Category Archives: Biographies

Grantland Rice’s Legacy in the Deadball Era

The Deadball Committee of SABR has done terrific yeoman’s work in expanding the knowledge base of the baseball that was played during the era 1900-1919. There are nearly four hundred super-dedicated and knowledgeable members in the Committee; they have a solid library of historical newsletters available; they even have a very active Yahoo Discussions group.  The Committee is chaired by John McMurray, who also happens to be the vice-chair of the Baseball and the Media Committee as well.

While there is an impressive body of work detailing the players of the era, they also contemplate the era’s non-players, in this case, the sportswriters.  McMurray has recently published an overview of Grantland Rice, considered one ofthe most famous writers from the era, and he has graciously consented to allow us to reprint it here in full for your enjoyment.


 

McMurray: Grantland Rice’s legacy in the Deadball Era

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the SABR Deadball Era Committee’s February 2016 newsletter. To learn more about the Deadball Era Committee, click here.

By John McMurray

Even with the large number of new books on the Deadball Era published annually, it is worthwhile on occasion to recall prior works which illuminate figures who may have fallen a bit outside of the Deadball Era Committee’s view. One such person is writer Grantland Rice. Known best for his writing for the weekly magazine Collier’s, Rice himself was never a major league beat reporter, recognized instead for his prolific columns that touched on many sports and which often included a poem and clever twists of phrase. While Rice’s connection with baseball may seem attenuated relative to, say, the more regular interactions with players that Ring Lardner or Heywood Broun enjoyed, Rice nevertheless was influential in several important episodes of the Deadball Era.

Rice’s impact is given a comprehensive and thoughtful treatment in Sportswriter: The Life and Times of Grantland Rice by Charles Fountain, published in 1993. That Rice — a colossal figure in American sportswriting — has been the subject of only a few biographies (though two other volumes on him were published in the 1990s, including one by William Harper of more than 600 pages) may suggest that Deadball Era researchers would be better served to spend more time examining the role of reporters of the time, as these writers served as an essential liaison between the game and its burgeoning fan base.

Consider that when Ty Cobb famously sent postcards under various fictitious names to try and promote himself as a young player, he sent them to Rice, recognizing the impact of the then-local reporter’s writing. “He is a terrific hitter and faster than a deer,” said one, while another asked: “Have you seen Ty Cobb play ball yet? He is the fastest mover I’ve seen in baseball.” Rice subsequently wrote a column about the budding star which was overflowing with praise. That Cobb was in the major leagues within a year is often credited in large part to his surreptitious interactions with Rice.

In 1916, as Babe Ruth was firmly establishing himself as a star pitcher, it was Rice who suggested that praise for Ruth’s pitching prowess was overblown. Fountain noted that, in contrast to the praise that Rice often bestowed on young stars, he chided Ruth for being out of shape and exclaimed that “Ruth is still too young at this business to be classed with Rube Waddell or Eddie Plank or Nap Rucker.” Rice went on to say “quite a stretch of time lies between Ruth and lasting greatness.” It is reasonable to infer that the biting comments from Rice’s widely-read column made Ruth’s eventual switch to being a full-time hitter somewhat more palatable to his readers.

In 1917, Rice also used his platform to insist that John McGraw should be suspended for an incident with National League President John Tener. Rice’s columns, along with those of several of his contemporaries, drew attention to to the matter, applying pressure which resulted in McGraw’s eventual suspension.  Still, Rice is recognized more so today for helping to shape opinion of the Black Sox as the 1919 World Series scandal grew. He pointed out inconsistency in Eddie Cicotte’s play, for instance, saying, “Eddie, instead of jumping swiftly for the ball, took his time with all the leisure of a steel striker.” Playing up what Fountain called “the out-of-character aspect of (the team’s play),” Rice also used the word “fix” in print early on and also was outspoken on the deleterious effects that the performance of the Black Sox had on the game itself. Again, Rice moved and shaped popular opinion, having an effect on events that followed.

Of course, all contemporary baseball writers enjoyed outsized influence, essentially serving as the voices for particular teams to an audience which had few other outlets. But Rice himself had a disproportionate impact on the sporting scene of the early 20th century. In an interview with The Inside Game, Fountain said: “Rice was a combination of baseball-reference.com, the whole ESPN empire, and whoever passes as sports journalism celebrity today.” His column had an extraordinary influence.

There were other moments when Rice was ahead of his contemporaries. Rice himself noted “Every one (sic) knows the reserve clause in baseball will not stand the test of American law,” a sentiment uttered by few in the press at the time. There was also an element of craftsmanship to his writing, as Rice was strategic in his pronouncements while retaining an air of positivity. As Fountain points out in the book, although Rice disapproved of Connie Mack selling his Philadelphia Athletics players, thereby plunging the team into mediocrity, Rice did not take Mack to task for it in print; rather, he praised Charles Comiskey for being aggressive in purchasing players, as Rice knew that his own opinions about Mack would be inferred by readers.

Rice in part set the tone for sportswriting of the time, writing with what Fountain calls “respect for the intelligence and the involvement of the reader.” The same approach applied when Rice was writing about minor league baseball for the Nashville Tennessean from 1907 through 1910, his only time as a baseball beat reporter. Rice’s approach was literary and classically-based, deriving in part from his appreciation for Latin and the subtleties of language more generally. A phrase such as “the tumult dies” (in Rice’s famous “Game Called” poem from 1910) or a reference in a column to “crack slabsmen” imbue his work with creativity.

With time, Rice’s reputation has suffered as the core principles of journalism have changed. No longer do reporters ignore or brush aside the off-field behavior of athletes, as Rice did, nor do they serve as universally-happy mythmakers, intent on shaping a positive view of sports from top to bottom. “The role of the sportswriter at that time was to sell newspapers and tickets, and not necessarily in that order,” Fountain said.

Fountain suggests in the book that Rice’s rhapsodic, and usually uncritical, approach to covering star players would likely see him today banished to a local paper reporting on the exploits of high school athletes rather than taking on the hard-hitting issues of the day in professional sports. But the opposite side of that coin, according to Fountain, is that even if Rice had wanted to expose the character flaws of players he covered, he likely would not have had a receptive publisher:

“Had Rice written a piece about Ty Cobb that showed Cobb in all his complexity and nuance, Rice would have had a hard time finding a place to publish that,” Fountain said. “I doubt very much whether his syndicate of newspapers would have wanted that in a sports column, and I doubt very much whether Collier’s or any of the magazines that he wrote for would have wanted that in a profile. Readers wanted heroes in those days, wherever they were. He delivered what newspaper publishers and readers and magazine publishers and readers wanted at the time. Had he delivered anything else, they wouldn’t have bought it.

Rice now is often impugned for his lofty prose, with critics typically referencing his effusive 1924 column about Notre Dame’s football team. (“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again,” Rice wrote. “In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.”) Still, whether he was analogizing major sporting events to Civil War battles or linking star athletes to figures from Greek mythology, Rice’s soaring prose helped to define sportswriting in his era.

Independent of whether one appreciates Rice’s writing style and approach, he is an important figure in the history of sports journalism and one who impacted the Deadball Era. Fountain’s work makes one appreciate how intertwined Rice was with the Deadball Era, even if Rice himself, because of the wide scope of his writing, is not viewed as a baseball reporter first and foremost. Rice’s baseball columns are one illustration of the impact that Deadball Era writers and reporters could have on the game, and his extensive body of work underscores how important a role a writer could play at a time when newspapers were indeed king.

JOHN McMURRAY is chair of SABR’s Deadball Era Research Committee. Contact him atdeadball@sabr.org.

New Biography: 1966 Atlanta Braves Broadcasters

A new biography about the Atlanta Braves broadcasters of their maiden season of 1966 was written by Bob Barrier for the SABR Biography Project, and has also been published here on the SABRmedia.org website:

1966 ATLANTA BRAVES BROADCASTERS

If you have written a biography about a figure in baseball media, whether on the broadcast or print side, please consider allowing us to add it to our site.

 

New Biography: Bob Addie

We’ve posted a new one to the site, this one written by Committee member Larry Baldassaro, about the life and times of Bob Addie, who served as the Senators beat writer for the Washington Post and the old Washington Times-Herald from 1954 until the team left for the Lone Star State after the 1971 season.

The biography is posted on our site here:

Bob Addie

… as well as on the BioProject section of the SABR website.

Here’s an excerpt:


With his trademark dark glasses and red socks, Bob Addie, the son of a New York City butcher, was a respected and popular fixture on the Washington sports and social scene for almost 40 years. A columnist and Senators beat writer for the Washington Times-Herald and the Washington Post, Addie served as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America and received a National Press Club Award and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. He served in both World War II and the Korean War and married a US Open and Wimbledon tennis champion. He was on a first-name basis with Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and counted among his friends a Supreme Court justice, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and prominent congressional figures.

[…]

Addie’s [journalism] career was interrupted … in 1951 when he was called into service during the Korean War [after having also served in World War II]. This led to another encounter with General Eisenhower, who was then in France as supreme commander of NATO. While escorting a group of American newspaper publishers interested in interviewing Eisenhower about a possible run for the presidency, Addie was assigned to deliver a secret message to the general. When asked by Eisenhower if he was a career service officer, Addie, who felt at ease with even the most eminent personalities he encountered, replied, “Hell no, I’m a sportswriter who was recalled in the Korean war.”

They discussed sports for a while, then Eisenhower asked Addie for advice as to what to say if the publishers were to ask him about the presidency. Addie suggested that he say he was focused on his job with NATO but that he would not entirely rule out the possibility of entering the presidential race. That, said Addie, led to many US papers saying for the first time that Eisenhower might become a presidential candidate. Later, when Eisenhower was president, he said to Addie: “I don’t know whether to thank you or damn you. Look at all the time you’ve taken away from my golf.”

After two years in the service, Addie returned to the Times-Herald. When the paper was purchased by, and merged into, the Washington Post in 1954, publisher Philip Graham asked Addie to stay on. With the two papers, he served as the Washington Senators beat writer for 20 years until the team moved to Texas in 1971. Addie was proud to say that he never missed a day covering the team.


Read the full biography here or here.

New Biography: Ned Martin

Committee member Bob LeMoine has just penned a new biography of Ned Martin, the legendary Red Sox broadcaster who called the games for the club from 1961 through 1992 on both radio (WHDH; WMEX/WITS) and television (WHDH-TV, WSBK-TV, NESN).  Martin called many of the Crimson Hose’s signature moments, including Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 walk-off home run in the 1975 World Series; Roger Clemens’ 20-strikeout game in 1986; and the entire “Impossible Dream” season of 1967.

We have posted the biography on our site here:

Ned Martin

The biography also appears in the newly published SABR book, “’75: The Red Sox Team that Saved Baseball“, which is available for free download for all SABR members, or for purchase by generous members (in paperback) and non-members alike (download or paperback).

Here is a brief excerpt from LeMoine’s biography:


“Oh, Gertrude, when sorrows come they come not as single spies but in battalions.”

Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5, a favorite quote of Ned Martin
when the Red Sox were having a particularly bad day.

“With this back and these knees? Mercy,” Ned Martin asked rhetorically, using his trademark exclamation when asked if he was going to dance the jitterbug at his 50th high-school reunion. Still, he and his classmates of the Upper Merion High School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Class of 1940, danced to the Big Band tunes of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. Martin also reflected on his English teacher and his “old country school.” “Marie Wolfskill. Just an excellent English teacher in a little country school. … What a major role that woman played in my life. … it was largely because of her teaching I’ve been able to make my living through my use of the English language; it was because of her I developed a love for that language.”

Ned Martin could be called the Shakespeare of the broadcast booth, or baseball’s Hemingway scholar-in-residence. He could inject a broadcast at the right moment with literary quotes, poems, or song lyrics, while his catchphrase of “Mercy!” summed up many moments of Red Sox history. Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione called Martin “the most literate of all broadcasters … a scholar of literature and a great Hemingway expert. He had a way of describing things very succinctly, honestly, and openly. He never interfered with an event.” Dave Weekley of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette recalled Martin’s “low-key quiet confidence … His delivery was easy on the ears and his renowned wit allowed him to refer to his beloved Shakespeare when the time was right.” Curt Gowdy called Martin “a highly intelligent guy with a great vocabulary and a good voice.”

A Red Sox announcer for 32 years, Martin also served his country in World War II, celebrating victory at Iwo Jima. But he was most at home behind the radio microphone, where his mastery of language painted pictures in the minds of his listeners. “Active verbs are really helpful. It isn’t an awful thing to have a vocabulary and use it,” Martin remarked.

Those active verbs could be a ball “caroming” off the wall or “lofted” over it; a lead was “tenuous,” and fans “vociferous.” Home runs were “long gone and hard to find.” The aging Gaylord Perry was called “sparsely thatched” on top. He would greet fans during a West Coast game with “Hello, wherever you may be at this ungodly hour,” or sum up a poor Red Sox performance with “‘It was death in the afternoon,’ as Hemingway would have said.” Martin’s rich usage of literature gave us calls like “So the little children shall lead them as rookies Rice and Lynn have driven in all of the Red Sox runs,” and it is often his descriptions Red Sox fans remember when reliving moments of Red Sox history from the 1960s through the early 1990s.

(Continue reading here.)

New Biography: Manning Vaughan

Committee member Dennis Pajot has written a new biography of Manning Vaughan, the beat writer for the old Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association in the early part of the 20th Century.  It was featured in a SABR Deadball committee newsletter previously, and we have posted in under the Journalists section of Biographies, here:

Manning Vaughan

If you have written a biography about a figure in baseball media, whether on the broadcast or print side, please consider allowing us to add it to our site.

Here’s a Nice Feature Piece on Vin Scully

Here’s a link to a lovely long-form feature by Cee Angi about he who is arguably, although increasingly inarguably, the greatest broadcaster in the history of baseball:

We’ve Been Friends Long Enough You’ll Understand’: Vin Scully, Baseball’s Longest-Tenured and Most Eloquent Broadcaster, is Still Looking To Make a Connection

What struck us most while reading this piece is that, even after sixty-five years of calling games, Mr. Scully is still as dedicated to the prep work of each broadcast as he ever has been.

Here’s our favorite inexplicable photo from the piece:

 

We don’t know why, either.

Here is a bonus video of Mr. Scully at work, from April 1984: