Here at WoW we're students of the game. We have much love for baseball's early days and the characters that populated it. Unfortunately, our hands are full tearing apart current players. We've invited DMac of the stellar Philadelphia Will Do to teach us all a little bit about the ghosts of baseball's past. It's a segment we like to call "Way Back Base Ball."
I love old-timey baseball. I love the
nerds who play it in 2008
, I love the old daguerreotypes of
players with handlebar mustaches and I love reading about the origins
In essence, I'm a bigger nerd than people who go out and play
old-timey baseball. That's why I'm hoping to share with you a little
slice of baseball history from time to time on Walkoff Walk.
(Old-timey baseball is roughly defined as "whatever time period I
decide to write about.")
But enough self-reference. For those of you who don't know, baseball
wasn't always 400-foot homers, future
truck drivers from India
Baker ordering his power hitters to sacrifice bunt
wasn't invented by Abner Doubleday after he singlehandedly won the
Civil War, either. No, it was a little game that sprung out of other
stick and ball games that came over from England; eventually, the
original rules were codified by the Knickerbocker Club, a group of
players with dominated early baseball until Isiah Thomas' great-great
grandfather ran them into the ground.
With that in mind, I'd like to direct you to this
of Peter Morris' But Didn't We Have Fun: An Informal
History of Baseball's Pioneer Era
. In it, he recounts the story
of players who looked to bend the rules even in the early history of
baseball -- baseball had a long tradition of celebrating players who
cheated until they began to cheat with drugs, upon which they were
The classic case of this is one of baseball's first stars,
Jim Creighton, who played for several clubs in the New York area right
before the Civil War. Creighton trained hard with a steel ball so he
could deliver a pitch as hard as possible under the rules of the day,
which required an underhand throw with a stiff arm.
Creighton soon was throwing harder than any batter had seen. They
flailed away at his pitches or at best popped them up. However, under
the rules of the day, there were also no such things as balls or a
strike zone. So batters decided to just wait out Creighton until he
delivered a pitch to their liking. Morris recounts a game where
Creighton threw over 300 pitches in three innings as batters waited
him out for something they thought they could hit. (Creighton died in
1862 at the age of 21 of natural causes.)
Yes, Jim Creighton -- a star in his teens, apparently -- managed to
die of "natural causes" at the age of 21 after (a) training with a
steel baseball and (b) throwing 300 pitches in the first three innings
of a game. Correlation doesn't equal causation, but... yes, I think i
can safely say this man died of his arm falling off.
It is nice that pitchers back in the late 1850s trained themselves to
death with steel baseballs, but millionaire pitchers today like Brett
Myers train by eating as many cheeseburgers as possible.
The review also notes that, in old-timey days, umpires sat in a
rocking chair drinking a glass of beer. Now that's the kind of thing
we can learn from the past: Getting drunk while umpiring a game would
certainly improve the officiating of, say, Cowboy Joe West.