|Searching for Victory The Story of Charles Victor(y) Faust|
By Thomas S. Busch
Charles Victor ("Victory") Faust left Marion, Kansas, in the early summer of 1911 to bring victories and a championship to the National League's New York Giants' Baseball Club. He intended to do it as a player, but instead accomplished this objective as the quintessential mascot. Many people at the time merely thought of Charley as the mad mascot of Manhattan, a "looney tune" from Kansas who was insanely lucky. However, there is reason to believe he was a skillful self-promoter with the eccentric genius of a Bill Veeck or a Charley Finley.
Some kids, with dreams of becoming a major league baseball player, leave home to join a team when they turn 16. Charley decided to run away from home and join the Giants when he was 30. At the time of his departure he was a tall (6'2"), skinny man with weak eyes that did not seem to align properly and with an ever-present semi-toothless smile on his face. He has been described as a gawky, awkward, grinning farmboy, who, whether walking or running, moved with a loping trot that reminded one of a jackrabbit hopping across a prairie.
Charley had grown up on his parents' farm two miles across the Cottonwood River from Marion, Kansas. He was the oldest of six children whose father was a German-Russian immigrant. His heritage was apparent in that he talked with a classic German accent, and would introduce himself as Charles "Victor" Faust. Although local town folk believed him to be slightly retarded, he was a surprisingly articulate speaker and writer.
Sometime in late March or early April, 1911, Charley set out for Wichita, Kansas (the nearest "big city"), in search of some diversion from the drudgery of farm routine. There he found a fortune teller who, for five dollars, told him he would become the greatest pitcher the world had ever known if he would join the New York Giants. Three times she told him this, and added that when he had established himself and helped the Giants to win a pennant, he would meet a girl named Lulu, marry her, and become the father of future generations of baseball stars.
Charley returned to Marion and during the next several months must have pondered that fortune many times. At some point in the heat of July he came to the conclusion that the prophecy would "come to pass," and, with train ticket in hand, rode the Sante Fe to St. Louis and destiny.
On the morning of July 28, 1911, Charley wandered into the Planter's Hotel in St. Louis and asked to see John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants. The Giants were in town on their second western swing of the season. He was directed to a trio of men in the lobby consisting of McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and Red Ames. Charley introduced himself and carefully related to McGraw the "fortune" he had been told in Wichita. Instead of being shown the door, McGraw surprisingly agreed to see his stuff later that afternoon at the ballpark.
Charley accepted McGraw's invitation, and, later that day, dressed in his Sunday best, walked out of the grandstand at League Park in a dark suit and wearing a black derby hat. As he passed the players warming up, he asked them to point out McGraw. When he found him, Fred Snodgrass, a Giant at the time, recalled in The Glory of Their Times that McGraw sized him up and said, "Take off your hat and coat, and here's a glove. I'll get a catcher's mitt and warm you up, and we'll see what you have."
The two of them set up in front of the bench and made a few throws back and forth. "I'd better give you my signals," Charley said. After Charley had passed along five or six signals to McGraw, he went back to his spot and began his windup. Snodgrass likened it to a windmill; both arms going round in circles for quite awhile before he released the ball.
It soon became evident that neither McGraw's signals nor Charley's delivery seemed to have any effect on his pitches. They were all off-speed, that is, they had little or no speed. McGraw then decided to have a little fun with Charley. He sent Charley up to the plate and told him to hit and run out any fair ball. At the same time he passed word to the players shagging balls in the infield to ease up and play along.
When Charley's bat first met the ball he nubbed one down to the shortstop, who bobbled it a moment to allow Charley to round first base and head for second. There, he was forced to slide but escaped on an errant throw. And so, on around the bases he scrambled into home, all in his Sunday best. The crowd loved it, as did the players, and Charley tasted his first moment of stardom. He was allowed to stay on the bench that day but it was an inauspicious start; the Giants lost 5-2 to the Cardinals.
The next day Charley showed up and was outfitted in a uniform, but one measured for a man along the size of Wee Willie Keeler. No matter; Charley considered himself a Giant and was on his way to fulfilling the prophecy. The sight of Charley's batting, fielding, and baserunning had so taken the spectators that McGraw had it repeated before the game that day and the Giants won 8-0.
From that modest beginning, Charley's fortune began taking shape in spite of the Giants' initial efforts to dump him. When the series ended and they left St. Louis for Chicago, Charley was still running back to the hotel for a train ticket that did not exist. However, their success in losing Charley was short-lived. Several days later he greeted them at their hotel in Boston. Dirty and slightly worse for wear, Charley had made his way to the East Coast by hopping several freight trains.
McGraw allowed Charley to sit on the bench for a few days and the Giants immediately began a winning streak that carried them into first place. Soon some of the more superstitious players grew to look upon Charley as a jinx-killer, the "Kansas Jinx-Killer."
Although Charley was hardly a ballplayer, he could and did predict plays and the results of series and things of that nature. This, coupled with his pre-game antics on the field, made him a drawing card that brought the club free advertising and larger crowds. Consequently, the club more or less officially adopted him as its mascot, issued him a uniform, and paid his railroad fare and other incidental expenses.
While Charley's pre-game routine was important as a gate attraction, his real importance as a mascot came when the Giants got behind. When they got down, McGraw would send him to the bullpen to warm up. After awhile this unique strategy would always work. Almost magically, the Giants would make a comeback and go on to win.
Away from the diamond, Charley often was made the butt of jokes by fellow teammates. Filling his suitcase with pig iron was just one of many tricks played on him. But Charley was not always on the wrong end of a joke. By late August, 1911, he had become so popular that he left the team for vaudeville. He told stories and gave imitations of the great ballplayers of the day for $200 a week. But in his first week away, the Giants lost three games, so he hurriedly broke his contract, returned to the bench, and the Giants regained their winning ways and the top spot in the standings.
Charley's long-held dream of becoming a real major league baseball player finally came true on October 7, 1911. The Giants had already clinched the National League pennant and were playing last-place Boston at the Polo Grounds. Charley pitched in the top of the ninth inning and allowed only one run. History had been made. His inclusion in the record books was now guaranteed. Charley's elation must have been indescribable! It was doubled less than a week later when he was allowed to play in the ninth inning of the last game of the season against the Brooklyn Dodgers. This time he not only pitched but got an official at-bat and scored on a sacrifice fly by Buck Herzog.
However, Charley's luck began to run out in the 1911 World Series. Despite predicting a Giants win, his club lost 4-2 to Home Run Baker and the Philadelphia Athletics. This loss definitely took some of the shine off Charley's star. Once a jinx-killer misfires, his followers tend to lose faith in him.
This became painfully apparent to Charley when the 1912 season began. Despite his past accomplishments, McGraw refused to give him back his uniform. But he was allowed to stay with the team and sit on the bench. Rather than take the hint to leave, Charley decided that he needed some top level assistance. Charley seized every opportunity to plead with Chairman August Herrmann of the National League to take some action on his behalf. And though Herrmann would repeatedly tell him he could do nothing for him, Charley's persistent appeals never abated.
Despite the absence of uniform or official contract, Charley still had success as a good luck charm and jinx-killer as the Giants repeated as National League pennant winners in 1912. However, by the last game of the season, Charley had finally given up. He was already in California when word reached the West Coast that the Giants had again lost the World Series. This time it was to the Boston Red Sox by a margin of 4-3. This was the Series of the famous Snodgrass muff. The unfortunate drop of a routine fly ball set the stage for the Red Sox rally that won the decisive game. Charley's presence on the Giants' bench may well have prevented the miscue and been the difference between victory and defeat.
Charley's actions during the next two years seem to indicate that he clung to such a belief. On numerous occasions he wrote letters or sent telegrams to McGraw or Herrmann seeking reinstatement to the team. He even traveled back east for the February, 1914, baseball meetings and some personal negotiations with Chairman Herrmann. But it was to no avail. His glory days were over.
By December 1, 1914, Charley was confined to the Western Hospital for Insane in Fort Steilacoom, Washington. He died there slightly more than six months later of pulmonary tuberculosis. It was this confinement and his eccentric behavior that caused people and sportswriters of the day to believe Charley was insane. A check with this institution, however, revealed that the available records simply did not indicate the basis for confinement.
So what is the bottom line on Charles Victor Faust? Except for Lulu, Charley's fortune had come true and a personal victory, almost beyond comprehension, had been achieved. His entry in The Baseball Encyclopedia shows that he pitched in two games for a total of two innings. He gave up two hits, no walks, and had an ERA of 4.50. His record was 0-0. But that one-line entry sheds little light on this man's short but notorious career. His strangely effective ability to kill jinxes and bring good luck is documented elsewhere. As Casey Stengel would say, "You can look it up." The Giants won two National League pennants with Charley on the bench in 1911 and 1912. It was the first time they had done so since 1905. Their team, though a very good one, needed a little something extra to put it on top. That something extra appears to have been Charles "Victory" Faust.