The one constant throughout all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and what could be again. -James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams
I remind myself of the day by glancing at the Tampa Morning Tribune. It is October 19, 1912. I am looking for news to tell the workers today when I climb up to the tribunal above the factory floor to begin my workday. I am el lector–the reader. Most days, the workers want to hear the local news and events, the latest political natterings, and news from the country of their ancestors. I also read from a novel. I faithfully abide by their wishes; they pay my salary.
This week that is different from what the workers have wanted from me. The World Series of Baseball has occupied the men as they cut and roll fine cigars. The workers want to relive the moments of the previous day's game inning by inning and speculate about the upcoming game. This year's World Series has been one of the best. The Boston Red Sox and New York Giants faced each other as they did last year. The games this year were exciting from start to finish, which took eight games.
In the first game, in a move that surprised many people, instead of starting veteran Rube Marquard as the pitcher, the Giants started a rookie–Jeff Tesreau, who had won 17 games. He was playing against Smokey Joe Wood, the hot veteran Boston pitcher who "smoked" the ball across the plate. The workers argued over the wisdom of that decision. In the bottom of the ninth, Boston led by one run. The Giants had men on 2nd and 3rd with only one out. Boston's Smokey Joe struck out the next two batters by throwing, according to him later, "the fastest ball I've ever thrown in my life. I threw so hard I thought my arm would fly right off my body." Game 1 went to Boston.
I tried to interest the workers, many of whom emigrated from there, in the news of the Cuban elections for a new president. The liberal party is split between Zayistas, who support Alfredo Zayas, and the Asbertistas, who favor the Governor of Havana, General Ernesto Asbert. The Conservative party's leading candidate is General Mario Menocal. As I read this from the Tampa Daily Times, the workers become restless and soon shout for more stories of the baseball game.
Game 2 ended in a tie in the 11th inning when the game was called due to darkness. Tris Speaker, a great hitter, almost made a home run, which could have won the game for Boston, but he got credit for a triple.
I brought in news of other events. The assassination attempt on Col. Theodore Roosevelt in Milwaukee on October 15 did cause a stir of curiosity. Now that he will fully recover, the workers are no longer interested. Only baseball interests the workers.
The games went back and forth between the teams until an eighth game was necessary because of the tie. A toss of the coin decided which city would host the eighth game. Boston won the coin toss, so game eight was played at Fenway on October 16, 1912. Nine innings came and went, with the teams tied at one run apiece. The Giants scored what could be the winning run in the top of the 10th, leaving it up to the Boston team. The Red Sox faced the challenge of overcoming a 2-1 deficit. When the Giant's Fred Snodgrass attempted a routine catch and dropped it, Engle advanced to second. The Giants were stunned long enough for Boston's Engle to score the tying run. Then Yerkes went on to score the winning point. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series.
Finally, the cigar workers have tired of arguing about whether Fred Snodgrass's dropped ball in the 10th inning of the last game was the cause of the Giants losing the series. The excitement of the World Series is fading in our city, replaced by a sense of loss. It will be a long time until Spring training. This game of baseball gathers more and more fans. Many call this the national pastime. It is for many working in cigar factories. Those of Spanish and Italian heritage disdained baseball as a frivolous waste of time and have become interested in the game. I decided to study the game and tell them about its beginnings today.
I read in the Tampa Daily Times that before this year's World Series began, both teams gave the players the day off for their annual pilgrimage on the anniversary of his birth to the grave of Henry Chadwick, the "father of baseball," who rests in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn. Curious, I researched and talked to some friends about Mr. Chadwick. Mr. Chadwick was born in England in 1824 and moved to America as a young man. He became interested in the American version of rounders, called town ball, thinking that the sport should become America's game just as cricket was England's. As a writer and statistician, he promoted what was later called baseball. He made many rules and, more importantly, created today's game statistics. At the very least, he promoted and refined baseball. Fact is, though, we were already playing it when he arrived on our shore.
Kids have played ball in the vacant lots for as long as I can remember. Boys in Cuba have played the game for years.I wonder why the Americans think they invented it. I know there were games in England called Rounders and Cricket that many emigrants from that country played here. The Americanized version was initially called town ball. In town ball, instead of a diamond, the game was played in a square. The pitcher was called the "giver," who tosses the ball overhand to the batter.
The fielders have no particular position. They play around the field. No one is at the corners. There are no bases but corners. When the striker hits the ball, the fielder catches it and throws it to hit the runner. These hits were called "burns" or "stingers." Remember, these were not the harder, heavier balls we use today. This was a simpler game for a simpler time.
When I was a boy, we used homemade balls. Sometimes we had a little rubber ball that we wrapped yarn around and then covered with an old piece of leather we cut to fit, punched holes in the leather with an awl, and sewed with twine around the yarn. If no rubber ball could be found, we would wrap the string tight against itself and wind and wind until it was the right size. Now you can go to the store and buy fine baseballs for not too much money.
In West Tampa and Ybor, we have teams from the factory workers and social clubs who play season after season, with a season-ending series to determine the best teams. Unlike the just-ended World Series, which will give the winning team members about $4,000 and the losers $2,500, our teams receive no money.
Teams come from out of town to play, and Cuban teams come to Tampa. In those days, keeping the workers in the factories was hard. The games usually begin around 3:00 P.M. This allows the workers to finish their work before leaving the factory. The only ones who do not enjoy baseball are the factory owners. They always complain that more cigars could be made if the workers quit attending the local games. That is not fair, as the workers get their cigars made before leaving. They have to earn a living and cannot allow the pleasures of the pastime to interfere with putting meat on the table.
This reminds me that I, too, must go to work for a living. I look at my pocket watch. It is time. I brush the crumbs of my breakfast from my suit, finish my café con leche, and bid goodbye to my friends in the coffee shop. I go out in the hot October morning to the factory, where I will climb up to la tribuna and tell the workers one more story about baseball.
El Lector is a fictional character.
Historical sources for baseball history include www.baseball-almanac.com.
For information about the 1912 World Series.
The Tampa Daily Times, October 1912, provided news stories.
Lawrence S. Ritter, in The Glory of Their Times, provided some information about the players who played the game. Jules Tygiel, Past Time–Baseball as History, for information on Henry Chadwick. Dan Beard, Town Ball: inquiry.net/outdoor/summer/ball, provided how to play the game.
CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE- SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2006
Gail Ellis attended the University of South Florida, lived and worked in Tampa for 40 years. Devoting her time to writing now, she currently resides in New Port Richey, Florida. She told us the following, “Just so you know, you cannot get decent Cuban bread nor a cup of café con leche in Pasco County.”
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