Baseball players and managers have long since spoken in signs and other secretive code to maintain a competitive edge. Some of this may date to the Deadball Era.
Legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw had his players learn sign language after the team acquired deaf pitcher Dummy Taylor, thus creating the modern sign system in baseball. There’s a famous story of Hall of Fame pitcher Chief Bender, repeated in “The Glory of Their Times” as well as his biography, figuring out how the Giants were tipping their pitches in the 1911 World Series and yelling “It’s all right” to signal that a fastball was coming.
Here’s another story from that era that’s a little more obscure. I certainly hadn’t heard of it.
In 1954, the Associated Press offered a seven-part instructional series from Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner, who would die in December 1955, on how to play. I’ll give that series the longer look it deserves come Monday. For now, I’ll highlight a smaller sidebar from the day the third part of the series ran.
Wagner was the son of German immigrants, perhaps part of the reason he was so popular with fans in the early 20th century when America received a great influx of Europeans. [Many of the great stars in baseball history offered some kind of ethnic appeal from Babe Ruth to Jackie Robinson to Sandy Koufax and more.] Anyhow, Wagner used his parents’ native tongue to trip up McGraw.
The story’s a quick read so rather than rehash it here, I’ll suggest simply reading the original by clicking on the frame above. More to come regarding Wagner’s 1954 series on Monday.
“From the archives” is a Friday series that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.
Others in this series: Satchel Paige’s shutout inning in 1969 | ‘Is Babe Ruth hurting game?’ | When Mark Koenig pitched | 25 years after Pete Rose, Hal Chase’s story is bleaker | Outrage when the Yankees sold to CBS | Willie Mays’ forgotten last hurrah