Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

News as old as old can be…

Posted by dannmckeegan on May 7, 2010

Tweety Bird

Tweety Bird, the famed WB Looney Tunes canary, explains to his feline friend (not shown) what it actually means to be "in the catbird seat."

Out of curiosity I’ve been doing some research/number-crunching with 19th century baseball stats.  Namely, I’m interested in the actual batting averages that players were putting together in the National Association (1871-75), Union Association (1884), American Association (1882-91), and Players League (1890), plus the 1914-15 Federal League some years on.

Of course, along the way, I got to check out some of the history that’s easy to miss.  There are so many great names, both of players and teams, that have been lost.  Of course, some of our current names are revived versions of early teams.  The Baltimore-area teams of baseball antiquity had a number of names, and it’s safe to say that the majestic Oriole was a better choice for today’s franchise than one of the other historical options.

Had the St. Louis Browns, upon turning their wagons east, opted for the crafty Canary rather than the majestic Oriole, my beloved Cubs might have competition for the wimpiest default nickname.  We also would have had some real fun in the “creative” uniform days of the 1980s.  There might even have come the day when an ornery opposing manager would question the right of the Baltimore pitcher to wear his Canary-yellow jersey.

Old World Oriole - Black Naped

Note the yellow-orange hue, pronounced beak, and black coloration around the eyes as if it's wearing a mask, hoping to avoid confusion with the New World variety run by Andy MacPhail. Credit here also to

And by chance I have happened upon this non-baseball related factoid: while it is the song of the  “canary in a coalmine” that has permeated our language as metaphor because of the birds’ use in preventing the suffocation deaths of miners, the word “oriole” appears to be an onomatopoeia – something like the name resembles his ear’s interpretation of the Old World orioles’ song.  But, as chance may have it, the orioles of the Old World actually are totally unrelated, evolutionarily speaking, from their New World counterparts.  I’m not sure what a New World oriole‘s song sounds like, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t anywhere close to John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”Baltimore Oriole - New World

Their former PA announcer, Rex Barney, might have been a good Canary, though.  Between mocking fans who dropped balls and putting over those who made the catch, on top of his catch phrase (a distinctive “thank you”), he might have had just the right amount of smarty-pants sass to pull it off.

Philosophical question: Would Eddie Murray have made a good Canary?  Or would the stark relief simply have provided an undercurrent of comedy within the Hall of Fame careers of Jim Palmer, Murray himself, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Brady Ande…oh, right.

And if you aren’t hip to Looney Tunes in your baseball, how about a quick list of Canaries who also probably doubled as 1870s adult telegraph tappers (dot dot dash dot…my goodness a hand tires quickly!):

  • Candy Cummings
  • Davy Force
  • Lip Pike
  • Pop Snyder
  • Wood

What can I say?  The National Association and the 1870s were not to be missed, even 140-some-odd years down the road.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: