Say Gettysburg, and most immediately recall high school history classes where the teachers insisted we all memorize the dates – July 1-3, 1863. Or if you are a Civil War “enthusiast” the mind is flooded with a mix of Killer Angels quotes, Gardner photos, and parts of a half dozen Civil War Journals episodes (not to mention a shelf and a half of books in one’s personal collection!).
Beyond the Civil War, the town has a rich history itself. Saturday when browsing through the town, I came across this marker to Eddie Plank, one of the greatest left-handed pitchers in baseball history. In a career spanning from 1901 to 1917, Plank notched 326 wins and a career 2.35 ERA. The game was far different back then, than today. Football has its “before the helmet” days, and baseball has the “before the lively ball” days. Plank played at a time when the home run was less a threat, but high average, fast base-running hitters such as Ty Cobb “manufactured” runs. Such is reflected in Plank’s career stats, with only 41 home runs allowed.
The game was different in other ways too. Plank, a Gettysburg native, attended Gettysburg College. Between 1900 and 1956 the College provided six major leaguers. Half of which started their careers, however short, for the Philadelphia Athletics. Plank played for the A’s through all but the last three years of his career. Fourteen years with the same team. Likewise, another Gettysburg College alumni who also entered the big leagues in 1901, George Winter, played seven of his eight years in the pitching rotation for the Boston Red Sox. Players often stayed with their teams longer.
Much of this was due to the lock the owners had over contracts. And some of the early resistance to the control over contracts is seen in Plank’s career path. In 1915, Plank jumped from the A’s to the Federal League’s St. Louis Terriers. The Federal League was somewhat of an upstart or “outlaw” league aimed at breaking up the informal monopoly between the American and National League. Plank, like many others, went for the money and moved to a new town. The Federal League eventually flopped. When the Terrier’s owner was allowed to purchase the St. Louis Browns franchise across town, Plank moved back to the American League to close his career.
The legacy of the Federal League was more than a footnote in baseball history. Lawsuits filed by owners of the Federal League teams eventually were heard in the Supreme Court. The story of the legal action is a story all its own (involving delaying actions by a judge, who would later become baseball commissioner – Kenesaw Mountain Landis). In 1922, the court ruled that major league baseball was not subject to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. This of course set up, over the next 80 years, several Congressional panels and hearings regarding baseball. The latest of which probed steroid use.
I marked this post as “non-Civil War,” but then again I did get to mention “Kenesaw Mountain” and (removing hat) Uncle Billy’s half brother. Can I get a half huzzah?