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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Buttercup Dickerson ~ It’s A Good Story (But Only Part Of It Is True)

Facts sure can ruin a good story.

The Internet regularly turns rumors, half-truths, and not-true-at-alls into “factishness” in a snap. One person sees something stupid online, believes it, and a thousand forwards later Jon Bon Jovi is dead and NASA is warning of a massive power failure due to solar flares. (He’s not and they didn’t. Stop sending me this crap.)

Which brings us to the “fact-ish” story of Lewis P. Dickerson, 19th-century baseball player. Known to baseball geeks as “Buttercup.”

I just wanted to write about a guy called “Buttercup.”

Lewis Buttercup Dickerson Troy Trojans

Public Domain

 Buttercup!

He was from Maryland, kicked around in baseball for a handful of seasons, led the National League in triples in 1879, and once went 6-for-6 in a game.

Which is all true. But, then this happened …

In 1979, Dickerson was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame for this: “Lewis Pessano, better known as Buttercup Dickerson, was the first Italian American to play in the major leagues.”

NAISHOF

And, that became Buttercup’s legacy. Except …

He wasn’t Lewis Pessano. And, he is probably not Italian American. I’m not sure why the Chicago-based Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame ever thought he was.

Dickerson was “better known” as Dickerson, because Dickerson was his name.

His middle name was Pessano, but he was always a Dickerson. And, so was his father.

In the book Sport and the Shaping of the Italian American Identity (2013), Gerald Gems says that the Anglicization of “Pessano’s” name was significant because it showed how athletes had to “obscure and cast doubt upon any Italian identity.”

The implication that “Lewis Pessano” was so traumatized by ethnic bigotry that he was forced to change his name to avoid the stigma of being a low-class Italian just isn’t true.

Take a look at these facts, culled from U.S. census and Maryland records.

Dickerson was born Lewis P. Dickerson in 1858 in Tyaskin, Maryland.

1860 Census Dickerson Family Tyaskin Maryland

1860 Census

 

1880 Census Full Family List

1880 Census. Now 22, Lewis Dickerson is still living at home in Tyaskin …

 

Dickerson 1880 census professional baseball player

… and identifies himself as a “Professional Base Ball Player.”

His father was William P. Dickerson, an illiterate oysterman. (The elder Dickerson is listed at one point as William Porter Dickerson and is always listed as being born in Maryland.) William can be traced back to the 1840s on Maryland records. Lewis’s mother is Mary P. (Larmore) Dickerson, also born in Maryland. Both parents are buried in St. Mary’s Episcopal Cemetery in Tyaskin.

In 2001, historian Charles Weaver spoke to one of Buttercup Dickerson’s granddaughters who told him that both William and Mary were of English (or, perhaps, Scottish) descent. The granddaughter also told Weaver that the middle name Pessano was given in gratitude to the attending physician at Lewis’ birth, a common tradition at the time. (This conversation is mentioned briefly in a footnote in Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, by Lawrence Baldassaro, 2011.)

Buttercup Dickerson wasn’t the first Italian American baseball player, because he wasn’t Italian American.

Lewis Buttercup Dickerson

Public Domain

But, he was a baseball player.

“L.P. Dickerson” joined the Cincinnati Reds as an outfielder in July 1878. He batted .309 in 29 games that season. In 1879, his 14 triples for Cinci over 81 games led the league.

(Dee Gordon’s 12 triples for the Dodgers over 162 games led the league in 2014, although comparing 1879 to 2014 isn’t quite fair since so many things were so very different then.)

And, he was Buttercup.

Buttercup!

Wasn’t he?

In 1879, the Cincinnati Daily Star reports in passing that Dickerson is now being called “Sweet Little Buttercup.”

Sweet Little Buttercup Cincinnati Daily News 6 28 1879

Cincinnati Daily News, 6/28/1879

 

HMS Pinafore Poster 1879

1879 Poster. Public Domain

(“Sweet Little Buttercup” was an amply-sized female character in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore. It debuted in the United States in 1879 and was a pretty big deal.)

That’s it. That’s the first and last direct reference to Dickerson being called Buttercup that I can find.

News reports are spotty, but in most cases he’s called Lew, occasionally Lou, and most often, just Dickerson.

Never Pessano. And, never again Buttercup.

Dickerson kicks around from team to team – Binghamton, Cincinnati, Troy, Worcester, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Baltimore, Louisville, Buffalo, Norfolk, Chattanooga – playing mostly in the outfield and getting suspended at least a couple times for carousing and being a drunk.

There’s plenty of mentions of Dickerson’s drinking. And, to be singled out for being a “lush” at a time when hard-drinking and hard-living was the common ballplayer trait is pretty telling.

“[T]he immortal and ever thirsty Lew Dickerson” ~ Buffalo Courier 8/26/1884

“Lew Dickerson has been suspended from Chattanooga for lushing.” ~ The Sporting News 5/31/1886

“One day Ben told Billy Taylor then of the [Pittsburgh] Alleghenys that Lou Dickerson was sick. … Said Billy, ‘Has he got delirium tremens?’ ‘Oh no. He is never sober enough for that.’” ~ The Sporting News 10/4/1886

“Lew Dickerson still exists. It is a cold day when he gets left, as he knows the ingredient to keep him warm.” ~ National Police Gazette 5/7/1887

“I was hoping some great temperance agitator would bring Lew Dickerson along and show him up as a terrible example. I guess Lew is done for, but his many escapades in the past will live for some years to come.”  The writer tells of a player named Brown’s efforts to reform Lew, who agrees to stop drinking.  “‘When will the good work begin?’ [Brown asks.] ‘When the breweries stop running,’ was Dickerson’s reply and ever after that Mr. Brown had no earthly use for Dickerson.” ~ The Sporting Life, 11/1891

Buttercup wasn’t all that reliable either. He was playing for the St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association in 1884 when this happened …

“During the St. Louis Unions eastern trip, Lew Dickerson disappeared at Baltimore, and has not been heard from since. Meeting many old friends, he yielded to his inclination for strong drink and fell by the wayside.” ~ St. Louis Globe Democrat 7/25/1884

He reappears two days later. Playing for Baltimore.

“Dickerson played with the Baltimores yesterday at right field. He will be expelled by the Unions for drunkenness. Several days ago [St. Louis Team] President Lucas announced that he was only waiting to locate him before expelling him. He says there is now not a lusher on his nine and he will never have another.” ~ St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 7/27/1884

In April 1885, he signs with the Omaha Omahogs of the new Western League, pockets a $100 advance, and then quickly skips town to join the National League’s Buffalo Bison.

Dickerson’s recorded stats dwindle after 1885, but I’m pretty sure he played a good bit longer.

Through 1891, he is regularly listed as a “ballplayer” in the annual Baltimore City Directory.

Dickerson Baltimore Directory 1891

1891

By the mid-1890s, he is reported to be a “salesman” and, in 1896, a “huckster,” which made me smile until I realized that back then a huckster was simply a door-to-door or street salesman.

Dickerson Baltimore Directory 1896

1896

Dickerson Baltimore Directory 1898

1898

In 1898, he is again listed as “ballplayer.” So, he continued to make some living at baseball far longer than the records show.

There you have it.

Things are never quite as simple as they seem. And, often the real story isn’t nearly as nice as the one we’ve come to know.

Buttercup Dickerson was probably not the first Italian-American ballplayer. And, “Buttercup” was likely a fleeting nickname.

But, we do know this. Dickerson was a heavy drinker, broke contracts and jumped teams, and didn’t seem like a particularly nice fella. He had a couple awfully good seasons playing baseball, and plenty more mediocre ones.

He married, had a son, and died in 1920.

He was inducted into the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996 as the first big leaguer to come from the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

eastern shore museum

Well, that much is true.

Postscript: Wait, don’t go yet … here’s a Buttercup song …

 

 

And, really, you thought I wouldn’t include a link to this?

 

 

(U.S. Census and Maryland records: Ancestry.com)

“Cheesy Garlic All Stars”

Here’s what I can tell you about American voters.

We’re the country that brought you Warren G. Harding and Taylor Hicks. We’re the country that decided that Cheesy Garlic Bread is a better potato chip flavor than Sriracha. I kid you not, Sriracha lost. What is wrong with people?

cheesy garlic

So, voting aptitude is probably not our strongest suit as a nation.

(Really, America, you chose BREAD as a potato chip flavor!)

On Friday I posted my belief that a baseball All-Star should be based on something more than just numbers and on-field statistics.

Because, you can lead every single offensive category … every single one … you can be on pace to hit 200 home runs, steal 100 bases and, when necessary, play all nine positions in a single game, while nursing a stress fracture in your leg … but if you failed baseball’s drug test, publicly talk smack about your teammates, or for some strange reason believe that bread is an acceptable potato chip flavor … there is no way … NO WAY … you will ever earn my All-Star vote.

stevie votes

Has there been a year when someone didn’t complain about the All-Star roster?

No. Every single year someone, somewhere complains.

I have no basis for that statement.

But, I stand by it anyway, because … well, hey, prove me wrong.

Fans began voting for the starting lineups of the All-Star game in 1947. It didn’t take long for energetic fans to get to stuffing. It came to a head in 1957 when Cincinnatians – with the help of their local newspapers, Kroger Grocery stores, and neighborhood taverns – accounted for half of all the votes cast that year.

The result – Reds won seven of the eight starting positions for the National League. Only the Cardinals’ Stan Musial squeaked through the “Red Curtain.” Commissioner Ford Frick ultimately pushed two Reds starters aside to make way for Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. (The American League won 6-5, despite a valiant 9th-inning rally that began with an RBI triple by Mays, who then scored on a wild pitch.)

57 all star program

And, Frick took away the fan vote.

Fans elbowed their way back into voting in 1970. And, back to stuffing.

** In 1975, the Milwaukee Brewers (owned at the time by current Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig) were said to have encouraged a single fan who was determined to vote Robin Yount and/or George Scott into the starting lineup. The fan was aided, he said, by the Brewers front office which provided him with some 30,000 paper ballots. The fan used a power drill to punch his ballots at a rate of 4,000 an hour. (All that drilling led to naught, although Scott went as a reserve and the American League won 6-3.)

** In 1999, in the early years of online voting, Boston Red Sox fan Chris Nandor cooked up a computer program that allowed him to vote nearly 40,000 times for his favorite Red Sox, including Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. His stuffing worked and Garciaparra started. (Derek Jeter went as a Reserve, but probably hasn’t lost much sleep over it.)

** In 2012, the San Francisco Giants took heat for encouraging their fans to vote and vote and vote. Angry non-Giant fans suggested the computer geniuses of Silicon Valley were all Giants fans and were shamelessly hijacking the online voting system. Others pointed out that Giants’ AT&T Park offers free Wi-Fi, making online voting at the game way too easy.

And, who was the unfit All-Star starter in 2012? Giants Third Baseman Pablo “Panda Bear” Sandoval.  How’d it work out? Panda Bear was one of the stars of the game that night; his three-RBI triple helped lead the National League to an 8-0 victory.

No, I don’t like cheaters. But, I don’t see why teams shouldn’t encourage their fans to support their favorite players.

I’m confident that the All-Star game will include the best that baseball has to offer – based on statistical achievement, as well as intangible “nice guy” criteria that I think is the difference between a great player and an All-Star.

Because, really, I mean, what’s worse? Buster Posey starting at Catcher for the National League next month or the fact that only 57 percent of eligible voters voted in last year’s presidential election?

Can’t decide? Let me help you out. The presidential voting thing is worse.

But, the Cheesy Garlic Bread potato chip vote is pretty bad, too.

________________________________________________________

UPDATE!! The potato chip debate is not over. In August, I got the chips … and here’s my post on the taste test. Click here.

And, here’s more from me on All Star Game voting: From “Half Star to All Star”

Wondering what to do during your All-Star break? I’ve got you covered: Free Baseball: “I Hate The All Star Game” Edition

voteorange4

From “Half Star” To “All Star”

Good thing no baseball purists will ever see this. Their seamy-heads would get all steamy-headed.

Just us Cool Cats.

Voting for the Major League Baseball All-Star game is underway.

With just a few weeks to go, preliminary voting results for the American League and the National League have been released by Major League Baseball, leading to the annual hand-wringing of purists who bemoan that fans are – gasp! — voting for their favorite players, not necessarily the most statistically accomplished ones.

What was it that one blogger called All-Star voters? Oh, I remember! We are “Stupid.”

(Purists don’t vote, of course, but they delight in grumbling about the choices made by the “Stupids.”)

Go ahead, call me Stupid.

AllStarShoes

I may be Stupid, but my shoe thinks I am an “All Star,” too!

I vote. I vote online (35 times, which is what they allow). I scoop up a few extra ballots at the games, take them home, punch the chads, and send them in.

And, I admit it, I’m not voting for players based solely on statistics. There are plenty of awards given for accomplishment in baseball – MVP, Cy Young, Silver Slugger, Gold Gloves all recognize personal achievement. Trophies (and paychecks) galore!

Good numbers make you a “Half Star.”

But, for me, being a good sportsman, a good representative for your team, and other “nice guy” attributes elevate you to “All” Star.

The Baltimore Orioles, as always, are MY All-Star team.

And, this year, they are doing very well – from numbers to “nice guys.”

Orioles are League Leaders in many categories, including home runs (Chris Davis), doubles (Manny Machado), and team fielding. Yay!

I’m sure your favorite team has sweetened the voting pot. The Baltimore Orioles are offering discounts on tickets to online voters. They’ll even enter you into a contest to win an autographed Orioles All-Star jersey.

Here’s what you do: 1) go to orioles.com/voteorange. 2) Vote 35 times (for any players you like) 3) Win the autographed Orioles Jersey 4) Wrap it up neatly and give me the greatest birthday gift ever. (October 20, by the way.)

Baseball’s just a game afterall. And, it’s played for the fans. (That’s why they invented bleachers and Bobblehead Giveaway Nights.) You’re darn right, we deserve a vote.

But, don’t worry, Purists. We Stupids won’t ruin it for you. The All-Star game will be filled with worthy players, just as it’s been since 1933 when Babe Ruth homered in the very first one.

Every team will have at least one player there. Eight percent of baseball’s 750 players will wear an All-Star jersey this year.

We “Stupids” only vote in the starting lineup – a mere 26 percent of the 68 players who will make the trip. Players and managers will choose the vast majority of the roster, including all of the pitchers.

The deserving players will be there.

Fans have been voting for baseball’s All Stars since 1947, more or less. Baseball took away fan voting after Cincinnati Reds fans – in cahoots with their local newspaper, Kroger Grocery stores, and neighborhood taverns – brazenly stuffed the ballot box in 1957.

reds ballot 57 top

Fans got their right to vote restored in 1970.

If you want to vote for a player because he tossed a foul ball to you up in the stands, or signed your nephew’s cap, or takes part in community service programs in your city, do it.

I don’t think your vote is going to deprive the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera or the Reds’ Joey Votto from going to the game.

An All-Star is much more than a line on a box score.

After all, nearly every single purist and odds-maker crunched the numbers last October and predicted with absolute certainty that the Detroit Tigers would win the World Series. The SF Giants swept ‘em, by the way. So, who’s Stupid now?

The All-Star game on July 16 also means something – since 2003 the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series.

Vote for YOUR All-Stars.

But, if you’d like to vote an All-Oriole ticket, and give Manny Machado and Chris Davis and the boys from Birdland some love, you have my blessing! www.orioles.com/voteorange

voteorange4

We All Get Deked Now & Then

“Deke” is a cool, made-up baseball word.  The deke — short for “decoy” — is a play (or maybe it’s better called a “ploy”) that takes advantage of a baserunner who has either a) let his mind wander off, or b) has gotten “lost” during a play and assumed — wrongly — where the ball has gone.  Then, trying to just get back into the moment, he acts rashly, assuming where he hopes or thinks the ball is, rather than knowing where it truly is.  A crafty fielder can take advantage of that baserunner’s unfortunate momentary lapse.

I have my own version.  It’s the Yoga Deke.  I’ll get to that another time.  First, back to baseball …

In a well-executed deke, a player (usually an infielder, but occasionally an outfielder can get in on things), pretends he either has, or doesn’t have, the ball.  He tries to fool the baserunner.If an infielder pretends he has it in his glove — when it actually got past him and is now somewhere in the outfield — a baserunner can get confused, hold up for a precious moment, and lose his chance  to take an additional base.  If an infielder pretends he doesn’t have the ball — when actually he has hidden it in his glove — a baserunner might idly step off the bag and be tagged out.  Outfielders can pretend they cleanly caught a fly ball, when in fact they trapped the ball in the grass, so the play is still “live”.  Oh, the possibilities are endless!

My longtime baseball friend Jim Johnson, NTP (Not The Pitcher) reminds me that dekes can also lead to injury, if a baserunner slides aggressively into a base because he thinks he must avoid a tag.  He’s right on that count.  Although the argument is, of course, had the baserunner been paying attention … well, he would have known better.

(Why is it that when a player is deked, he feels the need to blame someone else for his lapse?)

Dekes don’t pan out very often — at least in the majors — because most players are paying attention and are fully aware of where the ball really is.  The deke only works if a baserunner has lost his present moment and starts acting on assumption rather than fact.

OK … here’s one that worked.   From just last week, the Reds vs. the Cubs, the Cubs’ Starlin Castro gets lost in the play and does a huge double-take when he thinks the 2nd baseman is fielding the ball for the “out”.  It comes up about midway through this clip at about the 1:30 mark.  Starlin Castro Gets Deked  (I kinda feel bad for the poor guy … )

I think we all lose our focus and then act on assumptions from time to time — in the name of efficiency or simplicity or impatience.  We space out in the middle of running our own bases.  Well, I do anyway.

Yoga and baseball remind us to be ever-present — right here, right now.  To stay in the present moment is to be fully aware and ever-ready.  We are more likely to act wisely and appropriately.  We are far less likely to fall for a deke.

And, we won’t end up like poor Starlin Castro, who clearly had one very deke’ing bad day.