“I said. A contract’s. A contract.”
On an instinctive level, just about everyone feels that it must have been much easier to become a professional athlete a hundred years ago than it is now. Part of that stems from our general belief in progress—each year we get stronger, faster, better at writing hilarious jokes about American topics. Shut up, it’s called intangibles, ask a scout. Another part of this belief comes from the leaps and bounds our scientific knowledge about human physiology has made in the past century. We know how to handle, and prevent, injuries, how to train our bodies in the most efficient ways- we’re no longer blindly hoping that we were born as naturally athletic freaks like Jesse Owens. Oh, and speaking of that, we also stopped limiting our professional athletics to random white guys who tended to get lucky enough to get exposed to sports right when they were being invented. That’s a huge step.
The distinct disparity between, say, baseball athletes today and those during the Dead Ball Era might not have anything to do with this article, but it is important to note that Rupert Mills, who you have never heard of (unless you caught a brief story about him in our article about silly baseball team names), almost definitely would not have been considered a world class athlete if he were competing today. And that’s okay! Hell, he wasn’t considered a world class athlete when he was competing 100 years ago! But maybe, in a weird way, the ability for “good but not stellar” athletes to play on a national stage in the 19th century was a blessing in disguise, because sometimes the best stories happen when a sport’s not yet at the point where it’s fully taken seriously. Because while the level of play in 2015 might be higher than it was in 1916, you’ll never see a player show up to an empty field every day in order to take advantage of a loophole in his contract to get paid.
That’s what Rupert Mills did, and Rupert Mills was hilarious and amazing, and that’s only part of his story.
Rupert Mills: The One-Man Team of the 1916 Federalist League