The Mascots of 1911
The Toronto Star
April 06, 2008
Fuzzy mascots modern touch in old genre
review by Garth Woolsey
The Mascots of 1911: The year God met the devil in the World Series
By Bob Schroeder (iUniverse, 166 pages, $15.95)
These days, teams have mascots dressed up in plush, oversized costumes and entertain the crowds with their gymnastic, slap-stick silliness.
Back in 1911, at least two major-league baseball teams had human mascots who merely wore the uniforms of their employers, without any disguises.
The New York Giants, under feisty manager John McGraw, had as their mascot an eccentric young man from the backwoods, Charlie Faust, who made all sorts of claims to mystical and magical and ill-tempered powers.
His counterpart with the Philadelphia Athletics, under gentlemanly manager Connie Mack, was a gentle, hunchbacked teenager named Louis van Zelst, who hid his pain behind a constant smile and a love of baseball.
As the title suggests, we have here the fixings of a classic battle between good and evil.
The mascots entertained and fascinated fans before and after and during games. They became, in some ways, bigger than the athletes, bigger than the sport itself.
Author Bob Schroeder, a Toronto-based editor with CBC-TV's The National, has taken these real-life characters and events and created a fictional account of how the 1911 season played out, setting the scene 22 years later with a meeting of McGraw and Mack at an all-star game.
In a genre that produces bushels of books, here's one that is truly different.
NOTES FROM THE SHADOWS OF COOPERSTOWN
Observations from Outside the Lines
By Two Finger Carney (email@example.com)
#453 JULY 29, 2008
ONE STRANGE BASEBALL BOOK
I was remarkably restrained in the vendors’ room at the SABR convention last month. Strolling day after day among tables piled with books, I ended up buying exactly one.
The Mascots of 1911: The Year God Met the Devil in the World Series by Bob Schroeder (iUniverse, 2007), is one of the strangest baseball books I’ve come across yet. And I mean that as a compliment.
I was disposed to enjoy this book: I knew the Giants and Athletics of 1911, having role-played John McGraw and Connie Mack in many APBA simulations with those rosters. NOT on my rosters were the two apparently key players — the team mascots. I was fascinated by the true story of Victory Faust, even before reading Gabriel Schechter’s fine book on this character. And I’ve written some fiction involving Faust and McGraw myself. I was less familiar with the hunchback mascot of the A’s, Louis van Zelst. Louis was as effective a lucky charm as Faust, or moreso: in his five summers with the A’s, the Mackmen won four AL pennants and finished second once. Faust could claim two pennants and two seconds.
Both mascots died in the spring of 1915, and both the A’s and the Giants finished that season in last place. So it would be easy to attribute the fall in their fortunes to the loss of their mascots, except that you would have to overlook the changes in the team rosters, due to the economics brought on by the Federal League in 1914-15.
The 1911 World Series becomes Schroeder’s battleground between the mascots, although they never really face off like good and evil, or God and the Devil. McGraw probably had a satanic streak, and Mack an angelic, but history prevents us from painted them as black and white, too. But that’s OK, it’s a great story anyway.
The trouble with historical fiction, as I’ve noted before many times, is that you are never quite sure what is factual. I knew more about Faust and felt I could distinguish the fiction better in his case, but in the end, I recommend that readers just enjoy this story without worrying too much about the facts.
Along the way, we also meet Rastus, “a nine-year-old colored boy,” the personal mascot of Ty Cobb; apparently rubbing his head before his at bats made Cobb the game’s greatest hitter, and we wonder what performance-enhancing substance the Peach picked up from the kid’s hair. (Would a Mitchell Commission of 1911 have looked into what team mascots were permitted to hex, jinx, charm and otherwise inspire? Gotta keep the playing field level.)
We also run into Addie Joss, sort of — Addie dies suddenly in 1911, and we actually get to know his sister much better. I’ve done a lot of research on Addie and the benefit game played that July for his widow and children, but never knew he had a sister. If he did, did she get to know and admire young Louis of the A’s, as well as the superstitious Red Ames of McGraw’s Giants? If she did, then Bob Schroeder has done some truly remarkable research!
This is, I repeat, one strange book. It is written in short bites, a page or two per chapter. It zig-zags between McGraw and Mack meeting in the first All Star Game as rival managers in 1933, and 1911, when both ride their charmed teams to October. The story is straight out of the Twilight Zone, Schroeder putting words in the mouths of all of these characters, imagining how it might have gone, after the fortune teller sent Faust to McGraw.
I guess I enjoyed the idea of the book more than the execution. But I recommend it anyway — it’s a wild ride.
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