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The Tragic Death of Addie Joss
and MLB’s First Collection of All-Stars

In this 10-part series on the history of Major League Baseball's All-Star Game, Paul Dickson begins with the tragic death of pitcher Addie Joss, and the all-star exhibition game that was played in his honor.

By Paul Dickson, February 5, 2017
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Original artwork by Oliver Dominguez.

The use of the word star to refer to a human being rather than a celestial body dates back to 1824 when it was first used to describe the lead actor in a play. After the Civil War, the term was adopted by Vaudeville, where all the headliners were deemed to be stars. The term came to baseball around 1890 when it was used to describe Cap Anson, who led the National League (there was only one league at that time) with 78 RBIs for the Chicago White Stockings. Chicago won the pennant in 1890 with a 67–17 record, 44 games ahead of the last-place Cincinnati Reds.

The term—and the concept—All-Star followed a few year later along with the sister term All-American, which was applied to athletes who were one of the best in the United States in a particular sport. In terms of baseball, All-Star and All-American teams tended to be abstractions rather than actual teams that played in actual games. The abstraction became a reality when teams were put together in the offseason of players from various teams and barnstormed.

All of this changed in 1911. It came about in the wake of a highly unusual situation.

On April 3, 1911, the American League Cleveland Naps, later known as the Indians, on their way north from spring training took to the field for warm-ups before a scheduled exhibition game against the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts. Cleveland star pitcher, Addie Joss, sought out an old pal, Chattanooga shortstop Rudy Hulswitt. While the two men were talking, Joss fainted. It was clear that Joss was seriously ill, and he was quickly sent to his hometown of Toledo and his own doctor, who watched his condition worsen.

Eleven days after the incident, baseball players and fans awoke to the news that Joss had died from tubercular meningitis, two days following his 31st birthday. Joss’s teammates were stunned by the death and planned to head to Toledo for the funeral on April 17 as a group. The team was scheduled to play in Detroit that day, but Ban Johnson, president of the American League, refused to cancel the game and demanded that all players take the field. The players refused to play, threatened to sign a petition, and boarded a train for Toledo in defiance of the league president. The Detroit News called the action a “mutiny” and others called it a “strike,” but many newspapers editorialized in favor of the players, suggesting that their loyalty to a fallen teammate was right and proper and that the league president was wrong. Faced with the reality of the situation, Ban Johnson gave permission for players to go to Toledo and denied that a strike had occurred and said that the game would be played later.[i]

Addie Josss unusual pitching style included a deceptive delivery.  One of the best pitchers of his time, Joss had four 20-season wins, two no-hitters, and seven one-hitters.

Billy Sunday, the evangelist and former ballplayer, delivered Addie’s eulogy:

Joss tried hard to strike out death, and it seemed for a time as though he would win. The bases were full. The score was a tie, with two outs. Thousands, yes, millions in a nation’s grandstands and bleachers sat breathless watching the conflict. The great twirler stood erect in the box. Death walked to the plate.

Then, with Johnson’s permission, President C. W. Summers of the Cleveland club announced that Monday, July 24—an open date for the American League—would be set aside as Addie Joss Day and that a special game would be played between Cleveland and the best players in the American League. The proceeds from this special day would be given to Joss’s widow and two children.

On the eve of the game, the lineup of the All-Star team was announced and was immediately deemed the greatest group of players ever gathered to play as a team. Nine future Hall of Famers were on the squad: Frank Baker, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Sam Crawford, Walter Johnson, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Bobby Wallace, and Cy Young, who pitched for Cleveland. Joe Jackson, Gabby Street, Joe Wood, and other stars participated as well.

Gabby Street, Frank Baker, Walter Johnson and Joe Wood are shown here during the Addie Joss Day game.

Before a crowd of 15,270, the game belonged to the hard-hitting All-Stars, who dominated from the first inning. “As a game,” wrote J. P. Garvey in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the next morning, “yesterday’s affair was not particularly exciting.” But he added, this was overshadowed by the “glamour of seeing eleven important personages (the choicest specimens of baseball ability) in action as one team.”[ii]

The All-Stars won the game, 5–3.

With all expenses paid, the Joss family netted close to $13,000 from a combination of ticket and scorecard sales and a special subscription from the baseball world, including many contributions from the National League.

The concept of an All-Star Game between the two Major Leagues began to spread in the wake of the Addie Joss Day Game. In 1915, F. C. Lane, editor of Baseball Magazine, called for an annual midsummer All-Star Game that he said would become “the real grand Opera of baseball.”

For the moment, at least, the idea fell on deaf ears.

“For the Benefit of Lillian,” original artwork by Grant Smith.  



[i] Harold Seymour, Baseball: The Golden Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 193.
[ii] Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 25, 1911, 7.

 

 

 

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