Guest Blog

Guest Blog: Diamonds in the Rough

Julie Freeman’s Hour in the Sun

The author W.P. Kinsella once came across a few lines in a baseball encyclopedia and was immediately intrigued. The entry was for a baseball player whose entire major league history was encompassed by the numbers “1 game, 0 at-bats.”

Kinsella went on to do extensive research on the player, and ended up using him as a character in his surreal baseball novel, “Shoeless Joe,” which later begat the Kevin Costner film “Field of Dreams.”

And that’s how the world discovered Archibald “Moonlight” Graham.

What Kinsella felt about Graham was akin to what I felt when I first handled my copy of Julie Freeman‘s card from Ars Longa’s Beginnings: The 1880s series. A week or so earlier, I’d been completely ignorant of Freeman’s existence, but upon reading the Ars Longa biographer’s description of the St. Louis Browns pitcher and his one-game major league career, I got sucked in, much the same way that Kinsella must have been drawn into Graham’s life. But while Kinsella used Moonlight Graham as a subject for the examination of one’s greatest dreams and the importance — or lack thereof — of realizing them, Freeman’s 1880s card led me to consider the role that timing plays in one’s life.

It’s a nice card; as with all of the 1880s St. Louis Browns, the uniform is crisp and dazzling white, perfectly complemented by maroon trim and accessories. His features are sharp, and the pose . . . well, I can’t help but think that he’s practicing for a night of darts at the local pub rather than taking on the American Association’s top hitters.

So what meaning is there in a single game out of a major league season? Not much, really. Like Graham, who played a couple of innings as a defensive substitute and just missed a chance to bat, Freeman’s lone appearance was for a pennant-winning team, in a meaningless game after the championship had been clinched. Very few single games in a long schedule can really be called significant, but each one has it’s own identity, and taken by itself can give a snapshot of a team, a league, the players and the era.

And for Julie Freeman, that one game started out like a dream come true, and ended quite painfully.

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Julius Benjamin Freeman was born Nov. 7, 1868 in . . . well, we don’t really know where, exactly, but it was somewhere in Missouri. Not much is known about the righthander until he turned up in Fort Smith, AR, as an 18-year-old who pitched well in the summer of 1887.

Although considered to be a hard thrower, Freeman’s most notable attribute was apparently his size, or rather his lack of size. Considering that pitchers of the day were not the 6-foot-plus specimens that they are in the 21st Century, Julie must have really been small in stature to have gained that notoriety in the 19th Century. The Sporting News referred to him as “a little bit of a lad” in one article. Even so, he appeared headed to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association for the 1888 season; an article in Sporting Life that spring referred to him as a “phenomenon, about whom a great deal was said.” So someone was paying attention.

Kansas City ended up passing on his services, so Freeman returned home and spent the summer pitching for an independent team in Newton, MO. Charles Comiskey, St. Louis’ player-manager, must have been keeping tabs, because he eventually invited Freeman to work out with the Browns, and with the American Association pennant wrapped up, Comiskey offered the youngster a chance to start a league game, on Oct. 10, 1888.

The Browns had little for which to play that cold afternoon in St. Louis. They’d wrapped up their fourth consecutive American Association title a week or more earlier; since they ended up playing five games fewer than the runner-up Brooklyn Bridegrooms, it’s possible that the actual moment of clinching may not have been easily calculated or noted. But with a healthy lead in the standings all through the fall, the title was inevitable and the season rolled toward an eventual postseason meeting with National League champion New York Giants.

 

The opponent was the Louisville Colonels, who’d had a much different season. A few days later, they’d complete a 48-87 record, good for seventh place. The Colonels pitcher that day was Tom “Toad” Ramsey, and had the game been played in 1886 or 1887, when Ramsey won a combined 75 games, that might have sparked some fear in the heart of the St. Louis batters. But the Toad of 1888 was a different animal. Perhaps the heavy drinking for which he was known had taken its toll, or perhaps it was an indifference born of pitching for a team buried deep in the second division, but Ramsey was on his way to an 8-30 record.

What little interest there was in the game centered around Freeman. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that “Comiskey put in a young semi-professional pitcher named Freeman, who pitched last season for Fort Smith. He made a good record in Arkansas and was anxious to see what he could do against an Association team.” The Louisville Courier Journal referred to Julie as a”a young twirler from the Texas League,” and in the Chicago Tribune he was “a young Southern League pitcher.” The fact that Fort Smith competed in the Southwestern League is just proof that it was a lot tougher to get such facts straight in the days before media guides and web sites.

For three innings, Julie Freeman must have thought that the American Association was going to be a snap. He led the Colonels, 2-0, pitching against a lineup that, while it included Pete Browning and the wonderfully named William Van Winkle “Chicken” Wolf, admittedly included more than its share of second-stringers.

After that, things fell apart. Few of the Browns were accomplishing much at bat. Arlie Latham was the one exception, with two hits, but he also made two errors at third base. Meanwhile Louisville, batting in the bottom of the inning as was the prerogative for the visiting team for much of the 19th Century, scored five runs in the next three innings, taking the lead for good at 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth. Freeman did a good job handling Louisville’s top hitters, but light-hitting shortstop Phil Tomney had three hits.

The end came suddenly for Freeman in the seventh. After retiring Browning, he faced Dude Esterbrook, the mercurial infielder who had been summarily released from Indianapolis a few months earlier but had given the Colonels a bit of a spark since his arrival in Louisville. He hit a hard line drive that caught Freeman on the right hand, breaking a finger. Julie was finished for the day, replaced on the mound by rightfielder Tommy McCarthy, the future Hall of Famer. Ramsey and the Colonels finished the day with a 7-4 victory.

The correspondent for the Cincinnati Enquirer judged of Freeman that “His work showed him to be a promising youngster and with the proper support he would have won yesterday’s game.” Comiskey must have concurred, because he reserved Freeman for the 1889 season and gave him ample opportunity to make the club. Freeman pitched the Browns’ exhibition opener, defeating the Missouri Athletic Club, 14-3, after which he continued to get work during the spring, mostly against amateur teams.

And this is where timing comes into play. Freeman’s date with the photographers shooting for the Old Judge card set no doubt came in the spring, after he’d already pitched what would prove to be his lone ┬ámajor league game. He’s featured in a handful of different poses. Consider the case of two other 1880s subjects, Walter Bogart and Abner Boyce. Neither ever played a major league game, but each was in the running for a spot on a major league roster in the spring, and appeared on Old Judge cards in the season that followed. Spring training was likely a good chance to get the various teams into a photo studio, and you can imagine the conversation: Him? Oh, that’s Walter. He might play some for us this year at first base, so we brought him along.

Bogart, whose fox-like features and rather disturbing sky blue, unitard-like Indianapolis uniform we see in the 1880s series, and Boyce, pictured in a Washington uniform and settling under a pop fly with all the apparent grace of a water buffalo, not only didn’t make it to the majors, but there is no record of either from the minor league database on baseball-reference.com. They almost certainly played professionally somewhere, but apparently not in a league whose records have been unearthed by the many researchers looking into such things.

But Julie Freeman played in the majors . . . and one and a quarter centuries later, he comes to life in the 1880s series, in that strange pose. That’s certainly some form of immortality. Once you’re a major leaguer, you’re a major leaguer for life. You’ve achieved what so many of us could only fantasize about, even if for only an hour or so one fall afternoon. It’s like being President, or Ambassador: you get to keep the title Former Major Leaguer the rest of your days.

As you’ve no doubt figured, Julie Freeman didn’t make the St. Louis roster in 1889. Sure, he was 19 years old and had potential, but consider the rest of the pitching staff. Staff ace Silver King, who had a 45-20 record in 1888? Twenty years old. Nat Hudson, who was 25-10? Nineteen years old. On Sept. 1, the Browns had bought some pitching insurance with the purchase from Louisville of Elton “Ice Box” Chamberlain, who finished 11-2 for the Browns for a season record of 25-11. Chamberlain was 20. Heck, even Jim Devlin and Ed Knouff, who combined to start 20 games for the ’88 Browns, were 22 and 21, respectively. It was kind of difficult for Julie Freeman to stand out from that crowd.

After showing up well against amateur competition, Freeman was given a chance to pitch against the Detroit Wolverines of the National League, on April 8 in St. Louis. He lost, 7-3, walking seven batters, and 10 days later he was sold to the Milwaukee Creams of the Western Association. Comiskey was quoted as saying that Freeman wasn’t “heavy enough” to handle the rigors of an American Association season. Somewhere along the way, he developed arm trouble, and never won a game in Milwaukee. He got five starts, lost them all, and had a horrific WHIP of 2.333.

Freeman then moved to the Pacific Northwest, catching on with a team in Port Townsend, Wash., then finishing his pro career with a season at Helena in the Montana State League. And then he returned home and worked as a printer in St. Louis, playing for a semi-pro team sponsored by The Sporting News. He died in 1921, the victim of heart disease.

So Julie Freeman’s story may not be that riveting, certainly not compared to that of Moonlight Graham. The story of Graham ending up in the frozen wilds of Chisholm, MN, becoming a civic leader and its leading doctor, as portrayed in Field of Dreams? All true.

No, it’s not likely that anyone will be featuring Freeman’s life in a movie any time soon, with an actor the caliber of Burt Lancaster to play his part. But in one sense, he got the better of Graham. You see, Julie Freeman actually got to bat in a major league game, three times. And . . . he got one of the five hits that Toad Ramsey allowed that day.

And a .333 average is pretty good hitting in any league . . .

 


Sources:
baseball-reference.com
The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball by David Nemec
Oct. 11, 1888 editions of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Louisville Courier Journal and the Chicago Tribune

Did they get it right?

Is there any sports award that, by its very nature, incites more controversy and consideration than the one given to the Most Valuable Player?

Think about it: it’s not “Player of the Year, ” or “Most Outstanding.” It’s “Most Valuable.” The point is debated annually, and the answer is fluid, depending on the specific circumstances of each season. Consider that Andre Dawson and Kirk Gibson won the award in the National League in back-to-back seasons, 1987-88. Look at the numbers for each player. Then look at their teams’ place in the standings. Same award, but two very different routes to getting there. And, in both cases, the award was deserved.

I was thinking about such things while pouring over the voting records for the Chalmers Award, in Bill Deane’s 1988 SABR-produced booklet “Award Voting.” The Chalmers, given out from 1911-14, was an early precursor of the Most Valuable Player Award, which finally found an official home in 1931 with the Baseball Writers Association of America. But it wasn’t cursed with the words “most valuable” in its title. How did the voters of the day approach their responsibility?

It turns out that the situation wasn’t so different from the one today.

*** 1910 ***


The Chalmers Award arose out of a well-documented marketing fiasco. In 1910, with horseless carriages becoming more and more prevalent on what passed for roads in the United States, Hugh Chalmers saw the opportunity for a little free, high-profile publicity. He announced that the player who finished the season with the highest batting average would be the recipient of a Chalmers “30,” the company’s popular roadster.

With the National League batting leader, Sherry Magee, some 50 points behind the American League leaders, the competition came down to Ty Cobb, the tempestuous young Detroit outfielder, and Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie, the hard-hitting veteran second baseman. As more attention was focused on the batting race, a summer’s worth of charges of favoritism in official scoring was unleashed, and Cobb, in particular, came under criticism for caring more for personal gain than what was good for the team. How it hurt the Tigers that Cobb batted .532 over the last month of the season has never been explained, but in 1910, athletic competition was primarily about team accomplishments. For some in the media and in the bleachers, striving for individual honors was unseemly. And besides, Cobb already owned a Chalmers “30.”

Things, as it turned out, could only get worse. Cobb, holding a big advantage, elected to sit out the Tigers’ finale. Lajoie, meanwhile, had a doubleheader against hapless St. Louis. Browns’ manager Jack O’Connor started a rookie, Red Corriden, at third base and told him to play back on the outfield grass. That was too much of an invitation to pass up; Lajoie, after hitting a triple in his first at-bat, bunted six times for hits in the two games. In his final at-bat, he reached base on an error. An attempt was reportedly made after the game by Browns officials to bribe the official scorer to change the error to a hit. Why? Perhaps because Cobb was that much hated around the league, perhaps because Lajoie was a respected member of the old guard. Whatever the case, O’Connor’s anything-but-subtle machinations didn’t fool anyone.

As one can imagine, the sorry chain of events left baseball with a black eye. When competing sets of numbers were crunched (remember, there was no automatic updating on the Internet in 1910), Cobb was announced the winner, .385-.384.

Hugh Chalmers at least had enough sense to give each player an automobile, and in an attempt to smooth things over, he came up with a new proposal: beginning in 1911, Chalmers would award an auto to a player in each league who “should prove himself as the most important and useful player to his club and to the league at large in point of deportment and value of services rendered.”

Cobb-Lajoie-Chalmers

Sounds a lot like “most valuable,” doesn’t it? What was also similar to today was that the voting would be done by members of the media, one from each city in each league. Each writer would vote for eight players, with his top pick receiving eight points, down to one point for his eighth choice.

The award lasted for four seasons, and slips quite nicely into the Ars Longa scheme of things between the 1910-oriented Pilgrims set and the Diamond Heads ’15

So, how did sportswriters handle these issues, a century ago? Any better or worse than today’s voters? Then as now, once the ballots have been counted and the award given, it still comes down to one’s own point of view . . .

*** 1911 ***

Considering that Cobb was at the center of a controversy about pursuit of individual honors ahead of his team’s success just a year earlier, it’s perhaps peculiar that the Detroit outfielder became the first and only player to win the Chalmers Award unanimously. But how can you argue with a .420 batting average, a .621 slugging percentage, 47 doubles, 24 triples and 127 RBIs . . . all of which led the American League?

While the AL vote was thoroughly one-sided, the National League was the tightest that the Chalmers’ Award would ever see. Only 10 voting points separated the leader from the two players who tied for seventh, and the winning total of 29 was the only time a Chalmers’ winner would receive less than half of the highest possible total.

The writers picked Frank Schulte, Chicago’s power-hitting outfielder, who led the league in home runs (21), RBIs (107) and slugging (.534). He edged out Christy Mathewson, who polled 25 points after a 26-13 season.

Did they get it right? It’s hard to argue with the credentials of the winners, although in each case the award went to a player on the league runner-up. Mathewson and Rube Marquard (24-7) were among five New York Giants who split the vote for the NL champions.

One interesting total was that of Miller Huggins, best known as the Hall of Fame manager of some of the greatest New York Yankee teams. In 1911, he was a scrappy second baseman for St. Louis, and he placed sixth in the voting after a season in which he hit .261 and drove in 24 runs. His leadership and defensive skills were no doubt the basis for that support; voters must have figured that anyone who could spark the perennial cellar-dwelling Cardinals to a winning record (75-74) must be valuable indeed.

*** 1912 ***


Reportedly, both Cobb and Schulte asked not to be considered for the award following their victories the previous year, which calls into question whether or not people had figured out the concept of a most valuable player for the season. But, then, how many Chalmers “30s” does one need in one’s driveway?

Apparently, not everyone got the memo, as Cobb polled 17 points, but he wasn’t a factor.

Since 1912 was a year of incredible pitching feats, it’s not surprising that Chicago’s Ed Walsh (27-17), Washington’s Walter Johnson (33-12) and Boston’s Joe Wood (34-5) all finished in the top five. But the 1912 vote was actually a good example of the trouble the voters had when considering pitchers against every-day players (an issue that exists to this day), because no other pitcher picked up a single vote. It was a little better in the National League, where five pitchers collected votes, but between the two leagues, there were eight 20-game winners who couldn’t even manage an eigth-place vote. Larry Cheney of the Cubs and Eddie Plank of the Athletics, a pair of 26-game winners, were both ignored.

The winners were Tris Speaker of the Red Sox and Larry Doyle of the Giants, the top field players for the two league champs. Speaker, who led the league with 75 extra-base hits and finished third with a .383 batting average (Cobb led at .409), easily outdistanced Walsh, finishing second for the second year in a row, 59-30. Doyle edged Honus Wagner of the Pirates, 48-43.

Did they get it right? If you rule out pitchers, then, yes, probably. But one can’t help but wonder if three pitchers having superior years (each of them finishing in the top three in ERA, victories and strikeouts) may have been one or two too many for the voters. Wood certainly would seem to have had a most-valuable-caliber season, particularly with his team winning the pennant by 14 games, but two other pitchers outpolled him.

In the NL, Doyle and Wagner had close to the same numbers (10 home runs, 91 RBIs, .330 average for Doyle, 7-101-.324 for Wagner), but the Giants did win the pennant.

But here’s something to consider: the Cubs’ Heinie Zimmerman batted .372 and hit 14 home runs, both league-leading totals. In March of 2015, a SABR researcher finished a research project that confirmed that the RBI totals established for the first MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia in 1969 were wrong, and that Zimmerman had five more RBIs than originally credited, pushing his total to 104 and passing Wagner. Zimmerman, in fact, won the Triple Crown, the crediting of which was delayed, oh, only 103 years.

Would that fact have influenced the voters? Probably not . . . Zimmerman’s overwhelming advantage over Doyle ad Wagner in batting average was already known, and not enough to get him higher than sixth in the voting with 16 points.

*** 1913 ***


The supposition that too many outstanding pitching seasons might make it impossible for any one pitcher to win a Chalmers Award got support from what happened one year later, when Walter Johnson had the pitching performance of all pitching performances.

The Senators’ star won the AL pitching Triple Crown, and it wasn’t even close. His 36 victories, 1.14 ERA and 243 strikeouts were all so far ahead of the runners-up in each category that it wasn’t even funny. With him, Washington finished second, six-and-a-half games behind the champion Athletics. Without him, they were 54-57.

Still Johnson wasn’t a unanimous pick. He polled 54 points, 11 more than runner-up Joe Jackson, who batted .373 and led the league in hits (197) and slugging (.551).

Jackson did not lead the league in batting however, that honor again going to Cobb at .390 . . . for which he received a total of three points in the voting. Perhaps, in the wake of his 1911 victory, Cobb had again asked voters not to consider him. Or perhaps it was karma in action. Cobb took great delight in telling the story of how he psychologically knocked Jackson out of the 1911 batting race (when both topped .400), by giving the fellow Southerner the impression that Cobb no longer considered him as a friend. Jackson’s average dropped, and Cobb took the batting title. Two years later, Cobb again was the batting leader, but Jackson appeared to have picked up more respect from the voters.

In the National League, Jake Daubert, Brooklyn’s stylish first baseman, won the honor over runner-up Gavvy Cravath of the Phillies, 50-40.

Did they get it right: Walter Johnson? Absolutely. Jake Daubert? Well . . . absolutely not.

Daubert, by all accounts, was one of the finest fielding first basemen of his era, a Hal Chase without the baggage of questionable integrity. He led the NL with a .350 batting average, which helped Brooklyn to a 65-84 record and sixth place.

Cravath finished second with a .341 batting average, and that nine points difference cost him the Triple Crown. He led the league with 19 home runs, and blew away the competition with 128 RBIs. His team finished second behind the Giants.

Daubert was well-liked by the fans and the media, and was generally considered the best all-around first baseman in the game. Cravath was considered something of a lummox, not the kind of sleek, speedy fielder that was prized at the time. His power-hitting was considered a bit of an aberration, since he played in Philadelphia’s snug Baker Bowl, with invitingly short distances down the foul lines.

This is what F.C. Lane of Baseball Magazine, one of the most respected scribes of the day, had to say in naming Cravath to the magazine’s annual National League all-star team:

“No doubt the most conspicuous outfielder in the list is Cactus Cravath of the Phillies. This sturdy hitsmith has battered his way to the top by his dizzying success of two-base cracks and home runs. He fell a bit short of Daubert in the popular choice for the Chalmers’ trophy, but he is unquestionably one of the most valuable players in the league. Cravath is unfortunately rather slow in the field, though an earnest and industrious worker. His leaden footed tactics, however, are lost sight of in his tremendous batting, the most valuable of talents in an outfielder.”

You can imagine Lane holding his nose with one hand while typing out praise with the other. The truth was, Cravath wasn’t really such a bad fielder. He was usually among the league leaders in assists for outfielders, and he didn’t make any more errors that his peers. No doubt the perception was that he also didn’t get to as many balls as a speedier outfielder might have.

And, remember, although some teams and organizations did track them, RBIs weren’t an official statistic until 1920. Most of what we recognize as the statistical realities of a century ago have been retro-engineered by several generations of hard-working researchers, pouring over microfilmed play-by-plays of games to make sure the statistics that have been passed down through the decades are accurate. Plus, voters in 1913 didn’t have the benefit of knowing that Cravath led the National League that year in Offensive WAR, OPS, Runs Created, Adjjusted OPS+, Adjusted Batting Runs, Adjusted Batting Wins and Offensive Win %, Heck, I barely even know what any of that means. But I think it meant that Cravath did pretty well.

The sad fact is that poor ol’ Gavvy never got the respect that his offensive output in the deadball era should have earned him. And he should have won the Chalmers that year.

*** 1914 ***

There’s a fairly well known picture of Eddie Collins and Johnny Evers, captains of their respective teams, shaking hands before the 1914 World Series. Any second baseman who ever felt overlooked and underappreciated ought to have a copy of that picture framed and hung over the mantelpiece, because for second sackers, it didn’t get any better than ’14.

Collins won the Chalmers in the AL with a near-unanimous vote, seven first-place votes and one for second. All four members of the Athletics’ “$100,000 Infield” placed in the top 16 that year, but Collins was clearly the best, leading the league in runs (122), batting .344, stealing 58 bases and anchoring the best lineup in the American League.

Evers won in the NL despite teammates Rabbit Maranville and Bill James nearly splitting the vote, finishing second and third. But how could anyone but the field leader of the “Miracle Braves” be honored, in a season that, more than 100 years later, still gives hopes to any cellar dweller that something magical can happen during the dog days of summer?

Did they get it right? Yes. This was just one of those years when being considered the leader of the best team was going to trump any big numbers. Phillies fans might make the case that Sherry Magee (15 home runs, 103 RBIs, .314 average) had the best year at the plate, certainly more impressive than Evers (1-40-.279). But 1914 belonged to the Braves. ‘Nuf said.

On the American League side, Collins likely benefited from Jackson, Cobb and Johnson having average seasons . . . or at least, average for players of their magnitude. Collins’ closest competition came from Sam Crawford, who led the league with 104 RBIs and 26 triples at age 34.

As a side note, Collins also became the first “MVP” to be sold off before the next season, moving to the Chicago White Sox on Dec. 8, 2014. That was the first step in the dismantling of the first Athletics powerhouse. Connie Mack is renowned as a Hall of Fame owner and manager, but the modern-day owner with whom he has the most in common is Miami’s Jeffrey Luria. Each of those executives broke up championship-caliber teams (twice each!) when the financial numbers no longer made sense.

 


All eight Chalmers winners are featured on Ars Longa cards; in fact, all four of the American League winners are in both the Pilgrims and Diamond Heads ’15 sets. And of the 86 players featured in those two sets who were active between 1911-14, 54 of them received votes. Lew McCarty? Three points in 1914. Frank LaPorte? Two points in 1911. George McBride? Twelve points, with at least one vote in each season. Eddie Collins? One hundred and forty-three points, the most of any player.

The Chalmers Award was quietly retired after 1914, and the company went out of business by 1923, saddled with post-war debt, and was absorbed into the Chrysler Corporation. It’s name lives on, though, in automotive circles certainly, but also within the world of baseball. Perhaps not in the way that Hugh Chalmers might have chosen, but a place in sports history is still . . . a place in sports history.

 

Chalmers ad

 


When the Spotlight Goes Off

“So, what do you do for a living?”

No, I’m not asking, merely musing on the concept of self-identification. If you do something very well under the public spotlight for relatively few years, is that “something” who you are? Even if you spend many more years in later life doing something else?

There are few careers more public than that of a professional athlete. Because of the physical skills required, it’s a career that’s by nature relatively short. At any age at which most of us would consider ourselves to still be young and in our professional prime, an athlete finds that he or she must deal with the second chapter of their adult lives far earlier than the rest of us.

The modern baseball player, if he manages his money well, can find himself in position, after six-to-eight years in the big leagues, to never have to work another day in his life, if he so chooses. Or better put, he can pick and choose his next move to his own liking. But players in the Dead Ball Era, although they made more than the general populace, found things a bit more precarious — particularly when you consider that they would be beyond their playing years when the Depression hit in the 1930s.

For most players of that time, an end to their playing days meant a return to the general workforce. After all, they had bills to pay.

—————————————————————-

In 2007, McFarland published an intriguing book with the less-than-intriguing name of Major League Baseball Players of 1916. The author, an English professor and baseball fan named Paul Batesel, was looking to take a snapshot of the average ballplayer from early in the 20th Century, and did so by researching every player in both leagues to play even a single game that season.

The book reads like an encyclopedia, which, after all, it is. This is not the place to go to read thrilling tales about Walter Johnson‘s 36-win season in 1913. It is the place to go to learn that after retiring in 1927, Johnson raised purebred cattle on a Maryland farm and entered state politics, before returning to baseball to manage the Senators and Indians and later serving as a radio announcer for the Senators. He was only 59 when he died of a brain tumor in 1946.

So what happened to these men, removed from the spotlight between the foul lines?

Not surprisingly, many of them stayed in baseball as long as they could. Minor leagues were independent in the pre-war era (both wars, for that matter), and offered many players a chance to keep competing after the majors had cut them loose. Beyond that, there was always coaching and managing.

Chief Bender was the coach at the Naval Academy in the 1920s, before returning to the Athletics as a coach. “Colby Jack” Coombs didn’t return to his alma mater, but did coach the baseball team at Duke University for a quarter of a century. Larry Gardner did return to his alma mater, the University of Vermont, where he served a baseball coach and athletic director.

Donie Bush spent 65 years in baseball, as a manager, minor league team owner and scout. Hans Lobert had a similar experience, coaching at West Point and with several major league teams before spending the last two decades of his life as a scout.

Max Carey managed in the majors and minors, and helped establish the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II. Larry Doyle remained in the Giants’ organization after his playing days; when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1942, the team sent him to the same sanitarium in Saranc Lake, N.Y. where Christy Mathewson spent his last days. Doyle’s ending was happier, however. He was released 12 years later and retired to that small lake town.

Sherry Magee gave umpiring a try, but a year after returning to the National League in that capacity, he died of pneumonia at 44.

Half of the “$100,000 Infield” ended up in college coaching. Jack Barry, after several years of running an automobile agency, returned to his alma mater of Holy Cross, where he spent more than three decades, coaching the Crusaders to the 1952 NCAA championship. Stuffy McInnis spent a quarter of a century in college coaching, including a stint at Harvard. Barry’s double-play partner, Eddie Collins, had a long career as vice president, treasurer and business manager of the Red Sox.

Frank Baker went another direction. The home-run hero of the Atheltics teams of the early 1910s returned to his hometown in Maryland and bought up land where he could farm and raise hunting dogs.

Babe Adams, the hero of the 1909 World Series, operated a farm in Missouri before World War II and another in Maryland afterwards. George Gibson and Vean Gregg, both Canadians, returned to their home country to farm.

For some who didn’t stay in baseball, other sporting activities offered employment. Rube Marquard, Heinie Groh and Buck Herzog all worked at race tracks. Ray Schalk ran a bowling alley. Honus Wagner owned a sporting goods business that was wiped out by the Depression; fortunately, the Pirates were ready with an offer of a coaching position.

What of baseball’s most famous double-play combination? Frank Chance, who’d had a history of injuries and ailments during his career, died young at 48, having spent his post-playing days as a manager in the majors and minors. Johnny Evers, like Wagner, owned a sporting good store, and was appointed stadium superintendent in Albany, N.Y. Joe Tinker managed his money well until his Florida real estate investments went belly-up during the Depression. He bounced back, running a pool hall and opening a bar, and worked at the Orlando, Fla. airfield during World War II.

Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and Stan Coveleski each owned service stations in Indiana, Brown in Terre Haute and Coveleski in South Bend. Ed Walsh retired to Connecticut and was employed by the Meridan Water Plant. Jim “Hippo” Vaughn worked in a refrigeration assembly factory.

Some players did quite well for themselves, financially. Ty Cobb got in on the ground floor of investing in Coca Cola. Bill McKechnie had lucrative land and oil investments in Florida. Gavvy Cravath not only did well with real estate in Laguna Beach, CA, he also served as Justice of the Peace in that city for 36 years.

The Red Sox “Golden Outfield” spread across the country. Harry Hooper spent a quarter of a century as the postmaster in Capitola, CA. Duffy Lewis spent 30 years as the traveling secretary for the Boston/Milwaukee Braves. Tris Speaker made a living out of being Tris Speaker; he was a regular on the banquet circuit and was president of Tris Speaker, Inc., a wholesake wine and liquor company in Cleveland, before retiring to his native Texas.

Fred Snodgrass ran an electrical appliance business in Oxnard, CA, where he also served as mayor. Terry Turner, who patrolled the hot corner for so many years in Cleveland, went on to become the Chief Superintendent of Streets in that city. Heinie Zimmerman ran a speakeasy for gangster Dutch Schultz. Ed Konetchy owned a restaurant and chicken ranch in Fort Worth, Texas.

Zach Wheat did a little of everything. A native of Missouri, he was running a farm in Caldwell County even while playing with the Dodgers, but lost it in the Depression. His post-baseball resume includes managing a bowling alley, serving on the Kansas City police force, running a hunting resort in the Lake of the Ozarks and working in a Wichita defense plant during World War II.

As if fate hadn’t already saddled him with enough to carry, Fred Merkle‘s investments were largely lost in the Depression. Afterwards, he was a partner in a company that made fishing equipment. Slim Sallee may win the award for persistence. After his baseball career was over, he put his money into an ice plant, a service station and a restaurant in his hometown of Higginsport, Ohio. He lost everything when the Ohio River flooded in 1937. He bounced back by tending bar and finally purchasing “Slim’s Cafe.”

The downward spiral of Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander after his playing career is one of baseball’s saddest chapters. Dealing with epilepsy, alcoholism and the lingering effects of a World War I shrapnel injury, he lived on the fringes and got by with a series of odd jobs. He did a stint playing with the House of David baseball team, worked in a penny arcade, retold the story of his strikeout of Tony Lazzeri in the 1926 World Series for patrons of a Times Square flea circus, and worked as a security guard at a defense plant, before dying of a heart attack at 63.

And then there were the Black Sox, the members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox drummed out of baseball for their involvement in the throwing of the World Series. If organized baseball had its druthers, they’d recede into anonymity, and that’s largely what they did. Most of them played for a few years on touring teams or in outlaw leagues that weren’t bothered by baseball’s ban, but as their skills diminished they moved on to the next stage of life.

Lefty Williams ran a pool room in Chicago for a few years before moving to California, finally ending up in Laguna Beach, where he ran a garden nursery business. Fred McMullin worked as a carpenter before later making a career as a Los Angeles County deputy marshal. Swede Risberg landed in the Northern California town of Weed, where he operated a tavern for nearly two decades.

Buck Weaver, who proclaimed his innocence to the end and unsuccessfully petitioned baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis for reinstatement numerous times, worked in the pari-mutuels department of Chicago racetracks. Happy Felsch opened a grocery store, then later ran a tavern. At 58, he started a new career as a crane operator, one that lasted until his retirement at 71.

Chick Gandil, the man who drove the conspiracy from the inside and is believed to have pocketed the greater portion of the money used to fund the throwing of the games, moved to Berkeley, CA, and became a plumber. Joe Jackson, the man who became the symbol for the American tragedy that was the Black Sox scandal, played for independent teams as long as he could, then retired to his home in Greenville, S.C. For years he ran a successful liquor store before dying of a heart attack at 63.

Eddie Cicotte, a native of Detroit, remained in that city but used another name to protect his family. He worked for the Ford Motor Company until 1944, then spent the last 25 years of his life on a farm near Farmington, MI, raising strawberries. On his death certificate, his occupation was listed as “baseball player.”

—————————————————————-

Almost every player listed in this piece has an Ars Longa card. You can view some in the pastoral hues of the Pilgrim series, others with the striking backgrounds of the Diamond Heads ’15 cards. Either way, they look forever young and strong, heroes to a growing sports fandom.

But eventually the spotlight was turned off. And like all of us, they had to pay the bills . . .


Sources:
Major League Baseball Players of 1916 by Paul Batesel
SABR Bio Project (sabr.org)

Overlooked, but not unappreciated

If you’re a fan of the 19th Century and Dead Ball eras of baseball (and if you aren’t, you probably aren’t reading this), then you may be frustrated by the lack of movement in getting players from that period enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame. It seems like the Hall has shut its doors on the old timers.

Well, not exactly shut them . . . every few years the door pops open a few inches.

It used to be a lot simpler for the average fan to follow. The Baseball Writers Association of America voted on the recently retired, and the Veteran’s Committee considered those that time had almost forgotten. But in 2010, the Hall broke the Veteran’s Committee into three different groups. Candidates from the 19th Century fall under the consideration of the Pre-Integration Era Committee. Specifically, that means that every three years a ballot of 10 persons is drawn up from players, executives and other significant figures — including those from the Negro Leagues — from a period covering roughly 80 years, and then voted upon by the committee, with the usual three quarters of the vote (12 or more of 16) needed for induction.

Pretty slim odds at best . . .

Fortunately, there is a group that hasn’t given up on honoring the stars of the 1800s who haven’t yet gotten into Cooperstown, and it’s just the people you would have expected: The Society for American Baseball Research.

Each year, SABR’s 19th Century Committee holds a vote to determine who would join the ranks of Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends. Past winners have included Pete Browning, Harry Stovey, Bill Dahlen, Ross Barnes and Lucius “Doc” Adams. When Deacon White became the second annual winner in 2010, it might well have been a premonition of being voted into the Hall of Fame by the Pre-Intergration Committee two and a half years later.

 

SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends, 2009-2014

Pete Browning
2009

Deacon White
2010

Harry Stovey
2011


 

Bill Dahlen
2012

Ross Barnes
2013

Doc Adams
2014



Top 3 finalists for SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend for 2015

 

This year’s winner was announced just last week: Tony Mullane (482 points), the American Association pitching ace took the top spot in a close vote over shortstop Jack Glasscock (465 points) and pitcher Jim Creighton (402 points).
Tony Mullane
2015 Winner

Jack Glasscock
1sr runner-up

Jim Creighton
2nd runner-up



To say that Mullane was a fascinating candidate is putting it mildly . . . and that’s even before you consider his 284 career victories.

Oh, Mullane’s numbers are plenty good. In a 13-year career, eight of which were spent with the Cincinnati Reds, he won 30 games in a season five times, with four different teams. He pitched the first no-hitter in Association history, in September of 1882 for Louisville. His 468 complete games still ranks 10th all time, and given the rarity of that particular statistic in this day and age, his standing is not likely to drop.

But Mullane can’t help but being remembered for a variety of other aspects of his career:

Labor relations: As a general rule, baseball management has never wanted to pay the players any more than they absolutely had to, and the players have never been crazy about that state of affairs.

Mullane, early in his career, was always ready to leap for a better deal. Following a rookie season in Louisville in which he posted a 30-24 record with a 1.88 earned-run average and a league-leading 170 strikeouts, he accepted a better offer from Association rival St. Louis for the 1883 season. The reserve clause was beefed up the following off-season to stop club-jumping, but the new Union Association wasn’t part of that agreement, and Mullane accepted a bigger contract to play for the UA’s team in St. Louis. But Mullane got cold feet when the new league’s prospects began to look a bit iffy (it lasted only one season) and he tried to return to the Browns. In an attempt to avoid any legal problems from multiple contracts in St. Louis, he was instead signed by Toledo.

After a money-losing season, Toledo managment disbanded their America Association team and sold off its stars, including Mullane, to Chris Von der Ahe’s Browns. But despite a written promise to sign a contract with the Browns, Mullane was soon entertaining offers to play for Cincinnati. In the dust-up that followed, the Reds were allowed to retain the rights to Mullane . . . but only after he sat out the 1885 season, a turn of events that would cost Mullane in ways that would only be appreciated many years later.

That was the end of Mullane’s bumping heads with the reserve clause, although he did earn a reputation during his career — whether deserved or not — for occasional “indifference” on the mound. Reds management tried to make sure their ace was as satisfied as possible with his salary, to keep him in the best competitive mood.

Handedness: Mullane’s name recently resurfaced in the sports news due to Oakland’s elevation to the majors of Pat Venditte, one of the few ambidextrous major league pitchers in baseball history. Mullane was the first, although it was more of a novelty than a weapon. There is documentation of him pitching with each hand in a league game on only two occasions, although he developed a reputation for being able to do so. Perhaps it was a trick he brought out for exhibition games.

Good looks: It’s a myth that Ladies Day at the ballpark was created around the desire of the fairer sex to see Mullane on the mound, but by all accounts he was one of baseball’s most dashing players. He was known as the Count and The Apollo of the Box for his aristocratic bearing, as well as Smoked Italian for his swarthy good looks (surprising, really, since he was actually born in Cork, Ireland before emigrating at age 5).

Unfortunately, we can’t really see that from his Ars Longa 1880s card. Mullane appeared in seven different poses in the Old Judge set, but the photographer didn’t capture the “matinee idol” quality in any of them. Flattering portraits of Mullane do exist and I have heard word from Jesse that he is currently working on this image for inclusion in the Ars Longa Pioneer Portraits II Series. (Editor’s note: Card complete and pictured right.)

Race relations: Mullane’s billeting in Toledo in 1884 for the Blue Stockings’ lone major league season coincided with a major historical event, that of Moses Fleetwood Walker becoming the first African-American player in major league history. Unfortunately, Mullane doesn’t come across well in that partnership. Walker shared Toledo’s catching duties with the venerable Deacon McGuire, and Mullane would frequently cross up Walker with pitches he wasn’t expecting. Eventually, Walker told Mullane to throw whatever he wanted, and the two worked well together after that.

Years later, Mullane would credit Walker as a good catcher, but said that he couldn’t like the man because of the color of his skin, a sad commentary on a time that was only one generation removed from the Civil War. Oddly, Mullane had one of his best seasons in 1884, running up a record of 36-26 while the rest of the Blue Stockings’ staff was a collective 9-32.

Mullane’s talents began to dissipate in the mid-1890’s, and he bounced around the league for a couple of season before retiring. An attempt to run a saloon ended up in financial failure, but he had success as a policeman in Chicago, rising to the rank of detective. He died in 1944, at the ripe old age of 85.


So, why are these Overlooked 19th Century Legends not in the Hall of Fame? There’s no one single answer. Doc Adams was a member of the Knickerbocker Club in New York in the 1840’s and did perhaps as much as anyone to shape the game in its early years, but after Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright, perhaps the Hall has had its fill of people that have been proclaimed the “Father of Baseball.” Ross Barnes was professional baseball’s first great hitter, but his best years came in the five years of the National Association, pre-dating the National League.

Bill Dahlen may have been a victim of having his career split almost evenly between the 19th and 20 Centuries. He played on four league champions, but in his only World Series appearance, he was hitless in 15 at-bats for the 1905 New York Giants. He batted over .300 only three times in a 21-year career, but his longevity put him near the top in numerous career offensive categories for shortstops. And in the field, he was one of the best his era. His chance could come again this winter, when the Pre-Integration Committee votes again. Three years ago, when Deacon White made the grade, Dahlen was also on the ballot and missed by just two votes.

And what of Pete Browning, the original Louisville Slugger; Harry Stovey, one of the 19th Century’s top power hitters; and Mullane? They all have the numbers to qualify, so one can’t help but thinking that they’re tarred by having played most of their careers in the American Association. The only player to be elected to the Hall after playing all or most of his career in the Association was Bid McPhee, and that didn’t happen until 2000.

It’s probably true that the level of play in the Association wasn’t quite at the level of the National League, but it was major league baseball nonetheless. One wonders, though, if that resonates with a 21st Century voter.

And for Mullane, that season in his prime in which he was suspended likely would have easily given him the victories he needed to top the 300 mark for his career. Until Roger Clemens’ steroid issues, that figure was a guaranteed ticket to the Hall of Fame.

But they’ll all get their chance again, slim as it might be. I mean, doesn’t it just seem right that “The Apollo of the Box” should have his mug emblazoned for all to see on a bronze plaque in a museum in a bucolic little town in New York?


A Story for Every Player

Where to start? How about at the beginning?

I first discovered Ars Longa Art Cards in what I imagine to be the usual way: surfing around eBay, looking for something interesting to collect.

Let’s face it, the trading card hobby has grown boring. I’m old enough to remember when it was still a child’s pastime, before the Baby Boomer generation carried it to adulthood. But I’ve also seen the steady decline in the last two decades, when a new generation of children never saw the point in collecting, and wouldn’t have been able to find the cards at their local drugstore if they had. But then, who needs to buy a pack of baseball cards when it’s all there on eBay? Why spend all summer piecing together a complete set when with one click of the mouse you can own it instantly? In that way, eBay is both the best thing that’s happened to the trading card collector . . . and the worst. At some point, I realized that I’d stopped being a collector. I’d become an accumulator.

But with baseball card stores now as rare as pennants in Chicago, eBay is where you go. And it’s where I was that afternoon, scrolling past one of those “If you bought this, you might like this” features on my eBay home page, when it caught my eye. It looked like a tobacco card . . . John Morrill . . . Ars Longa . . . 1880s . . . none of which meant anything to me.

Still, I looked at the auction, and the other Ars Longa auctions available. It wasn’t love at first sight. The images were beautiful, but the players were unknown to me. I put down some minimum bids on several of them, and forgot about it. A few days later, I discovered that I’d won three of the lots. A few days after that, they were lined up in front of me . . . Morrill, Tom Nagle, Jocko Flynn, looking like they could have been pulled yesterday from a fresh pack of 19th Century cigarettes, but so much more than that. The vibrant colors, the sharp presentation of 125-year-old photographic images taken from the epic Old Judge set, thin cardboard strips that were remarkably crisp and sturdy, and Ars Longa’s distinctive “manual distressing”: a little wear on the corners, some artful age-staining, but nothing to take away from the image itself.

I was hooked. And I’ve bid on many more Ars Longa cards since then, from all five of its active series. But as much as I admired Jesse Loving’s little works of art, I still didn’t know these guys.

So I did a little research . . .


Tom Nagle gives the camera a menacing stare in his Ars Longa 1880s card. But that was just wishful thinking . . . like most catchers of his day, his primary contributions came in the field, rather than at-bat.

Nagle hit only .248 in 1888, the year he posed for the Old Judge photographers. But he had a breakthrough season the following year, batting .298 as the team’s regular catcher while handling future major league pitchers Kid Nichols, Dad Clarke and Phil Nell. Omaha roared to the Western Association pennant by eight games over runner-up St. Paul, and Nagle was ticketed to Chicago to play for the White Stockings.

After a decent rookie season in which he batted .271 as back-up to Kit Kittridge, things fell apart for Nagle. Late in 1890, he threw out his arm, and early in the following season he jumped the team to return home to Milwaukee to get married. Cap Anson, the White Stockings manager, was less than sympathetic over the call of true love, and when Nagle failed to hit upon his return, he was cut.

Despite losing his left leg to diabetes late in life, Nagle lived to the ripe old age of 80, and had a long career with the Wisconsin Central railroad after his playing days.

So why did I take a flyer on a relatively nondescript minor league catcher? Honestly, I think it was his team’s name. I mean, the Omaha Omahogs? They don’t name teams like that any more! And what a perfect name for a team from the Heartland. Later, I learned that Omaha’s alternate nickname was the Lambs. I assume that was saved for the days on which they lost.

And what a great card! Note that it was conceived of having taken place on an autumn day just above a riverbank (you can see the reflection of the trees in the water).

 


John Morrill could do it all. Everything. He was regarded as one of the most stylish-fielding first basemen in the National League, but during his career he played every position on the field. He was a player-manager and a home-grown Boston favorite. He broke into the NL in its first season and was a regular in the Beaneater lineup for 13 seasons. When he retired, after a few years as a sportswriter, he became partners with George Wright in a sporting goods business at which he remained for 35 years. Late in life, he became an excellent golfer and the chairman of the New England Senior Golf Association.

Morrill accomplished seemingly everything except to write his name in big, bold letters across the history of 19th Century baseball. The early years of professional baseball are filled with men like Morrill, good, solid players who established themselves over many seasons, minor stars, if you will . . . but who just aren’t remembered today.

But in his time, Morrill certainly had many memorable accomplishments. After starting at second base as a rookie, he was the regular third baseman in 1877 as Boston won the pennant, then moved to first base the following year as the Beaneaters repeated as champions. He was the choice to replace long-time manager Harry Wright in 1882, although he gave up the managerial role the following spring to second baseman Jack Burdock. But when Burdock decided by midseason that he couldn’t handle the job, Morrill took the reigns and guided Boston to a 33-11 record down the stretch and another pennant. Along the way, he batted a career-high .316, was second in the NL in slugging (.525) and pitched the lone complete game of his career.

Sadly, the man they called “Honest John” never hit those heights again, and things fell apart after Boston paid a record $10,000 to Chicago in 1887 for Mike “King” Kelly, one of the 19th Century’s most luminous stars. Kelly was also handed Morrill’s job as player-manager, and the two veterans never got along. Perhaps it was the specter of one’s predecessor still hanging around at first base, but whatever the reason, Kelly reportedly ran Morrill down at every turn. Morrill responded with career highs of 12 home runs and 81 RBIs in 1887, and even regained his managerial post later in the year. But by the following season, the in-fighting had taken its toll, and Morrill’s batting average dropped to a dreadful .198, the lowest in history for a first baseman with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting championship. When Boston acquired first baseman Dan Brouthers and four other star players in an off-season fire sale from Detroit — just before the Wolverines disbanded — it was no surprise when Morrill was shipped to Washington prior to the start of the 1889 season.

Oddly, Morrill did have one last moment in Boston, the city in whose environs he spent his entire life. He returned in 1890 to play two games with the Boston Reds, during the lone season of the Players League. As little contribution as he made, he could still say he was part of a fourth pennant-winning team.

Morrill has a steely-eyed gaze in his Ars Longa card, his white uniform looking crisp and clean against a panoply of trees turning to fall colors behind a stone wall, the grass beginning to yellow in the autumn setting. It’s that mix of Old Judge photography and Buchner Gold Coin backgrounds, all enhanced in the Ars Longa fashion, that make the 1880s cards such miniature works of art.


Jocko Flynn doesn’t look particularly happy in his 1880s card . . . fist on hip, a mildly sour expression on his face. But what can you expect? How are you gonna keep them in Omaha when they’ve seen the bright lights of Chicago?

Jocko can be categorized a lot of ways: a one-hit wonder, a star that burned very bright and burned out very fast, a cautionary tale, a minor American tragedy. What can’t be disputed is that he had the greatest year ever recorded for a player who pitched only one season.

Flynn’s rise in baseball was meteoric. In 1884, at age 19, he starred for his local team in Lawrence, Mass., assisted by his personal catcher, boyhood friend George “Prunes” Moolic (the derivation of whose nickname is, sadly, lost to time). The following season, the pair moved on to the New England League, where the right hander won 25 games for two teams and caught the eye of the White Stockings’ Cap Anson. Chicago was the reigning National League power in the mid-1880s, but in winning the 1885 pennant, star pitcher John Clarkson‘s arm had been taxed to the tune of 623 innings. Anson hoped to add a third arm to a rotation that also included Jim McCormick, enough so that he agreed to sign Moolic as well.

In the spring of 1886, Flynn quickly made an impression. The Chicago Tribune got this scouting report from shortstop Ned Williamson: “Flynn seems to have curves, drops, in and out shoots, and slow balls down to a point where he can handle them just about as he wants to. He has good speed, too, and covers his position as well as any pitcher we ever had.”

Despite his diminutive stature (5-foot-6, 143 pounds), Flynn put up big numbers during his rookie season. He was 23-6, with a 2.24 earned-run average and 146 strikeouts. Although Clarkson (36) and McCormick (31) both won more games, Flynn led the NL with a .793 winning percentage, as the White Stockings rolled to another pennant.

But Flynn didn’t pitch in that fall’s World Series, in which Chicago was upset by the American Association’s St. Louis Browns. The primary reason was that he’d thrown his arm out.

But a secondary issue was his night-time activities. Chicago was a hard-drinking town, even by the standards of the day, and Flynn had apparently begun running with a fast crowd. At midseason, he was one of seven players that Anson fined for “breaking the rules relating to temperate habits while off duty.” In his 1900 memoir, A Ball Player’s Career, Anson credited Flynn with being “a good fellow,” but alluded to the pitcher’s “attempting to keep up the clip with so-called friends, found the pace much too rapid for him and fell by the wayside.”

Flynn’s predilection for hard living might have been overlooked had his arm bounced back, but it never did. He played one game in 1887, in the outfield, and had to leave when the first ball he handled in right field split his finger. He was released soon after.

Flynn’s one last shot in professional baseball was likely the result of an old friend giving him a chance. The manager in Omaha in 1888 was Frank Selee, who not long after moved on to Boston for a managerial career that would land him in the Hall of Fame. He was also Flynn’s first manager, in Lawrence. Flynn split two pitching decisions for the Omahogs, but by then it was apparent to management he’d never return to form.

After knocking around in various low minor leagues for two more years, Flynn returned to Lawrence at the age of 25. He married, and moved between various jobs ; at one point, he and Moolic each owned and ran bars. At 42, he died of pneumonia, only hours before his wife also passed, leaving four orphaned children.

So, was it the drink that did in Jocko Flynn, or merely a bum arm? For someone who had a fairy-tale introduction to the major leagues, he seemed fated to continue paying for that bright moment for the rest of his life. Consider that thousand-mile stare in his Ars Longa card . . . is he wondering “How did I get here?”


So, what really drew me to Ars Longa? It would be simple enough to say that the cards are gorgeous, that you can get lost assimilating every little detail and every vibrant color. But more than that, it’s that every player pictured has a story. Some perhaps more riveting than others, but from the future Hall of Famers down to the journeymen, they all have a story. And for the average baseball fan, they’re stories to which we’re rarely exposed.

Perhaps it’s because what’s considered the modern era of baseball so neatly begins with a new century, but the professional game in the 1800s seems too often to be regarded as a foreign country, one that bears no resemblance to what came after. To be sure, the first quarter century of the professional game saw constant change, an annual tinkering with the rules, the distances and the mechanics of the game that finally resulted in the perfect mix we know today. The tinkering has never really ended; changes are made whenever either pitching or hitting gains too much preeminence, but the game that was delivered to the beginning of the 20th Century is one we easily recognize today.

Yes, 19th Century baseball was different, but what wasn’t different was the people involved. Very quickly, a class of professional ball players developed along with the game. Perhaps they were a little more colorful than those taking part in today’s corporatized game. There was nothing alien about them, yet with the exception of a handful of people like Mike Kelly or Cap Anson, the average fan has found it easy to ignore an exciting time in America’s Game.

They all had stories, just like 19th Century baseball as a whole is a very large, interesting story. When I began collecting Ars Longa cards, I began immersing myself in that story. Each new card, rather than just being an excuse to tick another item off a want list before immediately sticking it away in a cardboard box, became a new experience, a new reason to find out more. And suddenly, I was a collector again.

Of course, Ars Longa already knew this . . . take some time visiting this web site, check out the card images, but also read the well-done bios of players from an age of baseball that was wilder and woolier, but also quite familiar.

In a hobby that’s become predictable and too infrequently takes you back to the kind of joy that made you a collector in the first place, it’s a pleasure to enjoy something new, and fresh and vibrant . . . even if it was inspired by something quite old.


Sources:
The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball by David Nemec
Major League Baseball Profiles 1871-1900, Vols. 1 and 2 by David Nemec
The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball by David Nemec
baseball-reference.com
Jocko Flynn by Justin Murphy, The SABR Baseball Biography Project (sabr.org )