In 1904, the New York Giants won 106 games and the National League Pennant by 13 games. They were so good, they declined the opportunity to play in what would have been the second World Series against the American League champion Boston Americans (Red Sox) as superfluous. The New York players dominated their league in all ten of the most important offensive and defensive stats.1
In 1944, The St. Louis Cardinals repeated this feat, again leading their league in every single offensive and defensive category, winning 105 games and the World Series.
These are the only two “SuperTeams” in MLB History. As some would say, the players were so talented, the stadium hot-dog vendor could have managed them to a championship.
Conversely, eight times in MLB history managers have both won the most regular season games and taken their teams to the World Series when the team did not lead their league in any single offensive or defensive category.2 Clearly, these managers must have had more significantly more influence and talent then their professional colleagues.
These “Super Managers” are:
George Stallings 1914 Boston Braves
Bill Carrigan 1915 Boston Red Sox
Johnny Keane 1964 St Louis Cardinals
Yogi Berra 1964 NY Yankees
Red Schoendienst 1967 St. Louis Cardinals
John McNamara 1986 Boston Red Sox
Joe Torre 1999 NY Yankees
Joe Torre 2003 NY Yankees
Ned Yost 2015 KC Royals
For most teams, there is a mixture of the players’ raw talent and the manager’s abilities to make use of that talent in the most effective way. Separating the two is often difficult. It is a team sport, after all, and almost every facet of the game depends on more than one individual.
Historically, of course, we have used won/loss records as the divining rod to separate out the good managers from the bad. While there may be SOME value to this, it simply ignores the giant factors of player abilities and their contribution. Obviously, no matter how talented the manger, he isn’t going to win many games if he has a AAA level team but must compete at the Major League level. Much like a pitcher, his W/L record is dependent on the skill level of his team’s players. Conversely, a very talented team may perform poorly if saddled with a leader with poor managerial skills.
The Object of the Game.
While this may seem elementary, it is important to agree on the goal of managing a major league team in order to measure effectiveness. In short, we must agree on a few basic principles.
The object of any game is to win the game by scoring at least one more run than you allow the other team to score.3
The object of the season is to win more games (see above) than all the other teams in your league.
The number of wins is more important than the score of one, or even a few, individual games.4
What does a Manger control?
On the offensive side, the manager has control (within the confines of the defensive positions required and the DH rule) over the batting order, pinch hitting/running, calling plays such as bunts, steals, hit and runs and so forth. He has no control over what the players actually achieve, but simply over puting them in the best position to be successful. He can not make a batter hit a double, nor do it himself, but he can place the batter with a proclivity for extra base hits in a position where it will do the team the most good. With these choices, his managerial ability can best be measured in terms of what percentage of his team’s base runners actually score a run.
He does not have direct control over how many total base runners he gets, that is a function of the players’ ability. He does have control over when those baserunners are most likely to occur during the game.
Since (with the exception of a home run) runs scored by an individual player are largely a function of who hits after him and runs batted in are a function of who hits before him, the manager has overwhelming control of these stats both on an individual basis and for the team.
Home runs are solely determined by the skill of the individual player, and, thus, should not be used in calculating the effect on run production by the team’s manager, though runs driven in by those home runs should be included, as he has control over the players that precede the batter who hits it. 5
Managerial Offensive Performance (MOP)
Managerial offensive performance is simply the percentage of real world baserunners (potential runs) that actually score and become real scoreboard runs. It does not include home runs as part of the potential runs, as they do not exist on the bases until after the fact. 6
Rather obviously, the higher the MOP, the better the manager has done in supporting his player’s offensive abilities.
Managerial Defensive Performance (MDP)
Much like the MOP number, managerial defensive performance focuses on those things over which the manager has the most control in preventing the other team from scoring. Bringing in a reliever, pitcher/hitter matchups, intentional walks, pitching around a batter, defensive alignment, defensive player selection and so forth. In short, it’s a measure of what percentage of the opponent’s base runners ultimately score an actual run.7
Again, obviously, the lower the number, the better the manager has supported his team defensively.
Overall Managerial Performance (OMP)
What we want of course, is a measure of how well the manager performs over all. Since we are confronted with one measure that is better when it is higher, and one that is better when lower, we can not simply add them together. Rather, to get an accurate perspective we must subtract the negatives (the defensive number or MDP) from the positives (the offensive number or MOP) to arrive at a logically correct measure. Since that number will generally be a small one, with lots of zeros, we multiply it by ten to make it look more like a batting average and eliminating most of the zeros but without changing the relative numbers.8
The Relationship of Overall Manger Performance to Winning Percentage
Baseball is subject to significant “butterfly effects“. That is, small changes within a team, league or even weather9 may have pronounced effects on the ultimate outcome, far exceeding what you might expect. For this reason, we have excluded the 2012-2020 seasons from this discussion as several not-so-small factors greatly influenced the outcomes and comparisons for those seasons.10
While better managers are going to win more games in general, it’s not a one to one ratio. A really talented team may carry a mediocre manager to success, a good manager may not have the necessary player talent to win a majority of games. Like everything else in baseball, one more or less depends on the other.
Montoyo / Schneider
Shildt / Marmol
Rojas / Showalter
Tony La Russa
Girardi / Thomson
Tingler / Melvin
Maddon / Nevin
Melvin / Kotsay
Woodward / Beasley
Team Winning Percentage vs. Managerial Effectiveness 2021-2022
1Defense: Walks and hits per inning pitched; total runs allowed; Earned Run Average; Strikeouts; Fielding Average; Offense: Batting Average; Slugging Avg.; On base percentage; Home runs; Total Runs Scored
2The average league champion (as measured by wins) over the last 119 years led their league in at least four of the ten major statistical categories.
3Rules of Major League Baseball Author’s note: The designated hitter rule is itself a violation of rule 1.01 and the idiot ghost runner rule is a violation of Rule 1.04.But consistency has never been a big issue for MLB.
4Since the institution of the “play-offs” in 1970, winning games during the regular season has become just another stat when it comes to “winning” the league championship and going to the World Series. Basically going to the playoffs, and even reaching the World Series has very little to do with how good a manager or team is.
5 Runs produced: A variety of definitions have been put forth to define “runs produced” as a Major League Statistic, mostly as an individual player statistic. Some favor the simple (but wildly inaccurate) Runs Scored+ Runs Batted In. This has the inherent problem that a solo home run equals two runs produced, since the batter gets one run scored and one run batted in, but only one run appears on the scoreboard. A simple solution has been proposed the runs produced should be then (Runs Scored + Runs Batted In) – Homeruns, to get rid of the extra run from the home runs. This seems reasonable until you try it on a team scale, where it still results in 60% more runs produced as actually appear on the scoreboard. The only formula that come close to the real world numbers is .5 (1/2) Runs Scored + .5 (1/2) Runs Batted In. Thus the batter in the case of a solo home run gets credited with only the run that actually appears on the scoreboard. It also produces a team run production that is very close to the real word, the differences being accounted for with runs scored by errors, Wild pitches with a runner on 3rd, etc. Example: In 2021, the New York Yankees scored a total of 711 runs. They had 666 total RBI’s and 222 Home Runs. Method one, results in a Team Run Production total of 1377 runs, 666 of which do not appear on the scoreboard. Method two results in 1155 runs produced, 444 of which don’t actually exist. Finally, method three results in 688.5 runs produced, only 22.5 runs different from the actual total runs and accounted for by the runs which scored without a corresponding RBI. In any case, run production is largely influenced by managerial decisions and is a very poor measure of an individual player’s contribution.
6Thus the equation for determining a manager’s MOP looks like this: MOP = (Hits-Home runs)+BB+IBB+HBP / (Actual runs scored – Home Runs)
7The equation for determining a manager’s defensive performance (MDP): opponent’s (Hits-Home runs)+BB+IBB+HBP / (Actual earned runs scored – Home Runs)
9 For example, because of the difference in air density, 18% more homeruns are hit when the temperature is above 80o than are hit when the temperature is below 60o
10MLB injected the then secret “superball” after the 2015 All-Star break to influence game outcomes, and removed it after 2020; the “sticky stuff” / Spider Tack scandal of 2012-2020; the 2020 COVID season.
It appears on fireservicewebsites all over the the U.S. and Canada. The Maltese Cross became the fire service symbol by way of the Knights Hospitaller, who, in true Disneyesque fashion, battled flames with their own smouldering robes, honorably fought off hordes of Barbarian Arabs with only their swords, expertly treated burned comrades, all while helping little old ladies across the street. They would have gotten the girl too… but alas, they were monks. They then became the noble Knights of Malta after the crusades, then the Order of St John, the ambulance service of England. Somehow that then transformed into the Firefighter’s Cross we identify with today.
The problem, of course, it that this is all just a fable, and not even a very good one. No one knows who invented this story, but it was created from whole cloth. It has been embellished endlessly, changing over time, as has the symbol itself.
The real story is both more interesting and more “American”.
The Real Knights Hospitaller
A significant part of the myth is based on a mistranslation and misunderstanding of what a “Hospital” or more properly “Hospice” was during the time of the crusades. The word, which derives from the latin for hospitality, actually meant what we would call a hostel now, or maybe a medieval cheap motel. What the forerunners of the hospitallers (who were black robed Benedictine monks) ran was inexpensive inn, a place to rest for travellers on their way to Jerusalem. It was not a medical facility. They were monks, not doctors. What they offered was a bed, water, food and prayer.
Rather than Johnny and Roy rushing you off to Rampart Emergency, The original role of the Knights Hospitaller was the equivalent of a security guard at a cheap hotel.3
The Order of St. John was formed by Papal orders in 1113 C.E., separating them from the original Benedictine monks. While they retained their black robes, they now had official status as a separate order.
Under their second grand master, Raymond du Puy, their role expanded to providing security to their guests travelling between their hostels. This is the origin of the “Knights”. Du Puy organized a militia of unattached secular knights1 and common soldiers in about 1120 C.E. to do the job. This militia took on the Standard of their financial sponsors, the merchant kingdom of Amalfi, Italy, who provided their early funding, simply adding it to their traditional black robes. The Amalfi standard was four arrowheads arranged with their tips touching to form a cross-like symbol.
Du Puy’s militia was later hired out to the newly formed Kingdom of Jerusalem in return for lands and income. From security guards, they now became mercenaries, albeit somewhat religious ones, and continued in that enterprize until the time of Napoleon.2
No where in the historical record, in the scholarly works of historians, nor the tradition of the order itself exists any trace of an association with firefighting. In fact, they were much more likely to have used fire, delivered by flaming arrow, siege engine or fire ship, as a weapon than otherwise.
The Templar Knights
Of course, one of the many problems with the Maltese Cross myth is the shape of the cross itself. The four arrowhead shape has remained to this day. Even the earliest forms of the Firefighter’s Cross do not reflect this shape. If you like you myths knightley, The Firefighter’s Cross, or Cross pattée, is far more similar to the Templar Cross than to the Maltese. With their portrayal in modern books and movies as mystical heros, there is a certain attraction to using their symbols as a basis for our own.
Alas, the Templar Knights share a common history with the Hospitallers, though their martial recognition was slightly earlier than the Order of St. John. While the Maltese Knights eventually became the Land Barons of Europe, the Templars became its first bankers.
Unfortunately, there is no actual historical connection to the Fire Service, excepting of course, that their leaders were burned at the stake by the King of France in the 14th century. Phillip IV owed them a significant amount of money, and, being a King, when he did not want to pay his debt, he simply set them alight. Apparently firewood was easier to procure than gold.
Despite the similarity of shape, we could dismiss the Templar Cross out of hand if it were not for one very tenuous connection to the Fire Service:
The Father of the American Fire Service
Benjamin Franklin is generally acknowledged as the founder of the first true fire department in what would become the United States. Writer, Publisher, Scientist, Statesman, Co-author of the Declaration of Independence and Fire Chief, he was a man of a great many talents.
He was also, as were many of the founding fathers, a Freemason.
The Freemasons have long used Templar symbolism in their Rites. Franklin would have, as a high-degree mason, been very knowledgeable about such things and as a (very) educated man of his time been familiar with the historical Templars as well.
So, a Fire Service connection at last. The Father of the American Fire service, a Mason and a symbol the looks very much like the Firefighter’s Cross. Have we found the true story?
First, the Masonic Templar Cross may not have been designed until after Franklin’s death in 1790. Second, and more importantly, Franklin is not known to have ever used the symbol or anything similar. Ever. Not in connection with his Fire Company, nor in his Fire Insurance Company’s fire mark.
The English Connection?
Though born in Boston, it must be remembered the that Franklin was an Englishman and the original concept for his, and others, fire companies were drawn from those of Great Britain. The English model of the times was of fire brigades employed by the Insurance Companies to fight fires occurring in the homes and businesses of their clients. Set up after the great London Fire of 1666, these insurance companies provided Fire Marks to identified the property they insured.
Surely then, these fire marks reflect the Maltese Cross tradition. After all, the Order of St. John is active even today in England, providing the Ambulance service in London and elsewhere. Right?
They do not. Nowhere in any of the fire marks, English or American does the symbol appear. And THERE IS NO REASON THAT IT SHOULD.
Not only was there no historical connection between the Knights of Malta or the Order of St. John and firefighting, but the English Order of St. John itself had been disbanded by Henry VIII in 1540 during the Reformation. It had disappeared in England more than a century before the Great Fire, and even longer before the first English Insurance brigades. It was not restored in England for 350 years, until its current namesake was recognized 1887, as an ambulance service. Decades after the Firefighter’s Cross appeared in the United States.
In fact, the London Fire Brigade, formed just after the Firefighter’s Cross appeared in the U.S., and the subsequent fire services of Great Britain choose as their insignia an eight-pointed multi-rayed star, not any form of of a cross at all. (This may have been influenced by the fire mark of the Sun Insurance Company, who was one of the largest insurers in London.)
Again, though the sort of cross-like symbols are present in the forms shown as Insurance marks, they did not gain traction as Fire Service symbols in the ensuing years.
Okay, How About a Little Irish? The Celtic Cross
Some forms of the Celtic or St. Patrick Cross are so similar to the Firefighter’s Cross, that the word “Eureka” springs to mind. There is also some historical correlation that might support the idea of this being the basis for our symbol.
Beginning in 1845, about twenty years prior to the introduction of the Firefighter’s Cross, a great wave of Irish-Catholic immigration arrived in the United States impelled by the Great Irish Potato Famine.
A great many of these immigrants settled in the cities of the east coast, particularly in New York. One of the few “jobs” they could get was in the various volunteer fire companies of the city, who were often organized in concert with local ethnic gangs.
However, neither the gangs, the volunteer firefighters, nor even the Irish regiments formed during the civil war used the Celtic Cross as a symbol. The most prevalent symbol used was the Harp of the Irish Flag.
Though, as we shall see, the Civil War played a major role in the development of the Firefighter’s Cross, not even the Civil War Brigades formed from Volunteer Fire Companies used any sort of cross for their regimental symbols. The most common symbol used was we now call the firefighter scramble.
And, lastly, but more importantly, during the time of the creation of the Firefighter’s cross there was an overwhelming anti-Irish and anti-Catholic political bigotry in the United States, particularly in the east coast cities. There is little chance that ANY Catholic or Irish symbol would have been chosen to represent a public agency. (This also argues strongly against the whole Knights of Malta myth, since they too were a Catholic order.)
St. Florian Cross?
While this idea has some adherents, there is unfortunately, no such animal as a “St. Florian Cross”. A diligent search for examples of any cross, other than the common christian cross, associated with Florian here in the U.S. or in Europe, has failed to find even one exemplar.
St. Florian is the Catholic patron Saint of Firefighters (and brewers, which might be considered appropriate), but as above, a Catholic symbol would not have been chosen to represent the firefighters of the time.
This is kind of a chicken and egg question, but in this case, which came first is quite clear.
No symbol of St. Florian even remotely similar to the Firefighter’s Cross is found or referenced anywhere in history prior to the mid to late 20th century, when some St. Florian devotional medals began to be struck commercially by various manufacturers in the U.S. using the already widely recognized Firefighters Cross as a model.
“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth“ – Sherlock Holmes
Sign of the Four, 1890
Order out of Chaos…. The Real Story of The Firefighter’s Cross
Mid-19th century firefighting in New York City was bedlam.4 One hundred and twenty four different volunteer fire companies operated in the City, many organized with political, ethnic or street gang affiliation. Violent street riots between the companies were common. Thievery by the volunteers was the rule. Arson for profit was part of their “business model”.
It got so bad that the Fire Insurance companies, who paid the losses both of the structures and stolen contents, strongly supported by the police, bitterly complained to the Governor of New York State. In 1865, the State of New York took control of all firefighting services in New York City and part of Brooklyn and formed the professional Metropolitan Fire Department, closing the problematic volunteer companies for good.
The transition was not an easy one. Lawsuits were filed and the State Supreme Court had to decide the case. The first year’s operations were marred by sabotage, arson, and blockades by the gangs and displaced volunteers.
The originally appointed fire commissioners were in over their heads. Along with serious problems in logistics, finance, and equipment, discipline was difficult.
Of the 576 original firefighters, over a third, 222, were seriously disciplined in the first year…
The act creating this Department required the selection of members of the force, so far as practicable, from the volunteer firemen of New York.
In carrying this section of the law into effect, the Department undoubtedly procured men having experience as firemen, but with this experience came undisciplined habits, incidental to a volunteer department, and prejudices not readily overcome.
Numerous instances have arisen requiring the exercise of discipline. In 258 cases charges have been made and examined ; 52 men have been dismissed from the Department, 11 have been fined ten days’ pay, 34 have been fined five days’ pay, 22 have been fined three days’ pay, 3 have been fined two days’ pay, 12 have been fined one day’s pay, 61 have been reprimanded, 7 have been exonerated or excused, 19 have resigned while under charges, 4 had judgment suspended, 1 dropped from roll without prejudice, 28 complaints dismissed, 4 officers reduced to ranks.
With a so many problems of discipline and integrating the firefighters into the new department, as well as creating a new esprit de corps, the sub-committee formed to decide on a new badge for the firefighters could not agree on a design. The first uniform regulations for the MFD omit it completely:
The uniform of the firemen while on duty consists of a dark blue suit of pilot cloth, red flannel shirt, and the old fire helmet. On ordinary occasions the members will wear a neat forage cap, of a similar pattern to the navy cap, with glazed cover. In front of the cap will be embroidered the initials “M.F.D.,” and the number of the company. Each member is required to be in uniform at all times, except when excused. The engineers will wear a white helmet, with gilt front, and on their forage cape is embroidered the word “Engineer,” in the form of an arch, and the letters “M.F.D.” beneath. The design is neatly made of gold bullion, similar to the style worn by Captains of police. The engineers are also constantly in uniform.
There’s a New Sheriff in Town
The insurance companies, aghast at the continuing disorder in the department, strongly lobbied for replacing the Fire Chief with a military man. They argued the the chief need not have a fire service background to lead the department, but needed more the ability to instill discipline across the ranks.
They didn’t get exactly what they asked for. They got more. Rather than replacing the chief, they replaced two of the fire commissioners, most notably the President of the Commision, with military officers.
Alexander Shaler, Civil War General, Commander of the New York National Guard and Medal of Honor recipient took over the role of President of the Fire Commissioners in 1867. The effect was immediate. Logistics and finance, woefully behind in their work, became orderly. He spearheaded a drive for order and discipline, created a training cadre, installed the military ranks that departments use to this day and got two years of overdue reports sent off to the legislature. Most importantly, for our purposes, he got the sub-committee for badges off the dime.
A Symbol chosen Specifically because it was unique and Not TRADITIONAL.
The process for designing a badge was rather more complicated than it might appear. The commissioners had easily reached decisions on badges for insurance officials, the press and even themselves, but were stalled on selecting a design for the firefighters.
Such badges were used for admission across the fire lines. The police, who controlled access, needed something easily identifiable at a distance, distinguishable from the myriad of badges and insignia previously held by the 124 volunteer companies, many of which had been counterfeited by criminal actors. The firefighters, drawn largely from those companies, also needed a symbol they could embrace within the new organization that did not draw from, or show preference for, any one of them. It could also not be associated with any specific religious or ethnic group as such distinctions were part of the previous battles between the volunteer companies.
With the arrival of General Shaler. the decision was quickly made. The new symbol would be that of the Civil War Union 5th Army Corps. (the symbols of the other army Corps were already in use, in one form or another.) Not because it had any association with the fire service, but because it didn’t. Simple in design, easily manufactured and different.
Like the corps symbols of the civil war, the badge was to be worn on the hat, not on the chest.
The new badge was hastily inserted into the general orders for the uniformed personnel:
The fatigue-cap shall be made of navy-blue cloth, eight-inch top ; band one and a half inches wide ; quarters one and a half inches high ; front of solid patent leather, bound one and three-quarter inches wide at center, with small white metal slide ; two chin-strap white metal buttons, same as those worn upon the sleeve of the coat, and to be furnished in the same manner ; lining of leather, to be sewed into the seam at top, and band-welt in the top and one in the bottom of the band. The device, a white metal Maltese [sic]5 cross, with the appropriate emblems of the Department in the center, the letters ” M. F. D.,” and the number (numerically) on the points, and placed in the center of the front of the cap. – General Orders Metropolitan Fire Department – Elisha Kinsland, Chief Engineer (Fire Chief). 1867
In 1870 the brief life of the MFD came to an end as the City of New York regained direct control of the fire department. While Commissioner Shaler remained on the Board and operationally nothing much changed, an immediate order was issued to change the name, markings, and insignia from “M.F.D.” to the now famous “F.D.N.Y.”
The badge, of course, was among the first things to need revision.
The new badge was almost certainly redesigned by Louis C. Tiffany, then a designer at his father’s Tiffany & Co. and an aspiring painter. Tiffany & Co. had been one of the first big supporters of the new professional fire department.6 While famous for jewelry and silver, they also struck medals and badges for the police and fire service. While retaining the cross of the original M.F.D. badge, he added the gentle curves to the exterior straight lines, one of the hallmark’s of Tiffany’s work. (One of Louis Tiffany’s early designs, for a police medal, is now the famous interlocking and gently curving NY insignia of the New York Yankees.)
When viewing it through the prism of more than a century it might seem to us old and traditional, but at the time it was not. By the standards of the day it was a bold, modern and unique design, a precursor to what became known as “Art Nouveau” . And it was categorically American.
Our Iconic Symbol – The Firefighter’s Cross.
Born out of the horrors and chaos of the American Civil War and the equally chaotic fire service of the time, the Firefighter’s Cross came quickly to symbolize the professionalization of the U.S. Fire Service…when firefighting became a craft, a science, even a way of life, and not just a hobby. When a firefighter could be trusted to respond and save your stuff, not steal it, no matter who you were, where you lived or who your insurance company was.
Like most things in the Fire Service, the Firefighter’s Cross had pragmatic origins, not mythological ones. It fulfilled a need for an immediately identifiable, unique symbol that said “Fire Service” and would not be confused with any other. It did not, in fact, COULD not, draw from any particular ethnic, religious or political symbols.
That fact, in and of itself, is probably the reason for it’s immediate popularity. Within a decade many of the east coast fire departments had incorporated the Firefighters Cross into their uniforms.7 Within the span of a single career, it spread from coast to coast becoming the symbol most associated with the Fire Service. Now, 150 years later, it covers the entire western hemisphere, and even in Europe it is recognized instantly as the symbol of the American Fire Service.
As we have seen, the Firefighter’s Cross’ origin was utilitarian, not mystical. That doesn’t mean that a multitude of folks haven’t tried to assign meanings to various parts of the cross itself, largely in an attempt to shoehorn the insignia into a myth that it does not fit. The originators of the Firefighter’s Cross had no such intent. In fact, the the attempts of some to assign “values” to the points of the cross were drawn from stories of knightly chivalry that were themselves apocryphal.
Objectively, the Knights of the Crusades, including those of the Order of St. John, were an invading army, occupying by force land which was not rightfully theirs and killing or subjugating the indigenous peoples for their own profit. Hardly the symbology we would want for the fire service.
Looking to ancient Europe for American Fire Service symbology, as if we need to connect to some old world mythology to justify our pride, is both historically false, and overlooks the very things of which we should be most proud.
After all, the modern fire service is an American invention. When the fire brigades of London modernized in the 1880’s, it was the New York City model to which they came for expertise. When Chicago reorganized after the great Chicago Fire, it was General Shaler and his experience with New York they looked to. Throughout the western hemisphere, and much of the world, it is the U.S. fire service remains the example to emulate. It is our technical innovations they adopt, our training manuals they use, and our strategy and tactics they study. … and it is our symbol that they use to represent themselves. The Firefighter’s Cross is one of the very, very few United States symbols that has transcended international, political, racial and linguistic boundaries. Even in countries that are not terribly fond of the United States, the Firefighter’s Cross remains an instant admission card to any fire station in the hemisphere. Surely we can be at least as proud of that as any mythical connection to a black-robed French mercenary with poor hygiene habits.
If any ultimate meaning needs be assigned the Firefighter’s Cross other than the obvious, it should be that it is our version of “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one… the traditional motto of the United States and a pretty good metaphor for how the symbol actually originated.
1 The knights of the 11-12th century were an unsavory lot. Largely illiterate and profane men, they served as simply the heavy cavalry in the armies of the time. They held no royal standing or titles. Early Knights were generally oafish, considered rape and pillage their right as the spoils of war and caused considerable trouble in Europe. Most historians write that the Crusades were initiated more as a measure to export and control the knights rather than any kind of holy mission. However, they did train for many hours each day and for many years to acquire their martial skills. Monks, rather obviously, would not have been at all suitable in this role.
2 Du Puy did in fact reopen an old “infirmaria” much later in Jerusalem. It was run by the monk’s, not the knights, and treated illness, not battle injuries. Jerusalem had been taken a century before and was far from the battles. Battle injuries were treated by barbers, the surgeons of the day.
4 This scene is from Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” while a realistic depiction, it is short. For a much more detailed history read “The Gangs of New York“, by Herbert Asbury, the history from which the movie was derived.
5 Like most people today, the Chief Engineer misidentified the Cross pattee as a Maltese Cross, which of course it is not. This may be the root of our present day myth. My informal poll of random people in a local park found that 9 out of 10 people misidentified the outline as a Maltese Cross. The 10th identified it as the German aircraft symbol from WWII.
6 One of the first major fires the professional New York firefighters had was at Tiffany & Co. – “Upon one occasion the members of the department had complete possession for several hours of every part of the building containing the immense and valuable stock of jewelry of Messrs. Tiffany & Co. This firm made a public declaration that after a rigid investigation they had not missed a penny’s worth of their property, and gratefully acknowledged the protection afforded them. Under the old system Messrs. Tiffany & Co. would have been ruined.” Tiffany’ & Co. also struck the first, and still highest ranking, medal for valor of the MFD/FDNY , The Bennett Medal.
7 Further evidence of the provenance of the Firefighter’s Cross is revealed by the Commissioner of the Brooklyn Fire Department when they adopted the Firefighter’s Cross in 1882. “Commissioner Partridge has decided to make a change in the design of the badges of the Fire Department. The present badge is of nickel and in the form of a four-leaf clover. The new one is in the design of a Maltese [sic]cross , the old sixth [sic] army corps badge. Those of the Commissioner, deputy, chief engineer and assistants are gold-plated, and those of the privates are German silver. The present badges have been in use so long that some of them have found their way into the possession of parties who are not entitled to them, and from whom they cannot be obtained. Hence the change.” – The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, 19 Sep 1882. While he does mistakenly identify the cross shape as “maltese”, he also verifies the origin of the symbol as an army corps insignia. Partridge also misidentifies the Corps as General Shaler’s 6th corps, with which he famously served at Gettysburg, rather than the correct 5th corps. This bolsters the evidence for the involvement of General Shaler, who he knew well, in the creation or as the instigator of the original firefighter’s cross.
I first became interested in the history of the Firefighter’s Cross more than twenty years ago, when I was still a company officer, after dubiously reading the somewhat absurd myth on the NFPA’s website. Having been a history major in college, with a specialty in 18th and 19th century U.S. History, there was much that did not ring true. Over the years, from time to time, I have renewed my research on the subject. While several other historians have touched on doubts about the myth, they have always done so apologetically and never directly contradicted the “official line” for reasons that escape me. The history and answers are there in plain sight, and are not particularly difficult to find. I call it the “Firefighter’s Cross” because that’s what it is, it is in fact, unique unto itself, and no other name really fits. It is NOT, and never has been a “Maltese Cross”, neither in shape nor in history.
It is long past time we called it something else.
Our Firemen: A History of the New York Fire Departments, Volunteer and Paid, from 1609 to 1887 by Augustine E. Costello (1887)
Our Firemen: The Official History of the Brooklyn Fire Department, From the First Volunteer to the Latest Appointee Brooklyn Fire Department (1892)
New York Times Newspaper, New York, New York, November 3, 1865
Annual reports of the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Fire Department., 1865-66 – Metropolitan Fire Department, (1867)
Annual report of the Metropolitan Fire Department of the City of New York., 1869.- Metropolitan Fire Department (1870)
Badges of the Bravest: A Pictorial History of Fire Departments in New York City by Gary R. Urbanowicz (2002)
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Newspaper, Brooklyn, New York, 19 Sep 1882
The Knights Hospitaller By Helen J. Nicholson (2002)
The History of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, Styled Afterwards, the Knights of Rhodes, and at Present, the Knights of MaltaVols. 1-5 – Mons. L’Abbé de Vertot, (1775)
The Shield and the Sword: The Knights of Malta – Ernle Bradford, (1973)
The Templars. Piers Paul Read, (1999).
The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld – Herbert Asbury (1928)
Five Points: The 19th Century New York City Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum – Tyler Anbinder (2010)
Thomas Francis Meagher and the Irish Brigade in the Civil War by Daniel M. Callaghan (2011)
Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, First Hero of the Civil War – Charles Anson Ingraham (1918)
Officers of the Volunteer Army and Navy who served in the Civil War, published by L.R. Hamersly & Co., (1893)
October 25 1854 – a Scots infantry regiment of the British army fired two volleys of musket shots toward charging Russian forces, who, though they never even came within 400 yards of the Scots, immediately broke into retreat. An Irish war correspondent, William H. Russell, called them a “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel” based on the color of their uniforms. An unimportant battle of a now obscure European war, it was shortened popularly into “the thin red line” in the British press… and the myth and cliché was born.
Stolen Valor and an Immoral Argument
In the early 1952, Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker, who was known for his policy that police “must stick together at any cost.” first alluded to the Crimean War myth, changing the color, using the “thin blue line” phrase in defense of his police department’s officers. After the infamous Bloody Christmas event in which more than fifty LAPD officers, most of them intoxicated, beat seven Mexican American youths “with wet towels and gloved fists until the room was covered with blood” IN THE CENTRAL POLICE STATION, Parker railed against civilian oversight and accountability with the phrase my “police are the thin blue line that stands between civilization and barbarism”. He even created a weekly TV show entitled “The Thin Blue Line” on local Los Angeles television to push that view. Only the police had the right to police the police. Any challenge to that idea was portrayed as not supporting law and order, and advancing the cause of “communism and anarchy”.
And it worked. Civilian oversight was ignored and the mantra spread through police stations from coast to coast in the following years. By 1965 the Massachusetts State police were using the phrase publically. Popularized by police fiction like Joseph Wambaugh’s immensely successful books and any number of movies and TV shows, it helped reinforce the “us versus everyone else” culture within the law enforcement community.
The Thin Blue Line Even Police Dare Not Cross
In many ways, the phrase entrapped the police themselves behind their own symbol. Police officers who report malfeasance or outright lawbreaking amongst their fellow officers are “Rats”, a term ironically borrowed from organized crime. It is usually at least a career ending decision, but can often be dangerous as well, with brother officers refusing to back-up the “Rat” in perilous situations. Is it any wonder why officers of color fail to report, or even sometimes participate in these events? You don’t have to be Frank Serpico to know what happens to a cop who strays over that “thin blue line”. And that is ingrained into every recruit, through popular media, training and the in-house culture.
Before you start thinking this is a diatribe against Law Enforcement, let me stop you for a minute. Its not.
I have worked alongside many great and truly dedicated and honorable cops throughout the years. They have saved my ass on more than one occasion. I have also seen a police officer proudly proclaim – in front of his supervisor- that he had never seen a black or hispanic driver in his patrol area that he did not stop. They both snickered. The point is that the symbols chosen by law enforcement and the culture built around them, protect and encourage the bad, and limit the good.
The Symbols We Choose to Represent Us Are Important
We in Fire and EMS have a long history of service and many symbols of our own from which to choose. Certainly we have enough valorous acts and events in our history to fill that need without stealing the already stolen valor of others.
Everybody seems to want to get on the bandwagon, even arguing on social media about which color they should choose to represent their profession.
These “Thin Lines” are symbols of exclusion, warfare and “us against them” where Fire and EMS are by definition inclusive. Law enforcement, by its very nature, is a confrontational profession. They are punitive. We are, or are supposed to be, supportive. In the extremes, they take lives, while we save them. The two roles have very different objectives and viewpoints, and should never be confused. When they are, the results are generally disastrous.
In researching this article I came across this “training” video advocating for the use of fire hoses to aid law enforcement in subduing suspects. This is a horrific idea, on many levels. One, of course, is that a hose stream can be lethal. While it has been used a couple of times, only once, the Seattle incident, can I find where the suspect was not actually killed in the end, either by police or BY THE HOSE STREAM ITSELF. Our tools, either for firefighting or EMS are for the preservation of life and property, and should NEVER be a weapon. The MOVE incident in Philadelphia, which severely damaged the reputation and trust in the Philadelphia Fire Department for decades, is the direct result of the blurring of the lines between the duties of Law Enforcement and the Fire/EMS Service.
We have seen this movie before:
To supercharge the water jets, firefighters had funneled the flow of two hoses into one nozzle, packing it with such ballistic fury it dislodged bricks from buildings. These jets were driven across the kids’ bodies, lacerating their flesh, tearing clothing off their backs; hitting the elm trees in nearby Kelly Ingram Park, the blasts ripped off the bark. The children, knocked to the pavement, crawled away; some struggled to their feet with bloody noses and gashes on their faces.
Washington Post report on the use of fire hoses on children during the Birmingham children’s crusade for Civil Rights, 1963
The attacks on the Birmingham, Alabama child protesters by firefighters is my earliest memory of firefighters in the news. A decade and a half later when I first joined the Fire and EMS ranks, we were just beginning to repair the damage done and regain the trust of the communities nationwide. It was hard earned.
Even so, when I later worked in two major cities, even in the worst of neighborhoods, we were looked upon with trust. In neighborhoods where police never entered without at least two or three patrol cars, there existed a truce of sorts when it came to rescue personnel. We were there to help, and they knew that. I never worried about attacks us for simply being there. We were never targeted. That should always be our goal.
Y’all Ain’t Part of the Club.
To me, the effort to so closely align with the Law Enforcement community and its ill begotten symbolism is both futile, and ultimately self-injurious. Blur the lines between us and you not only put yourself further into harm’s way, but reduce your effectiveness. I can not count the times I was able to obtain medical information from a reluctant patient by simply stating that I was not a police officer, and anything told to me would remain confidential.
If you think the Law Enforcement community thinks of us as brothers, you are sadly mistaken. We are not part of their family, we are at best second cousins once removed, the ones invited to Thanksgiving only with a groan, after thinking about possible inheritance issues.
If you think I’m exaggerating, and that we are not in competition with the Police… look at the relative budgets. Nation wide, direct police budgets are three times the sums spent on Fire and Rescue. Despite the fact that your are more than three times as likely to die from natural disaster than terrorism, FEMA – the equivalent of Fire-Rescue-EMS – is tucked away within Homeland Security, who is essentially a Law Enforcement agency.
Despite the steady drop in violent crime over the past three decades Police Budgets continually rise. Despite an increasing call load and demand for Fire/EMS, when a city gets into financial trouble, who gets laid off? Ever hear a police chief say, we are good, increase the Fire Department and EMS budget?
In many ways, the secret war of Law Enforcement versus Fire & EMS has already been fought. We LOST.
It is time we reclaim our Separate Identity
Dark blue uniforms, shield shaped badges, redundant “bat belts” with scissor holsters…even ballistic vests, we have, for no good reason, taken on the guise of law enforcement to our detriment. How close do you have to be to recognise that a badge says “Paramedic” or “Firefighter” rather than “Police Officer”? Put on a tactical helmet and vest… do you think you will be more welcomed or feared? What does your silhouette say at night?
“The uniform of the firemen while on duty consists of a dark blue suit of pilot cloth, red flannel shirt, and the old fire helmet. On ordinary occasions the members will wear a neat forage cap, of a similar pattern to the navy cap, with glazed cover. In front of the cap will be embroidered the initials “M.F.D.,” and the number of the company.” – Metropolitan Fire Department, City of New York, precursor to the FDNY, 1865.
Let’s reclaim the red shirted uniform, the “maltese” cross* badge… Third service EMS agencies can go to Green, say the color of an Oxygen tank, (The traditional white being impossible to keep clean on the street) and a Star of Life device. Be as distinct in appearance as our jobs are distinct from Law Enforcement.
Let us have as our symbols such things as we have earned… the four interlocked hands of Ben Franklin’s Fire Mark, The star of life, the EKG tracing, the traditional fire helmet shape, the Firefighter’ Cross… those things that engender the trust of our communities and represent the honor we aspire to in our service to our fellow man.
*Many people erroneously believe that the stylized cross of the Fire Service is somehow related to the Order of St John and the Maltese Cross of the Crusades. It is not, but we will save that for another day.
This site was created as an outlet for my personal views and hopefully informed opinion regarding various aspects of the career to which I dedicated a large portion of my life, emergency services in general, disaster response and emergency medicine in particular.
In a thirty-plus year career I have had the privilege of watching the the profession grow and change, from the TV show, “mother-may-I” beginnings of “EMERGENCY!” to the increasing ability of Paramedics to practice on their own, using their special skill set and education to make clinical judgements without direct hospital contact. The role continues to expand.
I have been fortunate to work on both coasts of the United States, in both the private sector and in public service, been a volunteer in a small rural town and a paid professional in a large city, worked in the hospital and in the street, to have travelled extensively, and to have worked with fellow professionals in first and third world countries.
While I am no hero, I’ve worked with many. I have been decorated, and I have failed. I’ve saved a few lives and I’ve watched a lot of people die. Had successes and made mistakes.
I hope readers find this of value. It is likely to irritate some, as I hold what might be considered contrarian views to some accepted “wisdom”.
The internet and social media being what it is, for now it will remain anonymous as I do not wish any controversy to reflect back upon organizations for which I have worked, or may work in the future. This may change as time goes on, we’ll see how it goes.
As I am just as capable of random bullsh*t as anyone, civil discourse is welcomed. Abusive, racist or uncivil remarks will be deleted.
We have never dealt well with viruses. Of any sort. The reality is that, until the very recent development of a very few antiviral agents, the only effective medical treatment for viruses has been prevention by vaccination and/or isolation. Even these new antiviral agents tend to be virus specific, and generally treat but not cure, unlike the broad-spectrum antibiotics used for bacterial infections.
It took centuries of vaccination to rid the world of smallpox, as those of us with vaccination scars on our arms or thighs can attest. Measles and polio might also have been eradicated had not the anti-vaxxer movement come along, substituting new age conspiracy theory for medical evidence.
To those who say it is okay, we will develop “herd immunity” to the virus by culling out the weak, not only do you not really understand the concept, your epidemic solution by Darwinian selection depends on three factors.
One, that once exposed or recovered from illness, you can not get the virus again, or in a more virulent form. That is unproven. There is some evidence that that may not be true. If it is not true, it bodes ill for vaccine development.
Two, Sequelae. A fancy medical way to say “What follows?” We currently have little to no information about long term sequelae to this virus, our total experience with it being only about six months. Why is this important? Because death is not the only measure of an illness’s effects on health and economics.
Chickenpox, a relatively minor viral infection in most children, can and often does, return as “shingles” in later life. (Having had shingles, trust me you do not want it. Period. )
Mumps can cause infertility in post adolescent males
German Measles can cause birth defects
Hepatitis B and C often return as liver cancer 20 years down the road. There are many more such examples.
So far there have been several serious complications identified as possible COVID-19 sequelae, heart damage, strokes in relatively young people, renal failure , coagulopathy and even a Kawasaki-like disease syndrome in children, long thought to be relatively immune to the worst effects of COVID-19 . If you measure the impact of the virus solely by death rate you overlook the human and economic cost of perhaps permanent conditions caused by the same disease. I would posit that a 40-year-old man unable to move his arm or speak should be considered in your rush to open your favorite sports bar, that a woman having to spend many hours each week in dialysis while awaiting a kidney transplant should figured in to your economics. (Not to mention your humanity.)
Three, human value does not end at age 60. This really should not require further explanation.
Even as folks argue that the exposure rate has been higher than reported, taking it as evidence that the death rate is less than previously thought, there is significant evidence that the death rate is being significantly UNDER reported. The total mortality rate for those areas hardest hit is far higher than normal. On the order of 50% higher. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but there is no other easy or reasonable explanation why there is such a spike in total deaths at the same time as the virus appears, a spike not accounted for by deaths officially reported as due to COVID-19. That is not conspiracy theory, that is an unfortunate fact.
Misinformation, Myths and Outright Lies
Which brings us to the point of all of this, the unending stream of misinformation, myths and outright lies bombarding us on social media.
I have had the misfortune of receiving many of these posts from friends and colleagues who should know better. People whose professional training and livelihoods are supposed to be based on the best medical science available. Yet they lend credence to preposterous fables by sharing them on their own social media, and within groups organized for the benefit of their profession. The recent video by a disgraced biologist is but one such example.
These stories generally fall into three categories but all rely on both factless conspiracy theory and scientific ignorance for propagation:
Snake oil cures: From drinking bleach (no, I’m not talking about him…though it’s interesting that you thought so) colloidal silver, megadoses of vitamins to hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. The motives behind these fables these are usually quick profit, self-aggrandizement, or both. Beware the story that contains the phrase “They don’t want you to know about this…” or its equivalent. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The down side is some of these “cures” are toxic and dangerous, and for those involving real medicines they cause shortages for people who actually need them for other illnesses. Everyone wants a quick cure, and many will pay a lot for it. But remember, we suck at treating viruses. A miracle cure would be just that…. a miracle. The Alleged Bad Guys:FDA, Big Pharma, CDC, WHO
It’s not that bad: Yes, it IS that bad. “_____ kills more people than the Coronavirus…” is an invalid argument on its face. We went to war over the 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center attacks. More than that are dying every day from COVID-19. The current observed mortality rate from Covid-19 in the U.S. is about 6%. While we do not yet know the true fatality rate because there has been so little testing, it is exponentially higher than the seasonal flu. Also, as above, there is little said about the level of morbidity in survivors of the disease. This is why it is better to “Plan for the Worst, and Hope for the Best” rather than “Plan for the Best and Screw the Rest”. The motives here are generally political and economic. Whether in fear of the ballot box or of the bottom line, these myths are propagated to demonize those whose interest is public health. It “only kills the old and infirm” is an unbelievably immoral argument, even if it were true. Unfortunately for that argument, around 20% of fatalities are under age 65. Sadly, these posts are almost invariably followed by a post lamenting the loss of a Firefighter, Paramedic, Nurse or Physician while nobley fighting the pandemic. The danger? By down playing the severity of the disease, we create doubt about the need for safety measures, more people ignore the restrictions and thus become ill… transmit the disease to yet more people… a vicious circle. The Alleged Bad Guys:Hospitals, CDC, WHO, Big Government, Governors, The Other Political Party, Science
It is All Someone Else’s Fault: Here is where the biggest conspiracy theories originate. From the Bondian “Dr. No created this virus in a lab so he could develop a vaccine so he can implant a microchip in my brain” to “It was developed in a Lab in China and paid for by Obama” These myths are generally political in nature, trying to save face and blame shift, or advance an extreme viewpoint that it is in no way associated with the disease. “They are trying to take away your right to _____” is often the danger signal in these posts. Remember, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Do you really think that thousands of scientists around the world managed to keep a secret to which only your special friend on YouTube is privy? These kind of hoax posts take valuable time and attention away from solving real problems. The Alleged Bad Guys: Tech Firms, China, The Other Political Party, the United Nations, The Illuminati, Scientists, Medical Doctors , Obama, Vaccines and maybe Space Aliens
Malpractice by Facebook ?
If you carry a title or initials after your name that implies some degree of expertise in medicine or public health policy, you have a responsibility to make sure that those things you support on social media reflect actual medical science and best practices, just as you do on the job. Your politics, personal financial interests, sense of humor or mood should not play a role. In this area, if no other, you are obligated to do the research. Yes, everyone should do the same, but your sources should be impeccable. What you say and do does MATTER. Do not be the one shouting FIRE in a crowded theatre.