History and Hecklers: the St. Joseph Drummers Baseball Team
by Virginia Brackett
A popular phrase holds that we should learn from mistakes of history, so as not to repeat them. Whether one considers the sport of trashing athletes by so-called fans a mistake may be debatable, but it is a fact that such behavior has either a proud or regrettable history, depending upon your point of view. I found evidence to support that claim while researching my St. Joseph, Missouri ancestral roots in an 1889 scrapbook compiled by my two greats-grandmother, Cornelia Roberts. Filled with informative articles from the local newspaper, the inscription reveals that she assembled it for her son, Jesse I. Roberts. The archaic language used in journalism of the day may seem odd to contemporary readers. However, readers of any age can recognize the actions of some sports fans described in a 1911 article from the St. Joseph Observer. History can be informative not only about facts from the past but also to connect that past to the present.
The century-old article informs readers that Jesse I. Roberts of the Nave-McCord Mercantile Company would speak at the next “monthly meeting and dinner of the Ad club.” The gathering would be held at Hotel Robidoux (I later learn the hotel is named for St. Joseph’s founder) to hear Roberts on the topic “Our Drummers As An Advertisement to St. Joseph.” The Drummers were the St. Joseph minor league baseball team, a point of pride for the city and members of the Western League from 1910 – 1917. Based on the team popularity, the topic caused the Ad club to expect “a good showing of fans and fanettes” on this special “ladies night.” The team manager, Jack Holland, promised to bring every team member to the meeting. Mr. Roberts was my great grandfather, and I use that privilege to quote in full the portion of his speech printed in the article, which will interest 21st-century readers, sports fans or not.
Mr. Roberts said, in part:
The people must treat the club in such a way that every member will have nothing but kind words for their own town, both at home and away. You should make it your business to stop all roasting of players during a game. You have often seen one of the best men on the team make an error which to some among the spectators seemed inexcusable and they all begin to foam at the mouth and even take on symptoms of hydrophobia. They will call the player rotten: tell him in no uncertain tones that he should be released: ask him if he learned to play through a correspondence school and make other similar expressions, all tending to make the player feel very pleasant at being bawled out before the crowd at the game and before his home crowd. The player who calls forth such wrath no doubt feels a thousand times more keenly the error than the ones who roast him. Actions of these kind are not conducive to favorable advertisement by members of the club.
Maligned or not, the Drummers earned second place in both 1911 and 1912 behind the Denver Grizzlies and eventually produced Hall of Famer pitcher Charles Arthur “Dazzy” Vance, who would lead the National League in strike outs for seven consecutive seasons. What the players thought of the spectators that felt free to share their opinions during play is not known. Because human nature varies little over time, one imagines those feelings were mutual.
Such back-and-forth between sports figures and spectators remains firmly in place today, with no signs of diminishing over time. With social media available to share the insults spoken “in no uncertain tones,” such attacks have become a sport of their own. I’m unsure how Great Grandpa Roberts would feel about the extension of this particular tradition into a second century. However, his own humorous tone suggests that he found it almost as entertaining as the game.
Virginia Brackett, Professor Emeritus of English, serves on the Kansas City Veterans Writing Team to assist veterans to tell their stories through regular critique group meetings, an annual writing workshop, and an annual Veterans Readers Theater. She’s published 15 books and dozens of articles, stories, and blog entries for all ages of readers, and has conducted numerous workshop sessions for all ages. She served on faculty for the fall 2022 Johnson County Library Writing Workshop and wrote the Foreword to the 11th edition of Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors. Of her most recent book, In the Company of Patriots, The New York Journal of Books noted, in part, “The book is an absorbing hybrid: a classical drama crossed with an archeological dig, only instead of pottery shards, burial mounds, and stone tools, it uses scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, letters, emails, and family lore to reveal a multi-generational personal history linking the past to the present.” Brackett serves on Missouri Humanities Center for the Book Planning Team. More information on her writing may be found at https://virginiabrackett.com.