Some Things Should Stay The Same: 1857 Edition

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

We’re taking a holiday sidetrack through 1857 today — from baseball to one of the most ubiquitous Christmas Carols.

On Christmas Day when I was a kid, my dad would take all the wrapped gifts marked for him and line them up in front of his chair. He would then randomly pick one and declare that it was the best of all. And, that was the gift he would open last. And, by last, I mean later in the day. Much later. Sometimes he would save that last gift until well into the evening when mom was already thinking about taking down the tree. (Mom usually had the Christmas tree stripped and down by lunchtime on the 26th.)

Throughout Christmas Day, my dad would ask if I had any more packages to open, and when I would sadly answer “no,” he would pick up his gift and say, “I still have one to open and it’s the best.”

The Baseball Bloggess grabbing for just one more gift.

So, stick with me because the best story I will tell you today will be the one I tell last.

First, baseball.

If you want to snoop through all the stories of baseball – or “base ball” or “base-ball” – in newspapers in 1857, it won’t take long. A couple dozen mentions are all you will find.

When this peculiar, relatively new game appears in Bloomington, Indiana in June 1857, the local paper reports:

“It is a lively and exciting game, with lots of exercise and fun in it. We hope it will speedily become popular here.”

It was, they said, a game for young men. And, with life expectancy hovering around 38 back then, pretty much everything was for young men. (Sorry, ladies, no baseball for you.) Continue reading

“The Lost Ballplayers of Orange”: Sept. 30 at the Orange County Historical Society

This happened:

Not long ago, I was seated at dinner across from a college-aged pitcher. Making small talk’s not my thing, but I gave it a go. I asked him what he was studying. “History,” he said, between bites of food. “Interesting! What era of history is your specialty?” Maybe I was the first to ever ask him that. When you’re a pitcher, people are probably more interested in your fastball than in your class schedule. He thought for a moment and finally he said, “I like studying war.”

Welp.

I told him that I liked history, too, and that I often wrote about baseball history.

His eyes briefly grew big. And then he said, “Wow. I didn’t know you could do that.”

Then he went back to his dinner and that was the end of that.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t realize baseball even had a history worth knowing.

But it is worth knowing. Baseball’s long history provides a unique reflection of who we are as a nation, as a culture, as a society.

And, there’s plenty of baseball history right here in Virginia.

Join me, The Baseball Bloggess, on Monday, September 30 at the Orange County Historical Society in downtown Orange, Virginia. I’ll be talking about – what else? – baseball history …

160 Games: The Lost Ballplayers of Orange Continue reading

Seven Years And A Birth’a’Versary

On July 24, 1919, the Chicago White – not yet “Black” – Sox led the American League. Their 54-29 record put them a full six games up on Cleveland. The New York – not yet San Francisco – Giants led the National League. Their 50-23 record would soon be overtaken by the still-in-Cincinnati Reds.

July 24, 1919 wasn’t particularly special. The Red Sox beat the Yankees that day, 4-3, thanks to a home run from still-Red Sox Babe Ruth. The New York – not yet San Francisco – Giants beat the Boston – not yet Milwaukee, not yet Atlanta – Braves, 7-6. Walter Johnson and the Washington – not yet Minnesota Twins – Senators beat the Philadelphia – not yet Kansas City, not yet Oakland – A’s 1-0.

Rock Island (IL) Argus 7/25/1919

And, the Chicago White Sox beat the St. Louis Browns 1-0 in 10 innings. The White Sox, in cahoots with some gamblers, would throw the World Series in October. The Browns would become the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.

Some things change. But, really, when you think about it. Not so much.

On July 24, 1919, Washington, DC was reeling from a violent four-day race riot. The rioting, fanned by the media, killed some 40 people. Congress was squabbling over the League of Nations. Henry Ford was taking heat for revealing that he intentionally sought to keep his son Edsel out of World War I, and that then-President Wilson may have been involved in approving Edsel’s deferment, thereby protecting the son of one of the nation’s most powerful businessmen. A fire in a poor Polish neighborhood in South Chicago, started by some kids who had built a bonfire, destroyed 16 homes, displaced 40 families, injured several, and led to the death of the city’s fire chief.

See? We haven’t cornered the market on bad news.

There’s always been bad news.

So, why waste time with baseball? Continue reading

The Troubling Story Of Baseball’s Douglas Neff

I could tell you about baseball.

I could tell you that Douglas Neff – or D.W. Neff, as he was called from time to time – was a star athlete at the University of Virginia, played 33 big league games in 1914 and ’15 for the Washington Nationals, then retired, fought in a war, and faded into the much-less-documented world of ordinary life.

I could tell you about Harrisonburg, Virginia where Neff, the son of a prominent local doctor, was born in 1891.

Harrisonburg is on the “other” side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the western edge of Virginia.

I could tell you about Boboko, Harrisonburg’s tiny Indonesian restaurant and its delicious food, which you will find just across the street from the Harrisonburg Farmers Market.

Delicious.

Neff’s childhood home is gone. But, I can show you where it once was.

Here …

… where this parking lot is now – also across from the Farmers Market.

Harrisonburg is home to James Madison University, with 21,000 students, and Eastern Mennonite University, with 1,100 more. Add another 54,000 residents, and Harrisonburg has sprawled so big and so wide that it now has two – two! – Walmarts.

Like this – only sprawlier.

I had it all planned out – to tell you about Neff and baseball, and Harrisonburg and Boboko, the tiny Indonesian restaurant.

But, some things don’t go as planned. Continue reading

Little League’s Tubby Rule: “Girls Are Not Eligible …”

Back in May 2014, I talked to Kay “Tubby” Johnston, who became, in 1950, the first girl to play Little League baseball

“I simply wanted to play the game that I loved,” she told me. 

courtesy of “Tubby” Johnston

She played just that one summer. She was good, but when the season ended, she became the namesake of Little League’s national “Tubby Rule” which read in full:

“Girls Are Not Eligible Under Any Conditions.”

Continue reading

Listen … It’s Babe Ruth!

via National Public Radio

That’s A Home Run Swing From Babe Ruth

Look, I’d love to sit down and write you a long blog post this morning. Really, I would. But, you wouldn’t read it anyway, because, as we learned in my last post, no one reads things anymore.

Babe Ruth, apparently, was on to this “I’m never reading words again” thing the internet has cooked up. So, perfectly timed to coincide with the death of the written word, a long-lost radio interview with Ruth has shown up.

No reading required. Just listening. To Babe Ruth.

The interview was part of an Armed Services Radio Network program recorded during World War II. It turned up recently in a school archive in Connecticut.

What did Ruth think of fastballs?

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Culpeper’s Hall of Famers – Talking Baseball at the Culpeper Museum, March 19

pete-hill-eppa-rixey-culpeper-virginia

Pete Hill, outfielder, Negro League & pre-Negro League (left). Eppa Rixey, pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies & Cincinnati Reds (right)

I’m delighted to announce that I have been invited to speak about the lives and careers of Culpeper Virginia’s two National Baseball Hall of Fame members, Pete Hill and Eppa Rixey. The talk will be at the Museum of Culpeper History in downtown Culpeper on Sunday, March 19 at 2:00 p.m.

museum-of-culpeper-history

Just five ballplayers in the National Baseball Hall of Fame were born in Virginia.  If this seems a little light to you – it did to me, too.  Still, that’s five more than North Dakota, Arizona, Hawaii, and Alaska – combined – so  there is that.

California has 24 members, Alabama has 12, New York 31. Maryland, Virginia’s neighbor to the north, has 12. Not that this Hall of Fame thing is a competition. (Except that it is.)

But, back to the five from Virginia.

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“If You Can’t Make A Hit In A Ball-Game, You Can’t Make A Hit With Me”

vintage-baseball-postcard-a-chance-play

circa 1910

There are many weird stories about Valentine’s Day. I’ll share just one with you.

St. Valentine – there are three St. Valentine’s if you’re keeping track, and this St. Valentine was one of the three – was imprisoned by the Romans for either a) helping Christians escape from the Romans, or b) marrying young couples when the Roman emperor expressly told him not to. Either way, St. Valentine ended up in prison, fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, and, before being put to death, sent her a card signed, “From Your Valentine.”

In this world of “Alternative Facts,” I’m sure this story is absolutely true.

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2016, The Year In Sports: “These Are Not Ordinary Times.”

Well, it was a really rough year, but at least it was a good year for sports!  Right?  Right!!

Penn State fans are very excited to be going to the Rose Bowl next week. Watch out for the tear gas, kids!

Sportswriters and pundits are wrapping up 2016 by telling you that even though the year sucked, it was still a great year for sports.

The year that …

Muhammed Ali died.

Miami Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, was killed in a boating accident.

Donny Everett, 19, a Vanderbilt freshman pitcher, drowned the day before his team played its first game of the college post-season.

The run up to the Summer Olympics in Rio — zika, crime, cost overruns, polluted water, more crime — was like a car chase scene out of Mad Max.

rio-2016-olympics-logo

 

Oh, and the entire Russian Olympic team was doping.

2016-olympic-alternative-doping-logo


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Babe Ruth’s Santa: “Tougher than a double-header, but more fun.”

babe-ruth-family-christmas-card-1930s

Babe Ruth family Christmas card, 1930s.

During the 1930s, Babe Ruth, one of the most famous men in America, would dress as Santa Claus at Christmastime and distribute gifts and meals to children and families in need.

Embed from Getty Images

In 1931, dressed as Santa, Babe Ruth visited more than 250 kids in New York hospitals. (Yes, that’s plural. He visited hospitals, not just one.)

Continue reading