How do you know spring is coming? Some people would say the temperature is getting warmer, or the nights are getting shorter. But, in America, a sure sign spring is coming, is the beginning of baseball’s annual tradition of Spring Training.
The tradition has been around since the start of baseball back in 1876. It didn’t take long before the National League teams realized there was a problem with starting Spring Training in February.
Most of the National League teams were located in the Northern United States, where practicing in the winter could have issues.
It would take ten years before baseball team owner A.G. Spalding (owner of the Chicago White Stockings, later became the Cubs) and his manager Cap Anderson decided Chicago in February was too cold for Spring Training and relocated the team’s spring training to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Later that year the Chicago White Stockings won the league title, and spring training in warmer environments became not only acceptable but also expected.
But baseball owners faced a different problem. By holding spring training so far from their home stadiums, teams struggled to attract fans to watch games that didn’t count. Everything changed in 1915.
By 1915, baseball owners had found that gimmicks would get fans to come to the ballpark. So, the Brooklyn Dodgers promised fans a show, if they would show up to the game early on March 13, 1915.
The Dodgers hired a local aviator, Ruth Law, to perform a stunt for the fans at the start of the game. Ruth Law’s job was simply to fly over the baseball diamond and drop a baseball from her plane, so that Dodger’s Hall of Fame Manager Wilbert Robinson could catch the ball 500 feel below.
But once Ruth Law was airborne, she realized she didn’t have a baseball to drop. So, she looked around and decided to drop the only other thing she had in her cockpit.
As the projectile fell, it picked up more speed. Eventually, it hit the Dodgers’ manager right in the chest. The impact knocked the manager to the ground and sent red liquid flying everywhere.
The crowd got a hardy laugh and the players thought the manager might have been killed but that didn’t stop the opposing team manager from commenting.
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In the end, Wilber Robinson was fine. He just had a large bruise on his chest where the projectile impacted with him. But it was the other manager, New York Yankees’ legend Casey Stengel, who made history that day.
When Ruth Law went to drop the baseball out of the plane, she realized she didn’t have a baseball, and instead dropped a red grapefruit.
Stengel quipped, “Robinson couldn’t make it in the Grapefruit league.’ From that day forward, Spring Training is Florida came to be known simply as: The Grapefruit League.