They Called Him Dad

Dad Clarke never married. He had no children.

But, baseball fans called him Dad, reporters called him Dad, everyone called him Dad, although his given name, which was given in 1865, was William.

Public Domain

Dad Clarke, circa 1888.

He is the only childless “Dad” I know.

I wonder if that seemed peculiar to him? To be a Dad in name only?

There are a lot of dads in baseball. The lower-case, fathers-with-children kind. Some ballplayers today have kids like other people have Tupperware. Just lots of kids. Preternaturally fertile, these players.

(Full disclosure: I am a kidless writer. I do not know beans about parenting. But, I had a dad, and I called him Dad, so I’m confident that I’m qualified to write this.)

There are only a handful of ballplayers who, over the years, were known primarily as “Dad.” Not as a sometime nickname, but as the name that overrode the name they were given.

Or, were there?

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“How The Other Club Won A Victory From The Orioles.”

Baltimore Sun, June 28, 1892

“The Oft-Told Tale.”

Dear Baltimore Orioles,

Me, again.

You’ve lost three straight to the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays … whose motto this season is “We stink, too, but nowhere near as bad as the O’s.”

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how awful you are. Do you?

(Not you, Adam Jones. You’re still trying. You can stop reading now. This is for everybody else …)

This may seem like uncharted territory to some of you, but really it’s not.

Look at the 1892 Orioles.

They stunk, too.

Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1892

Baltimore Sun, July 14, 1892

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The Polo Grounds And Peanuts Lead To A Rare Film Showing Life In 1911 New York

Public domain, via Library of Congress #LC-DIG-pga-02288

New York’s Polo Grounds, 1887

On Thursday, April 13, 1911, at New York’s Polo Grounds, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the New York Giants, 6-1. 

via baseball-reference.com

It was an unremarkable game – the second of the season – and Giants losing pitcher Christy Mathewson was not yet in the form that would lead him to 26 wins that season and an NL-leading 1.99 ERA.

Despite their uninspiring 0-2 start, the Giants would go on to win 99 regular season games and the NL pennant. (They would lose the World Series to the Philadelphia A’s.)

But, this is not about the Giants. (The Phillies ended their season 19.5 games back of the Giants and it’s not about them either.)

Public domain, via Library of Congress #LC-USZ62-58783

Fans at the Polo Grounds, a day earlier, April 12, 1911.

A few hours after the game, around midnight, the grandstand of the Polo Grounds was engulfed in flames. By morning, the grandstand and the right field bleachers had burned to the ground.

 

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The 1896 Orioles Opossum

 “The charm of the work of the Baltimores is that every man is alive and thoroughly in earnest, playing ball for all he is worth all the time. It is a very hard club to beat, and it is the verdict that there is little wonder this club won the pennant last season.” ~ The Boston Herald, Spring 1896

Dear Baltimore Orioles,

Me, again.

I guess I don’t have to tell you why I’m writing.

At 8-25, you’re tied with the Reds for the worst record in baseball.

Last night.

You’re worse than the terrible everyone predicted you’d be.

You’re 16 games back of the AL East leading Red Sox, which is pretty nuts, because you’ve only played 33 games.

Things are terrible bad in Birdland. Horriblaciously, rottenificously, awfulmoungously bad.

So bad I have to make up words to describe the badiciousness.

This is “unbelievably bad” territory.

You blow first innings, you blow ninth innings. Those innings in-between? You blow them, too.

And, extra innings too … because …

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Walter “Steve” Brodie: Warrenton’s “Duke of Roanoke”

Take one part Yasiel Puig crazy …

Stir in Adrian Beltre …

 

… and that thing about people touching his head.

Toss in last summer’s nacho incident with Addison Russell …

 

And, there. You’ve got Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie.

1894

No, wait. We need some angry David Ortiz, too.

There. Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie.

1894

Goofy. Quirky. A bit of a mean streak.

The starting centerfielder of the 1896 Baltimore Orioles, Brodie wasn’t the greatest player on that legendary team, but he wasn’t the worst either.

1896 Baltimore Orioles. Brodie, Middle Row, Far Left.

He was loved by fans nearly everywhere he played, including Boston, St. Louis, and Baltimore, but not Pittsburgh, because … well, they had their reasons.

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The Short Life & Tragic Death of Walter “Mother” Watson

I wish I had a photo of Walter “Mother” Watson of the Cincinnati Red Stockings to show you, it being “Mother’s Day” weekend and all.

I know he was a pitcher. A three-game cup-of-coffee guy. But, righty? Lefty? No clue.

Over two games, just 14 innings, in May of 1887, the Red Stockings put Mother Watson on the mound.

Watson gave up 18 runs in those two games though, to his credit, only 9 of them were earned.

He played just one more game for the Reds, when they stuck him out in left field.

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Just South Of The White House, They Played Baseball

News from Washington, DC …

“A Base Ball Club has just been formed in this city. … It is a good sign to see such health-promoting exercises taking the place of insipid enervating amusements.” ~ The Washington Star, November 4, 1859

See, things were enervating back then, too.

There are far more important websites – newsy-type places trying to make sense of today’s Washington – you could be reading right now and I encourage you to do that.

In a sec.

Because, there was a time when, just south of the White House, they played baseball.

According to Histories of the National Mall, the first baseball games were held on the White Lot – the 52-acre park south of the White House that is now the Ellipse – in 1860.

white-lot-baseball-fields-1940s

Public Domain. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection LC-USW31-058724-C

The White Lot baseball fields in the mid-1940s.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln would take an occasional break from war strategy and catch a game at the White Lot with his son Tad.

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Sitting Here, Thinking About “Len, The Slugger”

These last few winters, the story has been pretty much the same. The Baltimore Orioles need an outfielder. Preferably two, but at the very least one.

And, every January, Orioles management scoops up a still-available outfielder at a bargain price. The Orioles get the guy for a year, he has a great season – greater than anyone could have imagined – and then “poof” he’s gone the next season, to a far richer, more generous team.

This brings me, in the most meandering way, to the brief career and life of Len Sowders.

len-sowders

Len Sowders

Sowders played just one season in the majors — 1886. He was a Baltimore Oriole.

He was an outfielder (who moonlighted some at first). A so-so fielder. A left-handed batter with a .263 average from his handful of at-bats in Baltimore.  Not a lot of power, but still, .263 isn’t the worst you can do.

That puts him right around current O’s centerfielder Adam Jones’s .265 last season and Mark Trumbo’s .256, the Orioles’s one-season outfielder whose 47 home runs led all of baseball last year and who is now a free agent looking for much more money than the Orioles will offer.

Embed from Getty Images

This Trumbo homer last August was a grand slam.

Back in 1886, Sowders was picked up by Baltimore late in the season from a minor league club in Nashville.  Before Nashville, he’d played in Evansville, where he was also known for running a local fish business and for making loans with interest (fitting, I guess, that a man in the fish business was also a loan shark). He was, one newspaper assured readers, a good player and a strict church-goer.

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Two “Inglorious Defeats” & A Somber 4th of July

Twice Beaten Buffalo Morning Express July 5 1881

Buffalo Morning Express, July 5, 1881

There’s a lot of baseball on the 4th of July.  Playing baseball on Independence Day is a tradition that goes back more than a century – pretty much as long as baseball has been baseball.

All 30 big league teams will play today (weather permitting). There will be hundreds more playing in the minors, college summer leagues, kids’ leagues, and pick-up games. There will be a lot of baseball.

This is not about any of today’s games. (Except to say, “Good luck, Orioles. Don’t screw this road trip up any worse than you already have.”)

1881 was as good a 4th of July as any for baseball, I figured.

Because there were two games in Buffalo that day, along with two in Detroit, that marked the first-ever major league doubleheaders specifically created to take advantage of a holiday.

Mickey Welch

Public Domain

Troy Trojans Pitcher Mickey Welch

Because future Hall of Fame pitcher Mickey Welch of the Troy Trojans pitched both of those games against the Buffalo Bisons – complete games, winning both, including a three-hit shut-out in the afternoon.

Because, that 4th of July also was Welch’s 22nd birthday.

Game One: Troy Trojans – 8  Buffalo Bisons – 3

Game Two: Troy Trojans – 12 Buffalo Bisons – 0

There are no box scores from that game.

Well, that’s not exactly right. There are box scores. I just can’t read them …

Troy at Buffalo Game 1 July 4 1881

Game 1 Box Score. Buffalo Morning Express, July 5, 1881

Pitching was different in 1881. Complete games – and two-man pitching rotations – were as normal then as worn-out bullpens and six-inning “quality starts” from your ace are today.

Troy Trojans unknown date

Public Domain

Troy Trojans, early 1880s. Welch may be the player seated at the far left.

Troy was a pretty lousy team with few hometown fans. So, the owners agreed to move a July 5 home game to fill out the Buffalo doubleheader. The teams would make more at the gate in Buffalo on a holiday then they could ever make in Troy on a Tuesday.

The story should end there:

The 4th of July. A Monday, just like today’s.

Mickey Welch – “Smiling Mickey,” the future Hall of Famer with the friendly demeanor and an assortment of quirky underhand curves – pitches 18 innings and wins two complete games in baseball’s first holiday doubleheader.

On his birthday. On America’s birthday.

Smiling Mickey Welch Baseball Card

I love that story.

Except for this.

As in all things, baseball doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

NYTimes July 3 1881 Garfield Shot

New York Times, July 3 1881

Two days earlier, President James A. Garfield was shot at a train station in Washington, DC.

President James Garfield

Public Domain

President Garfield

If you know your high school history, this will all sound vaguely familiar. Just three months into his Administration, a deranged office-seeker shot Garfield twice – once in the arm and once in the belly. And, if you remember your medical science classes, you might recall that Garfield died two months later, not from the actual gunshot wounds, but from infection caused by the virtually nonexistent sanitation practices of the time and all the unwashed, dirty fingers that doctors used to probe the belly wound.

This lets a lot of the air out of an otherwise sweet 4th of July story.

The country was in shock. Citizens clogged city streets near newspaper and telegraph offices to get the latest news on the condition of the President.

His “condition” depended on the newspaper …

Washington Evening Critic July 4 1881 Garfield Critical But Not Hopeless

NY Times July 4 1881 Every Hope of Recovery Garfield Improving

Buffalo Evening News July 4 1881 Hope Is Dead

Washington Evening Critic, New York Times, and Buffalo Evening NewsJuly 4, 1881

Many cities cancelled their Independence Day fireworks and events out of respect.

Buffalo called off its military parade. The city’s annual boating regatta went on as planned because, organizers agreed, the President seemed to be doing better by Sunday, and the weather was supposed to be perfect.

BuffEveNews 7 5 1881 how Independence Day was Celebrated in Buffalo

Buffalo Evening News, July 5, 1881

The Regatta, a Pigeon Shoot, and the Independence Day revelry of people shooting at each other went on as scheduled in Buffalo.

Despite the somberness of the weekend, people tried to get back to normal.

Baseball went on as planned and more than 4,000 fans attended the games against the Trojans at Buffalo’s Riverside Park.

“In the afternoon the stands were filled to sardine compactness and the assemblage was very enthusiastic,” according to the next day’s Buffalo Morning Express.

Troy surprised the Bisons. “It does seem ridiculous that such a motley combination of base-ball talent should be able, when they play in this city, to do such good work as the Troys,” The Express reported.  “The [12-0 afternoon game] was a disgrace to the name of the Buffalos. … Welch was too much for the home club.”

The 4th of July wins were rare ones for the Troy Trojans. They finished the season in fifth place in the National League, with a 39-45 record. Twenty-one of those wins belonged to Welch.

President Garfield never recovered. He died on September 19.

The Troy Trojans folded the following season and Welch went on to become a star with the New York Gothams, whom you may know today by the nickname which ultimately stuck with them – the Giants.

Mickey Welch with NY Giants

Public Domain

After finishing his playing career – amassing 307 wins and a career 2.71 ERA — Welch went on to run a hotel and saloon and then a dairy business, before returning to baseball as a gatekeeper and attendant at both the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium.

Mickey Welch died of heart failure, at age 82, on July 30, 1941. On his death certificate his “Usual Occupation” was listed as this: “Baseball player.”

Death Certificate July 1941 Mickey Welch

ancestry.com, New Hampshire Death Records

Yoo-Hoo!

To fall in love with baseball is to fall into the past, as far back as you can remember it when you were a child, and even further than that if you can.

To fall in love with baseball is to fall in love with people and places and games that are from times that are much older than you, places you’ve never been to, and games that are now just box scores on paper.

Baltimore Orioles Defeat NY Giants 8 5 1896

Baltimore Orioles beat the NY Giants 10-4. August 5, 1896.

Wee Willie Keeler. 1909.

To fall in love with baseball is to be in love with a game that has a history and a culture that is nearly 200 years old. It has changed and evolved and changed back again, but, it’s still pretty close to what it was right from the start.

(When the main thing that people still argue about is the designated hitter rule, you know that things really haven’t changed all that much.)

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