Why don’t more catchers become umpires? The majority seem to be former pitchers, who are used to controlling the tempo and flavor of the game. But catchers are the field generals, calling defensive signals and selecting pitches. There’s a bond between catchers and umpires behind the plate, sharing the same wide-angle view of the field action and the same vulnerability to stray pitches and foul tips.
Born in 1890 into a well-off family in Cass City, Michigan, Leland Stanford “Larry” MacPhail was a flashy dresser, a playboy, a hot-tempered loudmouth, and a heavy drinker. He was also a shrewd judge of talent and a no-holes-barred, go-getting innovator. Some called him a spendthrift. To that, his answer was simple: You have to spend money to make money.
The most enduring baseball custom to emerge during the Great Depression—the midseason All-Star Game between the American and National Leagues—was the brainchild of several individuals with no direct connection to baseball.
“I am as proud of my record as an umpire,” George Pipgras told historian Larry Gerlach, “as my achievements as a player. . . . I am very proud to have been an umpire.” That’s a forthright and remarkable declaration from a man who played on the legendary 1927 New York Yankees and went undefeated in three World Series starts.
When Patsy Tebeau resigned as player-manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in August 1900, it was probably clear he had to go. The team had future Hall of Fame Managers John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson on its playing roster and had stumbled to a 42–50 record. Tebeau had a reputation as one of the toughest players of the 1890s, but he’d become lax with his charges.
The effect of the Great Depression on baseball was a severe decrease in attendance and a loss of revenue. People simply had less money available for anything other than food and shelter, and for many Americans, baseball games were a luxury that could no longer be afforded. Americans, and not just the working class, were suddenly more likely to be found in a bread line than a reserved seat at a baseball game.
Much has been made of the Indiana farm boy who ran afoul of a corn thresher that tried to separate the boy’s right hand from his wrist. Little Mordecai Brown grew up to be “Three Finger” Brown. Mangled fingers forced him to find a unique grip that gave him the most unhittable curveball of his generation, leading to a Hall of Fame career.
On the eve of his team’s opening-day matchup with the Indianapolis Hoosiers, Manager Bill Watkins called a meeting with the players. The meeting served not only as a pep talk, but it also afforded him an opportunity to review the team rules. The pre-season discourse had become a budding tradition for the 28-year-old Watkins. He was in his third year of skippering the Detroit Wolverines of the National League. If the previous year was any indication, the 1887 team figured to be very good indeed.