it, this time Flemington prevailed 12-10 before losing the second match of the day, 9-6 to the Mid Atlantic Picked 9, apparently a mixture of players from the Diamond State Club of Delaware and the Brandywine Club of Pennsylvania.  The day's results left Flemington again one game above .500 with two to play, a repeat of the end of the 2013 season.  The 2015 season finale was held in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania taking on first the home club and then the Ellicott City Surveyors.  The only information I have is the scores, but after losing a close 7-6 contest to Kennett, as in 2013, the Neshanock came through in the second game, prevailing by a 20-16 count for the second winning season in the past three years.

A successful defense of the New York - New Jersey Cup - a 2015 highlight

2015 marked my eighth year of participation in vintage base ball, two with the Eureka Club of Newark and the last six years with the Neshanock.  While I missed more games this year than usual, the experience was once again rewarding at several different levels.  As I've noted before participating in vintage base ball and watching well over 200 games over that time span helps my understanding of base ball history.  In saying that I want to be clear that in no way can this experience substitute for working with original source material.  My time last week in the Giamatti Research Center at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, researching Charles Ebbets, reinforced that point, if it needed reinforcing.  I've noted before that it appears that very little of the Brooklyn owner's correspondence survives, making it very difficult to learn about Ebbets by reading his own words.  However, the Hall of Fame has the minute books of the National League owners meetings which through 1925 are actually verbatim transcripts of the meetings.  Reading through the literally hundreds of pages of these transcripts provides a golden opportunity not just to "hear" Ebbets in his own words  but to get a detailed picture of the other owners and the issues and concerns they faced during the Deadball Era.  The transcripts will be a real asset in developing a picture of the Brooklyn owner.

Photo by Mark Granieri

Having said that, there are still things to be learned from the re-creation of 19th century base ball.  I realized this once again while working on an essay for the SABR 19th century base ball committee's project on winter meetings.  For the pre-professional period, the goal is to cover all of the meetings of the National Association of Base Ball Players and I'm working on the meetings from December of 1860 and 1864 where the major issue was the fly game vs. the bound game.  During the late 1850's and through 1864 there was a concerted effort to eliminate the bound out, that is awarding an out for catching a fair ball on the bounce.  Despite the efforts of some of the leading clubs and players, the change didn't come about until December of 1864.  One of the prime advocates of the fly game was Henry Chadwick, the father of base ball himself, but he was countered by a less well known, but even earlier base ball writer, William Cauldwell of the Sunday Mercury (thanks to Richard Hershberger for pointing me in Cauldwell's direction).

Henry Chadwick

In writing about the failure of the rule to pass in December of 1860, Cauldwell argued that the bound game was a better game because while players would catch balls on the fly whenever possible, the incentive of recording an out on a bound ball encouraged great effort that would not be forthcoming if the potential reward was eliminated.  Thinking about the many times I've seen vintage base ball players make fine running catches of balls on the bound and/or diving to  do the same quickly verified Cauldwell's claim in my own mind.  Without that experience I would have been more likely, as I think others would be, to think of the fly/bound issue only in the context of the ball hit right to the fielder when the issue is really much broader than that.  It's obviously a moot point since the rule was changed, but it's an illustration of one of the rewards of historical re-enacting.

Photo by Dennis Tuttle 

It's one more reason to be grateful for the opportunity to be part of the vintage base ball community and, in that regard, I want to thank all those who make it possible, beginning with Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw and all my teammates on the Flemington Neshanock.  Among that group, special thanks to Mark "Gaslight" Granieri for taking pictures, putting up with my comments and swinging a big bat once he's able to find the playing field.  I also want to acknowledge all of the teams who the Neshnaock played in the course of season without opponents the season would be one long grind of inter-squad games.  One of the high points of any vintage season is the various tournaments and festivals and I thank the Elkton Eclipse, the Brooklyn Atlantics, the New York Mutuals and the Essex Base Ball Organization for some great times in 2015.   In addition to opponents, base ball can't be played without umpires so a hearty well done to Sam "It ain't nothin' 'til I say" Bernstein for his work in that often unappreciated role.  Finally, thanks to the spouses, significant others, girl friends and now children who attend the matches and support the Neshanock in so many different ways on and off the field.  Huzzah to 2015, best wishes to all for the off season and looking forward another great year in 2016.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Literary Off Season

Long before Rogers Hornsby famously remarked that he spent the winter staring out the window, waiting for the start of a new season, base ball players, especially in the the north, had to endure months away from the ball field.  For many, the long work week of the period may have  absorbed the time previously carved out for practice and match play.  But even in those days of limited leisure, season's end meant at least some time was available for idle hands (and minds) to use for good or ill.  When the Warren Club of Roxbury, Massachusetts (now part of Boston) decided in December of 1860 to intentionally use the winter months for self improvement, it drew high praise and lengthy comment from the New York Clipper.  Reading in a Boston newspaper that the club "had organized itself into a literary and debating association for the winter," gave a Clipper writer, possibly Henry Chadwick, the paper's cricket and base ball editor, sufficient material and motivation to go on for almost a full column of unsolicited advice for any base ball club within the reach of his pen.

New York Clipper - December 22, 1860

If the Warren Club's approach to the winter hiatus was somewhat unique, their on-the-field experience also stood out from what was happening elsewhere in the country.  Like most of their neighbors, the young men from Roxbury opted for the locally popular Massachusetts game rather than the rapidly expanding New York version.  Rather than playing on diamond shaped fields, the Warren Club and their opponents took their positions on a square field with four foot high wooden stakes for bases with varying distances between bases, but in all cases less than 90 feet.  Also different from the New York game was the position of the batter or striker, who stood between the first and fourth bases, facing a player about 30-35 feet away, throwing, not pitching, a softer ball.  If the softer ball and shorter distance favored the pitcher, this was more than compensated for by the absence of foul territory, creating a field far too big to be defended even by the larger teams (10-14 suggested) of the Massachusetts game.  The softer ball was a necessity since like many non-New York games, runners could by retired by "plugging" or "soaking" them with a thrown ball.  And there were plenty of opportunities to do just that in a game made for high scoring with the winning team, the first to reach the century mark.

Massachusetts Game 

Regardless of the differences between the two games, however, winter weather sooner or later ended play for the year, freeing up the time for the Warren Club's decision that was so praised by the Clipper or at least by the article's author.  In recommending using the winter months for high quality literary pursuits, the Clipper writer presumably had something in mind other than the content of his own newspaper.  The first page of the same December 22, 1860 issue contained the first episode of a serial entitled "The Cock of the Walk" or "The Bowery Boys on the Trail of Blood."  Praised as "A Thrilling Story of City Life," written especially for the Clipper, the story opens well after midnight in "a drinking saloon in the Bowery," occupied by pipe smoking men, lacing their conversation with four letter words, made somewhat more tolerable by dashes in appropriate places.  Although the first episode only hints at at future content, there is more than enough questionable material to be confident the writer had other ideas for the proposed literary societies.  Any doubts on the subject were removed by another serial running inside the paper, "Belerius - the Gladiator, a Romance of Old Rome."

Having already made the decision to come together for literary pursuits, and assuming the Clipper wasn't an option, the members of the Warren Club faced practical choices about reading material.  While they could have fallen back on existing works like Shakespeare or most of the complete novels of Charles Dickens, ads in the Boston newspapers offered no shortage of new books.  For the scientifically inclined, there was the third volume of Louis Agassiz's Contributions to the Natural History of the United States, where supposedly "the views of Darwin on the origin of species are also considered."  If nothing else that would have provided plenty of content for the debating side of the association.  More practical perhaps in times of every day application was local author, Ralph Waldo Emerson's collection of essays The Conduct of Life intended to answer "the question of the times" - "how shall I live."  It was an especially pertinent question given what was going on in the nation, especially in the south, and the first two editions were sold out within a week.  The looming national crisis also gave special relevance to John Wingate Thornton's The Pulpit of the American Revolution, a collection of "political" sermons from 1776 intended perhaps to direct the reader back to the nation's founding principles.

Certainly these and other works gave the members of the Warren Club plenty of food for thought and discussion before the new season dawned.  By then, however, events had over taken every day life and, at least for some, the ball field gave way to the battlefield or stopped the new season before it even got started.  A search of Massachusetts newspapers post 1860 shows no further activity by the Warren Club. Only a few members of the club have been identified, but one, J. Henry Symonds spent the 1861 base ball season at the front with the 6th and 22nd Massachusetts, avoiding being hit with a different, much more lethal type of ball.  By war's end, the Massachusetts game had been supplanted by the New York game and if any members of the Warren Club returned to the playing field after Appomattox, it was probably with a new team, playing, for them, a new game.  The extent to which other clubs followed the Warren Club's example and the Clipper's exhortations is also unknown. That may be fortunate for today's vintage clubs which typically put a high priority on historical accuracy, but may not be anxious to spend the off season discussing Darwin, Emerson or the modern equivalent thereof.