Wednesday, June 30, 2010

$11,000 Beauty or Lemon?

The rookie pitcher, called a "phenom" by the press, took the mound for the first time in a Major League uniform and hoped he could prove that he was worth the record-breaking price his team paid for him. No, this isn't another blog about Stephen Strasburg. This situation took place over 100 years ago when the New York Giants signed Minor League pitcher Rube Marquard of the Indianapolis Browns for $11,000. The previous contract record was $10,000 for Mike "King" Kelly who was a proven Major League ballplayer so the Giants manager John McGraw turned some heads by taking a chance on the young lefty. Marquard and McGraw attempted to leverage this hype and celebrity status throughout the pitcher's lifetime, at times without strict attention to truth. The results ranged from complete humiliation to enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

Marquard came to the Giants during the heated pennant race with Chicago in 1908 and had only thrown a few pitches before the Cubs came to town, just 2 1/2 games back. McGraw tried to intimidate the opposition by having Marquard warm up and walk to the diamond as if he were going to pitch but at the last minute substituted another pitcher who secretly had been warming up. McGraw tried the trick for both games with Chicago and both times his strategy failed. The Cubs beat the Giants 4-3 and 2-1. Giants' fans were growing restless and the following day when Fred Merkle's mistake led to a tie game rather than a Giant win the fans were riotous.

McGraw needed to get the fans' minds off of the Merkle disaster as soon as possible. He turned to his star rookie, the "$11,000 Beauty" as the press called him, to start a game just two days later. The decision was made primarily for public relations and not strategy since the Cincinnati team hit well off of left-handed pitchers. Marquard shared his fear with teammate Christy Mathewson just before taking the mound. According to Mathewson, Marquard said the fans, "were all thinking that McGraw had paid $11,000 for me and now they were to find out whether he had gotten stuck, whether he had picked up a golden brick with the plating on it very thin. I was wondering, myself, whether I would make good." No one had to wonder for long. Mathewson reports "the official scorer got writer's cramp trying to keep track of the hits and runs" and Marquard was taken out in the fifth inning.

The "$11,000 Beauty" became the "$11,00 Lemon" overnight. For the next two years Marquard worked on his confidence and fundamentals. He won just nine games in two years. In 1911 Marquard won 24 games and, finally, the affection of the Giants' fans. Their love grew stronger the following year when he won 19 straight games (a single-season record that still stands today). Marquard used his baseball success to propel himself to celebrity status. He endorsed products, appeared on Broadway and made a silent movie. Long after his baseball career ended Rube still seemed to know the power of public relations and a good story. Marquard's selection for the Hall of Fame in 1971 is often debated. Many argue it had more to do with his captivating tales in the book The Glory of Their Times than statistics. Several of the details about his life in the book have been questioned and proven incorrect.

Sharing moving (and maybe untrue) stories about his life at a crucial time was not a new approach for Marquard. When John McGraw first signed the young pitcher and brought him to New York, the rookie thought he should write a note of introduction to the fans. Larry Mansch reprinted the letter in his book Rube Marquard. While the embellished tales in The Glory of Their Times ultimately paid off and possibly led to his election to the Hall of Fame, the initial hype of Marquard's arrival in New York and McGraw's intimidation tactics backfired.

I personally am not very good at creating the hype for myself like Marquard did. I'm not sure yet if that is good or bad. I know that I have missed out on opportunities that have gone to others who are better at selling themselves. Self-promotion is something I respect when done honestly. Marquard seemed to skirt the line on that. I actually find his own words insightful although I'm not sure he learned from them. In his 1908 letter, Marquard wrote,
"Only once did I try 'living high.' That was after I had begun pitching professional ball. I got the idea I ought to tog myself out in gay raiment, so I took the money I got for pitching and bought a gorgeous suit of clothes. It was a florid cast of countenance, and it made itself heard in the dark, it was so loud. To match it I had a pair of yellow shoes that sneezed like a man with hay fever when I walked. I thought I was the best dressed man in the country till my friends saw me, and then I heard so many things about my appearance that I shook the duds forever."
I have no idea if the story of the suit is true or if Marquard made it up in order to seem more down to earth and less like a high-paid ballplayer. Either way, he seems like a man who would often wear whatever "suit" he needed to wear in order to get ahead. I am more comfortable in my own clothes even if they don't get heard in the dark or sneeze like a man with hay fever. But, this way I'll probably never get in the hall of fame. I suppose there's a balance somewhere in the middle?

1 comment:

  1. Myka,

    That is a wonderful article with information about Marquard that I hadn't known before. He was the last surviving T206 baseball card player...anyways, I really like your writing and your unique "voice".



Web Statistics