I remember the first book I ever bought on fantasy baseball. It was titled ‘Rotisserie League Baseball’ by Glen Waggoner and Robert Sklar. I purchased it at one of those bookstores that only appeared in malls (B. Dalton? Walden Books?). It must have been around the 1988 or 1989 season as I can recall that Gerald Young had a high $ because of his SB prowess (one that peaked with 65 SBs in 1988 and cratered in 1989 with a preposterous 34 SB / 25 CS.).
Somewhere within the pages of this paperback gem was the origin story of fantasy baseball. As origin stories go, it was remarkably believable (versus, say, Abner Doubleday inventing baseball). Daniel Okrent came up with the idea and pitched it to a number of writer/editor friends in 1979 at a New York restaurant called La Rôtisserie Française. To think, if he brought it up one week earlier, we might all be playing Beefsteak Charlie Baseball instead of Rotisserie Baseball. I recall the authors of this book – who were part of this group – teasing Okrent because his team (the Okrent Fenokees) had yet to win a season (he never did win one).
This is all a preface as to why when asked if we would help promote the e-book release of one of Daniel Okrent’s books, I signed us up. This is the man that invented WHIP! Without him, how else would have I occupied all those thousands of hours? Spend time with friends and family? Contribute to society? Invest myself in an actual MLB team?
Anyway, back to the nominal ‘book review’. ‘Baseball Anecdotes’ is a breezy read. Spanning from the origin of baseball through 1986, the stories balance between the facts and color like a Vin Scully play-by-play. It should be entertaining whether you are well-versed or poorly-versed in baseball history. It probably would not very entertaining if you hate baseball or are illiterate (no pictures).
Below is an excerpt from the book to give you a taste. If you click the link below, you can buy the book from now through July 21, 2014 for the low, low, Razzball reader-friendly price of $2.99. Wait longer than that and the price grows to a budget-busting $5.99.
Jeez, I paid more for that Rotisserie paperback almost two decades ago than this book. Glad I decided to not waste my time writing books when there is so much
easy money fulfillment in blogging!
BY DANIEL OKRENT AND STEVE WULF
The Early Moderns
More than anyone else, Rube Waddell carried the torch of dissolution into the twentieth century, as if passed directly to him by Ed Delahanty and Louis Sockalexis. After the twentyfour-year-old Waddell’s drinking, carousing, and generally impossible behavior led Pittsburgh to give him his release in 1901—even though he had won the league ERA championship the year before—Connie Mack decided to sign the lefthander for his Milwaukee club. Waddell, living in Punxsatawney, Pa., wasn’t especially interested and ignored Mack’s blandishments. Finally, after a two-week series of letters and telegrams from Mack, Waddell responded with a terse wire: “Come and get me.”
Mack traveled to Punxsatawney, and as he took Waddell to the train station the pitcher insisted on making a series of stops. At virtually every store in town, he would drag Mack inside and command his new employer to pay off Waddell’s debts.
By the time they reached the station, Mack related, the cash in his pocket was virtually gone, and he and Waddell were approached by a group of seven men. The men formed a circle around Mack, and he regarded them apprehensively. Then one of the group stepped forward and informed Mack that they wished to thank him for taking Waddell out of town.
Not long before his sixty-six-year career as player, manager, and owner concluded in the early 1950s, Mack said, “I have seen all of the best left-handers since the late nineties, but none was greater than Waddell.” He liked him so much, in fact, that when he bought the Athletics, Mack immediately went after his old employee, and sent two Pinkertons to California to ensure the pitcher’s safe arrival in Philadelphia.
During his time with Philadelphia, Waddell would periodically disappear from the club to join a minstrel show, to wrestle alligators, to chase fires. At one point, Mack paid the pitcher’s entire $2,200 salary in one-dollar bills, hoping this might make it last longer.
After Waddell got into a fight in a saloon, in 1907, Mack concocted a scheme to get the pitcher to behave. He paid the man who had fought Waddell to swath himself in impressive bandages, and then he took both Waddell and his victim to court, where a judge who was Mack’s friend was presiding. The judge told Waddell that if he had so much as a single drink in the next months, he’d be slapped into jail forthwith. Chastened, the pitcher began to behave. And, said Mack, whenever he worried Waddell was about to stray, he’d point to somebody in the stands and say, “He looks like a detective to me.” It worked only for that season, though, and the next year Waddell was sold to the Browns, where he lasted ten games into the 1910 season.
The greatest of all Waddell stories is probably apocryphal, but by its very attribution to the unlikely pitcher it does go a way toward defining both Waddell and the era he played in. As the story goes, a drunken Waddell asserted to his teammates that he could fly. Stepping out of his hotel window with his arms flapping, he found himself the next day waking up in a hospital. When he asked one of his pals what he had done, Waddell was indignant. “I coulda been killed!”, he shouted. “Why didn’t you stop me?”
“What?” came the reply. “And lose the hundred I had bet on you?”
After he burned himself out in the majors, Waddell concluded his career in Minneapolis, in the American Association. Before a crucial July series against Toledo, manager Joe Cantillon told him, “You’ve gotta lay off the liquor for the next four days. You’ll be pitching against Earl Yingling”—Toledo’s ace—“at least once and maybe twice. I want you to be at your best.”
When the series began on a Monday afternoon neither Waddell nor Yingling appeared at the ballpark. Nor did either pitcher show up for any of the following games. Finally, that Friday, after Toledo left town, Waddell appeared at the ballpark carrying a string of fish, which he gave to Cantillon. He had taken care of Yingling, he explained, by asking the Toledo pitcher to accompany him on a four-day fishing trip to Lake Minnetonka. A week later, Cantillon got a bill from a local market—a bill for some fish picked up on Friday by Rude Waddell.
McGraw and the Giants
One of the feeblest managerial tenures in baseball history was that of Horace Fogel, who took over the New York Giants in 1902. He is perhaps best remembered for a player redeployment he attempted to engineer: trying to convert Christy Mathewson into a first baseman. By the end of June, Fogel was fired.
A month later, a manager who would last a bit longer than Fogel or his predecessors (there had been twelve New York managers in the preceding nine years) arrived at the Polo Grounds: John McGraw.
“His very walk across the field in a hostile town,” wrote Grantland Rice, “was a challenge to the multitude.” George Bernard Shaw said, “In Mr. McGraw I at last discovered the real and most authentic Most Remarkable Man in America.” At the time he took over the Giants in 1902—and then made them an instant contender by raiding his old Baltimore club—McGraw was twenty-nine; soon, he would become baseball’s universally acknowledged genius, its strongest personality, the winner of ten National League pennants. His ferocity on the field and the extreme combativeness to which he drove his players made McGraw and his Giants a target of hostility wherever they went. The manager himself abetted the rancor by wiring ahead to the chief of police in every city they played, asking for “protection.” Newspapers would publish news of the telegram, and the crowds would be suitably inflamed. In Cincinnati, he offered to fight everyone in the ballpark, which led one of his favorite ballplayers, outfielder Mike Donlin, to say, “He’s a wonder. He can start more fights, and win fewer, than anybody I ever saw.”
“Everything he did was calculated to draw people into the park,” the long-time Giants secretary Eddie Brannick told Joseph Durso. “He would make a statement insulting someone in St. Louis when the team was in Cincinnati. Or he would insult an owner like Barney Dreyfuss in Pittsburgh. Or Ban Johnson and the American League. Even when he went on the stage”—McGraw made his off-season money on the vaudeville circuit, like many players of his time—“he would do a stand-up monologue and answer questions from the audience, and he would always be baiting them and stirring them up.”
The great theorist could also be foiled by his own stratagems. In 1904, wrote Christy Mathewson, McGraw signaled batters to hit away by blowing his nose into his pocket handkerchief. In one particular game, he was suffering from a head cold but wanted to play a bunting game. If one can believe Mathewson (or his ghost writer), McGraw virtually suffocated before game’s end.
McGraw’s influence extended far beyond the Giants’ own dugout. Near the end of his career, in 1925, Pittsburgh took the pennant, thereby putting an end to New York’s four-year grip on the National League championship. When the Pirates found themselves trailing Washington three games to one in the Series, McGraw stormed into their clubhouse and persuaded manager Bill McKechnie to bench twenty-five-yearold first baseman George Grantham and replace him with aging Stuffy Mclnnis, who had only 155 at bats all season.
McKechnie obliged, and Mclnnis finished the Series with a batting average more than double Grantham’s as the Pirates came back to win three in a row.
Without question, McGraw’s favorite was Christy Mathewson. Mordecai Brown remembered Mathewson’s “lordly entrance. He’d always wait until about ten minutes before game time, then he’d come from the clubhouse across the field in a long linen duster like auto drivers wore in those days, and at every step the crowd would yell louder and louder.” Johnny Evers said, “He could throw a ball into a tin cup at pitching range.” In 4,781 innings over 635 games—he won 373 of them, and had a lifetime ERA of 2.13—he was never thrown out of a game by an umpire. He was without question the most beloved player of his time, and one of the best. Wrote John Kieran, “He was the greatest pitcher I ever saw. He was the greatest anybody ever saw. Let them name all the others. I don’t care how good they were. Matty was better.”
One who might have been a good foil for Mathewson but declined the opportunity was a Texas boy named Henry Schmidt. On opening day at the Polo Grounds in 1903, the two men were the starting pitchers—and for Schmidt, pitching for Brooklyn, it was his very first major league appearance. Astonishingly, Schmidt prevailed, and as the season progressed, he pitched three straight shutouts and won a total of 21 games.
The following winter, Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbets sent his young star a contract for 1904. It came back unsigned, with a brief note attached: “I do not like living in the East,” Schmidt wrote, “and will not report.” He never appeared in the majors again.
Arthur “Bugs” Raymond didn’t last nearly as long as Rube Waddell, but he was clearly cut from the same cloth, and created for John McGraw the same headaches Waddell brought to Connie Mack.
Raymond got his liquor during games by tossing baseballs out of the park over the bullpen fence, in exchange for pints that his admirers on the outside would hustle up for him. McGraw put an end to the practice by stationing guards outside the park, but when Raymond found a way around that ploy, McGraw began sending the pitcher’s paycheck—as well as the proceeds from fines he regularly levied on Raymond—straight to Raymond’s wife. With that, Raymond told McGraw, “If my wife gets the money, let her pitch.” On occasion, McGraw would have Raymond’s family travel with the team, hoping that would keep him in line. Once, when McGraw sent Raymond to the bullpen, the pitcher took the ball instead and kept walking right out of the Polo Grounds and over to Eighth Avenue, where he strode into a bar and traded the ball for a few shots of whiskey.
By 1910, the Giants had sent Raymond to a drying-out sanitarium in Illinois. When that, too, failed, McGraw gave up, and in 1911 Raymond was released. The following season, he wrote to McGraw requesting a last chance, and the manager wired back, “I have my own troubles.”
Raymond died later that year, age thirty, from a cerebral hemorrhage precipitated by a fight in which he had been kicked in the head.
Frank Graham reported that when Larry Doyle, McGraw’s second baseman, reached the big leagues in 1907 he found himself in this colloquy with Brooklyn catcher Bill Bergen in his first at bat against the Dodgers:
“What’s your name?” Bergen asked.
“Doyle, sir,” the youngster replied.
“Doyle, eh? Do you like it up here in the big leagues?”
“And what do you like to hit?”
“A fast ball,” Doyle said.
“On the outside?”
“No, sir. On the inside.”
“No, sir. Not too high.”
The punch line to Graham’s tale was obvious: Doyle saw nothing but high curves on the outside corner that day, and never hit the ball out of the infield. In time, though, he caught on, and became celebrated for the statement, “It’s great to be young and a Giant.”
McGraw’s sense of charity and sentiment only manifested itself outside of baseball combat; when he traded Doyle to the Cubs, the second baseman’s desperate entreaties went unheard. But after his retirement, Doyle was one of many ex-Giants McGraw put to work at the Polo Grounds, taking tickets or raking the infield or performing any of the tasks that the manager seemed to reserve for his old troops.
Just before his death in 1951, umpire Bill Klem wrote, “John McGraw off the field was a man in every old-fashioned sense of the word. He helped his friends; he fought for his rightful due with words, fists or whatever came readily to hand; his charity knew neither restraint nor publicity.”
For seven years, one of McGraw’s best pitchers was righthander Jeff Tesreau. But the sort of combat McGraw himself perfected eventually cost Tesreau dearly. Bedeviled by Tesreau’s spitball, Otto Knabe and Mike Doolan of the Phillies once clandestinely rubbed up a game ball with capsicum salve, a tissue irritant trainers used to carry in their medical kits. After three innings, Tesreau was forced to depart the game, his lips severely swollen.
There were few men who loved playing baseball quite so much as O’Rourke, known as “Orator Jim.” His major league career in the nineteenth century encompassed 1,773 games over 18 seasons. At various times he played every position, although he was primarily an outfielder; he also spent five years as a manager.
After his retirement in 1893, O’Rourke found his way back to his hometown of Bridgeport, and organized the Connecticut League. He immediately became owner, manager, and catcher for the Bridgeport franchise, and in time the league’s secretary-treasurer as well.
By 1904, when he was fifty-two, O’Rourke was still his team’s catcher. That year, as the New York Giants ran away with the National League pennant, he traveled down to New York to make an unlikely suggestion to McGraw. He wanted, he told the Giants manager, to play once again in the majors—for one inning. McGraw, who was more than twenty years younger than O’Rourke and had only appeared in five games himself that season, was adamant at first but finally relented.
With Joe McGinnity pitching for the pennant against Cincinnati, O’Rourke became the oldest catcher in major league history. The first inning went flawlessly, and McGraw let him remain in the game. When he came to bat in the third, he lined a pitch to left field, dashed ahead when the fielder bobbled the ball, and ended up on third when the throw to second came in wild. He eventually scored a run, and stayed in to catch a complete game.
After that one game, Jim O’Rourke went back to Bridgeport, clearly renewed. He remained his own team’s regular catcher for another five seasons, not retiring from active play until he was fifty-seven.