Thursday, May 15, 2008 5/15/08-Baseball Mascots

In today's encore excerpt--baseball mascots in the 1910s and 1920s, the heyday of baseball's biggest stars Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, show how much American societal norms have changed:

"Superstition flourished in baseball. Teams hired black children, hunchbacks, and mis-fits as good luck charms. The 1911 World Series had seen the clash of two of the most famous mascots, Charles 'Victory' Faust, described by some as a lunatic, and Louis Van Zelst, a dwarf. (Faust's Giants lost; within three years, he was in an insane asylum.) The Tigers had a six- toed batboy in 1919. They adopted a mutt, nicknamed Victory, in 1923--a year after experimenting with a live tiger cub. The St. Louis Browns even toured with a monkey--until the team started losing.

"[Ty] Cobb himself had the exuberant Alex Rivers, who since 1908 had acted as his personal assistant and number-one devotee. Rivers, a five-foot-two black man from New Orleans, was a familiar sight at [Detroit's] Navin Field, bounding through the dugout to retrieve bats, flashing his toothy smile. 'I want Alex around,' Cobb said during a Detroit winning streak. 'I realize that the work of our players wins games, but just the same I wouldn't like to start one without Alex here. Superstitious? Well, maybe.' ...

"The Yankees employed the prize of all mascots. The much sought Eddie Bennett--a stunted, crippled orphan credited with helping the White Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees win pennants from 1919 to 1923--had joined the Yankees as a grinning, seventeen-year-old batboy in 1921. Before games, Ruth and Bennett sometimes entertained with a game of catch in which Ruth would continually hurl a ball just above Bennett's reach. Ruth wanted only Bennett to handle his bats."

Tom Stanton, Ty and the Babe, St. Martin's Press, 2007,
pp. 104-5.


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