Storyteller Strikes Again
Amsterdam native Bob Cudmore has published a new book about the region’s past, this time revealing the “Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley: The Baseball Oracle, the Mohawk Encampment and More.”?
“It’s the hidden history – the things you don’t hear about,” Cudmore told The Leader-Herald this week. The “Baseball Oracle” mentioned in the title was James J. Sheridan II, the proprietor of a smoke shop in Utica who briefly wowed the sports world when he predicted the outcome of 21 St. Louis Cardinals baseball games in 1930.
“He began sending uncannily accurate telegrams to the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Charles ‘Gabby’ Street,” Cudmore writes in the book. “The messages predicted the outcome of pending games and often gave Street instruction on who should pitch.”
Both Sheridan’s foresight and the Cards’ luck failed when they lost Game 6 of the World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics. After his 21 games’ worth of fame, the Baseball Oracle left Utica and eventually settled in Amsterdam. A few years later, the loss of his job as a cigar salesman prompted Sheridan to take his own life at the age of 42, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves in the midst of the Great Depression.
The bittersweet arc of Sheridan’s life story mirrors several of the tales in “Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley.”
“We’ve lost so much up here,” Cudmore said, reflecting on the region’s nostalgia for the prosperous days before automation and globalization decimated the manufacturing economy of so many Mohawk Valley communities.
The new book, published this month by The History Press, follows Cudmore’s 2011 volume, “Stories from the Mohawk Valley: The Painted Rocks, the Good Benedict Arnold and More.”
Among the 180-plus pages of “Hidden History” are anecdotes about:
– Prominent literary critic Edmund Wilson’s visit to a Mohawk Indian encampment on the Schoharie Creek in 1957.
– Camp Agaming in the Adirondacks, where Kirk Douglas was a counselor before he became a movie star.
– The journey made by a Dutch barber-surgeon in 1634, the first trip through the valley documented by a European.
The photos in the book include some taken in Amsterdam by renowned photographer John Collier in October 1941.
“His pictures captured the spirit of scrappy Mohawk Valley residents battered by the Great Depression and about to be thrust into World War II,” according to a news release from The History Press.
Cudmore, who now lives in Glenville, is known throughout the region for his work as a radio broadcaster. He was the host of WGY radio’s nighttime talk show, “Contact,” from 1980 to 1993. Now he is heard mornings on Lite 104.7 FM and 1570AM WVTL, which broadcast from a studio in the town of Florida.
For several years, Cudmore wrote satirical columns about the fictional town of Nero, N.Y., in the Daily Gazette before local history became his main focus as a writer, around the time he was asked to co-produce a documentary for WMHT-TV. Titled “Historic Views of the Carpet City: Amsterdam, N.Y.,” that 2000 production set a fundraising record for a WMHT local history production.
“That was a life-changing experience,” Cudmore said of the documentary.
In 2001, he began his “Focus on History” column in the Daily Gazette, which he says immediately attracted a stronger following than his “Nero” pieces, which appeared in that paper’s opinion pages.
While “Stories from the Mohawk Valley” has sold more than 1,800 copies in two years, Cudmore says he never intended for the book to be a money-maker for him. He has donated hundreds of dollars from the proceeds to local causes, drawing attention to a “Seed Money Charity of the Month” with a regular segment on his radio show.
“It just seemed like a good thing to do,” Cudmore said of the charitable aspect of his publishing work.
Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached at email@example.com.