The Tacoma News Tribune 04/03/1995
By Bart Ripp / The News Tribune

     He was the village idiot of Marion, Kan.

     Charles Victor Faust was called feeble-minded. The diagnosis was hebephrenia, a schizophrenic reaction expressed by silliness, delusions andhallucinations.

     In 1911, a fortuneteller in Wichita told Faust that he would win the pennant for the New York Giants. In a weird way, he did.

     Faust found a demented fame when his unlikely dream came true. After enduring life on his family's wheat farm, hearing whispers and craving splendor, Faust had a fantastic year in 1911.

     Four years later, a footnote to baseball history and a spectacle in vaudeville, Faust died, alone and insane, at Western State Hospital in Steilacoom. He was 35.

     Faust had fled America's geographical center to find a fluky luster in the nation's biggest city. He died, hidden from the world, in the Northwest woods. He transcended myth in a life that would make a book and surely a movie.

     That is Gabe Schechter's wish. A poker tournament dealer in Las Vegas, a free-lance writer, Schechter, 43, has written a screenplay of Faust's astonishing celebrity. Rejected by Amblyn, Steven Spielberg's studio, Schechter's screenplay is being considered by Walt Disney Studios.

     "It's 'Forrest Gump' with substance," Schechter said on a recent visit to Tacoma. "There is no enlightenment in 'Forrest Gump.' Faust's story has meaning because he got to pitch."

     That's the gist of Faust's sad life. He got to pitch. How many of us can say that?

     At age 30, without work beyond the family farm, without baseball experience except a few pitiful stabs at pitching for the Marion hometownteam, Faust left Kansas to win the pennant for the Giants. Fortified with the fortuneteller's reply and a naive bravado, Faust reported to manager John McGraw in St. Louis, said that he had come to win the pennant for the Giants and won himself an odd job as a mascot. He entertained fans and ballplayers with a spasmodic pregame show of pitching, fielding, running the bases and leading brass bands that played at baseball games.

     Magically, mysteriously, the Giants, mired in third place, began winning. And winning. And winning. Faust didn't get to pitch in games, but his goofy presence relaxed the Giants, who considered him a talisman.

     "He was simple-minded and extremely gullible," Schechter said. "And good-natured. That's why the Giants let him hang around. He was a counter to McGraw's ferocity. And he was infallible as a good-luck charm."

     He was incredible. When the Giants fell behind in a game, Faust was dispatched from the dugout - or the cornets in the band - to warm up in the bullpen. The sight of Faust, tall and angular with a bizarre windup like a whirling windmill, galvanized the Giants. From July 29 until they clinched the National League pennant in late September, their record with Faust on the bench was 37 victories and 2 defeats.

     He missed three days while appearing in vaudeville theaters, staging his windup and reciting windy stories. He told audiences that his middle name was not Victor but Victory. Damon Runyon called him "the celebrated Kansas squirrel fodder." The New York World Telegraph called Faust "the worst act in vaudeville history."

     He missed another two days in Brooklyn, attempting to land a contract with the Superbas - wondrous nickname of the team that became the Dodgers. And he spent a day looking to sample apple pie all around the town. Faust adored apple pie.

     Glory arrived Oct. 7, 1911. With the pennant secured, Faust went to the bullpen to warm up, then was summoned to face the Boston Braves. Fewer than 1,000 at the Polo Grounds saw Faust pitch the ninth inning, allowing one run. To see Faust in the game, on the mound at last, surely was a treat.

     On the season's last day, Faust was allowed to pitch one inning against Brooklyn. He batted once, was hit by a pitch from the aptly named Eddie Dent, was allowed to circle the bases and scored a run.

     "All of us have this daydream," Schechter said. "He was a guy with less talent and brains than most of us. But he had the nerve and deluded persistence.

     "He got himself into the record books, and we didn't. He reached the only goal he ever sought."

     With Faust in uniform, but not on the field, the Giants lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics in six games. Faust received a World Series share of about $1,000.

     In 1912, he appeared at spring training at Hot Springs, Ark., gave a command performance of his act for Andrew Carnegie and was allowed to accompany the Giants into June. The team zoomed to a historic start (54-11), but McGraw tired of being pestered by Faust for a contract and fired the squirrel fodder. Faust insisted that he had signed a two-year contract on a
shirt collar, but it was never found.

     In 1914, Faust surfaced in Portland. He said he was walking from Seattle to New York, to help the Giants win the pennant. Faust's brothers, John and George, lived in Seattle.

     Arrested in Portland, committed to the State Insane Asylum in Salem, Faust listed his occupation as professional ballplayer. After a week, he was released. The admissions log lists his mental state as "not improved."

     He went to Seattle. Faust lived in a down-town hotel called The Ellis. From the hotel, he sent telegrams to August A. Herrmann, baseball's de facto commissioner, begging for a contract with the Giants. Herrmann ignored Faust.

     It was too much. In December of 1914, Faust was admitted to Western State Hospital. He died June 18, 1915. Cause of death was listed as pulmonary tuberculosis. The Giants lost to Pittsburgh, 7-5 that day.

     The Faust tale was resurrected in Lawrence Ritter's oral history, "The Glory of Their Times," told by Giants outfielder Fred Snodgrass. Schechter said Snodgrass's story is largely embellished.

     E.L. Doctorow devotes a chapter to Faust in "Ragtime." A Doctorow phrase hooked Gabe Schechter. Doctorow called Faust "a pathetic pantomime of his own solitude."

     Schechter knows solitude. He spent all of 1991 in Cooperstown, N.Y., chasing Faust in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. Schechter claims the Cooperstown record for longest continual research.

     Schechter spent three weeks at the Library of Congress in 1992, reading microfilm of New York newspapers. He found 159 items on Faust. When Faust was committed in Oregon, the New York Herald headline read: Charlie Faust Sent to Bughouse League

     Schechter finally found Charlie Faust on Puget Sound's shores. Schechter visited the cemetery where 3,000 Western State patients were buried in numbered but otherwise unmarked graves.

     The cemetery lies in Fort Steilacoom Park, on county land acquired by a swap with the state. There was a pig farm in the meadow north of Waughop Lake. Baseball is played on two diamonds.

     The military highway from Fort Steilacoom to Fort Walla Walla started where Western State patients built a landmark rock wall on Steilacoom Boulevard in 1916. Charlie Faust's long road ended here in 1915.

     From the cemetery, Mount Rainier beckons on pleasant days. Nothing like it in Kansas, where Charlie Faust heard the call of fame. Nothing like it in New York, where Charlie Faust knew the talk of the town.

     For 80 years, Charlie Faust has rested. No windmill windups, no contract hassles, no more apple pie. Grave No. 1395 is an etched brick embedded in a lawn and shaded by a Douglas fir. The big tree could have been a sapling when Charlie Faust was in the World Series.

     Some graves have sunk, creating small knolls gently rising around Charlie Faust's grave. Walking to the cemetery from the ballfields, looking for the legend of the windmill windup, these hills look like pitcher's mounds.