Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Game 28, The Seattle Daily Times, May 8, 1924.

The Seattle Daily Times, May 8, 1924.
Sometimes I think we live in the age of constant memory. I would say real memory, but I doubt such a thing, and perhaps memory has as many off-white mixes as the salt and pepper beard of a fading man. I recall as a child a photograph being an incredibly and indelibly precious thing. Now I will hand off my digital camera to my kids and let them go crazy. Snap by the hundreds, delete whatever. Each photograph was a memory in another time, a composed action more often proposed than accident. We lived without much of our history, both personally and as a culture, as a result of decisions about what we would pay the expense of photographing and what was less important. What could be left to memory. Often that left behind matter was something that was so commonplace, why would it ever be committed to a photograph? I don't know if having a world where nothing seems to fade is such a good thing. History is obviously important to someone such as myself, and its important in many other respects. But these are always fragments of history, the best memory is nothing better than a half-tone. More likely it is an mp3, with an 11 to 1 compression ratio. It may be harmful, this lack of detail, or at least stagnating, in that we only see history with mostly broad strokes. I love picking through the past and finding these details in the brush marks, finding the dried peels and imagining the orange flesh, and further, imagining the sun under which it grew.

I also am amazed at how much we forget over time. Having transcribed many newspaper accounts of that appeared in newspapers from 1866 to just prior to World War II, I find it interesting to see how much of our modern language appears in the old news accounts, and at which times it appears. As one goes further into the daily past, the language changes, as you would expect. I think most of us think of the 1920s or the 1880s as a long time ago, and in a way it is, as thirty thousand yesterdays should be. After all, just imagine, fully, yesterday. But it is also merely the age of our grandparents or their own. In a way, this mystery is due to a lack of detail, and to truly tell a tale of any moment from history would require the immense connection of history. After all, again, imagine yourself today and your own connection to the world events of today. Today may be insignificant, or perhaps it may have an important moment that will be caught in the broad stroke of a later storyteller, a December 7, a September 11, but imagine the immensity of your today and how it dissipates in the flow of history, yet how important your own breath is to this very moment. Every aspect of history that is touched upon broadly is made up equally of such details. A death in World War 1, a man coughing from a 1917 gassing in 1924 as he sits in the Spring sun after a day shift, watching a double play. He is there, in the untold parts of the story, or on a train to Canada. That lack of detail also allows us to define that past, which is both bad and good. It is bad in that we will necessarily produce a definition that is different from a complete truth of accuracy, but we try to illuminate truth, maybe through an exegesis, or even an illumination of nothing related actuality. Especially as we examine a society that wasn't concerned with its history or was only beginning to really understand it was engaging in history. Now we have one that is obsessed with its daily archive. Its good in that we must always work on redefining what the past means to us, especially as we come to know it better.

The Seattle Indians played their 28th game of 1924 on May 7th, 1924 and the game was reported on May 8th. Forty years later, to the day, my older brother would be born on May 8th, and forty-eight and a half years from then we would have today. Thus, in the slightly off kilter numerical tendencies all far too avid baseball fans tend to auger into, a boy of eight years old who played on his school team, and also avidly followed the local pro team, in 1924, would be 48 in 1964. It is highly likely that if you found the right person, he could recall being at Dugdale Field the day he saw the beloved Indians get 17 hits. He could have been sitting with his 48 year old father, who could tell him about the day in 1884 he saw the local semi-pro team, since in 1884 Seattle didn't have fully professional baseball yet. So, what I mean is, it is a short chain of events really. A small amount of separation between us and the larger historical past that these events occur within. As a whole Earth, an amazing amount of things have gone on since 1924, but there's a slight chance there is someone somewhere who could still describe to youwhat it was like to be at a baseball game early May, 90 years ago.

I thought with this posting I would look at the larger picture of society illuminated by abstracted elements within the sports page of a given day. Here we have two teams made up of players drawn from across the country, half of whom have associations with other players and teams that can drawn you back into the earliest history of the game and the nation if you go down such a path. We have Mickey Cochrane as a young man for Portland coming in to play center field. Jim Bagby of Seattle was only a few years removed from winning a World Series. Most of the players would never see such a thing. Yet, on the same day, this baseball game was more than the one game in town.

In the same sports, naturally further down, we see the results of the grade school leagues. Many of these schools have long since dissappeared. But what this shows us is the value this particular social activity had in its community. The papers of the time were filled with each and every league. When you look across the breadth of activity, you get an idea of why baseball lived up to its reputation as the National Pasttime. From the grade schools to the high schools, organized baseball provided an outlet and activity. Kids would learn the game as it was taught then. Once they were out of school, only a few would go to college. The University of Washington had at least an unofficial 'University Nine' as early as 1880. Nonetheless, college was not the typical destination for most kids. Being good at baseball would, however, get you a better job, and better shifts on that job. If your future was as a coal miner, and you could play centerfield like nobody's business, then you got the early shifts, and the safer ones. If you were a kid in the city, and had starred in high school, you could make your way through any one of a number of semi-pro teams, and get a decent, well-paying job and a future. If Supply Laundry wanted to keep winning, they would actively recruit, and find those recruits jobs. Same with other businesses.

As we see when looking at the grade schools, their season was just closing, but the Commercial League season was in its nascent stages for the year. At this time and earlier, many of the greatest players would get their starts in these amatuer and semi-pro leagues, especially if they needed development beyond high school or were not lucky enough to play college baseball. A young Earl Averill, who has been to spring training to start this season, was found lacking by manager Wade Killefer. Averill was already 22 years old, and made his way back to Everett. It was another two years of semi-pro ball before he made his way to the San Francisco Seals, and another five before he hit Cleveland on his way to the Hall of Fame. Part of me always wonders what could have happened if he'd had a chance on the 1924 Indians. I think that also says something for the general quality of baseball across the semi-pro and minor leagues of the west. There were many PCL players who moved right into the majors and excelled. Anyway, the semi-pro's. Seattle's Commercial League teams actually played integrated baseball at the time. Maybe not on their teams, but with absolute certainty they had played other teams, such as the Asahi Japanese teams. Seattle had at least one Black baseball team by 1911, and probably further back than that.

By the end of the 1920s, Seattle had a Commercial League team that featured top company teams, neighborhood teams, as well as a top notch Japanese team made up of Nisei and Issei players, and a top Black baseball team. Seattle's public schools had always been integrated, so if you look at the rosters on Franklin High School, for instance, in 1919, you'll find Black, Asian, and the variety of White players from assorted backgrounds. Of course, one of the larger points of this blog is that you will not find Indian players, unless you know where to look. Sometimes they would visit, and they would be discernable by their nickname Chief, such as Chief Moses Yellowhorse of Sacramento.

In the Commecial League, we see teams from Ernst Hardware, Northern Life Insurance, Sunset Motors. Other teams are from the YMCA, the Eagles, the Mercer Athletic Club, and Bellevue. Many times such teams would feature a former pro ballplayer, a ringer of sorts. Hard to tell if thats the case with any of these. Most of the semi-pro teams would have two or three really good players, those who weren't quite good enough to make it as a pro, were certainly good enough to get a decent job thanks to their skills on the diamond.

I think one of the ways we can learn about baseball and any other cultural or social phenomenon is to also look at the peripheral information available. Much of history is implied by association rather than directly expressed in an easy to digest fashion. In other words, rarely do you find "the new sport of baseball has come to town and were building a field and here's who is doing it and here's exactly what that means to everyone who cares". Usually its something like the advertisement for a game time, or the comic I've included here. Something like a comic does not need to directly express all of the information it is using to communicate its points. It depends on an existing level of cultural information in order to be humorous. In essence, it is a lot of shorthand. Going back to the 1860s and 1870s, when we first see baseball in the Pacific Northwest, this type of cultural shorthand is what we see when baseball is mentioned, or the Indian Wars are mentioned, or opium dens. The reader was expected to possess enough knowledge that the writer of the article could make a short point while communicating a larger field of information. In other words, the space occupied by the letters was larger depending on the place it was received. This makes sense if you think about the way you interact with a billboard. There is a very short message, an image as well. Its relevance depends on your ability associate that message with another separate given set of information. Its the same with a box score, or a comic about baseball, or a short blurb on an injured player.


Thus, when we see a sports page filled with game highlights and box scores from grade schools to colleges and commercial and semi-pro leagues, its pretty easy to do the math and figure the number of people involved. From there we can see that, in a time before radio and television, when most entertainment and sport was something you did with other people outside of the home, that baseball and its myths and permutations formed in such a context. Baseball was not just a game for the major leagues, but rather something that was an indelible part of the fabric of the community. And especially in the West, these communities developed with baseball being already part of the American identity.


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