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When The Teams Are In Spring Training






The Hardships of the Preliminary Practice in Limbering up Muscles
and Reducing Weight for the Big Campaign--How a Ball Club is Whipped
into Playing Shape--Trips to the South Not the Picnics they Seem to
Be--The Battle of the Bushers to Stay in the Big Show--Making a
Pitcher--Some Fun on the Side, including the Adventure of the Turkish
Bath.


Spring training! The words probably remind the reader of the sunny South
and light exercise and good food and rubs and other luxuries, but the
reader perhaps has never been with a Big League ball club when it is
getting ready to go into a six months' campaign.

All I can ever remember after a training trip is taking off and putting on
a uniform, and running around the ball park under the inspiration of John
McGraw, and he is some inspirer.

The heavier a man gets through the winter, the harder the routine work is
for him, and a few years ago I almost broke down and cried out of sympathy
for Otis Crandall, who arrived in camp very corpulent.

"What have you been doing this winter, Otie?" McGraw asked him after
shaking hands in greeting, "appearing with a show as the stout lady?
You'll have to take a lot of that off."

"Taking it off" meant running several miles every day so bundled up that
the Indiana agriculturist looked like the pictures published of "Old Doc"
Cook which showed him discovering the north pole. Ever since, Crandall's
spring training, like charity, has begun at home, and he takes exercise
night and morning throughout the winter, so that when he comes into camp
his weight will be somewhere near normal. In 1911 he had the best year of
his career. He is the type of man who cannot afford to carry too much
weight. He is stronger when he is slimmer.

In contrast to him is George Wiltse, who maps out a training course with
the idea of adding several pounds, as he is better with all the real
weight he can put on. By that I do not mean any fat.

George came whirling and spinning and waltzing and turkey-trotting and
pirouetting across the field at Marlin Springs, Texas, the Giants' spring
training headquarters, one day in the spring of 1911, developing steps
that would have ruled him off any cotillion floor in New York in the days
of the ban on the grizzly bear and kindred dances. Suddenly he dove down
with his left hand and reached as far as he could.

"What's that one, George?" I yelled as he passed me.

"Getting ready to cover first base on a slow hit, Matty," he replied, and
was off on another series of hand springs that made him look more like a
contortionist rehearsing for an act which he was going to take out for the
"big time" than a ball-player getting ready for the season.

But perhaps some close followers of baseball statistics will recall a game
that Wiltse took from the Cubs in 1911 by a wonderful one-hand reaching
catch of a low throw to first base. Two Chicago runners were on the bags
at the time and the loss of that throw would have meant that they both
scored. Wiltse caught the ball, and it made the third out, and the Giants
won the game. Thousands of fans applauded the catch, but the play was not
the result of the exigencies of the moment. It was the outcome of
forethought used months before.

Spectators at ball games who wonder at the marvellous fielding of Wiltse
should watch him getting ready during the spring season at Marlin. He is a
tireless worker, and when he is not pitching he is doing hand springs and
other acrobatic acts to limber up all his muscles. It is torture then, but
it pays in the end.

When I was a young fellow and read about the Big League clubs going South,
I used to think what a grand life that must be. Riding in Pullmans, some
pleasant exercise which did not entail the responsibility of a ball game,
and plenty of food, with a little social recreation, were all parts of my
dream. A young ball-player looks on his first spring training trip as a
stage-struck young woman regards the theatre. She cannot wait for her
first rehearsal, and she thinks only of the lobster suppers and the
applause and the lights and the life, but nowhere in her dream is there a
place for the raucous voice of the stage manager and the long jumps of
"one night stands" with the loss of sleep and the poor meals and the cold
dressing rooms. As actors begin to dread the drudgery of rehearsing, so do
baseball men detest the drill of the spring training. The only thing that
I can think of right away which is more tiresome and less interesting is
signal practice with a college football team.

About the time that the sap starts up in the trees and the young man's
fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love and baseball, the big trek starts.
Five hundred ball-players, attached more or less firmly to sixteen major
league clubs, spread themselves out over the southern part of the United
States, from Florida to California, and begin to prepare for the campaign
that is to furnish the answer to that annual question, "Which is the best
baseball club in the world?"

In the case of the Giants, McGraw, with a flock of youngsters, has already
arrived when the older men begin to drift into camp. The youngsters, who
have come from the bushes and realize that this is their one big chance to
make good, to be a success or a failure in their chosen profession--in
short, to become a Big Leaguer or go back to the bushes for good--have
already been working for ten days and are in fair shape. They stare at
the regulars as the veterans straggle in by twos and threes, and McGraw
has a brief greeting for each. He could use a rubber stamp.

"How are you, Matty? What kind of shape are you in? Let's see you in a
uniform at nine o'clock to-morrow morning."

When I first start South, for the spring trip, after shivering through a
New York winter, I arouse myself to some enthusiasm over the prospect, but
all this has evaporated after listening to that terse speech from McGraw,
for I know what it means. Nothing looms on the horizon but the hardest
five weeks' grind in the world.

The next day the practice begins, and for the first time in five months, a
uniform is donned. I usually start my work by limbering up slowly, and on
the first day I do not pitch at all. With several other players, I help to
form a large circle and the time is spent in throwing the ball at
impossible and unreachable points in the anatomy. The man next to you
shoots one away up over your head and the next one at your feet and off to
the side while he is looking at the third man from you. This is great for
limbering up, but the loosening is torture. After about fifteen minutes
of that, the winter-logged player goes over on the bench and drops down
exhausted. But does he stay there? Not if McGraw sees him, and he is one
of the busiest watchers I have ever met.

"Here, Matty," he will shout, "lead this squad three times around the park
and be careful not to cut the corners."

By the time that little formality is finished, a man's tongue is hanging
out and he goes to get a drink of water. The spring training is just one
darned drink after another and still the player is always thirsty.

After three hours of practice, McGraw may say:

"All right, Matty. Go back to the hotel and get a bath and a rub and cut
it out for to-day."

Or he may remark:

"You're looking heavy this year. Better take another little workout this
afternoon."

And so ends the first day. That night I flex the muscles in my salary wing
and wonder to myself if it is going to be very sore. I get the answer
next day. And what always makes me maddest is that the fans up North
imagine that we are having some kind of a picnic in Marlin Springs,
Texas. My idea of no setting for a pleasure party is Marlin Springs,
Texas.




Close Play at the Plate

This picture illustrates how easily the base runner, with his deceptive
slide, can get away from the catcher, who has the ball waiting for him. It
is always a hard decision for the umpire. Shown in the picture are, left
to right, Conroy of Washington, Umpire Evans, and Catcher Land of
Cleveland.]


The morning of the second day is always a pleasant occasion. The muscles
which have remained idle so long begin to rebel at the unaccustomed
exercise, and the players are as pleasant as a flock of full-grown grizzly
bears. I would not be a waiter for a ball club on a spring tour if they
offered me a contract with a salary as large as J. P. Morgan's income.

Each year the winter kinks seem to have settled into the muscles more
permanently and are harder to iron out. Of course, there comes a last time
for each one of us to go South, and every season I think, on the morning
of the second day, when I try to work my muscles, that this one is my
last.

The bushers lend variety to the life in a spring camp. Many of them try
hard to "horn in" with the men who have made good as Big Leaguers. When a
young player really seems to want to know something, any of the older men
will gladly help him, but the trouble with most of them is that they think
they are wonders when they arrive.

"How do you hold a curve?" a young fellow asked me last spring.

I showed him.

"Do you think Hans Wagner is as good as Ty Cobb?" he asked me next.

"Listen!" I answered. "Did you come down here to learn to play ball or
with the idea that you are attending some sort of a conversational
soiree?"

Many recruits think that, if they can get friendly with the veterans, they
will be retained on account of their social standing, and I cannot "go"
young ball-players who attempt to become the bootblacks for the old ones.

I have seen many a youngster ruin himself, even for playing in the minors,
through his too vigorous efforts to make good under the large tent. He
will come into camp, and the first day out put everything he has on the
ball to show the manager "he's got something." The Giants had a young
pitcher with them in 1911, named Nagle, who tried to pick up the pace, on
the first day in camp, at which he had left off on the closing day of the
previous year. He started to shoot the ball over to the batters with big,
sharp breaking curves on it. He had not been South three days before he
developed a sore arm that required a sling to help him carry it around,
and he never was able to twirl again before he was shunted back into the
lesser leagues.

But hope springs eternal in the breast of the bush leaguer in the spring,
and many a young fellow, when he gets his send-off from the little, old
home town, with the local band playing at the station, knows that the next
time the populace of that place hears of him, it will be through seeing
his name in the headlines of the New York papers. And then along about the
middle of April, he comes sneaking back into the old burg, crestfallen and
disappointed. There are a lot of humor and some pathos in a spring
training trip. Many a busher I have seen go back who has tried hard to
make good and just could not, and I have felt sorry for him. It is just
like a man in any other business getting a chance at a better job than the
one he is holding and not being big enough to fit it. It is the one time
that opportunity has knocked, and most of the bush leaguers do not know
the combination to open the door, and, as has been pointed out,
opportunity was never charged with picking locks. Many are called in the
spring, but few get past. Most of them are sincere young fellows, too,
trying to make good, and I have seen them work until their tongues were
hanging out and the perspiration was starting all over them, only to hear
McGraw say:

"I'm sorry, but you will have to go back again. I've let you out to
Kankakee."

"Steve Evans", who now plays right field on the St. Louis club, was South
with the Giants one season and worked hard to stick. But McGraw had a lot
of young out-fielders, and some minor league magnate from Montreal came
into camp one day who liked "Steve's" action. McGraw started for the
outfield where Evans was chasing flies and tried to get to "Steve," but
every time the manager approached him with the minor league man, Evans
would rush for a ball on another corner of the field, and he became
suddenly hard of hearing. Finally McGraw abandoned the chase and let
another out-fielder go to Montreal, retaining Evans.

"Say, 'Steve,'" said "Mac," that night, "why didn't you come, when I
called you out on the field there this afternoon?"

"Because I could hear the rattle of the tin can you wanted to tie to me,
all over the lot," replied Evans. And eventually, by that subtle dodging,
he landed in the Big League under Bresnahan and has made good out there.

I believe that a pitcher by profession has the hardest time of any of the
specialists who go into a spring camp. His work is of a more routine
nature than that which attaches to any of the other branches of the
baseball art. It is nothing but a steady grind.

The pitcher goes out each morning and gets a catcher with a big mitt and a
loud voice and, with a couple of his fellow artists, starts to warm up
with this slave-driver. The right sort of a catcher for spring rehearsing
is never satisfied with anything you do. I never try to throw a curve for
ten days at least after I get South, for a misplaced curve early in the
season may give a man a sore arm for the greater part of the summer, and
Big League clubs are not paying pitchers for wearing crippled whips.

After warming up for an hour or so, three or four pitchers throw slow ones
to a batter and try to get the ball on the half bounce and compete as to
the number of fumbles. This is great for limbering up.

Then comes the only real enjoyment of the day. It is quick in passing,
like a piece of great scenery viewed out of the window of a railroad coach
going sixty miles an hour. Each afternoon the regulars play the Yannigans
(the spring name of the second team) a game of six innings, and each
pitcher has a chance to work about one inning. The batters are away off
form and are missing the old round-house curve by two feet that they would
hit out of the lot in mid-season. This makes you think for a few minutes
that you are a good pitcher. But there is even a drawback to this brief
bit of enjoyment, for the diamond at Marlin is skinned--that is, made of
dirt, although it is billed as a grass infield, and the ball gets "wingy."
Little pieces of the cover are torn loose by contact with the rough dirt,
and it is not at all like the hard, smooth, grass-stained ball that is
prevalent around the circuit in mid-season. Grass seed has been planted on
this infield, but so far, like a lot of bushers, it has failed to make
good its promises.

After that game comes the inevitable run around the park which has been a
headliner in spring training ever since the institution was discovered. A
story is told of "Cap" Anson and his famous old White Stockings.
According to the reports I have heard, training with the "Cap" when he was
right was no bed of roses. After hours of practice, he would lead the men
in long runs, and the better he felt, the longer the runs. One hot day, so
the story goes, Anson was toiling around the park, with his usual
determination, at the head of a string of steaming, sweating players, when
"Bill" Dahlen, a clever man at finding an opening, discovered a loose
board in the fence on the back stretch, pulled it off, and dived through
the hole. On the next lap two more tired athletes followed him, and at
last the whole squad was on the other side of the fence, watching their
leader run on tirelessly. But "Cap" must have missed the "plunk, plunk" of
the footsteps behind him, for he looked around and saw that his players
were gone. He kept grimly on, alone, until he had finished, and then he
pushed his red face through the hole in the fence and saw his men.

"Your turn now, boys," he said, and while he sat in the grand-stand as the
sole spectator, he made that crowd of unfortunate athletes run around the
track twice as many times as he himself had done.

"Guess I won't have to nail up that hole in the fence, boys," "Cap"
remarked when it was all over.

Speaking of the influence of catchers on pitchers during the training
trip, there is the well-known case of Wilbert Robinson, the old catcher,
and "Rube" Marquard, the great left-handed pitcher of the Giants. "Robbie"
devoted himself almost entirely in the spring of 1911 to the training of
the then erratic "Rube," and he handed back to McGraw at the end of the
rehearsal the man who turned out to be the premier pitcher of his League,
according to the official figures, and figures are not in the habit of
lying.

"Robbie" used to take Marquard off into some corner every day and talk to
him for hours. Draw up close, for I am going to tell you the secret of how
Marquard became a great pitcher and that, too, at just about the time the
papers were mentioning him as the "$11,000 lemon," and imploring McGraw to
let him go to some club in exchange for a good capable bat boy.

"Now 'Rube,'" would be "Robbie's" first line in the daily lecture, "you've
got to start on the first ball to get the batter. Always have something
on him and never let him have anything on you. This is the prescription
for a great pitcher."

One of the worst habits of Marquard's early days was to get a couple of
strikes on a batter and then let up until he got himself "into a hole" and
could not put the ball over. Robinson by his coaching gave him the
confidence he lacked.

"'Rube,' you've got a lot of stuff to-day," "Robbie" would advise, "but
don't try to get it all on the ball. Mix it with a little control, and it
will make a great blend. Now, this guy is a high ball hitter. Let's see
you keep it low for him. He waits, so you will have to get it over."

And out there in the hot Texas sun, with much advice and lots of patience,
Wilbert Robinson was manufacturing a great pitcher out of the raw
material. One of Marquard's worst faults, when he first broke into the
League, was that he did not know the batters and their grooves, and these
weaknesses Robinson drilled into his head--not that a drill was required
to insert the information. Robinson was the coacher, umpire, catcher and
batter rolled into one, and as a result look at the "Rube."

When Marquard began to wabble a little toward the end of 1911 and to show
some of his old shyness while the club was on its last trip West, Robinson
hurried on to Chicago and worked with him for two days. The "Rube" had
lost the first game of the series to the Cubs, but he turned around after
Robinson joined us and beat them to death in the last contest.

Pitchers, old and young, are always trying for new curves in the spring
practice, and out of the South, wafted over the wires by the fertile
imaginations of the flotilla of correspondents, drift tales each spring of
the "fish" ball and the new "hook" jump and the "stop" ball and many more
eccentric curves which usually boil down to modifications of the old ones.
I worked for two weeks once on a new, slow, spit ball that would wabble,
but the trouble was that I could never tell just when or where it was
going to wabble, and so at last I had to abandon it because I could not
control it.

After sending out fake stories of new and wonderful curves for several
years, at last the correspondents got a new one when the spit ball was
first discovered by Stricklett, a Brooklyn pitcher, several seasons ago.
One Chicago correspondent sent back to his paper a glowing tale of the
wonderful new curve called the "spit ball," which was obtained by the use
of saliva, only to get a wire from his office which read:

"It's all right to 'fake' about new curves, but when it comes to being
vulgar about it, that's going too far. Either drop that spit ball or mail
us your resignation."

The paper refused to print the story and a real new curve was born without
its notice. As a matter of fact, Bowerman, the old Giant catcher, was
throwing the spit ball for two or three years before it was discovered to
be a pitching asset. He used to wet his fingers when catching, and as he
threw to second base the ball would take all sorts of eccentric breaks
which fooled the baseman, and none could explain why it did it until
Stricklett came through with the spit ball.

Many good pitchers, who feel their arms begin to weaken, work on certain
freak motions or forms of delivery to make themselves more effective or
draw out their baseball life in the Big Leagues for a year or two. A story
is told of "Matty" Kilroy, a left-hander, who lived for two years through
the development of what he called the "Bazzazaz" balk, and it had the
same effect on his pitching as administering oxygen often has on a patient
who is almost dead.

"My old soup bone," says Kilroy, "was so weak that I couldn't break a pane
of glass at fifty feet. So one winter I spent some time every day out in
the back yard getting that balk motion down. I had a pretty fair balk
motion when my arm was good, but I saw that it had to be better, so I put
one stone in the yard for a home plate and another up against the fence
for first base. Then I practised looking at the home plate stone and
throwing at first base with a snap of the wrist and without moving my
feet. It was stare steady at the batter, then the arm up to about my ear,
and zip, with a twist of the wrist at first base, and you've got him!

"I got so I could throw 'em harder to the bag with that wrist wriggle than
I could to the batter, and I had them stickin' closer to the base for two
years than a sixteen-year-old fellow does to his gal when they've just
decided they would do for each other."

As a rule McGraw takes charge of the batters and general team work at
spring practice, and he is one of the busiest little persons in seven
counties, for he says a lot depends on the start a club gets in a league
race. He always wants the first jump because it is lots easier falling
back than catching up.

After a week or so of practice, the team is divided up into two squads,
and one goes to San Antonio and the other to Houston each Saturday and
Sunday to play games. One of the older men takes charge of the younger
players, and there is a lot of rivalry between the two teams to see which
one will make the better record, I remember one year I was handling the
youngsters, and we went to Houston to play the team there and just managed
to nose out a victory. McGraw thought that for the next Saturday he had
better strengthen the Yannigans up a bit, so he sent Roger Bresnahan along
to play third base instead of Henderson, the young fellow we had the week
before. Playing third base could not exactly have been called a habit with
"Rog" at that time. He was still pretty fat, and bending over quick after
grounders was not his regular line. He booted two or three and finally
managed to lose the game for us. We sent McGraw the following telegram
that night:

"John McGraw, manager of the Giants, San Antonio, Texas:

"Will trade Bresnahan for Henderson. Rush answer."

McGraw does not like to have any of his clubs beaten by the minor
leaguers, because the bushers are inclined to imitate pouter pigeons right
away after beating the Big Leaguers.

The social side of a training trip consists of kicking about the grub,
singing songs at night, and listening to the same old stories that creep
out of the bushes on crutches year after year. Last spring the food got so
bad that some of the newspaper men fixed up a fake story they said they
were going to send to New York, displayed it to the proprietor, and he
came through with beefsteak for three nights in succession, thus
establishing a record and proving the power of the press. The trouble with
the diet schedule on a spring trip is that almost invariably those hotels
on the bush-league circuits serve dinner in the middle of the day, just
when a ball-player does not feel like eating anything much. Then at night
they have a pick-up supper when one's stomach feels as if it thought a
fellow's throat had been cut.

The Giants had an umpire with them in the spring of 1911, named Hansell,
who enlivened the long, weary, training season some. Like a lot of the
recruits who thought that they were great ball-players, this Hansell
firmly believed he was a great umpire. He used to try to put players who
did not agree with his decisions out of the game and, of course, they
would not go.

"Why don't you have them arrested if they won't leave?" McGraw asked him
one day. "I would."

So the next afternoon Hansell had a couple of the local constables out at
the grounds and tried to have Devore pinched for kicking on a decision.
"Josh" got sore and framed it up to have a camera man at the park the next
day to take a moving picture of a mob scene, Hansell, the umpire, to be
the hero and mobbed. Hansell fell for it until he saw all the boys picking
up real clods and digging the dirt out of their spikes, and then he made a
run for it and never came back. That is how we lost a great umpire.

"You boys made it look too realistic for him," declared McGraw.

Hansell had a notion that he was a runner and offered to bet Robinson,
who is rather corpulent now, that he could beat him running across the
field. Robinson took him, and walked home ahead of the umpire in the race.

"I don't see where I get off on this deal," complained McGraw when it was
over. "I framed up this race for you two fellows, and then Hansell comes
to me and borrows the ten to pay 'Robbie.'"

Somebody fixed up a Turkish bath in the hotel one day by stuffing up the
cracks in one of the bathrooms and turning the hot water into the tub and
the steam into the radiator full blast.

Several towels were piled on the radiator and the players sat upon this
swathed in blankets to take off weight. They entered the impromptu Turkish
bath, wearing only the well-known smile. McGraw still maintains that it
was "Bugs" Raymond who pulled out the towels when it came the manager's
turn to sit on the radiator, and, if he could have proved his case,
Raymond would not have needed a doctor. It would have been time for the
undertaker.

Finally comes the long wending of the way up North. "Bugs" Raymond always
depends on his friends for his refreshments, and as he had few friends in
Marlin in 1911, he got few drinks. But when we got to Dallas cocktails
were served with the dinner and all the ball-players left them untouched,
McGraw enforcing the old rule that lips that touch "licker" shall never
moisten a spit ball for him. "Bugs" was missed after supper and some one
found him out in the kitchen licking up all the discarded Martinis. That
was the occasion of his first fine of the season, and after that, as
"Bugs" himself admitted, "life for him was just one fine after another."

At last, after the long junket through the South, on which all managers
are Simon Legrees, is ended, comes a welcome day, when the new uniforms
are donned and the band plays and "them woids" which constitute the
sweetest music to the ears of a ball-player, roll off the tongue of the
umpire:

"The batteries for to-day are Rucker and Bergen for Brooklyn, Marquard and
Meyers for New York. Play ball!"

The season is on.





Next: Jinxes And What They Mean To A Ball-player

Previous: The Game That Cost A Pennant



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