Bull - In Search of a Forgotten Player

Chris Lutkin Issue: Section:

"The playing field becomes a landscape, fixed and isolated and trapped, between the borders of its own fabrication." – Anonymous

“I just wanted to play ball.” – Bull

It was a crisp November day, 2007. A wonderful day to see Council Rock, an amazing boulder that was an ancient American Indian meeting place and is now an outcropping overlooking timeless Otsego LakeThe rock sits on the shore of Cooperstown, New York. It is also the home of The Baseball Hall of FameSided by rolling mountains that had a sugar coating of snow, it was a "picture postcard perfect" that day.

 

 

After a chilly but lovely morning, we had warmed ourselves inside baseball's most famous building and were about to look through some material pertaining to a long lost, forgotten and vilified relative of my wife. She knew her Great Grandfather was nicknamed “Bull” and played at the turn of century, having had the proverbial, “cup of coffee” in the big leagues. She also knew he was never much spoken kindly of by her family, except to say he was a good for nothing drinker, gambler and who knows what?

 

My wife and I had come to Cooperstown for my 50th Birthday. A baseball fan and softball-playing fanatic, I had met her on the softball playing fields of New York City just a few years before.  An instant attraction along with a shared love of the game, we courted and sparked while teammates playing on various coed teams.  The game taught us a lot about each other. She went to Clown College. My mom and sister are clowns. She does improv and acts in film. I’ve acted and taught. She has a great sense of humor and is a writer of plays. I learned how to film and edit as a hobby. And we played on. A few years later wemarried and have continued to love each other and the game in which we met.

 

In celebration of that milestone day, my wife had surprised me with a glorious “Hall of Fame” package deal that included three nights in an old B&B in Cooperstown itself, free entry to the plaque filled Hall of Fame, a small group tour of the archival section of the complex and a one on one guided tour of the museum itself. And as a special treat, they allowed one request for information on any Major League ballplayer whom you’d like to know about.  You could write the name down on a piece of paper and give it to a researcher who would look in the archives for you while you toured. At the end of the day, you could then spend a few minutes looking at what they pulled. When we handed over the name “Lewis Oscar ‘Bull’ Smith” the man looked doubtful and said he’d not heard of him and not to count on anything when we come back after the tour.

 

Off we went on our pre-arranged tour of the "back" of the Hall of Fame Museum. I was surprised to find that there are actually many parts to the museum and Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame, where the plaques are hung, is separate from the museum. That is the “Hallowed Hall.” The archives are stored in another building, and that is where our tour began and ended. The museum tour was wonderful as our private tour guide took special pride in explaining historical facts and talked about the game with religious reverence. We struck a close bond and shared with him our archival request. He was hopeful we'd get something to look at when we got back to the archives.

 So that is where we were, in the museum archives. The folder, just placed on the counter, was a basic manila type. Not really old and not very thick. The guy at the archives desk, the guy who had found Bull’s folder for us, had pointed to a small basket of these old, white gauze gloves and told us to pull them on before looking the file over to protect the material. Three white-gloved people, my wife, our tour guide,who asked to tag along, and I, took a seat at a long table in the archival viewing area, deep in the middle of the National Hall of Fame and Museum. In just a few short moments, "Bull" came to life, and we allfound ourselves in tears—the guide included, as we discovered what a man and player he was...

 

To our surprise, we found out Bull played with many Dead Ball era greats, like 3-Finger Mordecai Brown, Walter Johnson, and was even friends with the Greatest player of the game, Honus Wagner. The filepainted a picture of a man revered and respected in the community, who was a local “Ambassador” of the game, a man before his time. He played for the Pirates (1904), Cubs (1906), and Senators (1911). Yet there was much about Bull that remained a secret, and the story of Bull, and all the possibilities revealed by the small tidbits of truth on this great man’s life, would not leave us.

 

Now, we’re on a journey to bring this Baseball Ambassador to life, through a screenplay that’s in development. It’s an imaginary story about a real playerRead more about Bull Smith and the Dead Ball Era at Bull Smith the Movie

Bull Smith had his last At Bat in the Big Leagueson August 30, 1911Seven years to the day he broke in with the Pirates in 1904.

Bull’s Scrapbook

"This is Exposition Park in Pittsburgh where I played with Hans Wagner and Fred Clarke, Kitty Bransfield, ole Ginger Beaumont, and rest of the boys. This was taken August 23, 1904. I broke in with the Pirates a few days later on August 30. A better ball yard has not been seen since."

 

 

"Hans was a good pal, helped me with a letter I wrote to the Commish of the day, Garry Hermann, about how the Pirates tried to mess with my contract in '04. I also told him to say no to those Tobacco cards."

 

 

" I Played with Tinkers, Evers and Chance on the 1906 Cubs. We was the best team never to win the World Series. Maybe some of the boys laid down against them crosstown hitless wonders, The White Sox, I don't know. I do know Tinkers and Evers never spoke to each other the whole time I was with them."

 

"Griffith Stadium was brand new when I played with the Senators in 1911. I was given one at bat for some coaching services. It came seven years to the day I broke in, August 30. It was my last AB in the bigs, too. I took a walk."

 

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