Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cliff Carroll Is The Reason

Among the abnormal incidents that figured in the earlier history of the national game, perhaps none is as well known to old-timers as the one which happened to Cliff Carroll, on the St. Louis grounds, when he was a member of the famous "Browns." Perhaps you have wondered why baseball players have plain shirt fronts, and why so few players have breast pockets. Cliff Carroll is the reason. He was running forward to take a base hit on the first bound. The ball bounced crooked and hit him on the chest. He grabbed at the ball hastily and, as he clutched it, he shoved it down into the handkerchief pocket on his shirt front. The runner saw Carroll tugging and straining to tear the ball out of the pocket and instead of stopping at first, he sprinted on to second while Carroll, still trying to dislodge the ball, ran to second. The batter passed the fielder and turned for third with Carroll in pursuit. At third Carroll stopped and tried in vain to release he ball, and the runner kept on across the plate and scored the winning run. Chris Von der Ahe, who at the time was at the head of the euphonic trio, Von der Ahe, Muckenfuss, and Diddlebock, which operated the club, was furious and ordered all pockets removed from baseball shirts. Other teams followed and the pockets never have been restored, except by a few players who are willing to risk the repetition of the accident.
-From Freak Plays That Decide Baseball Championships by Hugh Fullerton

Fullerton's article appeared in Volume LXXIV of The American Magazine in 1912. Al Spink, in The National Game, tells much the same story under the heading Why Von Der Ahe Would Not Allow His Players To Wear Pockets in Uniforms:

Way back in '89 Cincinnati was playing one afternoon with Chris Von Der Ahe's aggregation on the St. Louis grounds.

Cincinnati had a man on first base and two out, and needed two runs to win.

Cliff Carroll was playing center field for the St. Louis nine.

The Cincinnati batter hit a slow grounder to center and Carroll ran up to gather it in.

The situation was ticklish and Carroll prepared to field the ball carefully. He squatted down to meet it and got his hands in position. Just before it reached him the ball hit a clump of dirt and bounded high.

Carroll grabbed for it with both hands, just as it hit him in the chest.

Somehow in the struggle the ball was wedged into the pocket of Carroll's uniform shirt. It got in there, and Cliff had a terrible time trying to get it out.

The runner stopped at second long enough to see that something was the matter. Then he started for third, with Carroll running fast after him still digging away at his shirt pocket.

From third the runner started home, Carroll still close behind him and still unable to seperate himself from the ball.

The result was that the runner got home safely and Cincinnati won the game.

Von Der Ahe almost had a fit. He fined Carroll fifty for putting the ball in his pocket and made a rule that thereafter no pockets of any kind should be allowed in the uniforms of his team.

Cliff Carroll is probably best remembered for two things. First, he was a switch hitter at a time when switch hitting was still fairly rare (although becoming more common). Second, Carroll, along with Paul Hines, was one of the two men that Tim Keefe hit to start the 1884 "World Series" between Providence and New York. I guess he's also remembered as a member of the Providence championship club of 1884 and as the guy who got a ball stuck in his pocket. So Cliff Carroll is probably best remembered for four things.

If the "ball stuck in the pocket" story is true (and I have no reason to doubt it other than it smacks of the tall tale), it couldn't have happened in 1889 as Spink stated. In 1889, Carroll was not actually in the major leagues. His only season with the Browns was in 1892.

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