This article and other features about baseball can be found in the Post’s Special Collector’s Edition, Baseball: The Glory Years. This edition can be ordered here.
In this anonymously written article from 1911, a young man gives up a career as a shoemaker in order to play ball.
I am not sure now whether I went into professional baseball because of the money or because I liked the game; probably it was both. I was 22 years old and I had been working five years in a shoe shop. Baseball was my recreation.
In the factory I had seen handwork supplanted by machine work until the only hand process left was cutting the leather for the vamps and uppers. I realized that less and less of the workman’s intelligence was called into play; more and more he was becoming a mere human machine. The work was so monotonous. A fellow with imagination couldn’t get up any mental excitement wondering what was to become of the shoe he was working on. I demanded some occupation where my imagination wasn’t reduced to sole leather. I wanted to be able to show what folks now call initiative — thinking out a problem for myself, without the help of anybody else, before anyone else.
Right here my mother enters the grandstand, so to speak. When I tried to decide whether to quit the shoe shop and make my living at baseball — our living, I should say, because I was supporting my mother — I found the old lady was strong for my making the change. She was the greatest fan you ever saw — is today at 72. Her big argument was something like this: “Who hears of a man in a shoe shop, Nealie?” she said to me. “Who hears of the superintendent unless there is a strike — and you’re far from being a superintendent, me boy. Now a ball- player gets his name in the paper every day he plays and his picture once a week. I want me boy to be known all over the country. He will be if he goes on the diamond to stay — for you’ve the making of a great player, Nealie. But me boy won’t be heard of if he sticks to his last.”
So I told the boss to fill my place the first of March. That was in 1884. The time came and the boss asked me to stay another week. He said there wouldn’t be much work, but that he wanted me to help take stock. I replied: “I have worked my last day in a shoe shop.” It was a kiddish remark, especially as I hadn’t landed a base- ball job; but probably it was just as well to cut loose and make a base hit or strike out in my chosen profession. Anyhow I never went back. I have stuck to baseball from that day to this, and mother is forever saying: “What did I tell you, me boy? You were born with a baseball in the back of your head, which is the next best thing to coming into the world with a silver spoon in your mouth.”
— “The Making of a Ballplayer,” Anonymous, Oct. 28, 1911