Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit: Chapter 6

Like Bobby Valentine, Jake Stahl took over the 1912 Red Sox after time away from the game. Bobby V isn't going match Stahl as a first baseman, but can he match him as a manager? (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The story of Ryan O'Malley's fateful trip back to 1912 continues. In our last installment O'Malley was hired to cover the Red Sox for the Boston Town Crier and ran into the notorious bookie Sport Sullivan

Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

I got in touch with O’Malley shortly after I left the library and we made arrangements to meet again. After watching him struggle with the smoking ban at the hotel bar the night before, I suggested that we try a cigar bar for this second session. I wanted him to be as relaxed as possible so that I could get the entire story. If that meant a few hours of second hand smoking, so be it.

I arrived at the lounge first and ordered a beer. As I waited for O’Malley, I re-read his recap of the first regular season game ever played at Fenway Park.

Red Sox Open Fenway Park With A Dramatic Win

The Boston Red Sox opened their stately new home with dramatic flair as they topped the New York Highlanders 7-6 on the last minute heroics of Tris Speaker.

The contest was marked by wildness and a string errors on both sides as the muddied field dampened the fielders’ spirits. Buck O’Brien took the mound for the hometown team, but he could not find the plate. "He walked the first man he saw, allowed three hits, hit a batter and made an errant throw to first before he could escape the first inning and Jake Stahl and his team found themselves three runs down before their first at bat.

Shortstop Steve Yerkes got the Red Sox started on the comeback trail with a line drive over the left fielder’s head that found the crowd for a ground rule double. Speaker followed him with his first big hit of the game, scoring Yerkes with another ground rule double. Highlander’s pitcher Ray Caldwell settled after that and escaped the inning..

O’Brien never did right himself. He surrendered two more in the third and Stahl took the opportunity to relieve him when he came up in the fourth. Pitching hitting for O’Brien with the bases load, Olaf Henrickson drew a walk and both Harry Hooper and Steve Yerkes singled to bring the score back to 5-4.

Charley Hall took over for O’Brien and was well up to the task. He scored the tying run in the sixth and held the Highlanders scoreless until the eighth, when he surrender a run following a poor throw on a pick-off attempt. Yerkes and Stahl were the first heroes of the day. Yerkes smacked another double in the bottom of the eight then scored on a single from his skipper to knot the score again.

Hall kept things all tied up as the game went into the eleventh inning. Steve Yerkes once again found himself at the center of the action when he reached second on a throwing error with two out. He then took third on a passed ball. The stage was set for Tris Speaker and the Red Sox best hitter did not disappoint. After take the pitcher to a full count, Speaker slapped the ball to third and brought in the winning run. The capacity crowd went wild and the Red Sox improved their record to 5-1, taking the division lead from the World Champion Athletics.

I read the brief recap several times before my companion finally arrived. He did not notice me at first. Instead, he surveyed the small cigar lounge with a look of great affection. The place was a perfect fit for O’Malley. Entering this dark old wood bar, clouded in smoke, he looked like a man who had just come home from a long journey. I called out to him and he took his seat across the table.

"How was MIT?" I asked.

"Sadly, it was most uninformative," he said. "No matter, though."

He flagged down the waitress and ordered his customary bourbon and a quizzed her briefly on the nature of several different brands of cigars. Finally, he settled on one of her recommendations and ordered two before I could voice my objection.

"I don’t smoke," I reminded him.

"Oh, right," he said, clearly somewhat deflated. I instantly regretted my selfish concern for my own cardiovascular health. "What the heck? When in Rome, right?" I offered to put an end to his half-hearted attempt at flagging down our waitress. This cheered him up and I took the change in his mood for opportunity to get a bit of unpleasantness out of the way.

"I looked you up," I told him and braced myself for his response. He was anything but offended.

"Naturally," he said, "did you find anything?" I told him I had and showed him the print out I had just been reading. He smiled and looked over the article with pleasure.

"My first live game from the press box," he said, reveling in the memory. "That cheap bastard Ellis made me cover the first few road series off the wire. It was probably a good thing for me, inexperienced and out-of-place as I was but it was a disappointment anyway. Of course, that was the only reason the position was open, so…"

He turned his attention back to the page and re-read his own words.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said.

"Please," I said, "tell me everything you can remember. If it isn’t too much of an invasion, I’d like to take a few notes."

"Go right ahead," he shot back, completely at ease. The cigars and his drink arrived then. I watched him carefully as his cut the end and lit it and followed his lead as best I could. The first puff of amber smoke sent me into a coughing fit and I needed a large sip of the beer to recover. After that, I found my rhythm and the musty taste of the smoke eased me into O’Malley’s tale until I felt that I had also slipped back into the forgotten past.

"The first week at the Crier went by in a blur. I had been so overwhelmed with slipping back in time and trying to comprehend my new surroundings I had failed to consider what I had gotten myself into. If it had not been for Jimmy Hagerty I would have been completely lost. Hagerty took me under his wing and showed me how to function as a sportswriter and how to pass as a man of that position. Why he was so generous I will never understand, but I am grateful to this day.

When I woke up still in my hotel room that second day, I reconciled myself to the idea that I may never get back to my own time. I had drank more than I should have at McGreevy’s the night before and I felt terrible as I pieced together the events of that first day in 1912. Had I really gotten a job covering the Red Sox? Did I actually meet N’uff Said McGreevy? And Sport Sullivan? It was all a blur. Hagerty had written down the address of the Crier offices and told me to get a suit before I showed up there. I cleaned myself up, took stock of my remaining money and set out.

After I had bought coffee and picked up the cheapest suit I could find and a hat-every one wore hats back then- I was down to my last dollar. I made my way to the Crier offices rehearsing the best way to ask for an advance as I walked. Now that I was dressed in a less conspicuous manner, I blended in with the crowds for people on their way to work.

I arrived at the Crier offices somewhere around midday and was surprised by how modest the set up was. A young woman serving as a receptionist greeted me and ushered me into the smoked filled newsroom on the second floor. Here, the all-male writing staff clacked away on typewriters at maybe a dozen desks, barked over ancient telephones and rushed back and forth from their desks to a number of ticker tape machines that continuously spit out information. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could work in that environment but eventually I became more at home there than anywhere but the Fenway press box or maybe McGreevy’s.

Hagerty greeted me warmly and began showing me around. His tour was divided between the more loudly broadcast official version-

"…This is copy desk, you will file your stories with me and I pass them on to George here for the final edit…"

And a more lurid account of his own-

"George is a Free Mason, you can’t trust them… Edward can’t hold his liquor so I try to dodge him later in the day…"

And so on.

Hagerty was an impressive gossip, but he was also a wealth of knowledge about the paper and the business itself. He delighted in showing me every aspect of the company from the reference libraries to the presses themselves which occupied the first floor and made even more noise than the writers. I was most concerned with the reference libraries- which were, in fact, just bookcases along the walls of the newsroom containing telephone and telegraph directories, dictionaries, grammatical guides, and several sets of encyclopedias. I was disturbed to find that they did not have anything that resembled an encyclopedia of baseball statistics and Hagerty gave me a curious look when I asked about it.

"Never heard of a book like that. Who the hell would want to buy it anyway?" He asked, amused by the concept. "You baseball men and your numbers, " he laughed. It had never occurred to me that you could not just go by a book like the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. With as little knowledge as I had about the contemporary players, that was going to be a serious problem.

Hagerty gave me a full rundown of the place as we walked through the offices, meeting everyone. The Crier was a tiny operation. Mr. Ellis had bought it out in the early 1900’s when the tabloid craze started and converted it to the new format with some success but in 1912 it was still remained a lesser rag as far as Boston was concerned. Among Ellis’ innovations was an expanded sports section that was aimed at the rabid groups of fan’s like the Royal Rooters. This had worked extremely well for boxing and horse racing, but the cost of sending a beat writer all over the country for the entire summer to cover baseball infuriated the penny pinching Ellis. This had been the issue for the last writer and Hagerty advised me not to make a fuss about it now if I wanted the job. At the end of the tour, Ellis himself restated his position.

"No travel," he said gruffly between puffs on his cigar. "When the teams are in town, you’ll be at the games, when their away you write off the wire. You understand?" I nodded my head dumbly.

"Wait, did you say teams?" I finally managed.

"Of course, you’ll cover the Braves and the Red Sox, anything baseball, you cover you understand?

Again I nodded. I was beginning to seriously worry about this job I had stumbled into. I didn’t know the players, I didn’t know how to find line ups or look up statistics. I didn’t even know how to place a phone call in this world.

"The season starts in two days, so give me a piece on that new manager Stahl and a few inches about their training for tomorrow," Ellis commanded. He turned his attention back to the paper on his desk and was surprised when I did not immediately vacate his office.

"Is there something else," he asked.

"I was wondering if I could get an advance," I muttered sheepishly. H ejust snorted

"Talk to Hagerty"

That was it. I was a sportswriter covering baseball in Boston more than sixty years before I was born. Hagerty gave me thirty dollars and advised me to get a better suit and think about buying a portable typewriter. Then left me to it.

I used the information I had gotten from the Rooters to piece together a dreadful little article on the team’s Spring Training trip and eventually I scrapped together something printable on the Red Sox new manager Jake Stahl by talking to a few of the Rooters and digging up back issues of The Sporting News at the library. I hope you didn’t find any of that stuff because it was just crap, believe me."

O’Malley sat back and smiled as he relit his cigar. He considered the game story he had written nearly one hundred years earlier once again.

"I spent my first week in 1912 buried in work," he continued. "The Braves were at home for to start the season and I spent the first week of baseball at the South End Grounds- a tiny little dump of a ball park that was made to look vaguely like a palace originally. The Braves were in no better shape than their park and they had lost the interest of all but the most devoted of their fans some time ago. I was never asked to provide more than the game recap for the Braves and I certainly didn’t mind it. They had a few players worth watching on offense, like aging star "Silent" John Titus and catcher Johnny Kling, but for the most part the team was dreadful. Attending these games was helpful though in adjusting me to the way baseball was played back then.

The ball rarely traveled further than two hundred feet or so in those days. It was a mushy dark little orb after the first few plays and it only got worse as the game went on. They never changed it out if they could help it and they would even send a man into the stands if a foul ball was not returned. The players made dozens more errors than modern fielders do, far more than the score sheets reflect. They were basically wearing leather oven mits, after all and the fields were far less uniform in their conditioning as well. Under those circumstances, it would have been cruel to charge an error on every play that a fielder reached but could not handle.

The lack of home runs was even more dramatic then you might imagine when looking over a player’s stats. South End had the most bizarre dimensions I had ever seen. It was around 225 feet down the lines, but the fences quickly raced out to well beyond 400 feet in dead center making the power alleys deeper than in most modern parks. If a player pulled the ball hard he might send a ball out of the park, but nearly all of the home runs were of the in-the-park variety. With the center fielder rarely more than 300 feet from the plate, a ball could roll a hundred feet past him and not leave the yard or hitting the wall. This meant speed was power for many hitters.

Watching the Braves for that uninspiring first week did raise my eagerness to see the Red Sox in action again, this time in a game that mattered. I would attend the Braves first and then race back to the offices, pick up the wire readout from the games in New York and Philadelphia and barely get the recaps done in time for my deadline at . After that I would either head back to the hotel to read the few copies of Baseball Magazine and The Sporting News I had gotten from my friends in the Rooters or head to McGreevy’s at pick N’uff Said McGreevy’s mind for an hour or two. As the first regular season game at Fenway approached, I was getting a handle on who was who with the Red Sox and in baseball.

I was also getting together a decent amount of money. I had bet on the Red Sox with Sport Sullivan in the season opener because Joe Wood was pitching and though Wood didn’t pitch great and the odds were weak, I had won that bet and placed my winnings on the Red Sox to win the World Series, for which Sullivan was giving 10-1 odds. This would be my system for the season. I would bet on Joe Wood, and bet anything I won there on the Red Sox to win the American League and the World Series. I added to my World Series bet whenever I could and resolved to be on the look out for anything that came up that I remembered so I could bet that too.

In this respect, my behavior was hardly anything out of the ordinary. At the South End Grounds the area with the cheaper grandstand seats was dedicated entirely to gambling and the fans in this section cared less about the Braves then the outcome of their bets. As shocking as this was, it was nothing compared to what I would see at Fenway.

During that first week, the Titantic had sunk and I realized just how silly I had been to think I could stop it. I had briefly considered trying to convince Sullivan to take action on the ship sinking, but it seemed in poor taste and I was afraid it might raise suspicions. The news of the disaster hit the newsroom hard and I was happy to have my simple little baseball beat to keep me from being pulled into the frenzy. All around me, writers were scrambling for stories about this survivor or that casualty. Hagerty was even draw into the work digging for sports angles to the tragedy briefly.

When opening day at Fenway finally arrived I was as well prepared as I could be. I arrived at the park early with the rest of the reporters and chatted up any of the players that would talk to me. To my dismay, both Joe Wood and Tris Speaker were fairly reclusive and it was easy to see why. A herd of reporters followed them around, especially Joe Wood. The handsome young star was asked more questions relating to his personal life than his pitching and it obviously grated on him.

I got a few uninteresting bits out of Stahl and the kindly young right fielder, Harry Hooper, but even one hundred years ago, baseball players had their clichés and they knew how to stick to them. Regardless, it was beyond surreal. I felt like an actor, playing the part of a hard-boiled news man. Inside, I was partly terrified that I would somehow be discovered as the man-out-of-time that I really was and partly in awe of having fallen straight into this fantastic new reality. Against all odds and every law of physics, I was pushing my way past men like A.H.C Mitchell, Tim Murnane, and F.C. Lane to asked Duffy Lewis about playing left field in front of the new wall.

I followed the rest of the writers up to the press box which sat atop the grandstand. From the booth, I had a perfect view of the park and I took it all in again. It was incredible. This place was much smaller than the FenwayPark we know now, without seating extending much past the third base dugout and a just single large centerfield bleacher section offering cheap seats. However, it was the same place in many respects. The dimensions were different and there was no upper deck, no luxury box section, but this was unmistakably FenwayPark.

Even without the additional seating areas, the Red Sox fans of 1912 made their presence know. The Royal Rooters showed up with what seemed to be a full marching band and they made enough noise to compensate for the 10,000 of fans that would not have seats for several more decades. As Guy Zinn, who the man next to me derogatorily referred to as a "heeb" stepped in, the Rooters created a joyous raucous and FenwayPark ready for the first pitch. I forgot my responsibility momentarily and watched the small Jewish ball player take the first pitch for ball one, observing that moment with religious awe.

Zinn would stick in my head that day for another reason. Watching the first half inning, my eye continued to drift over to Duffy Lewis and the slope that would soon bear his name. For this inaugural game, the Red Sox had sold standing room tickets on that cliff and I could not get used to the idea of fans on the field. In the second, Steve Yerkes got the Red Sox first hit with a line drive into that crowd and Zinn did a face plant on his way to retrieve it. This was not regarded as anything noteworthy by any of the more experienced men around me. These people were used to games in places like the Polo grounds, where fans standing in the outfield would move in to help the Giants hitters and back up to take bases away from opponents. I was the only one in the press box that was shocked to see fans influence the game to such a degree.

That influence seemed harmless from the press box but, later that day, when I ventured into the grandstands I saw a darker side to it. Like the grandstands in the South End Grounds, Fenway had a section along the first base side that was devoted to gambling. Here the fervor was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Betting slips circulated in the same abundance you find at horse races and bookies shouted out winning results after nearly every out. You could bet anything and everything.

"Two dollars on a strikeout this at bat." \

"Fifty cents it’s a ground ball"

"He’s wild, I call two walks this frame"

Shouts like this emanated from everywhere in the section and teams of book makers raced around scribbling out slips, taking bets and paying out when they hit. The cries from the stands often made their way to players on the bench or in the on-deck circle. Gamblers had no qualms about soliciting the help of player for their cause and would call out bribes with impunity. I never saw a player go so far as to take money from the sidelines but for a fan that had grown up after the Black Sox scandal and who remembered Pete Rose being banned, this was a vivid reminder of the danger gambling represented to the sport. Though I had no intention of fixing anything, I could not help but feel guilty about my own bets.

After that, I avoided the temptations of the grandstand and watched games from the press box exclusively. Where ever you were seated, that first game was a perfect way to open the park. I was a back and forth grudge match in the mud. The opposing sides continuously baited each other, forcing rushed throws, taking the extra base and battling every at bat. This game was different than any game you could ever see now. The field was quickly torn apart and it fought back by sending the ball bouncing erratically in whatever direction it felt like. The anger and sweat of the players was palpable.

When Speaker dashed across first with the game winning hit, a rush of fans quickly poured onto the field to meet him and they encountered no resistance from an ball park security or police escort. Other fans casually crossed the park to reach the most convenient exit. Those members of the Rooters who did not rush the field applauded and sang and made as much noise as they could until much of the park was empty. Then they took their song to the street to lead anyone who would follow back to Third Base.

I watched the scene from my perch in the press box until the Rooters were gone and only a few stranglers remained. Fenway had held its first regular season game and I had seen it.

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