John Joseph McGraw was over his head.
The fiery future Baseball Hall of Famer had just signed his first professional contract – April 1, 1890 – which was signed by Albert Kenney, who had recently bought part of a newly formed New York-Penn League team … in Olean , NY
McGraw, who had previously played in the position under Kenney with his hometown of Truxton Grays, did not get a place. The latter did not think the boys’ curveball would fool professional hitters. He started the season on the bench. And when he finally got his chance, on day 3 as third baseman, the excursion was a nightmare.
McGraw, then just 17, made a throwing error on the first ball that hit the road, the first of an astonishing eight out of ten chances of the day. He continued to struggle and was released after six days by Kenney, who gave the young boy $ 70 and a farewell message: “Good luck.”
Decades later, McGraw was still confused by his unfortunate start.
“During my life, I could not run to get it,” he recalled the first opportunity to pose in Olean. “It seemed like a while before I could get the ball in my hands, and when I looked over to the first, it seemed like the longest throw I ever had to take. The first baseman was the tallest in the league, but I threw the ball far over his head. ”
McGraw could strike, but his poor defense followed him, even after jumping to the major leagues, with the Baltimore Orioles, a year later. During the rookie season, he made 18 mistakes in 86 chances on shortstop.
He later decided to start spending the winters at the local college. This is where McGraw really began to transform defensively as he sharpened his skills that would make him one of the winning leaders in MLB history.
IT WAS without a doubt one of the saddest stretches outside the sport, and the museum where the biggest names are etched forever.
A total of seven baseball families – Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro and Tom Seaver – died in 2020, most of them in one calendar year. One week into 2021, the unwanted trend continued only with the passing of the famous Dodgers boss Tommy Lasorda, who is laid down as a coach.
Each instance evoked the same conflicting emotions – the brief joy that came with remembering their greatness and the grief over the last icon the sport had lost. They also served together as a reminder:
St. Bonaventure has not just one, but two, Baseball Hall of Famers: McGraw and Hugh Jennings. And they made their mark here together, while cementing the place as two of Baltimore’s original “Big 4” (along with Joe Kelley and Willie Keeler), which helped the Orioles to a trio of National League championships (1894-96) just before Advent . of modern times.
McGRAW came to Bona in the winter of 1892 and exchanged baseball minds and talent for the opportunity to attend school holidays.
He did this for the next four seasons, joining the Orioles each spring, and finally brought Jennings, who Baltimore acquired in 1893, who displaced McGraw by a short stop, leading the latter to make the permanent switch to third.
As a player / coaches, near the court that would eventually bear their name, they helped lay the foundation for Bona baseball. While in Bona, they were also groundbreaking for a couple of techniques that McGraw specifically wanted to introduce in Baltimore, and quickly became basic aspects of the game.
The long history is that McGraw and Jennings invented a bundle inside Bonas Alumni Hall (later called Butler Gym). But the “fun fact” is unfortunately not true … the concept of bundle had existed since the 1860s.
However, the couple changed bundle. And McGraw came from what would become known as the “Baltimore chop.” In the midst of generally bad weather, the baseball team was often forced into the Alumni Hall, where the cramped quarters left little room for actual hits. To compensate, McGraw had his players take half turns while driving the ball to the ground, resulting in the high bounce that comes with the “cut”.
And what was needed indoors became an effective outdoor approach.
AT BONA, McGraw helped fine-tune the still-new concepts of the press game and hit-and-run.
He would then incorporate these strategies at the major league level, supplementing his already natural ability on the plate – he was a career .334 hitter – and helped the Orioles become one of the better organizations at the turn of the century.
In 1895, McGraw spent only one semester in Bona, returning to Baltimore in mid-December, saying he was “exhausted” and leaving the coaching duties to Jennings. And while his time locally had come to an end, his impact on the sport only began.
McGraw eventually became a player / coach with both the Baltimore and New York Giants before taking a full-time spot in the NY excavation in 1907. He then went on to one of the most successful leadership careers in MLB annals, accumulating 2,763 victories. (second most all-time after Connie Mack and still the most in National League history) while winning three World Series (in 1905 as a player / coach, and 1921 and ’22) until he retired in 1932.
Both players left an undeniable mark on the game … and not always in the most welcoming way.
McGraw, just 5-foot-7, 155 pounds, was known for his quick temper (he had the record for most expulsions to Atlanta’s Bobby Cox broke that mark in 2007) and bent the rules. Jennings, known for his horn, whistles and songs of “Ee-Yah!” from the third base coaching box as manager of the Detroit Tigers, still holds the modern record for hit-by-pitches in both a season (51) and a career (287).
Both – McGraw, who was part of the second Hall of Fame induction class in 1937, and Jennings, enlisted in 1945 – were among baseball standard bearers in the dead ball era.
And both came to Bona as a springboard for that success.