The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Baseball History (Page 1 of 2)

Legacy, Cap Anson, and Enoch

Cap Anson was Major League Baseball’s first superstar. Anson spent the majority of his career as a player/coach for the Chicago White Stockings, and was the first professional player to amass 3,000 hits.  Some of the many records he set during his career lasted for decades.

Anson was a fierce competitor, and his accomplishments in baseball were so important to him that he left instructions that his tombstone read, “Here lies a man who batted .300.”

I’m a huge baseball fan and I think it would be neat to play it at the same level as someone like Cap Anson, but to choose to sum up your entire life with a baseball statistic? Even I think that’s a little sad, and it reveals a perspective on life that is more than a little skewed.

If you could write your own epitaph, or choose just a few words to sum up your life, what words would you use? Perhaps a better question would be, if others were to sum up your life based on what they saw—how you spent your time and money, the things that seemed important to you—what words would they use?

  • Always looking for a promotion…
  • Had the largest house on the block…
  • Biggest gossip in town…
  • Obsessed with cars…
  • Lived vicariously through his children…

Closely related to all of this is the idea of legacy. In legal terms, a legacy is a gift of property or money, usually by means of a will. In a more general sense, your legacy is whatever you leave behind for those who come after you—in some ways it is a token or a synopsis of your life.

If we had the benefit of hearing the epitaphs that others would write for us, it might reveal how skewed our perspectives can be at times (not unlike Cap Anson’s), and let us see that the legacies we leave are often shallow and insignificant.

In Genesis 5, in the midst of a list of Adam’s descendants, we are introduced to a man named Enoch. Enoch lived for 365 years, but his life was summed up in just a few brief words:

“Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”

“Walked with God.” That’s an epitaph that I could be happy with, and a legacy that I would be proud to have. But legacies like that don’t come about by accident; rather, they come from a stubborn, persistent lifestyle of discipleship. So all that leads to this question: What will your legacy be? Put in another way, if you were to pass from this life today, what would your tombstone say?

If you would like it to read differently, then it’s up to you to live differently.

Designed to Break Your Heart: Tom Barlow

Hartford Dark Blues, 1875

This is a first post in a series introduced here

In the early days of professional baseball, in the 1870s and 1880s and even on into the 20th century, baseball was a hard game for hard men.

Protective equipment was rare, the travel was difficult, the wages were decent but by no means extravagant, and job security didn’t exist. College-educated professional ballplayers were rare; for many, a job in the big leagues was a ticket out of the coal mines. Players tended to brawl and misbehave, both on and off the field.

Tom Barlow was a catcher and sometime shortstop for the Brooklyn Atlantics and Hartford Dark Blues in the early 1870s. He is credited as being the originator of the bunt, and had his best season in 1872, when he hit .310, and caught all of his team’s games, a feat which has only been accomplished eight times (and not since 1945).

In 1874, while playing for Hartford, Barlow sustained an injury while catching for Cherokee Fisher, renowned as a devastating fastball pitcher. In a letter to the Boston Times on September 16, 1877, Barlow described the incident:

“It was on the 10th of August, 1874, that there was a match game of baseball in Chicago between the White Stockings of that city and the Hartfords of Hartford, now of Brooklyn. 

I was catcher for the Hartfords, and Fisher was pitching. He is a lightning pitcher, and very few could catch for him. On that occasion he delivered as wicked a ball as ever left his hands, and it went through my grasp like an express train, striking me with full force in the side. 

I fell insensible to the ground, but was quickly picked up, placed in a carriage, and driven to my hotel. The doctor who attended me gave a hypodermic injection of morphine, but I had rather died behind the bat then [sic] have had that first dose. 

My injury was only temporary, but from taking prescriptions of morphine during my illness, the habit grew on me, and I am now powerless in its grasp. My morphine pleasure has cost me eight dollars a day, at least. 

I was once catcher for the Mutuals, also for the Atlantics, but no one would think it to look at me now.”

Barlow was 22 years old the day he was injured behind the plate. He disappears from historical records after 1880; details of his later life and date of death are unknown.

I first became aware of the story of Tom Barlow through Ken Burns’ PBS documentary Baseball. Other details for this post were gleaned from Wikipedia and Bleacher Report.

Baseball: Designed to Break Your Heart

A. Bart Giamatti, Major League Baseball’s seventh Commissioner and a formidable scholar (having previously served as the President of Yale University), once famously said about baseball:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.

Giamatti knew what he was talking about. A lifelong Red Sox fan, he had the unenviable task of overseeing Pete Rose’s lifetime ban from baseball, and then suffered a fatal heart attack eight days later.
I find Giamatti’s words to be true in my own experience as a baseball player, fan, and amateur historian. As a player, the joys of fielding ground balls and taking batting practice were gradually overshadowed by the political squabbles of battling for playing time with coaches’ sons and the increasing awareness that I was never going to get a shot at the Big Leagues. As a fan, the majority of my childhood was spent rooting for Atlanta Braves, the winningest team of the 1990s, and yet, looking back, it is not the hundreds and hundreds of victories that I remember but the failures in the playoffs year after year. And as an amateur historian, the stories that most readily spring to mind tend to be the saddest ones.
It is some of these stories that I would like to share, on an intermittent basis, as part of a new series. Designed to break your heart or not, I love baseball, in large part because of the poignancy of its illustrious history.
Hope you enjoy them.

Preacher Roe (1915-2008)

I discovered yesterday that Preacher Roe had passed away on Sunday at the age of 92.

Roe was a left-handed pitcher who played in the Major Leagues in the 1940s and 50s, making five All-Star teams, leading the league in strikeouts once, and had a personal best record of 22-3 in 1951 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

For his career, Roe accumulated 127 wins against 84 losses, a good record that likely would have been more impressive had he not missed time for service in World War II.

But the reason I know about Preacher Roe and the reason I thought all of this would be interesting to the majority of my readership is that Preacher Roe is the only Harding student to play in the Major Leagues. When I was at Harding, his old Dodgers jersey was on display in the Ganus Athletic Center, and I bet it’s still there.

Roe seems to have been an interesting character.

Born Elwin Charles Roe, he got his lifelong nickname at the age of 3 when his uncle returned from the first World War and asked his little nephew what his name was. Roe responded that his name was “Preacher” (apparently because he liked the local preacher who would take him on horse and buggy rides), and the nickname stuck.

He suffered a major setback early in his career when he was still with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the 1945 off-season, while coaching a high school basketball game (baseball players didn’t make as much then as they do now), he suffered a skull fracture after getting into a fight with the referee. He struggled through the next few seasons.

He turned his career around in Brooklyn, however, where he began throwing the (illegal) spitball as his signature pitch, and played alongside Jackie Robinson.

In an interview later in life, Roe expressed his pride in getting to play with Robinson: “I just felt if Jackie hit a home run while I was pitching, it counted just as much for me as if Pee Wee Reese hit it or some of the other guys that were white…I’d say, ‘You never have seen a good ballplayer until you’ve seen him.’ He was that good.”

If you look closely at the picture below, the setting might be familiar to some of you…it was taken at Camp Tahkodah.

Determined To Be The Best

One of my favorite all-time baseball players is Joe DiMaggio. In the history of baseball, there have been other players who were better, but there have been few, if any, who so excelled in every facet of the game.

DiMaggio put up impressive numbers. He was a three-time MVP. He led the league in home runs and batting average twice. In 1941, he got a hit in 56 consecutive games—widely considered the most unbreakable record in professional sports. And he was a winner. In his 13 seasons with the Yankees, they won 10 Pennants and 9 World Series.

When it came to baseball, Joe DiMaggio was it. He was the peak; the pinnacle; as good as it got. And he knew it.

Pride and vanity can certainly be negative traits, and they were traits that DiMaggio possessed in abundance, but in his case, they spurred him to greatness. He liked the legend he had created for himself, and he was absolutely determined to live up to it. He did so by playing incredibly hard, while still making it look like everything he did on the field was effortless. The graceful way he played earned him the nickname, “The Yankee Clipper.”

DiMaggio always battled injuries, and late in his career, it got harder and harder for him to stay in the lineup and put up the impressive numbers that everyone was used to. Finally, in 1951 at a relatively young 36 years of age, DiMaggio walked away from the game, not content to just be an average player. As teammate Lefty Gomez put it, he retired because “he couldn’t be Joe DiMaggio anymore.”

There’s a lot to be said for setting high expectations for yourself and not settling for anything less, and in a time when our heroes seem to let us down all too often, it’s comforting to think about a guy like Joltin’ Joe, the hero who never did.

Once, late in a season when the Yankees had already clinched the American League Pennant and were just finishing out the rest of the season, one of Joe’s teammates asked him, “Why do you play so hard in a game that means nothing for your team?”

He replied, “Because there’s at least one person in the stands that has never seen Joe DiMaggio play before.”

I love that quote, and the idea it represents.

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