The Brooklyn Daily Eagle anticipates the beginning of the 1920 World Series
Charles Ebbets' long career as Brooklyn Dodger club president spanned some 27 years encompassing the entire Deadball Era and even the first half of the Roaring Twenties. Of special note in the latter period was the 1920 season when Ebbets' team won the National League pennant for the fourth and final time in his tenure. Unlike 1916 there wasn't a lot of drama to the pennant race since the Dodgers went on a hot streak in September, gradually pulling away to finish seven games ahead of the second place Giants. What was interesting about 1920, however, was the highly critical, almost hostile attitude of Dodger fans for most of the season, contrary to the popular image of Brooklyn fans being unfailingly loyal no matter how grim the outlook. After one particularly poor home performance, in a scene unimaginable today, a crowd of fans cornered Ebbets to voice their displeasure, a situation, the Brooklyn magnate was fortunately able to defuse. Things reached the point long time Brooklyn Daily Eagle writer, Tom Rice, warned the fans, that if they didn't mend their ways, it would cost Brooklyn the pennant. It's a hard claim to accept, but fortunately better behavior by fans after the lecture from Rice and improved play on the field avoided putting the question to the test.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle - June 13, 1920
Earlier in the season, perhaps trying to improve the situation through positive reinforcement, another Eagle writer, Frank Dunham, who was also an artist, did a series of drawings and descriptions of those he labeled "33rd Degree Baseball Fans," a takeoff on the highest honorary title in freemasonry. The sketches have historical value because they give a sense of some of the people who were ardent baseball fans almost a century ago. Of the ten or so that were published, what follows is a closer look at three chosen primarily because I was able to find more information beyond that provided by Dunham. Leading off is the only one I had previously heard of Monseigneur Edward McCarty, a Roman Catholic priest who was part of what was referred to as "clergy row," an ecumenical group also including a Protestant minister and a rabbi. McCarty may actually have been the inspiration for the series which began in July of 1920, not long after the priest celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood by throwing out the first pitch at a Brooklyn game.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle - July 4, 1920
Brooklyn Daily Eagle - July 14, 1920
Apparently clergy row wasn't strictly limited to the ordained as Colonel Franklin P. Sellers was also a regular member due to his position as the religion editor of the Eagle. In spite of being called "Colonel,"Sellers' military experience was limited. Recently on the SABR's 19th century email list, Richard Hershberger told of a newspaper account that called legendary sports concessionaire magnate, Harry M Stevens "Colonel," again apparently without any significant military experience. I've also seen Ebbets and other base ball owners called "Colonel" especially late in their careers. Although some states awarded the title as an honor, but New York was not one of them. Sellers wasn't without some military experience, however, as the Eagle reported he had been a drummer boy with the 40th New Jersey during the Civil War. When the veteran newspaperman died in 1927, the august New York Times even reported he had taken part in a "forced march to join Sherman's army." A review of the official records, however, indicates Sellers enlisted in the Union Army on March 6, 1865, just about a month before the war's end and was discharged in July, total service of about 129 days during which it's unlikely he did any significant marching, much less fighting. The Eagle account also claimed Sellers played first base for an amateur team in Belvidere, New Jersey where his father was a newspaper editor. A review of my files through 1870 shows no such name in any box score, but it's certainly possible.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle July 18, 1920
Spalding Guide - 1897
It's to be hoped these and the other accounts of Brooklyn Dodger faithful provided sufficient positive role models for other fans, contributing to the supposed improvement in fan support and the Dodgers ultimate success in the 1920 pennant race. From a modern perspective the sketches give a sense of the relationship between the club's fan base and Charles Ebbets as an owner. In addition to the priest, newspaper man and judge portrayed here, the group also included politicians, a postmaster and some local businessmen suggesting the breadth and depth of support for Ebbets' club. Prior to becoming club president in 1898, Ebbets served a long 15 year apprenticeship in what was a very seasonal job. Early in that period he moved to Brooklyn and used his "free time" to immerse himself in Brooklyn life including other sports (primarily bowling), social and fraternal organizations and politics. Politics mean running for office and the Brooklyn baseball man represented his new home town in both the state legislature and the city council. The end result was a broad network of community relationships that served Ebbets well throughout his even longer tenure as lead owner. Ebbets not only came up through the ranks, but out of the community building a relationship between Brooklyn and its team which lasted long after his death and may be his greatest achievement.