Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Birthday Repost: When Happy Foreman Met George Bernard Shaw

By The Common Man

Today is The Common Man's birthday, which is a joyous occasion for all involved.  The Uncommon Wife has promised an as yet unspecified special dinner, after which she has threatened to take TCM and The Boy to see Transformers 3.  The Common Man is unsure what he did to upset her so.  Oh well, as long as TCM's blessed bourbon arrives in time, it shouldn't matter, as he will undoubtedly remember nothing and suffer none of the potentially devastating effects of watching his childhood once again ruined by Michael Bay.  The good news is that this birthday allows TCM the chance to re-run one of his favorite posts from the last couple years, since its principle character, a young man named Happy Foreman, shares TCM's birthday:

Foreman, was a left-handed pitcher who threw 11.1 innings in the 1920s for the White and Red Sox. Foreman’s brief career spanned 49 batters, and he posted a 3.18 ERA in 6 games, good for a 137 ERA+. Despite his success, Foreman barely got a chance to play in the Bigs, and seems to have been washed out of the minors after 1927. Yet, Foreman still had a remarkable experience in the Major Leagues.

In 1924, Foreman pitched just four innings in three September games for the last place White Sox (who may have been the first team ever managed by three separate Hall of Famers in the same season: Johnny Evers, Ed Walsh, and Eddie Collins). Nevertheless, he was invited along when the Sox traveled to Europe to play a series of exhibitions against the NL Champion New York Giants. Ralph Perry, of the Miami Daily News, writes in late 1924, “Happy is in Miami these days as one of the nine important members of the new Miami professional baseball team, doing its bit in the Sunshine League. The White Sox pitcher…was a member of the…team which toured Continental Europe last winter and among things showed the Britishers how the great American game of baseball was played.“

Despite Perry’s optimism, the tour, by almost all standards, was a failure. The clubs played four exhibitions in Canada before heading to England. In England, the clubs played in front of 2500 spectators in Liverpool, then before several thousand in London. The teams then departed for Ireland, where they played a rousing game for fewer than 20 paying customers (and canceled a second game because of lack of interest). The tour was called back to London, however, to play for King George, Queen Mary, and their sons. Afterward, they went on to France, where they played to generally disappointing crowds in Paris and Lyons, and cancelled the rest of the tour (which was scheduled to make stops in Brussels, Nice, Rome, and Berlin.

Foreman apparently did not endear himself to Charles Comiskey or the White Sox on the trip, because the next year he was back in the minors. He was in good spirits though, according to Perry, “A few things like kings and queens, not to mention a few princes, princesses, dukes, duchesses, barons and baronesses thrown in for good measure, have had no disasterous effects on ‘Happy’s’ normal frame of mind, but he is still in a somewhat dazed condition as the result of assimulating [sic] some of the English sports writers interpretations of American baseball, not to mention a few whizz-bangs which George Bernard Shaw slipped over with his little quill of steel and printer’s ink.”

Foreman did, however, come back with a collection of press clippings about the tour, which he shared with Perry. Want to know what the British thought of the great American Pastime? Atherton Wilson, of “The People” apparently wrote,
For whatever one may say in defense of baseball, it may or it may not be one of the cleverest of all ball games, it is certainly nothing more nor less than glorified rounds. It has one advantage over cricket. It does not take so long to play. No cricketer, of course, would deign to wear a big glove like a frying pan on his hand to catch the ball, and no fielder unless he were a test match player would try to field a ball coming toward him with his feet apart.
A reporter from the London Evening News was even less amused by the game:
Leaving out of account a smashed hat, crushed toes, and a bruised back, I have come through my first baseball match with my life. Quite unsuspectingly I took my place this afternoon at Stamford Bridge among a group of wild-looking Americans.

Immediately the game began their apparent innocence fell from them like a cloak and they reverted to primeval savages. They shrieked, they stamped and they cheered. What a hullaballoo it was. Every time a particularly good hit was made, I was thumped vigorously on the back, while they shouted “Good Lad.” I did not think so. I was hurt….

With a bat which looks like an overgrown Indian club, the men struck the ball an increditable distance and twice the spectators on the bank of the opposite side of the field had to scatter for safety. What the public enjoyed the most was the barracking or baseball heckling.”
Finally, Foreman also returned with the essay by George Bernard Shaw, who wrote up his observations on his first baseball game for the London Evening Standard. These observations were reprinted in 1962 in Sports Illustrated. Among the highlights:

“It was as a sociologist, not as a sportsman-I cannot endure the boredom of sport-that I seized the opportunity of the London visit of the famous Chicago Sioux and the New York Apaches (I am not quite sure of the names) to witness for the first time a game of baseball.”

The British spectators were bewildered by the proceedings at first. The players began by playing without a ball, and with an Indian club instead of a proper bat. They varied this by imitating a slow-motion cinematographic picture. All this we in our ignorance took to be part of the celebrated but to us unknown game; and when the real play began we made no distinction, and innocently supposed that for some mysterious reason baseball was played partly without a ball and partly with one. The Indian club was a terrible stumbling block. We could not conceive any serious player using such a thing. As to the bowling, an English bowler would have been ordered off the field for it. The bowler began like a Highlander throwing the hammer, and then shied the ball with all his might straight to the wicket-keeper for a hard catch. The batsman incidentally swiped at it as it passed with his absurd club; and if, as sometimes happened, he caught it with a masterly drive to square-leg, everybody said foul (without the least foundation), and nothing else happened. But if he drove it back, then it was a case of Tip and Run and Puss-in-the-Corner, unless he was caught out, in which case we of England applauded heartily, as it was the only transaction in the game which was in the least intelligible to us.

I regret to have to say that the Sioux and Apaches played equally badly, for after extraordinary exertions their scores were 1 and 2 respectively. An English cricket team would have hit up hundreds with half the trouble. Either the Apaches or the Sioux—I forget which—managed at least either to hit up 3 or to fail to hit up anything, at which point they suddenly left in disgust for Dublin; and the cricket-trained Duke, who had been looking forward to the usual five or six hours' innings, slowly realised that the match was over, and, after some incredulous hesitation, rose and made for his carriage…. Baseball is swift, intense and (as to what it is all about) inscrutable.


As I left the ground one of my courteous hosts expressed a hope that I would come again. When a man asks you to come and see baseball played twice it sets you asking yourself why you went to see it played once. That is an unanswerable question. It is a mad world.
There is a wealth of greatness in Shaw’s essay, which TCM encourages you to read in full, including:

  •  his comparison of the game to cricket: "it has the great advantage…of being sooner ended"
  •  his impression of John McGraw: "in whom I at last discovered the real and authentic Most Remarkable Man in America”
  • his confusion over the banter on the field: "There is no reason why the wicket-keeper should not incite the bowler to heroic exertions by combined taunting and coaxing, or why the field should not try to put the batsman off his stroke at the critical moment by neatly timed disparagements of his wife's fidelity and his mother's respectability."
  • and his favorite part of the game:  "[It is] long enough to give you all the amusement you desire but not long enough to give you time to begin wondering which is the bigger fool of the two, the Apache who is whacking at a ball or you who are looking at him”
And while you’re enjoying Shaw’s essay, remember that you’re reading its genius thanks to an unknown, random lefty who has finally made his mark on the game.

Happy Birthday, Happy!

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