In early 1891, second baseman Clarence Childs signed a $2,300 contract with the Baltimore Orioles, about $65,000 in today’s dollars. Upon signing he was immediately paid a $200 advance. He then abandoned the team, saying that the Orioles had deceived him and he could find a better deal elsewhere. The Orioles sued. They lost. And, Childs joined the Cleveland Spiders.
(Months later, the Orioles were still in court trying to get their $200 back. It’s unclear if they ever did.)
Childs jilted the Orioles. Probably wasn’t the first to do it. Definitely not the last. (See: Mark Teixeira, 21st-century Orioles jilter.)
End of story?
What if I told you Clarence Childs wasn’t always called Clarence? What if someone along the way nicknamed him Cupid? Cupid Childs?
Well, friends, this Valentine’s Day post is practically writing itself.
Childs was a Maryland native, born in Calvert County in 1867.
He was, pretty much from the start, undersized and overweight. And, as Babe Ruth, Bartolo Colon, and others would later discover, reporters can be merciless when it comes to a ballplayer’s weight.
That “Cupid” was the nickname that ultimately stuck is actually a kindness. Reporters also called him “Dumpling,” “Fatso,” and “Fatty,” although his friends in Maryland called him “Paca.” Reports of the day listed him at 5’8” and 185 pounds.
Not to belabor the weight thing, but … does this seem especially fat to you?
Cupid Childs thrived in his eight seasons with the Cleveland Spiders – and later in seasons with St. Louis and Chicago – becoming one of the era’s best second baseman and one of its biggest stars.
“[H]e is about as wide as he is long. … yet there are few men in the league who can get over the ground faster than the ‘dumpling,’” one reporter explained early in Childs’ career.
Sure, he seems a bit short and maybe you can see a little belly there, but … seriously … Fatty? Fatso?
As sportswriter Fuzzy Woodruff recalled in The Sporting News in 1912:
“Childs was a little, fat man with a face as red as any bull teaser could have desired. … But Childs’ fat was deceiving. There was a lot of strength in his lumpy form. He could move as fast as the most sinuous athlete and knew more about infield play probably than any man …”
Plus … random trivia alert!
“To add to his grotesque appearance, Cupid invariably streaked his face with mud before taking his position in the infield and it is said that he was the originator of using lampblack under the eyes to keep off the glare of the sun.”
Still a thing.
As Childs’ SABR bio notes: “Childs’ lifetime major league on-base percentage of .416 is higher than every second baseman in the Hall of Fame except Rogers Hornsby and Eddie Collins. His .306 lifetime batting average is higher than 12 of the second basemen who have already been inducted into the Hall.”
“He was a hit from the start, remarkably fast on grounders and flies, despite his fat shape and short limbs, while his batting was tremendous.” ~ The Minneapolis Tribune, 1901
For whatever reason, Childs is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame and is probably one of those pre-modern era players who will forever be “on the bubble.”
“Silver King” Koenig
In 1892, Charles “Silver King” Koenig, a pitcher with St. Louis said that trying to pitch to “lilliputian” Childs was like “aiming at a six-inch space on a target at 40 paces.”
(I share this tidbit a) to give you a pitcher’s perspective on pitching to Childs, and b) to ask: which would you prefer – reporters calling you Cupid, Dumpling, and Fatty, or Silver King?)
Because baseball stories have a way of meandering back around, the Baltimore Orioles signed Childs again in 1903. He played well through the Orioles’ spring training and the first six games of the season.
That’s when a Montgomery, Alabama team in the Southern Association caught wind of the deal and argued that, in fact, Childs had previously signed with them. The Orioles lost Childs again.
Seriously? We’re back to “Fatty”?
I suppose you could say that the Orioles loved and lost Cupid … twice.
Childs stayed in baseball, as a player and later a manager into his 40s, spending off seasons in Baltimore – in a home about a mile from where Camden Yards is today – where he dabbled in real estate, operated a saloon, and eventually bought a coal business, which failed in part, friends said, because he was so generous in giving coal away in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Suffering from Bright’s disease, a kidney disorder, and cirrhosis of the liver, he died in 1912. He was 45.
But, Valentine’s Day isn’t for mourning. It’s a day to show love and affection to family and friends.
So, let me leave you with this …
On May 26, 1892, the Cleveland Spiders, with their star second baseman Cupid Childs in tow, were in town to play the Baltimore Orioles, the team and town that Childs had jilted just one season earlier.
The Spiders, with Childs as their lead-off batter, easily swept the three-game series from the Orioles.
“The Orioles ought to be ashamed of themselves. Baltimoreans are ashamed of them.” ~ The Baltimore Sun, 5/28/1892
During the first game of that series, Baltimore’s local Garrison Pleasure Club, of which Childs was a member, turned out to cheer on their favorite Cupid.
Sixty members took part, riding to the game in a “big omnibus drawn by eight horses.” When Childs came to bat in the first inning, the group interrupted the game to present him with a gold-headed cane. That night, the club held a party in honor of Childs, who was joined by his Cleveland teammates. Supper was served, songs were sung, a piano was played, and, a good time was had by all.
No hard feelings.
By way of partial explanation, “King” in Silver King is a play on his last name (“Koenig” is German for “King”). No idea about the “Silver.”
And how many players ever were awarded a gold-headed cane? Sounds like an interesting player.
The 1892 Spiders won the 2nd half of the NL pennant race (it was a split season) then lost the resulting Series to Boston. One of Childs’ teammates was Cy Young.
That would solve the “King” in Silver King. And, I think I can solve the “Silver.” He was a towheaded guy, so maybe it was for his blonde — or “silver” — hair.
In 1895, Cupid and Cleveland defeated Baltimore in the Temple Cup. In 1896, Baltimore bested Cupid and Cleveland. Through it all, Baltimore fans always cheered for Cupid (and showered him with other gifts throughout his career). Mark Teixeira is probably wondering why he never got anything from Orioles fans — except a grandstand filled with boos.
Cupid is on my All-Maryland team, manning the keystone next to Cal Ripken with Home Run Baker at third and Jimmie Foxx at first. King Kong Keller (speaking of nicknames) Babe Ruth, and Al Kaline patrol the outfield while Lefty Grove toes the rubber. Catching is a little thin, but I go with Babe Phelps, who was himself, a bit weight-challenged.
That’s a nice team. It wasn’t his best position, but Jimmie Foxx could catch … so you can slide him into that spot whenever you need him. :)
They say love can be fickle, and it seems Cupid was…thanks for this, love these pre-modern era player posts. Can we make suggestions for these types of players we’d like to see you post on?
Do I take requests? Of course I do! :)
OK, how does that work? FYI, I had a baseball novel published last July 4. I’ll send you an amazon link https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1684333164/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0
so you can see it, but if you’d like I’ll send you the pdf of the book, or even a copy if you so desire.
P.S. It’s not selling at all, but I think it’s pretty good, and I’m not saying that because I wrote it. I’m proud of it and think it stands up against any baseball fiction out there, and believe me I’ve read them all. But you can judge for yourself, I would love some feedback!
You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org … and if you have any requests send them my way. I’m always open to inspiration and direction. (Extra credit if there’s a Baltimore or Virginia link … but if something sparks my interest, it doesn’t matter where it happened.) :)
Great story telling, Jackie, and particularly welcome in these few weeks that I find very difficult, before the first real pitch is thrown.
Re, player’s weight and sports reporting: our very own (most of the time), Pablo Sandoval has had his own problems with, shall we say body mass, from time to time, but reportage has been, generally, kinder than “Cupid” experienced. “Panda”, after all, brings to mind a roly-poly but lovable (for those who have not actually experienced pandas) creature, and that’s pretty much how we think of him.
(Parenthetically, despite what seemed likely to be a ruthless tear-down and rebuild for the Giants this year, both Sandoval and Pence (Yay!!) are back on the roster, along with Posey and a few other veterans. Clearly, management decided that we were less likely to buy tickets to see a team made up entirely of strangers. Good move.)
I was surprised, but pleased, that the Giants seem to be “getting the old band back together.” As far as watching a team made up entirely of strangers? Welcome to Orioles Birdland 2020!
P.S. I am hoping, for your sake, that your new pitcher Kevin Gausman is not the disappointment he was for many seasons in Baltimore.
Matt Stairs comes to mind when someone mentions “overweight” or “fan favorite” or “overweight fan favorite.”
Speaking of overweight Matts, I was perplexed when I was at a game at Nats Park a few seasons back and the fans were riding their own pitcher, Matt Albers, by calling him Fat Albers. I felt sorry for him.
Didn’t they have the word “chubby” in those days? He definitely does not qualify as Fatty. Cupid seems sweet rather than derogatory to me. In any event, another delightful blog. Thanks. And Happy Valentine’s Day.
I never saw “chubby” used, but I did — more than once — see a reporter comment on Cupid’s “avoirdupois.” (And, I admit it, I had to look it up.)
A visionary who foresaw free agency!
Amazing that there is now a huge industry dedicated to customers who aspire to attain physical dimensions at least similar to Cupid.
Happy Valentines Day, Bloggess! ❤️
Cupid often held out for more money, so, yup, you’re right, he sort of did have his own free agency thing going. And, since he was one of the best — and most popular — players of his day, I can’t begrudge him his salary. (But, I’m still a little sad he threw over the Orioles … twice.) Happy ❤️ to you, too!
Good for him for persevering through all the comments about his weight. And the Cleveland Spiders?!
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