Posts Tagged ‘John McGraw’

100th Anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s First At Bat

April 8, 2013

Sunday marks another milestone in sports history: Jim Thorpe’s first major league at bat. A year to the day after being selected for the 1912 U. S. Olympic team, on Monday, April 14, 1913, Jim Thorpe made his major league debut by pinch hitting for spitballer Charles Monroe “Jeff” Tesreau in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 3 to 2 loss to the Giants’ cross-town rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers. He made an out.

However, he started out spring training much better. In a 6-inning split-squad game played at the Giants’ camp in Marlin Springs, Texas on February 28, he hit a three-run homer and singled off the afore-mentioned Jeff Tesreau. On March 5, Frank Demaree struck out Thorpe on a “wide bender” for Thorpe’s first strike out in spring training. Perhaps, this was the origin of the belief that Jim couldn’t hit a curve ball.

On March 12, he hit a long home run off Christy Matthewson, one of First Five inductees into baseball’s hall of fame in Cooperstown. But his fielding was considered weak and his hitting inconsistent. A March 14 wire service item quoted McGraw: “Muggsy of Gotham opines that Injun Jim Thorpe is one of the rawest ever. Raw red skin!” Pop Warner suggested that a year or two of seasoning in the minor leagues under skillful coaching would have helped Thorpe immensely. Instead, McGraw kept him with the Big League team to capitalize on his popularity.

Newspapers reported that John McGraw planned to cut short Thorpe’s $6,000 per year contract after the Giants made their first western road trip. McGraw may not have realized he had not signed Thorpe to a standard National League contract at this time. Pop Warner authored the non-standard contract, which went into effect on April 10, 1913, the Giants’ opening day that year. But that is another story.

Thorpe in Giant uniform 1913


Thorpe Was Also A Hockey Player

July 19, 2012

A January 25, 1913 newspaper article, that I happened upon while searching for something else, discussed something about Jim Thorpe that I hadn’t heard before and was probably lost to history. It is well known that the Cincinnati Reds wanted to sign Thorpe to a professional baseball contract about that time. What isn’t widely known is that another professional team in a different league in a different sport in a different country also wanted Thorpe and, if the reporter was correct, was negotiating with him to sign a contract.

Pop Warner wrote in some detail how he negotiated an exceptionally good contract for Thorpe with John McGraw of the New York Giants baseball team and how the other major league teams wanted him but baseball was the only sport he mentioned in that context. However, the Middletown Daily Times-Press suggested that he might be turning pro in another sport in the article under the headline, “Jim Thorpe May Take Up Professional Hockey.” It reported that Thorpe was negotiating at that time with the Tecumseh team of Toronto. “When questioned W. J. Bellingham, president of the Tecumseh Hockey Club, practically admitted that he was negotiating with Thorpe, but declined to enter into particulars.” Regarding Thorpe’s position, “It is reported that Thorpe will not turn professional unless he receives an ironbound contract calling for a handsome stipend.”

A few factors influenced the outcome, or lack thereof, of these negotiations: 1) They hadn’t seen Thorpe play hockey. He was probably very good, but hiring him sight unseen implies that they were, perhaps, most interested in him as a drawing card, 2) A hockey team of that day couldn’t compete salary-wise with a major league baseball team that was willing to pay Thorpe an exorbitant salary, and 3).Hockey season wouldn’t start until the late fall and Thorpe wanted money sooner so he could get married.