Anson in Greasepaint: The Vaudeville Career of Adrian C. Anson

This article was written by Robert H. Schaefer

This article was published in the The National Pastime (Volume 28, 2008)


Overture

Adrian C. Anson’s professional baseball career came to an abrupt end on February 1, 1898, when Chicago Club president James Hart unceremoniously sacked him without notice. Anson had made his living playing baseball since 1871, had been a member of the Chicago Club since 1876 and, as their captain since 1879, had risen to national fame. Now it was all over.

Although well fixed financially, the 45-year-old Anson was emotionally and psychologically unprepared for this brusque dismissal from his post. He had laid no plans for a future beyond the diamond. Forced to cope with restructuring his life, he turned his tremendous ego to forging a niche in Chicago’s business world. He lusted for the limelight and the glories that came with being a dynamic and conspicuous public figure, as he had been for all of his adult life.

After publishing his autobiography, largely devoted to an around-the-world tour in 1889, Anson focused on operating a business designed to please sporting men. Long renowned as a top-ranked amateur billiard player, he established a splendid billiard parlor in downtown Chicago. Remodeling of the building began in March 1899, and it opened on June 9 of that year. Located at 135–141 Madison Street, it housed a 10-lane bowling alley on the ground floor and a well-illuminated billiard academy with 24 tables on the second.1 The billiard room was elegantly appointed, and no expense was spared to provide its habitués with every possible luxury. Anson expanded his establishment in 1906 by adding to the ground floor an annex that contained 18 additional billiard tables and a lavish buffet called the Home Plate.

While operating his billiard room, Anson became heavily involved in politics. He was elected city clerk on the Democratic ticket in 1905 and served a full two-year term.

Although Anson was personally law-abiding, as city clerk he permitted some of his appointees to receive full pay while they were absent from the office. Accusations of other improprieties were leveled at him. On May 21, 1906, the Chicago Daily Tribune took him to task: “His record has conspicuously contradicted the idea that he knows much or cares seriously about the duties [of the office] . . . which ‘Captain’ A. C. Anson is paid $5,000 a year to manage.” In 1906 Anson sought the office of Cook County sheriff. He failed to win the nomination as the Democratic candidate and left politics.

On July 16, 1908, his billiard business failed. He owed more than $6,500 in back rent to the building’s owner, Mrs. Charles P. Taft, a sister-in-law of the Republican presidential candidate. The political connection must have been especially bitter to the lifelong Democrat. The business failure was said to have cost Anson more than $80,000.

In 1909 he returned to baseball and formed a semi-pro team. He leased grounds at Sixty-third Street and triumph, since immense sums of money were being paid to current baseball stars for daubing on greasepaint.

St. Lawrence Avenue, raising the money by taking a mortgage on the family home at 160 Thirtieth Street. Although Anson had owned this house since 1884, the title was in his wife’s name. Virginia agreed to mortgage the property so he could underwrite the enterprise. His new team, “Anson’s Colts,” competed against strong semipro teams in the Chicago area and even went on tour, traveling as far as New York to compete. Pop’s old friend and onetime rival Charles Comiskey arranged for them to play spring training exhibition games against the Chicago White Sox. The baseball venture also ended in financial failure as Anson defaulted on the ballground lease. Once more disaster found Anson, and his home was foreclosed on May 31, 1910. Pop admitted to the world, “I’m busted.”

Now almost 60, Anson was penniless, homeless, un-employed, and without a means of supporting his family. Owing to his lack of business acumen, coupled with a marked inability to forge viable business relationships, his economic options were limited. He still enjoyed unbounded personal popularity in Chicago, and his fame was undiminished nationally. He decided to draw on that capital, and he saw vaudeville as a potential avenue for triumph, since immense sums of money were being paid to current baseball stars for daubing on greasepaint.

Vaudeville Beckons

Live performances were the principal form of entertainment in Anson’s day. The major venues comprised the legitimate theater, vaudeville, burlesque, cabarets, opera, and the circus. Anson had appeared in one stage play, A Runaway Colt in 1895, which was a total fiasco.2 The origins of vaudeville are murky, but the word vaudeville can be traced to a region in France known as the Val de Vire, which had long nurtured a tradition of ballad singing and other forms of entertainment in local taverns.3

American vaudeville emphasized a straight, clean variety show—distinct from burlesque, which relied on off-color jokes, lowbrow or slapstick humor, and scantily clad women. Vaudeville’s goal was to present respectable comedy and a range of entertainments suitable for the entire family. It quickly became the theater of the people.4

A vaudeville program consisted of a series of unrelated acts that varied from just under 10 minutes to more than 35 minutes in length. A typical program consisted of nine acts with an intermission halfway through. Vaudeville hosted an unlimited spectrum of talent: singers, comedians, dancers, jugglers, trained animals, tumblers, sleight-of-hand artists, magicians, thespians, bicyclists, wire walkers, mimes, hypnotists, ventriloquists, monologists, and song-and-dance men. Ethnic jokes, stereotypical images, and pejorative terms—black-faced, Hebrew, Wop—that are unacceptable today were commonly used as a basis for humor.

The theater manager carefully selected the sequence in which the acts were presented. He had two goals as he fashioned a bill: to get the most out of the high-priced stars on his bill and to keep the audience entertained throughout the entire program.

To allow for the noise created by tardy patrons who arrived after the curtain went up, the first act did not depend on dialogue. Typically, a silent act—a mime, juggler, or magician—opened the show. The second spot, usually a comedian or a song-and-dance act, performed in front of the curtain. This allowed the hidden stage to be set for the very important third act. This position, considered “top billing,” was reserved for the show’s “headliner.” One or two more acts completed the first half. Following the intermission, the second half opened with a lively act. Next was a production number that might feature a star actor doing a scene from a famous play. Another big star was located in the next-to-last slot. The audience tended to leave the theater before the final act was over, and performers were not thrilled at being placed last on the bill.

Many star athletes were lured to vaudeville. Champions and near-champs from every sporting endeavor appeared in vaudeville theaters. Theater managers and booking agents considered these to be “freak” acts, since few athletes delivered true entertainment in these venues. They were exploited strictly for their box-office appeal. It was well understood that their life expectancy on the stage was short, that it was over as soon as they stopped making headlines. All types of athletes were in vaudeville. Fighters were the most numerous. Baseball players ran a strong second; Hammerstein’s Theatre in New York City was called the baseball player’s “home plate.”5

In the offseason, many famous baseball players captured big money by appearing in vaudeville. Rube Waddell took a turn on the boards soon after he became a star on the diamond, first appearing with a theater company in September 1903. “Turkey” Mike Donlin also capitalized on “vaude,” teaming up with Mabel Hite, a longtime star comedienne. The two of them worked up an act together. Turkey Mike remained in show business long after both his marriage and his career in baseball were over, finally landing in Hollywood, where he appeared in minor movie roles. Joe Tinker, of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance fame, started doing a monologue in 1910, and then did a skit, “A Great Catch,” with Sadie Sherman. Christy Mathewson and Chief Myers, battery-mates for the New York Giants, did a skit called “Curves,” with May Tulley, that was written especially for them by Bozeman Bulger.

On October 21, 1911, Variety reported the following activities for ballplayers: The “Athletics’ Big 3—Jack Coombs, Chief Bender and Cy Morgan” were booked by Alf T. Wilton for Dockstader’s of Wilmington at $2,500 a week. The three ballplayers were teamed with the Pearl sisters, Kathryn and Violet, in a sketch called “Learning the Game.” The diamond’s star comedian, Germany Schaefer, teamed with Grace Belmont to launch a career in vaudeville but sadly discovered that his humor fell flat on the boards. Other ballplayers who daubed on greasepaint in 1911 included McHale, Buck O’Brien, Larry Gardner, and Bradley of the Boston Red Sox, who toured the New England area, while Doc White of the White Sox and King Cole of the Cubs worked in theaters around Chicago. Ty Cobb entered the “legit” theater, appearing in The College Widow. Cobb was lavishly entertained wherever the show appeared, and this forced him to remain up well into the wee small hours of the morning. These demands taxed his “nerves,” and Cobb quit the show on January 3, well in advance of the projected end date of March 1. Charles Faust, the “Jinx boy” with the Giants, also played “pop” houses.

John McGraw did well in vaudeville with a monologue titled “Inside Baseball,” but he chose to remain in New York rather than take it on the road. “After seeing John McGraw on the stage,” sportswriter Hugh Fullerton remarked, “we feel more and more tempted to compare Cap Anson with William Gillette” (Chicago Tribune, January 7, 1913). Gillette being the leading dramatic actor of the day, the reader was given to understand that Fullerton wasn’t overly impressed by Muggsy.

Rube Marquard made his vaudeville debut in 1911, appearing with Annie Kent at Hammerstein’s. The next year he teamed up with a beautiful headliner, Blossom Seeley, in a skit called “Breaking the Record.” Marquard sang and the couple did a dance together, the Marquard Glide. They later married. The rush of baseball stars to the footlights prompted Fullerton to comment that “the reason so many ball players go into vaudeville is that no one will pay $1,500 a week for them to jump over Niagara Falls.”6

As the result of an imbroglio with the National League in the spring of 1910, Cubs catcher Johnny Kling was fined $750. He hit on the scheme of appearing on stage at a vaudeville theater to raise the money. The Morris Agency booked him for a week of monologue at the American Music Hall in Chicago. Kling sent word that he didn’t think he could draw many people “just talking” and suggested a billiard act instead.7

Kling was a pocket-pool champion, and happily someone thought to match him against Chicago’s own Knight of the Cue, Pop Anson. The match came off on the stage of the American Music Hall on Monday, April 25, 1910, a miserable spring day with rain and snow. The game between the Pirates and the Cubs was cancelled because of the bad weather, and ballplayers and baseball fans filled the theater to cheer the contest. World-champion pool player Willie Hoppe was enlisted to referee the match.

The action was described in the next day’s edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune:

As an introduction to the match between two ball players, moving pictures of the Cub–White Sox series were shown. Then the manager of the theater presented Anson, whom he called, “The father of baseball.” Kling was introduced, and must have felt good over the noise that greeted his appearance. After shaking hands with Capt. Anson he made the following speech:

“I want to thank you, ladies and gentleman—and Mr. Morris—in behalf of me.”

These words made a tremendous impression. Jack Lait rang the gong and the pool match was on. You could almost see most of the shots by the aid of a mirror back of the table. Kling broke the balls and Anson had a majority at the end of the frame. John evened it up after the second break, and the score was 15 all. Neither player was up to his game, and Kling’s average suffered through errors. Anyhow, John won out by the tight score of 25 to 23, and then there were curtain calls for both heroes. On this second attempt Kling said:

“I want to say that I came back to play ball.”

He then made a hurried but graceful exit. Capt. Anson really shone as a speech maker, and won that battle even if he did lose the pool game.

Knight of the Cue, Pop Anson. The match came off on the stage of the American Music Hall on Monday, April 25, 1910, a miserable spring day with rain and snow. The game between the Pirates and the Cubs was cancelled because of the bad weather, and ballplayers and baseball fans filled the theater to cheer the contest. World-champion pool player Willie Hoppe was enlisted to referee the match.

The action was described in the next day’s edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune:

As an introduction to the match between two ball players, moving pictures of the Cub–White Sox series were shown. Then the manager of the theater presented Anson, whom he called, “The father of baseball.” Kling was introduced, and must have felt good over the noise that greeted his appearance. After shaking hands with Capt. Anson he made the following speech:

“I want to thank you, ladies and gentleman—and Mr. Morris—in behalf of me.”

Anson in Greasepaint

Anson was encouraged by this experience, and he decided to strike out on his own in vaudeville, doubtless influenced by the handsome wages Kling and other ballplayers were earning.

The record of Anson’s vaudeville appearances in 1910 is scanty. Apparently he didn’t do too well. On January 1, 1911, Sid Mercer of the New York Globe lobbied for a National League pension for Anson, writing that “the Cap has taken another wallop because the vaudeville he was counting on to pull him through his hard times has come a bloomer.”8

From the disaster that was A Runaway Colt, Anson had learned that he could not pretend to be an actor. He announced that the great showman George M. Cohan, who was also a devoted baseball fan, had prepared a monologue for him.9 In Pop’s new act, he was presented as Captain Anson, the living baseball legend. He spun yarns about his celebrated days on the diamond, speaking of the great players he competed both with and against. Pop recreated the glory days when both he and the men in the audience were young. Very simply, Anson talked about baseball to the adoring fans that filled the theater. On January 26, Pop made his first appearance at a New York theater since A Runaway Colt and tested his new act at a testimonial for William H. Wood. He prefaced his monologue:

I’m doing this because I need the money. That’s on the square. I need the money. I’ve got out of politics and billiards and I’ve got to find something else. My contract is a funny one. I’m being paid by the laugh; for a giggle I get $1; for a laugh, $5; for a scream, $10; and for a round of applause $25.”10

Anson got his round of applause that night, and the results of his new monologue were encouraging. On February 3 the Chicago Daily Tribune reported,

The West side, which has had Cap Anson for so many shinning [sic] years in baseball, will have him in vaudeville. Yep. The Cap has joined out and pleasing to relate—for he needs the money—he is getting by with it in excellent conformation.

Following this success Anson made his formal vaudeville debut in Chicago at the Hamilton Theatre on February 6, 1911. Pop’s friends bought out all the box seats and flocked there to support him.11 As luck would have it, Anson arrived at the theater at the exact moment that a spontaneous labor dispute halted the entire show.

The organization representing vaudeville artists was the White Rats of America. They and the Federation of Labor were in conference with the theater about the form of contract used by management. The actors refused to appear on stage until this issue was resolved. The theater was packed, and the audience was restless. Anson, not being a member of the White Rats, was urgently requested to make an immediate appearance on stage while the negotiations were under way. Without taking time to don his costume, Pop went onstage.

The veteran was given a round of applause as he strode to the front of the stage With as firm a grasp on his subject as he used to get on the wagon tongue which he laced out those stinging hits at the west side park, the captain went lightly from incident to incident like a butterfly, except that he stood in one spot. He touched on baseball things, ancient and modern, running the gamut from Mike Kelly to Johnny Evers.

Taking his hearers into his confidence, he explained that his second try at histrionics honors was due to his need for money with which to buy a ball club.

He admitted:

“I can’t act, can’t dance, can’t sing, and that leads me to the conclusion that some one must be crazy, myself, the people who hired me, or those who listen to me.”

The veteran was given a recall and recited a poem on the “Courtship of Swat.” This went along smoothly until “Cap” reached a line about pay day, where he tripped, a bad spot to trip on. [Chicago Daily Tribune, February 7, 1911]

Following this success, Anson was engaged as the headliner at Chicago’s Wilson Avenue Theatre for the week of March 24.12 Up until this time, apparently, Anson was acting as his own agent and doing his own booking. Now, the triumph of his Cohan monologue allowed him to enter the world of vaudeville more seriously. On March 4, 1911, Variety announced, “Cap. Anson, the veteran baseballist, has booked with Gus Sun to play all the towns of the Central league. He will open at Zanesville, O., April 23.”

The Sun circuit, owned and operated by Gus Sun (born Gus Klotz in Toledo, Ohio, in 1868), was perhaps the most important of the small-time circuits. Sun booked its acts at fourth-and fifth-grade houses, primarily in midwestern states.13 The redeeming value of the Sun circuit was as a proving ground for new acts. Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey broke in with Sun. The acts that proved popular left the Sun circuit immediately. Acts that remained on it season after season never could shed the derogatory mantle of “small-time.”

Later that year, Pop, along with many other entertainers, donated his services to a worthy cause. A monster benefit was arranged for New York Giants secretary Fred Knowles, who had contracted a fatal illness. It was held on November 10 at New York City’s Wallack’s Theatre, which was jammed, and more than five hundred people were turned away.

Sam H. Harris arranged for the greatest theatrical bill ever seen in the city. Luminaries included George M. Cohan, Al Jolson, Mabel Hite, James J. Corbett, and Adrian C. Anson. Each of them took a turn entertaining the crowd. Pop made a speech and then concluded his act with a dance.

Many baseball souvenirs were contributed and auctioned off for Knowles’s benefit. Frank Baker’s World Series home-run bat went to George M. Cohan for $250. Baseballs autographed by Mathewson, Marquard, Bender, Coombs, and Cy Morgan brought from $5 to $20 each. More than $3,500 was raised at this event.14

In May 1913, Anson upgraded his act by joining the Sullivan and Considine circuit, a marked step up from Sun.15 The Sporting Life reported on October 4, 1913:

Cap Anson is to appear in this city [Philadelphia] at the Liberty Theatre week of Oct. 6. Some time ago Cap was engaged as a feature to present a witty base ball monologue in Western vaudeville and has just completed a tour of 25 weeks over the Sullivan and Considine circuit.

Anson’s career in greasepaint now rolled along in fine style. He had taken up golf and lugged his clubs with him on tour. Somehow, he found time to get in a game almost every day. He said that prior to establishing this exercise routine his weight had shot up to 233 pounds, but now that he was golfing regularly he was as fit as ever.

When Woodrow Wilson, well known as a baseball fan, was inaugurated as president in March 1913, Anson, loyal as always to the Democratic Party, wired his congratulations from Salt Lake City, where he was appearing:

Having been city clerk of Chicago on the Democratic ticket and also slightly connected with baseball, it pleases me greatly to know that you have gone to the front for the great national game of baseball. I am convinced now that I made no mistake in voting for you.16

Wilson was a golfer as well as a baseball fan, and Anson’s wire led to an invitation to play a round of golf with the new president. The two men toured the links while Anson was in the capital the following October for a theater engagement. When Anson arrived in Washington on October 10, he headlined the bill at the Cosmos Theatre. He was advertised as “the father of baseball, the man who invented and developed the bunt, the double steal, the hit and run, ‘place hitting,’ and other scientific plays of the game.”17

F. F. Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City hosted a “Baseball Week” beginning December 7, 1913. The bill consisted of twelve acts, three of which featured baseball players. Lillian Lorraine, a singing comedienne, was the headliner.

Pitcher Rube Marquard and his charming spouse Blossom Seeley presented a skit, written by Thomas J. Gray, “The Suffragette Pitcher.” “The team does the same act as of yore,” wrote “Plain Mary,” the critic for Variety. “Rube doesn’t improve as an actor, and if it were not for Miss Seeley holding up the turn he would be hopeless. Rube has a good natured smile, though, and that helps some. His tango at the finish is a scream.”

Plain Mary wasn’t much kinder to Charley Dooin, a major-league catcher, and James McCool in her report on their song sketch “Baseball in Ireland.” “Dooin and McCool are showing the same act they have had for a couple of years,” she observed. “They work like full fledged actors now. The men talk a lot about baseball and recite. The two ballads are the feature of this act. The singing isn’t too bad, that is, if you are not too particular.”

Anson’s act lasted seventeen minutes. Plain Mary’s evaluation:

Captain Anson, billed as “The Grand Old Man of Baseball,” is offering a monologue by Geo. M. Cohan. The talk is all right in its way, but the way Captain Anson gets it over is no riot. He appears to have plenty of confidence and goes so far as to announce he knows he is good. However, he gets the sympathy of the audience by telling them he is old and poor and needs the money. As many fell for it, the Captain captured plenty of applause. At that, he has a little something on Rube Marquard for dancing, but you can never be forgiven for that recitation, Capt. So long as the public doesn’t take him seriously as an actor, Captain Anson can get by on his reputation as a famous ball player. He has played in the west. This is his first New York showing.

Anson had grown as a performer, gaining poise and polish. By now he was a veteran of the boards and, with skillful writing and directing, put on an impressive turn, as indicated by this review of his performance at the Forsyth Theatre in Atlanta in 1914:

So it is time to say a few words about Pop Anson. Of course Pop is first and foremost and always a ball player to the army of fans. He says he can’t sing, dance, can’t do any of the things that a regular actor ought to do, but at that—take it from me—he is better than many an alleged real actor Atlanta has suffered.18

At the end of the 1915 vaudeville season, Anson signed on with the B. F. Keith circuit. Now he had finally made the big time. It also marked the end of his career as a “single.” “Old Cap Anson,” Variety reported on November 8, “the Adrian C. Anson of Chicago baseball fame of the earlier days—is getting tuned up for vaudeville. Pop and his two daughters are rehearsing an act which will include a varied baseball picture display under Al Laughin’s stage direction. Ring W. Lardner is writing some talk for Anson. A Chicago debut is being fixed for next fortnight.”

Pop’s new act, Capt. Anson & Daughters, included his middle two daughters, 32-year-old Adele and 27-year-old Dorothy. His youngest daughter, Virginia Jeanette, remained at home and cared for Pop’s wife, Virginia, who was in poor health. After a protracted illness, she died on February 21, 1916. Virginia was 56 and had been married to Anson for more than forty years. Her remains were removed to Philadelphia, her hometown, for interment.

The new act was divided into two parts. The first was quite formal, whereas the finale involved audience participation and capitalized on Anson’s baseball ability. Anson’s entrance was heralded by a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” written by Jack Norworth. Many years later, Dorothy Anson Dodge claimed that Anson introduced this song as a favor to Norworth while their act was appearing in Baltimore.19 (See Timothy A. Johnson’s article at page 138.)

Dorothy and Adele made their entrance dressed in fur-trimmed evening gowns. While music played softly in the background, they chanted: “Cap Anson, the greatest man that baseball ever knew./ The pitcher feared him, the bleachers cheered him./And he led the league in 1493.” With this introduction, Anson made his entrance. He wore formal evening clothes and tails while delivering his monologue. He began by lauding his old teammates and rivals, comparing these stars of the past to the luminaries of the present day. To no one’s great surprise, the old-timers prevailed, at least in Pop’s opinion.

For the finale, the trio changed into sports clothes. Anson was resplendent in his old Chicago uniform, and he wielded a silver bat presented to him by the Notre Dame alumni. The girls hauled out a huge bag filled with papier-mâché baseballs that A. G. Spalding & Co. produced especially for Anson. The girls now sang, “We’re going to take you to the game/ Where dear old Daddy won his fame.” They tossed the lightweight baseballs out to members of the audience, who then pitched them to Pop. Anson assumed his famous batting stance and drove the mock baseballs all over the theater. After the supply of baseballs had been exhausted, the girls and Anson marched offstage to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” concluding their act.

“Cap’Anson and his two imposing looking daughters hit in the high average class as a baseball sketch,” read the review in Variety after the performance of October 23, 1916, at the B. F. Keith Theatre in Philadelphia.

The “Grand Old Man” of baseball does a neat bit of work with his reminiscence stuff and the audience seemed willing to take him more seriously as a vaudeville offering than for his baseball achievements. The girls add to the picture as well as helping out with a couple of songs.

From Philadelphia, the troupe traveled to Buffalo, Syracuse, and other cities throughout the Northeast. On January 29, 1917, they arrived back home in Chicago, where they appeared at the Majestic Theatre. The review in the Chicago Daily Tribune the next day was glowing:

ANSON AS ACTOR GETS .400 MARK

After playing the New York State league and making the circuit of New England and International, Cap Anson jumped back to the major league cities yesterday, and revived the days of his baseball triumphs with a vaudeville skit at the Majestic. Cap shared honors with his two daughters, Adele and Dorothy, and the three interspersed a lot of dance steps, some tunes, some poetry, and a great deal of baseball lore with Ring Lardner quips. Ring wrote the sketch and the poems.

Part of the skit gave Pop Anson a chance to show how spry he is, despite his 64 years. He instructed the orchestra to strike up a tune so he could foot the intricate steps of the chicken reel, and also figured as a waltzer before the act was finished. Baseball friends and a box of billiard playing associates were out in front to give the old leader of the White Stockings a hand.

Variety joined in the chorus of praise for Capt. Anson & Daughters:

Much interest was centered locally in the [Chicago] vaudeville debut of Capt. Anson and his two daughters. The applause was spontaneous and the audience clamored for more. Act much better than Anson’s most sanguine friends expected and the entire turn was very well received. Pop acquitted himself like a stage veteran and when it comes to dancing shows Mike Donlin up.20

For the next four years, Capt. Anson & Daughters criss-crossed the continent and enjoyed great success. Their last known vaudeville performance was at B. F. Keith’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 1921. By then Adele and Dorothy were married and had families of their own. Their career on the boards came to an end, and so did Pop’s.

The Final Curtain

Anson began his career as a vaudevillian at the bottom, performing in hardscrabble theaters that played continuous shows and charged only a dime for admission. He doggedly worked at his craft, improving both his material and his delivery. He never became a major headliner, but he was an undeniable success. At the pinnacle of his career he appeared on big-time bills that headlined such stars as Irene Castle, Blossom Seeley, and Sophie Tucker.

Anson’s popularity in vaudeville was undiminished by time, as evidenced by his returning to the same cities, and indeed to the same theaters, year after year.

In January 1922, Anson was engaged to manage the new Dixmoor Golf Club. Construction of the course and clubhouse was expected to be completed in the spring.21 Meanwhile, he actively promoted the club and recruited new members by appearing at public links in Chicago while attired in knickers.22

Anson was suddenly stricken while taking his daily constitutional on April 8, 1922. He was rushed to St. Luke’s Hospital and operated on for a glandular condition. The initial reports indicated that he was resting well and not in serious condition. He responded nicely to the treatment, and because of his fine physical condition the attending physicians were confident of his recovery. But then he took a sudden turn for the worse and within a few hours died of apparent heart failure on April 14, three days before he would have turned 70.23

The entire world of baseball mourned Anson. His funeral on Sunday, April 16, 1922, was attended by hundreds of baseball fans and men high in business and political circles. Players of the Chicago American team, along with their opponents from the Detroit team, attended in a body. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s new commissioner, eulogized Anson, who was interred at Oakwood Cemetery, Chicago. Another modest tribute to Anson came on February 3, 1923, when the new Dixmoor golf course was completed, its second hole named in his honor. Anson did not leave an estate, and the National League paid for his funeral expenses. Virginia’s remains were relocated to lie alongside Pop, also at the expense of the National League.

A movement was immediately begun to raise funds for a fitting memorial in recognition of his contributions to the growth of the game. Anson’s papers indicated that he wanted his gravestone to bear the simple legend:

Here lies a man who batted .300.

When the imposing monument was dedicated on September 16, 1923, the inscription read:

He Played The Game.24

 

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to the entire staff of the Robert Marston Science Library, University of Florida, Gainesville, but especially to Missy Shoop, for the many courtesies and the professional assistance I received while using their outstanding facility. Rob Edelman provided very useful information, and I appreciate his assistance. Gabriel Schechter kindly provided important information. Howard Rosenberg was most generous in sharing data from his Cap Anson biographical series. Mary Bast’s rigorous editorial critique and insightful suggestions resulted in significant improvements to this article.

BOB SCHAEFER, in a forty-year career in the aerospace industry, participated in the Apollo, Shuttle, and Space Station Freedom programs. Since retirement he has conducted extensive research in nineteenth-century baseball. He has won the McFarland-SABR Research Award three times.

 

Notes

  1. The Sporting News, 24 June 1899.
  2. Robert Schaefer, “Anson on Broadway,” The National Pastime 25 (2005): 74–81.
  3. A History of Vaudeville. http://english.cla.umn.edu/GraduateProfiles/KSurkan/4403/ville.html.
  4. http://uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/AMS/963/amst2010/studproj/vaudeville/vaudeville.htm.
  5. Joe Laurie, Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace (New York: Henry Holt, 1953), 118.
  6. Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 January 1913.
  7. Variety, 30 April 1910.
  8. Chicago Daily Tribune, 1 January 1911.
  9. Chicago Daily Tribune, 31 January 1911.
  10. The Daily Northwestern, 26 January 1911.
  11. Chicago Daily Tribune, 5 February 1911.
  12. Chicago Daily Tribune, 17 March 1911.
  13. Laurie, Vaudeville, 235–37.
  14. Washington Post, 11 November 1911.
  15. Los Angeles Daily Times, 5 May 1913.
  16. Los Angeles Daily Times, 12 April 1913.
  17. Washington Post, 12 October 1913.
  18. Atlanta Constitution, 28 April 1914.
  19. This claim was made in an undated newspaper interview found in the files at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library. The interview celebrated the occasion of Anson’s centennial, placing the publication date on or about April 11, 1952. It should be noted that Jack Norworth published “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in 1908, and that it was an instant Anson & Daughters did not appear in Baltimore until 1916, making Mrs. Dodge’s claim suspect. Interestingly, Variety records that “Capt. Anson Co.” and Jack Norworth appeared on the very same bill at the Maryland Theater in Baltimore during the week of October 23, 1916. Perhaps this coincidence led to Mrs. Dodge’s confusion.
  20. Variety, 2 February 1917.
  21. Variety, 27 January 1922.
  22. Variety, 18 January 1922.
  23. Los Angeles Daily Times, 15 April 1922.
  24. Chicago Daily Tribune, 16 September 1923.

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