By Glen Sparks
Fred Snodgrass died a successful businessman on April 5, 1974, in Ventura, Calif. The New York Times really let him have it in the obit: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, dead. Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.”
Snodgrass, born on Oct. 19, 1887, played nine years in the big leagues, mostly with the New York Giants. He hit .275 over his career, with a .367 on-base percentage. Fleet afoot, Snodgrass stole 212 bases. He played in three World Series.
The center-fielder is most remembered for one play, the aforementioned “muffed” one. It all went down in the final game of the 1912 Series against the Boston Red Sox. Snodgrass, not yet 25 years old, was in his third full season in the big leagues.
Giants manager John McGraw discovered Snodgrass in the spring of 1907. McGraw’s ballclub had set up spring training in Los Angeles. Snodgrass was playing for St. Vincent’s College, the school now known as Loyola Marymount University.
Impressed with the young ballplayer’s talent and spunk, McGraw signed Snodgrass to a contract. At first a catcher, Snodgrass later settled in as an outfielder, in large part because of his blazing speed. Snodgrass played in six games for the Giants in 1908 and 28 games in ’09.
The right-handed hitter earned a regular job in 1910 and batted what would be a career high, .321. He followed that up by hitting .294 in 1911. His average went down again, to .269, in 1912. He still stole 43 bases, giving him 127 in his first three full seasons.
The 1912 Giants won their second straight National League pennant. They finished 103-48, 10 games in front of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. They had compiled a 99-54 record in 1911 and lost the World Series in six games to the Philadelphia A’s.
These were the Giant teams of Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard, of Chief Meyers and Larry Doyle. McGraw, the great taciturn man from nearby Truxton, N.Y., known by many as “Little Napoleon,” led this group.
New York and Boston were tied 3-3-1 after seven games in 1912 World Series. (The umpires called Game 2 on account of darkness with the score tied 6-6 after 11 innings.) Fenway Park was half full for the deciding match-up. New York scored a run in the third inning, and Boston plated one in the seventh. The game was tied 1-1 after nine.
Red Murray doubled for New York in the top of the 10th. Fred Merkle (yes, that Fred Merkle) singled him home. The Giants were now up 2-1.
Clyde Engle led off the bottom of the 10th for Boston with a fairly routine fly ball to center field. Snodgrass camped underneath the ball, stood ready to catch it and … watched as it dribbled off his glove and to the ground. The Red Sox now had a runner on first.
Snodgrass made an excellent running catch on the next play, a line shot from Harry Hooper. Engle, though, tagged and sprinted to second base. Mathewson then walked Steve Yerkes.
The great Tris Speaker, batting next, lifted a pop up. Several Giants players converged onto the scene, but no one caught the ball as it bounced in foul territory. Speaker, given another chance, hit a single to score Engle and advance Yerkes to third. Mathewson waked Duffy Lewis to load the bases.
Larry Gardner ended the game and the Series with a one-out sacrifice fly to bring home Yerkes.
Afterward, Snodgrass said, “It (the ball) just dropped out of the glove.” Some baseball people began calling Snodgrass’s error, “the $30,000 muff,” in reference to the approximate difference between the total winning and losing teams in the Series.
McGraw, though, didn’t blame Snodgrass for the Series loss. In fact, he supposedly gave his maligned player a $1,000 raise in 1913. Snodgrass hit .291 in ’13, and the Giants went to the World Series for the third straight season. Once again, they lost, to the A’s for the second time in three years.
Snodgrass played for McGraw and New York until being traded mid-way through the 1915 campaign. He retired after the 1916 season.
Returning to California, the former player began a second career as a banker. He also served for a time as mayor of Oxnard, Calif. Later, he grew lemons and walnuts on his ranch in Ventura.
Snodgrass was one of the players profiled by Lawrence S. Ritter in his wonderful book, The Glory of Their Times. In it, Snodgrass mentions that even 50 years after “the play,” he’d be introduced as the guy who dropped an easy fly ball in the World Series. The cutting comments didn’t bother him. “If I had a chance, I’d gladly do it all over again,” he said, “every bit of it.”
By Glen Sparks
Look fast enough and you’ll notice an elephant figure stitched onto the left sleeve of the Oakland A’s uniform.
New York Giants Manager John McGraw set this design idea in motion more than a century ago. Philadelphia A’s skipper Connie Mack smiled and said “thank you very much”—or something like that.
The A’s elephant story goes back to 1901 and to the team’s first days in Philadelphia. McGraw wanted Baseball to stop skipper Mack and team owner Benjamin Shibe from buying up ballplayers fleeing the National League. The great hitter Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie, for instance, jumped from the Philadelphia Phillies to the brand-new A’s following the 1900 campaign.
Those A’s, McGraw said, they’re a bunch of “white elephants.” Or, as some sources say, McGraw told Mack that the A’s had “a white elephant on their hands.” A white elephant being, in this sense, something that costs more than it’s worth and is difficult to maintain. (The term originated long ago in Thailand, then called Siam. Kings there gave sacred white elephants to royalty in nearby countries. They were nice presents, but a bit impractical, elephants being so large and possessing enormous appetites.)
The A’s quickly adopted the white elephant figure as a mascot. In fact, before the start of the 1905 World Series between the A’s and Giants, Mack gave McGraw his very own stuffed elephant. McGraw, in the spirit of the occasion, accepted the gift.
In 1909, the A’s began wearing an elephant logo on their pre-game sweaters. Nine years later, the elephant made it onto the A’s actual game uniforms. Retired as a mascot in 1963, the pachyderm reappeared in 1988. Known in the mid-1980s as Harry Elephante (Get it?), the mascot now performs under the name of Stomper. And, yes, he works for peanuts.
(Doing research on the elephant and the A’s prompted me to look into the story behind the elephant mascot tradition at the University of Alabama. Here is the short-form version on that one: During at least one game in 1930, the Crimson Tide started their second team. At the beginning of the second quarter, Alabama Coach Wallace Wade ordered his first-team onto the field. Journalist Everett Strupper wrote that he could hear the rumble as the players bounded to their positions. A fan yelled, “Hold your horses, the elephants are coming.” Struper and others began referring to the team as “the Red Elephants.” The reference stuck. You often see elephants on Alabama gear. The name of the mascot is Big Al.)
(Yesterday, I wrote about an episode in John McGraw’s career while managing the Baltimore Orioles in 1901. The date may have confused some readers who recall that the current Orioles team began play in 1954 after the St. Louis Browns left for Baltimore and adopted a new name. I hope this post clears things up a bit.)
By Glen Sparks
Baseball in the American Association began play in 1882, the same year that Thomas Edison flipped a switch to light parts of lower Manhattan and Robert Ford fatally shot Jesse James in the back. The Association aimed to compete with the National League for supremacy in a game that was becoming more popular every year. One of the original teams was the Baltimore Orioles.
The Cincinnati Red Stockings and the St. Louis Browns vaulted to the top of the Association hierarchy. The Orioles won some, lost some and dropped out of the league in 1889.
One year later, they were back in, replacing the Brooklyn Gladiators. This time, things would be different. First off, the American Association would fold after the 1891 campaign. The N.L., founded in 1876, simply was the more powerful, more established league, albeit just a few years older.
Some of the best AA teams had been jumping leagues for several seasons. The Pittsburgh Pirates left in 1886, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the Cincinnati Red Stocking (eventually shortened to “Reds,”) switched over in 1889 and so on. The Orioles made their move in 1892.
By Glen Sparks
Baltimore Orioles Manager John McGraw surely wanted to do the decent thing when he tried to pass off his prospect Charles Grant as a Cherokee Indian named “Chief” Tokohama. The fact that the plan didn’t work does not reflect poorly on either man.
Grant was an African-American baseball player from Cincinnati. On this date in 1901, The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper reported that McGraw had signed the hometown second baseman to a contract. Grant, 26 years old, had been playing with the Chicago Columbia Giants, a Negro League team. McGraw, always looking for talent, saw Grant while in Hot Springs, Ark., and figured the young man could make it in the majors. The color line, though, stood in the way.
Now, a little bit of background. Baseball’s color line was a bit fuzzy in the early days. When Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he was breaking the modern-day color line. There were many integrated teams in the early days of baseball. Frederick Douglass Jr., son of the abolitionist, played on an integrated team, for instance, in upstate New York in 1859, according to Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game by John Thorn.
Black players “Bud” Fowler and Moses “Fleet” competed on integrated professional teams in the 1880s, according to Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues, by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick McKissack Jr. Walker played for Toledo, Ohio, in the American Association, which did not prohibit black players.
Mostly, though, teams formed either black squads or white squads. Some of the early top African-American teams included the Uniques and the Monitors from Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Excelsiors from Philadelphia.