Billy Weart

This article was written by Charlie Weatherby

Of the thirteen World Series (1903-1917) covered by Philadelphia sportswriter Billy Weart, the most important was in 1908. Non-writers overcrowded the press box, causing the scribes to form the Base Ball Writers’ Association, with the goal of securing ballpark creature comforts in the press facilities, which were often congested with fans who were unwilling to leave without an unpleasant argument.

Weart had a key role in organizing the BBWA and served as the organization’s secretary/treasurer from 1908 to 1918. His experience paid off at the 1910 World Series when the Philadelphia Athletics hosted the Chicago Cubs in the first of its kind media circus, including more than 100 writers and a film crew. According to Norman Macht, “John Shibe and writers Joe McCready and Billy Weart went all out to cater to the press and the fifty Western Union telegraphers. They leased a fleet of automobiles and drivers to carry them between Shibe Park and press headquarters at the Bellevue-Stratford. Every writer had a desk top to work on. There were well-stocked hospitality rooms at the hotel and ballpark and typewriters for any one needing one.”1

Billy Weart was an influential writer of the national game and a prominent figure at any baseball gathering. In the opinion of the St. Petersburg Independent, “Mr. Weart is the kind of newspaper man one finds on a big paper; he is a big hearted fellow who is always ready to help another newspaper man in time of need.”2 The Philadelphia Inquirer called him “one of the best known, ablest and most fluent baseball writers in the country … he was known far and wide and had a most extensive acquaintance among the members of the profession, players and club owners … [he was] loved and respected by all.”3

William Garrison “Billy” Weart was born on September 15, 1872, in Independence, Iowa. His father, James Manners Weart, a lawyer’s son, was a native of Hunterdon County, New Jersey. According to the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, the elder Weart “had the distinction of being the first man in the State of New Jersey to volunteer for service in the Civil War.”4 He died in December 1874 when Billy was two years old. His mother, Jane Maria Taylor, moved Billy and his sister Lucy, two years his junior, to her mother Catherine’s home in Philadelphia in 1877.

After graduating from Philadelphia’s Central High School in 1890, Billy chose a career in journalism and was employed at the Evening Times (1891-1896) until he joined the staff of the Evening Telegraph (1896-1913), where he served as baseball editor 1913-1917. He was also Philadelphia’s correspondent for Sporting Life (1896-1916) and The Sporting News (1909-1917), where he succeeded Horace Fogel.

In addition to writing game accounts, Weart also provided commentary and analysis. In August 1897, he noted “Base ball is at a low ebb in this city and if the game is ever to become popular again, the Philadelphia management cannot afford to temporize with those under contract to them. Before the interest in the national pastime can take a bearish movement more than one player must be stripped of his uniform and sent elsewhere to earn his living.”5 Instead, an insurrection by the Phillies’ roughneck umpire-fighting players against despised manager George Stallings ultimately led to Stallings’ ouster, with the club then turned over to Billy Shettsline. Production improved, but Philadelphia (55-77) finished in tenth place, 38 games behind pennant-winning Boston.

Weart also wrote about politics. In October 1902, he accompanied Samuel Pennypacker, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, on a tour throughout the state. One newspaper account said that Weart was assigned to report on the tour for The Philadelphia Press. Another stated that he was a part of the Republican campaign committee. Pennypacker served as Pennsylvania’s governor from 1903 to 1907.

In 1908, Athletics’ owners Connie Mack and Ben Shibe concluded that Columbia Park’s meager seating capacity was not enough to hold the crowds that flocked to watch the Athletics, and came up with a plan to build a park at 21st Street and Lehigh Avenue. Weart, writing in the Evening Telegraph, offered his justification for the new stadium. “The Philadelphia American League club believed that those who live by the sweat of their brow should have as good a chance of seeing the game as the man who never had to rollup his sleeves to earn a dollar. They, therefore, built for the masses as well as the classes, and Shibe Park had more room for the poor man than the rich one. This is as it should be, for base ball is the people’s sport.”6

Weart added that creating a new stadium was also important for these reasons: “Because base ball is here to stay. Because it is now looked upon as a business as well as a pastime. Because the game has grown beyond the tough player and the other evils which surrounded it in the old days. A better class of players has grown up during the past ten years.”7

In a November 1908 San Jose Daily Mercury article, Weart wrote about California ballplayers who left the big leagues because of homesickness, many of whom “can’t get away from the desire to return to their homes before the season is over.”8 He quoted a manager who was reluctant to pay a big salary to a Californian because they get homesick after being in the East for a few months. They love California and hate to leave it, even for only a summer season. Weart cited such players as Bill Lange, Joe Corbett, Charlie Graham, Hal Chase, Cliff Blankenship, Joe Nealon and Ham Iburg among those “who spoiled their big league careers by being lured home by the ‘call of the West’.”9

In 1909, former Philadelphia sportswriter Horace Fogel purchased controlling interest in the Phillies for $350,000 following the death of part-owner Israel Durham and the unwillingness of co-owners Jim McNichol and Clarence Wolf to continue their ownership. Knowing that Fogel lived from paycheck to paycheck, several scribes showed up at the Phillies’ office to learn more. Weart asked him where he got that kind of money, and subsequent questioning revealed that the money originated from Charles Taft of Cincinnati, who was also the primary financial backer of the Chicago Cubs.

Some reviews of Weart’s work were not positive, however. The authors of Connie Mack’s Pathetic Athletics of 1916, John G. Robertson and Andy Saunders, noted “His unabashedly biased coverage of both the A’s and Phillies bordered on cheerleading.”10 He also had a less than perfect record for predicting World Series outcomes. In 1914 he wrote that the Philadelphia Athletics’ offense, defense, and veteran players outclassed the Boston Braves. Four games later, the Miracle Braves were world champions.

In 1910 Weart wrote a column noting the growing importance of scouts, pointing out that hiring such personnel was no longer a luxury, but a necessity. He recalled the success of the original Chicago White Stockings, which he attributed to the club having scouts everywhere, primarily because the team was owned by A. G. Spalding, a sporting goods manufacturer, who had agents in every large city. In Weart’s view, “Good scouts are scarce, but the man who can make good year after year finds that he is coveted by other clubs just as much as a star player.”11 Weart further pointed out that Connie Mack received more tips on young players than any other manager and always employed two scouts, one making long trips and the other for emergency duty or checking another scout’s report. Weart wrote “A scout usually travels around quietly, and he is more careful to keep his name out of the sporting column that to get it in. Too much publicity is likely to spoil his plans.”12

Prior to the annual major league meetings in December 1910, there was much talk about how to increase batting so the game would be more interesting for the fans. From Weart’s perspective, batting could be increased by reducing the number of balls from four to two or increasing the number of strikes from three to four. He believed that the former would shorten the time of play, compelling pitchers to put the ball over the plate. He also favored limiting the number of throws a pitcher can use to hold the runner on first base. None of these ideas were given serious consideration.

Early in 1913, Weart suggested that fans should be allowed to keep balls that were knocked into the stands, noting that it was “undignified to have policemen and ushers wrangle with the rooters.”13 Allowing fans to keep the balls was a practice that didn’t become common until 1921 and standard until after World War II.

Weart was never shy about advocating for players with exceptional skills. In February 1914 he wrote about why Frank Baker should be the Athletics third baseman. “He has proven his class for four years. Each season he has been improving in the department in which he at times originally appeared weak. This is in his fielding. The ‘home run king’ has earned the right to be considered the best man at the third corner, and his great effectiveness as a hitter is only one, even if the best of his many qualifications.”14

During the 1914-15 off-season, the Phillies fired manager Red Dooin and hired Pat Moran, a move that led to a pennant in 1915. Weart supported the move and noted that “the Phillies were not keen for keeping the rules of training and … they were mighty hard to handle.” In Weart’s view, Moran was “doubtless the best selection that could have been made from the men who wore Quaker garb last season.”15 The players also supported the choice.

Sportswriters were also involved in scorekeeping in the early 1900s. In May 1913, Weart was instrumental in convincing the writers organization to change the rule that credited batters with hits on fielder’s choice plays, commonly known as the “Cincinnati base hit.”16

Billy Weart married Marion Frances Berringer on November, 15, 1905, in Philadelphia. They had two sons; John, who worked in a hotel, and William G., Jr. who became a newspaper writer, acting as the New York Times correspondent in Philadelphia from 1945 to 1966.

In early 1918, the Baseball Writers Association elected Joe McCready as their secretary-treasurer, succeeding Billy Weart. The Sporting News pointed out that “Joe has the time to give to the job that poor Billy Weart didn’t have, for it is no secret that Bill had plenty to do on the Telegraph without having to attend to all the detail matters connected with the Association. Bill did wonderful work as a secretary and as a writer, but he had too much to do and he was always all in after a World Series had been staged.”17

Weart had been in delicate health for a number of years, but always seemed to overcome his problems. After a one week illness, he died on December 7, 1918, in Philadelphia, a victim of typhoid pneumonia. He was survived by his wife Marion and sons John and William Jr. He is buried at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Numerous publications around the country praised Weart’s personality and work; TSN called him “one of the best known members of baseball’s “Fourth Estate,’18 noting his quiet, optimistic personality, lovable nature, and ability to see the best in everyone. As noted by TSN, “He was the last resort when it came to a baseball dispute. He knew the rules backward and when he was the official scorer no one ever doubted his figures or his decisions … He was true blue and one of nature’s noblemen.”19 Coincidentally, the Phillies traded Grover Cleveland Alexander and Bill Killefer to the Chicago Cubs on the day that Weart died. It was a story he would have loved to cover.

On July 18, 1918, the Athletics and Phillies played a benefit game for the city championship in memory of Billy Weart. The Athletics won 1-0 as 5,805 fans saw Scott Perry throw a one-hitter. Athletics fans rushed the field at the conclusion of the game and carried Perry on their shoulders to the clubhouse. A check for $3,653.91 was given to Mrs. Weart and her two small boys.

 

Notes

1 Norman L. Macht, Connie Mack and The Early Years of Baseball (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2007) 518.

2 “Jottings By The Rambler”, The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, FL), March 4, 1915, 4.

3 “William Weart Has Passed Away,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 18, 1917, 14.

4 “Billy Weart Dies Suddenly At Home,” Evening Public Ledger, December 7, 1917, 13

5 F. C. Richter, “Reach And Rogers Have A Large-Sized Menagerie On Hand,” Sporting Life, August 21, 1897, 4.

6 Rich Westcott, Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996) 105.

7 Ibid.

8 “Homesickness Spoils Careers In Baseball,” San Jose Daily Mercury, November 11, 1908, 12.

9 Ibid.

10 John G. Robertson and Andy Saunders, As Bad As It Gets: Connie Mack’s Pathetic Athletics of 1916 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014), 168.

11 William G. Weart, “Work Of Scouts Now All Important,” The Sunday Star (Washington, DC), February 20, 1910, 4.

12 Ibid.

13 “Baseball Chatter,” The Kansas City Star, January 30, 1913, 6.

14 William Weart, “Eight Of Eleven Baseball Experts Pick ‘Home Run’ Baker As Leading Third Baseman In the Big Leagues Today,” The Washington Herald, February 8, 1914, 4.

15 Mark L. Armour and Daniel R. Levitt, Paths To Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got That Way (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, Inc., 2011), 26.

16 “New Rulings Adopted By National And American, Chester Times (PA), May 13, 1913, 6.

17 Ernest J. Lanigan, “Casual Comment,” The Sporting News, March 7, 1918, 4.

18 “Baseball Lost A Loyal Ally When Weart Was Called Out, The Sporting News, December 13, 1917, 2.

19 Ibid.