Droysen holds that historians must speculate. The alternative is to have no history at all, but only a collection of facts. –– Historical Knowledge, Historical Error: A Contemporary Guide to Practice (University of Chicago Press, 2007)
Invoking German historian J. G. Droysen (1808-84), University of Virginia history professor Allan Megill and two co-authors contend that historians need to point out for their readers where they are going beyond the evidence. In addition, they need to pay attention to indirect evidence that might support or undermine their speculations. That is because in history, absolute certainty often cannot be achieved.
Unfortunately, as anyone who has tried to weed through writings on historical subjects knows, distinguishing between facts and speculation can be an impossible enterprise. What’s more, choosing from among sources, especially secondary ones, is an art in and of itself and helps account for why so many historical articles and books are loaded with whoppers.
The spark for this article was a Sunday sports column in the Washington Post last December that quoted, as its key source, analysis in an Internet article that mixed in fact with speculation without distinguishing between the two. The writer of the column was University of Maryland visiting professor of sports journalism and ESPN “Around the Horn” panelist Kevin B. Blackistone. Besides having two decades of newspaper experience, he had recently moderated a discussion on investigative sports reporting sponsored by Investigative Reporters & Editors.
The column addressed the drawing of the “color line” against blacks in professional baseball in the 19th century. As the author of a four-book series featuring the column’s main villain, baseball Hall of Famer Adrian “Cap” Anson, I spotted the fact-versus-speculation flaw quickly, although analyzing the extent of it took a lot longer. An unusual criticism that I provided right away to the Post’s sports editor, Matthew Vita, is that the column relied heavily on an “old boys’ network” source – a members-only biography project on the Internet sponsored by the Society for American Baseball Research. The society’s members include working journalists, which may unduly boost the biography project’s credibility among their profession.
In his column, Blackistone called Anson “baseball’s Woodrow Wilson problem.” The Wilson reference is to the racism of the early 20th-century Princeton University and U.S. President. That Wilson’s name is still on university buildings, including the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, led to a 32-hour sit-in protest by students last November. A university trustee committee that was convened as a result decided to retain his name, to honor his “visions and achievements.” At the same time, it recommended new diversity initiatives, and said the university must be forthright in recognizing Wilson’s “failings and shortcomings.”
Blackistone also wrote that Anson “erected the color barrier in baseball” and “there is no acknowledgement in Anson’s hall of fame display of his role in spearheading racial segregation in baseball.” At the end of his column, he urged that Anson’s plaque be revised. Anson, a longtime Chicago National League captain (player)-manager, was indeed a racist. He even made racial comments and acted against blacks more negatively, in a public way, than just about any other big league player of his day.
But it is much harder to connect the dots than Blackistone let on. His one quoted source was an essay on Anson in the baseball research society’s online Baseball Biography Project. His excerpt from it began, “Regrettably, Anson used his stature to drive minority players from the game.” The excerpt then recalled Anson’s vociferous objection in 1883, before an exhibition game in Toledo, Ohio, to playing against Toledo’s black catcher, Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker. Although Anson relented and played, the incident “made Anson, wittingly or not, the acknowledged leader of the segregation forces already at work in the game. Other players and managers followed Anson’s lead, and similar incidents occurred with regularity for the rest of the decade.” The author of the essay, Anson book biographer and research society member David L. Fleitz, also noted a second incident by Anson in 1887. On that occasion, Anson successfully objected in advance of an exhibition game at Newark, N.J., to facing its two black players; Blackistone quoted that part of Fleitz’s essay as well.
While the incidents that Anson was involved in are beyond dispute, it is speculative to say that they “made Anson, wittingly or not, the acknowledged leader of the segregation forces already at work in the game” and that other players and managers “followed Anson’s lead.” That is because no report has been found of anyone in baseball acknowledging Anson as his leader on racism. Also, sporadically, in place of “with regularity,” more accurately describes the number of incidents that decade after the 1883 one, in which at least one white player objected to a black player’s presence. That holds true if referring to big league exhibition games against teams with a single black player, through the other extreme, the first professional all-black team, the Cuban Giants.
Neither Blackistone nor Fleitz accounted for how, if Anson were so influential for his 1883 bigotry, Fleet Walker and his brother Weldy became major leaguers in 1884. That said, it was the Walkers’ lone major league season and one during which Anson’s Chicago team more formally threatened to cancel an exhibition game if Fleet’s Toledo team used him. In 1884, Toledo was in the then-major American Association; otherwise, except for 1890, that city never fielded a major league team. The years 1884 and 1890 were the only years in 19th-century baseball with three major leagues, which made achieving major league status relatively easy. The 1884 season was also the only one before Jackie Robinson in 1947 that persons identified as black played in a major league, except for a player who was a substitute in a single National League game in 1879 who passed for being white, William Edward White.
Otherwise, the highest level of blacks in early baseball was the high minors. However, the apex of their presence came in 1887, three years after the second of Anson’s racial incidents. It was in that season that the high minor International League added several black players beyond its 1886 total of one, to reach a high of seven. It was the increase in their numbers, according to contemporaneous reporting, that led to fateful controversy. In July 1887, owners in that league voted to ban new contracts with black players. That decision led to the disappearance of blacks from the high minors after 1889, to a trickle of them within a decade, and to their entire disappearance in the early 20th century until the latter 1940s.
Fleitz’s book on Anson, Cap Anson: The Grand Old Man of Baseball, misstated that chronology. It did so by asserting, after devoting more than a page to his 1883 incident, that his “stance struck a nerve, and high-level teams began to release black players and refuse to hire new ones during the next few seasons.” As conveyed in the paragraph immediately above, the opposite occurred – until around the time of and in the aftermath of the International League vote in July 1887. Sol White, a black player and manager who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, both chewed out Anson in his 1907 book on early blacks in baseball and called 1887 “a banner year for colored talent in the white leagues.”
A similar “struck a nerve” line in Fleitz’s essay, as quoted by Blackistone, cast Anson’s stance as the witting or unwitting model, in Anson’s day, for all later pro-segregation acts by white players. Both Fleitz’s 2005 and my 2006 Anson biography note that future Chicago second baseman Fred Pfeffer had been in an incident with Walker in 1881. At the time, Pfeffer, a native of one of the more racist baseball cities, Louisville, was playing for an independent team there. Upon arriving in Louisville for a series, a team from Cleveland was told that Walker, its regular catcher, could not participate. “Louisville is the first city whose base ball [sic] club has refused to allow him to play,” the Louisville Commercial said on August 22, 1881. So, alternative inspiration speculation can be that other incidents such as the 1881 one provided a model or that, within baseball, Pfeffer was seen as Anson’s instigator. Pfeffer’s Chicago career began in 1883 and continued past Anson’s last incident involving a black opponent in 1888. What’s more, who knows if racists in 19th-century baseball took cues from players on other teams. After all, their inspiration may have been their own racist attitudes or racist behavior in society at large.
(In my 2006 biography of Anson, I speculated whether Pfeffer influenced Anson in the 20th century to umpire and play in games against black players. In both cases, Pfeffer preceded him in doing so at the amateur or semi-pro level. For example, as of 1899 Pfeffer was the official umpire of the “Chicago Mindus, the crack colored club of Cook county [sic],” the Louisville Times said. In 1901, Anson umpired five games of Pfeffer’s semi-pro team over consecutive Sundays, with the opposing team on the fifth Sunday being the all-black Columbia Giants. In 1908, Anson’s Colts, a team Anson owned, played an all-black team in its semi-pro league, the Leland Giants, which had descended from the Columbia Giants. In two of their contests, the opposing first basemen were Anson and Andrew “Rube” Foster, the future founder of the first of the Negro Leagues.)
Figuring out what led to and the reasoning behind the July 1887 International League vote is central to determining a chunk of the blame to potentially pin on Anson. A report in the sports weekly Sporting Life, right after the vote, stated, “Several representatives declared that many of the best players in the league are anxious to leave on account of the colored element, and the board finally directed Secretary [C.D.] White to approve of no more contracts with colored men.”
Robert Peterson included that report in his 1970 Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams. My Anson biography reprinted the following squib from a month earlier in 1887 in Sporting Life, after Syracuse signed Robert Higgins, giving the league a second black pitcher: “How far will this mania for engaging colored players go? At the present rate of progress the International League might ere many moons change its title to ‘Colored League.’” A week after the squib, the Sporting News spoke of a “new trouble” having just arisen “in the affairs of certain of the baseball associations. It seems to have done more damage to the International [League] than to any other we know of. We refer to the importation of colored players into the ranks of that body.”
Higgins had faced a backlash in his debut on May 25, as some teammates seemed to deliberately muff plays in a 28-8 defeat, the Toronto World reported under the headline, “DISGRACEFUL BASEBALL.” In a 1983 article for the baseball research society, black baseball historian Jerry Malloy cited the Sporting News quote above and Toronto World coverage. In addition, Malloy reprinted these Sporting News headlines: “THE SYRACUSE PLOTTERS; The Star Team Broken Up By a Multitude of Cliques; The Southern Boys Refuse to Support the Colored Pitcher.”
Anson’s racial warning that year at Newark, in advance of the game mentioned earlier, occurred on the tail end of problems such as the above. However, contrary to every other book or modern-day article I have seen that has stated the timing of the league meeting relative to the game, my 2006 book has it preceding it. According to the Buffalo Morning Express, the meeting, which took place in Buffalo, was called to order at 10 a.m. and lasted until 1 p.m. By a 6-to-4 vote, the league’s teams voted to ban new contracts with blacks. Its entirely white teams voted in favor and those with at least one black player voted in the negative. The Binghamton, N.Y., team, which had just released its two black players, voted with the majority, the late baseball racism professor Jules Tygiel wrote in a 1989 essay in Total Baseball.
Meanwhile, as noted earlier, Blackistone in his own words wrote that “Cap Anson erected the color barrier in baseball.” Erected sounds like a rewrite of the figurative “drawing” of the color line, which Anson did do on several occasions. Fleitz also veered from the figurative when he wrote, in concluding a chapter of his book, “Cap Anson, more than anyone else, was the man who wielded the infamous pen.” As will be noted later, an essay in a 2008 book by Fleitz’s publisher, McFarland & Company, latched onto that last sentence as distinguishing Fleitz from two other book authors it analyzed on this subject: the one Fleet Walker biographer and me. In addition, although Fleitz speculated that baseball segregation would have likely occurred “even if Anson had never played professional baseball,” he criticized Anson for having “willingly involved himself prominently in a crusade” to that effect. However, there is no evidence that a crusade, an energetic and organized campaign, took place. For one thing, I have not read of another big league team that placed any racial condition on any of its exhibition games against mixed teams with black players before the July 1887 vote. In a 2008 Ph.D. dissertation on the color line in early U.S. sport, Gregory Bond tallied 14 such exhibition games that season involving big league teams and mixed International League ones, prior to the July Chicago one at Newark. Of the 14 games, 6 featured Newark, including 2 home games it played against Boston. Bond’s tally also showed 5 of the 8 National League teams playing exhibition games in 1887 against teams with at least one black player on their roster.
My view on how to connect the dots is in my 2006 book and has been in the second paragraph of the Anson Wikipedia entry for years with the caveat, “A 2006 biography of Anson that exhaustively examined 19th-century newspaper reporting related to him on the subject of racism reached the following conclusion.” The conclusion is that Anson “rightfully should endure as the big leaguer who, until the late 1940s, was involved in the greatest number of reported negative incidents, on the field, relating to blacks. But at the same time, his argumentative nature could be readily discounted by those around him. So, the notion that he had ‘coattails’ in persuading players and officials on other teams to do as he did is rather spurious.” Anson was symbolically important in early baseball for his integrity, as will be noted in the next paragraph. But his personality, which was contrarian and “bluff and gruff,” arguably made him someone unlikely for others – other than his own teammates – to have been persuaded or compelled to follow on controversial matters involving, on some level, personal taste. Historian Malloy, in his 1983 article, did not make a distinction between integrity and such matters in writing, “Outspoken, gruff, truculent, and haughty, Anson gained the respect, if not the esteem, of his players, as well as opponents. . .” A similar lack of distinction, and in all-knowing voice, appears in Tom Dunkel’s 2013 Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line: “Whatever Cap Anson said carried disproportionate weight with his peers, even when the words veered toward bigotry.”
Amending Anson’s plaque to say that he instigated some of the most public racial incidents in 1880s baseball is fine. It could be balanced out by adding a positive omission: that he was a staunch figure against the influence of professional gamblers, a big concern back then – even though he often bet on games or on his team winning the pennant; the first reports of his doing so did not appear until the mid-1880s. Betting on one’s team to do well was allowed in the late 19th century, and Anson, by a landslide, reportedly did it far more often than anybody. Racially, it could be noted in any explanatory material that while there is enough of a basis to speculate that he played a significant role, that it is unclear whether he did. Such material could at least note the 1883 and similar 1884, 1887, and 1888 incidents, in which at least one black opponent definitely or reportedly sat out because of the Chicago team’s objections. Walker sat out the 1884 and 1888 games, and Newark’s George Stovey more plausibly did so in 1887, while teammate Walker was apparently injured anyway.
The 1883 game produced a quote widely attributed to Anson, “Get that (N word) off the field!” which became the main title of a 1976 book by black broadcaster-historian Art Rust Jr. The line has appeared, for example, in then-New York Times sportswriter George Vecsey’s 2006 Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game. Contemporaneously, the Toledo Blade quoted Anson as follows, after he issued his “break [refusal]” to play. Toledo’s management gave an order “then and there, to play Walker, and the beefy bluffer was informed that he could play his team or go, just as he blank [sic] pleased. Anson hauled in his horns somewhat and ‘consented’ to play [with his team], remarking, ‘We’ll play this here game, but won’t play never no more with the (N word) in.”’
Besides essayist Fleitz, the only other historian referred to in any manner in Blackistone’s column is racism professor Tygiel. Blackistone tells of having read his 1983 Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy soon after its release and that it was the source that first made him aware of Anson’s “inglorious role.” In that book, Tygiel wrote:
“Anson was one of the prime architects of baseball’s Jim Crow policies. . .”
Although Tygiel implied that others deserve blame as well for the sport’s second-class treatment of blacks, no indication has yet been found that Anson had influence on establishing broad racial policies. Tygiel in his 1989 essay noted earlier did not call him an architect of such policies. Instead, he merely described Anson’s 1883 and 1887 incidents and added that in the 1887 one, “Anson’s will prevailed.” In noting the timing of the 1887 one, he did not argue that it had influence on the International League meeting. Instead, his emphasis was to quote most of the following sentence, which appeared in Sporting Life right after the vote: “Several representatives declared that many of the best players in the league are anxious to leave on account of the colored element.” Similarly, in his 1983 Robinson book, Tygiel wrote that “in response to player protests” and referring to events within the league, International League officials “issued their edict banning future contracts with blacks.”
Tygiel, who died in 2008, wrote one final essay that touches on this: a 17-page foreword to the 2006 Shades of Glory: the Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball. In a passing reference to Anson, he said Anson is “often portrayed as the architect of baseball segregation.” Literally, he both strengthened his 1983 statement that Anson was one of the prime architects of it – while distancing himself on whether that is a fair portrayal. A fairer argument is that rather than being an architect, that he was a reinforcer of it, including in the National League – and that he had no demonstrable influence on changing the course of events apart from his team’s exhibition-game schedule.
After all, there is no corroboration to claims that he influenced the National League in upholding its unofficial ban on blacks. In 1888, someone wrote to the Chicago Morning Herald to ask if any rule barred blacks from the National League. The Herald replied on its news pages, “No; but there is a strong prejudice against the gentleman [who is that color].”
In his book, Fleitz did raise the possibility that Anson’s 1887 incident “may have emboldened other players in their refusal to play against African-Americans.” He then noted that a big league team, St. Louis in the American Association, canceled a game against the all-black Cuban Giants soon after. I located 12 exhibition games played by major league teams against the Cuban Giants, over the rest of that season and into 1889, including by four different National League ones; none are in Fleitz’s book. My book cited a comment by St. Louis captain (player)-manager Charles Comiskey to the Philadelphia Press that his team at the time was suffering from injuries. In addition, that newspaper quoted an unnamed St. Louis player as telling it that the reason for the players’ objection “was a mixture of both causes. The club didn’t want to play in their crippled condition, and they would not play against negroes.” I listed that as item 7 in the alleged case against Anson and argued that analysis of the incident is mucked up by the parallel motives, including “the players’ wanting to be in good health to remain in first place and win the pennant.”
On the influence of his racism, my 2006 book is far more comprehensive on its alleged impacts apart from the International League decision in 1887, especially claims made by Sol White in his 1907 book. For example, White wrote, “Were it not for this same man Anson, there would have been a colored player in the National League in 1887.” Over four pages, my book rebutted that and a related claim giving 1886 as the year and originating from a black newspaper in 1892, the Cleveland Gazette. I cited a range of contemporaneous news reports in a way that shows how disconnected Anson was to what happened in 1886 and 1887. Coincidentally, next to Tygiel’s comment in the foreword of Shades of Glory, the strongest judgment about Anson in that book relates to White’s claims about him. In one of its chapters, historians James Overmyer and Lawrence D. Hogan wrote, “While White gives Anson more blame than he is probably due for promoting baseball segregation, it is nonetheless a necessary correction in the lore of the Chicagoan’s storied career.”
The baseball research society Internet essay for Newark’s Stovey, a pitcher who was at the center of the White allegation above about Anson, and Wikipedia’s Stovey essay, which I have written much of, both counter White. For example, the society’s essay states, “Scantily chronicled and unsubstantiated claims suggest that Cap Anson and his Chicago teammates raised a fuss and the [New York] Giants backed away from the plan [to sign Stovey].”
I can expound on how my book stressed the alleged impacts of Anson’s racism other than on the International League decision in 1887. For one thing, it did not note the reported discontent among many of the best players as the basis for the vote. On balance, that factor would point to Anson being a sideshow, since the league’s reported regular-season racial problems plausibly dwarfed its exhibition ones. That said, exhibition games against big league teams presumably produced a lot more revenue per game. However, a book noted later, related to 19th-century black minor leaguer John “Bud” Fowler, makes the unsubstantiated claim that Chicago’s team as of 1887 had become “such a national institution that a single game played against a local nine could ensure a profitable season financially for that local team.” On the issue of profits, a theory presented as in “all likelihood” to be true, by Timothy M. Gay in a Simon & Schuster book in 2010, is that “Anson’s 1887 walkout [should be warning] was staged – probably in collusion with [Chicago President Albert G.] Spalding and other owners, who were convinced that blacks on the field meant poison at the box office.” Gay apparently did not back up his theory, and his book has the subtitle “The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson.” As far as the announced basis for holding the July 1887 meeting, it was “to transfer the ailing Utica[, New York] franchise to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania,” Malloy wrote in his 1983 article.
I wrote in my book, “It is possible that a Chicago club official had sent one or more letters to Newark’s management in advance of the game, and that such letters precipitated the league’s decision.” I added, “However, in contemporaneous reporting, including the Newark Sunday Call and the Newark [Daily] Journal, there is no indication that Chicago or Anson had anything to do with the decision.” My book merely quoted a report that “Anson, of the Chicagos, on Thursday notified the Newarks that they must not play Stovey and Walker in the exhibition game against the Chicagos.” A Newark Evening News article, noted in a 2013 book by the baseball research society, reported that Anson’s notification came via telegram the day of the game, Thursday, to Newark manager Charley Hackett.
In his article, Malloy wrote, “Whether or not there was a direct connection between Anson’s opposition to playing against Stovey and Walker and, on the same day, the International League’s decision to draw the color line is lost in history.” In 1996, he penned a 42-page foreword to a University of Nebraska Press reprint of White’s 1907 one. Finally, in 2000, shortly before his death, he wrote the following on the society’s Internet members-only forum:
“The recent [as of the year 2000] DNA findings concerning Thomas Jefferson’s [alleged] romantic liaisons [with black slave Sally Hemings] remind us that excessive dogmatic insistence on traditional documentation may not lead us to the truth – and may, in fact, deflect us from it.” Malloy added that it “appears that, in the case of Jefferson’s DNA, the black oral tradition contained more truth than the (mostly white) [sic] historians’ traditional tools. It’s a cautionary tale, worth keeping in mind.”
Malloy was responding to dissertation writer Bond, who, in following up on his 1999 master’s thesis, had posted on the forum on the lack of a direct connection between Anson and the decision. By the way, University of Virginia professor Megill and his two co-authors, writing in 2007, stated that “we consider it a mistake, in light of the current state of the data, to assert as an unequivocal truth that Jefferson had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings. At the same time, all three of us believe that he in fact did have such a relationship, for we find that the hypothesis that there was such a relationship offers a ‘better explanation’ of the totality of the extant evidence [that which is known in the current day, and which does not necessarily reflect information that has been lost to history] than does the contrary hypothesis.”
So, even if there is a basis for speculating in the realm of racial history beyond traditional documentation, writings on the subject should, as the best journalism does on historical controversy, be differentiating facts from speculation. In addition, such writings should account for sources that feature extensive primary research, if they exist.
To give four examples of recent research on baseball’s color line that show the pitfalls of using a compromised methodology, although stellar context in one of them would have helped Blackistone:
The Society for History Education’s The History Teacher, a peer-reviewed quarterly journal, printed the following in 2013, as part of an essay entitled, “Foul Lines: Teaching Race in Jim Crow America through Baseball History.” I have added clarifications in brackets:
“And so our story opens a full sixty years before integration, in September 1888, when a young mulatto African American, Moses Fleetwood Walker (Figure 2), jogged out onto a major league diamond in Chicago [actually, that was in 1883 at Toledo]. Suiting up as a catcher for Syracuse of the International Association [in 1888], the primary rival to the decade-old National League [actually, the one other major league at the time was the American Association], Walker had produced solid on-field performances the past season, hitting .264 with 67 hits in 69 games played. But even his presence on the diamond provoked a torrent of racial abuse [not in that episode, and the one in 1883 featured a single Ansonian slur], most notably from the vociferous Adrian “Cap” Anson, captain of the Chicago White Stockings and obstinate white supremacist. Anson, who in preceding years refused to be photographed with black teammates [he never had black teammates], now greeted Walker with the shout, “Get that (N word) off the field!” [the context is misleading and the quote is a paraphrase of the original], and then pulled his team from the playing grounds [that is wrong too; it stayed]. With several other of the league’s best players already threatening to leave the circuit if African Americans remained rostered, International Association leaders soon met [that was back in 1887] in secret [as was presumably customary regardless of the agenda] to agree that no more contracts would be issued to colored players. Although temporarily lifted during the league’s reorganization the following two years, the approved color line excluding black players hardened rigidly following the 1889 season [in the high minors], the last in which African American players appeared in major professional baseball [as high as the high minors] for fifty-eight [fifty-seven] years.”
A second example is Jeffrey Michael Laing’s 2013 Bud Fowler: Baseball’s First Black Professional, which stated, “In light of Anson’s position, the directors of the International Association agreed to no longer tender contracts to African Americans after the 1887 season.” Also, “Anson’s influence and authority in baseball was so unquestioned in the 1880s that his private disparagement of blacks in derogatory and demeaning terms was never widely disseminated by the baseball world or the sporting press.” Since there is no way of knowing how often he or other players used racial slurs, there is no data to base speculation that he received special treatment. His use of profanity toward umpires was contemporaneously reported, especially in the second half of his career.
A third example is a Public Affairs book about the 1883 season, Edward Achorn’s 2013 The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game. Achorn wrote, “Anson had his way when he was alive, and partly because of him it took baseball many more decades to integrate.” That argument seems to hinge on his accepting at face value prose from White’s 1907 book that Anson blocked a rival National League team, the New York Giants, from signing black pitcher Stovey.
Achorn also wrote, referring to White, “Black players [of Anson’s day] could not fully explain the vicious crusade that had been waged against them. They only knew that Cap Anson was their tireless enemy, working to keep them out of organized baseball.” That is a double whammy. As both noted earlier, there is no evidence that a crusade took place, and news reports in 1887 cited ongoing discontent within the International League’s regular season as the basis for its vote to ban new contracts with black players.
A fourth example at least deserves kudos for excellent context that is hard to match:
In 2013, University of Florida undergraduate Sarah E. Calise received a scholarship from the baseball research society to help write her thesis, “My Skin is Against Me”: Early African American Baseball and Race Relations in Post-Civil War America, 1867-1896. On the negative side, she presented as factually known that Anson’s 1887 demand “was the catalyst for the International League establishing the color line.”
Calise’s bibliography includes the one book-length biography of Walker, by professor David W. Zang. In place of the above phrase, with two minor annotations, the following thought of Zang’s would have been fine: “It seems fitting, then, that the day after Anson’s petty triumph [actually, the triumph came in the hours after the league meeting], the directors of the International League met secretly [as was presumably their practice] and, after discussion, directed their secretary to approve no more contracts for colored players.” In a different part of his book, Zang criticized “men like Cap Anson and those who tried to cast blacks from the International League.” That fairly conveys that the significance of the Anson tie-in to the meeting remains unclear.
Calise presented several reasons that “undoubtedly influenced” the International League’s decision, which seems okay since influence can be marginal or significant. I have added some minor annotations:
“For one, black players were increasingly subjected to harassment and threats from various groups: hotel management during road games, fans, opposing teams, and their own teammates. [Major baseball historian Harold] Seymour [who cited a Sporting News 1889 comment that any black member of a white professional team ‘has a rocky road to travel’] stated that ‘the sheer success of the blacks…increased antagonism toward them.’ One of Bob Higgins’ teammates, Dug Crothers, refused to sit with him for the team photo because he was black but also because Crothers felt that Higgins threatened to take his starting position on the team. The threat of losing their job was another possible reasoning for the color line. During the economic tensions of the late nineteenth century, specifically the 1880s, many white Americans feared that blacks would take their jobs and interfere with employment opportunities, and that fear existed in baseball, as well[, at least plausibly, in the absence of apparently any documented thoughts from 1880s whites in baseball along those lines]. Most notably, threats to forfeit [should be cancel] games in the manner of Cap Anson occurred increasingly throughout the 1880s [sporadically is more accurate], and there were also intensifying threats from star white players to leave the league if the participation of blacks continued [apparently referring to the International League in 1887]. These pressures jeopardized the professional game and its financial success because without its star white players, fans would abandon the bleachers in droves. Finally, on the larger societal scale, due to the country’s political actions, particularly involving the Supreme Court, the social environment became more favorable to discrimination. The 1883 Civil Rights Cases, which determined the unconstitutionality of the 1875 Civil Rights Act, helped shift society toward legalized segregation. In light of these events, the International League segregated the minor leagues with the implementation of the color line, which translated [after the early 1890s] to a widespread [unwritten, ‘gentleman’s agreement’] ban in all of organized baseball.”
A fifth source, alluded to much earlier, deserves a mention for having, among other things, compared the Anson-related racism writings of his two modern-day biographers and Walker biographer Zang. In McFarland’s 2008 Northsiders: Essays on the History and Culture of the Chicago Cubs, there is a 16-page essay by Grinnell College professor Stephen Andrews that states, for example:
“Zang and Rosenberg are careful to spread the blame for the segregation of baseball beyond the local and particular ‘tenacity of Anson’s racism’ (Zang, 55) to a larger social context in which segregation was well on its way to being legitimized by Plessy [v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court’s 1896 separate-but-equal ruling] (Plessy in italics in original) (Rosenberg, 437). Fleitz, however, seems more willing to put the burden squarely on Anson.” Then Andrews cited Fleitz’s sentence, “Cap Anson, more than anyone else, was the man who wielded the infamous pen.”
An example of Zang’s sensitivity to factors beyond Anson is in the paragraph after the one Andrews cited from: “The betrayal of the formerly hospitable International League, the obstinacy of those like Anson, and the continuing public acceptance of racial labels affixed to [black] players like Walker, [Charlie] Grant, and Stovey, meant that players of color could not continue to find suitable competition without forcing themselves into places where they were not wanted.” Zang’s “obstinacy of those like Anson,” written in the same style as his “men like Anson” construct noted earlier, does not have to literally mean him, but those who shared similar views who were in key executive positions in the various professional leagues.
A sixth source worth noting is history professor Robert C. Cottrell’s 2012 Two Pioneers: How Hank Greenberg and Jackie Robinson Transformed Baseball–And America. Cottrell is close to Zang in writing, “Thanks to the insistence of Anson and like-minded players, managers, and executives, racial lines in organized baseball hardened, paralleling the solidifying of segregation throughout the American South and beyond.” However, Zang’s wording is better, because it leaves open the possibility, as unpopular as it may be among “blame Anson first” historians, that Anson’s view was a red herring.
Sometimes in books unrelated to the drawing of the color line, Anson is a sitting target to be blamed to the exclusion of anyone else or any general factor. In the following two cases, it was to present the origins of spring training or some Cubs franchise history. In his 2009 Under The March Sun: The Story of Spring Training, journalism professor Charles Fountain wrote, “More than any other single individual, Cap Anson was responsible for making baseball a whites-only province between 1887 and 1947.” In his early 20th century-focused 2016 The Last Cubs Dynasty: Before the Curse, former Associated Press baseball writer Hal Bock wrote that Anson’s racist episodes “began a whites-only trend” in professional baseball.
Although McFarland deserves praise for its Northsiders essay book, for showing distinctions in analysis of Anson’s racism, it has published several with not-labeled-as-speculative anti-Anson rhetoric, both before and after my 2006 biography. One such book that I cited in mine helps account for my Anson-did-not-have-coattails conclusion. William McNeil, on page 2 of his 2001 Cool Papas and Double Duties: The All-Time Greats of the Negro Leagues, argued that Anson’s warning in advance of the 1887 game at Newark “and his subsequent politicking with club owners” led to professional baseball’s ban on blacks. I wrote in response, “Yet no nineteenth-century sources show any politicking by Anson on the issue, such as with owners.” McNeil did not give a source for his claim, and it could be a fusing of thoughts in White’s 1907 book that at most could imply that. I added that the closest thing one can claim “as evidence of politicking by Anson on the subject” is an 1884 letter from Chicago’s treasurer-secretary, John A. Brown, to Toledo’s manager, three months in advance of the Chicago-Toledo exhibition game that year. The letter described Chicago’s players as “decisively” objecting, although “the management of the Chicago Ball Club have [sic] no personal feeling about the matter.”
Achorn, the 2013 book writer who apparently accepted some of White’s claims from 1907 on their face, wrote that “Anson’s lobbying had lasting consequences.”
Zang’s book is on shaky ground in one major respect related to Anson. He wrote that “in the case of Walker, Anson’s impact was substantial” because Anson “apparently had kept the catcher from the major leagues in more than one instance.” The first instance he cited combined White’s earlier discussed claim that he blocked the New York Giants from signing Stovey in 1887 with a Newark Daily Journal report that Giants manager Jim Mutrie offered to buy Stovey and Walker, “but [Newark] Manager Hackett informed him they were not on [sic] sale.”
The second instance is a first-hand comment recalled by the writer of Walker’s 1924 obituary in the black newspaper the Cleveland Gazette. In my 2006 book, I listed that as item 9 in the alleged case against Anson, as follows: George W. Howe, when Howe was Cleveland’s treasurer, “told the writer that he would send [have sent] to Toledo for Fleet to catch for the local team, which sorely needed a good backstop at the time, but for the objections raised by Anson of the Chicago club.”
I then wrote, “Assuming Howe said that, the year he is referring to is unclear, and there was apparently no contemporaneous reporting along those lines.” As noted earlier, four pages of my 2006 book analyzed a different claim made by both the Cleveland Gazette in 1892 and White in a different way in his 1907 book, that Anson blocked Stovey’s entry in 1886 or 1887. I can add here that Cleveland was a major league team in the late 1880s in the American Association, the main rival big league to the National League. Cleveland did join the National League in 1890, but Walker had slumped the prior season and his minor league career ended with his release by his International League team, Syracuse, on August 23, 1889. Syracuse, by the way, became a big league team for 1890, in the American Association.
WHERE’S THE AUTHOR?
The earliest important fair author on Anson’s racism is Peterson, for, in 1970, being the first to challenge Sol White, which will be noted below. Two later ones are Malloy for his 1983 article and long foreword in the 1996 reprint of White’s 1907 book; and, with an asterisk, Zang for his 1995 Walker biography. Zang deserves such recognition at least for the nonjudgmental way that he cast Anson’s possible role related to the momentous 1887 International League vote. Peterson and Malloy have been duly noted for that, while I am likely the first writer to single out Zang as well. Both Zang’s book and the 1996 reprint are published by University of Nebraska Press.
A different grouping appears in a different University of Nebraska Press book, David Nemec’s 2011 Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900 Volume 2: The Hall of Famers and Memorable Personalities Who Shaped the Game. An essay on Anson by three Society for American Baseball Research members states that Fleitz, Peterson, and Malloy all agree that Sol White “greatly exaggerated Anson’s influence in the institution of the color line.” However, none of those three explicitly used a qualifier along the lines of “greatly.” Also, Fleitz’s writings, taken as a whole, are hard to square with that judgment. On the one hand, Fleitz wrote the following in his book:
“Though Anson lent his booming voice to the anti-integration forces, it is naïve to think that Anson alone was responsible for barring African-American players from the game. Robert Peterson, in Only the Ball Was White, stated that Sol White and other historians have exaggerated Anson’s role, in the establishment of the color line. To suggest ‘that [Anson] had the power and popularity to force Negroes out of organized baseball almost single-handedly,’ wrote Peterson, . . . is to credit him with more influence than he had, or for that matter, than he needed. For it seems clear that a majority of professional baseball players in 1887 [the year of the International League vote], both Northerners and Southerners, opposed integration in the game.”
On the other hand, Fleitz ahistorically linked Anson’s 1883 stance to high-level teams beginning “to release black players and refuse to hire new ones during the next few seasons.” In fact, the opposite occurred. In addition, in discussing White’s comment that Anson “hastened the exclusion of the black man from white leagues,” he wrote, “Perhaps White exaggerated Anson’s influence. . .”
The essay in Nemec’s book itself was also misleading, by referring to Fleitz as “Anson’s biographer.” A second similar example is in a McFarland peer-reviewed journal, Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game. A 2011 article in it by Society for American Baseball Research member Jim Frutchey, focusing on Anson’s ghostwritten 1900 autobiography as a “gift of primary source material,” singled out only Fleitz’s 2005 biography of Anson, published by McFarland, as being a “well documented” secondary source effort that captures “the entirety of Anson’s life (1852-1922).”
A related third exclusionary example is in John Wiley & Sons’ 2014 A Companion to American Sports History, edited by Steven A. Riess, a now-emeritus sports history professor at Northeastern Illinois University. An essay in it that focuses on 19th-century baseball biographies seems defensible for the most part, especially by often citing two biographers of particular subjects. But for the entries on Anson and a second 19th-century Hall of Famer who I am a biographer of, Mike “King” Kelly, the essayist mentioned only Fleitz for the first and Martin “Marty” Appel, author of the 1996 Slide, Kelly, Slide, for the second. One could argue that because I spread Anson out across four books, and Kelly largely is spread among two, that I have not written a single-volume biography of either. However, in a discussion of books about the Irish in baseball, the essayist, Kent State University professor Leslie Heaphy, included an especially secondary-source-reliant HarperCollins one that is described later for having extinguished my Kelly one in its very first sentence. Riess and Heaphy are longtime members of the baseball research society, as is Appel. In addition, its Baseball Biography Project entries on Anson and Kelly, as of this writing, mention the name of only one of the two book-length biographers of them, Fleitz and Appel.
Riess, incidentally, was criticized for his writing on Anson’s racism in his 1995 Sport in Industrial America 1850-1920. In a review in the Journal of Sport History, professor J. Thomas Jable wrote that Riess “glosses over Cap Anson’s role in baseball’s drawing of the color line in 1887. Though Anson has received more credit than perhaps is warranted for the exclusion of blacks, his opposition was notorious and influential. Surely, more than a phrase linking Anson to ‘racist spectators and ballplayers’ is in order.”
Referring to white-owned professional baseball clubs in that era, Riess had written, “Owners did not want to use black players because of their own prejudice and pressure from racist spectators and ballplayers, especially Cap Anson, the great player-manager of the Chicago White Stockings. Professional ballplayers were also afraid that if African Americans got into the Major Leagues there would be additional job competition, diminished salaries, and lowered occupational prestige.” However plausible those thoughts are, they are speculative.
That said, Riess arguably made a wise choice in not getting bogged down in trying to ascribe levels of blame, and to have merely noted a range of possible factors. After all, the surviving primary material is so thin that even Peterson’s claim that it “seems clear that a majority of professional baseball players in 1887, both Northerners and Southerners, opposed integration in the game” may need to be reined in. The rare writer to have done so is Bond, who, in his 1999 master’s thesis, challenged it by noting that “only a vocal minority” of white players in that era are known to have weighed in on the subject within the sport. In addition, Bond speculated that a “clear majority” of white players had no particular strong feeling either way. He based that, in part, on the large number of minor league games played in the 1880s involving teams with at least one black player without incident, as well as the many games by big league and especially minor league teams in the middle of that decade against the all-black Cuban Giants.
A secondary way for modern-day authors to criticize Anson is to argue that he was prejudiced against the Irish too. The most quoted modern-day criticism of Anson for insulting the Irish happens to stem from two of Fleitz’s books. One is his 2005 biography, where he wrote that Anson “freely expressed his disdain for Irish ballplayers.” The other is his 2009 book, The Irish in Baseball: An Early History. In it, he alleged that Anson, out of the motive of resenting how he had been “badly treated during the early 1880s by his Irish stars,” was by the late 1880s “no longer inclined to keep his feelings to himself. He began to loudly and publicly disparage the abilities, both physical and mental, of Irish ballplayers,” which Fleitz also described as “increasingly mean-spirited, bullying condemnations of Irish players.”
In his 2005 book, Fleitz, on the same page as his observation above, wrote that an issue involving Chicago shortstop Ned “Ed” Williamson of a non-ethnic nature was perhaps “blown out of proportion.” He did not add a similar caveat to his brief mention of an incident in 1889 in which Anson made an anti-Irish comment to teammate Hugh Duffy, a future Hall of Famer.
In his 2009 book, he did add the following context to the 1889 season, four paragraphs after referring to the anti-Irish comment: “The relationship between major league baseball’s players and its owners had been deteriorating for years,” due to, among other things, a proposed cap on player salaries. In 1890, players revolted and formed a rival league, the Players’ League, which lasted only that season.
However, he did not insert prose from the section of the “Anson and Blacks” appendix of my 2006 book that more fully presented that comment. I printed weeks of Anson-hates-the-Irish commentary from the Sporting News in early 1890, resulting from an incident the prior season that Fleitz cited, that involved teammate and future Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy. It was conveyed as follows in the Chicago Tribune: “The Chicago man [Duffy] said that Capt. Anson had no use for the players who had Irish blood in their veins, and never lost an opportunity to insult those men who have played with him in the past.” (Fleitz, by the way, misattributed that in his 2005 book and still did so in his 2009 one, by printing the text as a direct quote.) I wrote, “A plausible reason why the (Sporting News) streak ended is that also that week, commentary to the contrary appeared in Sporting Life, most likely by Chicago writer Harry Palmer. Anson, Palmer wrote, once had an argument with Duffy and told him he ‘was Irish and didn’t know what he was talking about.’ Palmer added, ‘Ever since then Duffy has entertained the conviction that the big Chicago captain is down on the entire Irish race.’ Palmer rejected the idea that Anson felt that way and that Anson had spoken those words in his dry joking style.”
Also, on the same day that the Tribune printed the paraphrase, January 3, 1890, the Boston Globe printed the following written statement from Duffy that he issued in Boston. The statement, which is not in Fleitz’s books and is in my 2006 one, had Duffy objecting to a National League-wide salary grading system that Spalding had endorsed: “The Chicago club treated not only myself, but several other men, unfairly last season, and I have no earthly use for them. I am with the players [Players’ League] to stick, and Mr. Spalding has not money enough to make me turn deserter and go back to the men who classified me last season.’’
The 2005 version of Fleitz’s analysis was reflected in a 2011 University of Illinois Press book, Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs’ Glory Years, 1870-1945. Authors Randy Roberts and Carson Cunningham cited the 2005 version in two instances, including for its detail on Anson’s anti-Irishness, without giving an indication of having looked at my 2006 book. “Anson held disdain for African Americans and Irishmen, among others,” they wrote. Then Roberts and Cunningham followed Fleitz in quoting Duffy as literally saying that Anson “had no use for the players who had Irish blood in their veins, and never lost an opportunity to insult those men who have played with him in the past.”
Palmer’s paraphrase, that Anson told Duffy he “was Irish and didn’t know what he was talking about” at least sounds like a plausible quote, whereas “Irish blood in their veins” sounds like the paraphrase that it was reported as contemporaneously.
A 2014 McFarland book, Patrick R. Redmond’s The Irish and the Making of American Sport, 1835-1920, also printed the Duffy 1890 paraphrase as a direct quote. In addition, like Roberts and Cunningham, Redmond did so without context; he did print Duffy’s statement as printed in the Boston Globe – 21 pages earlier. Redmond’s book, shortly before printing the Tribune paraphrase as a literal quote, stated that “Anson’s Hibernophobia inflated in later years.” Besides that, Redmond wrote that Chicago President Spalding “has been described as a raging Hibernophobe during this period, a man [2012 HarperCollins author] Charley Rosen[, noted under the next subhead,] lambasts as briefly having a ‘NO IRISH NEED APPLY’ sign over the entrance to his ballpark.” My 2006 book contains five Sporting News tongue-in-cheek remarks along those lines from a particular week in 1890, with Spalding’s name mentioned too, and a poem that figuratively referred to those words.
L.M. Sutter’s 2012 Arlie Latham: A Baseball Biography of the Freshest Man on Earth said this about the Sporting News prose: “If all this was true, the leaders of the [Chicago] White Stockings could scarcely have said anything more combustible, given the vast contribution by the Irish to the game and the large Irish demographic in Chicago, who vocally supported their own.”
Redmond’s book cited one other alleged anti-Irish remark by Anson, from an 1888 interview with umpire John H. Gaffney. During a profane argument by Anson in 1886 over a call at Detroit, Anson uttered the word “Irish” before something unprintable. The 1888 version appears in Fleitz’s 2005 book, while my 2003 Cap Anson 1: When Captaining a Team Meant Something: Leadership in Baseball’s Early Years contains the 1886 one. In the 1886 one, the Detroit Free Press included blank spaces for Anson’s “very vile epithet” at Gaffney and extra space where Anson had been “multiplying his vile terms,” and without any mention of the word “Irish.” For the record, Redmond printed both the 1886 and 1888 versions.
A second player of Irish ancestry who Fleitz wrote about, for having been a witness to Anson’s anti-Irishness, is Jimmy Ryan. In his 2005 book, he cited prose from Cap Anson 1 and, in his 2009 one, prose from Cap Anson 4, showing how gruff Ryan was and how gruff Anson and Ryan were at times with each other. Without providing evidence to back up the following point in his 2009 book, he wrote that Ryan “took offense at Anson’s anti-Irish tirades.” Cap Anson 4 allocated 15 of its main-text pages to a biography of Ryan, with emphasis on his relations with Anson. One of the unusual things about Ryan noted on those pages is that he was apparently the first Chicago player to be allowed to own a saloon, in 1892. Redmond called Anson Ryan’s “notorious anti-Irish boss.”
I do not doubt that Anson said anti-Irish things, and sometimes in an insulting manner, although he had attended a boarding school at Notre Dame for high schoolers. But he, too, got a ribbing for his ethnicity. Even though his ancestry was English, one of his better-known nicknames was the “Big Swede.” In his 1900 ghostwritten autobiography, Anson said he was called that because of his “light hair and ruddy complexion.” The number of ethnic references and thus potential for occasional stinging barbs among 19th-century players was likely great. As Bill James wrote in his 2001 The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract: “In a nation of immigrants, ethnic identity was important; when you knew a man, you knew where his family came from and when they got off the boat.”
In one of its remarks in 1890, the Sporting News wrote, “Young Duff[y] of the Chicagos started the ‘No Irish’ story on Anson. He will think he struck the North Pole when he and the big Swede meet.” That was the closing remark to its streak of Anson-and-the-Irish commentary. It prefaced that final remark by saying, “If the sporting writers continue to show Anson up on the Irish question the Chicago League grounds are liable to be transformed into a second Whitechapel” – a repeat of the murderous acts by Jack the Ripper in that area of East London in 1888, this time with Anson in the leading role.
There is also an ethnic reference in a contemporaneously reported dialogue in 1897, when Duffy was Boston’s captain. Ryan uttered it, as conveyed by the Tribune. It is at the end of Cap Anson 4’s anti-Irishness section, several paragraphs after the North Pole quip:
Anson [smiling]: You won’t last two minutes in this afternoon’s game.
Duffy [merely smiled]
Ryan [from afar]: Have you two Turks made up?
Duffy: Cap and I are always good friends.
“Then the two warriors [Anson and Duffy] took turns straightening out a practice pitcher’s curves and discussing the merits of bats.”
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
It’s a free world, when it comes to the accuracy of books. U.S. publishers and authors can do whatever they want, so long as they do not plagiarize or engage in libel. The public is hard to rouse on the issue, since book buyers seem to hardly boycott a particular publisher because one of its authors was inaccurate. But, on ethical and or public-interest grounds, could newspapers that screen such books exercise leverage that the public does not?
In 2012, a HarperCollins book, The Emerald Diamond: How the Irish Transformed America’s Greatest Pastime, extinguished my Kelly biography. It did so, on author Charley Rosen’s featured subject, by giving kudos in its very first sentence to the first modern-day biographer of Kelly, Martin “Marty” Appel for his 1996 Slide, Kelly, Slide and not mentioning my Kelly book. Appel, besides being a higher-profile author, has been a publicist for HarperCollins and an endorser of Rosen’s lone prior baseball book, which was also written for that publisher. Rosen is a well-known basketball analyst and journalist who previously was an ex-assistant coach under Phil Jackson in the Continental Basketball Association and is a biographer of him. Appel’s Kelly biography, while it generally has better narrative flow than mine, is less comprehensive, text-wise and graphically. For example, theater agent and fellow Boston Elk George W. Floyd was Kelly’s most important behind-the-scenes person in some of his professional dealings. Floyd does not appear in Appel’s book and appears 67 times in mine.
Because the Washington Post reviewed Rosen’s book without catching the expertise error, I proposed to the Post that it inform Post-eligible-for-review publishers of the value of having their authors double-check their books for superlatives that relate to other authors. Besides potentially lighting a fire under lazy authors, such double-checking would protect self-published authors, who the Post bars as a class from review consideration. Such a policy, besides freeing up Post book-screening resources from having to look for that type of error, would also have the following positive effect, I wrote in a 2012 letter to then-Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli: “I feel that for the Post to send out such an advisory to publishers would be in its long-term interest because if the Post cannot trust a publisher to be factual in the very first sentence of a book, might the Post feel a greater need to consider playing ‘defense’ in assigning books to review, such as by more often favoring reviewers who may be more clued into spotting errors of great magnitude rather than, as reviewers” such as the one who reviewed the HarperCollins book for the Post are perhaps known, “for having an innate sense of how a book should sound and flow? Mr. [Steven V.] Roberts[, the reviewer,] is far more knowledgeable about baseball in the 20th century than the 19th, and think that may be self-evident if he had no idea that there are two book-length biographies in print on Mike ‘King’ Kelly.” Roberts is a George Washington University journalism professor who had a 25-year general reporting career with the New York Times.
The double-checking could be done using Library of Congress Subject Headings and the worldwide database of library holdings known as WorldCat. An open dirty secret of the U.S. publishing industry is that some publishers do not lean enough on their authors to fact-check their books well. I pressed my idea with one minor success: then-Post Company head Donald E. Graham wrote back to me that I had raised a “fair question” and told Brauchli to revisit his original explanation to me.
In his second response, Brauchli wrote, “I appreciate your position on this, but ou[r] view and policies aren’t going to change just now.” When I spoke in 2014 with an assistant to Brauchli’s successor, Martin Baron, she sounded incredulous that I wanted the Post to change its policy. While that would have been wonderful, I at least wanted my recommendation to have been seriously considered. After all, the Post often advocates for the public to be accurately informed. That said, despite potential societal benefits, organizations may be averse to taking any step that would draw attention to weakness on their part. In this instance, I discovered possible weakness in two respects, apart from the Post’s morally debatable barring of nonfiction books based not on content but purely on the class of publisher – a form of “old boys’ network” favoritism:
As of 2012, the Post did not have an overarching book editor. Also, its one screening nonfiction editor at the time, Steven Levingston, had himself co-authored one major book, The Whiz Kid of Wall Street’s Investment Guide: How I Returned 34% on My Portfolio, for the now-defunct publisher Hearst – whose William Morrow imprint was acquired by HarperCollins in 1999.
Along with Appel, Rosen credited one other author in his book’s first sentence for having “done the most of anyone to record the history of the Irish in baseball.” He rightly credited Fleitz for, at the time, his 2009 The Irish in Baseball: An Early History. In that book, Fleitz cited three of my books, including the Kelly biography, in both his endnotes and bibliography, and an Internet article that I derived from my only other book.
WHAT CAN BE DONE II ?
There is a second December 2015 instance where a writer noted one of the baseball research society’s Baseball Biography Project essays without apparently having come across, on the parallel Wikipedia entry, a reference to my extensive research on the writer’s subject. A 2,200-word essay on the Web site The Hardball Times is devoted to a tale involving Kelly. Entitled, “Kelly Now Catching”: King Kelly and Baseball’s Substitution Rules, its bibliography references the society’s Web site, whose Kelly entry tells about the alleged episode. The writer, Sarah Wexler, said she spent “hours upon hours combing through newspaper archives, looking at box scores and recaps (from exhibition games, regular-season games and postseason games alike), just to find one that might sort of [sort of is italicized in the original] meet the criteria.”
The Kelly entry on Wikipedia has contained the following prose since 2010:
“Some of the wildest stories of [Kelly’s] trickery were not reported contemporaneously by reporters. Perhaps the most famous play that has been wrongly credited to Kelly – at least as taking place during a game that mattered – is from around 1890. In his 1994 The Rules of Baseball, David Nemec relates the following ‘often-told Kelly tale’ and is the rare writer to say it is either false or embellished. As cited in Rosenberg’s definitive biography of Kelly, Cap Anson 2 (2004), a former teammate of Kelly, Charlie Bennett, said the following after Kelly’s death in 1894:
“Supposedly, Kelly was not in the game when an opposing batter hit a foul fly. Seeing that catcher Charley Ganzel could not catch the ball, Kelly announced himself in and made the play. The story would have most likely been from 1889, 1891 or 1892, when Ganzel and Kelly were teammates. Bennett said:
“‘During a game one day, [Kelly] sat on the bench and Ganzel was behind the bat [catching]. A foul fly was popped up, out of Ganzel’s reach, when quick as a flash ‘Kel’ ran forward, ordered Ganzel out of the game, caught the ball, and then ordered the umpire to declare the batter out. [Kelly] maintained with a great deal of force, that he had as much right to order Ganzel out of the game, while a ball was in the air, as at any other time during the progress of the game. However, the decision went against him.’ [Wikipedia endnote, Cap Anson 2., p. 7]
“Rosenberg could not find a contemporaneous account of Kelly having done that, and it is possible he did so in an exhibition game. The closest sounding story to the above appeared right after Kelly’s death, when John D. ‘Johnny’ Foster of the Cleveland Leader wrote, ‘The nearest that he ever approached to downright malice in playing in Cleveland was during a game between Cleveland and Boston for the national championship when he called a Cleveland player’s name as two men were running for a foul fly.’ [Wikipedia endnote, Rosenberg. Cap Anson 2., p. 7. For a wide survey of Kelly’s trickery, see the ‘Casting Kelly’ subhead in Rosenberg, Howard W. Cap Anson 3., 327-333 and 337-339.]”
The analysis in the paragraph immediately above is not in The Hardball Times essay as of this writing. Because I invoked Nemec in my analysis, Wexler could have been clued into contacting him. Had she done so, she likely would have learned of a story that Nemec subsequently learned of that had common elements to the tale. I found it in one of Nemec’s later writings while researching this article. In full-text databases, I have seen the recollection, from 1902, nearly verbatim in four daily newspapers over a four-month span, beyond the weekly magazine that Nemec found it in. The earliest headline I have seen is: “FREAK PLAYS ON THE DIAMOND: Ex-Umpire Tells of Funny Things Which Happened in the Long Ago.”
I have a lot to do with contributing to Wikipedia and think highly of it, for bring together persons with varying expertise. While it is known for some well-publicized errors, those generally have to do with modern-day newsy subjects where members of the public may have an axe to grind. The amount of mischief in old-time subjects is probably much smaller, since the pool of persons who might care to hijack them is also much smaller.
Any changes to a Wikipedia entry are subject to approval by a volunteer administrator. Besides having the power to reject text, the administrator can advise the would-be reviser, in the entry’s behind-the-scenes comments section, on how to make text more suitable, stylistically or substantively. Anyone with a special interest in an entry can sign up to receive an alert whenever someone tries to modify it. Several years ago, when I tried to change its entry on Anson teammate-turned-evangelist William “Billy” Sunday, a Sunday biographer challenged me on the extent of my suggested insertions. The biographer and I reached a compromise: I made one on how Anson’s “Aunt ’Em” circumstantially helped launch Sunday’s big league career.
The Society for American Baseball Research’s online biographies contain endnotes about half of the time, according to a random sample of 20 Hall of Famer biographies I consulted. By contrast, I found Wikipedia baseball entries to be generally fully end-noted, although in some cases they are drier than the society’s ones. However, that also means that Wikipedia is a safer starting point. In addition, the bibliography listed as the end of the society’s entries is to the sources consulted to write the entry. By comparison, the biography at the end of a Wikipedia baseball entry that goes beyond merely highlighting statistical feats sometimes lists a range of books on that subject – even if nothing from several is referenced in the entry’s prose. For example, that holds for the Wikipedia entry of Ty Cobb, another early Hall of Famer with a controversial personality. Besides favoring their own members’ research in an “old boys’ network” way, some of the baseball research society’s entries written more than a decade ago have not been updated to reflect later research. As of this writing, the welcome page to the biography project states, “All biographies are written by members of SABR and all have been peer-reviewed for style and accuracy.” To improve transparency, each entry should show when it was last updated, and possibly when it was peer-reviewed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Criteria that are sometimes used to compare books are quality of research, argument, and writing. For their part, scholars can be sticklers for context, that connects a subject to its life and times and that relates it to other writings to date.
An unusual thing about my two biographies, of Anson and Kelly, is that they can loosely be considered definitive, along with text that is spread among my three books that is not their main biography. In describing definitive biographies in their How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren argued that they are seldom written before other biographies have appeared – and both of mine came out after those of Fleitz and Appel. Also perhaps tellingly, they wrote that “definitive biographies are not always easy reading” since “the ability to gather the materials is somewhat different from the talent for shaping them into a good book.” My emphasis was on accounting for close to the entire surviving primary record on subjects I addressed. The Library of Congress, a subway ride away for me, easily has the largest collection in the world of U.S. 19th-century newspapers. I explained my approach, including a shunning of secondary sources, in Cap Anson 1, although I closely examined secondary ones to trace possible myths. In addition, I wanted to account for close to all surviving sources of reporting in big league cities through 1900. To accomplish that, I liberally borrowed microfilm on interlibrary loan, visited libraries in other cities, or found people to look things up for me.
A second unusual aspect of my biographies is their number of graphics: 181 in my 2006 book, Cap Anson 4: Bigger Than Babe Ruth: Captain Anson of Chicago. At the time I wrote it, based on glancing at many books at the Library of Congress, that was by far the record for one that could also be considered a Hall of Famer’s definitive biography. The 114 in the Kelly one, Cap Anson 2, as of 2006 was more narrowly the second most.
A third unusual aspect is that despite being self-published, the book in between my Kelly and Anson biographies, Cap Anson 3: Muggsy John McGraw and the Tricksters: Baseball’s Fun Age of Rule Bending, received superlative recognition in two 2007 ones. One that praised it co-won one of the baseball research society’s annual research prizes: Bill Felber’s A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant, published by University of Nebraska Press. Felber wrote, “Every tale needs a skeptical fact checker, and nobody’s been more assiduous in that regard than Howard W. Rosenberg, whose Cap Anson 3 (Tile Books, 2005) puts most of the handed-down claims through microscopic scrutiny.”
The other gave it the highest praise of any book that that author encountered. Plus, that book, The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball published by Houghton Mifflin, made the cut for being reviewed in the New York Times, by former major league pitcher Jim Bouton. In his endnotes, author Derek Zumsteg wrote, “Rosenberg’s methodical reliance on contemporary sources shatters many of the contemporary myths about how bad things were while demonstrating vividly how interesting and colorful baseball was back then. It encouraged me to spend the time to go back myself and read the old [annual] Spalding Guide, the old issues of the Sporting News, dig through the New York Times archives, and hit the microfiche [sic]. The more I did that, the more modern books I discarded entirely.”
Besides his 4-book series on Anson, Howard W. Rosenberg has written a series of articles on early baseball for the McClatchy-Tribune news service, which can be found in ProQuest’s Newsstand database. New copies of his books can be ordered most readily from BarnesandNoble.com and CapAnson.com. (The following text is a December 2016 update to text that previously appeared here that criticized Amazon.com’s Amazon Advantage program. The author has since switched to Amazon.com’s Fulfillment by Amazon program and no longer urges the public to avoid Amazon.com to order his books.)