Academic journal article Base Ball

An Early Baseball Play and an Early Baseball Novel: Who Wrote 'Em?

Academic journal article Base Ball

An Early Baseball Play and an Early Baseball Novel: Who Wrote 'Em?

Article excerpt

For as long as athletes have thrilled fans by swatting baseballs and actors have enticed audiences by performing on stage and celluloid, there has been a special union between baseball and showbusiness. (Indeed, there are those who claim that baseball has been, is, and always will be a form of showbusiness.) Countless ballplayers who earn paychecks spending their summers throwing and hitting horsehides have passed their offseasons cavorting in vaudeville, touring the hinterlands in dramas or comedies produced for the stage, or, more recently, acting in front of television and motion picture cameras. Ballplayers also reportedly have taken pen to paper-and this was so decades before a pair of Jims, one named Brosnan and the other named Bouton, authored The Long Season and Ball Four. In the early years of the 20th century, two eventual Hall of Famers had their bylines affixed to fictions whose titles alone served to link two commercially viable subjects: sports and romance. Christy Mathewson, the legendary hurler, was credited as coauthor of a play, The Girl and the Pennant, while Frank Chance-he of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance renown-was credited as author of a novel, The Bride and the Pennant.

Actually, the full title of the Mathewson play, which came to Broadway in 1913, is The Girl and the Pennant: A Base-Ball Comedy in Four Acts. The "girl" of the title is Mona Fitzgerald (played by Florence Reed), a young woman who inherits the Eagles, a baseball nine, from her deceased father. The Eagles never had copped a pennant, and Mona would like to win one to honor her dad. But John Bohannan, her crooked manager, is in cahoots with Henry Welland, owner of the rival Hornets, and they conspire to force Mona to sell them the team at a bargain price. The male lead is Copley Reeves (William Courtenay), a scrub who is on the Eagles roster solely to look after his brother Punch, the team's alcohol-abusing star southpaw. A range of complications follow, with Copley destined to save the Eagles' season by winning the deciding game with a base hit, offering proof of the Bohannan-Welland conspiracy, and capturing the heart of Mona. (The deciding contest is played offstage, with director Edgar Selwyn's staging described in the New York Times: "One hears the voice of the umpire, the cries of the 'rooters,' the thwack of the ball, the groans of disappointment, and the shouts of exultation, and when the game is won the stage is filled with a struggling mass of wildly cheering players and spectators....")

In a nod to real-life major leaguers, The Girl and the Pennant's ballplayers have such names as "Cy Dobb," "Fred Terkle," "Hans Flagner," and "Cosy Jolan." And there are a couple of female supporting characters. One is a forerunner of modern-day memorabilia collectors: Mona's coquettish girlfriend, who "just loves baseball" and is obsessed with amassing souvenirs from bats to balls to players' jewelry; and a woman mentalist who employs her talents to care for a sore- armed hurler.

The Girl and the Pennant is coauthored by Rida Johnson Young, a playwright, songwriter, and librettist who penned over 30 plays and 500 songs. Her credits include the play Brown of Harvard (1906), the lyrics to "Mother Machree" (1910), and the book and lyrics for Naughty Marietta (1910) and Maytime (1917). Young was connected to or collab- orated with Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg, Rudolf Friml, Chauncey Olcott, Jerome Kern, and other theatrical luminaries, and she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

Given Johnson's talent and reputation, she was an appropriate choice to work on The Girl and the Pennant. Mathewson's expertise, meanwhile, was on the ballfield. Granted, The Girl and the Pennant is not Mathewson's lone writing credit. In 1912, his byline appeared on a memoir, Pitching in a Pinch: Or, Baseball from the Inside, in which he reminisced about life in the major leagues. His credit also was found on a series of children's books. …

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