Zane Grey and the story of ‘Old Well-Well’

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on November 13, 2011:

While most everyone has heard of [Zane Grey] (his 85 books sold more than 100 million copies and inspired 111 films, all of them Westerns), few recall that his first success came as a writer of baseball stories, most of them between 1909 and 1911.


Zane’s red-haired brother Romer “Reddy” Gray, with whom he had played back in Columbus, was an even better ballplayer, playing a single game with the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates of 1903. Reddy and his buddies in the Buffalo Bisons’ outfield of 1897, Billy Clymer and Red Gilboy, formed the basis of brother Zane’s most famous baseball story, “The Redheaded Outfield.” But I get ahead of myself: that story appeared in Grey’s last baseball opus in 1920.

It was in 1902, at the age of thirty, dispirited about his lack of success as a dentist, that Zane Grey determined to become a writer. His not yet fertile imagination produced Betty Zane, a historical potboiler about his great-great aunt that no commercial publisher would touch; he borrowed money to have it printed and in 1903 issued it himself. A sequel to this book, featuring one of the subordinate characters, appeared in 1906 (The Spirit of the Border).


In 1912, Grey wrote a bundle of baseball stories for various magazines, which years later were collected in The Redheaded Outfield and Other Stories.

Among these was “Old Well-Well,” which appeared in the July 1910 issue of Success. The author went to New York’s Polo Grounds in search of the man who was “famous from Boston to Baltimore as the greatest baseball fan in the East.” The author went to the ballpark on a Saturday afternoon hoping to meet up with Old Well-Well:

His singular yell had pealed into the ears of five hundred thousand worshippers of the national game and would never be forgotten.

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Originally published: November 15, 2011. Last Updated: November 15, 2011.