The Storytellers Ch. 12

byParis Waterman©

"Now you may recall I said earlier that the league would be playing 70 games each season, not the 60 mentioned above. Well, financial problems plagued a couple of teams, namely the New York Nationals and the Philadelphia Athletics, both of whom cancelled their last swing west and were expelled from the National League, cutting about ten games from each teams schedule. The expulsion also served to deprive the populations around both cities from having a baseball team until 1883.

"One last thing about Spalding, and I promise I won't mention him again. He had balls all right, not a drinking man, but he had balls in more ways than one. He published the first official rules guide for baseball. In it he stated that only Spalding balls could be used (admittedly, the quality of the baseballs used previously had been subpar). Spalding also founded the Baseball Guide, which at the time was the most widely-read baseball publication.

"Let's see," Bill said, scratching his chin. "1876 wuz also an election year," he said as he wandered away from baseball to discuss the political situation of the day. "A Presidential election that proved to be one of the most intense and disputed elections in American history.

Samuel J. Tilden of New York defeated Ohio's Rutherford Hayes in the popular vote, and had 184 electoral votes to Hayes' 165, with 20 votes yet uncounted.

"Ah, politics. Ain't nothing pure about them skunks. These electoral votes were in dispute: in three states, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, each party reported its candidate had won. But in Oregon, one elector was declared illegal (on account of being an "elected or appointed official") and replaced. The votes were ultimately awarded to Hayes after a bitter electoral dispute. A lot of backroom shenanigans took place there, I assure you."

"Were you in the room, Bill?"

"Naw, I didn't meet Arthur until '82; and then didn't use my gift for several years after."

I felt a thump in my chest. He was lying.

Then then he grinned and said, "But I did visit one or two of them what wuz in the backroom in later years. They made all kinds of deals before deciding on Hayes. By the way, Tilden had a few offered out there as well. But the Southern vote wanted the troops out and that wuz what it took."

"Now I have to admit I didn't know about the election that year," I told him.

Bill nodded sagely and continued, "Politics is like playing with the Devil. You never know what kind of bargain you're gonna strike. In this case a kind of informal deal wuz struck: In return for the South's acquiescence in Hayes' election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction.

This deal became known as the Compromise of 1877. The Compromise effectively pushed the colored out of power in the government; soon after the compromise, coloreds wuz barred from voting by poll taxes and grandfather clauses.

"In return the Southern Democrats would acknowledge Hayes as President, but only if the Republicans acceded to various demands of which only two were acted upon.

The first had all Federal troop removed from the former Confederate States. The second involved the appointment of a Southern Democrat to Hayes' cabinet. There wuz no serious effort made to fund a railroad or provide other federal aid. As to the other demands, there wuz no serious effort made to fund a railroad or provide other federal aid that might help industrialize the South.

"In any case, Reconstruction ended, and the supremacy of the Democratic Party in the South wuz cemented with the ascent of the "Redeemer" governments that displaced the Republican governments. After the Compromise of 1877, white supremacy generally caused the South to vote Democratic in elections from that time on."

"Oh my gosh! I almost forgot."

"What is it, Bill?"

"Back in '77 or '78, I think it wuz; a feller from Harvard invented the catcher's mask. I think his name wuz Thayer, or something like that. Can't recall his first name; and I don't think he ever played in the majors. The only reason I remember it at all is 'cause Mr. Spaulding started selling this (it wuz a modified fencing mask) for $3, and of course I went out and bought me two of 'em.

A couple years later, Thayer, or Smayer, sued Spalding for patent infringement, and Spalding was ultimately forced to pay royalties. "Tell me, Bill, did you play alongside any of the great players of the 19th Century?"

"Sure I did. I remember when Buck Ewing come up in 1880. I wuz hurt most of that year with Troy, and a feller name of Holbert caught most of the team's games. But you could see this Ewing wuz a comer. He didn't play much that year, but he got rolling the next year and there's many call Ewing the best player of his time.

When they got around to electing the first players to the Hall of Fame they wuz supposed to be five pre-1900 players elected along with Ruth and Cobb and them. It didn't work out that way. Needing 59 votes to get in, the leading vote getters were Buck Ewing with 40, Cap Anson 40, Willie Keeler 33, Cy Young 32, Ed Delahanty 22, McGraw 17, Herman Long 16, Charlie Radbourn 16, Mike Kelly 16, Amos Rusie 12. So none got elected.

So, in 1939, Judge Landis, Ford Frick and William Harridge selected Buck Ewing, Cap Anson, Al Spalding, Candy Cummings, Comiskey, and Old Hoss Radbourne for inclusion in the Hall. A much less desirous way to get in. Apparently, the post 1940 world has forgotten why 40 original voters thought Buck Ewing was fully the equal of Anson, as a player.

I played with Tommy Bond, Candy Cummings, both good pitchers with the Hartford club. Spaulding's '78 Chicago team had a bunch of great players: Starting with Cap Anson, Bob Ferguson (also w/ Hartford) Spaulding, and in '79, Ned Williamson.

Ed Delahanty Roger Connor, Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch wuz on the '80 Troy team. And with a terrible ball club in Cincinnati in '83, I'd have to include Blondie Purcell, a decent enough pitcher, although as I recall he lost 68 while winning only 13. Still, you had to good to get that many decisions, wouldn't you think?"

"I might as well put together a list of who I think wuz the best of that time. Save us both some time, anyway. I already mentioned Buck Ewing as the all round best, he wuz a catcher, after all. Then in no particular order I'd have: Cap Anson, Roger Connor, Ned Williamson, Ed Delahanty, Dan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, Willie Keeler, Michael "King" Kelly, and I have to mention another catcher, Charley Bennett. I thought that after Ewing, he wuz the best catcher during my time. He went through several seasons without having a passed ball. He never had an equal as a thrower to bases, and he caught for the world champion Detroit Team of 1887.

"There you have it. My so-called career in Baseball."

"Bill Harbridge's career, I'm sure you had many others."

"Not so many as you'd think."

"So tell me, who came next?"

"That's easy, Napoleon Lajoie. But that will have to wait until tomorrow, see I got a service to run and the congregation might think it peculiar to see a white man sitting here with me."

"I understand, Bill. So right here again tomorrow?"

"No, meet me at Morrison's Restaurant on Elm, say six o'clock tomorrow evening?"

"Why so late in the day, Bill?"

"Got places to be, people to see, that's why."

I could only nod my acceptance, and walk out of the church.

I went back to my hotel room and worked on my notes. I did not call Belva, something told me that he was lingering about, watching my every move, probing for a weakness on my part. I wasn't about to give him one. At least not easily.

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