A novel approach to Cubs history

Former Sun-Times writer Herb Gould tells story from team’s heyday through batboy

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A look at the cover of Herb Gould’s book ‘‘The Run Don’t Count”

The following are excerpts from longtime Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Herb Gould’s novel, “The Run Don’t Count: The life and times of Frank Chance and his 1908 Chicago Cubs” (Amazon Books, $19.08). For signed copies, email the author at herbgould85@gmail.com. The story is told by a former batboy who remains close to Chance.

FIRST LOOK AT CUBS’ LOCKER ROOM

After Cubs manager Frank Chance hits the work wagon of William Goetz, a carpenter’s son, while driving to the ballpark, Chance brings the teenager to the team clubhouse so the Cubs trainer can look him over.

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 19, 1908

NORTH SIDE OF CHICAGO

“So what do you think?” Chance said. “Most boys your age would be so thrilled to be in here, they’d be hopping around like an untrained puppy.”

“Not exactly fancy, is it?” I said. “With a little work, though, Dad and I could fix it up, I suppose.”

Chance laughed darkly.

“Well, Murphy ain’t paying for that,” he said. “And I ain’t, either.”

Murphy, I would learn, was Cubs owner Charles Webb Murphy. Or “Chubby Charlie,” as he was semi-affectionately known.

Chance led me past his Cubs — well, some of them, anyway. They bantered as they put on their uniforms. Some nodded at Frank. Others stared. Still others paid no attention at all.

We entered a small side room, which contained a leather-padded medical table, a couple of chairs and all kinds of boxes and equipment. A player was lying on his belly on the table while a man rubbed down his right shoulder.

“Hey, Bert,” Chance said to the masseuse. “Would you mind taking a look at this kid when you have a chance? He took a knock to the head. Probably nothin’. Just make sure.”

“Sure, Frank,” Bert said. “Have a seat, kid.”

When I looked closely at the player’s right arm dangling in the air, I realized his fingers were all mangled. The index finger was merely a stump. The middle finger was a crooked mass. The pinky was bent at half-staff. And the ring finger didn’t look right, either.

“What’s the matter?” the player said. “Never seen a hand that got on the wrong side of a feed-cutting machine?”

A round-faced man with a big smile, he said it gently, in an amusing way.

“I’m Mordecai Brown. But you can call me Brownie,” he said. “Everybody else does.”

“Um, Billy Goetz. Nice to meet you. Sorry for staring.”

“It’s OK,” Brown said. “Everybody does. What happened to you?”

I told him about my run-in with manager Chance.

“Another one?” Brown said. “That’s our P.L. Our Peerless Leader.”

Brown smiled. He had a youthful face that beamed. He was just one of those sunny people.

That hand was a mess. When he was 5, Brown, who grew up on a farm in southern Indiana, had put his hand into the blades of a feed chopper — just out of curiosity, or so the story went. Most of his right index finger was lost. His middle finger was permanently mangled. And his pinkie was rendered useless by nerve damage.

A local doctor, who had seen much worse as a Civil War surgeon, patched up the hand as best he could. All in all, a decent job. But a few weeks later, while playing with a pet rabbit, Brown fell on the hand and did more damage. Afraid of the whupping he’d face, he didn’t tell his parents.

A brutalized hand like that would have consigned many people to a tough life in a rough-hewn region where men earned their keep by farming or mining. But Brown, who answered to the nickname of Miner after spending time in a coal mine as a teenager, rose above it. When not underground, he indulged in his love of baseball. Thanks to his grotesque hand, he developed a sinkerball that baffled hitters. His bread-and-butter pitch did not tax his arm like a fastball, either.

When the trainer was finished working on Brown, the pitcher eased off the table.

“All right, Brownie,” the trainer said. “Give us a good one today.”

“Hop up here, son,” the man said. “My name is Bert Semmens. Let’s see how you’re doing.”

Bert then helped me sit up on the table. He slowly took a look at my head, kneading and probing for a few minutes. I winced a couple of times when he poked around the bump.

Chance peeked in.

“I would advise against any more blows to the head for a while,” the trainer said. “Outside of that, nothing wrong.”

“Would it be all right if he put on a uniform and helped out the batboy?” Chance said, then looked at me. “Would that interest you?”

I nodded vigorously. You didn’t have to be a wide-eyed baseball kid to be fascinated by what was going on here.

Brown squeezed back into the room for a moment.

“Frank!” the pitcher said. “What the hell? You’re not supposed to be driving a car in the city. Your wife asked. We asked. The judge asked. You bump into stuff. Where’s your chauffeur?”

“Death in the family,” Chance said. “Out of town. Just a few days.”

“Well, be careful, Frank,” Brown said, “until he gets back.”

CHANCE TALKS ABOUT KLING TRADE RUMORS

In 1909, the Cubs failed to win the pennant, their only miss from 1906 to 1910. Star catcher Johnny Kling sat out that year in a salary dispute with Cubs owner Charlie Murphy. With the Cubs in need of help, Cubs beat writer Sy Sanborn questioned manager Frank Chance about rumors that Kling might be traded.

THURSDAY, JULY 29, 1909

ON THE TRAIN FROM ST. LOUIS TO CHICAGO

Their notebooks filled, all the writers except Mr. Sanborn left to find another drink. Sy asked Frank about the rumors of a trade with Cincinnati, a possibility he had been raising in the Tribune. The question was, would the Cubs be willing to deal Johnny Kling to the Reds? Kling had been wanting to go to Cincinnati for years because Reds owner Garry Herrmann was interested in helping Kling open a billiards parlor there.

Even though Kling had spent the whole season in his Kansas City pool room, where he was no help to the Cubs, Mr. Murphy remained steadfastly opposed to trading his star catcher, holdout or not. Reds manager Clark Griffith, who had been the Cubs’ best pitcher in 1898, when Frank was a rookie, had even traveled to St. Louis to talk to Chance about a deal, Mr. Sanborn had reported. Frank insisted there was nothing to it.

“Let it go, Sy,” Chance told Mr. Sanborn. “They don’t have any players we want. And Murphy is a stubborn cuss. He isn’t going to let Kling play for anybody but the Cubs.”

“Right, Frank,” Sanborn said. “Until trading Kling is Murphy’s idea.”

Frank smiled and said, “Are you feeling some heat from that kid, Lardner? He did some pretty amusing trade stuff, with all that chatter from Ebbets about the Dodgers’ offers for Kling. What was the offer? $30,000, plus the Brooklyn ballpark? Plus the Brooklyn Bridge?”

Sanborn shook his head.

“Lardner’s good, no question,” he said. “But he’s not the competition. The guys on the other papers are. That’s why the Examiner hired away Dryden from the Trib. And why the Herald hired away Hugh Fullerton.”

Frank thought for a moment and then said, “And that’s why Murphy’s not trading Kling. And why I agree with Murphy.”

Sanborn shrugged.

“You’re the Peerless Leader,” he said, turning away.

“That must be nice for you newspapermen,” Chance said as Sanborn left. “You can go to another owner who will pay you more. I wish ballplayers could do that.”

Sanborn looked back and shook his head.

CHANCE RESPONDS TO MURPHY’S CRITICISM

The publicly amicable departure of manager Joe Maddon last fall was very different than the melodrama that surrounded the 1912 departure of Frank Chance, the only other Cubs manager to win a World Series. Chance, who was recovering from surgery to remove a clot that was giving him excruciating headaches, summoned sportswriters to his hospital bed to fire back at Cubs owner Charlie Murphy, who had ripped into him.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 26, 1912

NEW YORK

I was in New York, delivering some blueprints for the Architect, so I was able to stop by to see the convalescing Peerless Leader at the private hospital of Dr. W.G. Fralick, on East 60th Street in Manhattan.

I had been concerned, of course. Who wouldn’t be? The phrase “brain surgery” always carried a serious amount of weight. In 1912, that was especially true. I should have known Frank could handle it. He was sitting up in bed, fidgeting and grinding his teeth when I walked in.

“William,” he said. “Always good to see you.”

“You, too, Frank. How are you feeling?”

“The headaches from the blood clot are gone,” he said. “Headaches from Chubby Charlie Murphy are not so easily removed.”

When Frank heard about Murphy’s proposed alcohol ban and the owner’s argument that heavy drinking had caused his Cubs to underachieve, the outraged manager fired right back. And never mind that he was in a hospital bed, less than a week removed from brain surgery.

“The writers are here, Frank,” Mrs. Chance said.

“Let ’em in, Edythe,” Frank said.

The reporters found the Peerless Leader sitting up in bed, his head heavily wrapped in bandages. A big black cigar was clenched between his teeth.

“Don’t look much like a dying man, do I?” Chance said. “Let’s get down to business.” Chance opened with a few comments and answered a few questions. His brain seemed to be working just fine.

“If Mr. Dreyfuss or Mr. Murphy or anybody else says my team lost the pennant in 1909 on account of drinking, he is a liar. If anybody else says that the Cubs ever lost for that reason, he is a liar. I believe that I have the best behaved baseball team in either league.”

That might have been a stretch. On the other hand, there were no box-score stats on behavior in those days. Teams were judged on wins and losses. They still are, I would argue. And despite Murphy’s claims, there wasn’t an obvious case for the Cubs coming up short for any reason other than that Pittsburgh was the better team in the 1909 season. And the A’s were the better team in the 1910 World Series.

The absence of catcher Johnny Kling, rather than an abundance of alcohol, was a more plausible explanation for the Cubs’ failure to beat the Pirates in 1909. But Murphy, who had declined to give holdout Kling a raise, obviously wasn’t going to go there. Chance further answered Murphy’s harangue by saying he would never sign a contract with a no-drinking clause, nor would he want his players to do that.

“Most of these players take a glass of beer after the game, and I consider that to be beneficial,” he said. “None of my men ever takes a drink in the morning or between games. I feel these charges keenly. Reading them in the papers has set me back. I could hardly sleep last night. I cannot figure out what Murphy is trying to do. Apparently, he is sore because I lost the pennant and wants to rasp somebody. But he is not going to rasp me.” V

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