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