Chick Stahl, former star of the 1890s with the champion Boston club of the National League, sat down with a group of writers and told a story about his former teammate Cy Swaim, a tall pitcher he once formed a battery with during a pick-up game at Fort Wayne. Stahl’s story speaks more about Swaim’s interest in the thoughts of a lady he was courting than his own health. This yarn comes courtesy the Chicago Inter Ocean, October 30, 1898.
Chick says, “I was Cy Swaim’s catcher once in an exhibition game at Fort Wayne. We were short of a backstop, and George Tebeau stuck me behind the wind pad because I used to catch occasional games in our spring practice. Cy’s full arm swing, that windmill of his, confused me when the base runners on the other team tried to steal a base. I could nail a runner at third once in a while, but on the throw to second Cy’s pile-driver shape loomed up before me and balked my throw. So I fixed it up with Cy to give him a tip every time I was in the act of throwing to the second sack. ‘When I yell “Low Bridge!” Cy, you duck, and don’t feel afraid that I will nail you’ said I. At the first yell of low bridge I fired away. But Cy forgot to duck, and the ball collided with his Adam’s apple, bounced off into foul ground, and the base stealer ran to third. When Cy recovered he sauntered up to the home plate and threatened to make a whisk broom of me. ‘See here, Chick,’ said Cy, ‘don’t give me any more of that low bridge business and make me look like a rube. I won’t stand for it. I have a young lady friend here–that one with the yaller dress up there in the stand–and if you keep yelling low bridge at me you will queer me with the lady.'”
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Baseball has had its share of siblings on the diamond: Cal and Billy Ripken, Rick and Wes Ferrell, Rickie and Jemile Weeks, etc. but perhaps the most notorious brother tandem in Major League history was the Stovall Brothers, George and Jesse. Born in a small Missouri town, the Stovalls were fierce competitors–George was nicknamed “Firebrand” on account of his rough temperament. Unlike the Coveleski Brothers, Stan and Harry, who refused to play against each other because they didn’t want to be responsible for the other’s loss, the Stovall boys had no such qualms. This story of the Stovall Brothers, titled “No Brotherly Love in Them,” comes from a 1916 edition of the Kansas City Star.
With Jesse on the mound, pitching for Detroit, his kid brother George, during his rookie season, strode to the plate for his Cleveland club as a pinch hitter, with two runners on, to square off with his older brother in one of his first Major League at-bats. The Star tells it like this: “‘Come on, you busher!’ was the way Jess greeted George as he came to the plate. ‘I’ll fan you out of the big leagues.’ But Brother George made a base hit that cleared the bases. It broke Jess all up, and after that season he went back to the minors, while George stayed on for ten years.”
George “Firebrand” Stovall was a terrific first baseman–one of the best of his time–whose temper and fiery, combative nature endeared him to fans. But umpires took a dim view of George’s volcanic temperament; as did Ban Johnson, head of the American League. Stovall might be the only player in history to be blacklisted by the American League for spitting. Of course, the addition to that story is that Stovall spent an entire inning working up a plentiful wad of tobacco juice which he sought to expectorate upon an incompetent arbiter. When the final out was recorded that inning, George, on his way to the dugout, deviated from his course in order to coat the umpire’s torso with the discarded tobacco juice. Stovall was immediately tossed from the game, Ban Johnson blacklisted him from the American League, and George ventured to the upstart Federal League where he spent two years getting a measure of revenge on Johnson by luring some AL players to the newly formed league.
In what might be the only instance in which a ballplayer killed a dog during a Major League game, this little nugget of baseball yore comes from the Decatur Herald, December 27, 1905. Vaudeville actor Digby Bell purchased a ticket to watch a game at the Polo Grounds. Accompanying the actor was his beloved bulldog pup, which attended games with Bell throughout the 1895 season. The Herald says, “In the eighth inning of the game, with two on bases, Bad Bill Dahlen came to bat and Jouett Meekin, who was pitching, put up a fast high one. Dahlen pickled the ball and it shot on a straight line out over George Van Haltren’s head. Bell, sitting in his trap, saw that ball coming and started to dodge. The pup–which was not interested in baseball, did not see it. The ball hit that bull pup in the head, knocked it off the trap and killed it, and incidentally, Dahlen circled the bases.”
Naturally, we find little amusement in the untimely death of man’s best friend, but this yarn from baseball’s bygone days might prove why Bad Bill Dahlen has yet to accept his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps the voters cast aspersions on those ball diamond greats whose batting feats claim the life of a vaudeville star’s companion.
Coming this winter, 2015-2016, via Black Rose Writing, will be my first foray into fiction: Cowboys and Zombies.
One of the game’s greatest sluggers of the 1950s, Gil Hodges was the oomph that kept the Brooklyn Dodgers offense running. Gil, who served in the military during World War II at the beginning of his career, missed the 300 homerun and 2,000 hit plateaus by margins meager. One of the game’s terrific gentlemen, Mr. Hodges was a well-respected player whose presence in the heart of the Dodgers order was valuable. His booming bat was good for 30-plus homers a season and his position in the lineup enabled him to rack up many RBI. After his retirement, Gil managed and is widely regarded with turning the lowly New York Mets into champions.
America’s number one cover girl during World War II, the lovely Jinx Falkenburg graced seemingly every publication in that tumultuous period. Athletic and the portrait of health, Jinx kept in pin-up girl shape by playing tennis. The sport came natural to her, for her brother was a tennis champion and was a postwar star in the sport. Jinx had a trademark: she would often position flowers behind her ears. Whether she was donned in bathing suits, evening gowns or sarongs, Miss Falkenburg was dynamite.