Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Photograph in a Photograph in the New York Times


Recently, my good friend Grace Richter alerted me to a brief story at mashable.com about photographer Marjory Collins’s visit to the New York Times in September of 1942. She was working for the Office of War Information at the time and tasked with photo-documenting how the famous newspaper made each issue. It’s a very cool look at just how complex it was to put together a newspaper some 75 years ago. Collins’s photos from the assignment can also be found at the Library of Congress's web site.

Here is one of Collins’s photographs:


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-fsa-8d22707

The photo’s caption at the Library of Congress web site reads: “Photo retoucher touching up a fashion photograph for Sunday paper.” But that’s not a fashion photo at all. It’s a shot of actress Ginger Rogers in the 1942 film “The Major and the Minor,” and it ran in the Screen, not the Fashion, section of the Times on Sunday, September 13, 1942. You can easily see it at the top right of the page:



Neat stuff, but I’m assuming that Grace really wanted to call my attention to a baseball picture found in this photograph that leads the Collins story at mashable.com:


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-fsa-8d22746

This photo’s accompanying caption reads “Composing room of the New York Times newspaper. Making up the sport page.” Indeed, that is just what’s happening. But in what issue of the Times did this page appear?

To find the answer, I first zoomed in on Collins’s photograph, distorted it slightly to correct for the keystoning effect, and finally flipped it left-to-right to get this image:



At the bottom of the page there is an image of a baseball:



Though it is a bit difficult to discern, the text inside the baseball reads “DOUBLE HEADER / YANKEES vs. PHILADELPHIA / At Yankee Stadium / TODAY 1:30 P.M.” As it turns out, the Philadelphia Athletics played three doubleheaders at Yankee Stadium in 1942: July 5, August 10, and September 7. A quick check of the sports sections of the New York Times from each of those dates provided a match to the page in question. It is page 23 of the September 7, 1942, issue of the paper:



And here’s a close-up of that little baseball at the bottom of the page:



Of course, it’s no surprise that the September date was the correct one, given that Collins’s assignment took place that month.

Now here’s a comparison of the cropped/de-keystoned/flipped version Collins’s photo and the actual newspaper page:



And here’s a closer look at the action photo at the top of the page:



The action took place in a September 6 doubleheader in which the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Giants in the first game, 6-2, but dropped the second contest, 4-2.

The title of the photo reads: “A HITTER AS WELL AS A PITCHER.” And the lower caption reads: “[Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher] Max Macon sliding into the bag for a double in the second inning of the first game at the Polo Grounds yesterday as [Giants second baseman] Mickey Witek takes the throw from right field. The umpire is George Barr.”

Macon was a good hitting pitcher. In fact, in 1944 he became a full-time position player with the Boston Braves. Splitting time between first base and the outfield, Macon batted .273: third best on the club. Military service during World War II forced him to miss the next two big league season (1945 and 1946) and he played just one more major league game, pitching the final two innings of a game against the Dodgers on April 17, 1947. The first batter Macon faced that day was a rookie named Jackie Robinson, playing in just his second big league game.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Portrait of Mickey Mantle in Decline


You’ve probably seen this iconic photo of Mickey Mantle before:



According to “Twilight of the Idol: A Portrait of Mickey Mantle in Decline,” a 2014 article by LIFE.com’s Ben Cosgrove:

The John Dominis picture ... remains not just one of the best photos of Mickey Mantle, and not just one of the finest baseball pictures to run in LIFE magazine, but one of the most powerful photographs ever made of a sports hero in decline. Shot during a meaningless game at Yankee Stadium during the team’s abysmal 1965 season—the Yankees finished below .500 for the first time in 40 years—Dominis’s picture of Mantle tossing his helmet in disgust after a lousy at-bat distills in a single frame the wounded pride of the inexorably fading athlete.
But exactly when was the photo taken? And was it actually “shot during a meaningless game?” I recently conducted research to answer both of these questions.

The photo, taken by longtime photojournalist John Dominis, was first published in the July 30, 1965, issue of LIFE magazine. Not only did the exterior of the magazine feature a beautiful shot of Mantle, but the cover story, written by John McDermott and titled “Last Innings of Greatness,” featured a dozen photos of Mantle, each taken by Dominis.



There’s no doubt that Dominis shot the photo of Mantle tossing his helmet in 1965 and specifically for the LIFE Magazine story, but most sources fail to give an exact date.

In a September 16, 2014, New York Post article about a lawsuit between Dominis’s ex-wife and his longtime mistress, reporter Julia Marsh stated that,

besides the July 30, 1965 Mantle shot, other notable Dominis photographs include the historic image of athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists to protest racism at the 1968 Olympics and the 1966 LIFE feature “The Great Cats of Africa.”
But here Marsh confuses the date that the Mantle photo was taken with the publication date of the LIFE Magazine in which it appeared.

And the Getty Image web site, where one can purchase the Mantle helmet-tossing photo, states that the picture was taken on June 25, 1965. A quick check reveals that the Yankees hosted the Angels at Yankee Stadium that day, but Mantle did not play in the game and the contest took place at night, while the photo clearly shows daytime action. Clearly June 25th, 1965, is also incorrect.

To determine the exact date the photo was taken, I jotted down four straight-forward clues:

1) The photograph had to have been taken in 1965 before the LIFE Magazine publication date of July 30.
2) The photograph was clearly shot during a day game.
3) The venue was most certainly Yankee Stadium.
4) Mickey Mantle participated in the game.

These four clues, as simple and obvious as they may seem, quickly winnowed the number of possible games in which the photo was taken from 104 (the number of games played by the Yankees from Opening Day through July 30, 1965) to just 26.

I discovered a critical fifth clue by closely examining an uncropped version of the photo:



Note that a large portion of the left-hand side of the photo was cropped when it ran in the LIFE magazine article. That portion shows that the on-deck batter wore uniform number 6. This was the number assigned to Yankees third baseman Clete Boyer from 1961 to 1966. Mantle is nearing the dugout when he tosses his helmet and yet Boyer is in the on-deck circle with two bats in hand. This means that Boyer’s spot in the lineup came after the batter who followed Mantle. For example, if Mantle batted third in the lineup, Boyer must have batted fifth; or, if Mantle batted fourth in the lineup, Boyer batted sixth; etc.

As it turns out, this Mantle-Boyer batting-order scenario was quite rare, as Mantle generally batted fourth and Boyer usually batted seventh or eighth. Nevertheless, I checked each of the 26 games that I had isolated from clues one through four to assess which featured the correct Mantle-Boyer positions in the lineup. This left me with just five possible games:

  • April 22 vs. Twins (Mantle bats fourth, Boyer sixth)
  • April 25 vs. Angels (Mantle bats fourth, Boyer sixth) (first game of doubleheader)
  • June 5 vs. White Sox (Mantle bats fourth, Boyer sixth)
  • June 19 vs. Twins (Mantle bats fifth, Boyer seventh)
  • June 20 vs. Twins (Mantle bats fifth, Boyer seventh) (first game of doubleheader)
(For those unconvinced that the photo reveals that Mantle and Boyer had a batter in between them in the lineup, I also checked to see if Boyer ever immediately followed Mantle in the lineup in those 26 games: It never happened.)

Finally, a sixth clue comes from the caption that accompanied the helmet-tossing photo as published in the LIFE Magazine article:

Frustration and bitterness are Mantle’s regular companions this season—and he displays them with passion. Before 72,000 fans in Yankee Stadium, he erupts after grounding out and striking out.



Yes, there were 72,000 fans at Yankee Stadium! Indeed, the photo shows that the grandstand behind Mantle is completely packed.

In 1965, there was just one date at Yankee Stadium that had an attendance anywhere near that mark: a June 20th doubleheader which drew 72,244 fans (71,245 paid). Indeed, from 1960 through 1965, Yankee Stadium had cracked the 60,000 attendance mark just four times, each date being a doubleheader:

  • July 24, 1960
  • July 4, 1961
  • June 17, 1962
  • June 20, 1965
So, with these six clues, I was able to isolate the date of the photo to just one possibility: the first game of a doubleheader played on June 20, 1965. In the first game of the doubleheader, Mantle had four plate appearances:

  • In the bottom of the first, with no outs, Mantle grounds into a fielder choice and reaches first base safely. After Joe Pepitone makes the second out, Clete Boyer hits a grounder to force Mantle at second base to end the inning.
  • In the bottom of the fourth, Mantle leads off and grounds out to the pitcher on an attempted bunt hit.
  • In the bottom of the sixth, Mantle leads off with a strikeout.
  • In the bottom of the seventh, Mantle singles to third base and is removed for a pinch-runner.
The first-inning scenario doesn’t match the photo, as Boyer would not have been in the on-deck circle when Mantle returned to the dugout and tossed his helmet. However, the other three at bats are possible matches, with Mantle returning to the dugout after making an out in the fourth and sixth, and Mantle leaving the game after singling in the seventh.

While the exact moment that Dominis took the photo remains a mystery, we now know that Dominis captured the frustrated Mantle in the first game of a doubleheader against the Twins on June 20, 1965.

Was it true that the photo had been “shot during a meaningless game?” Not at all. As reported in the New York Times on June 20:

For today’s double-header a crowd of more than 50,000 is expected. It will be “Bat Day.” Every child under 14 who is accompanied by an adult will get a Little League bat.
And here’s an ad from the same paper:



Indeed, June 20, 1965, was the first-ever “Bat Day” at Yankee Stadium.

On June 21, the New York Times published the following photo with a caption that read: “Young fans holding aloft bats they were given by the Yankees yesterday at the Stadium.”



Was this game meaningless for the many thousands of delighted kids who received free bats? Was this game meaningless for the many thousands of fathers who took their child(ren) to the park that day, which just happened to be Father’s Day? Was this game meaningless for many of the over 72,000 fans who are now able to say that they were at Yankee Stadium the very day that photographer John Dominis took one of the most celebrated photos in modern baseball history? I think not.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The First Bunt

On April 17, 2017, Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber made news by bunting. Yes, bunting. You can watch the video here.

Not only was this the first successful bunt of Schwarber's big league career, but it was one of the prettiest bunts I've seen in many, many years. It also reminded me of a discovery I made a few years ago: the first known instance of a bunt. Here's the scoop:

On June 29, 1860, the Atlantics and Putnams, two clubs from Brooklyn, faced one another in a game played at the corner of Lee Avenue and Hooper Street in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. In the second inning, with no one on, Putnam second baseman Edward Brown came to bat against Atlantics pitcher John Price. Here's the account of what happened next as published in the New York Clipper of July 14, 1860:



Here's a transcript:
A circumstance occurred in the 2d innings which we deem worthy of notice: Brown was at the bat, and Price pitched him a low ball, which, in bringing his bat down, Brown hit with the bat in a similar manner to that in which a cricketer blocks a straight ball; judgment was asked, and as the Umpire deemed it an accident, it was decided "no hit," but we think it should have been considered fair, for the reason, that had a player been on the first base at the time, he could easily have made his second base before the pitcher could have fielded it, and the decision may lead to similar accidents on other occasions when such play would have a more important bearing on the game. If, in the act of striking, the ball be hit forward of home base, however light the touch, it ought to be considered a fair ball, otherwise accidents similar to the above will be of frequent occurrence.
This description makes a few things quite clear.

First, Brown's actions were described in terms of cricket: "Brown hit with the bat in a similar manner to that in which a cricketer blocks a straight ball." Today, this would be a worthless explanation to Americans, as very few in our country are familiar enough with cricket to make the parallel. However, in 1860, cricket and baseball were both quite familiar to the sporting crowd, and so the description worked well.

This woodcut, published in The Boy's Book of Sports, Games, Exercises, and Pursuits (Frederick Warne and Co., London, 1869), shows a cricket batsman executing a "forward block," similar to the play made by Brown:



Second, Brown's actions were clearly unintentional. There was no one on base at the time of the play, so there was obviously no intent to sacrifice. And, as it was described as "an accident," Brown was also most certainly not looking to bunt for a base hit.

Third, the play was so bewildering to everyone involved, that the umpire ultimately decided that it should be considered "no hit." In other words, as kids today would say, it's a "do over."

And finally, no one at the game understood the potential of Brown's actions ... not even Brown himself. The fellow who did, and the one who should get credit for the concept of the sacrifice bunt, was the gentleman who wrote the account of the game in The New York Clipper. It was he who realized that by hitting the ball in the manner that Brown did, "had a player been on the first base at the time, he could easily have made his second base."

So, while Brown was the first player to bunt a ball, he was not the inventor of the bunt. That title should go to the very prescient sports writer and future Hall of Famer, Henry Chadwick.