James Francis Thorpe
Dick Beverage and I were talking the about Tommy Sheehan yesterday, and he felt that there might be a possibility of Sheehan’s height being a typo, that “8” might actually have been a “3” at some point. This has happened to me— and every body else— who has worked with old microfilm, and old guide pages, especially photocopies of guides.
Anyway, there is no way for us to that out, but we did agree that somebody called “Midget” would be closer to 5’3” than 5’8” in stature, and that the encyclopedias should— for the time being— eliminate the 5’8” from future editions. I told Dick that I had passed “the Midget” information on, but nothing had come of it. (It only occurred to me later that people who compile encyclopedias wouldn’t especially like to admit they don’t know something.) Dick told me that he had the same thing occur to him in regard to Jim Thorpe. He stumbled across an article that stated that Jim Thorpe had died in his trailer. Dick, of course, knew the trailer park where Thorpe had his trailer, and the park was located in Lomita, not Long Beach, as the encyclopedias still maintain. He passed that bit of information on to no avail.
Then after I got off the phone and began to correct my database, I noticed that the correction I had made to the Thorpe record that is still not carried by the encyclopedias. After Thorpe got back from the 1912 Olympics, he so dominated those games that he was sent to be examined by a group of scientist to see if they could find anything in his physique that might account for his dominance at the games. They didn’t, but the scientists did measure every inch of Jim Thorpe’s body. What is of interest to baseball researchers, historians and fans is the fact that Jim Thorpe measured 5’11” tall. When this bit of data was passed on, it, too, fell on deaf ears. The encyclopedias still list the “Greatest Athlete of All Time” at six feet one inch tall.
I believe what Ken Burns once said about Enos Slaughter spiking of Jackie Robinson incident. When somebody brought to Burns’ attention that Slaughter maintained that the incident never occurred, Burns— not the sharpest knife in the drawer— said: “But I’ve read it in 23 places!” What tends to happens is that one writer (researcher, etc.) puts something down on paper, and then others put that fact down on paper. So in Burn’s example, one guy may have made the whole thing up out of whole cloth, and 22 guys copy what the first guy wrote.
And that, I believe, is why is so hard to correct anything in baseball encyclopedias.