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The 1915 World Series and the Rise of the Modern American Sports Fan

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We´re History  November 3, 2015
Boston Royal Rooters return to Boston, 1903 World Series

Boston Royal Rooters return to Boston, 1903 World Series. (Photo: Boston Public Library)

One hundred years ago, the Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1915 World Series. The victory occurred in the midst of a dominant run for Boston’s baseball teams, which won five championships between 1912 and 1918. This success even brought national recognition to the city’s most vociferous baseball fans, a group that called themselves the Royal Rooters. Both these teams and the Rooters have been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, and even songs, but their involvement in the 1915 World Series in particular has generated little interest from sportswriters or historians.

The lack of attention paid to the 1915 Series may be due to the dominant pitching and limited offense that was typical of baseball’s “dead-ball” era. Yet if events on the field represented their time, what happened off the field was new. Record crowds and celebrity guests indicated professional baseball’s increasingly respectable status in the nation’s northern cities, and a public battle over accommodations for the Rooters revealed that their cheering had become more than just a leisure activity. For these mostly prosperous and ambitious men, it had become a means of gaining political and economic influence.

The Royal Rooters had been accompanying Boston’s professional baseball teams on crucial late and postseason road trips since 1897. It appears they were the first group of fans in the United States to display this level of devotion, and their journeys to Baltimore that year, to Pittsburgh in 1903, and to New York in 1904 received substantial coverage in the Boston media and the sporting press. Much of the coverage focused on the Rooters’ gambling and rowdy behavior, an editorial decision that reinforced the idea that professional baseball, both on and off the field, was the realm of men who drank, gambled, and fought. This justly earned reputation made ballparks disreputable places that genteel women and children attended infrequently.

The Rooters’ behavior in many ways affirmed this tradition, even as several of them brought wives and daughters on these trips. Yet for the group’s leaders, fandom also reflected a belief that public allegiance to professional baseball in Boston could have political, economic, and social value. Connections existed between professional baseball and urban politics prior to the existence of the Rooters, but earlier politicians tended to avoid publicizing their sporting affiliations. In contrast, when Royal Rooter John F. Fitzgerald, a former U.S. Congressman and future Mayor of Boston, attempted to buy the Americans (soon to be known as the Red Sox) in 1904, he did so largely to keep his name in the paper between elections. When the Huntington Avenue Grounds opened in 1901 to house the newly formed Americans, Rooter Michael T. McGreevey moved his Third Base Saloon next to the park and fervently publicized his association with the team for the next two decades. McGreevey advertised on the park’s outfield walls, and made sure he appeared in published photographs with Red Sox players and management at spring training in Arkansas and California, at the 1912 groundbreaking for Fenway Park, and at World Series games throughout the 1910s. This strategy helped to facilitate McGreevey’s rise from poor laborer to prominent business owner, a path that John Keenan and Charley Lavis – the two men who led the Rooters during the 1915 World Series – also traveled.

When the Red Sox launched Boston’s decade of preeminence in professional baseball by reaching the 1912 World Series, the Rooters’ devotion to the team transformed from a regional into a national story. Their fandom received coverage in newspapers from the Tampa Morning Tribune to the Idaho Statesman, even prior to the near-riot that occurred before Game 7 of the Series when the Red Sox neglected to reserve the group’s usual seats.

The response to that fracas further reflects the influence that the Rooters’ popularity had gained them within baseball’s power structure. Although some observers have marked this moment as the beginning of the Rooters’ decline, the Boston press widely criticized the team for this incident. Moreover, American League President Ban Johnson immediately pronounced his admiration for the Rooters, and in 1913 the Boston Herald suggested that the subsequent departure of owner James McAleer and team treasurer Robert McRoy was a “direct result” of the episode. When the Boston Braves won their World Series championship in 1914, the Rooters once again traveled along, cheering the team and remaining a popular story in newspapers across the country.

By 1915, other politicians had begun to realize the value of publicly associating themselves with major league baseball. For example, James Michael Curley, Fitzgerald’s successor as mayor and chief political rival, had never displayed a previous interest in baseball but began pronouncing his support for the Red Sox that year. More nationally significant was the appearance of President Woodrow Wilson and his new fiancée, Edith Bolling Galt at Game 1 of the 1915 World Series. This occasion marked not only the first time a sitting President attended a World Series game, but also Wilson’s first public appearance with Galt. The fact that the president and his advisors perceived this game as an appropriate setting for presenting his betrothed to the American people just eighteen months after his wife’s death indicated professional baseball’s growing status as a reputable, family-friendly pastime.

So too did the 1915 World Series’ unprecedented popularity. In Boston, where Fenway Park was only three years old, the Red Sox borrowed newly opened Braves Field for their home games because they correctly anticipated fans would fill its larger seating capacity. Game 3 set a new major league baseball attendance record with 42,300 people packed into the stands, and Game 4 nearly matched that total with 41,096 spectators. Boston newspapers crowed over this achievement, and their simultaneous cautioning that readers should leave extra time to get to the park and anticipate challenges in navigating the crowds indicates that such attendance numbers were newsworthy.

Even before the Series started, the Rooters were at the center of another controversy that affirmed the game’s booming popularity would not endanger their status as professional baseball’s preeminent fans. Since 1897, opposing teams or league presidents had always reserved a block of tickets for them, but this time Phillies president William Baker refused to extend this courtesy, offering only scattered seats instead. In response, Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin pronounced that he would refuse to let the Red Sox play if the Rooters did not get their customary accommodations. Both executives’ proclamations were public relations gambits, and the Series was never in jeopardy, but the fact that the league commissioners stepped in to provide the Rooters’ tickets indicates their continuing influence within the baseball hierarchy.

These trailblazers continued to enjoy their celebrity role for a few more years; they attended the 1916 and 1918 World Series with the Red Sox, and even received tickets from the league for the 1917 Series despite the fact that neither Boston team reached the championship contest. After 1918, though, the Rooters largely disappeared from prominence, a decline that probably resulted from a combination of Prohibition and the collapse of both Boston baseball teams during the 1920s.

Baseball’s popularity continued to grow through much of the twentieth century, and in some ways the Rooters’ impact was temporary. It seems that no subsequent groups of fans in other cities emerged to parlay their hometown professional team’s success into personal improvements in their social and economic status. On the other hand, while the explicit material benefits of fandom dissipated after World War I, the “dead-ball era” was when the practice of rooting for professional baseball began to enter the cultural mainstream. Thus for those who wonder why today, as Jerry Seinfeld famously said, we “root for laundry” when we cheer for our favorite professional teams, perhaps we should consider whether our practice originates at least in part from our great-grandfathers’ efforts to improve their financial and social standing.

About the Author

Paul Ringel

Paul Ringel is Associate Professor of History at High Point University. He is the author of Commercializing Childhood: Children’s Magazines, Urban Gentility, and the ideal of the American Child, 1823-1918 (2015). He is also the Director of the William Penn Project, a service learning initiative through which students explore the history of High Point’s African-American high school during the Jim Crow era. His current research project is an exploration of the Royal Rooters, a group of celebrity baseball fans in early twentieth-century Boston.

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A Perfect Game and A Perfect Account: Koufax and Scully

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax.(Photo: USC Digital Library, California Historical Society)

On September 9, 1965, Californians celebrated the 115th anniversary of their statehood. But in the state that day, the big event happened in Los Angeles. Half a century later, one game between the Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs resonates in baseball history, both for the game itself and for the media’s relationship to it.

In that game, Sandy Koufax pitched for the Dodgers and Bob Hendley for the Cubs. It seemed like a mismatch. The Dodgers were half a game out of first place, tied for second with an 80-61 record; the Cubs were eighth, at 65-77. Koufax entered the game with a 21-7 record on his way to his second Cy Young Award in three years – at a time when one pitcher received the award, not one from each league. Hendley was 2-2 and had been traded to the Cubs earlier that year. It was just another Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, which was a little more than half-filled: 29,139 in the 56,000-seat park.

But it proved to be much more than a normal match. Hendley pitched the game of his life. He allowed only one hit, a double that barely reached the outfield grass, and the Dodgers stranded the runner. He gave up one walk in the fifth inning – to the same batter who later had the hit, Lou Johnson, who then went to second on a sacrifice, stole third, and scored when the catcher threw the ball into left field.

And yet, despite his extraordinary performance, Hendley was the second best pitcher that night. Koufax had trouble warming up, as usual; doctors had diagnosed an arthritic elbow the previous year, and if he didn’t realize at the time that his career would come to an early end, he soon would. But once the game started, Koufax was even harder to hit than usual. He already had pitched three no-hitters – one of the few pitchers in baseball history to achieve that. But as the game rolled on, no one had reached base. A perfect game was within reach.

The voice of the Dodgers, Vin Scully, had broadcast the three previous no-hitters. Usually, he would ask the radio station to record the ninth inning of a game like this as a keepsake for the pitcher. But what, he thought to himself, could he do to make it special? Scully began the ninth:

Three times in his sensational career has Sandy Koufax walked out to the mound to pitch a fateful ninth when he turned in a no-hitter. But tonight, September the 9th, 1965, he made the toughest walk of his career, I’m sure, because through eight innings he has pitched a perfect game.

As the count went to 1-2 on the Cubs’ leadoff hitter in the ninth, catcher Chris Krug, Scully said, “It is 9:41 p.m. on September the 9th.” Although minor league teams have begun using a clock to speed up the game, and pitchers have a rarely enforced time limit on when they must pitch, the beauty (some would say curse) of baseball is that it has no clocks. By giving the time, Scully attached a special importance to what Koufax was accomplishing.

Krug struck out. So did pinch-hitter Joe Amalfitano. After the next pinch-hitter, Harvey Kuenn, took a strike, Scully said of Koufax, “He has struck out, by the way, five consecutive batters, and this has gone unnoticed.”

Koufax fell behind Kuenn on the count, then evened it up. Then came the conclusion:

It is 9:46 p.m. Two and two to Harvey Kuenn. One strike away. Sandy into his windup. Here’s the pitch: swung on and missed, a perfect game!

Then came a long pause as the crowd cheered, roaring for several seconds as Scully remained silent. Having begun the story by reminding his audience what Koufax had done before, Scully explained the depths of his accomplishment, and the number of times “K,” representing strikeouts, appeared in the scorebook:

On the scoreboard in right field it is 9:46 p.m. in the city of the angels, Los Angeles, California, and a crowd of 29,139 just sitting in to see the only pitcher in baseball history to hurl four no-hit, no-run games. He has done it four straight years, and now he capped it: on his fourth no-hitter, he made it a perfect game. And Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flourish. He struck out the last six consecutive batters. So, when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record book, the “K” stood out even more than the “O-U-F-A-X.”

The recording that Scully asked the radio station to make became a vinyl record that the Dodgers promotion director, Danny Goodman, sold at the ballpark and through catalogs. Thousands spread throughout southern California and around the country. To this day, a significant number of Dodger fans happily lapse into Scully’s sing-song cadence for the final out.

Charles Einstein, a writer who covered sports for many years, was then editing the Fireside series of collections of baseball literature, ranging from Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriters Red Smith and Jim Murray to Philip Roth’s baseball fantasy in Portnoy’s Complaint and Thomas Wolfe’s account of a baseball player in You Can’t Go Home Again. He included the transcription of Scully’s call of that inning and later wrote that “one piece…drew the only two negative reader responses over the course of all three fireside books. That piece is Vin Scully’s radio account of the last half of the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs. Both objections went to the same point, accusing me of having edited the thing with an eye toward improving its grammar. No broadcaster, the letter writers said, could conceivably speak that brilliantly ad lib. The letter writers are right: such presentation is improbable in the extreme. But the truth is that Scully’s account, as you will find it here, is taken verbatim from the untouched tape recording of his broadcast.”

Scully recently announced that he is returning to the Dodgers for his sixty-seventh and, as he put it, “realistically” last season; he turns 88 in November, and continues to delight listeners with his literate and literary descriptions of Dodger games, as grammatically precise as his detailing of Koufax’s perfect game half a century ago. Koufax undeniably pitched a brilliant game (as did Hendley). But just as Al Michaels’s “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” as the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union and Red Barber’s “He makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen! Oh-h-h-h, Doctor,” in describing a legendary catch in the 1947 World Series perfectly meshed with the moment, the broadcaster’s account made it even more noteworthy.

So did the events that followed. The Dodgers went on to win the pennant. The first game of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins was to be on Yom Kippur and Koufax, though not overly observant, is Jewish. He declined to pitch, then went on to start three games in the series and win the seventh and deciding game on a 2-0 shutout in which he again struck out 14 batters. A few starts within a one-month period secured his already impressive legend.

But the perfect game was part of the mythology of Koufax as the outsider (one of the few prominent Jewish athletes, and with little interest in personal publicity), the great pitcher, and somehow, with the help of Scully’s description, a mythic figure. Jane Leavy, one of the first leading women sportswriters and a novelist, wrote a brilliant biography of Koufax, who had no desire to be interviewed for it, though she described how he was helpful to her. She framed the biography around the perfect game – not his famous decision not to pitch on Yom Kippur, or even his other accomplishments.

Without the perfect game, Koufax would have been a great pitcher and Leavy would have written a fine book. But without Scully’s description, the perfect game would have been less than it was. Fifty years later, all of them are a reminder of how great and simple events are intertwined with the history that surrounds them.

About the Author

Michael Green

Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV. In 2015, the University of Nevada Press will publish his Nevada: A History of the Silver State. He also is the author of Lincoln and the Election of 1860 (Southern Illinois University Press) and other works on the nineteenth century and the American West.

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Here Is What Can Make a Difference in Race Relations – And It Happened in Major League Baseball Decades Ago

Michael H. Ebner

HNN  October 12, 2014

 

The obituary a few weeks ago of a former major league baseball player – George Shuba – has furnished a useful lesson about race.

Shuba, a journeyman outfielder, played for six years with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1948-1950 and 1951-1955). He never appeared in more than one-hundred games during his career, although he did have the distinction of playing in the World Series of 1952, 1953, and 1955. Brooklyn won its first world championship in the latter year. On the field Shuba is best remembered as a dependable pinch hitter – lifetime batting average of .259, with twenty-five home runs (one of them against the Yankees in the World Series of 1953) – for a team that was regularly in contention for the National League pennant.

Largely forgotten until the publication of his obituary last week, now Shuba is celebrated for breaking an inter-racial taboo. He did so by extending his hand by way of congratulating teammate Jackie Robinson, who had just hit a home run for the minor league team known as the Montreal Royals of the International League. The late Jules Tygiel, a peerless researcher, made no mention of it. Arnold Rampersad, in his biography of Robinson, mentions the handshake – and includes a photograph of it – but does not make much of the incident.

Next we turn to the obituary of Steve Gromek (1920-2002), a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and later the Detroit Tigers. Over a seventeen-year career (1941-1957), he compiled a respectable win-loss record of 128-108. He won nineteen games during 1951 and eighteen in 1954. Gromek also won a World Series game in 1948, filling in for baseball legend Bob Feller who required an extra day of rest.

When Jackie Robinson arrived in the major leagues in 1947, he experienced the sting of racial hostility. A handful of his Brooklyn Dodger teammates unsuccessfully sought to prevail on the management of the Dodgers to drop Robinson from the roster. Pee Wee Reese – the team’s captain and shortstop, later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame – rejected the opportunity to sign a petition circulated among teammates opposing Robinson’s presence on the roster. Well known is that the ringleader of the petition effort, Dixie Walker, ultimately found himself traded away by the Dodgers.

When the Dodgers played in Cincinnati a fan hurled vicious epithets at Robinson. Reese – a native Kentuckian – quietly walked across the infield to Robinson and gently placed his arm on his teammate’s shoulder. The hecklers ceased. While this moment remains much remembered, no known image exists.

This brings us to Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League. The rookie outfielder hit a key home run in the World Series of 1948, securing Gromek’s winning pitching effort. Afterwards Gromek enthusiastically hugged Doby in the clubhouse, an image that made its way into newspapers. Margaret Mackenzie wrote about the episode for the Pittsburgh Courier, a widely read African American newspaer: ”That picture of Gromek and Doby has unmistakable flesh and blood cheeks pressed close together, brawny arms tightly clasped, equally wide grins.” The chief message of the Doby-Gromek picture is acceptance.”

Years later Gromek, a native of Hammtramck, Michigan – a largely white working-class suburb adjacent to Detroit – experienced ostracism but quickly shrugged it off. Today the Gromek-Doby embrace remains an iconic image in the history of American race relations.

These episodes – each of them situated in the immediate aftermath of World War II – reflect changing racial sensibilities. The Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal, in his landmark book – An American Dilemma (1944) – anticipated the shifting tableaux of race relations in post-war American culture. What is remarkable is that major league baseball – its game played before crowds numbering in the tens of thousands – represented an agent of social change. The re-integration of professional baseball occurred seven years in advance of Brown v. Tulsa Board of Education.

Michael H. Ebner is professor of American history of emeritus at Lake Forest College. He can be reached at ebner@mx.lakeforest.edu

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The National Pastime, Amid a National Crisis

The New York Times    May 9, 2014

Michael Beschloss

 

An early version of a baseball game took place in the background as members of the 48th New York State Volunteer Infantry lined up in Fort Pulaski, Ga., in 1862. Credit Western Reserve Historical Society

An early version of a baseball game took place in the background as members of the 48th New York State Volunteer Infantry lined up in Fort Pulaski, Ga., in 1862. Western Reserve Historical Society

This is one of the earliest photographs ever taken of a baseball game, and it happened by accident. The photographer, Henry P. Moore, of Concord, N.H., was focusing on the well-uniformed Union soldiers of the 48th New York State Volunteer Infantry, but he also captured their baseball-playing comrades in the background.

The “hurler” (as pitchers were called), wearing a white shirt, is tossing underhand (by the rules of the day) to a “striker” (batter), with bent knee. At the time, baseball had yet to achieve anything like the level of importance it later attained; for Moore, it was just something that got into your picture frame when you were trying to photograph soldiers on display.

It was the second year of the Civil War, and the scene was Fort Pulaski, Ga., which stood on an island at the mouth of the Savannah River. After falling to the Confederacy in 1861, the fortress had been bombarded for 30 hours and seized back in April 1862, preventing the rebels from using the vital port of Savannah. Like an increasing number of both rebel and Union soldiers, Pulaski’s warriors were encouraged to divert themselves from time to time by turning to baseball.

By combining the Civil War and baseball, Moore’s photograph merges two of the most important elements of the American historical experience, both of which, to this day, have deep emotional resonance. Baseball did not became the “national pastime” until long after Appomattox, but Americans came to feel so passionately about the game that some mythmakers tried to embellish the historical record by exaggerating its importance during the time the Union fought the South.

For instance, Abner Doubleday (1819-1893) — revered as the Union’s second in command at Fort Sumter, S.C., who, in April 1861, had fired the first shot defending the beleaguered federal garrison — was posthumously claimed to be the “inventor” of baseball. This was although Doubleday had made no such assertion for himself, left no evidence of it in his papers, and, at the time he was supposed to have fashioned the game in Cooperstown, N.Y., (now home of the Baseball Hall of Fame), was studying at West Point. To this day, some baseball fans insist (inaccurately) that home plate was designed to resemble the five-sided Fort Sumter, recognizing Doubleday’s “contribution” to the game.

Others exaggerated baseball’s place in the life of the greatest Civil War figure of all.

As a lawyer, and maybe as president, Abraham Lincoln may have picked up a bat in an early version of the game called “town ball”; he almost certainly viewed games on what is now the Ellipse, south of the White House. But later fabulists insisted that he was such a baseball fanatic that, when about to be notified by a Republican delegation of his nomination for President in 1860, Lincoln, playing baseball in Springfield, said, “They’ll have to wait a few minutes, until I make another hit.”

Of another, more ludicrous, made-up scene, you can agree with the moral of the story without accepting that it happened. This had the grievously wounded president on his deathbed in April 1865, regaining consciousness long enough to utter final words to Abner Doubleday: “Keep baseball going. The country needs it!”

 

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