Kid Gleason used to be on that old Baltimore Orioles team in the 1890's. You know, with Willie Keeler and [John] McGraw and Dan Brouthers and Hughie Jennings, who later became our manager at Detroit. That whole crew moved over to Brooklyn later. I played against those guys when I came up with Cincinnati, in 1899, and let me tell you, after you'd made a trip around the bases against them you knew you'd been somewhere. They'd trip you, give you the hip, and who knows what else. Boy, it was rough. There was only one umpire in those days, see, and he couldn't be everywhere at once.
Ned Hanlon used to manage that Baltimore club, but those old veterans didn't pay any attention to him. Heck, they all knew baseball inside out. You know, ballplayers were tough in those days, but they were real smart, too. Plenty smart. There's no doubt at all in my mind that the old-time ballplayer was smarter than the modern player. No doubt at all. That's what baseball was all about then, a game of strategy and tactics, and if you played in the Big Leagues you had to know how to think, and think quick, or you'd be back in the minors before you knew what in the world hit you.
Now the game is all different. All power and lively balls and short fences and home runs. But not in the old days. I led the National League in home runs in 1901, and do you know how many I hit? Sixteen. That was a helluva lot for those days. Tommy Leach led the league the next year -- with six! In 1908 I led the American League with only seven. Do you know the most home runs Home Run Baker ever hit in one year? It was twelve. That was his best year. In 1914 Baker and I tied for the lead with the grand total of eight each. Now, little Albie Pearson will hit that many accidentally. So you see, the game is altogether different from what it was ....
Like I said, those old Baltimore Orioles didn't pay any more attention to Ned Hanlon, their manager, than they did to the batboy. When I came into the league, that whole bunch had moved over to Brooklyn, and Hanlon was managing them there, too. He was a bench manager in civilian clothes. When things would get a little tough in a game, Hanlon would sit there on the bench and wring his hands and start telling some of those old-timers what to do. They'd look at him and say, "For Christ's sake, just keep quiet and leave us alone. We'll win this ball game if you only shut up."
They would win it, too. If there was any way to win, they'd find it. Like Wee Willie Keeler. He was really something. That little guy couldn't have been over five feet four, and he only weighed about 140 pounds. But he played in the Big Leagues for 20 years and had a lifetime batting average of close to .350 .... "Hit 'em where they ain't," he used to say. And could he ever! He choked up on the bat so far he only used about half of it, and then he'd just peck at the ball. Just a little snap swing, and he'd punch the ball over the infield. You couldn't strike him out. He'd always hit the ball somewhere. And could he fly down to first! Willy was really fast ....
You know, there were a lot of little guys in baseball then. McGraw was a fine ballplayer and he couldn't have been over five feet six or seven. And Tommy Leach, with Pittsburgh -- he was only five feet six and he couldn't have weighed over 140. He was a beautiful ballplayer to watch. And Bobby Lowe, who was the first player to ever hit four home runs in one game. He did that in 1894. That was something, with that old dead ball. Bobby and I played together for three or four years in Detroit, around 1905 or so.
Dummy Hoy was even smaller, about five-five. You remember him, don't you? He died in Cincinnati only a few years ago, at the age of ninety-nine. Quite a ballplayer. In my opinion, Dummy Hoy and Tommy Leach should both be in the Hall of Fame.
Do you know how many bases Dummy Hoy stole in his major-league career? Over 600!* That alone should be enough to put him in the Hall of Fame. We played alongside each other in the outfield with the Cincinnati club in 1902. He started in the Big Leagues way back in the 1880's, you know, so he was on his way out then ... but even that late in his career he was a fine out fielder. A great one.
I'd be in right field and he'd be in center, and I'd have to listen real careful to know whether or not he'd take a fly ball. He couldn't hear, you know, so there wasn't any sense in me yelling for it. He couldn't talk either, of course, but he'd make a kind of throaty noise, kind of a little squawk, and when a fly ball came out and I heard this little noise I knew he was going to take it. We never had any trouble about who was to take the ball.
Did you know that he was the one responsible for the umpire giving hand signals for a ball or a strike? Raising his right hand for a strike, you know, and stuff like that. [Dummy Hoy]'d be up at bat and he couldn't hear and he couldn't talk, so he'd look around at the umpire to see what the pitch was, a ball or a strike. That's where the hand signs for the umpires calling balls and strikes began. That's a fact. Very few people know that.
-- Sam Crawford
The Glory of Their Times (Ritter)
The Glory of Their Times, Lawrence S. Ritter
Copyright 1966 by Lawrence S. Ritter
Published by Random House (New York), 1966
available at AMAZON