In 1951 Bill Veeck, the St. Louis Browns’ owner, employed 3’7" small-man Eddie "Carl" Gaedel for one game. It
was maybe the most famous of his many promotions to increase sagging attendence for the dreadful St. Louis Browns. Gaedel had one plate appearance, which resulted predictably with him drawing a Walk.
Today we have the anti-Gaedel and he is anything but a sideshow. If you take Gaedel and multiply him by two minus three inches, you get 7’1" pitcher Ryan Doherty of the Defending Midwest League Champions- The South Bend Silver Hawks (A-Ball). The 22-year old right-hander spent three years at Notre Dame University where he chose to pursue his baseball dream after eschewing basketball scholarships from Duke, Stanford and
Princeton. In an interview with ESPN Magazine Doherty explained his decision to play baseball over basketball, "I started to fall in love with baseball right around the time Randy Johnson was making a name for himself with the Mariners… I had a hero for life. I think I might have had a decent future in basketball, but my height in baseball makes me a real oddity." Oddity is an understatement,
downright disorienting is more like it. Add in the ten-inch height of the pitchers mound, and hitters are approximately dealing with an eight-footer slinging 90-mph heat and a curve ball that seemingly drops out of the sky.
Doherty began his professional baseball career a year ago and is one of the top relievers in the Silver Hawks’ vaunted bullpen, where he is presently 3-0 with a 3.32 ERA. With the Diamondbacks’ top prospect Justin Upton as a teammate, the Silver Hawks should do much better attendence-wise than the St. Louis Browns could have ever hoped to do. While Pitcher Jon Rauch (6’11") of the Washington Nationals is the tallest man ever to play in the major leagues, it is believed that Doherty is the tallest man ever to play professional baseball.
I thought that on the eve of the Yankees first trip to Fenway this season, a good Ted Williams story was called for. Recently, a good friend of mine and a rabid Red Sox fan, Dan Gwirtzman shared this story with me about how Teddy ‘Ballgame’ got the umpires to call the strike zone the way he liked it. This is the story the way Dan told it to me. It is adapted from the original telling in the book, "The Brothers K" by David James Duncan.
When Williams came into the league he was confident and quiet, he was focused and he kept to himself. He wouldn’t sign autographs and he wouldn’t say anything much to the reporters. The Boston fans didn’t much like it. So the press and the fans booed him. But Ted didn’t care a bit. He just took it in. He accepted the resentment and the press. This made the fans complain he was arrogant. But he stuck to his game.
As Teddy’s greatness continued to grow, the tension with the fans and the press mounted. He was hitting so well, making Boston shine in the AL East, that people now simply had to know what made him tick. They still resented him, but they needed to have some substance. So now every reporter in town was after him for an interview. But Old Ted held his ground and continued to hit the ball. He also never so much as glanced at an umpire after a close pitch. The umps didn’t mind this. Also, as much as fans hate umps, umps hate fans. So the fact that the fans also booed Williams in his own stadium gave him solidarity with the umps.
All the while Ted was just waiting. And then, one summer day, out of nowhere he relaxed his public stance and decided to grant one sports journalist an interview. They met at a hotel. The journalist fired off three questions – whose your favorite director? what’s your favorite burger in Boston, how long is your noodle?"
Williams didn’t flinch. He answered the questions except the last one. Then the reporter hauled off with the question everyone wanted to ask him, "how do you hit so darn well?"
Ted sat back, took a sip of tea, folded up the paper, and relaxed his manner. He talked of high fastballs, and curveballs he had known, and bat speed, hitters with quick wrists and slow wrists, and as he got on to the subject of fast sliders, Williams suddenly sat up and leaned in.
The reporter was rapt.
"The thing is," Ted said, "I can see the ball from the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hand right to where it jumps off the bat."
The reporter took it in, delighted – he had an article. He ran home and typed it out. It was in the papers the next day. And now the message was out: Williams had perfect eyes. The umps began to figure he was right and who were they going to try and be by disagreeing with Ted Williams on a meaningful close pitch? From then on Williams had his strike zone and went on to put together two of the best seasons any man ever had, including probably the last .400 season.
Carl The Cabbie
There was a time before catcher’s masks, an era when catchers wore tightly wound rubberbands around their teeth to protect from getting them knocked out. As with any popular new past time, baseball evolved quickly. Cincinnati Red Stockings’ founder and shortstop George Wright began to use a mouthpiece in the 1860’s. He patented it and made a pile of money selling his mouthguard on the open market. While many catchers were saving teeth, there wasn’t much they could do for the rest of their face, until the mid-1870’s. That’s when a few fellows at Harvard started talking about making a mask that would change the catching position forever.
The popular tale begins in 1875 with a late season game between arch-rivals Harvard and Yale. Somewhere in the early innings, Harvard pitcher Harold Ernst came to bat. As the first pitch approached he jumped back, startled by the extreme new swerving movement on the ball as it crossed the plate. Ernst struck out on three pitches. The rest of the Harvard lineup also seemed to be swinging at air. Ernst watched Yale pitcher Charles Avery’s throwing motion very closely for the rest of the day. Yale went on to easily defeat Harvard for the sixth time in their last seven meetings. After the game, Ernst knew that to be one of the best he would have to learn the delivery of this tantalizing pitch. In the off-season he went about teaching himself how to throw what we now call the curve ball. The effects of Ernst’s offseason work were immediate. On opening day in 1876, throwing as many curves as his elbow could stand, Ernst no-hit the powerhouse Lowell, Massachusetts club. He led Harvard to a 25-12 record that season and established himself as one the pioneers of pitching.
The curve ball was considered by most players and spectators as the best new pitch in baseball- but also the riskiest. Catchers everywhere were having a heck of a time holding on to pitches, causing a rise in errors as well as a rise in mangled jaws and noses. Harvard catcher Howard Thatcher wasn’t returning for the 1877 season, but he had helped to prepare James Alexander Tyng (man with mustache in photo to the right) as his replacement. Tyng was Harvard’s best all-around athlete and would later go on to become the first Harvard alum to play in a major league game (1879 Boston Red Caps). Like Thatcher before him, Tyng was having a terrible time catching Ernst. His face was taking a beating and he was becoming increasingly worried about permanent disfigurement. This safety concern prompted Player/Manager, Fred Thayer (man with hat in photo to the right) to consider how to boost Tyng’s confidence and protect his face:
"In one or two games in which he caught behind the bat, he had been hit by foul tips and had become more or less timid. He was, by all odds, the most available man as catcher for the season of ’77, and it was up to me to find some way to bring back his confidence,"
Thayer had been brewing an idea for a while, ever since some dugout chats he had once held with former catcher Howard Thatcher. Back in 1875, after Thatcher had taken a few too many foul tips to the noggin, the two men had discussed how to better protect a catcher without impeding his visibility. Realizing he could no longer sit on the idea, Thayer decided a fencing mask provided the closest blueprint to what they needed. In the winter of 1876 he hired a local tinsmith to construct a "bird cage" mask with padding in the chin and forehead area. During practices Tyng and Thayer experimented and revised the mask several times until they got it just right for Tyng’s face. On April 12th, 1877 James Tyng became the first man to wear a catcher’s mask in a professional game. The reaction in the media was mixed to say the least:
"The new mask was proved a complete success, since it entirely protects the face and head and adds greatly to the confidence of the catcher, who need not feel that he is every moment in danger of a life-long injury. To the ingenious inventor of this mask we are largely indebted for the excellent playing of our new catcher, who promises to excel the fine playing of those who have previously held this position."
"There is a good deal of beastly humbug in contrivances to protect men from things that don’t happen. There is about as much sense in putting a lightning rod on a catcher as a mask."
Thayer received a patent for the mask in 1878. Later in the year, A.G Spalding and Brothers Company, the leading sporting goods dealer in the country, began selling the Thayer Catcher’s Mask for $3.00 in their catalogue. Slowly, catcher’s started to use it, but it wasn’t until 1879 that sales took off because of a rule change that did away with the one bounce rule. It was now necessary for a catcher to catch a two-strike foul tip in the air in order to record an out. With catchers moving closer to the batter in order to take advantage of this new ordinance, the catcher’s mask became indispensible. Although Fred Thayer received the patent, it should be noted that both Howard Thatcher and James Tyng also layed partial claims to the invention of the first catcher’s mask.
Thanks to early baseball pioneer Albert Spaulding, many fans stillthink of Abner Doubleday as the inventor of baseball. In truth, baseball
was born through the alchemy of many efforts by men who contributed
far more than the story of Abner Doubleday. In the first of a series here at INSIDE PITCH we will look at some of the ‘fathers’ of baseball who unduly lie in the shadows of General Abner- who should be more properly honored in his remembrance as a great leader during the Battle of Gettysburg (Civil War) rather than for his contributions to baseball.
In it’s early beginnings, as baseball or base ball (pre-19th century spelling) evolved from a series of games between social clubs into professional sporting leagues, a man known as Sir Henry Chadwick was busy putting pen to paper recording many of the first stories and statistics of this new professional game. Chadwick would become what most baseball historians consider the first ‘American Sportswriter’ or the ‘Father of Base Ball’.
While there were articles written about professional sporting events (boxing, cricket, chess, billiards…) before Chadwick, there had never been any continual coverage of a professional sport in this country. Professional sports in America were just bubbling in their infancy when Chadwick, a writer and amateur statistician, began to enlighten readers about this fanciful new game called base ball- a game he was impassioned to make into America’s pastime.
In the 1850’s he began submitting scores and stories to local Brooklyn newspapers. By 1862 he had every New York newspaper including the New York Times reporting on baseball. In the 1860’s as a scorekeeper for the National Base Ball Club of Washington D.C. he developed new ways for measuring the value of a pitcher and a hitter. Earned Run Average (ERA) and Batting Average (AVG) were two of the many statistics first employed by Sir Henry. He was also an integral member and contributor to the earliest rules committees in baseball and wielded strong influence on rule changes through his columns which were often pointed and severly critical of the powers that be. A weekly rant about his abhorrence for gambling and the need for temperance in baseball was a common theme in many articles.
The first hard-cover book about baseball was penned by Mr. Chadwick in 1868, "The Game of Base Ball?". His popularity as a writer began to blossom when he edited the first public baseball guides of the day, The Beadle Baseball Player and the annual Spalding and Reach Guide, where he taught readers how to develop their skills and play the game. His newspaper column, "Chadwick’s Chat", was one of the most read columns in New York City. His weekly articles helped shape the format for modern day sportswriting. A usual "Chat" would combine commentary with a game-recap and a boxscore. The modern day baseball boxscore can also be credited to Mr. Chadwick. Having grown up an avid cricket and rounders fan in England, Chadwick used the cricket boxscore as a template. A boxscore (Photo Below) from an 1876 game between the Boston Red Caps and the Philadelphia Athletics may look quite different from today, but it does show how baseball was beginning to stamp its own identity. The term home-run was already in use and scorekeepers had begun to differentiate between earned and unearned runs.
Henry Chadwick was more than just a sportswriter, he was also an accomplished pianist, a songwriter, a drama critic and during the Civil War- he spent a short time as a news correspondent. He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 and remains the only writer elected into the Hall itself (as opposed to the Writers Wing). He will forever be remembered as one of the true forefathers of the game of baseball.
"The great National Game of Base Ball which he founded and fostered so steadily, firmly and conscientiously, as it now stands, is a monument to his memory. It is doubtless the only monument he would have wished. That is an imperishable as any statue of granite or marble."
—Sam Crane, 19th century Washington statesman and professional second baseman, posthumously talking about Henry Chadwick.
Click On Photos
When it comes to hitting, Ted Williams has long been remembered as the "Scientist" or the "Splendid Splinter" of baseball. Here is a photo from the Baseball Hall of Fame of Ted Williams’ hitting chart. He broke up the strike zone into 77 parts (signified by colored baseballs) and assigned a number for what his batting average should be if pitches were thrown in those areas. Notice that there are only three areas where he thinks he should hit .400—talk about a picky hitter! In 1941 Williams became the last major leaguer to hit over .400 for an entire season (.406). Williams’ uncanny patience also led to 2021 career walks and a lifetime .482 on base percentage.
The "Scientist" at Work
With the 2005 White Sox steaming towards their first World Series’ Championship in 88 years, the media has been writing quite a bit lately about the 1917 ChiSox (the last time they won the World Series). We have also been treated to a lot of fanfare about the 1959 White Sox (the last time they made it to the Series). Then there is the 1919 White Sox coined the Black Sox after infamously throwing the World Series that year. They made a movie about that team and many Southsiders believe that their team has been cursed ever since. So, what else is there to write about when it comes to the White Sox and their World Series’ history. Well, I haven’t read much lately about the ChiSox of 1906, the team known as the "Hitless Wonders". In the third World Series ever and in what might have been the greatest upset in World Series’ history, the White Sox of ’06 beat their crosstown nemesis, the fabled "Tinker to Evers to Chance" Chicago Cubs in six games. This was the first and other than 1917, the only White Sox team to ever win a World Series.
In 1906 the Cubs won 116 games, a Major League record that stands to this day (The Mariners tied this record in 2001, but played in ten extra games). They were considered such overwhelming favorites that many Chicago bookies refused to take money from bettors tapping the Cubs to win the Series. Hall of Famer, Mordecai "Three Fingered" Brown led a fierce Cubbies staff with a 26-6 record and a 1.04 ERA. The entire staff had a 1.75 ERA for the season, an outstanding mark even in the "Deadball" era. Franklin Pierce Adams hadn’t yet penned his famous poem, but shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance joined third baseman Harry Steinfeldt to form a slick fielding infield and lead a lineup that led the Majors in Hitting. In contrast, the Southsiders hit a paltry .230 as a team and did not have a regular hit above .279 for the regular season. The ChiSox’s World Series fate would rest upon a pitching staff almost as dominant as the Cubbies’ staff. Led by Hall of Famer, Ed Walsh, 1906 AL ERA champ Doc White (1.52), and 20 game winners Nick Altrock and Frank Owens, the "Hitless Wonders" reeled off a 19 game winning streak in August—eight of them by Shutout— and won their second AL pennant by three games.
The format for the first Series between teams from the same town was best of seven with each game alternating between the Cubs’ West Side Grounds and the White Sox’s Southside Park. Game 1 was played at the West Side Grounds. The "Hitless Wonders" lived up to their nickname in the first four games- scoring a total of six runs, but thanks to a complete game four-hitter (one run allowed) by Nick Altrock in Game 1 and a complete game two-hit shutout by Ed Walsh (twelve K’s) in Game 3, the Chisox were tied 2-2 going into Game 5. Led by second baseman Frank Isbell’s World Series’ record four doubles, the ChiSox defied their nickname and pounded out eight runs and Walsh, pitching on one days rest, hung tough as the Sox defeated the Cubbies 8-6. Up to this point neither team had won a home game and with Mordecai Brown coming back on one days rest after pitching a two-hit shutout of his own in Game 4, the Cubbies looked destined to take this Series to a seventh game. But, Doc White, who had Saved Game 5 with three shutout innings the day before, one-upped Brown and came back on no rest to pitch a complete game, while the suddenly hot-hitting White Sox ripped Brown for seven runs in an inning and two-thirds and coasted to an 8-3 victory at home. The "Hitless Wonders" were World Series’ Champs. Despite hitting only .198 for the Series, the vaunted ChiSox staff had held the Cubbies to a .196 average and became the first baseball darlings of Chicago.
- The White Sox won the first ever AL pennant in 1901 before there was a World Series.
Carl The Cabbie
Many baseball fans are aware of the fabled New York Yankees’ history. When you mention the New York Highlanders most are able to identify them as the predecessor and original franchise name of the Yankees. But, if one looks more closely at the beginnings of the Major Leagues (when the American League and the National League finally recognized each other and gave birth to the World Series) then you will find some very interesting activity that led to the Highlanders’ origins. In it’s inaugural season (1901), the American League, founded by Ban Johnson (President) resuscitated three teams that had been axed from the National League following the 1899 season. One of those teams was the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles were a dominant National League club in the 1890’s. Led by hall of famers Wee Willie Keeler, Hugh Jennings and Jon McGraw, they won three National League pennants in a row (1894-96). Much of their personality came from scrappy hall of fame manager, Ned Hanlon, who is often credited with creating "inside baseball"– a strategy based on hustle, speed and fundamentals. This Orioles team was one of the dirtiest teams ever. A player sharpening his steel cleats before the game was very common. They defined their manager’s style with constant stealing, hidden ball tricks and hit and run plays. They coined the term "Baltimore Chop" after their manager’s strategy to have his players deliberately hit the ball hard into the ground so as to create a high bounce. After a year playing as a minor league club, The Orioles joined the upstart American League in 1901 with player/manager Jon McGraw at the helm. Ban Johnson encouraged his new eight team league to lure players from National League rosters. Over 70 National League players defected.
In 1903, after the Junior Circuit completed its second season, Ban Johnson came to an agreement with the Senior Circuit to merge into one league, but only after Johnson received assurances that he could move a team to New York to compete in a big market. The team Johnson chose to move was the Orioles. In the same year that the first World Series was played, the Highlanders were born. The core players of the old Orioles left with Jon McGraw after Ban Johnson fired him at the end of the 1902 season. Hanlon’s scrappy and winning style left with them. As a result, the Highlanders were never very good until they officially became the Yankees in 1911. As for the first World Series – Cy Young (33-10) won twice and the Boston club, who in 1903 didn’t have an official nickname, beat the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates in a nine game series (5-3).
Legendary Yankee Manager Miller Huggins played for
Ned Hanlon’s Cincinnati Reds in 1906.
Carl The Cabbie