|New York Daily Tribune - May 8, 1910|
For fear of misunderstanding, it should be remembered that the Hades of ancient mythology was not, like our Hell, reserved for bad spirits only. The shades of the good went there also, existing without discomfort, but the wicked shades suffered tortures.
By Jim Nazium.
Time was dragging heavily along the River Styx. The shades of the souls that had left the upper world and been ferried across the great river by old Charon had exhausted their means of entertainment, and as Ben Franklin, the shade who edited the local paper, said editorially, something would have to be done to help put in the time during the coming summer.
Thus it was that Mike Kelly, a shade who had enjoyed some little notoriety in the American National game before he crossed the Styx, came out with a proposition to organize the River Styx Baseball League, for the purpose of playing games during the summer for the entertainment of the numerous shades who gather at this well known way station on the line of the under world.
Some of the foreign shade who didn’t know anything about baseball didn’t think much of the idea at first. Henry Irving thought a dramatic club, with daily matinees, would be of more interest, while Demosthenes wanted to start a lecture course, and Spartacus and Hercules were for opening up an athletic club and holding prizefights.
The controversy was finally settled at a public meeting, presided over by Julius Caesar, by adopting all these suggestions, inasmuch as one form of entertainment would not interfere with the other, baseball forming the entertainment during the afternoons and lectures, theatricals and prizefights for the evening hours.
At a separate meeting held for the purpose of organizing the River Styx Baseball League and placing the contesting clubs in the field, Mike Kelly made a stirring speech, in which he showed that they had the material along the Styx for getting together the strongest circuit of baseball teams ever organized.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I think you’ll all be willing to admit that I was no slouch myself in my day. Some of the new arrivals here tell me that the papers up above are still printing stories about the stunts I used to pull off on the baseball lots. It was only yesterday that I met a ‘fan’ from Pittsburgh who had just come over the river on Charon’s old boat, and he told me that they are measuring catchers yet up there by the standard I set in the old days, and that this guy Johnny Kling, whom they mad so much fuss about getting reinstated, is a piker compared to what I was. I’m not handing this out, gentlemen, in a spirit of boasting, but just to show you that I know what I’m talking about when I say that we’ve got better material here, with a little coaching, than anything now wearing spikes in the big leagues up above.
“I’ve been having some late baseball dope from the upper world slipped to me by the late arrivals here, as I’m a little rusty on the late news, and they tell me that the ‘fans’ are all dippy up there over the work of a Dutchman named Hans Wagner, from Pittsburg, and a guy named Ty Cobb, up in Detroit. Ive got the batting averages of these guys here, and you can take it from me we’ve got several fellows here who can wipe up the lot with ‘em when it comes to walloping the ball. Any guy in the house who wants to take a be on this can get it, and that goes all season.
“What do you suppose Christy Mathewson or Three-Finger Brown or George Mullin would do when Hercules and Samson and Goliath came up to the bat in a row? The chances are that the infielders would be backing up against the outfield fence to keep from getting their blocks knocked off. There isn’t a baseball lot on the circuit up there big enough to keep the slams of these heavy hitter of ours inside the grounds. You can take if from me, if Samson or Hercules ever landed on their star pitchers up there they’d tear down the outfield fences.
“Then here’s our friend Mercury, the wing-footed kid. What chance would any of those bum catchers up there have to throw him out stealing? I’m willing to gamble a hundred to one that Mercury can steal second and third on one pitch against any catcher that ever crawled into a wind-pad. And we’ve got some other fellows here that can go some, too. Here’s Philippides, who ran himself to death at Marathon, and we’ve got a lot of fellows here who did some pretty fair running at Bull Run. I guess we’ll be fast enough on the bases, all right.
“Take it from me, gentlemen, you’re going to see baseball along this little old River Styx this summer the like of which you’ve never seen pulled before. Think of this for a batting order: Mercury, as a fast man, to lead off; the heady Plato to hit next and advance the runner, although Mercury won’t need any assistance in order to get around the bases; and then Samson, Hercules and Goliath coming next to clean up. Say! that’s enough to give any pitcher palpitation of the heart.
“And just imagine what a shortstop we can make out of Geryones, our gigantic Greek friend, who has three heads, three bodies, six hands and six feet. I’d like to see any guy slam a hit through the infield with a shortstop like that on the job. You can take my tip, with three weeks’ coaching I’ll have Geryones covering that whole infield with his six feet and six hands and picking them off the first base line.
“Then here’s Ulysses, who had the best throwing arm ever seen at the old Greek games, for a star pitcher, and I guess Goliath here can tell you that David is no slouch with that sling of his. With that control of his David ought to help a lot in the pitcher’s box.
“There are others here too numerous to mention who ought to make a big hit in baseball. There’s Atlas, who has quite a reputation for handling the ball, and Ajax and Hiawatha, whom Longfellow here says can step a mile at a clip with his magic shoes on. Maybe that Hiawatha kid won’t cover some ground in the outfield. I only mention these few to show you, gentlemen, that we’ve got class here if it is only developed, and that the River Styx League won’t have to take a back seat for any of ‘em.
“Our greatest trouble, however, will be to find a man down here to act as umpire. I would suggest that we send our friend Diogenes out with his lantern to look up a good man for the job.”
Then Ed Delehanty and Ezra Sutton rose and volunteered to help Mike Kelly coach the various teams of the league and show them the science of the game, and Charon offered the suggestion that as the scientific end of the game had made such wonderful progress lately it might be well to send a few representatives to the upper world occasionally to watch the big league games there and keep in touch with the situation. Being shades, these representatives from the Styx would be invisible, and could even sit on the bench with the different teams up there and overhear their conversation and secret discussions. Charon said he would risk having his ferry franchise taken away from him by breaking his agreement and taking these representatives back into the upper world, and if games could be arranged between the team winning the championship of the River Styx League and the one winning the world’s championship in the upper world, he was willing to take a chance at ferrying the team and any “fans” from the Styx who wanted to take in the games over the river and into the world they had formerly lived in.
This announcement created such enthusiasm for baseball along the River Styx that all opposition faded away and the league went through with a whoop.
The following Saturday “The Styx Weekly Gossip,” Dr. Samuel Johnson, editor, came out with an announcement in red ink on its front page that owing to the increased interest in baseball “The Gossip” had increased its staff by employing Charles Dickens, Home and Carlyle to dish up the sporting dope. This was considered quite a beat over Ben Franklin’s paper, “The Advocate,” But Ben came right back at his contemporary by hiring Thackeray, Dryden and Omar Khayyam to look after his sporting page. It was evident that the “fans” along the River Styx were going to get the baseball dope handed to them in proper shape.
As Mike Kelly had predicted, a great deal of difficulty attended the question of procuring an umpire. But this question, too, was settled by Diogenes coming into the league headquarters one day leading George Washington by the hand and reporting that George was willing to act in that capacity.
The organization of the league was finally completed with four clubs, the Elysian Live Wires, the Brimstone Reds, the Sulfur Stars and the Hades Hornets, playing on alternate days. Solomon was unanimously elected president of the league to settle all disputes, and Horatio, who had worked up a reputation by effectually holding a bridge against all comers, was appointed official gate keeper.
When opening day arrived the whole population along the banks of the Styx flocked to the grounds.
The game was scheduled between the Hades Hornets and the Sulphur Stars, and the following batting order of the teams appeared on the scorecards:
Mercury, l. f.
Plato, r. f.
Goliath, 1 b.
Geryones, s. s.
Hector, 2 b.
Atlas, 3 b.
Spartacus, c. f.
Hiawatha, c. f.
Philippides, r. f.
Ursus, l. f.
Hercules, 1 b.
Thor, 2 b.
Socrates, s. s.
Ezra Sutton, 3 b.
When Umpire George Washington announced the batteries and threw out a brand new baseball, which David began to rub in the dirt before pitching, the great crowd fairly held its breath with expectancy. But when Mercury, the wing-footed kid, stepped up to the plate with his bat, and David, adjusting the ball in his sling, shot one over which Washington called a strike, the roosters cut loose with such a yell that Mary Queen of Scots nearly fell out of the grandstand.
Mars tried to jump on to the field to lick the umpire, as he said the ball was two feet over Mercury’s head, and Washington ought to have his eyes examined if he thought it was a strike.
Then David lost the location of the plate and walked Mercury. The wing-footed kid never hesitated a minute, but started to steal on the first ball pitched, and showed such a burst of speed that he swiped both second and third before the ball chugged into the catcher’s mitt. Cyclops, the one-eyed giant catcher of the Stars, couldn’t even see him, let alone throw him out.
This looked like a clinch for the Hornets. But Plato bunted at the next ball pitched and popped up a little fly, which David nabbed and doubled up Mercury, that speedy kid having such a lead that he had no chance to get back to third.
Then Goliath came up with a telegraph pole for a bat and the outfielders began climbing the fences. But he never got a chance to swing his club, as David soaked him between the eyes with the first pitch and knocked him flat as a pancake. David explained that he never could help hitting that fellow Goliath between the eyes.
With Goliath on first, Samson came up to the plate with a jawbone instead of the customary baseball bat, and a dispute arose as to whether he should be allowed to use it to bat with. It was referred to Solomon to decide by Washington, and Solomon allowed Samson to go through with it, inasmuch as he done his best hitting with a jawbone.
David showed his noodle a little here by determining to walk Samson and take a chance on Geryones, the six-handed giant who followed. That kind of hitters all coming up in a row was enough to give any pitcher less cool and collected than David a brainstorm.
David’s headwork was all right, but he miscalculated Samson’s reach. On the third ball pitched Samson reached out and caught it square on the pickle with his jawbone. The ball burnt a blue streak through the atmosphere a mile over the centre field fence, and the Hornet rooters got up on their hind legs and let out a yell that caused the seismograph at Washington to jump clear off the map and started another earthquake panic in San Francisco.
But these rooters hadn’t taken into consideration that Hiawatha, the guy who could step a mile at a clip with his magic shoes on, was playing the centre field job for the Stars. At the crack of the jawbown Hiawatha went over into the next county in one jump, clearing the centre field fence by half a mile. With the aid of a powerful field glass, Umpire Washington followed the flight of the ball and saw a figure leap into the air from the hilltop two miles out in the country and pull it out of the clouds. Hiawatha had pulled off the most remarkable catch ever seen on any ball grounds, robbing Samson of a home run and the Hornets of two scores.
It had now become as plain as a wart on a debutante’s nose that it was no ordinary brand of baseball that was to be dished up on the “fans” along the River Styx, and Homer and Thackeray and the rest of the able sporting writers in the press box began to feel that they could let themselves out a little in their descriptive introductions. Ever Baron Munchausen began to feel that he would have to get busy and invent some new ones in order to keep in the public eye.
The Sulphur Stars failed to score in their half of the first, although Hiawatha, first up, bunted and beat the ball, but he stepped too far with that enormous stride of his and overran first and was touched out by the right fielder.
Not a clean hit was made by either side up till the eighth inning, owing to the remarkable fielding back of both pitchers. Hercules slammed one over left field at a mile-a-minute clip in the fifth inning, but Mercury flapped his wings and soared up into the atmosphere a few hundred yards and ran it down before it touched the ground. Geryones was all over the infield with his six feet, robbing the Stars of everything that looked like a hit. With this kind of backing up the pitchers pitched gild-edged ball. Socrates, while not so much of an athlete as his remarkable associates, could figure things out with such a nicety that he always played the batters well and manged to be in the right spot when the ball was hit.
In the eighth Thor came up with his famous hammer and hammered one at Goliath that the giant muffed. Socrates followed by outguessing the infield and scratching a hit into an open spot, and after Ezra Sutton and David had fanned Hiawatha hit a high fly that Atlas tried to catch on his shoulder after his fashion of handling a ball, but Washington wouldn’t allow the put out, and Thor counted the first run of the game.
In their half of the ninth the Hornets went them one better and won the game. After Mercury and Plato had fanned, David soaked Goliath between the eyes with a pitched ball, as he had done every time the giant came up. Then Samson walloped one with his jawbone that tore the cover off the ball, and before the outfielders could collect the fragments of the mangled sphere both Goliath and Samson had crossed the plate.
The Stars failed to score in their half, so the first game of the season in the River Styx League ended in a victory for the Hades Hornets.
That evening all four teams of the league attended a prizefight between Hercules and Antaeus as guests of the Elysian Athletic Club. It was sure a big day along the River Styx, and all the shades began to perk up and take more interest in their surroundings.
images and text from Library of Congress