Saturday, January 25, 2020

Zee-Nuts and Zee-Numbers


In 1912, the Collins McCarthy Candy Company issued its second series of Zee-Nut baseball cards. That same year, the confectioners produced another series of cards, these packaged with a candy called Home Run Kisses. With the release of these two sets, the San Francisco-based company unwittingly documented an important, but generally overlooked moment in baseball history. More about that in a moment, but first a bit about the candies.

Zee-Nut

Introduced in California in 1908 and invented by William P. Chase, Zee-Nut candy was something like a coconut version of Cracker Jack, the popular candy that was first introduced a dozen years earlier. Zee-Nut consisted of popcorn, peanuts, and coconut, all mixed together with a sugary syrup. Chase (who later sold out to Collins McCarthy) worked hard to market the candy, and in March of 1908 it quite literally exploded on the scene:


Advertisement in the Los Angeles Herald of March 1, 1908

As noted in the Los Angeles Herald of March 1, 1908, “THE HERALD will ‘explode’ a bomb up in the air about a thousand feet above the W.P. CHASE Zee-Nut Factory, 420-422 South Broadway, and as it explodes 1030 coupons will be set loose and fall to the street below. Each of these coupons will be good for free presents.” The presents listed included silver dollars, boxes of candy, fountain pens, watch fobs, and, of course, packages of Zee-Nut.

There were even coupons for sheet music of the “Zee-Nut Waltz-Song and Chorus,” with music and lyrics by Chase, and published by Chase. In short, William Chase was all in on promoting his candy.



In 1911, Collins McCarthy enticed kids to purchase Zee-Nut by inserting pictures of Pacific Coast League players in packages of their candy. Apparently the scheme worked well, because they continued the baseball card promotion the following year ... and for many years afterward, their last set being issued in the late 1930s.

The 1912 Zee-Nut cards (each 2⅛" × 4" in size) once again featured pictures of PCL minor leaguers. The complete set numbered 158 cards in total (some sources say 159) and is known to modern-day collectors by the designation E136.


Advertisement in the San Francisco Call of May 11, 1912

Highlights from this set include:

A card of Sacramento pitcher John Williams, who two years later played four games with the Detroit Tigers to earn the distinction of being the first native of Hawaii to play in the major leagues.



A card of 18-year-old Joe Gedeon, who spent the 1912 season with the San Francisco Seals, batting .263 and stealing 26 bases. Though he eventually made the big leagues, Gedeon’s mark in baseball history came about off the field, when he admitted in the fall of 1920 that a year earlier he had learned from White Sox shortstop and insider Swede Risberg that the 1919 World Series was “fixed.” Gedeon, then the starting second baseman for the St. Louis Browns, won $600 betting against Chicago. On November 3, 1921, Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis permanently banned Gedeon from the game.

And perhaps you have heard of Gedeon’s nephew, Elmer Gedeon, who had a “cup of coffee” with the Washington Senators in 1939, taking part in five games with the club in his brief major league career. On April 20, 1944, Gedeon’s B-26 Marauder bomber was shot down over France. Of the over 500 major leaguers who served during World War II, only Elmer Gedeon and Harry O’Neill, who played a single game with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1939, were killed during action.



Home Run Kisses

Hardly anything is known about Home Run Kisses, a confection that was apparently something like salt-water taffy. Introduced by Collins McCarthy in 1912, each five-cent package of the candy came with a PCL player card similar in size to the Zee-Nuts, though the set numbered just 90 cards. Highlights include:

An early card of future Hall of Fame shortstop Dave Bancroft when he was a member of the Portland Beavers.



A card of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Heinie Heitmuller, who captured the 1912 PCL batting championship with a .335 mark, but contracted typhoid fever and passed away weeks before the season ended.



But the truly wonderful thing about both the 1912 Zee-Nut and Home Run Kisses cards is that many of the pictures showed ballplayers wearing numbers on their left sleeves. Here are just a few examples that clearly shows the numbers:









What gives?

At their annual winter baseball meeting in January of 1912, the directors of the Pacific Coast League adopted a league-wide rule mandating that all six clubs add numbers to the sleeves of their uniforms, both home and abroad.


Akron Beacon Journal, January 16, 1912

Early Uniform Numbering

The idea of numbering players had been tried by various clubs, both in and out of Organized Baseball, years prior to the PCL’s 1912 rule, but never before had it been agreed upon by an entire league.

Most people credit the 1929 Yankees as the first baseball club to place uniform numbers on the backs of their jerseys, but this was simply not the case. In fact, the Yankees weren’t even the first club to don numbers that season. That distinction goes to the Cleveland Indians, who beat the Yanks to the punch because the New Yorkers were rained out on Opening Day, while Cleveland remained dry that same day, April 16, 1929. A photo ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the next day, showing Indians catcher Luke Sewell wearing uniform number 8 in that historic game:


Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 17, 1929

While the 1929 Indians were the first major league baseball club to wear numbers on their backs, they weren’t the first in the big leagues to wear numbers somewhere on their uniform. That distinction goes to these same Indians, but 13 years earlier. On June 26, 1916, Cleveland took the field wearing numbers on their sleeves. As noted by the Zanesville (OH) Times Record the next day, “The numbers corresponded to similar numbers set opposite the players names on the score cards, so that all fans in the stands might easily identify the members of the home club.”

This photo of the Indians with their short-lived numbers ran in the 1917 Spalding Guide. Note: Don’t confuse the numbers on the sleeves with the numbers that were hand-drawn on the photo to help identify the players.



Cleveland’s experiment in 1916 lasted just a short while (as did a brief revival of the scheme by the 1923 St. Louis Cardinals), but the PCL’s uniform numbers of 1912 lasted the entire season. Prior to the 1913 campaign, however, the league dropped the sleeve-numbering rule. Some league officials wanted to keep the numbers, but most were against continuing the practice, complaining that the numerals were too small to be easily seen by fans in the stands and, as reported by the Portland (OR) Oregonian, “numbering the men did not help the sale of score cards, as was expected.”

One additional note: A few cards from the 1913 Zee-Nut set featured photos taken of PCL players in 1912, as they can be seen with numbers on their left sleeves. Here are a few examples of those 1913 cards:





Thanks to the Collins McCarthy company and their 1912 Zee-Nut and Home Run Kisses baseball cards, today we have a visual record of this important moment in the history of baseball uniforms.

List of 1912 Pacific Coast League Uniform Numbers

While there is no complete list of each PCL club’s uniform numbers from 1912, an article in the Oregon Daily Journal of March 27, 1912, did list the numbers initially assigned to members of the Portland Beavers. Combining this information with a few notes from other contemporary newspaper accounts, closely examining some team photos, and scouring numerous Zee-Nut and Home Run Kisses baseball cards from 1912 (as well as a few from 1913) allows us to create a partial list of 1912 PCL uniform numbers.
Additions to the list are most welcome. Just drop me a note by adding a comment below. (Note that some players on the same club may have been issued the same number.)

Los Angeles
1 - Ivan Howard
1? - Joe Berger
1 or 2? - John Core
4 - Heinie Heitmuller
5 - Babe Driscoll
8 - Hugh Smith
9 - Walter Boles
18 - John Halla
20 - Charlie Chech
22 - Jack Flater
23 - Elmer Gober

Oakland
4 - Bud Sharpe
6 - Al Cook
7 - Gus Hetling
13 - Harry Ables
15? - Tyler Christian
16 - Bill Malarkey
21? - Cy Parkin

Portland
1 - Bill Rapps
2 - Jack Gilligan
3 - Dave Bancroft
4 - Dan Howley
5 - Bill Rodgers
6 - Walt Doan
7 - Bill Lindsay
8 - Art Kruger
9 - Chet Chadbourne
10 - William Temple
11 - Spec Harkness
12 - Ben Henderson
14 - Fred Lamlein
15 - Ward McDowell
16 - Heinie Steiger
17 - Mickey LaLonge
18 - Elmer Koestner
18 - Leo Girot

Sacramento
8? - Al Hiester

San Francisco
1 - Jesse Baker
1 - Willard Meikle
2 - Claude Berry
2 - Harry McArdle
4 - Chick Hartley
7 - Walter Schmidt
14 - Otto McIvor
17 - Kid Mohler
18? - Watt Powell

Vernon
1 - Walter Carlisle
2 - John Kane
4 - Ham Patterson
6 - George Stinson
7 - Franz Hosp
7? - John Raleigh
8 - Lou Litschi
11 - Wallace Hogan
12 - Drummond Brown
19 - Dolly Gray
22 - Sam Agnew

Monday, December 16, 2019

Elizabeth Taylor Goes to the Ball Game


I love watching baseball and I love watching Elizabeth Taylor. But how often does one get the chance to combine the two pastimes? Alas, not often.

I’ve long been aware of a couple of instances in which Liz and baseball have crossed paths. The first occurred on August 1, 1949, when a 17-year-old Liz participated in a celebrity ball game at Gilmore Field in Hollywood, California. In this case the game was softball, not baseball, and Liz didn’t actually play, but let’s not quibble over minutia. Liz was one of a dozen “bat girls” that cheered on Frank Sinatra’s “Swooners” and Andy Russell’s “Sprouts” in a benefit contest for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s youth welfare fund. Players included stars such as Nat “King” Cole, Peter Lawford, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, and Mel Torme. Other bat girls included Ava Gardner, Virginia Mayo, and Jane Russell.

Here are a couple of photos of Liz at the 1949 game, the latter one with “Swooners” captain Frank Sinatra:





A few months later, on December 21, 1949, Taylor and Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner went on a well-publicized date, attending the premiere of “Twelve O’Clock High” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Afterwards, the couple drove to a star-studded supper party honoring the movie’s star, Gregory Peck, at Romanoff’s Restaurant in Beverly Hills. And that was that. The two stars never saw each other again. Thankfully for posterity’s sake, the paparazzi managed to snap a few pictures of Liz and Ralph that evening:





I thought these were the only notable instances in which Liz and baseball crossed paths, but thanks to a “head’s up” from my friend Mark Armour, it turns out that there’s another Liz-baseball connection. About 17 minutes into the forgettable (except for Liz, of course) 1952 movie “Love Is Better Than Ever,” Jud Parker (played by Larry Parks) takes Stacie Macaboy (played by Taylor) on a date to the Polo Grounds in New York. If you have a spare 80 minutes, you can watch the movie at archive.org.

After taking a cab to the ball park, we see a brief 10-second clip of real, in-game footage. More about that segment in a moment.

We also see footage of a batter awaiting a pitch. It is clearly staged for the film, most likely shot at Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field, for many years the “go-to” location for movie studios needing baseball shots.



But for most of the baseball-related scene, we see Liz and Larry talking in the stands. This includes an sequence in which Jud (and a boy in the stands) explain the infield fly rule to Stacie. Alas (and I don’t think the script writers did this intentionally) they get the much of the rule wrong. Again, these shots were not taken at the Polo Grounds, but more likely in the grandstand at Wrigley Field.



Here’s the approximately two-minute clip:



Tearing myself away from wondering about Liz, I got to wondering about the real, in-game baseball footage. What could I find out about it? Was it really shot at the Polo Grounds? What’s the date, which clubs are playing, and who are the individuals seen? Let’s dive in.

The Ballpark


While we don’t have the luxury of a long-range shot to help us identify the ballpark, it is quite obviously the Polo Grounds. Here’s a screen shot from the film (at top) and a photo of the celebration at home plate following Bobby Thomson’s famed home run at the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951 (below). Note the similarities of the wall and the fencing atop the wall in the backgrounds of both images. (By the way, pardon the low quality of the screen shots throughout this post. It’s the best I could do with the archive.org version of the film.)





Additionally, the left field corner seen in the footage matches perfectly with the infamously short porch and high wall at the Polo Grounds. Compare this screen shot from the movie (at top) with another photo from the playoff game of October 3, 1951 (below).





A List of Clues


Now that we know where the footage was taken, let’s assess what other clues we have.

  • Contemporary newspaper research shows that the movie was released in February of 1952, thus the action we see must have taken place in 1951 or earlier. However, the general quality of the real, in-game footage suggests it was not shot before the early 1940s.
  • It is a day game. The batter is wearing home whites and thus is a member of the Giants, while the visiting team (in road gray uniforms) is in the field. Other than home whites and road grays, the uniforms for both clubs are similar in that both feature all dark caps and apparently solid-colored stockings.
  • Decorative bunting is hanging on the third baseline grandstand walls.
  • The pitcher is right handed and it appears he is wearing a double-digit uniform number that ends with a “6.”

  • The left fielder is right handed and wears uniform #8.

  • The batter is right-handed.

  • After the batter hits what appears to be a single to left field, the left fielder throws the ball back in to the infield and we can see no base runner on third base. (The member of the Giants seen behind third base is most certainly the coach.)


Following the Clues


Now let’s see where these clues lead.

For the years 1940 through 1951, only twice did the Polo Grounds host a contest against American Leaguers. In 1951, the Giants played the Yankees in the 1951 World Series. However, only Yogi Berra wore #8 with the Yankees and he did not play left field in any of that year’s World Series contests. And in 1942, the Polo Grounds was the site of the annual All-Star Game. But the American League left fielder that day was Boston’s Ted Williams, who wore #9, not #8. So we can now safely eliminate the footage as showing an interleague game.

By perusing the uniform database at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s online exhibit “Dressed to the Nines,” it becomes clear that in the dozen seasons between 1940 and 1951, there were only three campaigns in which the Giants wore solid-colored stockings as part of their home uniform: 1949, 1950, and 1951.



Another check of the uniform database eliminates the Cardinals (image at top) and Braves (image below) as potential opponents, because in each of these three seasons both of these clubs wore stockings with distinct white stripes, a characteristic not seen in the film clip.





This leaves only five possible opponents for the Giants in the game: the Dodgers, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, or Pirates. Of these clubs, which had one (or more) players who wore uniform #8? The uniform number data available at baseball-reference.com gives the following possibilities:

  • 1949: Brooklyn’s George Shuba; Chicago’s Smoky Burgess and Rube Walker; Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler; and Pittsburgh’s Monty Basgall and Clyde McCullough. But none of these men played left field in 1949.
  • 1950: Brooklyn’s Cal Abrams and George Shuba; Chicago’s Rube Walker; Cincinnati’s Hobie Landrith; Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler; and Pittsburgh’s Clyde McCullough. Of these, only Abrams, Shuba, and Sisler played left field in 1950, but we can eliminate Abrams as a possibility, as he threw left-handed.
  • 1951: Chicago’s Bruce Edwards and Rube Walker; Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler; and Pittsburgh’s Bill Howerton and Clyde McCullough. Of these, only Sisler and Howerton played left field in 1951.
To recap, we now have the following possibilities for the year and the left fielder:

  • 1950: Brooklyn’s George Shuba or Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler.
  • 1951: Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler or Pittsburgh’s Bill Howerton.
Thanks to the invaluable resources available at retrosheet.org, we can further narrow down possible dates of the real-game footage.

1950:

  • Brooklyn’s George Shuba played just one game in left field at the Polo Grounds: April 28.
  • Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler played 10 games in left field at the Polo Grounds: May 26, 27, 28 (doubleheader); August 18, 21; September 27 (doubleheader), September 28 (doubleheader).
1951:

  • Dick Sisler played 11 games in left field at the Polo Grounds: May 12, 13 (doubleheader); July 2, 3; August 11, 12 (doubleheader), 13; September 3 (doubleheader.)
  • Bill Howerton played left field in two games at the Polo Grounds: May 9, 10.

We’re now down to two dozen possible dates, but we can eliminate another three because they were played at night: April 28, 1950; July 2, 1951; and August 13, 1951.

The Exact Game


Now let’s turn our attention to the bunting seen hanging on the third baseline grandstand walls. These patriotic decorations at big league parks were reserved for special events and holidays, such as Opening Day, July 4th, Labor Day, the All-Star Game, and the World Series. We have already eliminated the latter pair of possibilities. Of the remaining 21 dates noted above, just one falls on such a special date: Labor Day, September 3, 1951.

On that day, the Giants hosted the Phillies for a doubleheader at the Polo Grounds. The first game saw Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts toss a complete game, 6-3 victory over New York. In the second contest, Phillies rookie Niles Jordan went the distance against the Giants, taking a 3-1 loss in just his third big league contest. But while Roberts was right-handed, Jordan was a southpaw, so we can eliminate the second game of the twin-bill as a possibility.

It appears that the only possible date for the game footage is the first game of the September 3, 1951, doubleheader. Recall that the pitcher in the clip wears a uniform number that ends with a “6.” This matches with our identification of Robin Roberts as the pitcher, as the future Hall of Famer wore uniform #36 throughout his career with the Phillies. Additionally, Roberts’ distinctive delivery, with a slight flip of his left foot as he strides toward home, matches what is seen in the footage. You can check out footage of Roberts’ pitching motion here.

By the way, this particular Labor Day victory over the Giants must have meant a great deal to Roberts, as he kept a ball from the game. It was made available at auction in 2011.



The Exact Play


Now that we know the exact game, that our pitcher is Robin Roperts, and the left fielder is Dick Sisler, let’s turn our attention to the final clues: The batter is right-handed, hits what appears to be a single to left field, and when Sisler throws the ball back in to the infield we can see no base runner on third base. A check of the play-by-play data of the game made available at Retrosheet, this only occurred twice during the first game of the Labor Day doubleheader:

  • In the 4th inning, when Willie Mays singled with one out;
  • In the 8th inning, when Eddie Stanky singled with one out.
But Eddie Stanky notoriously choked up and wiggled his bat while at the plate, something we do not see the batter doing. Here’s a photo of Stanky in his typical batting stance:



No. The batter in the film is not Stanky. It is none other than the great Willie Mays nearing the end of his rookie season.

Looking over the box score of the game, the rest of the men seen in the 10-second clip can now be identified: catcher Andy Seminick, home plate umpire Babe Pinelli, shortstop Granny Hamner, and third baseman Eddie Pellagrini.

And now that we know which ballgame Stacie Macaboy attended, I’d suggest we get back to the movie and pay a little more attention to Liz.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Death of "Death to Flying Things"


The Web is chock full of lists of the greatest (coolest, most unusual, favorite, etc.) nicknames in big league baseball history. Here are just a few such lists:

All of these lists (and lots of others) call out the eminently enjoyable nickname “Death to Flying Things.” I think we can all agree that it’s cool, fun, and unique. Well, except for the part about its being unique. Indeed, most sources today attach this nickname to not one, not two, but three big leaguers.


Jack Chapman — A baseball “lifer” who played the outfield from 1860 through 1876, he also managed in the big leagues for 11 seasons.


Bob Ferguson — An infielder and catcher whose on-field career lasted from 1865 through 1884, he is often credited with being the game’s first switch-hitter.


Franklin Gutierrez — A veteran of 14 years in the big leagues, he won a Gold Glove Award in 2010 as a center fielder.

Gutierrez was certainly an exciting outfielder and talented with the glove. And I love that, soon after his trade to Seattle in 2009, Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus christened him with the “retro” nickname, both as a compliment to the Venezuelan’s abilities and a nod to the nickname’s prior attachment to Chapman and Ferguson.

As for Chapman and Ferguson, the “Death to Flying Things” sobriquet makes sense, as well, for both players were known to be excellent fielders.

For example, in a much-anticipated, well-attended, and exciting contest between the Mutuals of New York and the Atlantics of Brooklyn on August 17, 1868, Atlantics left fielder Chapman saved the day. As reported in the next day’s Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



Regarding Ferguson, time and again contemporary newspaper accounts sang his praises as a stellar third baseman:

  • “Ferguson made a splendid catch of a line ball, and stopped the run-getting.” — The Brooklyn Times-Union, June 10, 1873
  • “Ferguson made a great running catch, and this was the only brilliant play of the game.” — The Philadelphia Times, May 18, 1883
  • “Ferguson made a brilliant catch of a hot liner and made a double play.” — The Philadelphia Times, September 23, 1883
But in researching the nickname, I simply cannot find any contemporary evidence that the sobriquet was used for either Chapman or Ferguson. The first reference of any player being dubbed “Death to Flying Things” is found in Alfred Spink’s “The National Game,” a history of baseball published by The Sporting News in 1910. On page 10, Spink recounts how Chapman earned the nickname:



After this mention, I don’t find another independent reference to the nickname until 1969, when the inaugural edition of “The Baseball Encyclopedia” included it in its entry for Ferguson ... but surprisingly not for that of Chapman. Here are those entries from the 10th edition of “The Baseball Encyclopedia”:





To add to the confusion, while the entire run of “The Baseball Encyclopedia” tags Ferguson with the nickname and Chapman without it, the exact opposite is the case for the full run of “Total Baseball”: Chapman is listed with the nickname and Ferguson is not. Here are those entries from the fourth edition of “Total Baseball”:





(For what it’s worth, baseball-reference.com gives the nickname to Chapman, Ferguson, and Gutierrez.)

Note that in Spink’s “The National Game,” the statement about Chapman’s nickname comes just a few paragraphs below a note about Ferguson and under a heading calling out Ferguson as “THE FIRST GREAT CATCHER.” Here’s that full paragraph:



Perhaps in prepping “The Baseball Encyclopedia,” a researcher found the nickname in Spink’s book and made two errors:

1) mistakenly assuming the nickname to be accurate; and,
2) mistakenly assuming the nickname belonged to “THE GREATEST CATCHER,” Bob Ferguson.

Who knows?

For now, all we can say for certain is that while the nickname is most certainly fun, there is no evidence that it was contemporaneously connected to either Ferguson or Chapman. Ironically, despite being based on the erroneous belief that the moniker first belonged to those two 19th century ballplayers, the nickname can only truly be linked to Franklin Gutierrez!