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White Sox-Giants World Tour: Crossing the equator

Except for seven hours in Western Australia, the tourists find ways to pass the time aboard a steamship

The R.M.S. Orontes
The R.M.S. Orontes

Departing from a disappointed Adelaide, the White Sox and Giants returned to the seas upon the R.M.S. Orontes, en route to Ceylon, which is now Sri Lanka.

Some of the tourists felt the effects of choppy seas off the southern coast of Australia, but they'd get a land break for seven hours in Western Australia. They docked at Fremantle, then took a motorcar ride into Perth. To the chagrin of the Australians and American ex-pats, the teams couldn't get a game in because local officials couldn't get a field in order. The account given by the Sunday Times in Perth:

The two "crack" American baseball teams -- the New York "Giants" and the Chicago "White Sox" -- passed through Fremantle on Tuesday in continuation of their tour of the world. It was hoped that arrangements could be made for the visitors to give an exhibition here, but matters in this regard seem to have been badly bungled, first through the miscarriage of a letter to the manager of the teams on the subject, and secondly because the terms submitted, being lower than those of the East, and the brief stay of the steamer didn't suit. Consequently, the "Giants" and "White Sox" were not seen in action.

The most notable part of the stopover? As James E. Elfers tells it in "The Tour to End All Tours," it might've been Charles Comiskey running out of cash.

While Comiskey had a $121,000 credit line, the Old Roman tried to pay for his dinner with his last available cash, a $20 gold Double Eagle. Perth's merchants had never seen such a coin and would not accept it as legal tender. With no other funds on his person, a humiliated Comiskey made a dash across the street to a bank. The bankers recognized the coin and exchanged the White Sox owner's money, minus $1.40 for the bank's time and troubles.

The situation was resolved in time to get back to the Orontes for the longer part of the voyage, which would last nine whole days. The Orontes, like the R.M.S. Empress of Japan, was a tall steamship, operated by a British company. Tour organizer Ted Sullivan made note of this in "History of World's Tour," writing:

The ginger of the Americans amazed the English and the reserve of the English amazed the Americans. The Americans, with their magnetic gingery temperament, can never assimilate with the English, with their frigid-zone temperament, but there is one thing that can be said, and I say it truthfully, without fear of contradiction, an Englishman's temperament will never blend with an America's temperament.

Besides the presence of Buck Weaver, what kind of "ginger" is Sullivan talking about? Well, in "Jim Thorpe: A Biography," William A. Cook tells a story of the world's greatest athlete taking charge in a game of follow the leader.

Jim Thorpe, always agreeable to horseplay, was selected as the leader and proceeded to lead the men and women all over the decks of the ship indulging in stupid actions. When Thorpe spotted Charles Comiskey lounging in a deck chair, the prankster leaned over and gave "The Old Roman" a big wet kiss. Everyone following Thorpe's lead proceeded to smooch Comiskey accordingly. Comiskey, a man with need for considerable distance in personal space, who rarely shook hands with his own players, found no amusement in the affection showered upon him.

In The Sporting News, Joe Farrell highlights some other ways the passengers passed the time. There was a particularly fierce shuffleboard league, won by Steve Evans and Dick Egan, who could say they beat Thorpe in a competition (Thorpe and Hooks Wiltse finished second; John McGraw and Germany Schaefer third). Deck cricket also returned, and Hans Lobert impressed the Englishmen aboard.

Then there was the "Tango Four," a committee comprising Schaefer, Weaver, Fred Merkle and Tris Speaker. They purchased a phonograph, and a drawing resulted in Evans playing a role of ship deejay. He added another title when he was elected president of the Onion Club. The Onion Club received its names from the crates of American onions aboard the ship, and each "meeting" would start with Evans eating an onion, then selecting the evening's tango soundtrack.

(Elfers notes that the odd arbitrary rituals were designed to mock the popular fraternal orders of the day -- the Elks Club, Masons and the like.)

Neptune also made a cameo appearance as the Orontes approach the equator on Jan. 19, warning of an initiation ceremony that still takes place today.

The god of the sea -- looking suspiciously like umpire Bill Klem -- revisited the tourists a day later with a doctor and barber in tow. From Frank McGlynn in Baseball Magazine:

A great platform was erected near the stern of the ship, just above the steerage quarters. In front of this was a huge canvas tank filed with salt water. The victim who was taken by Neptune's police was tried for encroaching the first time on equatorial waters. The usual penalty was that they be shorn and shaven, and immediately a white brush was dipped into lather (no one knows what it was made of) from a bucket, and spread over the entire visage and head of the unfortunate culprit. The barber then proceeded to shave him with a wooden razor two feet in length amid shrieks of laughter from the onlookers. The lather was finally removed after taking handcuffs from the prisoner's wrists and tossing him into the arms of sturdy men, who stood in the tank waiting to give him the dunking that through the afternoon was the fate of nearly every stoker, petty officer and seaman on the ship.

The players all received the same treatment, with Elfers noting that Lee Magee received a certificate for the initiation. It might not have been worth it, for Magee said the lather consisted of "flour paste and axle grease."

At 11 p.m. on this date 100 years ago, bearing these diplomas that granted them passage, the White Sox and Giants crossed the equator and returned to the Northern Hemisphere.

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