September 18, 2014

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: Just an Idea

February 4, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

SPEAKING OF POLLS

On January 5, 1943, the Christian Science Monitor compared a poll of the sports writer friends of Al Schacht (speaking of baseball clowns), with the opinion of Ty Cobb — the subject was the all-time best players at each position. Cobb gave his choices around 1940, the writers did theirs to determine whose likenesses would be framed for Schacht’s restaurant.

The writers picked Walter Johnson as the all-time top hurler, while Cobb opted for a rotation of Johnson, Ed Walsh, Grover Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Bob Feller (!) and Eddie Plank.

The writers agreed with Cobb on five players: Gehrig at first, Eddie Collins at 2B, Honus Wagner at SS, and Tris Speaker and Babe Ruth in the OF. While the writers took Pie Traynor at the hot corner, Cobb chose Buck Weaver. The writers liked Bill Dickey behind the plate; Cobb liked Mickey Cochrane. The writers put Ty Cobb himself in LF, but Tyrus humbly gave the nod to Shoeless Joe Jackson. The Monitor adds that the writers almost picked Rogers Hornsby over Collins at 2B, but were swayed by Cobb, who saw them both. I like Cobb’s comment about a manager: “Anybody could manage [this team], but it would be nice to put Mr Mack in there.”

The presence of two “Black Sox” players on Cobb’s list, just two decades after the scandal, might be surprising to some. But remember, Cobb himself had a brush with scandal. And perhaps naming Jackson and Weaver was his way of tweaking Judge Landis some. And Cobb was long retired, with nothing to lose — while the writers might have taken some heat if they picked Jackson or Weaver.

I’ve said this before — my impression is that Buck Weaver did not play long enough to rate the Hall of Fame, and really put in just four seasons at third base. He was improving and heading in the direction of greatness, and I think Cobb saw that — as did John McGraw and others. Buck finally hit .300 (even) in 1918, his 7th season, and one shortened and skewed by WW I. But he followed with .296 in 1919 (.324 in the Series), and then hit .333 in 1920.

In the Hall of Fame library is a questionnaire, completed by one of Buck’s nieces. Asked for his last year in ML baseball, she replied “1919? — which would be the reply of most fans, I think, if their knowledge of Buck comes from the movie Eight Men Out. But no, he had a terrific 1920, until September 28, when the cover-up of the Big Fix ended at last.

We might wonder if that .333 in 1920 meant that Buck played with a clear conscience, because he did not take a penny in bribe money, and played his best in October 1919. Maybe, but Joe Jackson batted .382 (20 triples) in 1920, and he did keep the $5,000 that his pal Lefty Williams gave him; if Shoeless’ conscience was also clear, it might have been because he had showed that loot to his team and they told him to keep it, and he offered to tell them what little he knew, and they snubbed him.

Weaver and Jackson may never rate Cooperstown bronze. But they were on Ty Cobb’s all-timer list, an honor shared by just eight players and six pitchers.

My hunch is that if Cobb was alive today, he might add Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to that list. Wanna challenge Ty Cobb?

SPEAKING OF B-SOX

I have said and written many times now, that when Eddie Cicotte’s 1920 grand jury statement was read into the record of the 1921 B-Sox trial, few papers bothered to mention that Cicotte had told the grand jury that he pitched to win, after hitting the leadoff batter on purpose. This made headlines in the Boston Globe, but went largely unreported; where it was reported, I suspect that it went mostly unbelieved, because by 1921, America was convinced that Cicotte dumped Game One (9-1) and threw away Game Four (2-0) with his own two fielding errors.

Anyway, I recently found that the Hartford (CT) Courant also reported Eddie’s 1920 admissions accurately.

“I pitched my best afterwards” [after hitting leadoff batter Rath], said Cicotte, “I didn’t care what happened. They could have had my heart and soul if I could have gotten out of that deal — I guess that was the trouble; I tried too hard and played poorly as a result.” Speaking of another game Cicotte said that while playing he “wished someone would come out and shoot him.”

But of course, there was no reason for any fixers to do that, not with the Sox on the run in the opening 9-1 rout, or in the Game Four loss.

My hope is that some day we will have pieced together not just the 1920 grand jury statements of Cicotte, Jackson and Williams, but also as much from the 1921 trial as possible. It will take a village — no, I mean a committee, or maybe a subcommittee (of SABR’s new B-Sox Research Committee) to pull this off. There is still much digging to be done.

A TRIBUTE TO A FOUNDING FATHER

Last Fall, one of the founders of SABR passed away. This tribute to John Pardon was penned by another founder, Cliff Kachline, longtime Cooperstown resident, who still contributes (by e-mail) to our regional meetings.

It takes a special person to be respected and admired by everyone who meets him. John Pardon was such an individual as those of you who spent any time in his presence are aware. Friendly, intelligent, dedicated, compassionate and witty are only a few of the words that best described John. In addition, he was far more philosophical than any of us realized.

Despite health issues, John made it to Cleveland last summer for SABR’s 38th annual convention. It was the 35th consecutive SABR convention he attended. Nine or ten weeks later, doctors discovered that his cancer had spread to his liver and prostrate, and he was informed he had only a short time remaining. News of that type would leave most individuals deeply depressed. But such was not the case with John. Within days he contacted other living SABR founders and some additional close friends and informed them in the most upbeat, positive manner imaginable about the situation. He told them he had already arranged for Hospice care and for his funeral??and that he would be writing his own obituary. It was obvious his strong Christian faith was sustaining him.

At John’s request, Hospice assigned one person to assist him in writing his life history. The 25?page booklet was equally upbeat?and impressively philosophical. For instance, in the very first paragraph he wrote: “I have been the recipient of great kindness from so many and I often ask myself: ‘What have I done to deserve such good luck?’”……And later he said: “Through SABR, I have come into contact with many interesting, exciting and generous people who have enriched my life in countless ways.” The booklet included several photographs of John, reproductions of four columns he wrote during his 1966?71 stint as a sportswriter in Asheville, NC, and information about his parents, his youth (he was an only child), his college days and his career. He mentions how in 1968 he met Sparky Anderson, then manager of the Asheville team, and that they became lifelong friends. “We still exchange Christmas cards,” John wrote, adding: “When people like this perform such acts of simple kindness I am enormously moved. How lucky can a little guy like me be?”

After four years in Asheville he quit his sportswriter
job, returned to his roots in Croton, NY, and took a position in the Veterans Hospital. John concluded his life history with the following: “I have made all the arrangements for my funeral and church services…I have even written my own eulogy. I surprised myself because, after having experienced some ‘writer’s block’ in the past, I found the words for my eulogy just flowed….. I am happy with what I have done and would advise everyone to do the same for who, after all, could do it better? In the end it is I who have the final word.”

By way of emphasizing that point and to demonstrate his sense of devotion, John was buried wearing his SABR lapel pin. Yes, John Pardon was a very special person. After undergoing surgery for colon cancer several years ago, he came up with a play on words by referring to himself as the “semi?colon”. In truth he was more like an exclamation point.

The above is an excerpt from Issue #475 of Gene’s “Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown.” To read the rest of the issue (or past issues), click here.

Comments

One Response to “Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: Just an Idea”
  1. Cliff Blau says:

    I just want to say “amen” to all that the other Cliff wrote about John Pardon.

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