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Woodrow Wilson: baseball geek

Feb 24, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT

Woodrow Wilson

This is pretty fascinating. Baseball’s Official Historian John Thorn writes today about how our nation’s 28th president may very well have been something of a fantasy baseball player. As in: he fantasized about baseball results and wrote up statistical summaries and phony newspaper reports about the imaginary exploits — in 1871:

Claire Dekle from the Library’s Preservation Department was able to procure images of the entire “Proffessional Record” for me, and then the real fun began. Wilson’s recording of detail was thorough in the extreme—not only in the presentation of box scores but also in the clubs’ year-end summaries, which split out earned runs scored and allowed and detail individual batting and fielding totals and averages in the manner of the day . . . This was the record of a magical mystery tour, played between the young Wilson’s ears.

Wilson was 15 at the time. And he was doing what a lot of us did with Strat-o-Matic cards or computer simulations or other faux-baseball pursuits. And the result, if not the process, is a lot like many people’s sim or fantasy baseball teams.

Wilson: polarizing president, namesake of my high school and a total baseball geek 143 years ago.

  1. genericcommenter - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    I was going to say how this couldn’t possible make up for the awful person that he was, but I don’t really like fantasy baseball anyway.

    • shutdownespn - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:33 AM

      I would suggest a more nuanced take was that Wilson had many positive qualities (smart, visionary, progressive) that were counterbalanced by his embrace of a fairly typical Southern, religious conservative viewpoint (racism, narrow-mindedness, sexism) characteristic of that era. To say that he was an “awful person” is very simplistic, and is a sentiment that implicitly condemns millions and millions of people who lived in that time as “awful.”

      • asimonetti88 - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        Woodrow Wilson, member of the KKK and a driving force behind the Federal Reserve.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:45 AM

        No, he was an awful person and anyone that imprisons women in workhouses under the guise of blocking traffic because they want to vote while claiming to spread democracy around the world while really just helping US companies take advantage of agricultural workers in foreign countries because he’s acting “in their best interests” does not get a pass. He was so lousy that he gave Eugene Debs an in to make the best showing of a third party candidate for about 200 years and paved the way for Republican hegemony in the White House that wouldn’t be broken until FDR.

      • Old Gator - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:50 AM

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:52 AM

        Nuance apples to people who balanced the harm they HAD to do with the good they chose to do. Wilson went about it the other away around.

      • shutdownespn - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:58 AM

        Aaaaand, here comes historiophiliac, talking down to me, and attempting to show us that she knows more about history than the rest of us combined.

        First of all, historiophiliac, do you have any notion that condemning people from 100 or 200 or 300 years ago by the moral/social standards of our time is a slippery slope, and must be done with extreme caution? That was pretty foundational in my graduate school training. Similarly, is my point–that one must consider the good WIlson did, in addition to the bad–all that problematic for you? That also seems pretty basic to historical analysis, at least to me.

        Second, much of your post is opinion/intepretation-based in nature, and so cannot be addressed effectively in a comments section. However, I can easily address your last observation, that Wilson “paved the way for Republican hegemony in the White House that wouldn’t be broken until FDR.” This point is flat-out incorrect. The Republicans controlled the White House for 44 or the 52 years prior to Wilson, with only the two non-consecutive Cleveland terms keeping it from being a clean sweep. The Republicans would control the presidency for 12 more years after Wilson, until the election of FDR.

        To say that Wilson paved the way for Republican hegemony, then, does not square with the facts. Much more accurate to say that he temporarily interrupted the Republican hegemony that had been in effect for multiple generations, thanks primarily to the third-party candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, which split the Republican vote. That hegemony then resumed for 12 years, aided in part by Wilson’s missteps but also by a vibrant national economy, before finally being dismantled by FDR (and the Great Depression) in 1932.

      • shutdownespn - Feb 24, 2014 at 12:06 PM

        Also, asimonetti88, WIlson was not a member of the KKK. Among other issues, this would have been impractical for him, as the first incarnation of the Klan (ca. 1865-ca. 1871) had been dismantled by the time he reached adulthood (he turned 18 in 1874) and the second did not emerge (ca. 1915- ca.1940s) until he was president.

        Wilson did offer a sympathetic interpretation of the Klan’s activities in his scholarly work, and he did famously enjoy and endorse “The Birth of a Nation.” However, neither of these things was particularly remarkable for an academic of that period, particularly one with Southern roots. Google “Dunning School” for more on this point.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 24, 2014 at 5:00 PM

        Dude, get that chip off your shoulder. You read that as me talking down to you. I wrote it as me giving examples of exactly why I disagree with you — which is what you should do in arguments. Further, the fact that you make blanket statements about how we should assess the actions of people who came before us and how you read the Wilson administration’s placement does not make it true. I appreciate your dedication to the traditional professional canon on Wilson (and the KKK), but I don’t agree with it. As I pointed out to MorningStar, Wilson did not help his party and if he had been beloved, it would’ve affected Republican control of the White House thereafter (in my opinion). It certainly wasn’t true that anyone was going to use heartwarming feelings about him or his reputation/stance on issues to get any programs through Congress. The progressivism that Wilson used to get to the presidency was lost in his efforts to — as Thomas Wolfe put it: make the world safe for hypocrisy. You may choose to be an apologist for him if you would like. I do not. There were people opposed to racism,sexism, and American interventions even at that time.

      • shutdownespn - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:01 AM

        So, anything short of an outright, unequivocal condemnation means I’m an apologist for Wilson? Well ok, then. Must be nice to live in such a black and white world, where there are absolutely no shades of gray.

        Also, failing to put a stop to Republican hegemony is not the same as “paving the way.” By your standard, W.J. Bryan also paved the way for Republican hegemony. As did Samuel Tilden. And James Cox. And Al Smith. And Alton Parker. And, frankly, every American who did not win the presidency as a Democrat between 1860 and 1932.

        Truth be told, I’m not entirely certain that you understand that a 1910s Republican and a 1910s Democrat are not at all the same thing as a modern Republican and a modern Democrat. I mean, you’re critical of Wilson and his policies–which were fairly characteristic of the Democrats of that time–but you’re also an enemy of the Republican hegemons.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:08 AM

        I love that I allegedly have the simplistic black-and-white thinking but you’re confused that I don’t like the Democrats or the Republicans there. Don’t bother to worry about what I understand, BTW — I am most certainly not your girl to fret about. Again, you are welcome to interpret it your way. I disagree. I think the Wilson represented a chance for Progressives to introduce a new era (and their successes in other elections/venues suggests that was happening) and reinvent his party, but despite two terms, he did not. Really, he offered no better alternative than what TR had done (and left a legacy of) — and with less charm. And, I think he alienated people within his own party and on the left so badly that he did not leave a beneficial political legacy behind that could be built on — thus paving a way for the Republicans to regain the White House (with an updated image) and hold it despite their corrupt and/or unappealing administrations/policies. He was so unpopular it helped Harding win and his own party tried to shake him to have a chance at it. I think you are conflating three Republican eras (post-Civil War dominance, age of TR, and inter-war/pro-business party) into one overarching one, and I think that is incorrect.

        Quite frankly, I don’t understand at all why you are making this personal. I did not attack you — I disagreed with you. There is a difference. You should try doing the same. Have a nice night.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:32 AM

        P.S. Oklahomans elected a progressive Democrat in those same years, and he took on the KKK — even though it eventually led to his impeachment.

  2. number42is1 - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    he was a hockey geek actually

  3. kcroyal - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    I wonder if Wilson would have been a fan today, ya know…with all the colored folk being allowed to play.

    • jimeejohnson - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:24 AM


      • historiophiliac - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:25 AM

        Wilson introduced official segregation to federal employment.

    • historiophiliac - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      He’d probably have a stroke, but it’s okay because his wife would gladly take over.

      /Edith props him up in Presidential Box and pulls a Weekend at Bernie’s throwing out the first pitch

      • TheMorningStar - Feb 24, 2014 at 1:03 PM

        I suspect the death of a sitting President and a booming economy was more of a factor in the Republican hegemony (?) of the 1920s than any animosity towards Wilson.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 24, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        You think McKinley’s assassination (prior to TR, Taft& Wilson) affected the three elections after Wilson’s? Or, you think Harding was that beloved despite the scandals of his administration?

      • TheMorningStar - Feb 24, 2014 at 3:09 PM

        McKinley? No, he doesn’t factor in this discussion. True, Harding was not the most well liked of the Presidents ( a mini depression, corruption scandals, and support for anti-lynching legislation will derail even the most popular executives) but to give ‘credit’ to Wilson soley for the GOP’s successes in the 1920s is to ignore some of the most powerful political forces of the decade. Mellon, Hoover, Strong, etc. Not to mention the the expansion of two of the greatest technologies (electrification and the automobile) into the masses as well as the stock market.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:46 PM

        I did not say that Wilson was solely responsible for Republican successes, but you know people overlooked a lot of crap with FDR and Reagan (and it helped their same-party successors) because of their feelings for them. Wilson did not help his party there. And, I still don’t understand how you think Harding’s death was a significant factor in Republican success after Wilson.

      • raysfan1 - Feb 24, 2014 at 10:01 PM

        I’ll play a little and add some factors that played into Wilson’s lack of popularity and thus Republicans’ regaining the White House in 1920:
        Post-WWI economic downturn
        1917-1919 Spanish Flu epidemic
        Lack of popularity of our involvement in WWI despite the Zimmerman Telegram
        Landing troops in the Soviet Union

        Obviously not all of the was Wilson’s fault, but they did affect the mood of the electorate.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:34 AM

        I don’t think his administration’s efforts to suppress free speech or the Palmer Raids helped either.

  4. bostonboresme - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    This is awesome! Prez. Taft right before him started the presidential first pitch tradition.

    • natstowngreg - Feb 24, 2014 at 1:03 PM

      Woody probably turned over in his grave when Bill Taft was named the fifth Washington Nationals Racing President, since he beat both Bill and Teddy in the 1912 election.

  5. happytwinsfan - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    he seems to have been a big believer in the “noble lost cause” characterization of the civil war and i’m gonna guess bought into the same racist pseudo science being churned out at the turn of the century that the nazis used for justification. certainly a man no better then his time.

    • asimonetti88 - Feb 24, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      Wilson was actually one of the more pro-Jewish presidents we’ve had. Too bad he was oppressive of other minorities. But hey, at least “he kept us out of war” in WWI, right?

      • asimonetti88 - Feb 24, 2014 at 12:16 PM

        Just don’t disagree with him, or else you’ll find yourself jailed.

    • missingdiz - Feb 24, 2014 at 12:24 PM

      Yes, concerning the “noble lost cause.” My hometown was 10 miles from Wilson’s. I was born a bit later, but the “noble cause” BS was alive and well. The upper south differed from the lower south in that the oppression of black people was not fundamental to the economy. But the racism nevertheless was essential and elaborately worked out. I think to a large extent it had to do with the civil war (“war between the states,” as we were told). Before the war, Virginia had been very prominent among the states, and among the colonies before the rev. After the war–a backwater. Nobody could just say, “maybe we made a mistake.”

  6. bostonboresme - Feb 24, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    What he said ^

  7. Liam - Feb 24, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    I’ve always heard Woodrow was extremely upset when Congress blocked his attempts to form a Fantasy Baseball League of Nations.

  8. TheMorningStar - Feb 24, 2014 at 1:04 PM

    I suspect the death of a sitting President and a booming economy was more of a factor in the Republican hegemony (?) of the 1920s than any animosity towards Wilson.

  9. yardleyphils - Feb 24, 2014 at 1:27 PM


    • asimonetti88 - Feb 24, 2014 at 3:18 PM

      I think everyone on this post can agree here.

  10. skipcastaneda - Feb 24, 2014 at 7:43 PM

    Hey missingdiz,
    Staunton is a very nice town. I spent two months there while working for Target in Stuarts Draft. I miss that part of the country.

    • missingdiz - Feb 24, 2014 at 8:24 PM

      Yes, indeed. I like Staunton now, too. Harrisonburg also.

      But when I was growing up it (actually I grew up in “Waynzbur”) was different. For instance, every year there was a “minstrel show” at the high school when most of the white, male elite performed skits and jokes in blackface, putting on exaggerated Uncle-Tom dialect. That was about it for entertainment, except for the movies–the Wayne Theater (where I got my first job) did not allow black people in through the front door and they were not to be seen in the concession area. They just were not to be seen, period. They lined up in the alley, paid for their tickets, and climbed the steps to the balcony.

  11. missingdiz - Feb 24, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    Probably everybody has moved on. I’ll just bring this back to baseball. In my hometown, integration began with Little League baseball. It was a good idea. My team got a terrific lead-off hitter and a bean-pole left-handed pull hitter. We would’ve been the champs, but this other team got a little lefty named Milt and we just couldn’t hit him. The whole idea of white superiority gets shaken up pretty good as you’re walking back to the bench after little Milt strikes you out on three pitches.

  12. skipcastaneda - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:31 AM

    Thanks for the reminder Missingdiz. I was trying to remember the town with boro in it. Waynesboro! For excitement I would drive to Richmond and catch a Braves game. And I also caught a game in Lynchburg.

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