Manning Vaughan

Manning Vaughan and His Long Forgotten Baseball Writing Style

by Dennis Pajot

Manning Vaughan was the main baseball writer of the Milwaukee Sentinel for much of the Deadball Era. His style was colorful and full of panache. Vaughan had a wonderful way of bringing baseball games to life in people’s parlors or at the local drinking establishments. Vaughan was a “homer” when the Brewers were winning, honest when things went bad, and always fair and gracious to the opposing team.

Picture of Manning VaughanVaughan was born in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1887, where his father, John, was in the laundry business.  The family moved to Milwaukee a few years later, where the senior Vaughn established a laundry company. Manning graduated from South Division High School in Milwaukee in 1905.[1] His love of sports began early. Later in life Vaughan told this story about attending games at the old ball grounds at 16th and Lloyd Streets: “There were hundreds of knot holes in the fence at the old Sixteenth St. Park, and the kids used to stand on barrels, bicycles, boxes … anything to see the games. My folks refused to permit me to attend the Sunday games, but one Sunday afternoon I was at my favorite knothole intent upon the game when suddenly I heard dad’s whistle. Dad later said that I dropped from the bike on which I was standing as though I’d been shot.” In high school Manning took up writing about the school’s sport teams and became manager of the football and baseball teams. He also told a story of how, as manager of the South Division High School nine, he once arranged a game with Lake Forest Academy, against his principal’s wishes, on a school day. The boys went down and defeated the Illinois team, but they had a difficult time “squaring” themselves with their principal when they returned.[2]

After high school Vaughan attended the University of Wisconsin for a time.  His newspaper work began in 1906 when he joined the Milwaukee Sentinel. Vaughan stayed with that morning paper, covering baseball, boxing, wrestling, college football, and auto racing — eventually becoming the sports editor –until 1924, when he switched over to the evening-published Milwaukee Journal. Of course, Vaughan was a member of the Milwaukee Press club, and its president from 1925 to 1929. Vaughan married Matter (Mattie), about 13 years his junior, on April 28, 1917, and had one child, a daughter named Gloria.[3] Manning’s brother, Irving, was a sport writer for the Chicago Tribune.[4]

In 1929 Vaughan told readers his opinions on ball players and his writing about them: “Ball players, like other performers, are more or less temperamental. They don’t like to be criticized, even when they deserve to be, but they take everything that’s written about them in pretty good grace, and realize that the sport writers work on the theory that it is easier to praise than blame. Personalities are never entered into on the sport page, where accurate accounts of actual events are recorded.”[5]

Vaughan traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas, in spring 1932 to cover another spring training session of the Brewers for the Journal. In March he had an accident in which he fractured his skull. He refused to go to the hospital at first, but finally did on April 2. Five days later he died from his injuries at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. At his bedside were his wife and 9-year old daughter.[6]

The next day a number of local baseball writers paid tribute to Manning Vaughan. It is appropriate to quote a few here, starting with Art Schinner of the Wisconsin News: “Vaughan wrote in the language of baseball, which had a vernacular and an appeal of its own. A jargon, as it were, which only the baseball fan understands and appreciates. He knew the game in all phases, grew up with it literally. He understood its characters and with a large personal acquaintance among men who traveled its path, he had an unlimited reservoir of knowledge plus humor from which he drew his daily tales of the diamond.”[7]

Ronald McIntyre of the Milwaukee Sentinel: “He was one of the few baseball writers who never grew tiresome. No matter how dull the day or how uninteresting the ball game Manning always found something amusing and entertaining to pass along to his readers. His pen and his tongue were sharp, but never biting. The only fault he found with people was that many of them took themselves too seriously. In this age of suspicion and excessive criticism Manning met the test of a great writer. He could always find something worthwhile in everything. If he found it necessary to criticize he did it in a humorous way that left no sting. Many of the present day writers have built up reputations as humorists by criticizing everything and everybody. Manning didn’t have to hold anyone up to ridicule to be funny. He was a natural humorist.”[8]

I think the best way to sum up Manning Vaughan’s role in Milwaukee baseball is to quote what was written in the Milwaukee Journal one year before his death: “Vaughan knows baseball. He’s been studying, writing, eating and sleeping baseball for so many years the games’ a part of him. Without baseball Vaughan wouldn’t be Vaughan and without Vaughan, baseball wouldn’t mean nearly so much to Milwaukee and Wisconsin fans.”[9]

However, the man who best summed up Vaughan’s life was Oliver Kuechle: “Manning’s friends were legion. They ranged from baseball league presidents down to kids. All admired him for his ability and those who knew him at all, loved him for his kindly human qualities. He was a friend to all. Perhaps no man in sporting circles in Milwaukee was ever asked as many favors as Manning. It was the penalty of the popularity he enjoyed and the unrivaled position he held. Yet never, to my knowledge, did he refuse a man anything within his power, from a pass to a baseball game to a job. He gave me my first of each — my first pass and my first job. There will never be another like him.”[10]

What follows are some of Vaughan’s description of events, plays and players. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his entertaining style.  Like most writers Vaughan showed the thrill of victory in his writing the day after. In a “dazzling victory” over the Indianapolis Indians he wrote the game was “one of the kind that made contests of the late Mr. Merriwell and other gents of dime novel lure such wonders in the eyes of kidhood. It fairly sparkled with ticklish situations, wonderful plays, impossible stops and catches, double plays which killed the enemy just in the nick of time and kept the big weekend crowd in a riot from barrier to post.”[11]

But also like most writers, Vaughan was sharper with the quill in the agony of defeat, such as his description of a Brewer loss in 1912, writing the team showed “all the snap and dash of an embalmed herring, surrounded by a can.”[12] A series of loses could bring Vaughan’s wrath. He opened his report of an August 1910 game this way: “What are you kicking about? Think of the poor scribe who has to go out every day and watch that stuff.” He continued: “Jawn Jay’s [Brewer manager John McCloskey] gingerless Ginger Snaps, playing with all the animation and dash of a flock of steam rollers, hoisted some more of their slapstick comedy on the common people yesterday, dropping another game to the submarine Colonels. The count of the laughable affair was 9 to 3.”[13]

Vaughan could even make a rain out seem more than it was — and poke fun at the famous frugality of Milwaukeeans. In July 1912 he wrote: “No gentle reader and others, the Mud Hens did not bite us on Saturday. It rained instead, and Mr. Harstel and his aspiring young men beat it for Kansas City at an early hour, after spilling some hectic language for the benefit of the local weather guesser. This alleged humor has been used 1,234,678 times, but it still goes in the bush league, so here it is again. As any one knows who lives within Milwaukee and its suburbs, the leaking began early in the morning and continued to fall in such large chunks all day long that the ballyard looked like a bird’s eye view of Lake Mish. The regular patrons didn’t care much as Toledo has been a jinx all season, but the bargain hunters were greatly peeved. Seeing two games for two bits is great stuff with many of our fans, but as there will be two double attractions the next time the Mudhens flutter into town, they can save their money until then.”[14]

Small crowds at Brewer games could even ignite Vaughan imagination. “A dime museum shower shortly before 3 o’clock kept the attendance down to about 183, but the courageous 183 saw pastiming worth going miles to see. After the stuff good crowds have been forced to digest lately it really was too bad there was not a large gathering on hand.”[15] A few days later a game was attended by only “ninety odd pneumonia proof bugs.”[16]  Fans could get rowdy and Vaughan did not overlook it. In 1914 the umpire ejected a fan from the grounds for throwing a bottle of beer at a player. Vaughan wrote: “Be that as it may, tossing bottles is a dangerous pastime, especially when a guy’s head is the target. It may go at a free for all wake or a Third Ward ball, but not in a ballpark, and [umpire] Murray is to be commended for his action. Incidentally we suggest that suds be served in rubber bottles in the future.”[17] Of course, the umpires were not immune from Vaughan’s pen. On a close call in another game he wrote: “it was so close that Murray could have called it either way without hurting his conscience any, presuming, of course, that he has one, which we doubt.”[18]

Of course, baseball is really about baseball players. And Vaughan had thoughts on all types of players. Writing in 1914 on Happy Felsch’s antics in spring training: “Felch [sic], it seems, is getting wise to himself and if he cuts out the monkey work there is no reason why he should not be the sensation of the league this season. He is smacking the ball on the nose and while the pitchers are not using any hooks on him he is whaling the ball so hard that the leather almost peels off when he kisses one on the trademark.”[19] Toward the end of the season Felsch hit a mammoth home run, clearing the left field fence at Milwaukee’s Athletic Park by 50 feet. “The drive was a whale, for the ball sailed clear over Eighth street, and hit the top of Mrs. Herman Hassenpfeffer’s mansion.* A couple of carpenters, who were on the roof laying shingles, were nearly hit by the ball, and every time Happy came to bat after that they made ready to duck.”[20] [* Note: Mrs. Hassenpfeffer was a creation of Manning’s typewriter. Her famous lawn and windows were the ending spot for many home runs over the left field fence at Athletic Park over the years. One day a lady approached Manning at the press box and asked why Mrs. Hassenpfeffer had never moved in the past twenty years. Vaughan told the lady “Mrs. Hasenpfeffer won’t move until I quit the newspaper game.”[21]]

Vaughan was never one to just drop a line toward the end of a column to let his readers know a player was let go, and many times gave a reason for the action. Writing of the sale of pitcher Charley Wacker, Vaughn wrote:  “Wacker was one of the most promising youngsters that ever broke into the A.A., but like many young fellows, he had a weakness for the white lights. His deportment here was anything but exemplary. When he wasn’t pitching he was having a good time, and as he only pitched about six hours a week, it’s no trick to figure the time he spent hitting ‘er up.”[22] When veteran pitcher Lou Manske was cut from the team, Vaughan gave this descriptive account: “Unser Louie has been hanging on by his eyelids for some time. McCloskey has been on the point of tying a can to his dainty person on a dozen different occasions, but kept putting it off. Yesterday before sending the little fellow in to pitch he informed him that if he did not show any of his old time form he would be shipped to St. Joe, Mo. to labor in the Western League. Now, sending any one to St. Joe is little short of a crime, so Louie sweated and steamed and chucked his head almost off trying to return a winner. But it wasn’t in him, and he started for the wild of Missouri before the third inning had ended.”[23]

Vaughan had a number of players over the years he seemed to pick on, but it was obvious he had great affection for these guys. Ralph Cutting was a left-handed spit ball pitcher who was somewhere around 5 feet 4 inches tall. The “Diminutive Port Sider” was singled out by Vaughn throughout his time with the Brewers for his size.[24] Vaughan loved calling the “sawed off southpaw’s”[25] spitball the “Codfish ball.”[26] When Milwaukee pitcher Stoney McGlynn made a mental mistake in a game, Vaughan told his readers that “some of the Vermont granite in McGlynn’s dome was put on public view.”[27] One day outfielder Newt Randall took off from second base on a single to right. On the throw to the plate: “The peg was wild, however, hitting Newt on the dome, and bounding away to the stand. Of course by this we do not mean to cast any reflections of the stuff concealed in Newt’s head.”[28]

When a local boy of Polish descent — James Zachowski — pitched well, Vaughan wrote: “They were cutting large capers along Mitchell street last night, and any one not familiar with the cause would have thought it was Kosciusko’s natal day if he had happened to stroll along the Polish boulevard about 9 o’clock. But, nay, nay, Pauline, nothing like that. The gang was simply celebrating the great work of the old side kick and countryman, Jim Jach.”[29] Vaughan told us how the Iowa boy Cy Slapnicka looked on the mound one afternoon in 1914: “He was wilder than a pickled chauffeur in spots but tightened up like a clam when the home athletes were within speaking distance of the platter. Only four blows were combed off his volcanic smokers, and they were worth about as much as a plugged dime.”[30]

It was the Deadball Era on the playing field, but a lively era for baseball writers!

 

                                                                 Notes

[1] Milwaukee Journal April 7, 1932
[2] Milwaukee Journal May 25, 1931
[3] Milwaukee Journal April 28, 1917, April 7 and 8, 1932; Milwaukee Sentinel April 8, 1932; Milwaukee Press Club website—Past Presidents.
[4] Milwaukee Sentinel April 8, 1932
[5] Milwaukee Journal May 19, 1929
[6] Milwaukee Sentinel April 8, 1932
[7] Milwaukee Journal April 8, 1932
[8] Milwaukee Journal April 8, 1932
[9] Milwaukee Journal May 25, 1931
[10] Milwaukee Journal April 7, 1932
[11] Milwaukee Sentinel July 14, 1912
[12] Milwaukee Sentinel July 23, 1912
[13] Milwaukee Sentinel August 13, 1910
[14] Milwaukee Sentinel July 22, 1912
[15] Milwaukee Sentinel September 9, 1910
[16] Milwaukee Sentinel September 14, 1910
[17] Milwaukee Sentinel June 9 1914
[18] Milwaukee Sentinel May 26, 1913
[19] Milwaukee Sentinel March 16, 1914
[20] Milwaukee Sentinel September 16, 1914
[21] Milwaukee Sentinel April 8, 1932
[22] Milwaukee Sentinel February 2, 1910
[23] Milwaukee Sentinel June 22, 1910
[24] Milwaukee Sentinel May 8, 1911
[25] Milwaukee Sentinel July 19, 1913
[26] Milwaukee Sentinel August 10 1910, February 10, 1912 and July 27, 1912
[27] Milwaukee Sentinel August 9, 1910
[28] Milwaukee Sentinel July 7, 1912
[29] Milwaukee Sentinel June 20, 1914
[30] Milwaukee Sentinel September 16, 1914

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