“So appalling as to be almost beyond belief:” The 1897 letter that everyone really needs to read

NEW YORK — I was sitting against the wall in a booth at City Diner on 90th Street and Broadway. My friend Weinstein was sitting across from me. I was trying to convince him to come to a baseball trivia event that I’d just heard about, hosted by Ted Berg, the nation’s foremost expert. Weinstein, characteristically, was underselling himself.

“I suck at baseball trivia,” he said. “The only thing I know is that in 1897, the commissioner sent out a letter yelling at players for saying ‘go fuck yourself.'”

I paused.

“What?” I said.

It was true. Weinstein pulled out his phone and googled it. Seconds later, he began a dramatic reading. And my life hasn’t been the same since.

I am passing the contents of this letter along, because I really do believe that they deserve to be known far and wide. Here is how the letter, which was really sent out by the commissioner of organized baseball in 1897, begins:

SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAYERS:

In a contest between two leading clubs during the championship season of 1897, the stands being crowded with patrons of the game, a gentleman occupying a seat in the front row near the players’ bench, asked one of the visiting players who was going to pitch for them. The player made no reply. He then asked a second time. The gentleman, his wife who sat with him, and others of both sexes, within hearing distance, were outraged upon hearing the player reply in a loud, brutal tone, “Oh, go fuck yourself.”

On being remonstrated with by his fellow-players, who told him there were ladies present, he retorted he didn’t give a damn, that they had no business there anyhow.

This shocking indecency was brought to the attention of the League at the Philadelphia meeting in November, 1897, and a committee was appointed to report upon this baseball crime, define and suggest for it a remedy.

Weinstein was in the midst of a dramatic reading, but when he reached the line about a committee investigating the baseball crime, he broke character and burst out laughing. Then he pulled himself together and continued.

In response to nearly one hundred communications addressed to umpires, managers and club officials, soliciting definite, positive and personal knowledge of obscene and indecent language upon the ball field, the committee received a deluge of information that was so appalling as to be almost beyond belief, showing conclusively and beyond contradiction that there was urgent need for legislative action on the part of the League.

He took another pause to comport himself. Then he read the last paragraph.

That such brutal language as “You cock-sucking son of a bitch!” “You prick-eating bastard!” “You cunt-lapping dog!” “Kiss my ass, you son of a bitch!” “A dog must have fucked your mother when she made you!” “I fucked your mother, you sister, your wife!” “I’ll make you suck my ass!” “You cock-sucker!” and many other revolting terms are used by a limited number of players to intimidate umpires and opposing players, and are promiscuously used upon the ball field, is vouched for by the almost unanimous assertion of those invited to speak, and who are competent to speak from personal knowledge. Whether it be the language quoted above, or some other indecent and infamous invention of depravity, the League is pledged to remove it from the ball field, whether it necessitates the removal of the offender for a day or for all time. Any indecent or obscene word, sentence, or expression, unfit for print or the human ear, whether mentioned in these instructions or not, is contemplated under the law and within its intent and meaning, and will be dealt with without fear or favor when the fact is established by conclusive proof.

I don’t remember what I said when he finished reading, but the commissioner would have hated it. And then my mind drifted to Juan Soto, and I had a laugh thinking of how angry he would make an 1897 baseball commissioner, and how funny it would be to watch.

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