Baseball's treasures are memories and stories to tell
Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 10:34 p.m.
Nothing writes history the way baseball writes history. The game may be so old the players from over a century ago may look like puffy bean bags in those woolen uniforms, with caps apparently stolen from Donald Trump's chauffeur. No matter. When George Land spoke Tuesday, when he began his baseball tales, the players didn't seem aged and out of date. How they acted then, without using much imagination, you can see those same personalities in the game today.
Land, 78, is a retired social studies teacher who spent 24 of his 27 years at Fremont's Irvington High School teaching a spring class titled “History of Sport.” It was one part football, one part basketball and two parts baseball. A year ago, Land approached the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Sonoma State and suggested a six-week course that would meet once a week for two hours at the Cooperage. Each week would deal with a decade of baseball, starting with 1900-09. The OLLI people signed off on the idea. Land's first presentation was Tuesday.
“I looked at it (continuing education programs),” said Land, who moved to Camp Meeker in 2002, “and I didn't see anything that involved baseball.”
For Land, baseball was an anecdotal treasure trove, the first love of his life. For him the game never belonged in the dust bin of an old memory. The personalities he described, they could never be diminished by time and distance.
For example, how about the cranky, thin-skinned umpire?
Umpire Tim Hurst was famous for his temper and his tendency to make a call before a play was completed. On Aug. 12, 1905, Eddie Collins, the Hall of Fame second baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics, decided to play a trick on Hurst. Collins fielded a grounder and made the throwing motion to first base. It was a routine play. Hurst called the batter out.
Only problem: Collins didn't throw the ball. After Hurst made the call, Collins extended his right arm, waved it as he was yelling at Hurst. Hurst blew his cork. He ran over to Collins and spit in Collins' face. Hurst was suspended.
Could that happen today? In 2007 umpire Mike Winters was suspended for the rest of the season for cursing and goading short-tempered Milton Bradley into a meltdown.
How about the baseball manager as the all-encompassing, belligerent autocrat?
In 1904 New York Giants manager John McGraw gave the bunt sign to a rookie. Whether the rookie saw it or ignored it, he swung away and hit a home run. Upon his return to the dugout, McGraw said, “That's going to cost you $50, rookie! No one is permitted to deviate from the rules!”
Could that happen today? On June 18, 1977, Yankees manager Billy Martin thought his right fielder, Reggie Jackson, loafed after a fly ball, allowing Boston's Jim Rice to stretch a single to a double. Martin pulled Jackson from the game immediately. Jackson and Martin charged each other and had to be forcibly restrained. The video is an all-time classic.
How about cheating?
On Sept. 23, 1908, at the Polo Grounds, the Giants' Fred Merkle failed to touch second base on a game-winning single against the Cubs. He was ruled out. The game ended in a tie, to be replayed at the end of the season. Merkle claims he did touch second but only after making his way through a streaming crowd. That night, but before midnight, Giants manager McGraw took Merkle back to the Polo Grounds before midnight.
“So when Merkle was asked if he ever touched second base on September 23,” Land said, “he would say yes.”
Merkle even produced an affidavit claiming he touched second base.
The result? The game was replayed at the end of the season. The Cubs won. Merkle was blamed for keeping the Giants out of the World Series.
Could cheating happen today? Do I really need to answer that? After the steroid era? After Gaylord Perry's spitters? How about Detroit's Norm Cash? After he retired in 1974, after he won the American League batting title 13 years earlier, Cash showed Sports Illustrated how he drilled an 8-inch hole into his bat and filled it with glue, sawdust and cork.
Baseball is now played at night, with skin-tight uniforms, with starting pitchers celebrating when they can make it six innings. One salary, like Alex Rodriguez's, is greater than the combined worth of all Major League Baseball teams back in the first decade of the 1900s. Yet, for all these changes, baseball still remains a game populated by huge egos that sometimes are barely tethered to their owners.
The more things change in baseball, the more they remain the same.
Except for maybe one thing.
“When that rookie came back to the dugout after hitting the home run,” Land said, “McGraw called him a 'busher.' Back then that was a real slap in the face. I wonder what would happen today if a manager called a player a busher?”
The player? He might think, “What does lawn care have to do with baseball?”
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.