soft hands.

history lesson du jour

from peter golenbock's the spirit of saint louis: a history of the st louis cardinals and browns:

Charlie Comiskey, the manager and first baseman for the Saint Louis Brown Stockings, was a mild-mannered, cerebral man off the field, but on the field, he could act like a common thug. He played the game with a controlled aggression designed to ground the opposition into dust. His focus was on victory, and he never permitted anyone to lose sight of the fact that he was there for one reason only: to win. Said Comiskey: "First place is the only subject of conversation."

Comiskey would bait umpires and argue every call that went the other way. He fought as hard as he could on every play and expected his players to act the same way. He was indomitable. Comiskey explained his philosophy about fighting for victory years later: "I have fought every point because, through bitter experience, I learned early that one lost decision sometimes may mean the loss of the pennant. It is the small things in life which count; it is the inconsequential leak that empties the biggest reservoir."

Comiskey encouraged his players to try to intimidate the opposition any way they could. He was a nineteenth century role model for Leo Durocher and Billy Martin. He encouraged his players to knock over an opponent in the field or on the basepaths, and if you didn't like it, that was just too bad. On the base paths, Comiskey was a terror. In one game against Cincinnati, Comiskey threw himself into second baseman John "Bid" McPhee, causing him to throw wild to first, enabling the winning run to score. Ty Cobb, who came into the game twenty years later with a similar nasty disposition, had nothing on Comiskey.

His players followed his example. The next day Curt Welch did the same thing, throwing himself at McPhee "as if hurled from a catapult." Said Welch, "Well, we're playing ball to win."

On defense Comiskey would stand in the path of base runners who were rounding first and heading for second. If the base runner wasn't looking, a hip check would send him sprawling into the dirt. If the opposing player rose to object, Comiskey looked to start a fight. Under Comiskey, the Browns quickly gained a reputation around the league for their "bad boy" attitude. In the press, they were referred to as "demons" and "Von der Ahe's hoodlums."

The Browns' Curt Welch, illiterate and vulgar, was an umpire baiter who was especially despised by opponents for deliberately trying to injure them. In June of 1887, the Philadephia A's pressed formal charges against Welch for trying to injure pitcher Gus Weyhing as the pitcher ran the bases. Six days later in Baltimore, Welch caused a riot when he smashed into second baseman Bill Greenwood on a steal attempt. Welch was arrested and Von der Ahe had to pay $200 to post bond.

Charlie Comiskey's hard-nosed, trash-talking teammates followed his lead. The mouthpiece of the Browns was third baseman Arlie Latham. Before Latham, players didn't talk it up. There was no "Hey, batter, batter," no encouragement shouted by teammates to the pitcher or batter, certainly none of the endless bench jockeying that became Latham's trademark. The chatter on Little League diamonds across America is the direct descendant of Latham's philosophy of making as much noise as possible.

... it was Latham's mouth that made him famous and drove the opposition wild. He would begin chattering on the first pitch and continue his running commentary on the opposition's sins and weaknesses until they wanted to skull him with their baseball bats. His bench jockeying was so inflammatory that it invited commentay in rival newspapers.

During the 1886 World Series, the writer for the Chicago Inter-Ocean wrote the following: "One feature of the St. Louis game might be eliminated with success, and that is the disgusting mouthings of the clown Latham. There was a universal sentiment of disgust expressed by the [Chicago] crowd that left the ball park at the end of the game at this hoodlum's obscene talk on the ball field. One well known merchant remarked that he never would attend another game that Latham played in. The roughest element that ever attends a ball game in this city could not condone the offense of such a player as Latham. Pres. Spalding should insist upon his being silenced, such coarse mouthings may pass in St. Louis, but will not be tolerated in Chicago."

Shortstop Bill Gleason was another St. Louis player who bullied the opposition. In the field, Gleason intimidated opposing players by deliberately slamming his knee or hip into base runners as they advanced from second to third. As base coaches, Gleason and Comiskey were reviled for their "offensive coaching" and use of "vile language." The two in tandem so infuriated opponents with their obscenities that team owners called for the pair to be fined and/or suspended. At the end of the 1886 season, the American Association passed a rule to establish coaching boxes in an effort to contain Gleason and Comiskey. The coaching boxes became an institution in the game, and they still exist today.

James Hart (manager of Louisville in 1885): "The chalk lines which enclose the coaching boxes were added to the field diagram after Charles Comiskey had demonstrated their necessity. Comiskey and Bill Gleason used to plant themselves on each side of the visiting catcher and comment on his breeding, personal habits, skill as a receiver, or rather lack of it, until the unlucky backstop was unable to tell whether one or half a dozen balls were coming his way. Not infrequently the umpire came in for a few remarks.

'He's a sweet bird, isn't he, Bill?' Comiskey would chirp.
'Never heard of him before, did you Commy?' would be the direct reply of Gleason.
'The cat must have brought him in and put him in the keeping of the umpire or how else could he last more than an inning?' and so on until the end of the chapter.

This solicitous attention did not add to the efficiency of the backstop, so for the sake of not unduly increasing the population of insane asylums or encouraging justifiable homicide, the coacher's box was invented. This helped out the catcher, but the pitcher and the other players on the opposing team were still at the mercy of Comiskey, and I know of no man who had a sharper tongue, who was in command of more biting sarcasm, or who was quicker at repartee."

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