The Write Stuff: Research and Its Rewarding Results
As a baseball writer and researcher and as a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, I correspond with quite a few other research-minded persons. Their interest (and Jim Groom’s urging every couple of months for years) motivated me to create the web page http://WrigleyIvy.com. On the page I am chronicling the history of the Chicago Cubs using original, primary materials, such as newspaper articles, interviews, photographs, and a lot more.
See below. Norman Rockwell’s The Dugout (occasionally called Bottom of the Ninth) appeared on the cover of the September 4, 1948, Saturday Evening Post. That’s Rockwell himself in the upper left corner. Manager Charlie Grimm of the hapless Chicago Cubs loved the way Rockwell portrayed him (second from left, bottom). His wife, however, did not. “I’ve never seen you hold your hand against your face like that,” she told him. “That’s Jack Benny. Rockwell made you look like a basset hound.”
I enjoyed researching the history of this painting (the dejected youth was actually a Boston Braves bat boy named Frank McNulty). In the course of my work I’ve written several journal articles, a few online magazine pieces, and have completed some 170 pages towards a documentary history of the Cubs. Not much has been written on the team’s early years during the 1860s and 1870s. For that matter, some of what has been written on events throughout the Cubs’ history is simply wrong, so I enjoy posting my findings on my page.
Concerning the early history, for example, people often wonder where the term “Cubs” came from. I discovered that journalists and ordinary people, not baseball clubs, were the ones who came up with team names. A nickname would strike someone’s fancy, it would be published in the newspaper, and it would sometimes resonate with fans. When Chicago’s owner refused to renew a manager’s contract in 1898, the leader-less ballplayers were dubbed the “Orphans” (1898-1901). After a disastrous 1901 losing season (53 wins and 86 losses), the Chicagoans began a huge rebuilding project, stocking the team with young players and rookies. Hence the name “Cubs.”
Probably the first appearance in print of the word “Cubs” was in the March 27, 1902, issue of the Chicago Daily News. No book had ever used the image from the newspaper, so I got the Chicago Daily News on microfilm and got the article for my home page. See the first sentence below. If the typesetter had not used a capitalized “C” while talking about team manager Frank Selee, the name might not have stood out.
Baseball is full of myths. For example, probably the second best-known baseball poem (behind “Casey at the Bat”) is Franklin P. Adams’s “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.” (This is perhaps better known as “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” and it pays tribute to the double-play combination of Cubs short stop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance.)
Up until a few years ago, all of the references to its publication date, both print and online, were incorrect. While researching this poem, I noticed that books and articles noted that it appeared in the New York Evening Mail newspaper on July 10, 1910. That day was a Sunday, and I found that the Evening Mail wasn’t published on Sundays. Other sources give the date of July 18, 1910, but references to the poem appeared in newspapers on July 15, so that date was obviously incorrect. I tracked down the microfilm of the Evening Mail, and a friend of mine, the research director at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and I found the work’s true publication date (July 12), its original title, as well as other facts about the poem.
The Chicago Tribune covered our work, as did Major League Baseball, assorted sports blogs, and even the magazine Sports Illustrated. I wrote an article on the poem for a baseball journal and also included a copy of the poem exactly as it appeared in the New York Evening Mail newspaper, the first time it was reprinted this way since 1910. Sports people and other researchers have contacted me since then, asking about newspaper journalist Franklin P. Adams and his famous poem.
Incidentally, although the poem makes Adams sound like he followed the New York Giants, he was actually a staunch fan of the Cubs (another error that often pops up). He had a rather storied career as a journalist, a literary critic, and a radio panelist on the show Information Please. In 1946 he talked about the poem: “I wrote that piece because I wanted to get out to the game, and the foreman of the composing room at the Mail said I needed 8 lines to fill. And the next day [an editor] said that no matter what else I ever wrote, I would be known as the guy that wrote those 8 lines. And they weren’t much good, at that.”
A few years ago I became interested in William L. Veeck, Sr., a longtime Cubs official from 1918 until his death in 1933. Unfortunately, all of the print and online resources on Veeck (as well as his family members) maintained that in 1918 he wrote scathing articles for the Chicago Evening American newspaper criticizing the Cubs, which supposedly prompted team owner William Wrigley to offer him a job. My first thought was that the Cubs won the National League pennant in 1918, so they must have been doing something right. I also wondered, “Didn’t anyone ever look in the newspaper?” I obtained the microfilm of the Evening American through interlibrary loan and went through the entire year, page by page. I was right. Veeck did not lambast the Cubs; he simply offered constructive criticism now and then. I also found out how the story started. So I wrote a couple of journal articles on Bill Veeck and posted the story on WrigleyIvy.com.
But my research is not all just scholarly stuff. How about billy goats? I am really, really tired of hearing about how the Cubs are jinxed, hexed, doomed, etc. because of the so-called Billy Goat Curse. Nope, that never happened (journalists made it up), and I touch upon that in A So-Called Curse and in an online article on “why Cubs fans should let it go.”
On the other hand, my work covers more than just the legends, spurious and otherwise. I’ve already mentioned some of the people I’ve written about, and there are quite a few others. Chuck Connors of the Boston Celtics was the first professional basketball player to break a backboard while dunking a ball. Before he became Lucas McCain, “The Rifleman,” on television in 1958, the all-round athlete also played baseball for the 1951 Cubs. In “‘The Rifleman’ (As a Cub)” I provide some light biography, an image of a Rifleman comic book, and assorted photographs. Actor Johnny Crawford, who played McCain’s son, Mark, said that he and Connors had a close relationship both on and off the set. In one interview he commented that they hit it off as soon as they met, and that “Chuck would even include me on camping trips with his sons.” Crawford added that he was familiar with his friend’s athletic background. “I wanted to play baseball in between scenes,” he remembered, “but Chuck always insisted on being first up at bat, and [after he swung] we couldn’t find the ball!”
My favorite page is devoted to The Shootings: two players shot by obsessed fans decades ago. To this day people still talk about the incidents and ask about them on sports blogs. I occasionally get emails from people who come across my website, and a couple of years ago the nephew of Violet Valli, who shot ballplayer Billy Jurges in July of 1932, contacted me. I interviewed him and he supplied never-before-known material about his aunt that I posted on my page. Violet, by the way, was definitely no “shrinking” Violet, and she quickly sought to capitalize on her newfound notoriety. Less than two weeks after she was cleared of all charges, she went on the night club circuit. I recently found this Chicago Daily Tribune advertisement for her act, which prompted the Cubs’ unofficial historian to exclaim, “This is a great find!” (A fellow baseball researcher was a bit more subtle: “This is friggin’ awesome!”) Note how she billed herself:
The advantage to all this digging around is that I enjoy passing research skills on to students. For instance, I’ve found valuable 1870s baseball information in the magazine Forest and Stream, obtained from the database American Periodicals Series Online. For the student wanting primary source information on Jack the Ripper, this database, which covers material published back to the eighteenth century, was also invaluable. Just a few weeks ago a student wanted help on accessing newspaper resources. Since I’ve done this both online, in print resources, and in person at libraries around the country, I was able to tell the student exactly what to do. (And I created a research guide to newspaper research for the Library’s web page.) Recently a student in Will MacKintosh’s history class knocked on my office door and said, “I know you’re the baseball guy. I want to write about baseball in the post-Civil War era.”
I often tell students that properly citing their research is important, but the online guides aren’t perfect (though Zotero is clearly the best of them all), and the print guides are cumbersome to wade through. I’ve cited documents thousands of times, so I created my own style guides to MLA and Chicago style for the Library’s website.
In almost every library class I tell students (maybe yell is more like it), “My main purpose here in the Library is not only to have you do things the right way but also save you time.” That seems to catch their attention.
Of course, they won’t remember everything, but at least I hope they know they can come by for assistance—and ask any of us in the Library. My colleagues are great to work with and that’s why we’re here!
Jack Bales, Simpson Library