May 25, 2017

Predictions From the Past

February 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Few things in baseball are as timeless as predictions. Each winter the news racks fill up with various magazines full of predictions for the upcoming season. The Hot Stove League is often times as interesting as the season itself. Fans of every stripe peruse such magazines to get some “dope” about the upcoming season. Before the season starts every team is equal and fans of every squad can daydream that this year is going to be the year that their team wins it all. The purpose of this article is to examine some of the prognostications for the 1914 season. Although they could be taken from any year I found the predictions of this year especially interesting.

My specific inspiration was a column by Grantland Rice, which began with this gem that neatly summarized the foibles of Hot Stove prognostication.

Once I was an upstart bloke.
Once I thought I knew it all.
Once my bean was badly puffed
And my pride was over tall.
Then I started, foolish cove,
Doping out this bootball stuff –
Posing as a prophet with
More than ordinary fluff.
Now I know where I belong –
Where I out to go and sit:
Humble? Bless your little heart.
Humble isn’t half of it.

His first prediction did not come true but no doubt crossed the mind of many a player. It requires some background however. Bill Klem was one of two umpires, along with Jack Sheridan, who accompanied the Giants and White Sox while they toured the world during the winter and spring of 1913-1914. Probably the best umpire in the history of the National League he was a fair but hard man. Among his most vocal enemies was John McGraw who despised Klem’s umpiring more than any other man in blue. Rice considered this a likely scenario:

“Our regards for Umpire Bill Klem as the bravest of the brave. When a lone umpire is willing to take a chance in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with thirty ball players, there’s no doubt left as to where the Red Badge of Courage belongs. One careless push a subtle, delicate splash—and a thousand wrongs would be avenged.”1

For the record Klem returned to the states unscathed. Although one does wonder if Rice’s prediction played upon Klem’s mind at various points of the journey.

Elsewhere in the paper were more conventional predictions in an anonymous column entitled “Late Sporting News and Gossip” Here are some items from that column.

“Mugsy McGraw says that Walter Johnson won’t last another fourteen months if he doesn’t take better care of his pitching wing. Mugsy Claims that Johnson is wasting his pitching wing by cutting loose with a lot of speed on cold days.”

Johnson only went 28-18 in 1914. He pitched until 1927.

Elsewhere in the same column was a much more accurate prediction.

“Baseball players and managers believe that Walter Johnson will set a record next season in strike outs. They believe that the Washington star will pass the 1,500 mark when the 1914 campaign closes.”2

This prediction was actually conservative. Johnson recorded 225 K.O.’s for the season and ended with a life time total of 1,686 after the 1914 season.

Unfortunately, the following was also prophetic:

“Rube Waddel’s physicians say that his chances for recovery are slight. The once great hurler has a bad case of tuberculosis.”3

Baseball’s most oddball of pitchers passed away in San Antonio, Texas, on April 1, 1914. There is something fitting about this child-man who loved jokes and all things of childhood, passing away on April Fool’s Day.

Also on the money was this pronouncement:

“Tillie” Shafer, the Giants third sacker, is threatening to quit the national pastime once more. Shafer says that he is thru [sic] with associating with “rough neck” ball players.”4

At 24 years of age. Arthur “Tillie” Shafer did just that. The scion of a wealthy California family, the blue-blooded Shafer felt that he was superior to his teammates. Although he hit .287 and stole 32 bases and played a mean third sack in 1913, he gave in to family pressure and resigned from the game.

“I have satisfied every ambition in a baseball way; now I want to forget that I was ever in it,” Shafer said.  “It is an episode in my life I am trying hard to forget. I have plenty of money and I’m not dependent on the $7,500 a year from the Giants.”5

Surely we will never see that quote coming from a baseball player ever again!

Far more typical was this prediction from November 25, 1913.

“Manager Hughey Jennings says that he will have a good team next season. Hughey declares that all he needs for the 1914 campaign is a few good pinch swatters.”6

Detroit did indeed have a good season in 1914 going 80 and 73. Unfortunately for Jennings the Athletics had a much better season going 99 and 53. The Tigers struggled vainly but finished in fourth place 19.5 games back. Jennings apparently never got “a few pinch swatters.” For most baseball fans the same thing, or something very similar will happen to their favorite team in 2009. And so it ever was.

Source Notes

1. Rice, Grantland, “Playing the Game with Grantland Rice,” Chicago Evening Post November 24, 1913 p.8
2. “Late Sporting News Notes and Gossip” Chicago Evening Post November 24, 1913 p.8
3. ibid.
4. ibid
5. Robbins, Mike “Ninety Feet From Fame,” New York: Carroll & Graf, 2004
6. ”Late Sporting News Notes and Gossip” Chicago Evening Post November 25, 1913 p.8

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