A Baseball Paradise

Damon Runyon

New York American/February 10, 1917

John K. Tener and Percy Haughton and other pundits of baseball have been wondering what has become of the old-fashioned 300 hitter, and we are going to tell ’em.

He is out in the Western League.

While Messrs. Tener, Haughton, et al, were casting about for the secret of the mislaid art of high hitting, we respectfully call their attention to this circuit in the land beyond the Mississippi.

There is the Ponce de Leon of pill pounding—the spring of eternal .300 tapping!

They had forty-two men in the Western last year who slapped the ball for .300 or better. They had twenty-four more who hit .280 or better.

The National League had nine .300 hitters and seven hitting between .280 and .300. The American League had eleven .300 swatters and an even dozen of the .280 or better kind. The American Association had thirteen in the .300 class, although the International produced thirty.

But imagine a total of seventy-six pastimers clouting above .280 in one league! That, in the immortal words of the bard, is going considerable!

How they did it we have no means of knowing. A guy hitting but .279, which is fair enough in the big show, was simply nobody in the Western League. The high man was Butcher, old-time big leaguer, with .377.

Butcher was with Denver. The Western League comprised that city; Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.; Des Moines and Sioux City, Ia,; St. Joseph, Mo., and Witchita and Topeka, Kan.

It was a Riot.

Quite a number of former big leaguers were in the Western last season. Rebel Oakes, once of St. Louis, and later of the Feds, is well up on the list of hitters, with .342.

Hickory Johnson, catcher, historic in Giant annals for reaching second base one time one season, only to fall off the bag and be tagged out, slugged for a mark of .338.

Krueger, former Yank recruit, who comes to the Giants this spring, batted .335 with Omaha. Fred Hunter, Krause, the old pitcher, Litschi, former Yank, big Frank Metz, once the property of McGraw but never ordered to report, Dyer, briefly a Giant, and Kelliher, tried out by the Dodgers, are on the .300 list.

So is little Josh Devore, former patrolman of the Giants’ left field, whose big league career was comparatively short, but meteoric. Josh hit just .300. Cy Forsythe, a picturesque character of the minors, who put in a Spring with the Giants some years ago, and who, John J. McGraw says, can hit .300 in any league ever organized but can do little else, hit .316 with Omaha.

Sheldon Lejeune, long-distance thrower, and Clyde Engle are among those who hit .280, or better. Kilduff, short fielder, purchased by McGraw from Omaha, hit .290 in 145 games, and stole sixty bases, from Omaha, hit .290 in 145 games, and stole sixty bases.

What of the Pitchers?

After viewing this furious flailing, one naturally turns to the list of pitchers to see what manner of men worked against these horrendous club swingers, with the thought that mayhap the moundmen might be the tip-off on the league.

One discovers that the real pitching leader was Harrington, of Denver, with eleven won and three lost. Right after him comes the expensive Marty O’Toole, a bear in the bush, but a bust on the big time. The $22,500 beauty (Dreyfus money) won fifteen and lost seven games for Omaha, the pennant winner.

Schardit, of Sioux City, who has had his try-outs above, won sixteen and lost eight. Next comes Russ Ford, former star of the Yanks, who won sixteen and lost nine for Denver. When Russ took his emery ball over to the Feds, it was believed he was about done, and his record with the outlaws rather served to strengthen that belief.

Halla, Musser, East and Gaspar come after Ford in the standing of the hurlers, and at least a couple of these names are not unfamiliar to big league fame. Lambeth, of Topeka, who showed with Cleveland toward the close of last season, and who seems to be a coming star, won nine and lost seven games in the Western League.

However, the Western has always been a great producing ground for the big league, and the roll last season shows many names new to baseball that may one day be as famous as the names of Kling, Strang, Mordecai Brown, Jake Weimer, Glade, Dooin, Pfeister or any of the others that came unheralded and unsung to the big league from the little circuit.

The Real “Iron Man.”

After all, there is but one real “Iron Man” of baseball, and that is the original—old Joe McGinnity, no less. He is still in the business of “Iron Manning”. Last season, with the Butte, Mont., club, of the Northwestern League, of which he is part owner and manager, old Joe took part in forty-three games.

He won twenty-one and lost twelve. He gave but sixty-two bases on balls. Eddie Plank, the oldest pitching inhabitant of the big leagues, worked in thirty-seven games and dished out sixty-seven passes.

A couple of baseball generations have come and gone since the old “Iron Man” was in his heyday, but here he is pottering about with considerable success in the minors. It is said Joe had quite a bit of money when he quit the Giants and embarked in his first minor league venture as an owner. He was cleaned out, according to report, but maybe he has amassed another bank roll out in the Northwest.

Including McGraw, six of the “Iron Man’s” associates on the championship Giant team of 1904-05 are now trying managerial roles—Mathewson in the big league, Bresnahan in the American Association, Wiltse in the New York state, Donlin in the Southern, and Devlin in the Virginia League.

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