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October 1, 2004

You Could Look It Up

Tell Me Why...

by Steven Goldman

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Why was Milton Bradley's being hit by a bottle not unexpected?

Bottle-throwing is as much a part of the fabric of the national pastime as peanuts and Crackerjack. From the game's earliest days, bottle-throwing was the bane of players, umpires and the more civilized fans. Beer was always a big part of running a ballclub, especially in the 19th-century American Association, which was seemingly owned entirely by brewers. Unfortunately, it is axiomatic that if you put a missile in the hands of a "fan" he is going to throw it. The introduction of paper cups helped curb some of the violence, but it was only in the 1930s, when the umpires began making bottles a labor issue, that the sale of glass items in ballparks was addressed in a serious manner.

Why was George Sisler's most relevant season linked to a thrown bottle?

As a member of the Browns, Senators and Braves, George Sisler, now back in popular currency thanks to Ichiro Suzuki, rarely got within sniffing distance of a pennant race. In a major-league career that stretched from 1915 to 1930, just one Sisler team finished closer than 12 games out of first place. That team, the 1922 Browns, missed winning the American League pennant by just one game.

In 1922, the St. Louis Browns had a strong, dynamic offense that featured first baseman Sisler's speed (51 stolen bases, 19 caught stealing) and .420 batting average, second baseman Marty McManus, who had good power for a middle infielder of the day, and a very good outfield: Baby Doll Jacobson, Jack Tobin and Ken Williams, who would produce the first 30-30 season in the history of the game.

On the mound, once and future Yankee Urban Shocker was midway through a four-year stretch of 20-win seasons. The Browns and defending pennant winners the Yankees, who had been without Babe Ruth for a good part of the season due to various Jose Guillen/Milton Bradley-style suspensions, paced each other throughout the summer. At the end of July, the Yankees trailed the Browns 57-41 to 57-44.

New York's starting third baseman was future Hall of Famer Home Run Frank Baker. Baker was 36 in 1922, couldn't hit any longer, and lacked defensive mobility. It was time for Yanks' GM "Cousin Ed" Barrow to place a call to Red Sox owner Harry Frazee. On July 23, a package of spare parts and cash were sent north, and third baseman Jumpin' Joe Dugan, considered the best third sacker in the league, was dutifully sent south.

The deal provoked a storm of protest, particularly in St. Louis, where the Chamber of Commerce adopted a resolution criticizing New York's lack of sportsmanship. The issue was not so much a midseason trade--those had happened before--but that New York was exploiting its special relationship with Boston to influence a pennant race during the season. American League president Ban Johnson agreed that though the trade was legal, it felt wrong. Therefore, for the first time in the history of baseball, a formal trade deadline was adopted.

On September 16, the Yankees appeared in St. Louis for their final games with the Browns, whom they led by just half a game. There was still a great deal of bitterness over the Dugan transaction, and emotions ran high. In the first game, Sailor Bob Shawkey was on the mound for the Yanks, in the process of outdueling Shocker 2-1. Yankees center fielder Whitey Witt was tracking a fly ball when a bottle flew out of the stands and hit him in the head, knocking him unconscious. He was carried from the field, bleeding from a two-inch gash on his forehead.

Ban Johnson offered a reward to anyone who would identify the perpetrator of the assault. Ultimately, though, Johnson's official "investigation" lamely accepted the Magic Bottle Theory: no one had thrown the item. It had been lying in the center field grass when Witt stepped on it, causing it to fly up and hit him.

The Browns took game two of the series to once again close within half a game, but the Yankees took game three to ice St. Louis' pennant hopes. Three weeks later, New York had made the lead stand up; they won the pennant by precisely one game. The race had been determined in head-to-head competition: only the Browns' 8-14 record against the Yankees prevented them from winning their first pennant.

Why did the Dodgers and Giants become rivals?

The Dodgers originated in Brooklyn, the Giants in New York at roughly the same time in the late 19th century. Rivalry between Manhattan and the County of Kings existed long before the National League came to town. Brooklyn long struggled to carve out a separate identity for itself, something easier in the days when only ferry service connected the two cities. Brooklyn waived the white flag of surrender with the union of the five boroughs in 1898, but not before establishing itself as "the City of Churches," the implication being that Manhattan was the City of Porn. Manhattan was the city of the perverse rich and Brooklyn the city of the good-hearted working stiff.

With these characterizations set, baseball rivalry kicked off almost as soon as Alexander Joy Cartwright got baseball rolling in the city. It naturally carried over to the Giants and the Dodgers. Brooklyn initially was the better club, having been staffed by Ned Hanlon with many of the great players from his National League champion Baltimore Orioles, but with the 1902 arrival of John McGraw as manager of the Giants the balance shifted towards Manhattan, seemingly permanently.

Ironically, it was the Dodgers that helped McGraw steal the baseball spotlight. McGraw took over a club in disarray and quickly determined that the Giants desperately needed a top-flight shortstop and team leader. Brooklyn had one in Bad Bill Dahlen. Dahlen, one of the best players of the fin de siècle National League not to reach the Hall of Fame (WARP3: 126.9) was an excellent fielder, a good bat, and a totally undisciplined personality. McGraw was able to get him for pitcher John Cronin and his own underperforming shortstop Charlie Babb in December, 1903. In Dahlen's first two years the Giants won 211 games and consecutive pennants.

The rivalry took on a personal dimension in 1914 when Wilbert "Uncle Robbie" Robinson took over as Dodgers manager from Dahlen, who had drifted back to Brooklyn. Outside of his home stadium, McGraw was one of the most hated figures in the game. He was respected for being a great manager, but he was also pugnacious, profane, prideful...imagine Larry Bowa dialed up to 11 but with actual managerial ability. Robinson was McGraw's former teammate and, until recently, his best friend. He had been McGraw's pitching coach, but the two had a falling out over the outcome of the 1913 World Series, with McGraw accusing Robinson of having been at fault in the team's loss, perhaps for missing a sign. Robinson either quit or was fired, and the two never spoke again. Brooklyn became the stage for Uncle Robbie to avenge the insult. The irony and the chance to embarrass the detested McGraw was quite tasty to the Brooklyn fans.

By 1914, McGraw's Giants had won five National League pennants to Brooklyn's none. Robbie would win his first before McGraw took his sixth, winning the 1916 pennant well ahead of the Giants' rare fourth-place finish. They got there largely due to a Giants mistake. In 1908, McGraw had given the 21-year-old lefty hurler Rube Marquard an $11,000 signing bonus. Typical of young lefty power pitchers, Marquard had control problems when he reached the bigs and rapidly became known as "The $11,000 Lemon." It was Uncle Robbie, the former catcher, who coached him to three straight 20-win seasons in 1911-1913.

In 1914, Robbie was gone and Marquard instantly became into a 20-game loser. By the end of August, 1915, McGraw was convinced Marquard was through. Uncle Robbie bought him for the waiver price and set about rebuilding the pitcher's mechanics. It didn't happen instantly, but by 1916, Marquard was once again an ace, pitching 205 innings of 1.58 ERA baseball (league average was 2.61). McGraw had been taken, and the price was watching his rival go to the World Series.

The Dodgers had happened to clinch against the Giants. McGraw couldn't handle it and walked out on his team in the middle of the game. "I do not say my players did not try to win," he said, "but they refused to obey my orders.... It was too much for me and I lost my patience. Such baseball disgusted me and I left the bench." Robbie replied, "That's a lot of [expletive]. That's a joke. The fact is, we're a better ball club, and McGraw knows it.... Tell McGraw to stop [expletive] on my pennant."

The Dodgers lost the World Series to the Boston Red Sox, then yielded the pennant to McGraw in 1917. Robinson picked up another pennant for Brooklyn in 1920, beating the second-place Giants by seven games. Unfortunately, that was it for the Robinson regime as Brooklyn's finances rapidly deteriorated into the worst in the National League due to a torturous ownership situation. McGraw's Giants would take four consecutive pennants in 1921-1924. Brooklyn would sink into the second division and, nicknamed "The Daffiness Boys," into self-parody.

The rivalry was inherent in the geographical and political competition between Manhattan and Brooklyn, but two old Orioles of the 1890s gave it the feeling of a real feud.

Why did the Dodgers love to play the Giants if they were such bitter rivals?

Symbiosis. In the days before mass media, attendance was the major component of every team's revenue. Baseball crowds were much smaller then, and on any given day a team might find itself playing before a thousand spectators. Not much money was made on those days, so the occasional sellout was a huge portion of a team's annual earnings. The Giants visited the Dodgers 11 times a year, and each of those games was likely to be sold out. It was extremely important for Brooklyn to be competitive in these games so as to ensure that each subsequent visit would see the same eager crowd. Essentially, games against the Giants subsidized the entire baseball season for the Dodgers.

Why didn't the Washington Senators have a mascot?

They did, but he wasn't a guy in a costume. He was two coaches Nick Altrock and Al Schacht, the latter of whom became known as "The Clown Prince of Baseball." They did the same sorts of things that Max Patkin became known for more recently, pantomime and general clowning with props. These fellows are long dead and their routines are antique, so if the Expos want to have a locally-connected mascot they can't revive the act for the modern audience.

However, the Expos have some obvious goodwill to draw on in Youppi, the shaggy orange man-child Stadium Olympique mascot. What they need to do is find some organic way to tie him to their new home. Simple solution: dye his hair black and call him "Lincoln." Further thought: the concession stands can sell stovepipe hats with the Washington "W" on the front.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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