Goldman: John McGraw’s American boyhood

From SABR member Steven Goldman at The National Pastime Museum on June 30, 2016:

Modern media has sped up the disposability of history and culture, so it seems likely that most Americans don’t know all that much about John J. McGraw, the New York Giants manager of 1902 through 1932, winner of 10 pennants, as well as a key player in one of baseball’s earliest dynasties, the “Old Orioles” team that won three National League pennants in the 1890s. McGraw’s plaque in Cooperstown and memorial sculpture on a traffic island in his birthplace of Truxton, New York (pop. 1,000), are relatively inaccessible, leaving only his retired “number” on the wall at AT&T Park in San Francisco as a memento for today’s fans. Since McGraw had no number, the sign gives the impression that it’s his name that’s been retired.

That’s probably about right, and not just about McGraw. For years, surveys and test results have shown that Americans know so little about their own history that it was hardly a surprise a few years ago when the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which is taking care of the first president’s house until such time as he returns for it, had to build an introduction-providing visitor’s center because no one knew who George Washington was anymore. Think about that for a second: you load up the family into the car, drive some oppressive distance, arrive at this big ol’ mansion, and you don’t know why you’re there. That’s how well we know ourselves.

“Okay,” you say, “but that’s George Washington.” He matters. Sure, John McGraw was the original model for all managers with his 10 pennants, three World Series titles, and some ageless stories about how he was simultaneously a hard-ass who fined a player who hit a game-winning home run after being given the bunt sign and the uplifting figure who, as Heywood Broun wrote, “would take kids out of the coal mines and out of the wheat fields and make them walk and talk and chatter and play ball with the look of eagles,” but that’s not the same as a president. I’ll save my concern for when they forget Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Roosevelt. This is just baseball.”

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Originally published: June 30, 2016. Last Updated: June 30, 2016.