Baseball Ink

Baseball The Way It Was Meant To Be

Jack Lively

by Steve A. Maze

If you lived on the eastern edge of Cullman County, Ala., during the late 1890s, you might have seen a youngster throwing rocks at the Joppa Methodist Church. The young lad wasn't vandalizing the religious site—he was honing his pitching skills by throwing at a knothole in one of the boards on the side of the building. He couldn't afford a baseball and settled for tossing rocks. The young man's name was Henry Everett Lively, but everyone called him Jack." He joined a Cullman sandlot team before playing with Joppa High School when he was old enough. It has been said that Lively threw so hard that he didn't need fielders behind him since no one could hit his fastball. His athletic prowess was so great that he was sometimes elevated above position players in the batting lineup, or even used as a pinch hitter...something that is almost unheard of today. Lively was a phenomenal athlete, and he was determined to make it to the major leagues. It wasn't long before minor league scouts began vying for his services.

Playing for a minor league team exposed Lively to a life outside of rural Joppa, Ala. He told Tyrus Bailey about his first trip away from home to play baseball.

"I went by horse and buggy to Cullman where I caught a train to Huntsville. The first time I saw electric lights was when I got to Huntsville."

Lively was playing for Montgomery in 1908 when he pitched a no-hitter against Little Rock. He faced 28 men during the game and only one opposing player reached base when Montgomery's center fielder dropped an easy fly ball. Lively would recall years later that the no-hitter was his greatest accomplishment in baseball. Soon, newspaper headlines were singing praise to the Joppa native. One read: "Lively is Pitching Best Ball in the South and is After Record."

Lively moved on to the California farm leagues and pitched for Oakland in 1910. The first night he arrived in town, however, Lively was running late and failed to meet his new teammates. He wandered about town all alone until 11 o'clock that night when he checked into a rooming house.

He paid for his room and while doing so, carelessly flashed the gold he was carrying. (Baseball players were often paid in gold instead of cash during that era.) Lively noticed a couple of hoodlums staring at him from across the room. He immediately knew he was being sized up for a robbery attempt. Lively hurried up to his dingy room and locked the door—hoping to get a good nights rest before joining the club the following day.

About 2 a.m., he was awakened by someone trying to fit a key into the lock of his door. The Alabama native had intentionally left his key in the lock to prevent anyone from inserting another key in the door.

After a few moments, several other people joined the first intruder and began rattling the door in an effort to shake the key out of the lock. Lively sprang from his bed and asked those on the outside what they wanted.

They said they were there "To see George." Lively knew this was a ploy to get him to open the door and told them to be on their way. As a matter of precaution he opened the window with the intention of calling for assistance should the hoodlums burst open the door. Instead, he found another man beneath the window who was also "looking for George." Lively had no weapon with which to protect himself. Thinking quickly, he grabbed his baseball shoes and clicked the spikes together—imitating the sound of a hammer on a gun being cocked.

"I bet you'll tell me who's there now," Lively screamed. There was an immediate sound of footsteps beating a path down the stairs and away from his room. The Oakland recruit spent the rest of the night very much awake and changed his place of abode at sunrise.

"It's a mighty nice reception to give a stranger," Lively was heard telling a sportswriter the following day. The Alabamian had a phenomenal year for Oakland in 1910. He started 54 games, completing 52 and winning 33. Newspaper headlines screamed: "Lively Was an Enigma," and "Lively is Leading League Pitcher." The pitching phenom soon caught the attention of the Detroit Tigers, and they bought his contract for a reported $3,000. Several teams were trying to obtain Lively's contract from Oakland, but Detroit Tiger manager Hugh Jennings wanted to win the pennant in 1911 and felt the big right hander would help them do so.

But there was to be one more newspaper headline that would come back to haunt Lively later on. It read: "Sixteen Inning Game Stopped by Darkness." Lively pitched the entire 16 innings and years later would say that his arm felt "heavy" the morning following the game.

Lively's debut as a member of the Detroit Tigers was a 5-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians. He allowed only six hits against a good Cleveland team that included players such as "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and Napolean Lajoie. Lively struck out Jackson during a critical situation in the eighth inning. He then helped himself to victory in the bottom half of the inning by stroking a single.

It was during his stint with the Detroit Tigers that Lively became friends with one of the most famous players to ever step on a baseball diamond—Tyrus Raymond Cobb. Many of Cobb's own teammates despised him and the bad blood resulted in many fistfights between the "Georgia Peach" and other team members. The teammates, whom Cobb often referred to as "northerners," would often saw his favorite bats in half or nail his spikes to the wooden floor of the dugout. Due to his negative relationship with his teammates, rumors have been circulated over the years that Cobb never had a roommate. That was not the case in 1911, however. Jack Lively was Cobb's roommate when the club traveled to American League cities for a game. Lively wondered how he wound up rooming with Cobb, but he heard that "Georgia Peach" requested him for a roommate. Being from Georgia, Cobb would have found it refreshing to hear the deep southern drawl in which his new friend from Alabama spoke.

Lively got along well with Cobb and never spoke negatively about him during his lifetime. In fact, he said that Cobb was the greatest baseball player who ever lived. Lively felt the negative feelings by teammates and other people who knew Cobb was due to his intensely competitive nature.

"Ty was very mild mannered in civilian clothes," Lively later stated, "but you didn't mess with him when he had his uniform on."

Lively witnessed Cobb go as high as six rows into the stands to fight a fan who had made personally offensive remarks toward him, and then come back onto the field to finish a game. He also saw Cobb click his spikes together in mid-air while sliding into a base.

Lively also remembered Cobb as being thrifty with his money. The two would shower at the clubhouse after a game before walking back to their hotel room. They would always stop outside the hotel and get a newspaper from a paper boy standing out front. Newspaper were two cents so Jack would flip the paper boy a quarter and let him keep the change since the tip was the youngster's only source of income. Cobb would give the boy a nickel and wait up to five minutes for the three cents change.

Lively and Cobb would eat dinner at the hotel after reading the paper, and then retire to their room. Once there, they had a friendly wrestling match to see who was the strongest. "The bed would go down first, then a table or chair," Lively recalled.

Cobb learned through roughhousing with Lively that he could get better leverage by wrestling barefooted. The baggy uniforms of the day hid Cobb's wiry, muscular body. "Ty was stout as a bull," Lively often said.

One day when they were eating at the hotel, a teammate...who was considerably larger than Cobb...came up to their table and challenged the future Hall of Famer to a fight.

"Let me finish dinner, and we'll go up to our room and settle this thing," Cobb responded.

The entire team was waiting outside the room when Cobb and Lively arrived. The other teammates were no doubt hoping to see the "Georgia Peach" take a severe beating. Lively smiled when he noticed Cobb slipping his shoes off when he entered the room. Cobb proceeded to beat the larger teammate to a pulp.

One of the benefits to being Cobb's friend was that many people wanted to meet the famous ballplayer. Cobb was invited to the White House in 1911 and asked Lively to go with him. They were shown into the executive offices of the White House and met by President Taft who warmly greeted them.

Lively started 14 games for Detroit that year and completed 10. Not only was Lively a hard thrower, he also threw a spitball, which was within the rules of the game at that time. He also claimed to have been the first major league pitcher to throw a knuckle ball in a major league game.

Lively finished the season with a record of seven wins and five losses. Not bad for a rookie pitcher, but hardly the exceptional year that was expected of someone with his talent. There was a reason for his pitching performance, but he couldn't tell anyone. His arm was hurting. In fact, it had never felt right since pitching the 16-inning game the year before. Lively feared Detroit would release him should they discover he was injured.

Lively started with Detroit in 1912, but was sold to Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics after the season began. One day while warming up in Philadelphia, Lively heard something pop in his arm. "It sounded like a .22 rifle shot," he said.

The arm injury ended his major league career, and Lively was devastated. Because of his genuine love for baseball, Lively went home and paced the floor like a caged lion. Lively's wife, Minnie, recalled that she was barely able to live with him during that period. After a failed comeback attempt, Lively moved to Birmingham, Ala., and went to work for American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO).

Manufacturing plants such as ACIPCO would give former major leaguers jobs in order to get them to play on the company baseball team. Lively played with them for several years and managed the team later on.

During the mid-1930s, Ty Cobb got word to Lively that he would be coming to the Birmingham area on business and wanted to meet with his old teammate. Lively surprised everyone when he sent word back to Cobb that he would not be able to attend the meeting. Cobb had become a very wealthy man, but Lively had not fared as well financially. Lively's pride would not allow him to meet his former roommate under those conditions.

After retiring from ACIPCO in 1949, Lively moved back to Joppa. He later built a house just north of Arab, Ala., in order to pursue his favorite pastime—fox hunting.

Lively's wife died in 1966 and he went to live with his son, Bud Lively, a former major leaguer himself. Lively died in Arab in 1967. Both Lively and his wife Minnie are buried at Hebron Church of Christ cemetery outside of Arab.

Jack Lively never made it to the baseball Hall of Fame, but should there ever be a hall of fame for country boys who worked hard to make their dreams come true, he will surely be inducted.