What he did: Okay, this one’s unconventional. Faust qualifies as a baseball player only in the barest sense of the word, as limited a participant as Eddie Gaedel, a midget who made one plate appearance in 1951 or Aloysius Travers, a seminary student who served as a replacement pitcher during a one-game strike in 1912 and gave up a record 24 runs. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Faust arriving at a New York Giants road game and announcing he would pitch the team to the pennant. As the story goes, a fortune teller had predicted his fate. In a century since, there’s never been anyone like Charles Victory Faust in Major League Baseball.
The 30-year-old Faust had no baseball skills to speak of, though manager John McGraw found that when he was with the Giants, his team won. Being superstitious as baseball people were and still are, McGraw kept Faust on as a mascot of sorts, paying him out of pocket and letting him appear in two games at the end of the season. With Faust around, the Giants won the National League pennant in 1911 and again in 1912. Faust was let go after the Giants began to lose and later institutionalized for dementia, dying of tuberculosis in 1915.
Era he might have thrived in: The purpose of this column isn’t to suggest any baseball generation before or since would allow Faust a chance to play professional ball. Even his odds of making the majors as a mascot today might be slim, as ballpark entertainment is more professional and slickly produced, clown princes like Nick Altrock and Al Schacht relics of a bygone era. There’s a reason guys like Faust don’t sit in dugouts today. But that’s not to say Faust couldn’t have a role somewhere in baseball today and a longer, happier life.
Why: In many ways, Faust was a victim of his times, when tuberculosis still raged in the western world, treatment for mental illness was woefully inadequate and draconian, and those afflicted were sometimes eccentrics, historical footnotes with otherwise troubled lives. Faust’s neurosis may have bought him a couple years in baseball and recognition from more fans 50 years later when the Giants’ center fielder in those days, Fred Snodgrass recounted the tale in The Glory of Their Times, but that can’t compensate for the sad end to Faust’s life. The story is admittedly amusing, or I wouldn’t be relating it here, but it’s also tragic.
It’s not to say Faust would easily tackle his issues today, but he’d at least have more options. And if he did make his way into baseball, I’d like to think better media and mental health advocacy would help protect him from being exploited. He might be a hit in the minor leagues, welcomed by a lower budget team (like maybe the one that allowed Borat to sing the Kazakhstan national anthem some years ago.) Or perhaps Faust would just be a dedicated fan. I briefly worked on the sports desk of the Sacramento Bee my first year out of college, and I remember the quirky if well-meaning men who regularly called. They made my job more interesting.
I don’t know if Faust would be any less deluded today and certain he’d pitch in the majors, as seemingly nothing could assuage him from this belief as he descended into madness. But maybe this belief wouldn’t spell his doom today.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays
4 Replies to “Any player/Any era: Charles Victory Faust”
The Emperor Norton of baseball. He’d certainly have to be an SF Giant!
Hey, speaking of odd careers, check out Nick Testa. What is it about those Giants?
Today Faust’s mental health issues would be identified early in his life, and his care would not include restriction to an institution where he could contract an infectious disease like tuberculosis. His avid baseball fandom would not allow him access to a major league manager. His desire to act on his fortune teller’s vision would, at best, be funneled through something like the Make a Wish foundation. Perhaps he would be invited to throw out the first pitch at a major league game, earning him no more than a few seconds of recognition. His life would be longer, safer, and more productive, but considerably less colorful.
This is all good speculation, and it’s probably true that the Deadball Era was the only time when a character like Faust would have been allowed on the playing field. Incidentally, he wasn’t let go after the Giants started losing. He actually was persuaded to go back to Kansas in early July 1912, when the Giants were still running roughshod over the National League. When he left, Rube Marquard was 19-0; within a week, Marquard was 19-3. For the entire Faust story–bizarre, hilarious, and poignant–see my biography of Faust published in 2000. The first chapter can be read at http://www.charlesapril.com.
I was wondering where I recognized your name from. I referenced the SABR Bio Project piece you did on Faust while I was putting this post together. Nice work!