Ty Cobb, who played a majority of his career in the Deadball Era, once remarked that “baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It’s no pink tea and the mollycoddles had better stay out.” During the early part of the twentieth century, that statement was largely accurate. To begin with, protective equipment was in its infancy. Players wore no helmets or batting gloves at the plate. The first catchers to don face masks and shin guards were ridiculed for the practice. There was no such thing as sports medicine and players often appeared in the lineup with nagging injuries.
As far as pitching was concerned, there were no officially designated relievers and hurlers were expected to finish what they started. In 1909, Dolly Gray of the Senators walked eight men in one inning and stayed in the game. Most pitchers despised being taken out early. It was a matter of pride in those days. Pitching strategies were far different. Brush-backs and bean balls were often ordered by managers as a retaliatory gesture or to keep a batter from getting too comfortable at the plate.
Rough play abounded in the early part of the twentieth century. Ty Cobb allegedly sharpened his spikes before every game (though he denied doing it). Players fought on a regular basis and umpires were not above throwing fists around. Even fans were abusive. Many of them brought rotten fruit and vegetables with them to the ballpark to pepper players with. My book, Mudville Madness, captures the spirit of this violent period.
Here is a small sampling:
Aug. 17, 1900: Reds’ hurler Bill Phillips strolls to the plate and punches Phillies’ outfielder Roy Thomas in the face for fouling off too many pitches. The altercation takes place on “Ladies Day” in Cincinnati.
Aug. 21, 1901: In retaliation for a perceived blown call, White Sox catcher Joe Sugden deliberately allows a pitch to sail past his glove and hit umpire John Haskell. When Haskell allows the runner on third to advance, he is assaulted by Chicago’s shortstop Frank Shugart. Senators’ players rush to the umpire’s aid and a full scale brawl erupts as fans swarm the field.
Aug. 9, 1905: Umpire Bill Klem ejects every player on the Pirates’ bench—including the team mascot—for mocking him. After the Bucs lose, Klem is forced to hide in the Ladies’ Room to avoid an angry group of gamblers who put their money on Pittsburgh.
Apr. 11, 1907: Twenty thousand fans at the Polo Grounds in New York grow tired of watching the Giants lose. In the seventh inning, many spectators begin to leave the stadium, cutting right across the field with the game in progress. Umpire Bill Klem attempts to maintain order, but fans revolt, throwing cushions and debris onto the field. With snow having blanketed the city the day before, a massive snowball fight breaks out.
Aug. 3, 1909: When A’s second baseman Eddie Collins disputes a call and becomes verbally abusive, umpire Tim Hurst spits directly in his face. Hurst is fired for his actions.
May 12, 1912: Ty Cobb climbs twelve rows into the stands and beats up a physically disabled heckler named Claude Leuker. Cobb is suspended indefinitely, but reinstated after Detroit players go on strike.
July 30, 1914: Washington’s Ray Morgan throws dirt on umpire John Sheridan, who responds by punching Morgan in the face. In the ensuing melee, half a dozen players end up in the stands fighting with fans. Senators’ catcher John Henry is injured when he is hit in the back with a chair.
May 30, 1916: After a controversial ruling, fans at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia shower umpire Pete Harrison with pop bottles. Harrison stands like a statue with his arms folded as the bottles land all around him. One of them reportedly grazes his leg. He will later need the assistance of police armed with night sticks to clear a path for him out of the stadium.
June 23, 1917: Babe Ruth argues with four straight calls from umpire Brick Owens at the beginning of a game at Fenway Park. After Owens issues a walk to Senators’ lead-off man Ray Morgan, Ruth punches Owens. He is ejected from the game and Ernie Shore takes over. Morgan is thrown out trying to steal second and Shore retires each of the twenty-six batters he faces for an unofficial perfect game.
There is plenty more where this came from with incidents being presented in far greater detail. Mudville Madness spans three centuries of baseball oddities from the dim and distant past to the present day. While conducting my research, I was literally astounded that some of these events had taken place. If you’re looking for something beyond the standard boxscores and stats, this is the book for you. If it’s baseball fiction you prefer, pick up a copy of my first novel, The Bridgeport Hammer, which was recently released through indie-publisher Black Rose Writing.