Wednesday, September 5, 2012

McGraw's Good Luck Charm

One of the most fascinating tales of the deadball era is the saga of Charles"Victory" Faust. Born in Marion, Kansas, Faust had virtually no athletic ability and was suffering from some form of mental illness. In the summer of 1911, he introduced himself to New York Giants' Manager John McGraw. He told McGraw that a fortuneteller had predicted he would pitch the Giants to a championship. McGraw, who was highly superstitious, offered Faust a tryout, but it was clear that the 30 year-old right-hander was not major league material. When Faust kept showing up at the ballpark anyway, McGraw allowed him to participate in pre-game activities. The Giants responded positively to his presence and Faust was officially adopted as a team mascot.

What impressed McGraw most was Faust's self-proclaimed ability to jinx opposing teams. There may have been something to it as the Giants compiled an astonishing 36-2 record with Faust in uniform. McGraw often let him warm up in the bullpen, where his quirky windmill delivery delighted fans. Faust eventually became so popular that he was signed to a limited Vaudeville engagement. Determined to fulfull the fortuneteller's prophecy, he pestered McGraw constantly to let him pitch. McGraw finally conceded after the Giants had clinched the 1911 pennant. Faust appeared in two games and things could have gone much worse as he allowed just 2 hits and 1 run in 2 innings of work. He came to bat twice during his brief career, though his first plate appearance occurred after three outs had already been made. He was allowed to circle the bases before being tagged out at home plate. In his second big league at-bat, he was intentionally hit with a pitch and allowed to steal second and third.

In the 1911 World Series, Faust's jinxing powers were no match for the A's mascot, a hunch-backed dwarf named Louis Van Zelst. The Giants lost the affair in six games. In 1912, Faust continued to insist that he was a bona fide pitcher. McGraw grew tired of his frequent requests to take the hill and tried to dismiss him. In the end, it took some deception on the part of Giants' players to get Faust to return to Kansas. As soon as Faust left, the club went into a tailspin. Fortunately, they had built a comfortable lead in the NL and took the pennant anyway. They lost the Fall Classic to the Red Sox that year.

Faust spent the rest of his days trying to find his way back to the big leagues. In 1914, he walked from Seattle to Portland on a quest to "save" the Giants from the upstart Boston Braves. He was picked up by police  and sent to an institution, where he was diagnosed with "dementia." He eventually returned to Seattle and was committed to another state hospital. He died in June of 1915 from tuberculosis.

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