Archive for the ‘ 1910 Philadelphia Athletics ’ Category

The Philadelphia Athletics and their hunchbacked mascot.

louis van zelst

Louis Van Zelst

Louis Van Zelst was born in 1895 and was disfigured, the result of an early childhood fall. However, while Van Zelst grew to have a humpback, he was never particularly self-conscious about it, and willingly served as a mascot for a few teams at the University of Pennsylvania.

The University of Pennsylvania happened to share a city with the Philadelphia Athletics, and Van Zelst came to know some of the team’s players and its manager, Connie Mack. Van Zelst approached Mack in 1909 saying he was lucky, and after giving him a tryout, Mack was sufficiently superstitious to believe him and bring him on in an official capacity.

Van Zelst began as the Athletics’ bat boy in 1910, and while the team had been good the year before, in 1910 it won the World Series, and Van Zelst was paid a substantial bonus. The Athletics would then win the World Series again in 1911 and again in 1913, before losing in 1914. Still, Van Zelst had four Series appearances and three championships to his name as a mascot, which is about as good as it gets.

In the day-to-day, Van Zelst was on hand for pretty much every home game and many road games. Prior to each game, players would walk over and rub his humpback for good luck. Such practices were not rare in those days. They stemmed from the rather out-of-control belief in superstitions which resulted in midgets, humpbacks and other unfortunates joining the ranks of youngsters in the dugouts of major league baseball teams. In Baseball: The Golden Age, Harold Seymour explains that “Lefthanders, hunchbacks and cross-eyed people were all considered (lucky). …Touching a hunchback was popularly believed to bring good luck…. Brownie Burke, a midget to whom Gary Herrmann took a fancy was in uniform daily with the Cincinnati Reds.” There are countless other examples from Ty Cobb’s unfortunate black boy mascot Li’l Rastus to Babe Ruth’s not-so-unfortunate Little Ray Kelly. Indeed, the crosstown Phillies would soon match the A’s with a hunchback mascot of their own. Van Zelst was popular with both Athletics players and visitors, and was even invited to second baseman Eddie Collins’ wedding. At one point Mack tried to send him out to coach first base before the umpire told him to return to the dugout.

Unfortunately, Van Zelst fell ill after the 1914 season and soon died of kidney disease. After advancing to the World Series with Van Zelst in 1914, the Athletics finished in last place in 1915, the first of seven consecutive years they’d finish in the basement.

Time travel….1910

10258640_510189719103131_8560875975986433485_nDuring the first decade of the 20th Century cartoon ads from Underoof Bourbon and Rye Whiskey appeared regularly in Chicago newspapers. The image above is referring to pitcher and future Hall of Famer “Chief” Bender’s win in game 1 of the 1910 World Series. Bender gave up 3 hits and one unearned run as the Philadelphia Athletics beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 in a mind-blowing one hour and 54 minutes. The Athletics would eventually go on to win the World title beating the Cubs in 5 games. (back then it was the best of 5) I find it interesting to note that the attendance for this particular World Series game was 26,891. We should contemplate and consider the fact that if a modern team averaged that many paying customers they would be threatening to move to Montreal.

Welcome to another edition of virtual time travel. Imagine the possibilities! Your father wakes you up, drunk as a skunk on Old Underoof Whiskey and asks you if you would like to take in the first game of the World Series that afternoon. ticket(You can tell because his eyes are blood-shot, and he stumbles a bit on a toy train you had left on the floor; unlike other drunks though, he is happy and generous when on the drink.) Oh boy! You throw on your knickers and knee socks, comb your hair and you feel like the king of the world. Mom has breakfast ready and you take a sip of Ol’ pops coffee and immediately regret it. Mom had been getting on Pop’s case for drinking too much so he simply put the hootch in his coffee thinking that this would pacify her. She knows what he’s doing, of course, because of the overwhelming whiskey stench. (and secretly hoping that his generosity will carry over for purchase of that suit she saw in the window the other day- although the 22.50 price tag was a bit steep.) No matter. He is having none of this nonsense because today we are taking in a ball-game.  The eggs and toast are quickly gorged and after giving Mom a kiss on the cheek, out the door you go. You both walk a couple of blocks, hang a left, Pop gets a shoeshine for a nickel….and there it is…Shibe Park!

number 1 song

a very popular movie of the time.