Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Remembering with Advantages

In an end note to his book, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, Allen Guelzo describes the debate among Lincoln scholars about the appropriate use of reminiscences about the 16th President, reminiscences many years after the actual events.  The concern, of course, is that there are often significant differences between memories of long ago events and contemporary source material about those same events.  Not surprisingly the differences tend to improve the role or position of the one doing the remembering.

Denver Post - 10-2-1919

As with so many things, Shakespeare best described the human tendency to exaggerate one's own role when he had Henry V tell his badly outnumbered army moments before the battle of Agincourt:

"Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot
But he'll remember, with advantages, 
What feats he did that day."

It's not hard to understand how remembering with self-serving advantages hurts efforts to write history accurately.  There are, however, advantages to remembering - advantages such as remembering that contributes to a more inclusive historical record, remembering which adds color and detail to the story and remembering that highlights a specific act.  This all came to mind while going through contemporary newspapers to research the infamous 1919 World Series for SABR's Deadball Committee's World Series project.  While reading about that controversial 20th century event, I found memories of not just one, but two great 19th century baseball clubs, remembering with "advantages" for the historical record.

Cal McVey of the 1869 Red Stockings celebrating the 1919 Reds victory in game four of the World Series

Cincinnati Post 10-7-1919

One of the connections to a great 19th century club isn't a surprise as 1919 was the 50th anniversary of the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings' 1869 transcontinental tour and 57-0 record.  While there is no direct relationship between the two Cincinnati clubs, the modern (1919 modern) team took time in their World Series preparations, to remember their city's first great professional team.  While the organizers first thought Cal McVey and Hall of Famer George Wright were the only surviving Red Stockings, they were contacted by Oakely "Oak" or "Oke" Taylor, a reserve player who was then included in the event (thanks to John Thorn for the information about Taylor).  As a result, this effort to remember the 1869 Red Stockings some 50 years later had the "advantage" of including someone who otherwise might have been forgotten.  Of course, none of this would have happened had Taylor not had the good fortune to be alive in 1919.

Cincinnati Post - 10-4-1919

Although not as significant as the surviving Red Stockings, the Cincinnati Post wrote about one of their surviving fans, 79 year old Anna Clark, who had transferred her affections to the "modern" Reds.  In honor of the National League champions, she had knitted "small red stockings" similar to those "the girls of 69 wore in corsages as tributes" to the undefeated 1869 club.  Mrs. Clark would have been 29 in 1869 so she easily could have seen base ball in Cincinnati throughout the 1860s' including the first Cincinnati baseball clubs. Assuming the newspaper account is accurate, the "advantage" of this reminiscence is a picture (albeit years afterwards) of an early female baseball fan and at least one way the distaff side supported their team.

Like the Cincinnati newspaper, legendary sportswriter Damon Runyan paid attention to the historical connections of the 1919 Series and wrote about Reds business manager, Frank C. Bancroft, who "away, way back in the long ago piloted the Providence club to a championship."  The reference is to the 1884 Providence Grays, led on the field by Hall of Fame pitcher, Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn who won 59 games that year while pitching 678 plus innings, a story well documented in Ed Achorn's fine book Fifty-Nine in '84.

This was certainly noteworthy, but what was especially interesting was a further comment by Runyan that Bancroft  was "a good old scout," even though "he did invent the doubleheader."  That claim seemed too fantastic to believe, but I went to Peter Morris's invaluable A Game of Inches and found it is accurate, at least in a manner of speaking.  According to the entry, much of which is based on Charlie Bevis' research, in the 1880s' major league clubs began playing two games on holidays as morning and afternoon games with separate admissions.  As business manager of the Reds, Bancroft reportedly introduced the idea of playing two games for one admission on weekdays and coined the name "doubleheader," or at least popularized the name if he didn't invent it.  Unlike Anna Clark, Frank Bancroft was in no danger of dropping off of the historical radar, but Runyan's remembering him, in a nationally syndicated column, no less, highlights his story for a larger audience.

Frank Bancroft (in civilian clothes) with the Reds on a trip to Cuba

Reminiscences can never take the place of contemporary, eyewitness accounts of historic events.  And, as Shakespeare pointed out, they can also exaggerate or distort what actually happened.  But as these three examples show, remembering has a place in the historical process - it can contribute to a more inclusive story and be the seasoning that adds invaluable color and richness.

No comments:

Post a Comment