Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rube Foster

Andrew "Rube" Foster overcame childhood illness to become an outstanding pitcher, a shrewd manager, and the dominant executive in black baseball. As a 6'4" 200-lb teenager, he joined the Yellow Jackets, a traveling black team in Texas. John McGraw saw Foster during spring training of 1901 (or thereabouts) and wanted him and other blacks for his New York Giants. But, unable to use them, he instead asked Foster to tutor the Giants' pitchers. Christy Mathewson reportedly learned his "fadeaway" pitch (a screwball) from Foster.

Foster then joined the Chicago Union Giants, pitched a shutout in his first start, but soon lost his effectiveness. He regained his form while with a white semi-pro club in the Michigan State League, and defeated every team in the circuit. Because of his difficulties, he had become a keen student of the game, and a wily pitcher. By 1902 he was with the black Cuban Giants.

In 1903 Foster was the top black pitcher in the country. He pitched the Cuban X-Giants to the black championship, and was the winner in four of their five victories over the Philadelphia Giants in the Black World Series. The following year, he pitched the Philadelphia Giants to the title, and recorded both victories in a best-of-three series against the Cuban X-Giants.

It is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in Foster's pitching career; he is credited with a 51-4 season early on. Documentation does exist for a 1904 no-hitter he tossed against the Camden, NJ team. He reportedly gained his nickname by defeating the Athletics' Rube Waddell in 1902, and is reputed to have fared well in duels with major league pitchers Chief Bender, Mordecai Brown, and Cy Young. Frank Chance called him "the most finished product I've ever seen in the pitcher's box," and Honus Wagner said he was "one of the greatest pitchers of all time...smartest pitcher I've ever seen..."

Foster began managing in 1907, when he guided the Chicago Leland Giants to a 110-10 record. Their record was 64-21-1 in 1908. In 1909 Foster challenged the Chicago Cubs to a series, which the Cubs won in three close games. Foster pitched the second game and took a 5-2 lead into the ninth inning, but lost 6-5. Mordecai Brown won the first and third contests. There is no record of any major league club coming forth to answer Foster's challenge in 1910, when his team went 123-6.

In 1911 Foster left the Lelands to form a partnership with Chicago businessman John C. Schorling. From this union came one of black baseball's strongest teams, the Chicago American Giants. They dominated both the Chicago semi-pro scene (regularly winning the championship) and national black baseball, capturing Negro League titles in 1914 and 1917 and sharing the 1915 championship with the New York Lincoln Stars. Competing against white major leaguers following the 1915 season, they won the California Winter League crown.

In the winter of 1919 Foster organized the first viable black major league, the Negro National League, which operated in the Midwest and the South from 1920 through 1931. He served as president of the new league until 1926, and ruled it completely. An Eastern counterpart was organized in 1923 and Black World Series between the two leagues were held from 1924 through 1927.

Foster continued to manage through 1925, and won the Negro National League's first three pennants (1920-22). He made use of psychology and speed, invented the bunt-and-run, and intimidated opponents. White major leaguers often attended his games to learn his tactics. Though he made few rules, he expected his players to follow them. He ran the games as he ran the NNL - in total control - and once hit a player across the head with his pipe for tripling after he was given the bunt sign.

Foster's last known public meeting was in 1926 with lifelong friends Ban Johnson and John McGraw, through whom it is believed he was trying to schedule white major league teams to play his American Giants. Shortly thereafter he began to lose his mind, and spent his last four years in the Kankakee, Illinois State Hospital.

Courtesy of Baseball Library.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman is the only modern major leaguer to have died as a direct result of being hit by a pitch. At the Polo Grounds on August 16, 1920, Chapman, crowding the plate as usual, was struck in the temple by a pitch from Yankee submariner Carl Mays that barely missed the strike zone. Chapman was taken to a hospital, never regained consciousness, and died twelve hours later. Rookie Joe Sewell replaced Chapman at short, beginning a Hall of Fame career. Cleveland players wore black arm bands, and manager Tris Speaker rallied his dejected men to win the first World Championship in club history.

The popular Chapman led the Indians in stolen bases four times, setting a team record with 52 in 1917 that stood until 1980. He led the AL in runs scored and walks in 1918. He was hitting .303 with 97 runs scored when he died. It is baseball analyst Bill James's opinion that Chapman was "probably destined for the Hall of Fame had he lived."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sand Hooters

All over the world, wars and languages and cultures may divide us, but humanity still seems united by one powerful force: teenagers always seem to get a big kick out of sand hooters.

Below: The first picture is from Columbia and the second from Singapore.

Fred Merkle

On occasion, this blog will highlight a player from baseball history. Courtesy of Baseball

Fred Merkle is forever famous for his bonehead play on September 23, 1908, which cost the Giants a critical victory and made possible the Cubs' pennant-clinching victory when the game was replayed at the end of the season. The play itself was clouded by contradictory affidavits by players, conflicting opinions by various baseball officials, and protests lodged by both teams over the umpires' handling of the incident.

The confusion started when Merkle, the runner on first, failed to touch second after an apparent game-winning base hit. Instead, he turned back toward the dugout, as was customary at the time, when he saw the run cross the plate. As the happy Polo Grounds crowd filed across the field towards the centerfield gate, second baseman Johnny Evers got the ball and stepped on second, claiming a forceout which negated the winning run. With the fans already crowding the field, the game could not be played to a decision, and had to be replayed.

When the season ended with the two teams tied, a group of Giants, led by Christy Mathewson, went to owner John T. Brush. They claimed they shouldn't have to play another game for something they had already won. The gravely ill Brush expressed disappointment at their attitude, and they played and lost. Whatever the merits of the case, it was one of baseball's most controversial plays and it haunted Merkle not just for the rest of his playing days, but all his life. He bitterly refused requests for interviews in later years because he didn't want to relive the incident.

Click here for the rest of the article.