BASEBALL IN CANADA
GEORGE W. (Knotty) LEE
TWENTY-FIVE years now I have been in baseball, for the most part in Canada, as player, league captain, manager, scout and organizer. In the latter capacity I have assisted at various times during the past fifteen years in organizing Canadian leagues and that has been the most interesting of all also the most trying and precarious. To-day there are two well-established leagues going - one in the West and the Miehigan-Ontario circuit. They are playing good ball and making money. Fifteen years ago things were somewhat different!
1 have several ideas or theories in connection with the game in Canada which I want to work off in the course of this article. The first is that we are stifling the development of young players by the rigidity of the line that we draw between amateurs and professionals. Then I want to say something about the real value of the game to the country at large and to the individual cities and towns; the value of a clean sport is never fully appreciated. Finally, I want to put in a word for daylight saving. These points, however, will have to come in later. First of all I want to tell something about my experience in organizing bush leagues in Canada; for after all we are still “bushers.” '
Finding the Key Man
IT was fifteen years ago that I started out to help create a league in Western Ontario. In those days the difficulty we met was not so much in getting the clubs organized as in keeping things moving for a whole season; but even the organization end was hard enough.
I discovered early in the game that in practically every town there is a “key” man —one powerful individual who must be “sold” on the idea before the rest of the sports «an be lined up to support a new club. The starting point for the organizer is to discover the Key Man and get him committed to the idea. It is a serious matter if you g*t the wrong people behind a club. The sports are suspicious and never better than lukewarm. Failure stares you in the face almost from the first.
Whenever 1 went into a new town I got as much information as I could in advance. If not accurately primed before reaching the town on the sporting “Who’s who,” I made it a point to loaf around and find out for myself before making a move. I had to find out who the real Key Man was.
I remember going into a small city where the king pin of sporting activities was an old ball-player and boxer who had settled down and made a substantial pile in one way and another—real estate, second mortgages, a little judicious money-lending and so forth. As soon as I walked into his office I sensed the fact that this sharpeyed, hook-nosed customer was looking out for No. 1 first, last and always. His prestige of older days made him the pivot in local circles still, but his interest I could see was purely a matter of dollars and cents. He scoffed at the idea of putting a professional ball team in that town.
“We’ve got twelve thousand people,” he declared, “made up of fifty free spenders and eleven thousand nine hundred and fifty people who go to everything where there’s no gate. Figure out the chance for yourself. At the best we can’t stage more than two home games a week. The fifty will come out religiously to both and some of the rest will dribble over—they’ll try anything once. Say you take in one hundred and fifty dollars a week—best you can figure on. How far will that chicken feed go toward running a ball team?”
I argued the point with him hut he couldn’t be budged an inch. Not a cent of his money would be risked in any such foolish venture. When I left his office I was nearly ready to wipe the town off my list. But just on general principles I stayed a day or so longer and looked the situation over a little more closely.
And right away I found the lever needed.
The only grounds suitable for baseball were privately owned about a quarter of a mile from town—a field with a dilapidated peppershaker that served asa grand-stand and an anaemic fence. No sport had been played there for three or four years and the property could be bought cheap. So back I went to my Key Man.
“If the club were started,” I suggested, “it would be a good thing for the owners of the athletic field. I heard to-day they wanted to sell -ready to take almost anything.
They’ve got a white elephant on their hands. But say, if we got the town into this league I’m forming, those grounds w ould have a real value again. ’ ’
The Key Man did not say a word hut I could see he was thinking hard. So I went on talking about other things— gates, leagues, rules and so on, everything in fact but grounds. Finally I left him and strolled over to my hotel. In two hours he came into the lobby on a still hunt for me.
“I’ve changed my mind,” he said. “It may be worth while trying to put a team in the league after all. I’ll help you to get the right people lined up.”
We had no difficulty after that in getting the enthusiasm up to the right pitch. The newspapers beat the tom-toms of publicity in real earnest and inside of two days we had held a meeting, subscribed the necessary funds, elected offices and settled everything to my complete satisfaction. When we came to negotiate for the athletic grounds we found that they had changed hands just a few days before.
Remarkable coincidence! The new owner was a young lawyer who had apparently just picked the property up because it was going cheap. But I soon discovered that the lawyer handled all the legal tangles of my friend, the Key Man.
Confidence in the Judge
BUT after all, the real case of a Key Man swinging a town was one that I encountered last winter when I started out to organize the Miehigan-Ontario League. Before going to Saginaw I was told it was Judge Clements I must see, so I went direct from my hotel to the Court House. Judge Clements is a remarkable character. He has lost both arms and so finds it necessary to write with his mouth. It is astonishing, in fact, how easily he can append his signature with the pen between his teeth. I found him most cordial and receptive and it took a comparatively short time to convince him that Saginaw should be included in the new circuit. He agreed to take a share in the club and gave me his signature there and then.
After that it was child’s play to get the backing needed. Twenty-four other men signed up for shares without a second’s hesitation when they found that Judge Clements was at the head of the list. What’s more they all got together and agreed to place their shares unreservedly in the Judge’s hands, so that there would be a single ownership control of the club.
It proved a wise move, for, at the end of the season, the original capital had been multiplied eight times over.
Working on Local Pride
ANOTHER time, about six years ago, I think, I was getting together a purely Ontario circuit and was anxious to include a certain city. I knew it was going to be hard work, because this place had put a team a few years before in a league since defunct and had lost money. I knew, however, that it was a good ball town and could support a team if the fans were given a square deal. I dropped into the town and walked around to the office of one of the men who had been behind the last venture. This particular place boasted a group of Key Men, three or four in fact.
“Helloa, Knotty,” he said. “See by the papers you’re on the warpath again. Think you can shake the moth balls out of the Ontario League idea?” “Sure thing,” I replied. “It’s going big this year. I’ve practically made up my circuit already, Tom.”
“That so? Figuring on putting a team here?”
“No, Tom,” I said. “I figured you had enough of it here last time. I guess this place can hardly support a ball team.” “What brings you here then?” He was a little huffed at me, I could see.
“Just dropped off on my way to London. Thought I’d have a few minutes’ chat with you and some of the others. How’s business?”
But he didn’t want to talk business. He kept veering around to the League idea and just as religiously I kept yanking the conversation back to something else. Finally he blurted out: “Confound you, Lee! I’ve a notion to put a team in your blamed League just to prove
this a good ball town and that we can support a team here!”
And he did. What’s more they finished up in the first division and made a little money that year.
A FTER all, financing a small league ball team is not a millionaire’s game. I don’t suppose many people have any idea how small the capital of most clubs is. In the old days we could make a start on four hundred dollars. Nowadays it takes more, of course, because ball players’ salaries have gone up and other expenses have kept pace with the H. C. of L. Even at that, however, a club can be financed closely. I know of one club in our circuit last year that started with a working capital of eight hundred dollars. Of course, the owners were prepared to put up more cash if necessary, but it happened that the original pot carried the club into the days when the gates began to pile up and so further capital was not needed.
The players report two weeks or so before the season opens, although some will drift in only a few days ahead of the opening game. As they are not paid until the season starts the club has only the expense of their board for that length of time. In the old days I have seen a club stagger along with only two hundred dollars in the bank. It meant running bills for hotel board, uniforms and rental of grounds until some money came in at the gate; close financing, of course, but it has been done.
When only Ontario teams were included in the league we did not handle the finances on a proper basis to assure stability. The prosperous clubs did nothing to keep the less fortunate place in the swim, with the result that sometimes the season was not finished out. Last year, with four Ontario and four Michigan towns making up the circuit, we put things on a sound basis financially. The league collected ten per cent, on all gates over one hundred dollars and the money thus realized was put in a central fund. Had any of the clubs fallen on evil days the fund would have been used to extend assistance.
Fortunately it was not necessary to go to the rescue of any town and I believe a quite substantial sum was carried over. Further, a division of gates was arranged between home and visiting teams, a very necessary arrangement to keep the smaller clubs financially sound.
There has been plenty of money made on occasions in Canadian baseball. I know of one case where two young fellows took a franchise in a Western Ontario city, each putting up three hundred dollars. By the end of the season they had four thousand dollars clear and were able to sell their franchise for another four thousand, which made it a pretty good speculation on their part. In another instance, one man financed a team in a small city. It cost him about five hundred dollars altogether before the first returns came in. Of that sum two hundred and thirty dollars had gone to square up the debts of the last baseball club which had gone broke two or three years before. It is a law of organized baseball that a team cannot be entered in a town as long as any debts from defunct teams are still outstanding. The season netted the owner a clear four thousand dollars. Next year he made almost as much, partly on gates and partly on the sale of players.
Of course there is a reverse side to the picture. I recall one case where a club was organized by half a dozen well-todo sports. They each put in a couple of hundred dollars. The team struck a stump right at the start of the season, went to the bottom of the league and stayed there with a safe margin. The funds melted away like snow in April. The owners did not feel like digging down for any more, at least all of them didn’t and none of them was willing to be the goat further unless they all shared the losses. Ac; cordingly they abandoned their interest and the manager, who was more resourceful in such matters than in getting a winning team together, went out and canvassed the merchants of the town. In that way he raised four hundred dollars. Before long this money had also been consumed. Then the manager sold shares to the general public, ten dollars a crack and raised about six hundred more. The team kept merrily and steadfastly firm in their retention of last place, so in course of time the treasury was again as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Finally a wealthy man anted a cool thousand and that saw the season through to an inglorious finish with a deficit of a couple of hundred; which, as far as I know, has never been settled up.
The players do not earn princely stipends in Canadian baseball. Last year in the Miehigan-Ontario we were supposed to operate on a fifteen hundred dollar monthly
salary limit. With fourteen players on the roster, that meant that the average monthly salary of the players was just a shade over one hundred dollars. As the season progressed, the teams kept strengthening up so I have no doubt that they all exceeded the salary limit'. But even at that the average ball player was not exactly rolling in wealth because, of course, the season is only forfour months. During the rest of the year the players have to take any kind of employment they can secure. Of course, every ball player is looking forward to the day when he will be in the big league and drawing down from three to six thousand a year. In order to achieve this goal, he is ready to take what he can get in the smaller leagues. The very earliest stages he has to take his chances on catching a place with the team he signs on with. Every club has to drop a few off the list before the season opens and that means, of course, that the unfortunates get no pay and have little chance of catching on anywhere else that year. I have known cases where they did not get their railway fare home. I believe that every manager dislikes the necessity of weeding out players in this way; but, of cou se, it has to be done. A baseball club has to be run the same as any other business. If you carry a lot of “dead ones” you soon hit the bottom with a dull thud.
Not Raising Players in Canada
XT OW a word as to the methods by which players are ob*' tained, which brings me to one of the most interesting phases of the game—scouting. Incidentally also this brings me to one of the points that I particularly want to make. Of late years it has been “poor picking” for the scouts in Canada. This has been düe in some degree, of course, to the war, but that does not explain it entirely, for the condition existed long before 1914. My opinion is that the amateur lines are drawn too closely in this country. Amateur teams are never allowed to play against professionals or semi-pro teams. They are not even permitted to have professional coaches or trainers. The result is that the young players suffer from lack of association with old-timers at the game.
The best method of bringing a promising young player on is to inject him into a team of professionals. He learns things that he never dreamed of before and the advice of the veterans is to rub off the rough edges of his inexperience. Under the present condition, the young player in Canada lacks this opportunity and he does not develop as rapidly as the young fellow on the other side of the line. I may bring down on my head the wrath of all lovers of amateur sport by saying this, but it is a fact. I remember the time, about twelve years ago, when Toronto alone had eight or ten men on big league teams. How many can Toronto boast to-day?
I have done a lot of scouting for my own teams and also for the Toronto International Club. My itinerary has generally been south from Montreal through the New England States, down through New York and along Michigan and Illinois, ending up around St. Paul. Frankly I have seldom put in much time in Canada on the hunt lor players.
And at that there is just as good raw material in Canada as elsewhere. Last year I was tipped off that a certain amateur team in Ontario had a pitcher with all the earmarks of being a Christy Mathewson the Second. I made a special trip to see him. Nobody in town knew who I was, or at any rate no one spotted me, and I took a quiet seat, on the grandstand.
I Find a Born Player
T'HE pitcher was a big fellow, over six feet of ungainly framework. He unquestionably had a fine hurst of speed, but after the first few innings 1 knew for a certainty that he was a “dud.” He knew absolutely nothing about fielding and, although he was striking them out right along, it was due to the weakness of the batters rather than to any magic of his own. I was willing to stake my reputation on the prediction that he would be absolutely massacred in the first innings against any professional team. But, as a matter of fact, I hardly gave Inm a thought after
the first few innings, for my attention had been riveted elsewhere. The catcher, I noticed, was handling himself in beautiful shape. He was a natural stand-up-to-theplate batter and he had a grand throwing arm. But quite apart from this, he was doing things that you never or seldom see done in an amateur game. For instance he made splendid throws to second and caught the runner cold each time. The crowd applauded like mad. After that nine catchers out of ten would have thrown their arms off, pegging them down to second to get more of the hand-clap stuff. But not this chap. I saw that he passed up any effort to throw to second a couple of times after that when it was clear to anyone who knew the game that the runner would make it. “Using his head,” I said to myself. “It takes a professional to pass up the chance for applause.”
Then I noticed another trick of his. He came to hat with a runner on first and none out. The first ball was rather wide and high and he made a very ineffectual effort at a bunt. The pitcher promptly put the ball back in about the same place and my man promptly squared away and lammed it to the fence for a three-bagger. All through the game he did things that did not show on the surface, but which indicated that he was thinking all the time and thinking quick. The way he squatted behind the bat, the way he threw, his quickness once in throwing a bunted ball to third instead of first, everything he did was right. "An old ball player,” I said to myself.
Much to my surprise I found, on talking to him after the game, that he was not only young but had actually never seen a professional game. He was just a natural-born ball player. I offered him a job on the spot but he passed it up without any hesitation.
“I’ve got a good, steady job,” he said. “I don’t feel like gambling on making good in baseball.”
“Listen, son,” I said. “It wouldn’t be any gamble. I’ll guarantee that in two years you’ll get into thebigleague. You’ll be making six thousand a year in no time.”
But he couldn’t see it that way. He was getting one hundred dollars a month and liked his work and he had a good chance for promotion. So there he is. If any big league scout wants a line on a catcher who would develop in time into another “Mooney” Gibson or “Chief” Meyers I can give him the address.
But I don’t think it is any use trying to get this lad into the game.
Why This Pitcher Struck Them Out
T'HERE was another case last year which demonstrates how careful a scout must be. A pitcher with one of the Ontario teams acquired a big reputation as a strikeout artist and it was pretty generally conceded that he would be snapped up for faster company. One day when my team, the Brantford Red Sox, were due to go up against the star pitcher on our own grounds, 1 saw a familiar face in the lobby of a hotel and finally placed the possessor thereof as the scout for a certain big league team, lie came over and edged me into a corner.
“How about this bird, Knotty?” he asked. “We got a straight tip that he’s a world-beater and the boss told me to come up and grab him.”
“Well,” I said, “he sure is a bear-cat at home. But I’ve noticed that he doesn’t win more than the average number of games on the road.”
“What’s the reason?” demanded the scout.
“It’s a mystery to me,” I said. “At home lie mows them down—strikes ’em out right and left. On the road he’s just fair to middling.”
“Must have a goat around the premises,” grunted the other. “I’ll find out where he keeps it.”
That afternoon the star pitcher was just, fair to middling
and we beat him. My friend, the scout, went on with us to the home town of the other team where we played the next three days. On the second day, the whirlwind was put in again and he beat us to a fine platinum peak.
“He’s got me puzzled," said the scout. “Hadn’t a thing the other day—to-day a world-beater. You say he’s that way all the time?”
“Up and down,” I said. “Up at home and down on the
So the scout wandered off on his beat without attempting to dicker and I gave him a sort of promise that I would let him know if anything developed. Shortly afterward I found out the solution. You have all read stories about teams which won at home by having unusual background arrangements so that the visitors could not see the ball; and perhaps on that account you won’t put much stock in what I am going to say. But anyway here was the fact of the matter. One day when we were playing in the home town of the star heaver, I became too obstreperous on the coaching line and was ruled off the field. It so happened that the seat I secured in the grand stand was directly back of the plate and what I saw solved the mystery of the pitcher’s strength. He was a left hander and his delivery was most peculiar—a high hitching swing that carried his arm away to the left. As a result his hand was directly in front of the corner of a bill-board in the background, painted a dark green when the ball left it. The batter always had the impression that the ball came up to him suddenly—he couldn’t see it leave the pitcher’s hand. As a result strike-outs were the rule.
It was quite accidental. No other pitcher benefited by the background; no one could without resorting to the same peculiar delivery. The man himself had no knowledge of the fact. He honestly believed he was striking them out by sheer skill and was probably as puzzled as the rest of us were at his inability to do as well elsewhere.
I tipped off my friend, the scout, to leave him alone.
Handling the Local Phenom
a team in a Canadian league involves always a close acquaintance with the rather common species known as the Local Phenom. Every town boasts of at least one player who only needs a chance in order to make the public forget all about Ty Cobb. As soon as it becomes known that you are putting a team in town you begin to hear about the phenom or phenoms that this particular place boasts. Friends of the player come to you. Perhaps the backers of the club boosts his stock to you. Almost invariably the great one comes to you himself and says how lucky you are that he is available to help you win the championship. Of course you have to give him a chance, in fact all manner of chances.
My experience is that the local phenom seldom amounts to anything.
ILe is generally too bumptious to learn, lie has believed su long that he is one of the really great, men of the diamond that he doesn't see the need of learning anything. Perhaps at one time he had the makings uf a good player hut the boosting of his
boosting of his friends has ruined all that, l! generally happens that lablows up of his own accord. Put him into a game and he falls down in the pinches. The crowd soon see this and the stock of the phenom just oozes down to zero. It’s tinonly way; let the crowd discover the clay feet of the idol for itself.
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The funniest case of that kind of which I ever heard occurred a number of years ago, the great man in this instance being a pitcher. He was a big, rangy fellow with a shock of hair that stuck out all around his head, and a clumsy delivery. In practice he used to hop them over the plate, however, in real earnest and for a time I entertained hopes of him. But in practice games they got to him bright and early. He never lasted through the first innings. Finally, a friend of his came to me and explained that Bill had one weakness; he was unsteady at the start. “ Just let Bill get through the first innings,” he declared, “and he won’t give another hit the rest of the game.” It seemed that Bill had been that way right through his whole career. Whenever, by luck or good fielding, he managed to wriggle through the fatal first, he was a world-beater for the rest of the day. But he had been beaten with some regularity in the first.
During the training season and the first two weeks of the schedule I started him half-a-dozen times and on each occasion the opposing batters took to William’s offerings like cats to salmon. He never lasted more than the one inning.
“Well,” I said to the president of the club finally, “I guess Bill is a busted phenom. I’ve done my duty by local sentiment and Bill has had his chance. We can’t let him hand away any more games on platters. Bill’s through.”
And then Bill’s friends came forward with a suggestion. They had figured it all out. There was, after all, a royal road to success for Bill.
“Why not put another pitcher in for the first innings and then let Bill start in the
second?” they said.
Such reputation as I may have had for tact in that town I lost that day!
The Worst Decision I Ever Knew
A ND now a word as to umpires. We have never had the best of umpiring in our Canadian leagues. It has been, after all, a matter of price. To get good men you have to pay good salaries and, the more
you pay, the better service you get. This year we are boosting our figure and will unquestionably get better men.
I think the rawest decision I have ever heard of was “pulled” on me on an occasion when my club was playing an exhibition game in a Western Ontario town. We were guaranteed so much to play the date but, of course, the money was not payable until after the game. Arrangements had been made for an outside umpire, but he did not arrive, so at the last minute the manager of the local team said he would handle the indicator. The game started. It was proving pretty easy for us and the umpire began to get “het up.” On several occasions he favored his own team on plays that were not at all close and his calling at balls and strikes became weird to say the least. But we were safely ahead so we didn’t have much to say about it. Finally with three men on bases and none out one of my team popped a Texas leaguer behind second base and in trying to get it, the home second baseman and the centre fielder collided head on and went down. Before the dust cleared away, four runs had come in. “Back to your bases!” roared the umpire, who had gone purple in the face. “Not a run counts!”
I can stand for a lot on occasions but this was too much. I went out to the umpire and gave him a few pointers on the rules of the game. He wouldn’t listen
“Two of my men were knocked out,” he said bitterly. “Do you think we could play you seven men against nine?”
“Say this is baseball, not lacrosse,” I said. “I won’t stand for any raw stuff like that.”
“All right,” he said. “Then I’ll call the game and you won’t get one cent of your guarantee. I hold the purse as well as being umpire.”
He had the whiphand. It happened that our exchequer was none too healthy just then and we needed the money. So l took my players, who were mad as hornets, to one side and explained that salaries were more important than principles aiid
that we had better give in. Back we went into the game and the batter lammed out a two-bagger!
■p1 IN ALLY let me point out that organized baseball has been a good thing for the towns that have participated. It provides a healthy interest for the people of the town. Baseball, in fact, is one cure for Bolshevism. It brings outsiders to town and helps business. It advertises the town. I honestly believe it is a factor in the growth and prosperity of any place. Last year we played just as good ball in the Michigan-Ontario as they were playing in the International and the Ontario clubs got splendid backing. It put a finer edge on local patriotism.
This factor has been recognized in some quarters. This year the manufacturers in a town not represented in the league offered four thousand dollars for a franchise. Unfortunately there was no vacancy to offer them.
Daylight saving has made all the difference between success and failure in Canadian baseball. Last year we called our games at 6.15 and there was always plenty of time to finish before darkness fell. Some of the factories and offices closed at 5.00, which gave the employees a chance to get supper before going to the game. Hundreds who did not quit until six came right over to the grounds from work. All baseball men are strong for daylight saving.