hard heads soft hearts
Wednesday, June 05, 2002
Elegant baseball prose from "The Bill James Baseball Encyclopedia" (1985 edition):
“. . .Pulliam was president of the National League at a time when half the owners wanted the man who held the office to be an autocrat, and half wanted him to be an office boy. The twisted remains of this struggle are buried in a grave in Louisville.
There were, or seemed to be, many more suicides in the game than there are now; certainly the necrologies of the game contain many, many more violent deaths. I drew up a partial list of the baseball related suicides from 1900 through 1925, but my library is incomplete, and I’m sure I didn’t get half of them. Was this true of the country as a whole- were suicide rates higher then? I would guess that they were. America was at the end of a time when men were allowed to have dreams larger than life, getting late in the generation of Ford and Edison and Firestone and Rockefeller and Spalding. I suspect that in 1910 the great majority of American men owned guns, and a good many carried them. When one’s dream collapse, when one finds oneself suffocating in a small reality and powerless to escape it on this earth, what could be easier than to take leave of it?
. . .if you’ll look, you’ll see that ballplayers almost never commit suicide in the summer. January is a big month for it, and December and March, but June, July, August and September are almost free.”
“. . .strange things happen to the reputations of players after they are retired. Yogi Berra was always kind of a funny looking little guy; he looked like if he was a piece of furniture you’d sand him off some. After he was retired, Joe Garagiola spent all those years telling funny stories about the kind of dopey stuff Yogi used to say and do. Of course he didn’t mean to do Yogi any harm, and he didn’t directly. But gradually the image of Yogi as a kind of short, knobby comic book reader grew larger and larger, and the memory of Yogi Berra as one hell of a catcher kind of drooped into the background.
. . .Yogi Berra was more valuable to his teams, over the course of his career, than any other catcher. From 1948 to 1959 he was never out for a great length of time with an injury, never had one of those sudden off years to which all catchers are prone, and caught 130 to 140 games a season, while performing at a level that is only an inch below the highest levels of performance ever attained by a catcher, a level that made him the greatest player in the American league in his time.”
“. . .Honus Wagner was not a fool or buffoon. Beyond the extent to which all great athletes are sad figures after that which has set them apart from ordinary men has departed them, he did not wind up as a pathetic old wretch, bumming drinks from strangers. He was a cheerful, good-natured man, always ready to have a drink with admirers and never short of admirers.
Among the great players in the game there are all kinds of men- smart alecks, tough guys, driven men and heavy drinkers. As gentleman, there are many who seem worthy of admiration, including Musial, Mathewson, Gehrig, Jonhnson and Schmidt. None seems more worthy than Wagner. He was a gentle, kind man, a storyteller, supportive of rookies, patient with fans, cheerful in hard times, careful of the example that he set for youth, a hard worker, a man who had no enemies and who never forgot his friends. He was the most beloved man in baseball before Ruth. He couldn’t manage, not because he wasn’t intelligent enough, but because he wasn’t hard enough. Those qualities are part of the reason why, acknowledging that there may have been one or two whose talents were greater, there is no one who has ever played this game that I would be more anxious to have on a baseball team.”
“. . .A big, strong man/child with a blazing fastball and the best curve of his day, Rube Waddell would have been as great a pitcher as Walter Johnson if only he had the sense God give a rabbit. It is sad to realize that Rube Waddell could not exist today, that in the eyes of modern men he would be given an appropriate label and properly taken care of, his competition limited to heaving a rubber-tipped javelin in the Special Olympics. Was Rube Waddell what you would call “retarded”? Well, I don’t know, but Sam Craword recalled in "The Glory of Their Times" that manager Hughie Jennings `used to go to the dime-store and buy little toys, like rubber snakes. . .He’d go to the first-base coaches box and set them down on the grass and yell “Hey,Rube, look!”’ . . .He didn’t draw a regular salary because he didn’t know what to do with it; he’d just go to the manager and get $5 or $10 as he needed it. One manager said if you gave hime $25 you might not see him again for a week. He was irresistibly attracted to fire engines, and on the day he was pitching a teammate or more was always assigned to make sure he got to the ballpark all right, and didn’t go off chasing any fire engines. This just really does not sound to me like anybody who could fit into the commercial mold of the modern ballplayer.
Perhaps it was just an emotional problem, and could be controlled with the appropriate drugs. In the cruder times of 1900, Waddell’s life was probably painul and his demise was quick, as there were no institutions to shelter him from the ends of his own actions. But he lived a real life, like anybody else’s only with more adventure. We are not so adventurous anymore.”