Saturday, August 14, 2010

45. Eddie Bennett - The Professional


Every once in a while you hear one of those stories about someone who overcomes a handicap and carves out their own niche and finds great success in life. Today it is arguably easier to overcome physical handicaps, with the support programs, educational awareness and a general understanding of people with disabilities. The fear and ostracising that once plagued the handicapped at the turn of the century has all but disappeared from our day and age. But back at the turn of the 20th century people with disabilities often faced a life of misery and marginalization. Often there were 3 avenues open to them, being cared for by their families if they were lucky enough to be financially secure, placed in an institutional and hidden from public or a career as a side-show performer.

Into this last category would be the job of "good luck charm". Yes back in the day a hunchback or dwarf was considered by most sports teams to be good luck. Many professional baseball teams had a place on their bench for such a mascot. Hunchbacks were considered a particularly good charm, and many players rubbed the back of the mascot before stepping up to the plate believing that it brought luck. Eddie Bennett was such an object of luck, but he also became much more to the teams he worked for.

From the beginning of his life, Eddie Bennett seemed to catch one bad break after another. A childhood accident left young Eddie with a crippling back injury stunting his growth and leaving him hunchbacked and child-sized. His life was further disadvantaged when both his parents perished in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Now crippled and orphaned, things looked pretty bleak for the young kid from Flatbush. Eddie was a big baseball fan and he had taken to hanging around the Polo Grounds trying to catch ballgames. He was such a fixture at the stadium that White Sox "Happy" Felsch took notice of the boy and impressed by his cheery demeanor, had the Sox take Eddie on as their good luck charm. Eddie travelled with the team and lo and behold they won the pennant and went to the World Seies. Unfortunately this was the 1919 series and we all what happened next. 8 White Sox, Eddies benefactor Felsch included, were accused of throwing the series and banished from the game. Somehow, Eddie had switched over to Brooklyn for the 1920 season and wouldn't you know it, Brooklyn wins the pennant that year. However, after winning 2 out of 3 games at home, the team left Eddie behind when they went on the road to play Cleveland and without their lucky charm were promptly lost 4 straight games and the series. A dejected and offended Eddie left the team in disgust.

In 1921 Eddie turned up with the New York Yankees. It was the beginning of a new age of baseball, a modern time and Eddie was determined not to remain a throwback to a more primitive age. Although still a good luck charm to the team, Eddie established himself as a true professional batboy. He not only performed the typical duties of batboy but he also took on many other tasks from the players enabling them to concentrate more on the game being played. He became a paid employee of the club and he took his job as seriously as the players. Eddie ran errands, procured their favorite foods and became their confidant. Eddie was privy to every rumor and scandal regarding the Yankees during the roaring twenties but along with handling the players lumber, he kept his mouth shut. When Urban Shocker was suffering from heart problems late in his career, he roomed with Eddie Bennett who honored the pitchers wishes and kept it quiet from his teammates.

Babe Ruth in particular became close to Eddie who he related to as being a fellow orphan who carved out his little successful niche in the world. Ruth and Bennett would come out on the field early in batting practice and perform a comical warm up show with the much larger Ruth who would continually throw the ball out of Eddie's reach, eventually backing him up to the backstop, all the while Eddie hollering at The Babe. Not one Ruthian homerun went by without Eddie being the first to shake his hand upon touching home plate and if you look at any team picture from 1921 to 1932, there is Eddie, front and center with a big wide grin on his face, the envy of every boy in the land.

For the 12 years he was with the Yankees they won 7 pennants and 4 World Series. but all this changed early in 1932 when he was hit by a taxicab, breaking his leg. Due to his other health problems the injury healed slowly and by the end of the year it was clear that Eddie's fragile health was failing. Unable to perform his duties with the Yankees, he was none-the-less financially supported by team owner Jacob Ruppert out of thanks for all his service to his club. But not being around the team anymore and the severe pain he suffered daily because of the accident took its toll on Eddie. He began to drink heavily and he passed away in 1935 after a 3 week bender, surrounded in his room by mounds of priceless memorabilia from his years as the most famous batboy in the world.

Eddie Bennett, professional batboy and mascot who cried when the Yankees lost and cried when the won, was laided to rest at St. John's Cemetery in Queens, the funeral paid for by his beloved New York Yankees.


4 comments:

  1. That's a phenomenal story. Nice card composition, too!

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  2. Thanks Matthew, it was a fun card to draw as well as research...

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  3. This is one of the best sites I've come across in a long time. I really liked the story. Your site has a similar feel to the greatest baseball book of all time, "The Glory of Their Times." I will tell friends about your project and site. Who needs Topps? Ha.

    Mack

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  4. Mack,
    Thanks for the compliment, to be compared to Ritter's book is an honor, that volume really broke new ground when it came to sports writing and also brought amateur baseball historians into the spotlight for the first time. Ritter's book introduced that easy, unclinical approach to interviewing a subject, partly due to Ritter's inherent shyness and also him being in awe of sitting with a famous ballplayer and he just let them do the talking and let the interview flow wherever the subject wanted to take it.

    As for Topps, well, they do something totally different than what I try to do, where as their cards appeal to 10's of millions of people, mine appeal to a miniscule percentage of that! Besides, drawing a card of Eddie Bennett is a lot more fun than drawing a card up of A-Rod.

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