Baseball Urban Legends Revealed #35

This is the thirty-fifth in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous baseball legends.

Let’s begin!

BASEBALL LEGEND: The Boston Braves were named after the members of the Boston Tea Party.

STATUS: False

An interesting part of baseball history that is worth noting is how few of the current baseball team nicknames were used prior to the 20th Century. Don’t get me wrong, some teams certainly do have nicknames going as far back as the 19th Century (I did a piece awhile back here on how the Pittsburgh Pirates gained their nickname in 1890), but most teams had informal nicknames that would often change seemingly at a whim.

The first Boston baseball club is a good example of this, as they entered the National Association in 1871 known informally as the Boston Red Stockings (in honor of the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, who had dissolved following the 1870 season).

In 1876, they joined the newly formed National League and since a new version of the Cincinnati Red Stockings were also in the league, the Boston team became known as the Red Caps (a lot of teams went by the colors of their uniforms). That name stuck for a few years before they began being referred to as the Boston Beaneaters from 1883 until 1906. During this time, the American League had debuted and they had a rival Boston baseball team, known as the Boston Americans. When the Beaneaters dropped red from their uniforms after the 1906 season, the rival Boston team quickly picked it up themselves and became known as the Red Sox.

The newly red-less team now had all-white uniforms, and since their owner’s last name was Dovey, the press quickly dubbed them the Boston Doves in 1907. That name stuck for a few years before they tried the Boston Rustlers in 1911 and then, finally, the name that they would use for almost all of the next century (and still use today), the Boston Braves.

But the origin of the Braves name is a confusing one, especially as the name carries with it controversy (along the lines of other teams named after Native-Americans, like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians). Defenders of the Braves often point out that the name is actually derived from a significant event in United States history, not Native-Americans, namely the famed Boston Tea Party.

Not only is that not true, but the truth is that the team name actually came from a New York organization!

The Boston Tea Party, of course, was a political protest that occurred in Boston in December of 1773. For the previous decade or so, there was a large debate over the importation of tea from Europe. The British Government used taxes on tea to help pay the salaries of Colonial government officials, as they wished to be able to keep control of these officials themselves, rather than allow them to fall under the sway of the colonists. In addition, they wished to make it clear that the British Government had the right, if they so chose, to tax the American colonies. The Tea Act of 1773 actually REDUCED the price of British imported tea in the colonies. To that point, colonists would often import non-taxed Dutch tea, which was cheaper. After the Tea Act, the British tea was actually now cheaper than the smuggled Dutch tea (this was done because there was a massive surplus of tea at the time). The tea would be sold by specially selected merchants, who would sell the tea on consignment. This was partially done so that the tax would be (hopefully) hidden from the public, as the tax would only be paid when the consignees settled up their accounts with the East Indies Tea Company – but the news of the tax did not stay hidden long.

So it was not the monetary cost of the taxes in the Tea Act that caused anger in the colonies, it was the idea of the British government taxing the colonists without the colonists being given elected representation as well as the notion that the taxes would be used to keep colonial officials under British control (a secondary concern was the colonial merchants who made their living off of smuggled Dutch tea, who would now be put out of business by the cheaper, legal tea).

Protests began all over the colonies, and the imported tea was actually sent back in three cities (Charleston, Philadelphia and New York) where protesters compelled the consignees to quit. With no one to accept the tea, the tea was returned.

Massachusetts Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson, however, refused to back down. Two of the consignees in Boston were his own sons, so he insisted that they accept the tea. So protesters, often calling themselves the Sons of Liberty, conspired to find some way to stop the importation. After a series of meetings, they assigned groups of twenty-five men to guard the boat to make sure the tea was not unloaded. The rules of the time stated that cargo must be unloaded within twenty days. The protesters’ plan was to force the twenty days to pass, forcing custom officials to impound the tea (that’s what happened in Philadelphia).

Hutchinson, however, refused to allow the ship to leave and two more ships arrived in Boston Harbor. On the eve of the deadline, where the issue would really have been forced, Samuel Adams led a meeting to discuss their options. It is disputed whether Adams was involved in the actual planning of what came next, but whether he was or not, a group of men (reports have varied widely over the years as to how many men, some say as few as 30, some say as many as 130), many of whom wore “disguises” as members of the Mohawk tribe, boarded the tea ships and destroyed all of the cargo.

This act was a major event in the road to the eventual Declaration of Independence by the colonies.

So defenders of the “Brave” nickname suggest that the nickname came about because of those Sons of Liberty who were dressed as Mohawks. They would, in effect, be “Boston Braves.”

That, however, is not the case.

In actuality, the name came from new owner, James Gaffney, who purchased the team in 1912. Gaffney was a member of the Tammany Society, the mostly Irish wing of the Democratic Party political machine in New York City. The Society was named after a Native American leader of the Lenape tripe, a fellow named Tamanend. The Tammany Society had a picture of an Native American brave as their logo and had a white marble statue of Tamanend on the façade of the building that was their headquarters, Tammany Hall. Boston team president John Montgomery Ward suggested the idea of naming the team after the Tammany logo and everyone agreed.

Gaffney sold the team three years later, but the name stuck. The only time the Braves changed their name was a brief period in the mid 1930s when they had a fan poll that led to them being called the Boston Bees from 1936-1941. From 1941 on, though, they have been the Braves, even after they moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and Atlanta in 1966.

BASEBALL LEGEND: An owner correctly predicted that his stadium would be home to a World Series by 1926 – he just predicted the wrong team!

STATUS: True

Guarantees and bold predictions are nothing new in sports and they really tend not to be remembered all that much (who really remembers Patrick Ewing guaranteeing that the Knicks would win Game 7 against the Pacers in 1995?). Really, unless the guarantees or bold predictions come TRUE, they’re forgotten. But when they DO come true, then we have a different story.

That was the problem with Philip DeCatesby Ball – he made a correct prediction, but his correct prediction looked awful for him!

Ball purchased the St. Louis Browns in 1916.

Ball had previously owned a baseball team in St. Louis in the defunct Federal League.

He is the second man from the left in this photo of league owners.

The Browns were not a particularly good team, but they at least had some young talent. There was a chance that they could be good in the near future. However, one of Ball’s early acts as owner would later come back to haunt his franchise – he allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to share the Browns’ stadium, Sportsman’s Park. The Cardinals then sold their stadium, Robison Field, and used that money to create a state-of-the-art farm system that soon led to the Cardinals having a pletheroa of young good talent.

In 1925, though, the teams did not look all that much apart. Heck, if you had to pick one team between the two for 1926, you might very well pick the Browns, who went 82-71 while the Cardinals went 77-76. In addition, the American League-leading team of 1925, the Washington Senators, had a lot of their team’s fortunes resting on their two ace pitchers, Stan Coveleski and Walter Johnson. The former was 35 years old and the latter was 37, so there was reason to believe that the Senators might come back down to Earth in 1926 (and they DID, as they went 81-69 in 1926). Meanwhile, the National League’s top team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, had no glaring issue going into 1926.

So Ball felt that the time to strike for the public’s attention was now. So after the 1925 season, he completely revitalized Sportsman’s Park, adding 12,000 new seats in expanding the seat capacity from 18,500 to 30,500! The renovations cost half a million dollars, but Ball felt that they were worth it, especially, as he famously pronounced, since Sportsman’s Park was going to host the World Series in 1926!

That’s a fairly innocuous boast, but, again, the problem for Ball is that he wasn’t specific enough – you see, Sportsman’s Park DID host the World Series in 1926 – but it was the CARDINALS who played in it!

Yes, the Cardinals improved to go 89-65 while the Browns went the other direction, finishing 62-92, well behind the New York Yankees, who came out of nowhere (perhaps due to a new first baseman named Lou Gehrig) to win the American League. To add MORE insult to injury, the Cardinals defeated the favored Yankees (the series ended with Babe Ruth getting thrown out trying to steal second) in the World Series.

From that point on, St. Louis was a Cardinal town and by the 1950s, the Browns could not even manage to stay in St. Louis, as they closed up shop and moved to Baltimore to become the Baltimore Orioles.

Ball passed away in 1933, living long enough to see the Cardinals make it to FOUR World Series, winning half of them.

BASEBALL LEGEND: Lou Gehrig lost out on the chance for his first solo home run crown due to a strange play involving the runner in front of him.

STATUS: True

Lou Gehrig ended up leading the American League in home runs twice in his career on top of sharing the title with his teammate, Babe Ruth, in 1931.

However, if it had not been for a bizarre play early in the 1931 season, Gehrig would not have had to wait for his tenth full season in the big leagues before he led the league in dingers.

You see, one day in April, 1931, Lou Gehrig came up to bat in a game against the Washington Senators with Yankee shortstop, Lyn Lary, on first base with two outs.

Here is Lary with a bunch of other Yankees (Lary is the third fellow from the left, Gehrig is the fourth)…

So Gehrig hits a blast to centerfield. The ball was hit SO hard that it actually bounces BACK into the field of play, where the Washington player “catches” it. Lary is rounding second when he sees the centerfielder “catch” the ball, so he heads back to the dugout, figuring the inning is over.

Gehrig, meanwhile, is running hard out of the box (not knowing it got out of the park right away) so he doesn’t realize that Lary ran into the dugout without touching third base or home plate, so when he breaks into his home run trot, he doesn’t understand that he’s about to trot his way into an automatic out!

Somehow, Yankee third base coach Joe McCarthy was asleep at the wheel, because he did not let either player know what was going on.

So once Gehrig touches third base, he is ruled out, as there is a specific rule stating that no runner can pass the runner ahead of him. With Lary not even on the bases, Gehrig ends up “passing” him and therefore his home run is now turned into a long, dramatic OUT!

And therefore, the Yankees go on to lose the game by exactly two runs and Gehrig goes on to only SHARE the home run title with Babe Ruth.

“Luckily,” the loss at least did not affect the Yankees, as they finished well behind first place Philadelphia in the standings.

Thanks to Richard Marazzi’s brilliant work on runner’s rights for the information!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

-Brian Cronin

4 Responses to “Baseball Urban Legends Revealed #35”

  1. Is there some reason why the picture of the league owners is flipped, to make the writing illegible?

    And does that impact which one is the person in question, given each man is actually numbered, 1-5, in the picture?

  2. Good question, Stan, I honestly don’t know why the picture is reversed. However, Ball is still the second guy from the left.

  3. The Braves being so named because of Gaffney’s Tammany Hall connections is so well documented that anyone trying to claim it’s in honor of the Boston tea party has to be willful disinformation.

    The 1871 Boston National Association team being called the Red Stockings owes more to the fact that most of them, including manager Harry Wright, were on the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings than to a desire to honor them.

  4. The St Louis Browns did play in the 1944 World Series…against the Cardinals. The entire Series that year was played in the same stadium. Cardinals won in six.

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