Talking smack on the ball field, 1898 style

While sorting through the collection of the late baseball historian Al Kermish, auction appraisers came across a document of astonishing naughtiness dating from 1898. It includes the earliest known uses of the term “cocksucker” and “go fuck yourself” (thereby giving Deadwood even more cred than it had before).

That such brutal language as “You cock-sucking son of a bitch!” “You prick-eating bastard!” “You cunt-lapping dog!” “Kiss my ass, you son of a bitch!” “A dog must have fucked your mother when she made you!” “I fucked your mother, your sister, your wife!” “I’ll make you suck my ass!” “You cock-sucker!” and many other revolting terms are used by a limited number of players to intimidate umpires and opposing players, and are promiscuously used upon the ball field, is vouched for by the almost unanimous assertion of those invited to speak, and who are competent to speak from personal knowledge.

There is some debate about the authenticity of the document. Some historians consider it ludicrous that the National League in 1898 would send out a memo packed with such shocking profanity. Even “damn” would have been written “d____” at the time.

On the other hand, the syntax, punctuation and paper are accurately period, and the League really was freaking about the issue of profanity on the field chasing away the fans and destroying the sport. From February 13th on the Baseball Library’s timeline for 1898:

President John T. Brush of the Cincinnati club dismisses criticism of his proposed league resolution to punish players who use vulgar and obscene language on the field‚ saying newspaper criticism is the result of ignorance.

One other possibility is that the document was indeed written in 1898 but was created as a parody for internal yuks, not as an official memo sent out to all players. Whatever the answer, I just hope it’s real because it’s too awesome not to be.

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Comment by Mike M
2012-06-23 18:46:19

heh, while I was going through your blog one month at a time, I noticed I was skipping many entries. (Didn;t see the “previous posts” link at the bottom left, pointing to the left. So now I gotta start all over! :no: )

I m a HUGE baseball fan, and know just about all there is to know about baseball. Bill James is one of my favorite authors.

The vulgarity in baseball began in the 1880s, about a decade after the National League formed. This behavior reached it’s zenith in the mid-90s.

You can thank the Baltimore Orioles, with John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, and Wee WIllie Keeler.

McGraw played dirty. Very, very dirty. He was always fighting, would block players on the basepaths, and grab players’ belts to slow them down. To give an idea what 1890s baseball was like:

McGraw himself recalled a game in which “the other team had a runner on first who started to steal second, but….spiked our first baseman on the foot. Our man retaliated by trying to trip him. He got away, but at second Heini Reitz tried to block him off while Hughie….covered the bag to take the throw and tag. The runner evaded Reitz and jumped feet first at Jennings to drive him away from the bag. Jennings dodged the flying spikes and threw himself bodily at the runner, knocking him flat. In the meantime the batter hit our our catcher over the hands with his bat so he couldn’t throw, and our catcher trod on the umpire’s feet with his spikes and shoved his big mitt in his face so he couldn’t see the play.”

1890s baseball musta beena lot of fun. :yes:

 
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