Star Pitchers- Father and Son
The Baseball Public Will Watch with Interest the Career of Ed Walsh, Second, as He Follows in the Footsteps of His Illustrious Father on the Hurling Slab
By I. E. Sanborn
BASEBALL Magazine September 1928
If, when, or as, Big Ed Walsh II makes good, either with the White Sox, or? eventually- Major League baseball will have its first conspicuous example of the illustrious father and son.
There have been fathers and sons in professional baseball; there have been famous sons of third rate players; there have been second rate sons of star players; there have been illustrious brothers, like the Wrights, the Tebeaus and the Waners, to mention only a few of the past and present; there has been a whole family like the Delehantvs who have made their name known throughout fandom. But up to date no outstanding star in the history of the national game has given back to that game a son who has become illustrious.
The famed heroes of old, like Old Hoss Radbourne, Cap Anson, King Kelly, Charley Comiskey, Amos Rusie, Tom Burns and John Clarkson, and the later crop of great players, like John McGraw, Hugh Jennings, Connie Mack, Herman Long and Hugh Duffy? none of them has bequeathed to baseball a son who has come anywhere near filling his place in the realm of the nation's sport. So far, perhaps, Connie Mack has come as near to it as anyone, but it looks as if it would be as a manager and strategist that the son of the eminent Cornelius would shine if at all, rather than as a player. And the others named either have no sons at all or none who displayed either great ability or, liking for the game.
There is yet time for the famous players of the present century, some of them, to give back to the sport which made them famous and of equal achievement? or even greater. But at this writing Ed Walsh, the spitball king of the early 1900s, has presented the national pastime with the most promising prospect who is a descendant from a famous green diamond father. The Walter Johnsons, the Ty Cobbs, the Tris Speakers, and the Babe Ruths have yet to be reckoned with in this respect, but it will be another decade at least before their sons, if any, will carve deep niches in baseball's hall of fame for themselves.
One reason may be that professional baseball was neither so tempting financially nor rated so high in the social or business scale in the days of the early stars as it has been since Ban Johnson taught the promoters how to grow rich by giving the public the clean, fast ball games it craved. It may be that such sons as the old?time stars had were discouraged by their illustrious parents from choosing such a doubtful proposition as baseball as a life's profession on that account. It may be that the poor financial emoluments received by the great players of the early 80s and 90s did not encourage them to raise large enough families to include the makings of another green diamond celebrity.
There are a lot of other reasons which could be enumerated to explain the failure of the grand old players of the traditional past to preserve their memories in the form of illustrious progeny. But there is no disputing the fact that they have not done so, and it may not be big Ed Walsh's good fortune to be the first great star to do it. Only time can tell that, but eventually somebody is going to do it, and nothing could be more fitting than to have that honor fall to the lot of the original master of the spitball, still known as the king of that moist delivery.
Although Ed Walsh the First does not class in length of service with such slab stars as Denton Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson or Grover Cleveland Alexander, he made up for some of the shortness of his career by the brilliant and record?breaking work he crowded into it. It was undoubtedly the spitball which shortened his period of dazzling the fans, and for years his experience was cited as a deterrent and a warning to young pitchers who aspired to shine in the use of the moist delivery. It may or may not have been the spitball which shortened Big Ed the First's career. One thing is certain. No other pitcher ever used it as constantly or as effectively as he did, because no other pitcher could do so and get away with it. Another thing is pretty well remembered, and that is Walsh's willingness to work. He not only took his own turn on the slab every third or fourth day, but he pitched the last two or three innings of several games in between whenever the other
White Sox pitchers showed signs of weakening in the ultimate ditch.
And in spite of his comparatively short reign on the slab Ed Walsh the First hung up several records in the first decade of this century which have withstood all the assaults of later and more durable luminaries. He still holds the record for the greatest number of games pitched in modern days. His sixty?four games in 1908 has been exceeded only by William White of the 1879 Cincinnati Reds, when baseball was a mere infant and the pitching distance was absurdly short. No pitcher ever has faced more batsmen in one season than Walsh. There were 1,690 times at bat against him in the year 1908, and Alexander the great is second with 1,532 in 1917. No one yet has pitched more innings in a year than Walsh did when he worked through 464 rounds in that record breaking season of his in 1908, which proved the zenith of his brilliant career.
In the lifetime records Walsh the First cannot compete with slab stars who preceded or followed him chronologically. His active period of service as a Major League slabman lasted only seven years, from 1906 to 1912, both inclusive, but into those seven seasons he compressed a lot of valuable effort and energy. He joined the White Sox two years before he became a prominent pitcher. During that interval he was mastering the spitball. When Big Ed the First signed up with Comiskey in the spring of 1904 he was only twenty?two years of age, lacking a few weeks, and he came from the Newark club of the old Eastern League, now the International, where he had had a whale of a season in 1903, following his first professional engagement with the Meriden (Ct.), in the Minors, team the year before.
Walsh the First then had a terrific lot of speed which his arm had picked up while he was a miner in the Pennsylvania coal fields, and with that he had been able to throw the ball past most of the batsmen in the two minor leagues in which he had performed. But he had little else in the pitching way except his glove and a curve which was not wide enough to deceive real swatters, and also a heart full of courage and confidence. In the early games of that preliminary season Walsh was hit hard, and the harder he threw the ball the harder the Big League maulers hit it. Another season in the Minors, and perhaps oblivion, would have been Big Ed the First's fate if Fielder Jones, then a member of the White Sox, but not their manager, had not sensed the fact that Walsh had the ideal build and style of delivery to throw the spitball which Elmer Stricklett, then on the White Sox staff, was introducing as a novelty that spring. Stricklett was not big enough or strong enough to make his moist delivery deadly effective in itself, but he was the first pitcher who really gained perfect control of this elusive delivery. He had enough other goods to mix in with it to get by for quite a number of years in the Majors. But Stricklett's chief claim to fame was the fact that he taught Big Ed the First how to throw and control the spitter.
Under the tutelage of Stricklett and the encouragement and advice of Jones, Walsh spent the greater part of the season of 1904 in acquiring that spitball. In the following season, 1905, he had gained sufficient mastery of it to blossom out as one of the White Sox regular slabmen and to build the foundations for his subsequent brief career. But it was not until the season of 1906 that Big Ed the First gained his title of king of the saliva shoot. That was the year in which Jones' "hitless wonders" won the American League pennant to the amazement of the entire baseball world, then topped that off by the astonishing feat of copping the World's Series from Frank Chance's apparently invincible Cubs, who set a record in that campaign of winning 116 games in a season. Walsh was chiefly responsible? next to Fielder Jones? for both those triumphs.
Following that World's Series upset, Frank Chance generously took his hat off to Ed Walsh by declaring that he was the first and only pitcher in the game who could throw a spitball past him for a strike when he knew it was coming. There was such a break on Big Ed the First's spitter that he could baffle even the man who was looking it for it. In spite of the bitter rivalry which existed for years between the two Chicago teams for the supremacy of the Windy City, the Peerless Leader and the Spitball King were fast friends from that time until death cut short the career of the famous Cub pilot.
Walsh, as a character, was a great deal like Babe Ruth, although never as temperamental as the Yankee superman. He was the same big-hearted kid who never grew up. Like Ruth, the Spitball King lacked higher education, but made up for it by qualities which no institution of learning can give a man. They were admirable qualities. Oddly enough Walsh started playing ball as an outfielder and became a pitcher, while Ruth began on the slab and graduated to the outfield. Although egotistical to an extent that would have been almost objectionable in some players, both Walsh and Ruth were, and are, so frankly two great overgrown kids, so overjoyed at their success, that no one could take exception to that egotism or be irritated by it.
One day in Washington when Walsh had been considerably off his form for a few days he went in and finished a game brilliantly against the Senators. On returning to the hotel he came bounding up the steps of the old Arlington two or three at a stride. On being complimented or his renewed prowess and pep, Walsh replied:
"Honest, old man, I haven't felt better than I did today since I became a star."
Everyone recognized him as a star. The papers all said so. Walsh knew be was a star, so why not admit it? And the very naivete of it was what made him so likeable.
The records which Big Ed the First has to his credit after twenty years were established in 1908, the year which every baseball fan of that decade remembers vividly. That was the pennant campaign in which both Major Leagues were blessed with sensationally close battles right down to the final day of the schedule. It was the year in which Fred Merkle failed to touch second base one day and consequently compelled the Cubs and the Giants to play off a tie game the day after the season closed to decide the pennant. And it cost the Gothamites a slice of the World's Series coin. Four teams in the American League and three in the National were possible pennant winners a week before the season ended. And in both Big League circuits the decision hung on the last game played by all the contenders.
That was the year in which the politicians in the nation tore their hair and wrung their hands, because it was a presidential campaign year, but the newspapers, particularly in the middle west, could not find space on their front pages for the usual hokum of the rival parties when all their subscribers were waiting eagerly to find out the results of the day's baseball games. Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and St. Louis in the American League, and Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York in the National were contending teams when the last week began. It came down to a battle between the White Sox and Tigers on the last day of the schedule and the Tigers were victors, because Ed Walsh had worked the day before. In the National League the Cubs had to lick the Pirates in their final scheduled game to beat Pittsburgh out of the flag, and that made it a draw between the Giants and the Cubs, with the Merkle tie to play off. Then Chance's men had to make a night jump into the home of the McGrawites and trim the Giants in the play off on the following day before they could claim the flag and the right to lick Detroit in the World's Series.
In that year of sensations Ed Walsh the First pitched his most sensational feats. He was chiefly responsible for the fact the White Sox were a factor in that record breaking finish. What Walsh meant to the Sox of Fielder Jones in that memorable season can be summarized in the amazing fact that he pitched in sixty?four out of the 156 games his team played that year, including a couple of tie games. That was twelve more than one?third of all the games the White Sox played, and only fourteen less than half the total of the team's contests. On the average Walsh worked on the slab every third day, allowing for all the postponements and open dates for traveling. Sometimes he worked two or three days in succession.
Nor was his work confined to his appearance on the slab in the official scores, for many a time he pitched a good part of the afternoon out in the "bull pen" warming up ready to relieve another Sox hurler, if necessary. Almost every time Jones' squad got the jump with a run or two in the early innings you could see Walsh stroll out to the warming pan and spend the rest of the game loosening up his magnificent wing to be prepared for any emergency that arose.
That took a lot out of the said magnificent arm but the results almost justified the endurance from the White Sox's standpoint, because they lost the pennant in 1908 by a margin of only one game and that was a defeat by Cleveland which still stands out in the annals of the year and the sport as a marvel in itself. That was the day Big Ed the First and the late Addie Joss hooked up in a pitching duel, on October 2, when Walsh lost by a score of I to 0, because the White Sox could not get a man to first base off the tall Indian hurler and because the Indians scored the only run of the day on an error and a passed ball which broke one of Schreck's fingers. He was not then accustomed to Big Ed's spitter. And in that tragic defeat Walsh struck out fifteen of his opponents.
Because of his constant use as a relief pitcher Big Ed the First never ranked high in the season's records for games won and lost, which were the only statistical means of rating pitchers in the heyday of his career. He was tossed into too many tough situations, near the end of a game, when other pitchers weakened, to emerge victorious from all of them. If he could have been rated on the basis of the games which he started Walsh would have ranked close to, or at the top, nearly every season that he was himself. And if they had then evolved the earned run system of ranking pitchers he undoubtedly would have been close to the leader in the American League's pitching averages every year of the seven that he was prominent. For instance in Walsh's record season of 1908 he was credited with thirty-seven victories and fifteen defeats, besides one tie. Yet he worked in sixty?four games. Seven of his fifteen "defeats"? nearly half? were due to his taking games in desperate situations, produced by other pitchers, from which he could not rescue the White Sox. In six of the "defeats" the Jones' tribe were shut out, giving him no chance to win.
In spite of his effectiveness on the slab Walsh the First never was prominent either in the shutout records nor in the matter of low?hit games. Even in his greatest season he did not hold his opponents to less than three hits in any of his sixty?four games. And only once did the original Big Ed write his name in the no?hit hall of fame. That was in 1911, near the end of his most active career, when he held the Boston Red Sox to no hits in nine innings, late in August. The Red Sox then were not the weaklings they have been for the last ten years. They were the team which blossomed into World's champions in 1912 and for the next few seasons were either champions or near champions and never lost a World's Series.
Big Ed Walsh the Second has a high mark to shoot at, if he aspires to beat his father's record. In some respects he cannot even expect to, for the managers of today do not demand any such quantity of work from their slabmen as they did in the days when Big Ed the First was a star. But if the youngster has inherited his progenitor's courageous heart and willing spirit, along with his ability as a pitcher, he has the opportunity to make himself famous as the first illustrious son of an illustrious father in the history of baseball. That in itself is something to spur any young man's ambition. A few days ago he won his first game for Chicago. Is that an omen?
Two generations of the Walsh Family: Ed Walsh was one of the most effective pitch s who ever lived. His two sons have pronounced athletic talents. Ed Walsh, Jr. stands six feet one and weighs 195 pounds. He was signed by the White Sox last spring. His younger brother Bob, who stands two inches taller and weighs ten pounds more, must wait two years longer for his chance as he is now a student at Notre Dame.