Wednesday, January 22


Al Reach
Image = explorepahistory
By Art Cashin

On (approximately) this day (I think) in 1865, as the Civil War was winding down and as Lincoln prepared for his second inauguration, an important part of America began to change.

Newspaper editorials began to rail about something bad that had occurred in the summer of the prior year. (No, it was not the Battle of the Wilderness, or Cold Harbor or Mobile Bay.) The editors were aghast that a guy named Al Reach had left Brooklyn to earn money in Philadelphia.

Reach's problem was not interstate commerce, it was the trade he practiced. Reach was compact, wiry and fleet of foot. He was perfect for his job. Al Reach was a second baseman. (Baseball?, you say. Yes, Baseball! Virginia.)

In the summer of 1864, Al Reach left the Brooklyn Acfords (or Brooklyn Atlantics) to go to the Philadelphia Athletics. The inducement was a paycheck (the amazing sum of $25.00 per week "in season".) Irate Brooklyn fans began to push for a boycott. Baseball was a gentleman's game and money could only sully it.
Well, the controversy festered into the Hot Stove League (back when folks actually sat around hot stoves). But the outraged editorials, amid the winter chill, had an unexpected boomerang effect. In trying to be fair, they noted that other players may have been paid "off the books." (Jim Creighton of the Brooklyn Excelsiors was said to get a "piece of the gate" under the table.)

The other unexpected effect was that the simple publicizing of payment led more players to ask for payment. And so baseball turned professional. In less than 10 years, superstars were earning more than doctors. That worked well for decades. After all, free enterprise should fit America's game.

But then someone walked in and said - "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." With the purpose of keeping America's game pure, Congress gave it anti-trust protection. Management used the tool to keep some exceptionally gifted people at a compensation level that equaled indentured servitude. That lasted for decades until the advent of free agency which naturally swung the pendulum way back. After that there was no further trouble about salaries in baseball or any sports that we know of.

To mark the day, drop by the compensation committee and show them your curveball. Try not to spit any Bull Durham on the carpet. (You might skip the Dennis Rodman look.....its been done.)

To our readers:
Thanks for hanging in there with us while we finish attending to some personal issues. Hopefully, more regular posting will resume soon. And thanks to Art Cashin for pinch hitting for me during this time.
Grant Davies

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Tuesday, January 7

It's No Laughing Matter

By Grant Davies

On this day (+23), in 1962, some silly schoolgirls started giggling. What made them start laughing is unclear but one thing is clear:  when they had to close the private boarding school for months on end because so many of the students were affected, it was no joke.

The events took place in Tanzania (then known as Tanganyika), when a few girls started laughing and then crying. So what's the big deal you say? Didn't the girls giggle and cry when you were in school? Well, yeah, but this was different. This was serious laughter (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and it didn't stop for most of them. There were other emotional disturbances and it seemed to be contagious.

It started with just three girls but soon the number afflicted was 75. And there were only 159 girls at the school. That's when they shut the whole place down and sent everyone home. The problem was, when the girls got back to their home towns, people there caught the affliction as well. And it spread out from there.

No one who wasn't exposed to one of the girls (or someone in close contact with them) got the illness. But most who were exposed didn't contract it. Scientists checked out every possible variable they could think of, but no cause was ever found and no one could figure out why they suddenly stopped laughing. In the end, no one died or even became seriously ill.

To mark the occasion, stop by your local comedy club and have a few chuckles, but don't fall down in gales of laughter, you might break your funny bone. And that wouldn't be humerus.

The first winner of the FIFTEEN SECONDS OF FAME AWARD for 2014 goes to Sara Aldworth who suggested this story and pointed us to the information at the Mental Floss website.

Monday, January 6

Spartacus the Commie and Adolph the Nazi

By Art Cashin

On this day (-1) in 1919, two interesting things happened in Germany. In Berlin the streets were filled with gunfire. (Wait you say, didn't the war end in 1918?) Right you are, Toynbee, but this was not the war. It was the Spartacus thing. (Wait you say, wasn't Spartacus involved with the Romans back in the B.C. days?) You must have made Sister Herman Joseph so proud you little historian you!

This was not the original Spartacus but a group of Communists who opted to call themselves the Spartacus League since the word Communist was hard to spell.

Anyway, they took to the streets and made Berlin look like Kabul without TV cameras. After two weeks of bloody fighting, the rebellion was crushed sending the leader of the Spartacus League, Karl Liebknecht, into hiding.

Meanwhile, in Munich, the news of the rebellion provided just the right amount of terror for another leader. He was a veteran of the war, having won the Iron Cross for bravery. But he felt the war had been poorly led, the peace unjustly won, and the reparations crushingly onerous.

So on this day, with the telegraphed news of the fighting in Berlin as backdrop, Herr Adolph Hitler founded the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party. To fit it all on a slogan and a banner they nicknamed it the "Nazi" Party.

To mark the day take Mel Brooks to a musical comedy...but don't wear a cardboard's gauche.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.
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