Alias Fingers, Alias Baldy

Damon Runyon

San Francisco Examiner/October 3, 1913

He’ll Be King When Honus Passes

‘Tis a World’s Series Story

The rivals for the world’s championship, which begins next Tuesday, will be discussed in “The Examiner” daily by baseball experts, and the games themselves will be described by men whose names are big in the world of baseball. In addition to the regular news service, there will be stories by Damon Runyon, Rube Marquard and Chief Meyers, who will write exclusively for the Hearst papers.

There was a painful period of the present baseball season when Arthur Fletcher, alias “Fingers,” alias “Baldy,” was in that rather embarrassing predicament described as “at liberty,” which means the same thing as out of work. Today he is called the Heir Apparent to the Throne of His Teutonic Majesty, John Honus Wagner, king of the National League Shortstoppers. 

Any time King Hans dies, or is captured, and put in that Carnegie museum over in Pittsburgh along with his historic trousers, “Baldy” Fletcher will be the king—for he is a king at heart. Some people do say, in private, that the long-chinned, long-shinned shortstopper of the Giants is the best in the dear old National League right now, but out of respect for King Hans’ age, and for fear of being accused of lese majeste and things, they are keeping their opinions quiet, awaiting the passing of the Lion of Germantown.  

In any event, Fletcher is probably the most improved ballplayer over his form of two years ago of any of the men who will take part in the impending writing and baseball playing contest. He was a mere recruit in the first struggle between the Giants and the Athletics, but he is now not only seasoned in point of experience, but he is in the very flower of his usefulness. 

Fletcher Stays in Series

A year ago, in the first game or two between the Giants and the Red Sox, Fletcher was apparently nervous and unstrung and his playing was so poor that a wild clamor went up for McGraw to take him out of the game—to which McGraw paid that assidious attention he usually pays to such clamors. Fletcher remained in the series, and he gamely came back in spite of the adverse criticism, although his final mark was nothing sensational. He hit for only .179, getting the same number of blows as his opponent, Heine Wagner, whose fielding was the sensation of the series. 

In the 1911 series Fletcher hit .130 and made six fielding errors, while Jack Barry distinctly outclassed him in every way. This year the admirers of the Illinois grocer are confident that it will be a different story. Fletcher himself will probably enter this series with more confidence than he ever had before. He has had a good year, and that ought to inspire him with confidence. 

Never was a ball player slower in coming to band than Fletcher. In 1911 he tore through the National League with a batting average of .313, only to fall off to .282 the following season. He stole twenty bases in 1911 and only sixteen in 1912, and it seemed that he had fallen away all along the line. At the beginning of the present season he was sitting on the bench, while Artie Shafer tried to take his short fielding job away from him.

Artie Shafer Slows Up

There was a time when any man watching Shafer play the territory between second and third would have taken oath the young Californian would develop into the greatest shortstop the National League had seen in many years, but before the season was very far along “Tillie” had merely developed into something of a bloomer so far as that particular district was concerned. He seemed to slow up unaccountably while playing short, and finally McGraw put Fletcher back in his old position, while he used Shafer alternately at third and in the outfield. 

Immediately upon his return to the game Fletcher suddenly displayed a wild burst of energy and ability. He began not only a mad career of fielding and hitting, but he also perked up in his speed on the base lines, and from an ordinary base-stealer he developed into one of the best on the team. Up to a week ago he had stolen twenty-seven bases, which is not many for a member of the Giants, but which is a mighty satisfactory improvement for Fletch. He is hitting .287, but has been back and forth around .300 at different times during the season. 

Fletcher has been a matter of slow development with McGraw from the time he first came into the big league, but the fact that the Giant chief has always clung to him proves that McGraw never lost confidence in the young man’s ability. After he had reported to the Giants, Fletcher sat on the bench a couple of years, undergoing the usual course of the Giant recruit, and finally he got his chance when Arthur Devlin began to slow up. He was put in to play third, but McGraw quickly made up his mind there were better third basemen in the world than Fletcher, so he accomplished the deal that brought Herzog to the Giants. 

McGraw Makes Lucky Change

As a matter of fact, it was generally supposed that Herzog had been secured to play short, but McGraw had evidently decided that Fletcher was a short fielder, if anything, and switched Herzog over to third. It was a change that made the Giants champions in 1911. 

Fletcher has long been credited with the best pair of baseball hands in the game. His fielding during the last season has been of an unusually excellent order and he seems to have overcome any little weaknesses that handicapped him before. 

Fletcher is a great “kldder” on the ball field, and an aggressive fellow in that he is always fighting for the game. In the world’s series he stacks up against a formidable opponent in Barry. While Fletcher seems to overtop Barry on the season’s figures so far as they pertain to hitting and base running, the Athletics’ short fielder is a marvel in these brief encounters and one of the most dangerous men of the Mack clan in a pinch. 

Barry is batting .266, but that gives you no idea of the wicked way he hits when it is worth something. There are few better fielders in the land than Jack, and if Connie Mack had to lose one of his inflelders for the coming series, he probably would hate to lose Barry more than any other man. 

However, Fletcher this year should not be the unsteady, nervous Fletcher of other series. He has been twice through the ordeal and his admirers believe that he has now found his footing and that he will prove one of the Giant heroes, if such there be.

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