Fred Veil to discuss baseball history Saturday in Prescott
Baseball aficionados should consider attending a prominent local historian's lecture about the sport's impact on early-20th century American life at 2 p.m. this Saturday, May 9, inside the Sharlot Hall Museum's Lawler Building, 415 W. Gurley St., in Prescott.
Admission is free to the 40- to 45-minute discussion, one of the museum's monthly talks complete with a Q&A session afterwards in a 65-plus-seat theater.
Fred Veil, Sharlot Hall Museum's 74-year-old executive director and author of the 2013 book, "Bucky, A Story of Baseball in the Deadball Era," will talk about how baseball has been an important part of American cities and towns since the early 1900s.
The presentation, titled "Base Ball: It was Only a Game! ...an historical perspective," will trace the history of 'America's Pastime' from its humble beginnings in the mid-1800s to its evolution as an amateur sport and a professional one through the end of the Deadball Era in 1919.
"In communities all over the country, even if they didn't have major league teams, they had town teams and other organizations had social clubs, and churches and so forth had teams," Veil said. "And it really became what I call part of the social fabric of community life. It was really important to a community."
Fred has a family connection to baseball. His grandfather, Bucky Veil, pitched in the major leagues' first World Series, pitting the National League champion against the American League champion, in 1903.
Bucky, who died in 1931 before Fred's birth, pitched for the NL champion Pittsburgh Pirates.
"That's the family tradition, and my father and his brothers played baseball," Fred said. "And I played baseball. It's just something that, if you were a Veil, that's what you did."
During Saturday's lecture, Fred said he'll show historic photos from 1845-1919, when baseball gained popularity and became the national pastime.
He'll focus on the Deadball Era, the time preceding Babe Ruth from 1901-1919, when the game was built on strategy and speed, and contests were generally low-scoring. Players mainly concentrated on base running, bunting, and the hit-and-run.
The type of ball used in the Deadball Era was much different than it is today. Each ball had a hard-rubber center wound with yarn and a two-piece horsehide cover. By rule, it had to weigh 5 ounces and measure 9 inches in circumference.
"And they used generally one ball throughout a game," Veil added. "It became discolored, nicked, scratched, and lopsided and mushy."
In 1910, however, baseball manufacturers Spalding and Reach introduced a cork center, which is lighter than rubber. To get the right weight and circumference for the ball, the yarn was wound tighter. That made the ball travel farther and faster on contact.
"When you look at home run statistics after 1910, they inched up over a period of time until 1920, when there were two rule changes," Fred said. "One (rule) eliminated the spitball, any of the doctored pitches. And the other one required the umpire to put in a new baseball any time he felt that the one in play had become dirty or discolored to the point of being unsafe."
Fred added that the latter rule was instituted because of the death of former Cleveland Indians player Ray Chapman, who was hit and killed by a pitch with a dirty ball in 1920.
Ultimately, hitters began to gain an advantage over pitchers, culminating with the arrival of Ruth, who hit 29 homers in 1919 - an unheard of number until that time.
Veil loves the Deadball Era, though, in part because some of baseball's all-time greats, including Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Cy Young, played then.
"It was an exciting game, before the home run entered into the equation, because the ball was less lively and the fields at the ballparks were much bigger," Fred added. "Your home runs were generally inside-the-park home runs, which I think is the most exciting thing in baseball."
Fred will also discuss how the rules of the game changed to the "early-modern standards" by 1900; the emergence of the American League and the World Series, mostly in photos; and early amateur baseball in Arizona and how the pro game eluded the state until around 1928.
Veil is an accomplished writer. He has written several articles for the Journal of Arizona History and the Territorial Times. His papers on history have won the Don Bufkin Awards for the Best Territorial Period Papers.
A past Sheriff of the Prescott Corral of Westerners International, Veil conceived and organized the Western History Symposium held annually in Prescott.
To purchase a copy of Fred's book, "Bucky, A Story of Baseball in the Deadball Era," visit amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.
Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc. Reach him at 928-642-7865