Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

A regular season sports game as a NYT front page headline

Ostensibly, the focus of this website is to highlight the most interesting articles from the New York Times Magazine 100 years ago to the week. But when going back to the November 6, 1921 issue, something on the front page caught my eye. And since I determined it was more interesting than anything from that issue’s actual magazine, I’m going to take a one-installment-only break from tradition to focus on that front page instead.

The upper-left headline was about a sports game. Not the World Series. Not the Super Bowl, which wouldn’t even occur until 1967. Not the World Cup, which wouldn’t occur until 1930. Rather, it was a Princeton vs. Harvard college football game… and a regular season game, at that.

Sure, the game had a bit of a narrative: Princeton avenging their 1911 loss, which was apparently a legendary game at the time, though it’s little remembered today. And the 50,000 attendance at the 1921 rematch was surely quite high for a college football game at the time. Today, though, the largest college football stadium by capacity is University of Michigan’s Michigan Stadium at 107,601.

The Princeton football headline even appeared a bit higher than another seemingly-more-important headline: the Senate’s vote on a proposal to pay bonuses to World War I veterans, which was rejected by 28-38.

The New York Times of today would never put a sports story as their upper-left headline. I’m having trouble locating it at the moment, but I seem to recall that the release of the official report determining that Lance Armstrong had indeed cheated during his Tour de France victories made the Times front page, though I believe in the bottom half (“below the fold”) if memory serves? But having a sports headline as essentially their top headline would just be unfathomable for the publication in the 21st century.

 

 

Princeton Victor Over Harvard in Thrilling Struggle (PDF)

Published: Sunday, November 6, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

November 7th, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Sports

‘Heroes by Any Other Name’

This 1921 article was already calling Babe Ruth a “legend,” even though he hadn’t even won his first MVP award yet.

I think most people are hero worshippers, don’t you? Only nowadays they do not pick their heroes from the ranks of soldiers and senators. Five years of war gave us no outstanding figure, but one year of peace gave us Babe Ruth! Foch merely saved the world. The Babe has founded a legend. His is the fame of Ulysses and Charlemagne and Chaplin. His deeds will be told from father to son. His place in history is secure. He’s a hero.

That prediction came true, as Ruth remains one of the most famous athletes ever, even today. Similarly, the one other contemporary reference in that excerpt, Charlie Chaplin, remains one of the most famous movie stars ever.

But 1921 was before Ruth won his lone Most Valuable Player award in 1923before Ruth’s famous called shot home run in 1932, before his iconic (though possibly apocryphal) line about how he justified earning more money than President Hoover during the Great Depression because “I had a better year.”

Reminds me of when Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf in 1993 called Michael Jordan “the greatest athlete to ever play a team sport”… and then MJ went on to win another three championships and two more MVP awards after that.

Also, the idea that World War I produced “no outstanding figure” is sad but perhaps true. Arguably the most famous such figure may have been Alvin York, the Medal of Honor-winning soldier whose life story was turned into the movie Sergeant York, which won Gary Cooper the 1942 Academy Award for Best Actor. Still, if you ask the average 12-year-old (let’s say), they’ve probably heard of Ruth but probably not York.

 

‘Heroes by Any Other Name’ (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 2, 1921

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October 3rd, 2021 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Life,Sports

The Popularizing of Polo

This 1921 article said polo was gaining popularity, with 5,000 attending that year’s national championship in Philadelphia.

At 2019’s last pre-pandemic championship in Palm Beach, the crowd was a “near-sellout”… at a 1,640-seat venue.

What went wrong over the past century? According to this article by Michael Barr for Texas Escapes, tracing the history of the sport’s rise and fall in the Lone Star State, the economic crash of the 1930s changed everything:

Polo grew in popularity throughout the 1920s…. Then came the Great Depression, and polo’s popularity with the general public declined. The sport seemed pretentious and extravagant at a time when many Americans were out of work and didn’t have enough to eat. And polo’s reputation never recovered, even in the economic boom of the post-war years.

Golf has long been considered a high-class sport as well, yet the sport’s popularity boomed with the ’90s-2000s superstardom of Tiger Woods, as January’s HBO documentary Tiger so effectively documented. Perhaps if polo could mint even just one certified superstar, that could begin to change its fortunes around. Think of skateboarding transforming from an underground subculture to part of the mass culture also in the ’90s-2000s, thanks largely to Tony Hawk.

 

The Popularizing of Polo (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 25, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

September 24th, 2021 at 11:21 am

Posted in Sports

College Sports and Motherhood

In 1921, some people argued, letting young women play college sports would make them worse mothers down the line:

The Victorian girl was a better mother than our modern feminine athletes. Every girl, it seems, has a large store of vital and nervous energy, upon which to draw in the great crisis of motherhood. If the foolish virgin uses up this deposit account in daily expenditures on the hockey field or tennis court, as a boy can afford to do, then she is left bankrupt in her great crisis and her children have to pay the bill.

Is there something in this idea, or is it merely a manifestation of the recurrent nostalgia for the Good Old Days (whether of edible mammoths, knightly jousts or genteel females), which no generation can escape?

A century later, Serena Williams, Lisa LeslieMia Hamm, Brandi ChastainChris Evert, Mary Lou Retton, and Bonnie Blair will tell you: it was the latter.

 

College Sports and Motherhood (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 3, 1921

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July 2nd, 2021 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Life,Sports

Woman at the Ring Side

Boxing was illegalized in New York state in 1896, then legalized in 1911, then re-illegalized in 1917, then re-legalized for the final time in 1920. And this time, something was new: women were attending the matches.

Spurred on partly by the previous year’s ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women voting rights previously reserved for men, women also sought admission to a group previously nearly all-male: boxing spectators. As this 1921 article described:

Scattered through the audience are all grades of femininity — from the stout blond sportswoman who sits on the bleachers at the races and gets her “tips” from a friend that’s married to a jockey, to a box full of the best New York society… Boxing bouts have been taken up by all sorts of women — from Anne Morgan, who would turn their proceeds into the useful channels of war relief, to the two little shopgirls, powdering their noses at the Garden, who have been brought by their men friends to see the show.

Why were women taking to this sport above many other sports? The article suggests, with a more-than-patronizing subtext, that it was essentially because women would have a harder time understanding any of the other sports.

Women are at the fights to stay… because at a boxing bout no special education is required to understand what is going on, because what the contestants are trying to do to each other is so direct and simple. The uninitiatied lady asks no questions of her escort. That alone should be enough to give permanency to the new custom of taking her. The contestants so conveniently carry their goals with them that she can’t get mixed up about which side is winning. And, even if she does lose count, there are the simple remarks of her neighbors to save the day.

Imagine telling somebody in 1921 to forget about women merely watching boxing, but that women’s boxing itself would one day become an Olympic sport. While men’s boxing had been an event in the Games since 1904, women’s boxing was added in 2012.

 

Woman at the Ring Side (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 30, 2021

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

January 29th, 2021 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Sports

Harding, Baseball Fan

Future President Warren Harding’s “front porch campaign” of 1920 rendered him unable to attend a Major League Baseball game, as he usually did each summer. So on September 2, they brought a game to him.

The Chicago Cubs came to Harding’s hometown of Marion, Ohio to play an exhibition game against a semi-pro local team, the Kerrigan Tailors. With 5,000 in attendance, Harding pitched for the Tailors against the first (and only the first) opposing batter, including a first pitch strike as determined by “a charitable umpire.” The Cubs won 3-1.

A few weeks prior, Harding explained his love of the sport in this New York Times article:

“Baseball is one of our finest institutions… No other sport of which I know so well expresses the genius of our land. It affords every opportunity to express the individual merit of particular stars, and yet it does not glorify the individual unduly at the expense of the community. The dominant motive is teamwork. It affords an apotheosis for the get-together and pull-together spirit. It is a wonderful curative for the ills that come from the overdevelopment of the ego.”

He also invested in more than half a dozen baseball teams:

“In former years when Marion had a ball club I was always interested in it financially, although we never made any money and from the mere standpoint of the ledger it might have been called a loss. Although I never got back directly any of the money that I invested in Marion ball clubs, I never considered the money lost. I always considered it a finer investment than I might have made in some other enterprises which would have paid a more tangible profit.”

Harding also recalled his own personal best baseball play:

Then along late in the game I had the misfortune to knock a two-bagger. At least the coaches along the sidelines insisted it was a two-bagger, and even yet I can hear the yells that greeted me as I started to run. It was made very plain to me that the fate of Marion and perhaps even my own future right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness depended upon my reaching second base. I did reach second base, but at what a cost! I felt the effects of that slide for two weeks.”

The incumbent president has an interesting history with the sport.

Donald Trump claimed that in high school he was the best baseball player in New York state and was scouted by the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, but Slate investigation of contemporary box scores and interviews with former teammates found most of Trump’s claims false. Trump wasbooed by fans at Nationals Park when attending a World Series game in 2019. And he is currently the first president not to throw out a first pitch at a Major League Baseball game since William Howard Taft in 1910. (Although Trump did throw out an honorary first pitch pre-presidency, at a 2006 Yankees vs. Red Sox game at Fenway Park.)

 

Harding, Baseball Fan: Republican Nominee Has Played First Base on the Marion Team, and Helped Support It Later — He Loves the Partisanship of the Diamond (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 8, 1920

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

August 13th, 2020 at 7:01 am

Posted in Politics,Sports

Tennis, A World Sport Epidemic

In 1920, one of the fastest-growing U.S. sports was tennis. From 2010 to 2018, though, the sport’s U.S. participation rate declined -5%.

First, 1920. This contemporary article, which uses the spelling “racquet” when describing the equipment, says tennis is “the game that… is gaining popularity more rapidly than ever.”

The 1920 article’s estimate of “more than three million tennis players in this country” meant roughly 2.8% of the population at the time. The most recent annual report from the Tennis Industry Association estimates 17.8 million Americans played tennis in 2018, or about 5.4% of the population.

So the percentage of the population playing tennis has roughly doubled in the past century. That’s the good news for the sport. The bad news it that the trend lines have reversed since 2010, with tennis participation declining by -5% from 2010 to 2018, following a +44% increase from 2000 to 2010.

It probably doesn’t help that no American male has won any of the sport’s four major annual “Grand Slam” titles — the U.S. Open, Australian Open, French Open, or Wimbledon — since Andy Roddick in 2003.

 

 

Tennis, A World Sport Epidemic: In This Country All Ages and Both Sexes Are Wielding the Racquet With Increasing Joy and Skill (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 6, 1920

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

June 4th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Sports

Making Men Mentally Fit for Football

Could going out and goofing off the night before a big sports game help players perform better? Cornell football coach Al Sharpe thought so, and tested his theory before the big 1913 rivalry game versus UPenn.

Twenty times in the twenty years prior to the then-approaching battle the teams of these two great universities had met on the football gridiron, and only once had Cornell scored a victory. “Going to Philadelphia for the annual slaughter,” was the parting shot of the Ithacan villagers each year.

Then Al Sharpe took hold.

He suggested a different pre-game tactic:

Imagine their sensation when, upon ascertaining all were present, Al Sharpe addressed them substantially as follows:

“Men, I want every one of you to chase out of this hotel. Go to theatres. Do anything you fancy will entertain you. And don’t dare to show your heads in here before midnight if you expect to get into tomorrow’s game.”

Did it work?

As might be expected, the members of the Cornell football squad slept long and late on the morning of the game. In fact, they awakened only in time to consume a very late breakfast before departing for Franklin Field and their game of games. The nervous, draggy hours that had furnished other Cornell teams with nothing but worries and doubts concerning their ability to defeat the oft-conquering Pennsylvania teams had passed, and before such doubts could formulate in their minds the game had begun.

Cornell won.

The success continued:

Cornell, under Al Sharpe, won the 1914 game from Pennsylvania, also, and the 1915 game as well, and incidentally, in the last-named year, won a clean-cut victory over Harvard, a university Cornell never before had defeated on the gridiron.

Although this 1919 article was too prim to mention it, does “Do anything you fancy will entertain you” include sex? If it did, then it probably wouldn’t have hurt athletic performance either, despite a long-held myth that sex impedes subsequent athletic performance. A study last year in The Journal of Sexual Medicine by researches at California State University, San Marcos, found sex didn’t impede athletic performance.

Making Men Mentally Fit for Football: Gridiron Battles Depend Only in Part Upon Physical Condition, as Is Shown by These Anecdotes of Some Famous Coaches (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 19, 1919

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October 17th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Sports

Betting on Horse Races, Then and Now

In 1919, horse race betting was banned in every state. How times have changes. Horse betting is now legal in 41 states.

If you’re wondering, what are the places where it still remains illegal? Interestingly, it doesn’t appear to fall along partisan lines, with a curious mix of red states, blue states, and swing states still outlawing the practice: Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington D.C.

(In 1919, Kentucky and Maryland were the only two states which allowed an adjacent form of horse race betting called pari-mutuel, in which people bet against each other rather than against the race track.)

 

Betting on Horse Races, Then and Now: Following the Sport in New York Is Difficult, and the Odds Are Shorter Than in Old Days, but the System Is Little Changed — Advantages of Pari-Mutuel Method (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 3, 1919

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July 31st, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Sports

Sport Recrudescence on Heels of Army Training

World War I, though horrendous, brought a silver lining: young men who had become physically fit during military service now had unprecedented interest levels in exercise and sports.

Maybe a World War III would solve America’s current obesity crisis?

Athletic activity during the coming season should set a new mark in American sports. Army life has aroused a new interest for out-of-door games. Youths whose diversion in the past has been nothing more vigorous than billiards have learned in military service to exercise, and they like it. After that strenuous training the American boy is going to get out and do something himself.

After a year of soldiering a young man who lives at 110th Street now walks back and forth to Forty-second Street every day to business. Hiking has become a habit with him. Unless he walks five or six miles a day he doesn’t feel fit. This is the spirit which is likely to bring about a great revival of sports during the Spring and Summer. Golf and tennis are the sports which probably will command the greatest interest among amateurs. Championships have been restores and new events have been instituted.

“Recrudescence,” if you were wondering, means “a new outbreak after a period of abatement or inactivity,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Sport Recrudescence on Heels of Army Training: Returning Soldiers, Often Physically Fit for First Time in Their Lives, Show Active Interest in Golf, Tennis, Baseball, and Other Exercise

Published: Sunday, March 2, 1919

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

February 28th, 2019 at 11:47 am