As a nation rages over the definition of sportsmanship and whether smiling is included in such, it’s natural to reflect on the wisdom of John McGraw. Once, in the dark pre-internet ages of baseball and America, McGraw was forgotten save for twenty-three separate references in Bill James’s Historical Baseball Abstract. But now, thanks to No Child Left Behind, tales of America’s Ruffian Sweetheart are now recited and memorized by elementary-age children during the Mandatory Edutational Bus Ride Chant section of their morning commute.
Despite the great leaps made by educational reform, however, some Americans might still somehow be unaware the Little Napoleon still ranks third all-time with a career .466 on-base percentage. How is it possible that a man only 1.03 Altuves in height and 0.89 Altuves in weight could prove so able at reaching first? The NotGraphs Arcane Research Department delved into gigabytes of Retrosheet data, and interviewed random nonagenarians. They uncovered the following anecdotal evidence, symptomatic of the barbarism of 1890s baseball.
May 30, 1893: McGraw develops a method of punching at a full run, which he calls the “Falcon Punch.” He begins a seventeen-game hitting streak.
July 3, 1894: McGraw earns a one-out triple, when he lays down a bunt on the third base side and then quickly tosses upon it a half-open bag full of scorpions.
September 17, 1898: McGraw goes 5 for 6 and the Orioles win handily, 21-3, when he adds chloroform to the laundry of the visiting Boston Red Sox.
April 17, 1892: Grounding softly to a first baseman playing in front of the bag, McGraw deftly avoids the tag by producing a baby from his oversized jersey and tossing it into the air, forcing the defender into an unexpected moral dilemma.
August 6, 1891: McGraw doubles by picking the ball up himself and throwing it into the stands.
May 1, 1896: McGraw reaches on error, after a charging third baseman falls into a pit trap covered by an inconspicuous bed of leaves.
April 27, 1891: McGraw invents a new flourish, called the “bat flip” – always thrown in the direction of a fielding pitcher.
All this proves that John McGraw was not only a talented athlete, but an innovator, a sad-eyed menacing heartthrob, and a potentially undiagnosed psychopath. So the next time you argue with your buddies at the bar about what is or isn’t kosher, remember what you’ve learned from your old pal: political realism is all. Debate is a plaything. Winning is the only thing that matters, unless you get fined.
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