Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Victory Faust - Reviews

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From Booklist

Advised of his destiny by a fortune teller, Charley Faust was convinced that he would lead the 1911 New York Giants to victory. Schechter labors mightily to sort long-ago facts from the myths spun by New York's hyperbolic baseball press. Quoting contemporary accounts and reprinting vintage illustrations, he transports readers to the baseball world of 1911. John McGraw ruled the Giants, and the Giants ruled New York, even without a home field for much of the year. Although Faust was nominally a pitcher, his main role was to jinx the opposition, and he wasn't the only major league mascot-jinx. Connie Mack kept a hunchbacked dwarf on the Philadelphia A's bench, but no other mascot succeeded like Faust. It seemed that with him at hand, the Giants couldn't lose, and when he wasn't, they couldn't win. A fascinating, book-length look at one of baseball's charming oddities--the very stuff of the game and its literature. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

By C. W. Emblom "Bill Emblom" (Ishpeming, Michigan USA) -

Rightfully so, baseball produces more great books than any other sport. Author Gabriel Schechter has provided us with a truly unique subject in Charley Faust, a Kansas farmer who visited a fortune teller who told him if he would join the New York Giants they would win the pennant. Ballplayers were terribly superstitious and manager John McGraw took him along with the team as a good luck charm during the 1911 season. These were the Giants of Mathewson, Marquard, Merkle, Meyers, and Snodgrass among others. I was aware of the basic details of the Charley Faust story, but it was very interesting to read in greater detail about this story in baseball history. The players humored Charley in regard to his pitching abilities, but Charley regarded himself as a legitimate pitcher. Charley did get to pitch near the end of the 1911 season which put him into the baseball record book with everyone else whoever played the game. Faust as a good luck charm, however, didn't last into the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics of Connie Mack and his $100,000 infield which defeated the Giants. During 1912 Charley Faust became more of a pest than a good luck charm and he eventually drifted off to the state of Washington where he died in 1915 from tuberculosis. Anything about John McGraw's Giants is interesting reading, but to have a book about the Charley Faust story hits a subject that has been ignored until now. The author did a great deal of research on his subject and includes various colorful articles on great writers of the time such as Damom Runyon, Sid Mercer, and others. A casual fan with an interest in baseball history will enjoy it.

By Winslow Bunny "Winslow_Bunny" (Rockledge, Florida United States)

to an extent, but it's still more than you'll find out about Charles Victor(y) Faust anywhere else. As with most baseball fans, I had been introduced to C. Victory Faust through Lawrence Ritter's "Glory Of Their Times." I had looked up his pitching record, thought it interesting but no more so than thousands of other players who had briefly touched the major leagues and then disappeared. Gabriel Schechter's book, though, adds a terrific story behind the man who pitched a slight amount in the big leagues, in the most unusual of circumstances. Schechter did a marvelous job of research on Faust, interweaving his story with the times, the personality of the people involved with Faust, and while there is still much mystery to Faust, we know enough about him and the times to know that his story could never take place today. This, besides the story, is a reason the biography is so interesting: 21st century baseball will never see someone like Charlie Faust. One other point of interest about this book: in Schechter's fine job of writing, one could imagine that this story would make one heck of a movie. A backwards bumpkin goes to a famous baseball team as a good luck charm, almost completes his destiny, is discarded by those who believed in him, doesn't understand why, etc. The book is definitely worth a reading (then imagine it in a movie context).

By Daniel B. Adams (Avis, PA United States)

This book fills in many previously unanswered questions about a man who today would be considered disturbed, but during the 1911 baseball season he became a sensation in New York. It is an amazing tale of how a man with very limited skills acheived his delusional goal of pitching for the New York Giants. Victory Faust came to a sad end, but after reading this book you will never forget his brief career. A must read for the baseball researcher.

By Gene Carney in “Notes from the Shadows of Cooperstown” -- #220, August 30, 2000


Careful the spell you cast. These warnings are from the musical Into the Woods, but they could be from Damn Yankees just as easily. Would someone sell their soul, to get to play on a pennant-winning ball club? Fiction, right? Maybe.

VICTORY FAUST, the Rube Who Saved McGraw's Giants, by Gabriel Schechter (Chas. April Publications, Los Gatos, 2000) is one of those books. Too much baseball, even for hard-core fans? Or not enough? We certainly know more about Charles Victor Faust after its 264 pages, but do we really know him? "The Legend of Faust" is one of baseball's oldest and most intriguing stories, more factual than Ruth's "Called Shot" can ever be -- yet is it better left an anecdote, to be saved for rain delay banter?

A book on the Called Shot would, I think, be less about an event in the 1932 World Series than about how legends and myths are born, and how they grow (and grow!) It would be mostly a collection of eyewitness testimony, reported and recorded then and since -- that is what we can look up today. (OK, we have the thing on film, but without a soundtrack, that evidence is not conclusive. Turns out we all see what we want to see.)

A book on Victory Faust, however, can be amazingly detailed, and Gabriel Schechter's is. He spent twenty years collecting "puzzle pieces," as he called the project in his introduction, and his book gives us a portrait that is striking, fascinating, very well-documented -- and yet, inevitably incomplete. And those pieces that are missing are likely to be lost forever.

Baseball fans interested in the history of the game probably first learned of Victory Faust in Lawrence Ritter's classic The Glory of Their Times. Ritter interviewed Fred Snodgrass, fifty years after his path crossed with Faust's, at the intersection of John McGraw's 1911 Giants. Faust also caught the attention of Ken Burns, some eighty-three years later, but was relegated to a digression on mascots and (by Schechter's reckoning) the Ward and Burns' account contained seven errors in nine sentences. Snodgrass' error rate was lower, but to be fair, the Faust story is not easy to document accurately.

The Faust story is a good one, a tale so tall that we want to believe it, factual or not, and however exaggerated or unreal its sounds. The son of a Kansas farmer is told by a fortune-teller that he will pitch the New York Giants to a pennant. Nothing to do now, if you are Charlie Faust, but report at once to manager John McGraw. Then, as Russ Hodges might put it, The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! And yes, Charlie Faust pitched for them.

It's a better story if Faust is given credit for all three pennants that followed his joining the team, 1911-12-13 -- that is the way Fred Snodgrass recalled it. (It's also a better story if you imagine Faust pitching in more than two innings, in games played after the flag was secured.) But that would be stretching things. Faust was unquestionably (?!) a good luck charm down the first pennant run, but he was gone from that role by the middle of the next season. But was that his only role?

The merit of Schechter's book is his answer to that question. Every aspect of his presence on the Giants is explored, and while this examination takes place in the context of a battle for a pennant, it also looks around outside the lines.

Victory Faust did pitch for the Giants -- you can look it up. If you look it up in The Ballplayers, Ken Turetzky's article leads off with a quote from McGraw: "I give Charlie Faust full credit for winning the pennant for me -- the NL pennant of 1911." Turetzky ends by noting that when Faust died in 1915, the Giants finished last. (I asked Gabriel Schechter about the quote, and he said Turetzky took it from an article on Faust by Edwin Burkholder; but the source Burkholder used is a missing puzzle piece.)

Looking up events is one thing, but proving cause-and-effect is another. Faust pitched, the Giants won. For those on the 1911 Giants who believed these two phenomena were related, no explanation was necessary (to borrow that old French maxim); for those who may not have believed (but kept quiet, just in case), none was possible.

Faust pitched. Looking it up shows his two games meant nothing in the larger scheme, the race was over. But we cannot look up in the usual places how many times Charlie Faust warmed up, before and during Giant games (mostly wins -- coincidence?) And this bit of exercise in full Giant uniform (although never under contract) provided terrific entertainment for fans all around the league, and especially in New York. Today, Charlie might be invited to host Saturday Night Live; back then, he settled for a visit to Vaudeville.

Clearly, Charlie provided comic relief for the young Giants that McGraw whipped toward October that summer. No small role. His antics, speeches, and Forrest Gump-like simplicity (the image is Schechter's) made him the object of much humor, some cruel. All this kept his teammates loose, and maybe less self-conscious. Christy Mathewson credited Faust with real baseball value in this role. Rube Marquard, the Giants' other ace, summed it up best: When he was with us, we won. When he wasn't, we didn't." Any fan who has felt a little bit responsible for their team's fortunes, rooting them to triumph, or jinxing them by failing to attend or listen to a game, etc., can relate to Marquard's words. And you can look this up, too: Rube was nearly invincible with Faust around, both in 1911 and 1912, when Marquard was 19-0 when Faust left the team, and lost three games the next week.

Looking up Victory Faust is like looking up the role of faith and superstition in human existence, except that religion is replaced by baseball ("not a bad trade," I hear some Groucho out there quip.) For Faust himself, his belief that he was a ballplayer was unshakable, and he took it to his grave. He ignored all evidence to the contrary, and his utter confidence earned him a real Giants' uniform. If Dizzy Dean's famous "It ain't bragging if you can do it" can be adapted, Faust could argue "It ain't delusion if I did it." His faith finally took him over the edge, the place where fantasy-campers stop, but not before he climbed the mound at the Polo Grounds. Twice.

For Faust's manager and teammates, superstition was as real as Red Ames' lucky tie, or the jinxing power of Connie Mack's white-haired, hunchback boy mascot, or the four-leaf-clovers and horseshoes that "everybody" used for luck. Faust apparently was seen as both a charm who could "will" the Giants wins, and as a jinx-killer, a shield to ward off the defeat-inflicting powers of the opposition's own magic. Crazy? Try telling that to the fans in Atlanta who chant and chop, Twins' fans waving Homer Hankies, or Pirate fans who remember the Green Weenie and Babushka Power.

Whether Faust was developmentally disabled or mentally ill or both or something else -- Schechter wisely avoids a long-distance diagnosis -- is not clear, even if he eventually turned up in an asylum. Tell people you struck out Honus Wagner on your way to the World Series, and maybe you would be judged insane, too. Charlie had pulled off the unbelievable. But this is not necessarily a good thing, when you are locked up in a hospital.

The film Charly is silent about Victory Faust (it is based on the novel Flowers for Algernon), but says much about how society treats persons who take longer to learn things, who seem mentally slower, and who might walk and talk differently. Often this treatment is cruel. "Hire the handicapped, they're fun to watch" -- that very old "joke" provides a bridge for understanding one other aspect of Charlie Faust. The target of his teammates' pranks (in the locker room, on the Pullmans, or in the hotels, he was fair game everywhere) or the catalyst for the cheering and laughter of fans (at the ballpark, the theater or for fans reading their daily sports pages) -- Faust was entertainment.

Faust became a fixture in this role, a sideshow and again comic relief in a serious pennant race. The Giants were hardly the only team with a mascot or pet, but their uniformed charm was not just a bat boy whose head could be rubbed for luck. No, Charlie could windup and throw all day, to the amusement of both fans and players, and he could do it with Buster Keaton deadpan, convinced (just ask him) that he would surely be called on today -- or tomorrow. Long-running act, long-running joke -- we can only wonder how many fans might have turned out if McGraw had given them any notice that Charlie would really get in a game.

Was the Faust phenomenon that much different than Sauerkraut Saul running this summer of 2000 in the daily perogi race at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, and losing forty-six times before finally finishing ahead of Chester Cheese and Potato Pete? I'm not so sure. Like Faust, Saul is something else going on for reporters and columnists, and there were plenty of both in 1911, all starving for good stories. He was good copy. "Did you see Sid Mercer's piece on Faust in today's Globe?" must have been asked back then as often as "Did Sauerkraut lose again last night?"

Gabriel Schechter has read all the columns, and all about the ball games, too. We meet the whole team in his book. I suspect that some readers will have a problem with the pace of the book, which is the pace of the long summer of baseball. Fans, I think, tend to skip and skim along, they are in and out of the daily grind, at least until they are in the grip of The Fever (see NOTES #200 for details.) But there is something to be gained by taking things slow and letting the story of Victory Faust unfold as it happened, not in a blur, but day by day.

For one thing, you learn exactly from what Faust was comic relief, for the Giants and for baseball fans living in 1911. For another, you can imagine a little about how it might have been on the inside of the tale, how Charlie experienced those days of living out his wish or dream or fantasy or delusion -- you make the call. But first, read Victory Faust.


vortex of dissipation Posted: March 06, 2006 at 04:39 AM (#1885189)
Jim Brosnan's Pennant Race and The Long Season are two I have read several times. James' Abstracts, the original BJHBA, the follow-up NBJHBA (they're different enough to be considered separately), and his book on managers are all read often.And if you've never read Victory Faust: The Rube Who Saved McGraw's Giants, by Gabriel Schechter, find yourself a copy….

- Reviewed By danthesportsman

This book fills in many previously unanswered questions about a man who today would be considered disturbed, but during the 1911 baseball season he became a sensation in New York. It is an amazing tale of how a man with very limited skills achieved his delusional goal of pitching for the New York Giants. Victory Faust came to a sad end, but after reading this book you will never forget his brief career. A must read for the baseball researcher.

Reviewed By Anonymous

This book tells a deeply amusing and haunting story of fame, obsession and delusion -- on the part of Faust, the simple mascot who believed he was a ballplayer, and on that of the Giants, the team who egged him on for their own amusement and benefit.

Schechter also gives us a richly detailed account of National League baseball in 1911. We see the players, the owners, and especially such reporters as Damon Runyon and Sid Mercer, as vividly as we see baseball's characters today.

Reviewed By thescribe

Gabriel Schechter's “Victory Faust - The Rube Who Saved McGraw's Giants” explores the tale of one of baseball's oddest characters. The near mythical story of Charles “Victory” Faust, an unknown hayseed who went from the obscurity of a Kansas farm to the toast of the New York baseball world, is set forth in detail. Using newspaper accounts and considerable original research, Schechter has crafted a fascinating portrait of the sport during the period just before the first World War. It was a time and a game of innocence and superstition, filled with legends such as Giants' manager John McGraw and pitcher Christy Mathewson, when the “impossible” was possible. In the history of baseball no story is more improbable than that of “Victory” Faust, the hick who became a flesh and blood good luck charm for the New York Giants. The author is able to put the reader in a box seat to history and breathe life into Faust's touching quest to actually pitch in a big league game. This book provides a fascinating read for those interested in a glimpse into early 20th century America, fan or non-fan alike.

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