Finally… Spring Training.

The daffodils are popping up through the mossy ground outside my rain soaked patio. It’s rained so much this winter that the concrete out there has a slight green hue, one that is more rooted in water as its creator the other green in the yard, but make no mistake it is green out there and green and mid February means one thing, spring and spring means three things for me, one is playoff hockey, two is less rain and three is of course the beginning of baseball…. and with that comes so much more. Games to watch, players to follow, teams to surprise, disappoint and then there’s fantasy ball, Strat-to-matic, box scores and coffee, box scores and beer, west coast games, east coast games, Patriots day game at the dawn of crack on the left coast. There’s a bevy of things to ponder, the Rays, not the Devils Rays, the Nationals new park, all sorts of stuff that is not steroid related…. So if you’re looking for that try Google, they’re good at that sort of thing.

Spring of course starts with images, we as fans all have them, they lull us to sleep or through the day in the long dark hours of winter (and it’s dark up here in Portland, much darker than California where I lived for 20 years, but not as bad as Michigan where I cut my teeth as a child) anyway back to images… in the past (when ballplayers were not rich as crap compared to the average Joe) spring was a time when out of shape men who worked as salesmen or on a farm all winter came to together to hone their skills and bodies back into shape. Often the ways were primitive but hey…. Branch Rickey didn’t invent the sliding pit until 1914.. and for years that was considered odd, the game was about timing most of the time and not pulling muscles, vitamin drinks were mostly malt and hops based and rye was another popular body cleanser, but as we saw on TV last week, putting things in ones body has changed the game and the way it’s perceived.

So as camp begins the game is attempting to recapture some of the wonder that make sit better theater between the lines then in the courtroom. Like the players of yesteryear I am out of baseball shape, writing wise that is, so I’m breaking out the training materials and getting back in the cage to take some swings at the game and spring and nothing brings out the minutia like some spring photos.

With Arizona pushing hard for teams these days it’s hard to believe that Florida let their reign as Spring Training capital take such a hit. Back in the Bouton era it was pretty much Shangri La compared ot the desert. They even had nifty ads in The Sporting News.

Back in 1916, the great war of the day was engulfing Europe and eating up the thoughts of all of America and the press. But once spring came often these reports and thoughts were diverted to the grand old game.

As mentioned before primitive is a kind word for the training tools of the game back then, take this photo below of the old “medicine ball” routine at the Giants camp, note the bulky sweaters and the two ball movement they have going. It’s a wonderful shot of an ear deader then radio dramas.

Even richer is the participants, on the right is Christy Mathewson, several months prior to be traded to the Reds and being installed as manager. In the middle is John McGraw, legend…. What else need be said at this time? On the left is who one would term as the “Nobody” in this photo…but further examination would reveal that it was Rube Benton ( a collective gasp is heard as everyone again says… WHO?)

Rube Benton, pitcher…a man who began and ended his career with the Reds, and is still ranked as one of the teams biggest work horses. Rube is 1 of 24 Reds hurlers to throw over 300 innings in a season and he’s 17th in modern team history in innings thrown with 1504. Making it even more of a rarity is that Rube was a left hander, making him 1 of only 4 lefties to top 300 IP for the Reds in a season.

Some would say he’s just another pitching footnote in Reds team history, Rube was a league average pitcher in an era that rewarded superstar pitchers, it’s no wonder some would think that, it’s the same argument I’ve used against Tom Browning, who also was a league average hurler in an era that rewarded superstar pitchers greatly (not as much as the Deadball era)

INNINGS PITCHED               YEAR     IP      RSAA
1    Noodles Hahn             1901    375.1       24
2    Pete Schneider           1917    342         22
3    Fred Toney               1917    340         14
4    Bob Ewing                1907    333         23
5    Dolf Luque               1923    322         66
6    Noodles Hahn             1902    321         47
7    Bucky Walters            1939    319         58
8    Orval Overall            1905    318         11
9    Ed Scott                 1900    315        -17
10   Eppa Rixey               1922    313         11
11   Bob Ewing                1905    312         22
12   Noodles Hahn             1900    311.1        3
13   Eppa Rixey               1923    309         34
14   Paul Derringer           1938    307         24
T15  Jake Weimer              1906    305         31
T15  Bucky Walters            1940    305         42
17   Dolf Luque               1921    304         13
18   George Suggs             1912    303          5
T19  Rube Benton              1912    302         -1   
T19  Bucky Walters            1941    302         22
T21  Pete Donohue             1925    301         31
T21  Eppa Rixey               1921    301         33
T21  Paul Derringer           1939    301         33
24   Fred Toney               1916    300         11

INNINGS PITCHED                 IP      RSAA
1    Eppa Rixey               2890        174
2    Dolf Luque               2669        182
3    Paul Derringer           2616        102
4    Bucky Walters            2355        160
5    Joe Nuxhall              2171         53
6    Johnny Vander Meer       2027         48
7    Bob Ewing                2021.1      116
8    Pete Donohue             1996         34
9    Tom Browning             1911        -15
10   Jim Maloney              1819        115
11   Red Lucas                1769         53
12   Mario Soto               1730.1       54
13   Noodles Hahn             1678.1      147
14   Gary Nolan               1657        109
15   Bob Purkey               1588         78
16   Jim O'Toole              1561         47
17   Rube Benton              1504.2        5 

When Bob Howsam took over the Reds he was surprised at the lack of quality materials the organization possessed, the office was thin in resources and the team itself was still in the dark ages in some of the training aspects they employed. This photo below is an example of what the Reds were working with in 1966, meanwhile the Dodgers had Dodgertown.


Man… times have changed… and spring is an event in two corners of the country now, because baseball is back.

Just in time.

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