SABR 40: day one, post one

I’ve had no sleep so I could be on a crack of dawn flight to Atlanta, but here I am! Liveblogging what I can from the 40th annual convention of the Society for American Baseball Research. There’s wireless in the conference area! So I’ll try to post more than once a day.

First up:

A Heisman Trophy in College Baseball? (Karl Green)

Scranton Times Coverage of 1906 New York State League Championship Led by Moonlight Graham (Jim Frutchey)

Southern Baseball and Southern Gimmicks (Norman Graubart)


A Heisman Trophy in College Baseball? (Karl Green)
I could have made it to this whole presentation if I’d rushed from the MARTA station and then not stopped to say hello to any of my friends outside, but I actually went and took my bags up to my room, and then stopped to chat with some of my Yankee fan peeps, Tara Krieger and Stew Thornley. Both are also professionals in the baseball biz (as am I), but we remember the days when we were “just fans” and have never lost our love for our team, or, obviously, the sport itself. (If we had, we probably wouldn’t be going to conventions like this…)

Anyway, Karl Green appeared to recap Heisman’s career as a baseball coach, including a list of the players of his who made it to the majors (9 or 10) and many many more who made the minors. Discussed the college powerhouses in athletics of the day. (Vanderbilt? Who knew?) Conclusion: Heisman was a very good coach for baseball, but he was not the big innovator he was there as he was in football. So it’s fitting that the football award is named for him, but if there were an equivalent award in baseball Heisman wouldn’t be the only candidate you could name it for.

Scranton Times Coverage of 1906 New York State League Championship Led by Moonlight Graham (Jim Frutchey)

Jim’s educational background is in Amercian cultural history and as an assistant professor at Marywood University he is on tenure track and needs to publish. He was always interested in baseball as well as American history. He ended up searching the micofilm collection of his library in Scranton looking for a locally relevant and interesting topic, and discovered that Moonlight Graham had played for the Scranton Miners in the 1906 season, the one year they brought a championship to Scranton. Research expanded to the local historical society and the (unindexed) archives of the local newspaper, the Scranton Times.

Organized baseball has been going on in Scranton since after the Civil War and today the Yankees’ AAA team makes its home there.

In 1906 Scranton was reaching its peak of prosperity because of the popularity/demand of anthracite coal, and the city grew in size. Upton Sinclair’s THE JUNGLE had been published and laws protecting the public had just come into being. Duffy’s Whiskey was advertised often in the newspaper as a cure-all for many ills including consumption and grippe.

Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was immortalized in W. P. Kinsella’s literary work. Kinsella discovered him because of his famously barren stat line in the baseball encyclopedia, where in 1905, on Grahams’s one day in the majors, he entered a game with the NY Giants, but did not actually bat. In 1906 he was sent to Scranton. The Miners had a tough battle with the Binghampton Bingos that season and the Syracuse Stars. The newspapers used very colorful metaphors in their game stories, comparing games to naval battles and the team to a war party of native Americans. Pitchers were referred to as “slab artists” and batters as “willow wielders.” Utica’s Biff Schlitzer threw a “slobber ball” (spitball).

The Miners finished the season 12 games ahead of their nearest competitors. 82-48 record. The day after winning the league, they played the New York Giants in an exhibition game, but only 4 regular Giants played in the game and the promised appearance by “Mathewson” was made by Christy’s brother, not the real article. The Miners won the game 9-1. They also beat the Orioles in exhibition, 4-3, and Hughie Jennings, upset over the defeat, challenged the Miners to two more games. Unfortunately they were not played since too many of the players already had plans to leave town.


Southern Baseball and Southern Gimmicks
(Norman Graubart)

A native of Atlanta, Norman is a college student at NYU right now. He began by discussion Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, which was a singular achievement for an African-American southern man (from Alabama) who assaulted a hallowed record, and didn’t break it at Wrigley or Fenway or one of the northern places, but at unsightly Fulton County Stadium, putting Atlanta and Southern baseball onto the map in a way it had not been before. Baseball in the south had been insular, less “national” than northern baseball.

Although baseball is played the same way around the world, in the northern states baseball is a city pastime, while in the South, baseball is in the countryside, the small towns. Graubart set out to define “southern-ness” (“which is not a word,” he pointed out) and investigated the gimmicks that southern ballclubs used to draw people. There is a proudly irreverent attitude, which made for a starting place for many wacky promotions. One owner was infamous for trading his players for grapefruit. Lafayette White Sox pioneered night games and Ladies Night in particular. In Lousiana it’s so hot and humid that night games were more bearable, especially for women who were expected to dress as if they were going to church. There were times when an almost variety-show aspect came into play. An empty house would mean curtains for a team, so putting butts in the seats was always crucial. The “money dash” where they would let fans scramble all over the field before the game to pick up as much cash as they could.

Graubart also mentioned that the Negro Leagues differed greatly in the north and south, as the black south was not as well-established as the larger black populations in the northern cities. The population had shifted drastically toward the north over the years. The Kansas City Monarchs were one of the few who were established, and they brought their lights with them so they could play night games wherever they went.

Despite Aaron’s homer, the Braves did not lose their irreverent attitude. The Braves were still a losing team then, and they did things like Headlock and Wedlock Night. 34 couples were married on the field, followed by a wrestling match. In Savannah today they still have Sumo Wrestling Night. Nowadays the team has adapted itself to modern Atlanta, like the Beauty and Baseball promotion, which is a day at the ballpark including a wine tasting, guest speaker, full service spa… oh, and a baseball game (the Mets will be in town). Today’s team gets corporate sponsors for its sideshows to finance itself, not that different really from the way it used to be.

And now I’m going to try to grab a sandwich in the deli upstairs before I fall over and then try to get back down here in time for the next presentation. Ready, go!

ctan
Writer, editor, baseball fan, bisexual, eastern healing therapist, etc...

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