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July 18, 2012

Wezen-Ball

The 1930 Cardinals Telegram Mystery

by Larry Granillo

On September 9, 1930, the St. Louis Cardinals, helmed by skipper Gabby Street, found themselves tied for second place, 2.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs. That morning, Street received a telegram that read:

Do not worry, you will lose today, regardless of your pitching choice; you will win the next three.

That afternoon, the Cards lost to the Giants 2-1 before winning the next three. The next day, at the start of St. Louis' series against the Boston Braves, Street received another telegram:

Everything O.K. You will win two and lose one.

Over the next two days, the Cardinals won two and lost one, just as the telegram predicted. For the remainder of the month, as St. Louis fought its way towards the pennant, the telegrams continued. According to all published reports, the telegrams were never wrong. Cardinals players began to "accept as gospel" the mystery telegrams.

The pennant race went all the way to the final weekend of the year, when St. Louis hosted Pittsburgh for a four-game series while up by three games. Before the series started, Street received his customary telegram:

Have no worries. Pitch Grimes and Haines in first two games and Cards are in the bag. The pennant will be clinched Friday so you can have some rest.

In the first game of the series, Grimes pitched a 9-0 shutout. Haines helped clinch the pennant the next night as the Cards won 10-5.

With the World Series against Philadelphia's Athletics looming, the Cardinals received some bad news. One telegram sent to Street said that, if he pitched Grimes in the first game, the Cards would lose two in a row. Grimes did pitch that first game of the Series and St. Louis did find itself in a quick two-games-to-nil hole. Another telegram gave Street and his players some hope, however:

Don't worry. I'm praying. Hallahan and Haines will win Saturday and Sunday. I'll wire you about Monday's game.

As usual, the telegram predicted correctly. Hallahan and Haines won their two games and the Cards were suddenly tied up at two-games apiece. The telegram about Monday's game never arrived, however. This lack of correspondence upset the players so much that they were said to "believe they lost yesterday not because Grimes gave Foxx a home run ball, but because the mystery man failed to send his daily telegram." The Foxx home run was a two-run blast in the top of the ninth that gave Philadelphia a 2-0 lead.

With the club down three-games-to-two and things looking grim for St. Louis, Street received some happy news during the team's travel day:

Hallahan and Haines will win the championship for St. Louis tomorrow and Thursday.

Alas, the mystery man finally proved fallible. In Game 6, Hallahan lasted only two innings en route to a Philadelphia 7-1 victory and World Series title. There was no word on how Street and the players reacted to the failure of the telegram.

In the meanwhile, the man behind the telegrams was finally revealed to be James J. Sheridan, a cigar salesman and resident of Troy, New York (later Albany). If anyone interviewed Sheridan to discover the secret behind his clairvoyance, those interviews cannot be found. All we can say is that Sheridan passed away in 1935, the result of an apparent suicide.

The last few years of Sheridan's life were obviously tough. For one exciting month in 1930, however, he was the mystery man behind "the strangest story in all the history of baseball." Not a bad way to be remembered.

6 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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seabass77

I was expecting this to be the manager using it as motivation. Is this for real?

Jul 18, 2012 05:15 AM
rating: 0
 
ofMontreal

Supernatural!

Jul 18, 2012 10:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Shaun P.
(676)

This is phenomenal! Awesome piece, Larry. How do you find this stuff?

Wait - don't tell me. I don't want to know. Some things are better off being mysterious.

Jul 18, 2012 10:36 AM
rating: 0
 
buddaley

Why do you believe this happened? I see the newspaper report, but that seems to be a story just before the "mystery man" was wrong. Are there any accounts of the telegrams before then-or evidence that they existed? What is the reporter's source for any of this story anyway?

Reads like a fraud to me.

Jul 18, 2012 12:33 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Fair question. It does sound odd and possibly fabricated.

I believe it because five years later, when Sheridan died, they still associated the story with him. That tells me that somehow the story was vetted enough in 1930 for it to survive attached to this man for five years. I also think that the telegrams being quoted exactly help reinforce that they actually existed (only one of the telegrams is paraphrased).

I don't actually believe that he predicted every game perfectly, though, like both newspaper articles claimed. That seems a little too easy for a hazy memory or good storyteller to embellish.

Jul 18, 2012 13:21 PM
 
buddaley

Yes, I think that makes sense-especially the last paragraph. Of course, many myths stick to particular players or situations and get repeated so that they enter the collective memory as truth. Babe Ruth holding Huggins outside the window of a speeding train, for example.

And as for exact transcriptions of telegrams rather than paraphrasing, how do we know they are transcriptions rather than the imagination of the writer? Are the actual telegrams available? Does Western Union have a record of them somewhere?

Until sabermetrics, the dominant means for passing on baseball history was the story-often embellished to make for more exciting reading. Sports pages in particular rarely let the facts intrude on a good tale.

I am guessing, like you, that there is some substance to the story of the telegrams but that the predictions were right about as often as any such things are. Perhaps the manager used them to motivate his players; perhaps superstitions grew around them the way they did around Charlie "Victory" Faust.

What I find most interesting, even puzzling, is that such a story did not become one of the mainstays of baseball mythology.

Jul 18, 2012 19:23 PM
rating: 2
 
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