Pitching Your Ass & Arm Off

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Wayback.jpgHere 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 of sport.

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 and Dusty Baker ordering his power hitters to sacrifice bunt. Baseball 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 book review 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 shunned.

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.

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9 Comments

Impressive, but I've seen video of C.C. Sabathia training by getting a cannonball shot into his stomach. What? That wasn't him?

I don't believe you.

/several years ago....

"Your shipment of steel baseballs is here, Mr. Baker"

"Great! Kerry! Mark! We're gonna try out a new training technique today!"

+1, Jerkwheat

When I see "C.C. Sabathia" and "cannonball" in the same sentence, I fully expect the punchline to reference the abrupt draining of a municipal reservoir.

"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"

Ryan Howard would still strike out on three pitches

@jerkwheat
So that's why Edinson Volquez has been taking "Crying Game" showers lately. Hmm.

Gaylord Perry = Rascally, adorable scamp with tales of spitballs and sandpaper

Ty Cobb = Gritty hustler who did anything to win, including steel spikes pointed at people's legs.

Barry Bonds, etc. = Horrible people who should burn.

The Isiah Thomas part is priceless.

Keep calling the same, but baseball is different now at the beginning.

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