Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Dangers of Collecting Baseball Cards

In the spring of 2018, I was asked by Mark Armour and Chris Dial, the founders and co-chairs of SABR's Baseball Card Committee, to give a presentation at their committee meeting as part of the 2018 SABR Convention in Pittsburgh. This is a slightly-updated version of that presentation.

The Dingley Act of 1897, a massive tariff law that was put into effect under the McKinley administration, included a provision that made it illegal for companies to give away coupons (including things such as baseball cards) in packages of tobacco. The exact legalese reads:

None of the packages of smoking tobacco and fine-cut chewing packages of tobacco and cigarettes prescribed by law shall be permitted to have packed in, or attached to, or connected with, them, any article or thing whatsoever, other than the manufacturers' wrappers and, labels, the internal revenue stamp and the tobacco or cigarettes, respectively, put up therein, on which tax is required to be paid under the internal revenue laws; nor shall there be affixed to, or branded, stamped, marked, written, or printed upon, said packages, or their contents, any promise or offer of, or any order or certificate for, any gift, prize, premium, payment, or reward.
Why do this? Because the monopoly known as the American Tobacco Company tried to quash its competition (independent tobacco companies) by giving away goods through this coupon system, something that smaller companies did not have the wherewithal to do.

This effectively halted the creation of baseball cards until the act was usurped by the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, which removed the ban on tobacco inserts. With this new law, baseball (and other cigarette) cards returned ... and with a vengeance.

Today, well over a century later, the various baseball card sets of 1909-1911 — the sets known as T204, T205, T206, T207, etc. — are prized and celebrated. But, as you might expect, baseball card collecting was also quite popular at that time. What you may not know is that nearly just as popular was the press expressing great concern that baseball card collecting was dangerous. Dangerous to children, dangerous to business owners, and dangerous to society in general.

I’ve found dozens of articles detailing dangers (or perceived dangers) of baseball card collecting at and around the time of the return of baseball cards in the 20th century, and these dangers fit into six main categories.

1) Baseball card collecting created a nuisance.

From the Washington (DC) Evening Star, June 30, 1912:


And from the Greenville (SC) News, March 15, 1910:

Wagner, Cobb, Evers, Mathewson, Collins ... and Bugs Raymond? Well, Bugs did have a decent season in 1909, but wouldn't you think they'd tab someone a bit more obvious, like Three Finger Brown or Ed Walsh?

2) Baseball card collecting promoted the illegal purchase of cigarettes by minors.

According to the Lexington (NC) Dispatch, September 29, 1909:

3) As a consequence of purchasing tobacco, children were enticed to become smokers.

This article was published in the Raleigh (NC) News and Observer, August 15, 1909:

"Nude or near-nude picture of a woman?" Perhaps they were thinking of the N166 "Occupations for Women" series? (There were other "tempting bait" series, as well.)

And this from the Raleigh (NC) Times, August 25, 1909:


4) Baseball card collecting promoted gambling.

As published in the Wilmington (DE) Morning News, July 21, 1909:

Additionally, according to the Fort Mill (SC) Times, October 21, 1909:

5) Baseball card collecting brought about physical injuries.

Read this from the Washington (D.C.) Post, May 8, 1910:

6) And, thanks to baseball card collecting, children became criminals.

The Los Angeles (CA) Times, August 10, 1911 wrote:

This report appeared in the Winston-Salem (NC) Twin-City Daily Sentinel, August 6, 1909:

Finally, the Wilson (NC) Daily Times, August 23, 1910 reported:

In doing this research, I found these complaints about card collecting in numerous newspapers during the period of 1909 through 1912, with most occurring in 1909 and 1910. It seems that by 1911, the furor over the evils of baseball card collecting had subsided considerably. Additionally, the majority of newspapers that railed against the practice were based in major tobacco-producing states, particularly North and South Carolina.

Monday, August 13, 2018

An Image of an Early Bat and Ball Game

In September of 2017, Cowan's Auctions offered a broadside titled "Sears' Globe in Minature [sic], or the World at One View."

The auction house's description of the lot reads: "Beautiful engravings outline the page including one of boys in an open street playing a game of baseball. Perhaps the earliest image of baseball outside of the chapbook."

Here's a detail showing the game in question:

Cowan's Auctions lists the date of the broadside as "ca. late 1830s," but the correct date is actually 1833. An advertisement for the 21¼" × 26½" sheet can be found in the April 13, 1833, issue of the New-York Mirror:

The World at One View. The grand climax of human knowledge seems to be then at length reached We have it here in the shape of a mammoth sheet comprising a deal of geographical information compiled from the latest authorities by Robert Sears, of this city. It presents indubitable claims to be pasted on stiff paper, and hung up in counting-rooms and offices.

And the story behind the broadside can be found in a biography of Robert Sears (pictured below) published in The American Biographical Sketch Book of 1848:

Born in St. Johns, New Brunswick, on the 28th of June, 1810, [Robert Sears] had struggled up, through the laborious scenes of seven years' apprenticeship, and, with a mind strengthened by a solid English education, always kept in view the great end of his life. That hope, to convert the gloomy press into an engine of immense good, to make it a messenger of knowledge to many hundred thousand homes, and have the children of a future age say of him, this was not the Hero of the Sword, but the Apostle of the Printing Press.
How did he accomplish it? In the spring of the year 1832, he started in business, and supported his family by printing cards and circulars. The cholera came, and with it the universal panic and the tottering of all public confidence. He was forced to close his shop, and take to his journeyman life again.
Still in this time of unobtrusive toil, a great vision of usefulness opened upon him. While working at the press and case, he determined to become a publisher. Without capital, without the praise of pompous reviewers, without friendssave the generous few attracted by his unyielding virtueshe made up his mind to be the publisher of useful books.
He calmly laid his plan, and in the silence of the night after the day's work was over, matured it into shape. He determined to pursue the only legitimate method of publicationto advertise his works, place them thoroughly before the people, and leave the people alone to decide on their merits.
The cholera passed, and he resorted to his press and types once more. In the short intervals snatched from severe labor, he compiled a chart, entitled, "The world at one view," placed it in type, published it in one broad sheet, advertised it for twelve and a half cents, and was rewarded by a sale of about 20,000 copies.
As for the drawing described by Cowan's Auction as "perhaps the earliest image of baseball outside of the chapbook," while it appears that some boys are playing a game involving a bat and ball, it is most certainly not baseball. First, there appear to be two boys with bats involved in the game (one seen at far left, the other at far right); baseball has always featured just one batter at a time. Second, the bats appear to have a circular, flattened end; baseball bats have never looked like this.

The bat resembles that used in the American game of wicket. Here's an image of a wicket bat from the collection of the F. N. Manross Memorial Library:

You can learn more about this mostly-forgotten game of wicket in an article at the Litchfield Historical Society Web site and at John Thorn's Our Game blog.

But while the bat may resemble that used in wicket, there is one significant problem: the engraving in question does not show any wickets. Did the artist simply choose not to show the wickets? Or are the boys playing a wicketless variant of the game? Or is it a different game altogether?

I encourage historians of early bat and ball games to pass along their thoughts.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Baseball’s Lost and Found

Have you ever browsed through the “Lost and Found” notices in a newspaper’s classified ad section? What I find interesting about them is that they tease you with just a little bit of information about something that went missing, but every-so-often, hidden behind each Twitter-sized note is a full-blown story. A story of love for a wayward dog. A story of past memories captured in a lost charm bracelet. A story of hard work and security in a misplaced envelope of cash. A story of teeth left behind at a ball game:

Cincinnati Enquirer, May 29, 1879

SET OF TEETH – Lost on Star Base-ball Grounds. Finder returning them to Johnnie Schwab, on grounds, will be liberally rewarded.
I present herewith a handful of “Lost and Found” items and the hidden baseball stories behind them.

New York Herald, August 16, 1865

$30 REWARD - LOST, ON MONDAY AFTERNOON, IN going to or at the Capitoline Base Ball Grounds, a Gold Hunting Watch. The above reward will be paid for in recovery, and thanks, by A.W. Jacobs, 183 Fulton street, Brooklyn.
A photographer who lived and worked about three miles west of Brooklyn’s Capitoline Grounds, 32-year-old Alfred W. Jacobs was, no doubt, a baseball fan.

Woodcut from the New-York Illustrated News of August 4, 1860, depicting action from a contest between the Excelsiors and Atlantics at the Capitoline Grounds, July 19, 1865

In fact, as a Captain in Company A of New York’s 52nd Regiment during the Civil War, Jacobs served alongside two other officers with significant connections to Brooklyn baseball:

  • Regiment surgeon Joseph B. Jones was a longtime member of the famed Excelsior Base Ball Club of Brooklyn and, in 1860, served as the president of the National Association of Base Ball Players, baseball’s first organizing body.

Joseph B. Jones (center, in top hat) stands between members of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City and Excelsior Base Ball Club of Brooklyn at the Excelsior's grounds, August 2, 1859

  • First Lieutenant Leonard W. Brainard Jr. was the older brother of two Excelsior players: catcher Harry Brainard and his older brother, pitcher Asa Brainard.

Asa Brainard (seated, second from right) with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, 1869

Pitcher Asa Brainard gained famed at the end of the decade as a star with the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Indeed, he was so dominant in that role that even today an abbreviated version of his name remains synonymous with a club’s “top flight” pitcher: “Ace.”

On Monday, August 14th, 1865, the Mutual Base Ball Club of New York faced the champion Atlantics of Brooklyn. As was the custom at the time, a club earned the championship if it managed to defeat the reigning pennant winners two out of three times. This match was the second contest in just such a series, the Atlantics having narrowly defeated the Mutuals, 13-12, in their first meeting of the season just nine days earlier at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Estimates varied, but reports put this “return match” attendance at between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators. As reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of August 15, 1865, “The presence of the police was a guarantee that no such disgraceful wholesale stealing and pocket-picking would take place as at Hoboken, and hence all breathed free, when the ‘blue coats’ arrived.”

But even with 150 policeman at the park, thieves could hardly be expected to stay away from such a tempting mass of humanity. Such illegal activities were not uncommon at ballparks, and the practice was even depicted in a lithograph of another championship baseball game, this time in Philadelphia in October of 1866.

Detail from John Magee’s lithograph titled “The Second Great Match Game for the Championship,” illustrating action on the field and in the crowd at the Athletics vs. Atlantics game of October 22, 1866

(For more about this lithograph, this Philadelphia ballpark, and the goings on in the crowd, please read “There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here - Athletics Park.”)

While it is not known if Jacobs ever recovered his watch, what is known is that he witnessed an important game. Unlike the first contest of the series, this time around the Atlantics handled the Mutuals with little trouble, earning a 40-28 victory and retaining their championship title.

Pages from the Atlantic Club scorebooks recording the game against the Mutuals, August 14, 1865

Three months after this victory, Charles Williamson, a significantly more successful Brooklyn-based photographer than Jacobs, captured this image of the “Champions of America":

As described in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of November 10, 1865:

The champion nine of the United States had a sitting at Charles H. Williamson’s Gallery of Art on Tuesday, and that gentleman has completed a fine picture of them. The picture embraces the veteran Peter O’Brien, in the center, in citizen’s dress, surrounded by the new nine, as follows: Norton, Crane, Galvin, Chapman, C.J. Smith, Pearce, Sid. Smith, Start and Pratt. The last named gentleman holds a ball in his hand, Norton and Peter have bats, and in the front ground lie several caps. The likenesses are, of course, accurate, the positions admirable, and the workmanship a perfect piece of art.
Intriguingly, the Atlantic Club member identifications given in the article are erroneous. The correct identifications are (left to right): Frank Norton, Sid Smith, Dickey Pearce, Joe Start, Pete O’Brien, Charles Smith, Jack Chapman, John Galvin (sitting), Fred Crane (above Galvin), and Tom Pratt (far right).

The article continues:

They will be finished in large groups, and carte de visite size, so that all desiring can have their choice. The nine of 1864 has been generally sought after, and it is expected the same thing will occur with the nine of 1865. They will be ready in a few days.

Carte de Visite of the 1865 Atlantic Base Ball Club

While the 1865 CDV (above) is well-known to historians and collectors alike, I do not recall having ever seen or [previously heard of the referred-to 1864 CDV. Anyone have thoughts on this hidden gem?

Hartford Courant, May 20, 1875

TWO HUNDRED AND FIVE DOLLARS REWARD - At the great base ball match on Tuesday, while I was engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked off with an English-made brown silk UMBRELLA belonging to me, and forgot to bring it back. I will pay $5 for the return of that umbrella in good condition to my home on Farmington avenue. I do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains. SAMUEL L. CLEMENS
On May 18, 1875, all of Hartford buzzed in anticipation of the afternoon’s baseball match between their home town nine and the visiting Boston Red Stockings.

Advertisement for the Boston-Hartford game in the Hartford Courant, May 18, 1875

Both clubs belonged to the National Association, baseball’s first major league, and Boston was vying for their fourth straight championship, having captured the so-called “whip pennant” in 1872, ’73, and ’74. But of more immediate significance, both clubs entered the contest without a loss, as Hartford boasted a 12-0 mark for the season, while Boston stood at 16-0.

On that day, Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) and his longtime friend, Reverend Joseph Hopkins Twichell, joined some 7,000 to 10,000 fans to witness the game at the Hartford Base Ball Grounds. According to the Courant, the immense crowd was “the largest audience ever assembled in New England to witness a contest for superiority between rival base ball nines.”

The Hartford Base Ball Grounds as seen in a detail from O.H. Bailey and Company’s 1877 map of Hartford, CT

Initially the game was all Boston, as the Red Stockings scored five times in the first three innings. But when Hartford tied the score in their half of the fourth, it looked as though the contest might prove to be a close one. Ultimately, however, Boston pitcher Al Spalding shut down Hartford the rest of the way, and when the game concluded, Boston gained a decisive 10-5 victory.

The Red Stockings would eventually stretch their winning streak to 22 straight wins, setting a major league mark that remained unmatched until the 2017 Cleveland Indians repeated the feat.

Did Twain really lose his umbrella? Or was the ad merely a joke by one of America’s greatest humorists? It seems the former was the case, as corroborated contemporaneously by Reverend Twichell in his personal journal:

On the 18th I attended a grand Baseball match between the ‘Hartfords’ and the ‘Bostons’ with M.T. who lost his umbrella down through the seats and had the discomfort of presently finding that it had been carried off by somebody who crept under the seats to get it.

Mark Twain’s home at 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, CT

It is unknown if anyone ever made their way to Twain’s home at 351 Farmington Avenue to claim either the $5 or $200 rewards.

(For more on Twain’s lost umbrella, please read “Mark Twain, Baseball Fan, Had an Eye for a Short-Stop” by author and historian Darryl Brock in the New York Times.)

New York Times, May 17, 1912

This surprising and somewhat appalling notice appeared in the New York Times just a month after one of the most famous disasters of modern times. Sure, the loss of $5,000 in securities must have been significant, but it certainly pales in comparison to the loss of over 1,500 souls with the sinking of the Titanic. My assumption is that, in order to receive replacement certificates for the bonds, some good faith effort had to be made to ensure that they were actually lost and irrecoverable. Taking out this ad in the paper, even though it was obvious that the goods were at the bottom of the Atlantic, would go a long way to meet just such a requirement.

Notice in the New York Times of April 7, 1912

There is little doubt that the securities belonged to John B. Thayer Jr., a very wealthy second vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad who perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic on that early morning of April 15, 1912. Born in Philadelphia on April 21, 1862, Thayer was just a week shy of his 50th birthday when he lost his life. Fortunately, his wife and 17-year-old son (John B. Thayer III) survived the accident.

The elder Thayer was an excellent athlete. At the age of 14 he played in his first match for the Merion Cricket Club and just a few years later captained the University of Pennsylvania eleven.

John B. Thayer Jr. (standing at far left) with the Gentlemen of Philadelphia cricket team, 1884

In 1884, Thayer played for the Gentlemen of Philadelphia, a team that toured the United Kingdom and won eight matches, lost five, with five draws. During the tour, the great English cricketer James Lillywhite wrote that Thayer:

... bats in finished style, and, with more patience, would be the best in the team in that department. Can hit hard, and is a dangerous man when once well in. Bowls medium round-arm with good command of the ball and a break both ways. Is a splendid mid-off, and shows fine fielding whenever he is placed either at the boundary or close to the wicket.

A fine all-around athlete, Thayer also played football, lawn tennis, and, yes, baseball at Penn.

John B. Thayer (standing at far left) as a member of the University of Pennsylvania baseball team, 1879

(For more on baseball and the Titanic, please read “A Benefit Game for Survivors of the Titanic.”)

Atlanta Constitution, November 26, 1912

LOST – In Atlanta during the Georgia-Tech football game, a purse containing watch-fob made of two world’s baseball championship emblems. Each had half-karat [sic] diamond in center; one was inscribed: “World's Champions 1910;” the other, “World's Champions 1911.” My name was on back of each. Liberal reward. Claud Derrick, Clayton, Ga.
Today they call it “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate,” but on November 16, 1912, it was simply “the Georgia-Tech Game.” With some 10,000 fans in attendance, Georgia and Georgia Tech met on the gridiron at Ponce de Leon Park, the same field that served as the home of the Atlanta Crackers minor league baseball club and the Atlanta Black Crackers in the Negro leagues.

Postcard of Ponce de Leon Base Ball Park

The day after the football game, a 20-0 Georgia blowout over Tech, Oze Van Wyck reported in the Atlanta Constitution: “It seemed that all Georgia was divided into two parts-Tech and the university. ... The active students formed the bulk of the rooters. ... The alumni of both schools were out in force. Gray-haired men, whose memories of college days run back to the time when every game with Tech meant a free-for-all fight.”

First quarter action in the Georgia - Georgia Tech football game of November 16, 1912, as published in the Atlanta Constitution the following day

Standing among the Georgia alumni that day was Claud Derrick (there’s no final “e” in his Christian name), who just a few years earlier played right guard on the Georgia football team. He also played second base and captained the school’s baseball team. After graduating from Georgia in 1909, Derrick played baseball for various minor league clubs in the South, and the following year made his big league debut with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Though he saw action in just 59 total games with the A’s from 1910 through 1912, he played on two World Championship clubs (1910 and 1911).

Claud Derrick with the New York Yankees, 1913

As was the practice at the time, the National Commission (the governing body of major league baseball prior to the formation of the Commissioner’s Office) ordered special individual “emblems” for each member of the championship winners. (Official World Series rings would not come about until 1922.) The two emblems that Derrick received (and then lost) were essentially identical to those seen below:

It is unknown if Derrick ever recovered his pair of World Championship emblems, but he could later boast of having seen a pair of future College Football Hall of Famers at the game, both inducted as members of the class of 1954. One was Georgia halfback Bob McWhorter and the other was the football coach of Georgia Tech.

While with Tech, this football coach also piloted the school’s basketball and baseball teams. His name is John Heisman. Yes, that Heisman.

John Heisman (center) with the 1908 Georgia Tech baseball team

A year-and-a-half later, on April 22, 1914, Derrick played shortstop for the International League Baltimore Orioles behind a 19-year-old pitcher making his pro baseball debut that very day. That southpaw, Babe Ruth, shut out the Buffalo Bisons, 6-0, and the next year, he was a full-fledged starter for the Boston Red Sox. At the end of the season, he took out the following ad ...

Baltimore Sun, October 25, 1915

LOST – 2½-carat DIAMOND RING, Belgian setting, at St. Mary’s Industrial School Grounds. Liberal reward if returned to GEO (“BABE”) RUTH, 38 South Eutaw street.
In his first-ever trip to the World Series, Babe Ruth didn’t have much to do. His only appearance in that 1915 matchup between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies came in an unsuccessful pinch-hitting role in the ninth inning of Game One. Otherwise, he kept the bench warm and cheered on his teammates as they handled the Phillies with ease, capturing the world title in five games.

But during the 1915 regular season, the Babe’s rookie campaign, Ruth’s star shone bright. As a southpaw starter for Boston’s stellar pitching staff, he posted an 18-8 mark and a 2.44 ERA. His .315 batting average and club-leading four homers hinted at his future as a power-hitter who played every game, rather than a moundsman who saw action only once every three or four days.

As a member of the championship club, Ruth earned his cut of the World Series money: a tidy sum of nearly $3,800. The 20-year-old spent a chunk of his winnings helping his father purchase a saloon and billiard parlor at the corner of Eutaw and Lombard, just two blocks north of today’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Babe Ruth (middle) and his father (right) tend bar at “Ruth’s Cafe” in Baltimore in December of 1915

But Ruth also treated himself to a little something else: a $500, 2½-carat diamond solitaire ring.

After the conclusion of the World Series, Ruth continued to play exhibition games, including a number of contests in his hometown of Baltimore, where he spent most of the off-season.

Notice of the upcoming exhibition game as published in the Baltimore Sun, October 22, 1915

One such game took place took place on Sunday, October 24, and pitted the Albrecht Athletic Club against St. Mary’s All-Stars at Ruth’s former school, St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. According to the Baltimore Sun, some 8,000 fans attended the game, “the greatest crowd that has ever witnessed a game played outside of a professional baseball park in this city.”

Ruth dominated, of course, surrendering just four hits and whiffing 14 batters. He notched a couple of base hits, as well. But while Babe secured the win, he also suffered a costly loss.

Prior to the game, he removed his days-old diamond ring and asked one of the school’s Xaverian brothers to take care of it. As reported in the next day’s Sun,

... the brother did so, at the same time taking charge of a ring belonging to one of the other players. The brother slipped the two rings on one of his fingers, believing them to be safest there. In the course of the game the crowd began to encroach upon the playing field and the brother wearing the rings began to shove the crowd back. In doing so, the rings were either taken from his finger or dropped from it. The latter theory is thought to be the right one, as one of the rings was found hanging to the coat button of one of the spectators on the field.
Ruth placed the ad in the Baltimore Sun, asking for the ring to be returned to 38 Eutaw Street, the address of Ruth’s Cafe. But this was also the address of Ruth and his 19-year-old wife, Helen, who lived together above the saloon that off-season.

As with most of these baseball items from the “Lost and Found” columns, as far as I am aware, the Ruth ring was never returned. In case you manage to find that ring, don’t bother looking for Ruth at the Eutaw street address. Today it is the site of the Goddess Gentleman’s Club.

Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1948

I LEFT my baseball mitt in lady’s Buick last Sat. Lost so many. Dad won’t buy another. Call David. CR-13316. Will mow lawn as reward.
What more need be said?