Ed Walsh and Baseball’s Corned Beef and Cabbage Eaters Society
The former MLB pitcher loved to get together with former teammates and opponents to discuss how much better the game was when they played
Right-handed pitcher Ed Walsh was one of the most dominant players in the early part of the 20th century. A 14-year career (1904–1917) spent primarily with the Chicago White Sox resulted in his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. However, once he had thrown his final pitch, he and many of his player peers came to disdain the game they had once dominated. They gathered annually to reminisce about much better the game was when they played.
Walsh accumulated a career record of 195–126. Sadly, he didn’t become a regular until he was 25, and because of injuries, his career was all but over by the time he was 31. He won an amazing 40 games with a 1.42 ERA in 1908, also leading the American League with 11 shutouts and six saves. His career ERA of 1.82 is still the best of all time, while his 1.00 WHIP is second. Relying on a devastating spitball, at his peak, he was as feared as any hurler in baseball.
Playing in the Deadball Era, Walsh saw the game drastically change shortly after his career ended. As might be imagined, he and a number of his peers didn’t care for the changes they saw in baseball. An organization was formed, called the Oldtime Baseball Players Association, which held an annual banquet where the aging former players gathered to enjoy each other’s company and discuss the state of the big leagues.
A February 3, 1944 article written by Bob Meyer of the United Press appeared in an issue of the Pittsburgh Press. It focused on the 25th annual gathering of the group, which was to occur that night. Nicknamed the “Corned beef and cabbage eaters society,” because of the meal that was traditionally served (no doubt influenced by the large number of Irish former players), it was an opportunity for former colleagues to “sing, eat, talk and swap stories about baseball’s good old days.”
The 1944 dinner marked the 25th anniversary of the gathering. In addition to Walsh, other notable attendees of the crowd of more than 1,100 included Red Faber, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and Tony Mullane, who was 85 and had last appeared in a major league game in 1894 (sadly, he passed away less than three months later).
Meyer grabbed Walsh in advance of the dinner, who was only too eager to talk about his opinion on what he didn’t like about the modern game, particularly the lively ball that had led to so many more home runs and higher scoring games:
“This golf ball has licked the game. It has robbed the game of much of its science, especially in the stolen base, the bunt, the double play and the diving catch in the outfield. Years ago, the infield played close in; now they’re back on the grass — just another outfield.”
Walsh was especially sensitive to how the different game impacted pitchers:
“These days a pitcher is licked before he starts. Even the punks at the bottom of the batting order can powder the ball out of the park… Now in the good old days, we had dozens of pitchers winning 25 and 30 games, but now we get only a few 20-game winners… Nowadays, baseball is aimed at the home run, and that’s about all.”
At the age of 62 at the time, he lamented the loss of perceived passion and toughness in baseball from when he was on the mound:
“The modern players are just as good as we were, but in those days, we played for the love of the game. You never saw us shake hands with the opposing players before the game — it was all baseball from the time we entered the park.”
It’s amusing to think of all the aging and arthritic former players gathering annually to chow on corned beef and cabbage while shooting the breeze and recalling their former feats of glory. Every era believes they are superior to those who come after them, so while Walsh’s comments may come across as arrogant or cranky, they really reflect a pride and a belief that it was entirely impossible that baseball couldn’t have been any better than when he played and loved the game — because after all, how could it be?