The Breed and the Ball

Damon Runyon

May 1911


With silken guidons snapping in the June breeze, and a long lane of admiring mothers, sisters, and sweethearts applauding shrilly from the sidewalks, the City Troop rode out of its armory, headed for trouble.

The troop was as fine a body of young aristocrats as ever graced a polo-field. Captain Reginald Van Santvoord, famed as a pitcher on the Hale ’varsity team, sat bolt upright in his saddle, trying to appear unconscious of his position. His battery mate. First Lieutenant Harold Haven-Smythe, clattered handsomely at his side. Young Second Lieutenant Morgan de Courcey, who owned a gold-plated saber scabbard, and was noted as an all-round athlete, brought up the rear.

All the troopers straightened their shoulders and shook up their burnished mounts as the line swung into the wide avenue, and they noted that the clubhouse windows were filled with faces. Proud fathers watched their posterity march past with feelings of gratification, and ordered refreshment lavishly as the troop bobbed off down the avenue.

The adjutant-general of the State was present receiving congratulations. Proud fathers esteemed the adjutant, not only as a fellow club member, but because it had been his monumental idea that sent the City Troop out strike-breaking. Proud fathers, owners of large interests in the coal-field which had been tied up for months because of an amazing disinclination on the part of the miners to work for the per diem stipulated by their generous employers, appreciated the argument of the adjutant when he said:

“The great mistake in sending militia into the field during strike disorders is that the troops selected are too often of the same class as the strikers, and therefore they soon reach an understanding, which nullifies even the moral effect of the soldiery. Now, if you take a body of men who are in no way in sympathy with that rough element which invariably makes up a crowd of strikers—a body of men of superior mental order and breeding—it seems to me that the desired result will be quickly attained.

“There’s the City Troop, for instance. Could any one conceive of these young fellows finding a common plane with coal-miners? I believe not. Blood will tell; the strikers would quickly appreciate that these soldiers are of superior fiber. Not to put it snobbishly, it would be a case of the—er—aristocracy against the peasantry, and we should quickly have peace.”

Unkind critics may at this point rise to remark that the adjutant-general was an ass; but since a haughty Governor had seen fit, in the first place, to divert the energies of the citizen soldiers into the business of strike-breaking, what should be expected of an adjutant-general?

“I shall send the City Troop to Tiburon, the hotbed, the chief seat of disturbance in the coal-field,” explained the general to the board of directors of the Empire Coal and Coke Company. “If the strike is suppressed there, the backbone of the whole trouble will be broken. I shall place Captain Van Santvoord in complete charge, so that responsibility will make him keen to return results. Tiburon is not the nicest place in the world, I am informed, but I anticipate no violence.”

And so Captain Van Santvoord rode forth with his men to Tiburon, a good four days’ cavalry march into the heart of the disturbed district. The blue-blooded young troopers were delighted to escape, for a brief period, the ennui of social duty. The captain vaguely recalled certain orders, certain remarks concerning danger, and certain instructions as to summary treatment of striking coal-miners; but he was too much filled with the rare joy of living in the golden sunshine of early summer to harbor thoughts of turbulence.

Tiburon squats at the bottom of a great mountain bowl—a grimy little town, speckled with coal-dust. Big tipples and gaunt washers sentinel the hillsides, near the mine openings. Over the town hangs a canopy of black smoke. A single narrow street divides the saloons and stores from the boxlike houses provided by the liberal mineowners for the men and their families. The women sit, with their children, on the tiny stoops in front of the houses, which are on the sunny side of the street; the men, in their leisure hours, tilt comfortable chairs against the saloon fronts in the shade of rickety porches.

Captain Van Santvoord and his men, wide-eyed and interested, rode through the narrow street one evening, when the combined population was taking its siesta on porch and stoop. The troop wagons clanked complainingly in the wake of the soldiers. The people watched the coming of the troop without comment. They had seen militiamen before, in parlous times gone by. Dusty and saddle-worn, the young aristocrats were not the superior-looking beings that might be imagined as they sagged in their stirrups, and smiled with friendly eyes at the squalling children.

One-Eyed Bill McGonigle, strike leader of that particular section, arose from a seat on the porch of the Good Day Saloon, and shouted, with no animus, at the troop: “How’ye, boys? Need any he’p puttin’ up them tents?”

“Much obliged,” replied Captain Van Santvoord. “I think we can get along all right. Where’s a good camping-ground?”

Having immediately met upon a basis of mutual understanding, it is not surprising that the soldiers and the strikers viewed one another with further interest.

Camp duty sometimes becomes as onerous as a cotillion. In three days the soldiers were writing home that strikers were not such terribly bad fellows as might be imagined, and that some of them were excellent pool-players. In four days. Captain Van Santvoord, fully appreciative of his name, social position, breeding, and all the rest, no doubt, but deeply interested in his fellow man, was sitting on the porch in front of the Good Day, talking to Bill McGonigle.

“Cap,” said he of the single orb, “it’s pretty dull around here. Do they happen to be any ball-players in your bunch?”

“Ball-players?” replied Captain Van Santvoord. “Ball-players? Well, I should say so! I used to pitch a little at Hale—I’ve got my old catcher with me; Jimmy Hannibal was second baseman at Portsmouth for two years; Freddie Parsons was as good a short-field man as you’d want to see when he was in prep school, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the ’varsity team at Hale next year. Then there’s Tommy Delancey, Howard Ordrich, and—”

“Listen!” interrupted One-Eyed Bill.


June wore into July; July was hard upon the heels of August, and the strike still raged in the coal-field, with what might be termed peaceful fervor. There was no trouble anywhere. Tiburon was as quiet as a deacon’s backyard, but no work was being done, and the miners’ union made no advances for a settlement.

“I don’t understand it," said the adjutant-general. “They didn’t have much money in their treasury a few weeks ago; now they seem to have plenty, and I know for a fact that their national organization is not assisting them. You can’t break a strike as long as the strikers are able to live without working. Captain Van Santvoord reports everything very quiet in Tiburon, but the men are still out, and still in the place. He says everything is satisfactory, but it’s not—not to me—not to the State—not to the coal company. I believe I shall make a personal investigation!”


The board of directors of the Empire Coal and Coke Company was in session. Fifteen grave gentlemen listened with deep concern to a report from the adjutant-general, delivered in an aggrieved tone.

“Gentlemen, I have been to Tiburon,” said the adjutant. “Some things which were a mystery to me are now quite clear—and it is not a pleasant story that I have to tell. When I got to Tiburon, after a miserable journey by wagon, I found the town totally deserted. Not even a stray dog roamed the single street; the stores were closed, the houses locked up. It looked as if the population had departed in a great hurry. I could not find a single soldier. I went to the troop camp, and not even a horse was in sight; no guards, not a sign of life! Imagine such a condition of affairs in a military camp!

“Finally I ran across a young man in overalls, who seemed in a great hurry. I accosted him, inquiring the whereabouts of the people.

“‘They’re at the ball-game,’ he said, looking at me in manifest surprise.

“‘Where are the soldiers?’ I asked.

“‘Where have you been all summer?’ demanded the young man.‘They’re at the game, too. Don’t you know that this afternoon we’re playing the seventh and deciding game of the series between the militiamen and the All-District team for the championship?’

“I assured him that I did not, and he kindly explained further.

“‘Why,’ he said,‘those soldiers cleaned up Tiburon and all the other teams in the district this summer. Then we organized the All-Districts from the beaten teams, and we’ve got the militiamen tied, three games and three, on the series.’

“He added that the All-Districts confidently expected to ‘clean up’ the soldiers, as he put it, in this final encounter. The young man was on his way to the game, and I decided to accompany him. Such a situation had never before confronted me, in all my military career, and I hardly knew what steps to take. The ball-grounds were some distance from the town, but I could hear a great roar of voices long before we reached them, and my companion assured me that hundreds of people had come in from all over the coal-mining district for the event.

“It was a strange sight that greeted my eyes when we reached the ball-grounds. They were laid in a natural basin, at one end of which stood a large grand stand. The surrounding hills formed a fence, and they were black with people; but to get a view of the field one had to pass under the stand, and there a man demanded and received one dollar admission. I paid for my companion and myself, and we went into the stand together.

“On one side I saw the horses of the City Troop in a picket-line, with the troopers sitting about on the ground. Near by was a long bench, upon which sat another group of soldiers, strangely attired. They wore riding-trousers without leggings, flannel service shirts, and little caps. On the other side, on another bench, sat a singular collection of men in grimy baseball uniforms, with the names of different towns printed across their shirt bosoms—Tiburon, Clayville, Starkton, and others—only one or two being the same.

“Among the soldiers on the bench I saw your son, Mr. Van Santvoord; I saw your son, Mr. Haven-Smythe; and yours, Mr. Hannibal. I saw the sons of half a dozen more of you gentlemen who sit about this table. Men and women were shrieking and howling; a veritable pandemonium prevailed. It was fearfuly hot, but these people, who were manifestly of the coal-mining country, did not mind the heat.

“Finally a big, one-eyed man, whom I recognized, from his pictures, as McGonigle, the infamous strike leader, advanced to the middle of the field and raised his hand, an, act which brought instant silence. Then he roared:

“‘Ladies and gentlemen, the batteries for to-day will be, for the City Troop, Reginald Van Santvoord and Harold Haven-Smythe; for the All-Districts, Pietro Hulaniski and Mike Flaherty—play ball!’

“And, as I am sitting here, gentlemen, your sons proceeded to engage in a game of baseball with those coal-miners—a game which was characterized by such excitement as I have not seen since ’88, when our team whipped Hale—you’ll remember the circumstance, Mr. Van Santvoord; I recall that you played for Hale—and you, Mr. Hannibal, if I mistake not.

“Reginald Van Santvoord stood in the center of the diamond, the baseball poised delicately upon his finger-tips. Before my eyes crouched Harry Haven-Smythe—a fine young fellow, too—masked and padded, and smacking his fist into a glove as he cried:

“‘Come on, Santy; let’s get at these fellows!’

“And this, if you please, was a first lieutenant speaking to his captain! Down along third base line. Second Lieutenant Morgan de Courcey was making brief runs back and forth, calling:

“‘Make ’em hit, old top; make ’em hit!’

“Charging around second base was Private James Hannibal, shrieking to his superior officer:

“‘Nice pegging, kid; nice pegging!’”

The adjutant-general’s eyes shone. The room, and the circle of grave faces, now beaming with strange excitement, faded; he was sitting on the hard boards of the grand stand at Tiburon; before him lay a player-studded field heaving with action. He was no longer an officer, no longer an ass—he was simply a fan. His voice rose, and human speech flowed over the wonted barrier of lingual reserve.

“Reggie Van Santvoord used a slow curve ball that had the miners breaking their backs; but a long, loose-jointed Italian who slabbed for the coal-diggers was there with a south wing that smoked ’em over so fast that our boys were also swinging wild. Once in a while they would connect, and lam that ball up against the fence, but fast fielding kept them from scoring.

“It was a grand game; it was positively a peach of a game! The miners had a Mexican second baseman, and believe me, he was a speed marvel! He covered a world of territory, and had a whip that would set the big league afire. Our boys did some swell fielding, too, if anybody asks you. Herbert Rensselaer, who played first, is a pippin, and—I beg your pardon, gentlemen, I beg your pardon; I fear that I have digressed.”

The adjutant-general was back again in the directors’ room.

“But this is not the worst of it—by no means the worst. Between innings my companion looked over the crowd, manifestly delighted.

‘There’s a good twelve hundred dollars here,’ he said. ‘That’ll run the total on the series away up, to say nothing of what the other games brought.’

“A faint light dawned upon me

“‘Who gets this money?’ I asked. ‘The winners?’

“‘Winners , nothing!’ the man said. ‘Those soldiers wouldn’t take a cent. All receipts go into the strikers’ benefit fund. How do you suppose this strike has been running, anyway?’

“And now, gentlemen, of course I shall have to recall the City Troop,” continued the adjutant-general. "To get your mines working on winter production by fall, we shall have to—”

“Wait a minute!” interrupted J. Drexel Van Santvoord, a big, aggressive man, who had been leaning far across the table, chewing wildly at a huge, unlighted cigar. “Never mind the strike—who won that game?”

“Aye!” chimed in the company directors in sustained chorus. “Who won that game?”