Underwood’s Joss Documentary was a Decade in the Making

About a decade ago, Indians broadcaster Matt Underwood read a story in the Toledo Blade about the benefit game staged at League Park in 1911 for the family of pitcher Addie Joss, struck down before the season’s start with a case of bacterial meningitis.

The story stuck with him. “It’s really great story, and it hasn’t really been told,” he said.

Underwood continued to research the life of Joss, who in his brief career was one of the best pitchers in the nascent American League, with the idea of doing something about him for a wider audience.

Finally, last fall, the opportunity presented itself. After the Indians’ World Series run, he was able to sell Fox Sports Ohio on the project. “I think in about five minutes in, I’d sold them,” he said.

The result, a half-hour documentary called “Addie Joss Revealed,” premiered last week after the Indians’ home opener. It’s been in regular rotation on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio since.

The documentary starts in 1908, with Underwood painting a scene of a growing and prosperous city – touched by cataclysmic tragedy with the Collinwood School fire. It was also the first real pennant race for the Indians, then called the Naps in honor of player-manager Napoleon Lajoie. Addie Joss performed heroically that season, culminating in a 74-pitch perfect game against the White Sox, whose pitcher, Ed Walsh, struck out 15 batters but took the loss. Less than three years later, he was dead.

With interviews including Baseball Heritage Museum Administrator Morris Eckhouse, Joss biographer Scott Longert, and David Fleitz – who wrote the Blade story that inspired Underwood – as well as Joss’ own words and words of his teammates and contemporaries read by current Indians players and manager Terry Francona, Underwood tells the story of the benefit game for him and the efforts to get him into the Baseball Hall of Fame – efforts that finally came to fruition in 1978, thanks to a bylaw change.

The rule was that players had to have a career of at least 10 seasons, and Joss had died at the outset of his 10th season. But after the rules were changed to allow Roberto Clemente into the Hall of Fame immediately after his death, the bylaws were changed again to allow exceptions to the 10-year career for players whose career ended suddenly because of death or injury.

Underwood said the reaction has been almost universally positive, and he’s already thinking about his next one.

“I have a few ideas,” he said. “I hope to have another project in the next several months.”

Photo: baseballhall.org

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