Recently in Way Back Base Ball Category


Many a Phillies fan I know was not able to get through the playoffs last season without the use of some sort of intoxicant. While some may have enjoyed the playoffs with one of baseball's traditional drugs (steroids, amphetamines, beer, LSD), it's clear a lot of Phillies fans needed a lot of weed to get through the first meaningful playoff baseball since 1993. I know, I smelled it on Broad Street after the World Series win.

The Phillies apparently did, too, and have rewarded the team's faithful stoners by holding a dollar dog promotion today, 4/20. It might get rained out, so this intro is kind of ruined, but whatever: Grab your dugout, get out your one-hitter and put in your harmless tobacco, people. It's time to learn what I could learn about marijuana and baseball in five minutes of Googling.

• We all know that beer has done good (Babe Ruth:beer::Popeye:spinach) and bad (Mickey Mantle's liver) for baseball. But did you know the demon weed has done bad for baseball, too? Former Braves prospect Joe Winkelsas blew his chance at baseball because he couldn't stop smoking pot.

Winkelsas loved two things when he entered the Braves farm system as a free agent in 1996: baseball and marijuana," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote. "But probably in the reverse order." Hey, I write the jokes here! He pitched once for the Braves in 1999 and registered a 54.00 ERA. But Winkelsas kicked the wacky weed and returned to the majors in 2006. While that's a pretty cool comeback time-wise, he wasn't much better as a pitcher. But his ERA was a little lower!

• Ha ha, remember in 2002 when every single player on the New York Mets was a pothead? You'd smoke every day, too, if your GM was Steve Phillips. The New York Times reminds us of the controversy, which started when Newsday wrote at least seven (SEVEN!) players on the Mets and in their farm system smoked a little pot. GASP!

Grant Roberts, a pitcher, acknowledged that he was the player shown smoking marijuana in a photograph that was published with the Newsday article, but he said the photo was provided by a woman who was extorting him. ''I'm sorry,'' Roberts said to a roomful of reporters and television cameras at Shea Stadium. ''I'm very embarrassed by the situation. I made a mistake. The picture that you all saw is from the off-season in 1998. The woman who gave up the picture has also tried to threaten me and do other things, to get me to do stuff and give her things. And obviously I did not. Again, I'm sorry and I apologize to the New York Mets organization and to their fans. I love and respect this game a lot and I'm going to continue to play and I look forward to putting this behind me and moving on.''

As you no doubt remember, Roberts lost his sponsorship deal with Kellogg's.

There's a bonus with this story, too, since it's from 2002: A Bobby Valentine sighting!

The developments made for a bizarre scene at Shea, where team officials departed from their usual policy and closed the clubhouse and adjacent hallway to news media representatives for nearly two hours. When it was opened, reporters swarmed around players and team officials. At one point, Manager Bobby Valentine, trying to illustrate the potential dangers of playing under the influence of drugs, struck a pose as a disoriented hitter swinging an imaginary bat. The day ended with the Mets losing to the Montreal Expos, 6-1.

Geeze, if this was how the Mets spent September of 2002, what were they on in September of 2007? (My best guess: PCP.)

• That's it! Every other thing I found while Googling was about college baseball teams being busted for weed, or some random baseball-related people getting hit for possession. Even Rex Hudler! Enjoy the rest of your day!

Did you know that so-called "saber-metrics" weren't invented by Moneyball author Billy Beane? It turns out that the Society for American Baseball Research was actually founded in 1971. A young Joe Morgan responded the following year by turning in the best season of his career, for the organization's founding angered him for reasons he would only later comprehend. I was going to go with a Terminator reference here, but I couldn't really get it to work. You see, SABR would probably be more like the machines. I guess Morgan could have been the Michael Biehn character. Hm.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is that SABR has recently been digitizing the entire Baseball Research Journal. And it's available for free, on the Internet, and you don't even have to be a talking computer who likes baseball statistics like me to understand some of the articles! The full article list currently has BRJ articles from 1972 to 1984, 1986 and 1989.

I perused the archive1 and selected a couple of links for all of you to enjoy this Friday afternoon. If your work is blocking March Madness on Demand it's a nice silver medal!

• A 1972 article showed correlation between World Series winner and Presidential election winner, around two decades before the news media noticed, en masse, that a recent Redskins' game result decided election winners. Truly, SABR was a revolutionary organization from the very beginning.

• Another 1972 article, "Birds, Bees and Baseball," contains the following anecdote, which I must reproduce in full:

A record for distance in throwing a frog probably was established close to 30 years ago by Donald Atkinson, an umpire in the Georgia-Florida League.

Atkinson was working behind the plate on a very hot day in a game between Moultrie and Albany. He was in his shirt sleeves with a canvas bag in which he kept his supply of balls slung over his shoulder.

In the fifth inning one of the Albany players hit a foul fly that went over the grandstand. Atkinson reached into his bag to get another ball. What he got hold of was a live frog. He let out a yip and threw the frog half way to the next county. He never did find out which player had sneaked the frog into the bag.

This was definitely the crazy landing game of its day. "No way did that just happen, folks."

• A 1973 artricle adds this factoid: Babe Ruth hit his first home run the day before the sinking of the Lusitania! There's also a note that the New York Evening Journal lightly mocked pitcher Jack Warhop for surrending a homer to another pitcher. Ha!

• Some excellent lists: Pitchers who stole home (1976); a variety of lists on baseball brothers (1979); players with 10 years of service who didn't play in the minors (1980); game winning homers against old club in day after trade (1989); all-time leaders in being awarded first base on interference (not surprisingly, Pete Rose is first).

• The most comprehensive look at printed baseball cartoons humanly possible, from 1983.

• Finally, there's this 1986 article, "Baseball tops all sports as national phrasemaker." It's about how lots of baseball terms are.idioms, and contains examples: "A salesman who strikes you right off the bat as a screwball, someone way out in left field, will obviously not get to first base with you." Well, obviously. A salesman? They have some loose morals in SABR, I must say.

But wait! There's more! SABR recently freely released the 2009 Emerald Guide to Baseball as a .pdf download. Yes, apparently they can fit whole encyclopedias (500+ pages!!) on computers now. The wonders of modern technology never cease to amaze.

1 This is a lie. I merely browsed it.


These are heady times for Phillies fans. For only the second time in the club's history, the Fightins are defending World Champions. Philadelphians are so excited they're not letting any questionable off-season moves or positive drug tests dissuade them from continuing to celebrate a World Series win well into 2009.

It wasn't always this way. Back in 1915, the world was a very different place. Women could only vote if they endured severe hardships, like living in Wyoming. Ford was actually profitable. The United States was involved in an occupation of a foreign nation. Okay, maybe not everything was different.

Baseball, though, was markedly different. The ball at the time was actually made of reinforced steel; as such, the NL league ERA was a paltry 2.75. What's amazing is the second fact in this paragraph is actually not made up!

Amazing, too, was Grover Cleveland Alexander, a lefthander for the Phillies from Elba, Nebraska. Old Pete (so called because that was his nickname) went 31-10 with a 1.22 ERA that season for the Phillies; he made 42 starts and completed 36 games. Yes, offenses didn't do much in 1915 -- what with the steel ball and all -- but the Phillies played in the Baker Bowl, where the right field wall was only 91 feet away. (It was awfully hard to round first, too.)

Although the Phillies dropped the World Series to the Red Sox, 4 games to 1, Alexander pitched a fine series for the Philadelphia nine. He went the distance twice, winning the first game -- the Phillies' only postseason win until 1977 -- and dropping the second on a single in the bottom of the ninth.

Despite this performance, Alexander wasn't satisfied. He was so unsatisfied he wrote an article for Baseball in January 1916 titled, "How I Lost The World's Series. In the article, he comes up with tremendous insights like, "for in baseball one team must always lose, since both cannot be alike victors."

But Old Pete also explains how he managed to lose the "World's Series." It all started in the first game of a doubleheader against Brooklyn on Labor Day; after the Phillies took the lead in the top of the eighth inning, it looked like the Phillies were on their way to a series-opening victory. But Alexander injured his shoulder earlier in the game and couldn't hold on to the 3-1 lead:

I remember that I overheard a loud voiced rooter in the stand when that inning began. The Brooklyn crowd seemed discouraged when we piled up those three runs. This particular rooter yelled out: "Never mind, boys. Go at Alexander; he's human like the rest of us."

He was certainly right. I felt human enough when they started to pound me around the lot. And I felt extremely human when at the end of that inning they had scored five runs off my delivery and snatched away a game that I had considered as good as won.

"He's human like the rest of us" was the most offensive phrase one could say to a man back in 1915, the year Birth of a Nation was released. The Phillies, though, rallied to take the pennant, clinching it on a one-hitter by Old Pete himself. Alexander had some actual interesting thoughts when reminiscing about playing in the "World's Series":

Again, the pitcher in a world's series game has none of the assurance that he may have during the season. In the short series he has to do whatever he is going to do now or not at all. If a slip occurs it is too late to change it. He has one or two, or at the most three, chances to deliver, and if he fails it is too late.

While reading the article, it's refreshing to learn baseball wasn't always a world of cliches and players who can't even remember what steroids they had mysterious cousins inject. Alexander spends a rather large portion of the article discussing why he pitched to Duffy Lewis, who had the game-winning hit in Game 3 of the World's Series. (Man, that is annoying to write and say. No wonder it got shortened.)

But since I barely know who Grover Cleveland Alexander is and I certainly don't know who Duffy Lewis is, we'll skip to the end of the article for Old Pete's closing lament:

Such is baseball, however -- a game of uncertainties. And we none of us have any license to complain. But I shall always think of the world's series of 1915 as a peculiar personal disappointment in that I was unable, through lack of condition, to live up to the expectations of my friends.

Sad, eh? It's not all bad: Grover Cleveland Alexander would eventually win a "World's Series" title with the Cardinals in 1926. And although his post-baseball career was tragic, at least he was remembered in the best way possible: By having a future U.S. president play him in a movie. Isn't that what we all want, really?

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.