Paul Dickson is the author of more than 60 books and several hundred magazine and newspaper articles. He has written over a dozen bat and ball books (11 on baseball and one on softball). His most recent is the biography, Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick. It was named the 2012 CASEY Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year. In 2011 Paul was awarded the Tony Salin Memorial Award from the Baseball Reliquary for the preservation of baseball history. He was also honored in 2008 by the New York Public Library for his award-winning and widely acclaimed Dickson Baseball Dictionary, now in its third edition.
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.
When Joe Garagiola died on March 23, 2016, at the age of 90, his many obituary writers were torn between two choices when writing their lead: was he a baseball player who later became a major television personality, or was he a television star who also played Major League baseball? It was a classic toss-up and the kind of dilemma that Garagiola himself would have found worthy of a quick self-effacing remark.
July 30, 2016, marks the 126th anniversary of the birth of Casey Stengel, one of the truly legendary baseball figures of the twentieth century. First as a player and then as a manager, he was known as much for his ability as a baseball man as for Stengelese, the vocabulary and implausible brand of double talk that came out of his mouth. Red Smith once likened trying to understand Casey to “picking up quicksilver with boxing gloves.”
In late 1965, in advance of his first year of eligibility, Ted Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 282 out of a possible 302 votes. He needed 227 for election. He received 93.4 percent of the votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, making him just the eighth player elected on his first appearance on the ballot.
Having been born in 1939 into a family with a healthy baseball obsession, I have long been fascinated with that baseball season, not only because it was my own rookie year here on the planet, but also because it signaled the end of one baseball era and the beginning of another—the end of baseball’s Ruthian Golden Age and the beginning of what folks around my age long ago decided to call the Modern Era.
On August 5, 1921, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a 25-year-old studio announcer for radio station KDKA sat in a box seat behind home plate in Forbes Field. Using only a converted telephone as a microphone and some jury-rigged equipment, Harold Arlin broadcast the first Major League Baseball game, calling every play in a game between the Pirates and the Phillies, which the Pirates won 8–5.
It’s hard to learn how to play baseball, and it’s hard to learn how to watch baseball. It’s one of those hard things that the more you know about it, the more you learn about it, the more rewarding it is. . . . It’s like listening to a piece of classical music. If you’re only half paying attention, you probably only half enjoy it. If you’re fully paying attention, you greatly enjoy it, but if you actually know something about music and musicology, then you’ll really be able to enjoy it. I think that is the way it is with baseball.
When I was 10 years old, my grandmother took me to see The Babe Ruth Story, a film starring William Bendix as the Babe. The film was a masterpiece of biopic nonsense which even kids could spot as totally bogus, beginning with the notion that Bendix could throw and hit a baseball with any resemblance to the man he portrayed. Then there was the scene in a bar in which the Babe orders milk, which caused thunderous hoots and guffaws at the Park Hill Theatre in Yonkers, New York, where I saw the film.