Damon Runyon on John McGraw
John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants since 1902, towered over the New York baseball scene-and the baseball universe in general-for years. Even when Babe Ruth joined the Yankees in 1920, McGraw responded by winning four straight National League pennants, from 1921 to 1924. For about twenty years, his Giants occupied the position the Yankees now have: the rich, powerful winning team that is loved by its fans and hated by most everyone else. But the Yankees have never had their McGraw; there was only one John McGraw.
On June 16, 1924, in the midst of that sustained stretch of greatness, Damon Runyon looks at McGraw and his Giants.
John McGraw, growing stout and old, his baseball uniform long since discarded, doubtless read of the riot in Detroit and felt his pulse quicken. [On June 13 in Detroit, after the Yankees' Bob Meusel was hit in his back by a pitch, he charged the mound and triggered a 30-minute brawl that involved fans as well as Yankees and Tigers.] The story of the riot was on the first pages of the newspapers, the first time baseball has reached the importance of the first page since the world's series last Fall.
In other days McGraw frequently got his name there, also the name of the New York Giants, for McGraw and his Giants went roaring across the baseball seasons with truculence as their advance guard and disorder in their wake. McGraw and his Giants were the personification of Big Town arrogance in the eyes of the other towns. By word and demeanor they sowed the seed of trouble wherever they went-and the crowds packed the ball yards to see them play, jeer them, to rain bottles and cushions at them, to curse the name and revile the person of the defiant McGraw.
Year in and year out the pudgy chief of the Giants journeyed with his men back and forth across the land inviting the hatred of the "fans" of other towns. The word "fan" is taken from the word fanatic. The "fans" of rival towns were indeed fanatics when the Giants came their way.
The Giants as individuals were different from other ball players. Collectively, under McGraw, they seemed to assume to hostile fans the aspect of swaggering buccaneers. For a long period McGraw was the stormy petrel of the big leagues, always the harbinger of turmoil. You read on the first pages, tales of fist fights on the field, of umpire baitings, of fierce verbal passages with magnates and league officials, of hand-to-hand conflicts with the crowds.
And in these tales the name of McGraw invariably figured prominently.
McGraw, and the spirit of McGraw, was to be decried-and was decried. It was decried by sports writers all over the land, by the gentlemen governing baseball. They said McGraw should be abated, and there were sporadic attempts to abate him-fines, suspensions, trials all of which got on the first page.
But only the weight of fifty years and a heavy mantle of the dignity that comes with money finally abated, McGraw to the extent to which he is now abated-a stout gentleman in street clothes, whose name never figures in baseball disorders.
John T. Brush got rich, and heirs of John T. Brush got richer as McGraw in his late thirties and early forties raged through the baseball land with his Giants. Brush was a good showman-one of the best baseball has known. He understood the value of McGraw's disposition better than anyone else. He supported it, even if he did not actually encourage it.
McGraw himself was a great natural showman, sometimes without knowing it. By the popular belief of the baseball public of other towns he came to be cast in the role of trouble-hunter, and he acted the part unconsciously, but well. His very carriage on the field, his walk, his voice, seemed arrogant, offensive to the "fans' of other towns.
The writer doubts that McGraw ever deliberately fomented disorder on the field-but he never went far out of his way to dodge it. McGraw's temper would not permit him to make any detours. And McGraw in those days had an appreciation and a haughty pride in representing New York-THE BIG TOWN-beyond any man the writer ever met. Perhaps he still has it.
In his seeming arrogance McGraw was really not McGraw. That is to say, there was no personal egotism about it. He was in his own mind with his Giants, the writer thinks, the symbol of the majesty of the greater city. As such, he felt, it was his duty to impress, to awe all beholders. The name and the organization, THE GIANTS, was McGraw's fetich. To be in the league, and of McGraw's Giants, was to McGraw's mind the highest honor that could befall a man.
The ill-fated Larry McLean, after years with Cincinnati, joined the Giants, and his tall figure, topped by a news straw hat, was an inviting target for bricks from a riotous mob pursuing the Giants to the North Philadelphia station one afternoon.
"My God, Mac, we'll be killed!" quavered McLean, dodging a missile.
The pudgy McGraw, marching cockily along, looking to neither the right nor left, glanced up at McLean in real surprise.
"Why, this is nothing-you're with the Giants now!"
The reader must not get the impression that the above is in support of baseball disorder. Do not forget McGraw's Giants year in year out were always in the thick of the pennant fight, that McGraw has won eight pennants and several world championships. He has been in the big league for many years. He would not have lasted three years on the basis of his disposition, his propensity for trouble alone.
This propensity in a winner passes as aggressiveness. In a LOSER it is called foolishness.
McGraw today looking back on some of the stirring scenes he has incited, perhaps wonders why he started them, what they were all about. That is the difference between thirty and fifty.
Working for John T. Brush, helping make John T. Brush and his heirs rich, McGraw ran many risks, and made his name the synonym of baseball trouble from one end of the land to the other. Today, working for himself, McGraw perhaps would give cool thought to consequences before engaging in some of those oldtime incidents again.