Sunday, April 08, 2007

Curve ball

After things started to quiet down around the house on Easter afternoon, I resumed my research on my next book project, a biography of Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk.

Turns out that Ray and the New York Telegram, both deceased, threw me a couple of curve balls that cost me a couple of hours of research time.

In 1929, Schalk described for the New York paper one of the funniest things he ever observed on a baseball diamond.

The situation involved an apparent Washington Senators home run that wasn't. It seems that baserunner Frank Ellerbe hearing the crowd react after teammate Ed Gharrity sent a long drive to left field, thought Chicago's Shoeless Joe Jackson had made a great catch to end the inning. (Actually, the ball cleared the fence on the fly.) Ellerbe stopped running the bases and headed to his defensive position, shortstop, and passed Gharrity, who was making his home-run trot. Passing a teammate is an automatic out, and Gharrity was credited with being the first man to end an inning on a home run.

In the article, the year of the incident was wrong, and the names of the two Senators were misspelled. That makes it tough to do accurate Internet searches. Finally, after straightening out the name spellings, and re-thinking my search parameters, I found accounts of the incident -- which occurred two years later than Schalk stated (1920 instead of 1918). In addition, sportswriters' accounts at the time differed from Schalk's recollection more than eight years later.

The moral of the story is that even witnesses get their facts wrong and that journalists -- then, as now -- can be challenged by name spellings.

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