New York Crowds.

By P. G. Wodehouse.

Vanity Fair (UK), November 24, 1904

IF the visitor to New York chances to possess a dollar-bill for which he has no particular use at the moment, he should certainly spend it on a ticket for a ball game, if only to see the crowd. In his ignorance of its subtleties he may find the game itself dull; but he cannot fail to be interested by the spectators. A baseball crowd is like no other. I do not refer to the elect, who watch the game from the aristocratic seclusion of the Grand Stand, but to the “shilling public” who fill the “bleachers,” the cheap wooden seats at the opposite side of the ground behind the first base. These are the true followers of the game, keen critics to a man, with eagle eyes and no mercy for a weak piece of batting or a bungled catch. There is an atmosphere of joyous rowdyism, toned down somewhat by a certain respect for authorities constituted by themselves and elected from their own number, which is refreshing—at a distance.

How the players enjoy it one cannot say. The home team possibly find a pleasure in the shout of welcome which they meet as they walk to the batting-plate. But when the enemy’s turn at the bat comes round, the note is changed. Barracking reigns supreme, and barracking of a peculiarly aggressive and systematic type withal. For a baseball crowd is not a collection of individuals who cheer and hoot as the spirit moves them. It is an organised mass, and it gives tongue just when it is directed so to do by its leader, the officially-appointed “Rooter-in-chief.” They leave nothing to chance, a baseball crowd. Left to themselves, they might cheer at moments when they should be silent, or be silent when it was necessary for the welfare of the New York nine that they should cheer.

To prevent this a leader is appointed, and his powers are autocratic. He is, to quote an evening paper, President, King, Kaiser, Tsar, Mikado, Pooh-Bah, Mandarin, Sultan, and Emperor of all the “Rooters.” He it is who “bosses things back of first base, and rules trained ‘fans’ with a hand of iron.” “Fans” are those who sit on the bleachers, and stay there in scorching sun or driving rain until the ninth inning of each team is an accomplished fact. The Rooter-in-chief has lungs of brass, and a spirit that no reverse can subdue. So the barracking proceeds merrily, and the visitors bat in an atmosphere of contemptuous hostility. But only collectively. As individuals they receive the applause that is due to them for any clever piece of play. Not such a spontaneous ring about the cheers when one of the Brooklyn nine puts a New York batsman out with a clever throw, as when a New Yorker performs a similar feat at the expense of a Brooklynite. But still cheers there are, and no man can complain that he has played well without recognition.

But as a team the enemy are anathema.

“Well, who ever heard of Brooklyn?” shrills the Rooter-in-chief—just now a gentleman of the name of Dillon.

Nobody ever heard of it. Suppose it’s in America or Europe or somewhere. Remember seeing the name in a paper once. But never really heard of it. Certainly not as a rival to New York at the ball-game.

“Where is Brooklyn?” enquires the “fans.” Personalities follow.

“Say, Hanlon, what do you get that $10,000 for?”

“Are those fellows ball-players or cinder-pickers?”

Now and then “fandom” becomes lyrical.

“Give ’em the axe! Give ’em the axe!
The axe! the axe! the axe!
In the neck! In the neck! In the neck!
In the neck!

Nothing special, considered purely as a poem, but distinctly effective when shouted in unison by thousands of cast-iron throats.

But it is in the encouragement of their own side that the “bleachers” come out strongest.

We will suppose Mertes, left fielder of New York, to have made one of his best catches. The dialogue proceeds on the lines of the illustrious Messieurs Bones and Johnsing, thus:

Dillon (enquiringly): “What’s the matter with Mertes?”

The Crowd (all together): “What’s the matter with Mertes?”

Dillon (patiently): “Well, what’s the matter with Mertes?”

The Crowd (reassuringly): “He’s all right!”

Dillon: “What?”

The Crowd: “He’s all right.”

Dillon: “Who?”

The Crowd: “Mertes.”

Dillon: “Who?

The Crowd: “Mer-tes.”

Dillon: “WHO?”

The Crowd (with a glad bellow that nearly brings down the neighbouring skyscrapers with a run): “MERTES. HE’S ALL RIGHT!!!!!”