Posts Tagged ‘sports history’

The debate can now be settled. We know what the greatest championship series in baseball history is. It’s certainly not the 2014 San Francisco-Kansas City match-up, though that’s been entertaining.

What championship am I talking about? The year was 1908. Theodore “Big Stick” Roosevelt was finishing his second term as president. “Big Bill” Taft was running on the Republican ticket to succeed his friend and was taking on William Jennings Bryan, aka “The Great Commoner.” (This may have been the Progressive Era, but it was also the era of the best sports nicknames. Who could ever forget players like “Wee Willie” McGill, “Handsome” Griffin, or “Postscript” Fletcher? Even the head umpire of the series was nicknamed “Dusty”!)

The teams hailed from Chicago and Indianapolis and met on a sun-baked field in Michigan City, Indiana, for the first game. It had all the trappings of the modern game: two teams loaded with stars, two umpires, clean uniforms. See for yourself.Hoo Hoo baseball Chicago vs. Indianapolis

Oh, did I mention that this was the Hoo-Hoo‘s World Series? After all, lumber mills were big sponsors of teams back then. Nevertheless, there were bragging rights on the line. We’ll let our intrepid reporter take it from here:

At 1 o’clock the invading army of black cats took Michigan City without a struggle, the natives firing only one shot, that being from the artillery of a photographer. Immediately upon the landing of the steamer a brass band headed the line and the cavalcade proceeded to the park, where it was successfully photographed, and then steered to a great refreshment hall, where it was very successfully fed. The local accommodations for caring for the big crowd were found to be excellent and the hunger of all was satisfied without serious difficulty.

The chief event of the afternoon was the baseball game. Immediately after the luncheon the Hoo-Hoo and their ladies proceeded in a body to the b.p., meaning not baseball park but boiling point. The Northern Indiana penitentiary formed an appropriate background to this travesty on a baseball field. The sun turned all its calcium effects upon two inches of red hot sand, in which the athletes were compelled to disport themselves. The game itself was a contest between two teams selected from the lumbermen of Indianapolis and Chicago. They were made up as follows:

Two more formidable teams have never taken the field to battle for a title.

Just before the teams took the field E. F. Dodge, of Chicago, called [umpires] C. D. Rourke, of Urbana, Ill., and George Palmer, of Indianapolis, Ind., to the plate and presented one with a horse pistol and the other with a shotgun. Some of the decisions later proved that this was a wise precaution, undoubtedly saving both umpires from the fury of the populace.

Indianapolis won the game in the first inning, the Chicago team going up in the aeroplane a la Wright Bros. The procession of Indianapolis runs took ten minutes to pass a given point.

Pitcher Fox appeared to be a stranger in the neighborhood and was unable to locate the plate. He gave Mercer and Geisel, the first two men up, passes to first, and then Johnson started a grounder to first, which got through Saye’s legs and caromed into right field, Mercer and Geisel scoring. Avery struck out, but a passed ball assisted Johnson to third, from which he scored when Pritchard singled. Pritchard stole third, but expired there on infield outs of West and Maas.

In the third inning Giesel drew a base on balls, but was forced at second, McGill to Larson, on Johnson’s grounder. Avery’s single advanced Johnson a base and he scored when Lewis threw over Fletcher’s head. Pritchard grounded, McGill to Saye. West struck out.

Chicago got its lone tally in this inning and might have had more but for some bad base running. Larson opened with a beautiful two-base hit and went to third on a wild pitch. Matthias struck out, but Dodge singled through the box, scoring Larson. When Fletcher flied to Mercer, Dodge led away off and was easily doubled, Mercer to Pritchard.

During the four succeeding innings the two teams played airtight baseball, but thirteen Indianapolis men and twelve Chicago men going to bat. Fox opened the fifth inning with a single, but was nailed at second when he attempted to steal with the ball in the pitcher’s hands. Hamilton singled in the seventh with two out and was left at first.

The fielding features of the game were supplied by Fox, McGill, and Pritchard. W. H. Johnson, who besides being a good ball player is president of the Indiana Retail Lumber Dealers’ Association, gave a fine exhibition of backstopping. Wee Willie McGill accepted three chances at second without error. Postscript Fletcher did not have a chance at third, or undoubtedly would be included in the special mention column. The managing of Handsome Griffin was also a conspicuous feature. The score:

Box Score 1908

Immediately after the ball game the Hoo-Hoo and their ladies, many of whom had entertained themselves about Michigan City rather than swelter at the ball park or approach so dangerously close to the penitentiary, again boarded the [steamer] Theodore Roosevelt and enjoyed a beautiful twilight and moonlight trip homeward to Chicago. On the way they were entertained with music by talented vocalists and with explanations from members of the Chicago team.

That’s right. The Chicago players spent part of the trip home making excuses for the loss. I wonder what they said after Game 2, played ten days later in Indianapolis.

Chicago Hoo Hoo baseball team 1908

The losers from Chicago.

Because once again, the Windy City Boys turned in a poor performance, this time getting shellacked 23-3, committing 12 errors, and not scoring their first run until the 7th inning. Let’s go back to our reporter, who appears to be making excuses for the Chicagoans:

Because of the wide difference in the score there was not much excitement, but what the game lacked in excitement was made up in fun. The local team is composed largely of big men who do not often indulge in such exertion as playing ball, most of them being office men. Until noon Monday part of the local team had not reported at their offices for work.

Indianapolis baseball 1908

The victorious team from Indianapolis.

The third and final game was played in Chicago. By then, the Hoosiers had already won the 3-game series, so their incentive to play all-out was not very great. Still, Chicago had to rally from 3 runs down to win 8-4.

A week later the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series title. Perhaps instead of a billy goat, their fans should bring a black cat to Wrigley Field to break the curse.

Go Hoo Hoos!

What we like to think might have been the pennant won by the Hoosiers!

The Chicago Hoo Hoo baseball team.

Chicago’s not-so-lovable losers.

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Tonight’s MLB All-Star game in fire-prone Arizona reminds us that Smokey Bear had his own All-Star team back in the 1980s (back when the Pittsburgh Pirates used to have winning seasons). During spring training, Smokey—a Hall of Fame-caliber manager if ever there was one—would pose with players from teams for his own trading cards. Some card sets feature Smokey with an entire team. The back contained info about the player, the sponsors’ logos, and a cartoon with a fire prevention message (see last card below). These cards are from 1987, and feature Ozzie Smith (15-time all-star), Steve Garvey (10 times), Johnny Ray (1 time), Mike Scott (3 times), and Steve Sax (5 times). Smokey has his own card, of course, because when it comes to fire prevention, he’s a perennial all-star.

Ozzie Smith and Smokey Bear

Ozzie Smith and Smokey Bear. Known as "The Wizard" for his outstanding defense, Smith is in the baseball Hall of Fame.

Steve Garvey and Smokey Bear

Steve Garvey and Smokey Bear. Garvey spent his career in fire-prone Southern California with the L.A. Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. He was known for having a hot bat in his many playoff appearances.

Smokey Bear and Johnny Ray. Perhaps if Johnny had used a bat instead of a shovel, he would have made the All-Star team more than once.


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This week’s Major League All-Star Game in Anaheim, California, brings to mind baseball history as seen through the FHS Library. In the early 20th century, in addition to the two major leagues in the Northeast and the numerous minor leagues around the country, semi-pro baseball teams were sponsored by business owners—including lumber mill owners—and business organizations like the Hoo-Hoos. Baseball was the national game in America, played in towns big and small. In addition to trade publications like American Lumberman, local papers like the New Orleans Times-Picayune covered baseball games between company teams as thoroughly as the large urban daily newspapers did games on the senior circuit. And baseball at this level was big business. In 1908, the trade publication American Lumberman reported rumors of the formation of a “national league of lumbermen” teams. With its collection of trade publications, the FHS Library and Archive is a great resource for investigating this neglected aspect of baseball history.

We’re particularly intrigued by one team, the Patterson Greys (sometimes spelled “Grays”) of Patterson, Louisiana, the “crack amateur baseball team of the F.B. Williams Cypress Co.,” as a 1921 article called them. Built by Frank B. Williams, the F.B. Williams Cypress Co. dominated the cypress logging and milling business in the region and helped establish a national market for cypress. Williams may have built the town of Patterson, but his son’s baseball team put it on the map. The Patterson Greys dominated the sport on a regional level but also had a national impact.

One of Frank’s sons, Harry “H.P.” Williams, described as “an ardent sportsman and particularly addicted to baseball,” organized and managed the team for many years (we’re not sure when the team started or disbanded). The team regularly competed for the Louisiana state championship against other “amateur” teams, and also traveled the Deep South playing other semi-pro teams and even college squads. His players received $150 a month plus room and board. Williams paid bonuses for outstanding plays at the plate and in the field.

Patterson Grays 1921

The Patterson Greys, in 1921, with manager H.P. Williams. (from American Lumberman, click to enlarge)

What’s most fascinating is that the quality of players was such that Williams sold a number of them to the New York Giants and other clubs. This same 1921 article claims that he did not stock his Greys with experienced professional players “but fill[ed] up his string with promising Louisiana boys, some of whom are college students.” Given that F.B. Williams Cypress Company (now Williams, Inc.) was one of the largest lumber companies in the United States in the early 20th century and paid its players well, it wasn’t too surprising that the company team attracted such high-caliber talent from across the South.  The article lists the handful of players Williams had sent to the major leagues who lasted about two years each: Ivy Griffin, Johnnie Monroe, John Paul “the Admiral” Jones, Dick Humphries, Sammie(?) Hale, and a shortstop name Doty. Eddie Morgan and Carl Lind lasted seven and four years respectively with the Cleveland Indians. The one who did have a long, successful career? Hall of Famer and 12-time All-Star Mel Ott (1934-45), perhaps the greatest right fielder of his era. For Williams, it was an impressive achievement just to send players from his mill-town team to the senior circuit, let alone the man they called “The Little Giant.”

So how did this player pipeline that stretched from rural Louisiana to New York get established? According to Fred Stein, Met Ott’s biographer, Harry Williams was old friends with the Giants’ long-time manager, John McGraw, as well as Philadelphia Athletics’ owner-manager Connie Mack. It’s possible that Harry was introduced to these men by his wife, the famous stage and screen actress Marguerite Clark, one of the most popular actresses of her day. Or scouts working for McGraw and Mack came through Louisiana looking for the next “Georgia Peach”, a.k.a. Ty Cobb, and they met that way.  We don’t know. We’re still trying to find out.

We do know that after the F.B. Williams Company exhausted its cypress holdings (their employees are seen logging cypress in this footage), Harry and his brothers (who took over operations from their father by 1913) started closing down their four mills in 1929 and were out of the lumber and milling business by 1933. As luck would have it, oil and gas were discovered on company land during this time, and the company quickly shifted into those fields along with real estate development. As the mills were winding down, Harry—long fascinated with airplanes—entered the airplane design business with airplane mechanic and designer Jimmie Wedell. Together they built some of the fastest airplanes of the era and became pioneers in the airline industry in Louisiana. Harry died in an airplane accident in 1936. Today Williams, Inc., is owned and operated by the decedents of his brothers.

Enjoy this slide show of some of the teams highlighted in American Lumberman from that era. Note how the various uniforms rarely incorporate a logo.

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With Chicago’s recent failure to become host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, we here at Peeling Back the Bark were reminded of a little-known chapter from Chicago’s sports history which can be found in the FHS Archives.  Should Chicago have also submitted a bid for the Winter Olympiad?  Possibly.  We submit for your consideration this image of preparations for a ski jump competition taking place in Chicago’s Soldier Field in the year 1937.

Ski Jump at Soldier Field, Chicago, 1937.

A ski jump is readied for competition at Soldier Field, Chicago, 1937 (from FHS Archives).

Of course, this begs the questions: Why was there ski jumping in Chicago? And what does this have to do with forest history?  To answer both questions it helps to dig into the TECO company files in our archives, where this image came from.

The Timber Engineering Company (TECO) was formed in 1933 as the timber research subsidiary of the National Lumber Manufacturing Association (later known as the National Forest Products Association, and today as the American Forest & Paper Association).  TECO immediately established a wood products research laboratory in Washington D.C., and began its pioneering work in wood engineering and forest products testing and development.  The most notable early innovation was a unique brand of timber connector called a “split-ring.”  TECO purchased the rights to the split-ring connector from a German manufacturer in 1934, and further developed the product for use in assembling large timber tresses for building construction.

TECO timber connectors  proved to be a revolutionary development in wood construction, and were used in thousands of building projects such as schools, churches, theaters, warehouses, airplane hangars, lookout towers, bridges, and much more.

TECO blimp hangar

World War II U.S. Navy blimp hangar (1,000′ long, 153′ high) built using TECO timber connectors (FHS Archives).

That list of TECO engineered timber structures also included ski jumps, the largest being a 180-foot tall wooden ski jump temporarily erected outside of Soldier Field on more than one occasion.  A little known fact about Chicago’s sports history is that the city has hosted several large-scale international ski jumping competitions.

Brought to the U.S. by Norwegian immigrants, ski jumping was a very popular sport in the early 20th century, especially in the Northeast.  The sport of skiing was more directly tied to jumping at this time rather than downhill racing.  The 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, also helped to further spread the sport’s popularity in the U.S.  It was this popularity which facilitated the staging of ski jumping events in large American sports stadiums.

In February 1936, Soldier Field first hosted such a competition, which proved so successful that a larger ski jump was built again the following year.  In 1937, 140 jumpers competed in the event in front of nearly 60,000 spectators.  Soldier Field hosted another competition in 1938, but then not again until 1954 (Wrigley Field would also host a jumping competition in 1944).

View of TECO-built ski jump tower at Soldier Field, 1937.

Prefabricated, demountable 180′ TECO timber connector-built wooden ski jump tower at Soldier Field, February 1937 (FHS Archives).

Chicago was not the only city hosting international ski jump events during this time period.  Surprisingly, California also hosted several similar events in equally unusual places.  TECO was not involved in their construction and wood was not always the main material used, but large temporary jumps were built in several California cities.  Using snow machines and crushed ice, ski jumping competitions were held in Berkeley in 1934, the Hollywood Bowl in 1935, at the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939, and in Los Angeles Coliseum in both 1938 and 1939.

SKi Jump at Los Angeles Coliseum

Construction of the temporary ski jump at Los Angeles Coliseum.

While the decades following this “golden age” of American ski jumping have seen a decline of interest in the sport, TECO has maintained its presence in the wood products industry.  Celebrating its 75th anniversary last year, TECO continues to provide important work for the industry today through the testing and certification of building products.

For more information on the history of TECO, see the following FHS resources:

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This past weekend saw the Lumberjack World Championships take place in Hayward, Wisconsin.  The annual event of sawing, chopping, climbing, and log rolling contests celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.  While the golden anniversary is cause for celebration, signs of the sport’s decline in popularity seemed to be more evident than ever.  A New York Times article covering the championships addressed this issue, noting the lack of television coverage and the drop in participation levels.  The number of big-time contests held in the U.S. has also dwindled. It’s now virtually impossible to make a living from winnings on the American lumberjack contest circuit.

For decades the Lumberjack World Championships were a featured television event — from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” in the early years, to ESPN and the Outdoor Life Network more recently.  That all ended this year, when the event was given no national TV coverage.  Some former champions are questioning whether the lumberjack sports themselves are dying.  “The best years are gone,” seemed to be a common refrain.  While the glory years of the sport may in fact be behind us, there are still many talented young lumberjack athletes — such as J.R. Salzman, an Iraq war veteran who lost part of his arm to a roadside bomb in 2006, and returned this year to win his seventh log rolling championship.

With others looking towards the past, though, this is the perfect time to highlight some of the visual documentations of lumberjack competitions from yesteryear found in the FHS Archives.  Below is a small sampling of images documenting the sport’s past, as well as some of the larger-than-life figures.

Paul Searls axe chop

Lumberjack legend Paul Searls (left) with his son Max competing in a tree felling contest.

Paul Searls bucking

Paul Searls competing in his specialty event, log bucking. Searls was a world champion log bucker from 1932 to 1952, as well as a former Guinness World Record holder in the event. On May 28, 1937, Searls also helped dedicate the Golden Gate Bridge by sawing through a 34″ redwood log in record time at the bridge’s opening.


A three-time International Log Rolling Association Champion and leading competitor from the 1930s through the 1950s, Jim Herron prepares to perform his infamous log rolling striptease as his alter-ego “grandma” character.


The axe throw event at the Albany (Oregon) Timber Carnival in July 1958.

Clive McIntosh saw

Clive McIntosh (right), with partner D. Mann, examining their saw after winning the World Championship Doubles Sawing Contest at Sydney, Australia. McIntosh was an Australian lumberjack legend, as well as an influential axe and saw designer.

The selected photos here come from both the FHS Photograph Collection and the American Forest Institute Records.  If interested, also take a look at this 1920-era log rolling film footage from the FHS YouTube Channel, as well as the previously posted Loggers–Rodeos photo subject gallery.

Special thanks to Jeffrey Stine for telling us about the NY Times article that inspired this entry.

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Major League Baseball playoffs started today! Besides the excitement of the games, fans can also expect to see more shattered bats, a problem that has plagued baseball at all professional levels this year. In the last 15 years or so, maple has become the favored wood by big league sluggers, with 60% of major leaguers having switched to maple from the traditional ash. Batters prefer maple because it is more durable and stronger; however, it explodes into lethal pieces. Several people have been hit by flying shards—one woman had her jaw broken and a Pittsburgh Pirates coach was stabbed in the face and required ten stitches. Speculation as to why this happens runs from the handles being too thin to the equipment managers selecting cheap wood. Bats are made from one piece of wood, not multiple pieces glued together like in the picture below.

An unidentified player or coach inspects a bat made from multiple pieces of wood while visiting the Forest Products Lab.

Flanking Univ. of Wisconsin coach Arthur Mansfield are FPL engineers G.E. Heck and L.J. Markwardt. Mansfield is holding a laminated bat with center band of hickory that is more than twice as tough as the ash facings. Photo is believed to be from 1951. (FHS Photo Collection)

MLB has collected around 1,700 broken bats in a three-month span and is also reviewing videotape of all the broken bat incidents. The broken bats are being examined by Timberco, Inc., and the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory—the federal government’s primary research facility for wood products—in Madison, Wisconsin. (Coincidentally, today is the 99th anniversary of the opening of the Forest Products Lab.)

Ash, with its longer grain, tends to crack, not explode. Ash trees, however, are under attack by the emerald ash borer, which “has killed more than 40 million ash trees in southeastern Michigan alone, with tens of millions more lost in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Virginia,” according to the website http://www.emeraldashborer.info. It could very well be that in a few years, bat manufacturers will have no choice but to use maple.

For you (Brooklyn) Dodgers fans, here's Duke Snider at the Louisville Slugger plant inspecting a semi-finished bat of his own personal model. He's with Johnny Logan of the Milwaukee Braves, taken April 9, 1956.

These Minnesota Twins fans have more to scream about than just their team's collapse at the end of the season.

These Minnesota Twins fans have more to scream about than just their team's collapse at the end of the season.

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