This article explores the pages of an improvised scrapbook of baseball memorabilia assembled in 1914 by a schoolboy named Leroy K.
In order to fully appreciate the magnitude of this spectacular historic artifact it is helpful to have an understanding of two things:
First) How much baseball meant to America in 1914; and
Second) How much Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb meant to baseball.
With these bits of background it will be easy to imagine how much this little scrapbook meant to a teenage boy in Richland County 100 years ago.
He was a baseball fan—of that there is no doubt—and he lived during an era when everybody was a baseball fan.
In the early years of the 20th century, before the 1st World War impacted and changed the tone of America, the whole country was baseball crazy.
It wasn’t just the National Pastime, it was the single cultural common denominator that united the diverse populations of this country.
There were other sports going on, of course, but in the 1910s those sports were all in early stages of developing the mass popularity they would eventually attain. There were other forms of entertainment going on as well, but each of these had an appeal that existed only within parameters.
There were many assorted organizations and activities that served to coalesce populations of people: churches, social societies, service clubs, political parties—but these all existed only within their own limited spheres of influence.
There was only one phenomenon in the US in 1911-1916 that cut across all the categorizing interests of US people, and that was baseball.
Here is the plainest evidence of baseball’s prominence: when the World Series opened in October of 1913 it was no less than the most important front page headline of the Mansfield Shield. There was not another single event during the entire year that was set in headline type that large.
So naturally the biggest celebrities of that era were baseball stars. Among the many luminaries of the game during that generation there are two who particularly shine down through the years with particular brilliance.
One of them was Ty Cobb. To this day he is still an American archetype of the fierce competitor. His unparalleled drive to win made him the chief record-breaker of his day; his scrappy enthusiasm made unabashed enemies of all his opponents; and his unqualified success made him, without question, the most adored hero of every American schoolboy.
The other legendary baseball name of the 1910s to survive 100 years in popular culture is Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Shoeless Joe’s storybook rise from poor, illiterate mill boy to superstar Major League slugger was the all-American standard of hope set before a generation of schoolkids, immigrants, and everyone at the bottom of the ladder looking up.
Today he is most often remembered for the terrible scandal that ended his career, but that didn’t take place until the 1910s were over, and this story takes place well before then.
This scrapbook was created during the pristine years of baseball’s golden era. During that time, from 1913-1916, our Richland-Crawford area experienced a shining season in the sun of baseball, and enjoyed a very special relationship with the pantheon of Major League ball players.
The autumn tournaments
At the end of every Major League season there were only two teams who went on to post season games in the World Series—the rest of them went home. Or they went to Crestline, Ohio.
Every year from 1912 to 1916 in early October, while the champions were slugging it out in the Series, there was a sequence of baseball tournaments held in north central Ohio.
These tournaments consisted of four games played in one day: two playoffs to determine who would compete in the championship game; and then the consolation game.
Most years between 1912 & 1916 there were two separate days of tournaments in this area. Sometimes one was in Bucyrus; often there was one in Shelby; but every year there was always a tournament held in Crestline.
It was a day that was always highly anticipated in our area, and was an occasion that represented something like a rite of passage as an official end to summer: a rare sporting holiday.
Anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 people would show up to cheer, and special trains were scheduled early and late to get everyone from Mansfield or Bucyrus to Shelby or Crestline.
It was terrific fun, and there were great loads of food on hand like an impromptu fall harvest church social.
But even more important than the food and the socializing: there was wide open, highly advertised, and extensively organized gambling.
And most important of all, particularly for those laying wagers, there were Major League ball stars standing into the lineups of all the little town teams.
Any team could hire a professional ball player for the tournament. Some teams hired several. One year the Crestline team was made up almost entirely from the ranks of Cleveland’s American League roster.
It was a lot of fun for the professional ball players too. This was years before the Major Leagues had devised the concept of an All-Star Game, and for the baseball greats who converged in Crestline from different points of the US, that was very much what it felt like: an improvised team of star hitters.
In 1914 there were two mega stars who came to the tournaments. On October 6 the Crestline team had Shoeless Joe Jackson belting out hits for them; and two days later Ty Cobb came to the Shelby Athletic Field to put on a Shelby Blues uniform.
There is really no way to express how electrically exciting it must have been to a 14 year old boy to see two such iconic heroes come to the fields of home.
But we can almost feel his overflowing enthusiasm 100 years later by looking at the evidence he left behind.
It seems likely the boy’s name was Leroy K., but there is no way to know for certain because he wrote so many names in his keepsake volume. We can assume that his ultimate hero was Joe Jackson because that name is written in the pages no fewer than 23 times.
There are also a half dozen Ty Cobb ‘autographs,’ that all look remarkably like the logo of Ty Cobb Cigars.
Leroy K. managed to assemble a pile of baseball trading cards printed by tobacco companies, so apparently he knew someone who smoked. He pasted his collection into the pages of an old arithmetic schoolbook.
Accompanying the images of Cleveland ball players, his astonishing souvenir also documents the events of October 6, 1914 with a scorecard of Game 1.
Pasted on to the end pages are photos that may well have been taken that day, along with a portrait of the Crestline ball team.
We’re not really sure where Leroy K. lived except that it was around here in near enough proximity for him be present in Crestline in October of 1914.
He was so comfortably familiar in his world he never bothered to write his last name in the pages of his assembled life scraps. He assumed he was known.
His passion for his heroes is apparent, and his commitment to his enthusiasm is wholly enviable.
Looking at this piece of Americana it is clear that life is really designed for kids.
The only time the rest of us actually get the full benefit of it is when that little kid in us is awakened for a little while, and the world is a place to play once again with the kind of brilliant childhood enchantment that Leroy K. was kind enough to share with us.