Mythology in Baseball History

Rube Foster: Did he really teach the fadeaway pitch to Christy Mathewson?

Speaking of subjects that are way too big for any singular blog column, “mythology in baseball history” probably sits at the mountaintop of those that fit the thesis that such topics even exist. That being said, we shall give it a humble try, anyway.

Why does the subject even matter? Easy. We may as well be asking: What does the game’s attraction feed upon? It isn’t the mere tonnage of stats generated by the game, or the base line scores of all past World Series games. None of these detailed facts even matter unless … unless they spring from or generate some new myth, or some sensational fact that eventually shall evolve into a myth that almost all fans know or help distort further and higher onto some new accepted level of factual assimilation.

Perception is reality, right? Well, it isn’t really, if you break down reality on the basis of discernible and measurable facts, but it sure puts a lot of individually constructed realities on collision courses with each other, which is often. We humans are much more comfortable with the fly-by-our-eyes assumption that how we see things is the way they are – and many are prepared to fight in defense of that idea. Now, given that little hot tonic of human tendency, myths are often the “the straw that stirs the drink” of argument.

One of the lesser known myths in baseball history concerns Rube Foster, the great old Negro League pitcher and later founder of the 1920 Negro National League. Legend has it that New York Giants manager John McGraw once hired Rube Foster to teach the fadeaway, or screwball, pitch to a young hurler named Christy Mathewson. That would be a great fact to nail down, but it cannot. As with almost all myths, the original source of this idea cannot be discernibly identified – nor has extensive research turned up anything in writing from that era to confirm it ever happened. The Foster-Mathewson Connection will continue to hang there on the myth rack of baseball history and, every now and then, someone will write about it as though it actually happened as a proven fact – thus, pumping up the perception’s credibility as pure reality.

Got that?

My guess is that “Ruth’s Called Shot” at Wrigley Field in the 1932 World Series is probably the biggest revered facts-challengeable myth in baseball history, right behind the Red Sox’ infamous “Curse of the Bambino,” which offers no hope for logical proof or disproof beyond the acceptance or rejection of logical thinking itself.

Did Babe Ruth really predict when and where he would hit a home run as he stood in the batter’s box at Wrigley Field that famous day? Just about the time we seemed on our way to putting this one to bed as a practical joke that even Ruth had prolonged for the fun of it a few years ago, a man comes up with a grainy home movie that he claims his grandfather took of Babe Ruth during that time at bat against Charlie Root. The movie clip clearly shows Babe Ruth raising his arm and pointing somewhere in the direction of center field.

Now the called-shot beast will never die.

Happy baseball fact-finding, folks. And try to remember something that even baseball research scholars seem to too often forget: When you see something in print, that fact alone doesn’t make the information true – nor does it make the author of this material either an authority or a primary source. These are the basic facts that serve as the foundational platform for all investigative reading, but they don’t scream out loud for themselves unless you bury them deep in your own researcher bones.

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