Worcester, Massachusetts is the second largest city in New England, and home to many notable inventions, people, and contributions - both baseball and otherwise.
The WooSox logo features a smiley face brandishing a bat emblazoned with a "W," interlocking with a heart in the middle. The logo honors two of Worcester's historic contributions. The city is home to both the invention of the smiley face and the popularization of modern valentines.
Harvey Ball and the Smiley face
Harvey Ball was born in Worcester on July 10, 1921. He attended Worcester South High School and went on to study at the Worcester Art Museum school. In 1963, State Life Mutual Assurance company of Worcester hired Ball to create a symbol to help boost company morale following a merger. In under 10 minutes, Ball drew up a simple smiley face sketch with a right eye that was slightly larger than the left. State Life paid Ball $45 for his creation, neither Ball nor the company bothered to copyright the sketch. State Life initially purchased 100 buttons featuring Ball's smiley face. Soon clients were requesting the buttons and the company began ordering them in batches of 10,000 to meet the demand. The smiley face continued to spread and rise in popularity, notably becoming an iconic symbol of the 1970's.
Years later, Harvey Ball became worried that his smiley face symbol had lost its meaning due to widespread commercialization. He established World Smile day in 1999 to serve as an annual reminder to spread smiles and good cheer. The slogan for the day is "Do an act of kindness. Help one person smile." The smiley face logo will continue to bring smiles to the faces of baseball fans for years to come.
The "Heart of the Commonwealth" is also the site for the popularization of the modern valentine. Esther Howland was born in Worcester on August 17, 1828. After graduating from Mount Holyoke in 1847, she received a beautiful but expensive handcrafted Valentine from England. She quickly realized the potential in producing ornate valentines for the masses and persuaded her father, the owner of a stationery store, to purchase materials from England. Howland employed an all-female staff and turned the third floor of her family's home on Summer Street in Worcester into a shop. The team was soon producing thousands of valentines. Esther Howland was a trailblazer - she was the first to pay women a decent wage, she made a name for herself at a time when female entrepreneurs were incredibly rare, and she helped to put Worcester and its heart on the map.
In addition to the historical contributions honored in the WooSox logo, Worcester claims many notable baseball innovations and firsts.
Baseball's first ever perfect game was thrown in Worcester, at the Agricultural Fairgrounds, where Becker college stands today. On June 12, 1880, Brown University student J. Lee Richmond tossed the perfect game during a National League contest with Cleveland. The newspapers called Richmond's feat "the most wonderful game on record."
Richmond was scheduled to graduate from Brown on June 16. He had spent the night before his perfect game reveling in graduation festivities. The next morning, his train from Providence to Worcester was delayed causing him to miss dinner. Despite foregoing sleep and food, Richmond threw the first perfect game on June 12. It was his third shutout in nine days. A plaque stands at Sever Street on the Becker College campus commemorating Richmond and the historic feat.
Baseball also has Worcester to thank for the pentagon-shaped home plate used in today's game. Worcester's John Gaffney "the King of Umpires" studied the game closely and brought rule changes to the league after each season. Home plate was originally square and one foot wide in each direction, uniform with the other bases. The plate was later angled and set against the back of the diamond, but this left a triangular shaped gap resulting in some pitches that were strikes but technically did not cross the plate. After the season, Gaffney questioned rule makers on the decision, which ultimately led to the 17 inches wide pentagon-shaped home plate used today.
Umpire Gaffney's many baseball contributions also include being the first to call a ball "fair" or "foul" based on the point where it went over the fence rather than where it landed, inventing the ball blouse for storing extra baseballs, and being the first to wear a cork pad for protection behind the plate.
The "most famous baseball poem ever written" came out of Worcester. Ernest Thayer published "Casey at the Bat" in the San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888. Thayer published the poem under the pen name "Phin" and was paid $5. "Casey at the Bat" grew in popularity thanks to vaudeville actor DeWolf Hopper. Hopper was an avid baseball fan and began performing the poem in New York City. Hopper would perform "Casey" more than 10,000 times in his career.
Many players claimed that they were the inspiration for Casey, but Thayer eventually admitted a high school classmate who once threatened to beat him up was the true muse.
"Casey at the Bat" is still often recited at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The poem has also been parodied on Saturday Night Live, featured in Penn and Teller's shows, and transformed into a Disney cartoon. The U.S. Post Office even issued a "Mighty Casey" stamp in 1996. The "most famous baseball poem ever written" is now incredibly widespread, but it started here in Worcester.
An exploration of Worcester baseball history must include Holy Cross baseball. Led by legendary player and manager Jack Barry, the Crusaders became the only team from New England to win the College World Series in 1952. The first homerun Ted Williams hit in a Red Sox uniform flew at Fitton Field in Worcester during an exhibition game versus Holy Cross. Nearly 100 Crusaders have gone on to sign professional contracts. The program has seen countless baseball greats, including Barry and Jesse Burkett.
Jack Barry grew up in Meriden, Connecticut. He spent two years at the Holy Cross preparatory school before a standout collegiate career with the Crusaders. Upon graduation, another Central Mass. baseball legend, Connie Mack, signed Barry to the Philadelphia Athletics. Barry was an integral piece of Mack's dynasty, the Athletics won three World Series and four pennants from 1910-1914. During the 1910 World Series, rival manager Frank Chance called Barry the best shortstop he had ever seen. The final two of Barry's five total world championships came closer to home. He was traded to Boston in 1915 and played a central role in the 1915 and 1916 Red Sox World Series titles. Following his playing career, Barry returned to Worcester to coach at his alma mater. He helmed Holy Cross for 40 seasons, highlighted by the 1952 championship.
Jesse Burkett spent one season with a Worcester team early in his career, and it was enough to convince him to call the city home for the rest of his life. Burkett signed with the Worcester Atlantic Association team in 1889. After a successful season, Burkett bounced around the major leagues playing for four different teams, including Boston. He was batting champ of the National League three times and batted over .400 in two seasons. Burkett returned to Worcester at the end of his major league playing career and purchased the city's New England League franchise. Burkett player-coached the Worcester Busters from 1906 to 1915, leading the team to four consecutive New England League pennants. His Worcester ties prevailed again when Burkett led Holy Cross from 1917 to 1920, amassing a .831 career win percentage with the Crusaders. Burkett also managed the Worcester Coal Heavers of the Eastern League in 1923 and 1924. "The Crab" was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.
This brief summary offers just a glimpse of the many baseball contributors and contributions from Worcester. There's more historical information to come and more history to be made when the WooSox begin play in the Heart of the Commonwealth in 2021.