Posts Tagged ‘John Wayne’

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About the World of 1908

November 7, 2016

So the Cubs finally win one after 108 years of failure. Normally I use my “A Dozen Things You Should Know About…” format to feature a particular individual. This time I want to use the same format to give you a dozen things about the world of 1908 that may surprise you (or maybe not, depending on you).

1. Theodore Roosevelt was the incumbent 26th President of the US. Number 27, William Howard Taft, would be elected in November but not take office until 1909. The next President will be number 45.

The Duke

The Duke

2. In Hollywood D.W. Griffith would direct his first movie “The Adventures of Dollie.” He would later (1915) make “The Birth of a Nation” which is generally considered the first “blockbuster.” In Winterset, Iowa John Wayne had his first birthday, while James Stewart was born in Pennsylvania, and Humphrey Bogart turned nine on Christmas day.

3. Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Quanah Parker, Geronimo, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Cole Younger were all still alive. Pat Garrett, the man who shot Billy the Kid, died in February.

Nellie Tayloe Ross

Nellie Tayloe Ross

4. Women were still a decade away from receiving the right to vote in federal elections although a handful of states did allow some female voting in state and local elections. In 1887 Susanna Salter was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas and the town of Syracuse, Kansas chose an all female city council. But women were 17 years from Nellie Tayloe Ross becoming the first female governor of an American State (Wyoming).

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

5. Russia still had a Czar, Germany a Kaiser, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire still existed. Poland didn’t. Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son, was still on the throne in Great Britain, and Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria, still had six years to live. His assassination in 1914 would set in motion the events leading to World War I.

6. Adolf Hitler was still an unknown postcard painter and paper hanger in Vienna. Erich Maria Remarque (author of All Quiet on the Western Front) was 10. George Patton was a junior at West Point. Dwight Eisenhower was a junior at Abilene High School.

7. Jim Crow was the law of the land in most places, including many outside the American South. The NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was founded the next year.

8. The Model T from Ford Motor Company came out in October 1908. You had your choice of colors–black or black. Most people took black.

Nora Bayes

Nora Bayes

9. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was published and first sung on a vaudeville stage by Nora Bayes. The words were written by her then husband (second of five) Jack Norwood.

10. Old Tom Morris, one of the first winners of the British Open golf tournament died, as did former US President Grover Cleveland and Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Karsakov.

11. Abe Attell, later infamous in the Black Sox scandal, was Featherweight Boxing Champion, Fred McLeod of Scotland won the US Open Golf tournament for the first and only time, James Braid won his fourth (of five) British Open golf tournament (the PGA doesn’t show up until 1916 and the Masters comes in the 1930s), Jim Thorpe who later became first President of the NFL was in his second year at Carlisle, and a horse named Stone Street won his only major race, the Kentucky Derby, in the slowest Derby time recorded.

12. US coins in circulation included the Indian head cent (the Lincoln penny would come in 1909), the Liberty head nickel (the Buffalo nickel started in 1913), the Barber dime (the Mercury dime began in 1916), and the Barber quarter (the Washington quarter began in 1932). A first class stamp was two cents.

13. And in baseball, Fred Merkle failed to touch second.

Fred Merkle (all pix for this post taken from Wikipedia's page on the individual)

Fred Merkle
(all pix for this post taken from Wikipedia’s page on the individual)

Now you should all go to YouTube and find a recording of the old British ditty “The World Turned Upside Down” to celebrate the Cubs victory.

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The Duke of Flatbush

March 2, 2011

Out where I’m from there’s only one “Duke.” He rode tall in the saddle, represented everything that was good in the USA, won an academy award for wearing an eyepatch. When you say the name “John Wayne” people stand to attention and remove their hats and begin humming the national anthem. Well, I was that way about Duke Snider too, so his death hit me hard. Sunday I put up a very brief note about the death of Snider. Today I want to talk a little more about him. I don’t want to spend it going over his stats. You can look those up for yourself. I want to explain why his death hit me so hard.

Ebbets Field 1957

When I was a kid there was one team I rooted for year after year, the Brooklyn Dodgers. I’ve never been quite sure why. Maybe it was because my grandfather hated the Yankees and the Dodgers played them a lot in the World Series. Maybe it was because they had great players and I recognized that. Maybe it was just to be perverse and bug my grandfather who was a Cardinals fan. Whatever it was, they were my team and they were glorious in the way only a child can understand glory.

It didn’t take a genius, and as an elementary school student I certainly wasn’t one of those, to see just how much Jackie Robinson meant to the team. For a while I wanted to be Robinson more than anyone else in the world. But a little bit of watching and listening told me that by the time I was wholly aware of the team, other players were better than Robinson, but you could tell he was still the engine that made the team run. He was still the heart and soul of the team. Roy Campanella’s greatness was obvious and no one ever swung a bat harder.  Carl Furillo’s arm was a sight to behold and with him out in right field Abe Stark’s sign was almost never hit. Pee Wee Reese’s leadership was obvious too, but Snider was something very special.

He was easily the best hitter by this point. You’ve probably heard by now that he had more home runs and RBIs than anyone else in the 1950s. That’s true, but it’s a little disingenuous. Snider had the entire decade, while Mays lost part of a couple of years to Korea and Mantle didn’t show up until 1951. Of course neither of those things diminishes his ability and, frankly, I neither knew nor cared about any of that back when I watched him play. I kept trying to figure out if I could duplicate his swing. I couldn’t. 

He was a great center fielder who seemed to catch everything. I remember he had this funny habit of backing up for the ball, not turning and running to a spot then turning back to the ball like Mays did it. I tried to do that as a kid and usually fell over my feet. The Mays way I could do, so in some odd sort of way I decided that Snider was a superior fielder to Mays because he did something that was harder and did it well. I may have been wrong, but it worked for me way back when. And all that falling over my feet got me a trip to first base where I played for several years back in little league. Thanks, Duke.

The team moved to LA in 1958. Now I was wedded to the team, not the town, so, unlike a lot of people, the move didn’t bother me. As long as the guys were still there I found it easy to transfer my love from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Snider’s numbers began to falter. The LA Coliseum was death on left-handed hitters. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1959 with him still in center field so it didn’t matter to me that he was getting weaker. By the time I noticed he was falling off, I’d transferred my allegiance to a kid pitcher named Koufax who seemed to have some promise, so it didn’t hurt quite the same when Snider was sent to the Mets. It did hurt when he ended up with the Giants. The Giants? God, that was almost as bad as sending him to the Yankees. The @#$%ing Giants? What didn’t they just send him to the @#$%ing Yankees and get it over with?

I sort of lost track of him after he retired. I got older and he got obscure. Later on when he finally made the Hall of Fame I started paying attention to Snider again. He did color work for the Expos, got in trouble with the IRS over money from card shows, but he was still a  hero to me. Back a few years ago ESPN did a thing where they asked you to vote for the greatest player of each team. Robinson won for the Dodgers and Koufax was second. Snider came in third. Despite a genuine admiration for both Robinson and Koufax, I voted for the Duke.

They are mostly gone now, my old heroes. Snider was in some ways the last of them–the heroes of my earliest youth. I know Don Zimmer and Tommy LaSorda are still alive, but I don’t think I even knew who Zimmer was and I never associate LaSorda with anything but managing. Dodgers aces Carl Erskine and Don Newcombe are both still around also, but when your new hero is Sandy Koufax (if you don’t believe me, see my avatar), other pitchers tend to fall by the wayside. But Snider remained the last link to my first heroes. I know that soon there will be no more Brooklyn Dodgers (I think Koufax may be the youngest left and he’s in his 70s) and that will make me sad.

So good-bye to the Duke of Flatbush. He never knew he was a hero of mine, which may help account for his longevity. May he rest in peace.

Turkey Mike

January 5, 2011

Mike Donlin

I think all of us, if given the chance to play, would relish a Major League career.  You might “burn out” after a few years, but you’d really want to play as long as you could, right? Me too. I’ve always found it strange when I run across a player who saw baseball as a secondary career or as a way to another job. I find them a little strange (and they probably would find me the same way). Some want to go into politics, some into business. Others take to the stage.  Enter Stage Left: Turkey Mike Donlin.

Coming out of Peoria, Illinois, Mike Donlin was born in 1878. At age 15 he got a job with the local railroad and took a train all the way to California, where he decided to stay. He played amateur baseball, primarily pitching, but also compiling an extensive hitting resume. In 1899 the St. Louis Cardinals picked him up. They tried him at shortstop making him one of the last left-handed shortstops, first base, and finally in the outfield. He was terrible in each position. But he could hit. He .323 and 326 in 1899 and 1900 for the Cardinals, then jumped to the newly formed American League in 1901. He played one year for the Baltimore Orioles (who are now the Yankees, not the current Orioles), again hitting over .300. Then he got into trouble. He was picked up drunk and accused of urinating in the streets, accosting chorus girls, and ended up with six months in jail. The Orioles let him go and after five months in prison (He got off a month early for “good behavior”, which is kind of an odd choice of words when considering Donlin.) and he signed with Cincinnati in 1902. He was wretched.  In 1903 he had a great year, finishing second in the NL in hitting and runs, and third in slugging. Off to a good start in 1904, he got in trouble with the law again and was sent to New York and the tender mercies of John McGraw, who had been his manager at Baltimore.

He became a star in New York. His strutting to the plate earned him the nickname “Turkey Mike” (He hated it.). He put up great numbers in both 1904 and 1905. Hitting second in the line up, Donlin led the NL in runs in 1905 and then hit .316 in the World Series, leading both teams in hits and runs.  Then Donlin discovered both love and the stage.

In April 1906 Donlin married Mabel Hite. Hite was one of the great comedic actresses of the New York stage in the first decade of the 20th Century. She got great reviews in the press and was famous for being able to carry even a weak show. Here’s a picture of the happy couple:

Mabel Hite and Mike Donlin

I think this is an interesting picture because of the contrast between the two. Hite looks self-assured, Donlin doesn’t. Tells you which is used to being on stage, doesn’t it?

Married to an actress, Donlin developed an interest in the stage. That was actually fairly common in the era. A number of prominent players, including Donlin’s teammate Christy Mathewson and his manager John McGraw, appeared on stage as a way to supplement their income. Mostly they talked about baseball or showed the audience how to throw a particular pitch or how to hit a baseball, but it was vaudeville, not Shakespeare and those type acts were fairly common (Will Rogers started out doing roping tricks).

The problem was, as far as baseball was concerned, Donlin was pretty good at it. He starred in a couple of vehicles that included Hite and both were successes. There’s some debate about how much of the success was attributable to Donlin, but he caught the acting bug. For the rest of his Major League career, Donlin would wander in and out of the sport, spending time on the stage, in Hollywood, and on the diamond. When playing baseball, Donlin was still a formidable force at the plate. He played off and on through 1911, when the Giants traded him to Boston. He did alright there, but ended up traded to Pittsburgh in 1912. Again he had a decent season.

After the end of the season, Hite was diagnosed with cancer and died in December. Donlin wandered through vaudeville and baseball another couple of seasons, then gave up the sport to concentrate on the stage. In 1914 he married a woman named Rita Ross, another actress. 

Sources agree that she was part of the “Ross and Fenton” vaudeville act. Now I happen to know a little bit about the vaudeville acts of the World War I era and Ross and Fenton were a comedy team of the era specializing in spoofing classics like Shakespeare and the big dramas of the day. It was a popular routine in the era in which the couple would take a current play, say “A Study in Scarlett” starring William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes, then create a skit called something like “A Study in Black and Blue” and have the male member of the team ape the mannerisms of Gillette. There’s a problem with the identification of Rita Ross as a member of Ross and Fenton. Ross was Charles Ross and Fenton was Mabel Fenton. They were married in 1883 and worked as a couple. Maybe Rita was a daughter, but there is no record of a daughter working with the couple as part of their normal act.. They were together long enough that it’s possible there was a daughter of marriageable age in 1914, but I can find no evidence of her existence. It’s possible that there is a confusion between Donlin’s first wife Mabel Hite and Mabel Fenton, the first names being the same. Ross and Fenton made a couple of silent movies about 1915, but never made it big in Hollywood. Here’s a playbill of one of Mabel Fenton’s performances. I’ve seen pictures of Fenton and I’m certain the woman on the bill is not actually Fenton.

Mabel Fenton playbill

Donlin did a little managing, but by this point “Flickers” were beginning to make their way onto the American scene in a big way. Donlin was quick to join the craze. He starred in a movie about his life in 1915, then, with side trip to teach baseball to recruits during World War I, he migrated to Hollywood, where he found regular employment for much of the silent pictures era. His most famous role, and it’s a bit part, is as a general in the Buster Keaton masterpiece, The General (named for a locomotive, not Donlin’s character). He was a drinking buddy of John Barrymore and the famous actor managed to get him some decent roles in a number of Barrymore’s early movies. The Internet Movie Data Base shows Donlin with 63 credits, by far the most for a former baseball player. Having seen several of these, it’s my opinion that Mike Donlin wasn’t Humphrey Bogart, or John Wayne, or even Buster Keaton.

By 1933, Donlin’s movie career was coming to a close. He was never a major star and was finding it harder to get roles. He began looking to get back into baseball as a coach, but suffered a heart attack and died 24 September 1933.

As a ballplayer, Donlin was terrific when he wanted to play. For his career he hit .333, had an OBP of .386, slugged .468, and had on OPS of .854 (154 OPS+). He had 1282 hits, 1805 total bases, 176 doubles, 97 triples, and 51 home runs to go with 543 RBIs and 213 stolen bases. All in 1049 games over 12 seasons (97 games a year). And it’s the 97 games a year that creates a problem. It just seems that Donlin wanted to do something other than play baseball. In vaudeville and Hollywood he found a calling he prefered. For baseball fans that’s kind of a shame, because he seems to have been a much better ballplayer than an actor.

Joseph Campbell and Baseball

April 3, 2010

The definitive book on mythology is written by Joseph Campbell. It looks at what myths are, how they develop, and how they grow. Many of his ideas are applicable to baseball. As you may have noticed if you’ve managed to hang around here for very long, I have a fascination with the mythology and legend of baseball. In the future I want to do a series of comments on baseball legend and mythology. To do that I need some help.

If you looked at the Dizzy Dean post you saw some comments at the bottom. In them I asked for other people’s opinion of just who has moved from ballplayer to mythological or legendary figure. I suggested Babe Ruth (who I refer to here as BABE RUTH!!!!! when dealing with the legendary aspect of the man), Sandy Koufax, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and of course Dean himself. Bill Miller added Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Nolan Ryan. SportsPhd suggested Yogi Berra.

All of those are certainly people to explore and I will. But I’d like other people’s opinion. Who am I missing that you think has gone beyond mere ballplayer to myth? To put it into another field, who’s gone from actor to John Wayne!!!!? I promise I’ll take a look at the people. I don’t promise I’ll buy off on all of them, but I’ll check ’em out. Give me your “able to leap tall buildings at a single bound” list and I’ll study it. At some point, and it will be at least a couple of weeks, I’ll start a post, or more likely a series of posts, on the idea of legend, mythology, and baseball. Deal?