Saturday, November 15, 2014

There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here - Athletics Park

And there used to be a ballpark
Where the field was warm and green.
And the people played their crazy game
With a joy I'd never seen.
And the air was such a wonder
From the hot dogs and the beer.
Yes, there used to be a ballpark, right here.
It is likely that Frank Sinatra was thinking of Brooklyn's long gone Ebbets Field when he sang those words back in 1973, but there have been lots of ballparks that have disappeared over the years. In this and future blog postings, I'll take a look (and I do mean "look" ... we'll examine a number of images) at a few parks that are gone, but not forgotten.

First up: The old Athletics ballpark at 17th and Columbia in Philadelphia.

Though the park was home to the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia for just a few years in the mid-to-late 1860s, it was captured in a pair of oft-reproduced images. Perhaps the best known is this lithograph from 1867:

Titled "The Second Great Match Game for the Championship," the print depicts action from an October 22nd, 1866, match between the Athletics (at bat) and the visiting Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn (in the field). (The Athletics won 31-12.) The illustration was created and printed by John L. Magee of Philadelphia.

Note how this image shows a pickpocket "caught in the act" as seen in the bottom, left-hand corner. Here's a detail of the "action":

And bonus points to anyone who can explain the meaning of "My Toodles" written atop the paper held in the hands of a gambler(?) seen at the bottom middle of the image:

[See the update below for the solution to the "My Toodles" mystery.]

Another image of the park, this one illustrated by Joseph Boggs Beale, is found in this woodcut published in Harper's Weekly of November 18, 1865:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-17532

This picture represented an earlier contest between the same two clubs, this one taking place on October 30, 1865, and resulting in an Atlantic victory, 21-15. A detail from this image (seen below) shows two men (boys?) playing leapfrog, another man falling down (drunk?), and another pair in the midst of a fight:

And note that at the center of the drawing, as seen in the detail below, there is a small structure with "ATHLETIC 1860" posted across the fa├žade. Why 1860? Because the Philadelphia club was organized on April 7th of that year. This is assuredly the on-field clubhouse of the Athletic Club.

I recently came across an image of the Athletics home grounds at 15th and Columbia that was completely new to me. This one, found at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, dates from August of 1868 and was drawn by Francis H. Schell.

It is likely that the picture depicts the game of August 31, 1868, once again between the rival Athletics and Atlantics, with the Athletics winning, 18-9. While this image lacks some of the detailed crowd scenes found in the prior pictures, it shows (along with the Beale illustration) a distinctive, large building to the left of the grandstand. Here's a detail from the Schell drawing:

Here we clearly see the large building looming above and behind the Athletics' clubhouse. Here's another vintage illustration of the same structure, this one from the January 1874 issue of The Manufacturer and Builder and showing the opposite side of the building (facing Montgomery):

And here's a more recent photograph showing the south and east sides of the building, the same ones that are seen in the ballpark illustrations:

While the ballpark has long since disappeared, this majestic building still exists. It is the Wagner Free Institute of Science, located at North 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue in Philadelphia and first built in 1859. Thanks to Google Street View, you can "virtually" walk around much of the building, though it is generally obscured by quite a few trees. Click on the image below to take a walk around the building:

Take another look at the Magee color lithograph of the ballpark. Given the angle of the scene, it wouldn't surprise me if the illustrator was in the Wagner Free Institute building when he sketched the action.

Update of May 15, 2012:

My good friend Rob Pendell has solved the mystery of the meaning of "My Toodles."

First, it should be noted that I have access to an original Magee lithograph and, upon closer examination, the writing at the top of the paper more likely reads "Mr. Toodles," not "My Toodles." Rob did not have this advantage and thought perhaps the writing was "The Toodles." Here's what Rob calls "a wild theory," but what I feel is most certainly the explanation.
I have a wild theory about your "Toodles" inquiry. First, a question: are you sure the paper says "My Toodles" and not "The Toodles?" From the pictures posted it's not clear. I think it says "The Toodles."

I think the man holding the paper is supposed to be Edwin Booth. I think the man to whom he is gesturing is John Sleeper Clarke. "The Toodles" was a very popular play of the time, and the lead, a boozer, was one of Clarke's most famous roles. Booth and Clarke purchased the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia in 1863 or 1865 (depending on the source), or maybe Booth bought it and brought Clarke on afterwards, but either way they were running it together when Booth's brother shot the president. Clarke, who had married Booth's sister in 1859, was found to be in possession of letters written by John Wilkes Booth and subsequently arrested for some time. He eventually left his wife and ran off to London where he did 200-some performances of "The Toodles."

Random fact #1: Lincoln saw "The Toodles" performed by its credited author and first famous lead William E. Burton in Chicago in 1859.

Random fact #2: Months before the president was assassinated, Edwin Booth saved the life of Lincoln's son, Robert, during an incident on a train platform. The young Lincoln immediately recognized the face of his rescuer, presumably from his acting reputation, but Booth didn't discover who it was he saved until months later.

Magee did many political cartoons and lithographs, including a famous one of John Wilkes Booth titled "Satan Tempting Booth To The Murder Of The President."

I have more weird facts about all this, but I'll leave it there. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.
Great job, Rob! I did some digging around and found an image of John Clarke from his title role in the play. The image comes from the 19th Century Actors Carte de Visite Collection at the University of Washington. The photo of Clarke is a dead-ringer for the fellow in the Magee lithograph. Here's a comparison:

University of Washington Libraries PH Coll 75.141

Case closed.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Closer Look at Footage from Game Seven of the 1924 World Series

On October 2, 2014, the Library of Congress announced an exciting discovery: newsreel highlights from Game Seven of the 1924 World Series between the New York Giants and Washington Senators. The timing of the announcement was appropriate, as it came just one day prior to the first game of this year's San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals postseason series, and eight days prior to the 90th anniversary of the last game of the 1924 World Series.

The footage is indeed quite remarkable and includes great action shots from the World Series finale played on October 10, 1924, at Washington's Griffith Stadium. I decided to take a closer look at the movie and, in so doing, was able to make a few discoveries and correct a few errors regarding just what we see in the historic film.

First, here's the footage as posted at the Library of Congress's web site (note that the musical score is not original to the footage):


The initial title card reads:

... after which the camera pans across a packed crowd at the ballpark. The 1924 World Series marked the first appearance by the Washington Senators in the Fall Classic and Game Seven remains one of the most exciting in World Series history, with the winning run coming on a one-out double in the bottom of the 12th inning. The next title card reads:

... and indeed we next see New York's 16-game winner, Virgil Barnes, deliver a pitch:

Next is a great shot taken from close behind the plate, a rare angle for newsreels of the day. A left-handed batter for Washington takes a hefty cut at the ball and quickly heads towards first base:

Just four lefty batters took part in the game that day for the Giants: Sam Rice, Goose Goslin, Joe Judge, and Nemo Leibold. While it is not clear which of these four batters is seen at the plate (I'm guessing it's either Rice or Goslin), the umpire and catcher are identifiable. Hank Gowdy caught the entire game for the Giants, while Bill Dinneen was the home plate arbiter that day.

Next we see action from a very different angle. It was commonplace at the time to send just one moving footage cameraman to the game, so it is likely that this action was shot from a different part of the game than the one just seen. In this sequence we see a Senators base runner heading toward second base and ultimately sliding safely into third. Watch carefully as the runner approaches second base:

He does not round the base from a wide angle, as a runner would if he was running from first to third on a base hit. Instead, he runs directly toward second, as if there is going to be a play at the base. Indeed, an infielder for the Giants is seen running to the bag, as if to catch a throw. We next see the infielder turn towards the outfield as the base runner continues on to third base.

This scenario matches perfectly with a critical play that occurred in the bottom of the ninth inning. With the score knotted at three runs apiece, one out, and Washington's Joe Judge on first base, Senators shortstop Ossie Bluege hit a ground ball to Giants first baseman George "High Pockets" Kelly. Kelly threw to Giants shortstop Travis Jackson in an effort to force Judge at second, but Jackson dropped the ball and Judge advanced to third base. (Incidentally, the second base umpire is Tom Connolly.) The result was that the Senators had first and third with just one out and an excellent chance to win the game and the World Championship title. Instead, the Giants wriggled out of the predicament with a play that will show up later in the footage.

The next title card reads:

However, this is followed not by a shot of Washington pitcher George Mogridge, but (as first pointed out to me by my colleague, Lenny DiFranza) yet another shot of Giants pitcher Barnes:

Was this a mistake by the newsreel editors back in 1924? Was there no quality footage if Mogridge from the game, so the editors simply used footage of Barnes and hoped the movie-goers wouldn't notice? Was the film damaged at some point near this spot and a splice was made, with the Mogridge footage being cut out? The answer is not clear.

The next scene shows a right-handed batter for the Giants laying down a bunt, hustling toward first, and sliding safely into the bag, head first:

The play matches perfectly with action that occurred in the top of the third inning when, with one out, Giants second baseman Frank Frisch laid down a bunt and beat the throw to first. (Other players seen in this particular sequence include Washington catcher Muddy Ruel and first baseman Joe Judge.)

The next title card reads:

And, indeed, we see a batter hit a home run. Since there was only one homer hit in the game, there's little question that the title card is correct and we are treated to seeing Senators manager and second baseman Bucky Harris hitting a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth for the first run of the game.

The next title card notes that the President was in the stands:

This footage was certainly taken prior to the start of the game, so it is a bit strange to see it in the middle of this film. But, as we are learning, numerous shots are being presented here with little regard for the chronology of events. Pictured left to right in the front row are Mrs. Grace Coolidge, President Calvin Coolidge, Mrs. Emily Stearns (wife of Frank Stearns, a longtime friend of the President), and Louis J. Taber (master of the National Grange).

The next title card reads:

In this sequence we see a Giants base runner heading home, turning to watch the play behind him, then scoring. This matches the situation in the top of the sixth inning when, with no out and runners on first and third, Giants pinch-hitter Irish Meusel hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field. Ross Youngs, the runner on third, tagged up and scored on the play.

Note that as Youngs touches home, we see Senators relief pitcher Firpo Marberry on the right side of the frame. No doubt the young pitcher had positioned himself behind home in case he was needed to back up a throw to the plate. The next Giants batter, Hack Wilson, is at far left, preparing to come to the plate.

After this scene, the following title card appears:

The action that follows shows a Senators batter swinging and heading to first, while runners on first and third head to their next base:

We then see the Giants first baseman on the bag, catching a throw and retiring the runner heading to first:

... and immediately afterwards the fielders all head toward the Giants' first base dugout:

Clearly the putout at first base ended the inning, but this does not match the scenario in the bottom of the eighth inning, the only instance in which Washington tied the score. In that case, Bucky Harris singled with the bases loaded, scoring a pair of runs to knot the game at three runs apiece ... and then the inning continued with Sam Rice coming to bat.

No. The title card is incorrect. The action depicted is not of the Senators tying the score in the bottom of the eighth. Instead, it is action from the bottom of the ninth when, with runners on first and third (Ossie Bluege and Joe Judge, respectively), Senators third baseman Ralph Miller grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The twin killing ended the Washington threat and sent the game into extra innings. This was the play that occurred right after the one seen earlier in the film (title card "Barnes starts for the Giants"), when Ossie Bluege touched second and headed to third after Travis Jackson's error at second base. Incidentally, the first baseman seen here making the putout is George Kelly and the first base umpire is Ernie Quigley, the only umpire on that day's four-man crew who is not a Hall of Famer.

The title card that follows states:

... and we next see a wonderful shot of Senators legend Walter Johnson (who first entered the game in the top of the ninth) delivering a pitch:

The next shot shows a Giants batter hitting a stand-up triple:

Since the only triple of the game was hit by New York second baseman Frank Frisch with one out in the ninth, that is certainly the play depicted.

The next title card reads:

... and is followed by Johnson pitching and inducing a pop-up to the Washington third baseman:

This exactly matches the play that occurred just before Frisch's triple, when Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom popped out to third baseman Ralph Miller to lead off the top of the ninth.

Finally, the climax of the game is introduced:

Despite the misspelling of Washington center fielder Earl McNeely's surname (the title card has an extra "e"), we next see McNeely at bat, with pitcher Walter Johnson (wearing a sweater) leading off first base. Out of the frame is another Senators base runner, Muddy Ruel, on second:

After McNeely strokes a hard ground ball down the third base line (the famous "pebble"play in which McNeely's grounder supposedly hit a small rock and bounded over third baseman Freddie Lindstrom's head), Ruel gallops home with the winning run:

After the runner scores to end the game, pandemonium breaks out on the field and in the stands, as the Senators secured their first World Championship flag. But take a close look at McNeely as he rounds first base. He gets no further than 20 feet past the bag, at which point he turns and heads for the Washington dugout for the celebration. Clearly he has hit a single. Even the title card says "single." Nevertheless, the official scorer awarded McNeely with a game-winning double ... a very strange and, frankly, incorrect decision.

The rest of the footage shows shots of players and fans celebrating Washington's exciting victory. And despite the presence of some erroneous title cards, the film is a treasure from a bygone era and an absolute joy to watch ... and research.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You Know How to Whistle

On August 13, 2014, one day after Lauren Bacall passed away, my friend and longtime baseball PR executive, Marty Appel, posted the following note on his Facebook page:
Never noticed it before but in the famous "you know how to whistle" scene in "To Have and Have Not," there is a baseball photo behind Lauren Bacall. Rest in peace Ms. Bacall, a resident of New York's famed Dakota.
Accompanying the post was this image of Bacall in her role as Marie "Slim" Browning in that classic movie from 1944. The baseball photo to which Marty was referring is visible at the left of the frame:

You can view the scene at YouTube.

My first reaction to Marty's posting was embarrassment. How did I miss this? I love this movie. I own this movie. I've seen this movie countless times. I've long been interested in ties between baseball and classic movies. (See my blog posting on a baseball mystery in "The Maltese Falcon.") How did this baseball picture elude me?

At first I thought it might have something to do with the ridiculously alluring woman in the same frame. Perhaps I was a bit distracted by her? I could be excused for that, right? But no. The baseball picture actually made its first appearance in the movie half an hour before the "You know how to whistle" scene, when we first see the interior of the room occupied by Humphrey Bogart in his role as Harry Morgan. Note that there's no Bacall to distract me:

There was no getting around it. Like an easy two-hopper that skipped under my glove, I simply missed the baseball picture in this movie. Thank goodness Marty did not.

It's tough to get a good look at the picture from screen grabs. This publicity still from the movie provides the best view of the picture:

And here's a contrast-enhanced detail from that still:

One main thing about the baseball photo jumped out at me: the grandstand in the background. It is unquestionably the Polo Grounds in New York. Compare the structure's various characteristics with those seen in the following photograph of the famous ballpark from 1908. (I discuss this particular image in my blog posting titled "When Wall Street Occupied the Ball Park"):

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-00475

About an hour after his initial posting about the picture in Harry Morgan's room, Marty Appel added a comment to his original Facebook posting:
Almost looks like a Honus Wagner photo, Tom, but of course, very hard to tell.
Indeed, the batter in the picture did have something Wagnerian about him. I searched various images of "The Flying Dutchman" at bat and finally came across this one:

It's a perfect match with the picture on Harry Morgan's wall. Marty's hunch was dead on.

As noted above, the location is clearly the Polo Grounds. But what else can we tell? On Wagner's left shoulder is an interesting symbol. It is an intertwined "PBC" standing for "Pittsburgh Baseball Club." (Or, more accurately, "Pittsburg Baseball Club," as the correct spelling of the city at the time lacked the final "h." Here's a web site that gives the details behind "How To Spell Pittsburgh.")

This particular symbol was worn on the Pirates' uniforms in 1908 and 1909. The Giants catcher wears light-colored stockings with a single dark stripe and an all-dark cap. For the seasons of 1908 and 1909, only the Giants of 1908 wore uniforms that matched this criteria. Thus, the photograph is of Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner batting at the Polo Grounds in 1908.

A quick check at shows that the Pirates played a dozen games in New York in 1908: June 9, 10, 11, 12; July 24, 25, 27, 28; September 18 (doubleheader), 19, 21. After a good deal of digging around, trying to track down contemporary images of these various games, I found our photograph in the September 20, 1908 issue of the New York Times:

The picture depicted action from the September 19th game between the Pirates and Giants. A quick glance at the box score revealed the third man in the image, the home plate umpire, future Hall of Famer Hank O'Day.

Incidentally, this action took place just four days before one of the most celebrated contests in baseball history: the Giants-Cubs game in which Fred Merkle failed to touch second base, September 23, 1908. Keith Olbermann explains it all here.

A few years later, the photograph of O'Day, Bresnahan and Wagner at the Polo Grounds was republished as a supplement to the October 7, 1911 issue of the National Police Gazette newspaper. Here's what the Police Gazette version looks like:

The title of the print reads: "READY FOR THE WALLOP. Hans Wagner, Pittsburg Club, Well Set for the Coming Ball; Bresnahan, St. Louis Nationals, Behind the Bat." (Note the lack of the final "h" in "Pittsburg.") The photo certainly shows Bresnahan as a member of the Giants, but by the time the image was reproduced in the Police Gazette, Roger Bresnahan was playing for the Cardinals, having been traded to St. Louis prior to the 1909 season.

It is my hunch that the picture on Harry Morgan's wall was a framed, slightly cropped version of this Police Gazette supplement, not the original photograph. Take a look at this still from the movie, showing a different wall in Harry Morgan's room:

Note the two framed pictures in the background, not of baseball action, but of a boxer (at far left) and another athlete (perhaps a boxer) just to Bogie's left. I suspect that these pictures were also framed pages from Police Gazette supplements, but will leave it to other researchers to track down the names of these men and just when their pictures were published.

For now, I'm happy to know two things: Just what that picture is hanging on Harry Morgan's wall ... and, of course, how to whistle.