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, shows how much American societal norms have changed:

"Superstition flourished in baseball. Teams hired black children, hunchbacks and misfits 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 had joined the team 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. Believers credited the stunted, crippled orphan with helping the White Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees win pennants from 1919 to 1923.


Tom Stanton


Ty and the Babe: Baseball's Fiercest Rivals: a Surprising Friendship and the 1941 Has-Been Golf Championship


Thomas Dunne Books An imprint of St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2007 by Tom Stanton


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