Thursday, February 3, 2011

The 1896 Orioles Were in the Best Shape of Their Lives

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America is rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. - Terrance Mann

Baseball has remained a constant, lo these many years. And evidently, the way it it covered hasn't changed much either. At least not in the last 115 years or so. When Spring Training comes around, a sports writer can always pen a variation on this theme:

"The Best Shape of Their Lives"

Here are three instances from reporters covering the old National League Baltimore Orioles during their annual trip south.

The Sporting News, April 13th, 1895:

"...the Orioles have played much the strongest games and are undoubtedly in the best physical condition of any of (the National League teams) at this writing. Nearly every man on the team is trained to sprinting form already and the dash and vim they inject into the game are absolutely refreshing" - Charles A Lamar

From the April 1st, 1899 edition of The Sporting Life comes this account of Spring Training in Savannah, GA for the old Baltimore Orioles written by "Jay R F":

"(John) McGraw looks thinner than when he was here last spring, while (Wilbert) Robinson presents the same appearance as he always does, with -or without- the spangles. (Ducky) Holmes is considerably stouter than when your correspondent met him last in Louisville. Not fat, you know-good solid flesh and as hard as steel. (Jerry) Nops and (Frank) Kitson, who were here with the team last year, are both, apparently, in splendid condition."

And finally, this account from Oriole manager Ned Hanlon in The Sporting News, April 4th, 1896:

"The pitching department is in better shape than ever before. McMahon is apparently able to pitch as well as ever. (Bill) Hoffer is in good form. (George) Hemming is in much better condition and in better health than last year; (Dad) Clarkson is in his usual condition, while the great south-paw, (Duke) Esper, weighs less, and is in better pitching form than he has ever been since he joined the club...There is not a man on the club who is not taking the best care of himself and whose habits are not correct. It is so much the custom to predict wonderful things for the various clubs on the Southern tours, and to tell of their great strengths, the fine condition of the men and the certainty of each club winning that the base ball public are coming to place little credence in many of these roseate stories. But what has been said of the Orioles is plain, unvarnished truth." - Edward Hanlon

Wow. The National League had been in existence just 20 years when Hanlon made his comments. And even then, the "Player A is in the best shape of his life!" stories were already old hat and met with eye-rolls and dismissal by the fans. And yet, they still are a staple of the months leading up to the start of the season. 115 years later. Why?

I guess it's a tradition...

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