Saturday, February 6, 2016
There have been hundreds of movies in which baseball has played a prominent role, and countless others in which baseball makes a cameo appearance, but I get a special kick out of watching a movie and stumbling across a brief glimpse of baseball that is easily overlooked. In the past I have blogged about a number of movies that contain these instances of baseball "hidden in plain sight."
In "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made of", I examine the appearance of a baseball photograph in John Huston's film noir classic "The Maltese Falcon." And in "You Know How to Whistle", I research a photograph hanging on the wall of a room in the unforgettable Bogey and Bacall drama "To Have and Have Not."
Most recently, I found a baseball picture literally hanging out in the "The Sting," the winner of the Best Picture award at the Oscars in 1974. In the scene in which Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) argues with Doyle Lonnegon (Robert Shaw) following their poker game, there is a picture hanging on the wall of the train compartment.
The picture is a hand-colored version of A.B. Frost's illustration titled "The Critical Moment." The full-page drawing was originally published in the May 16, 1903, issue of Collier's magazine:
Here's how they match up:
Recently, my friend and baseball researcher extraordinaire, Mark Armour, reminded me of another instance of baseball in the background of an otherwise non-baseball movie, Gene Kelly's incomparable musical "An American in Paris." In the opening sequence in which the three main male characters are first introduced, we peer into the room of pianist Adam Cook (Oscar Levant). On the wall in the background are four baseball photographs:
I first noticed these pictures a few years ago when I purchased the movie on DVD. And while I've spent a good deal of time researching the images, I have yet to make any significant headway. I did manage, however, to determine that the distracting poster of the pin-up girl at far right was published in 1946 by artist Billy De Vorss and is titled "Pose Please":
Here's how that poster and movie still match up:
I wonder how much the movie's set decoration was influenced by Levant himself. For example, the baseball images not only help establish the character Adam Cook as an American, but also connect with Levant's obsession with the game. According to his UPI obituary, Oscar Levant "was devoted to baseball and first became nationally known outside the musical world for his appearances on the radio show 'Information Please' as a walking encyclopedia of baseball statistics." And wouldn't it be wonderful if the photo of the dancer seen to the left of the pin-up girl and just below the bookshelf was actually a picture of the longtime wife of Levant, June Gale, who began her career as a dancer?
Of the four baseball pictures on the wall, the one at the top seems the most familiar to me.
The pose is certainly similar, but by no means identical, to ones I've seen of pitching legend Christy Mathewson. For example, here's a well-known portrait of Mathewson:
An overlay of the above image on our movie still shows that it's "close, but no cigar":
Not only is the pose slightly different, but the uniform and backgrounds also fail to match. Nevertheless, it suggests that the player pictured in the still may indeed be of Christy Mathewson.
The bottom three photos (a player throwing, a close play at third base, and a scene in the dugout) are each tantalizing, yet so small and out of focus that I am unable to determine much, if anything, about them.
I encourage my readership to take a close look and see if they can help solve this mystery.
Monday, February 1, 2016
Recently, my friend Marty Appel shared a wonderful photo on Facebook. Take a look:
That's Brooklyn's Jackie Robinson (#42) playing first base and the Yankees' Mickey Mantle (#7) right by his side. The iconic numbers, the idyllic setting, the casual poses. It all makes for a simply beautiful shot.
I got to wondering: What can I learn about this image? So I set to work.
A few key clues were quickly apparent. The palm trees in the background made it quite clear that the Dodgers and Yankees were playing one another during a spring training game. Since Jackie preceded Mickey to the big leagues by four years, the earliest the photo could have been taken was Mickey's first spring training with New York: 1951. But in that year (and that year alone), the Yankees held spring training in Phoenix, Arizona. In fact, there's a famous image of Mickey taken at Phoenix's Municipal Stadium in 1951. It's his Bowman rookie bubble gum card:
Compare this card to this shot of Mickey at spring training in Phoenix.
And here's an overlay of the card on the photograph:
Sure, the Bowman artist took some liberties with the photo, manipulating the background trees and poles, and slightly shortening Mantle's bat, but the card was obviously based on the photograph.
By the way, careful observers will notice that while almost all of Mantle's uniform number is not visible, he most certainly is not wearing a "7." That's because the highly touted rookie was originally given uniform number 6, which is indeed the numeral he is wearing in both the photo and bubble gum card.
Additionally, take a close look at the end of Mickey's bat and you'll see that he's not holding a Mantle model. (Did one even exist in at that time?) Instead, he grabbed the bat of teammate Joe Collins:
Returning our attention to the photo of Jackie and Mickey ... With the Yankees over 2,000 miles away from Brooklyn's training facilities in Vero Beach, Florida, we can safely eliminate 1951 as a possible year that the photo was taken. Furthermore, since Jackie retired following the 1956 season, we can now feel confident that the photo was taken in spring training sometime between 1952 and 1956.
Now take a look at another photograph, this one found at randombaseball.tumblr.com:
Clearly this photo was taken within a few moments of the first picture, but here we see a bit more of the park and, most importantly, a Dodgers pitcher wearing uniform number 49. For our known time frame of 1952 through 1956, only one African-American pitcher for Brooklyn wore that number: Joe Black. And since Black was traded to the Reds in the middle of the 1955 season, we can eliminate 1956 as a possibility for the date of our photo.
One other clue jumps out from both of these photographs. The Yankees are wearing their home pinstripes and the Dodgers their road grays. Thus, New York was the home team for the contest.
Though spring training home games are sometimes played at neutral locations, a reasonable first guess is that the photo was taken at the Yankees facilities at St. Petersburg, Florida, where they trained every spring from 1924 to 1961 (except for the war years of 1943-1945 and, as noted above, 1951).
Now compare both of these photos of Jackie and Mickey to this old postcard of the Yankees' home field in St. Petersburg, Al Lang Field:
While the postcard shows the ballpark without light standards, the bleachers down the left field line and the palm trees in the background match up quite well. There is little doubt that the photographs were taken at St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field.
The next step in attempting to learn more about the photograph is to determine on which dates the Yankees and Dodgers met at Al Lang Field during spring training of 1952, 1953, 1954, and 1955. A check through old spring training schedules provided the answers:
- April 2, 1952
- March 29 and March 31, 1953
- March 26, 1954
- March 25, 1955
For these five games, only one featured Jackie Robinson playing first base, Mickey Mantle participating in the game, and Joe Black pitching: March 29, 1953. That's our game.
On that date, a record crowd of 8,809 fans packed Al Lang Field to see a rematch of the two pennant-winners that met in the previous season's World Series. The game was an exciting contest, with the Dodgers holding a slim 1-0 lead entering the bottom the ninth. Here's how sportswriter Louis Effrat described that final frame in the following day's New York Times:
Then came the ninth and [Yankees manager Casey] Stengel had three pinch-hitters ready.Another note in the Times explained Jackie's unusual position for the game:
[Joe] Black, only one run ahead, was called upon to face Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Johnny Mize. One could do it and a combination could win it. When Mantle walked on four pitches the crowd, already thrilled, did not budge.
Berra slammed the ball over the right-field fence, but it was a foul homer. Then Yogi bounced to the mound. Black turned and threw to second. It was a low, wide toss, but Pee Wee Reese made an excellent grab, stepped on the base and relayed to Robinson, who was the first baseman in this game, for the double play. Mize then popped foul to Bobby Morgan and the Dodgers were home free.
"There will be a place in the line-up for Robinson every day," [manager Chuck] Dressen said. "Only an injury will keep Jackie out." Putting two and two together, this means that Robby will be shuttling between first and third.As it turned out, in 1951 Jackie shuttled between left field (75 games) and third base (44 games), handling the duties at first base in just six games all season long.
Finally, a quick check of the box score in the Times fills in the final piece of the puzzle.
Here we see that the first base umpire, who appears in both photographs, was Bill Jackowski. Jackowski, who ultimately fashioned a fine, 17-year career as a National League umpire, may be best remembered as the home plate umpire for Game Seven of the 1960 World Series. Of course, that's the classic game in which Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski hit his Championship-winning, walk-off home run to top the Yankees.
In summary, the photo shows Dodgers first baseman Jackie Robinson and Yankees base-runner Mickey Mantle at first base as umpire Bill Jackowski looks on. There are no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of this spring training game played at St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field on March 29, 1953.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Baseball is everywhere ... even where it isn't. Let me explain.
The incomparable Prints and Photographs Online Catalog of the Library of Congress includes a treasure trove of baseball images. Go to the site's search page, enter the keyword "baseball," and the massive database will return over 7,200 results. While that sounds like a lot of baseball images, it's a drop in the bucket when you realize that the Library has digitized well over a million images ... and that there are more than 14 million items in their Prints and Photographs Collections in total.
Obviously, most of these images are not related to baseball at all. This means that the overwhelming majority of these items are not tagged with the keyword "baseball." And yet, some of these "non-baseball" images actually feature baseball content. One such image, part of the Library's National Photo Company Collection, is seen here:
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-npcc-30803
(All photos in this blog are best viewed at full size. To do so, click on an image to enlarge it, then right-click on this larger image and choose "View Image." You may have to click one more time to get the full size)
At first glance the photo doesn't appear to have anything to do with our national pastime. But take a careful look in the background and you'll notice that amid the clutter of postcards and calendars, dozens of baseball cards are affixed to the busily-decorated walls.
Little is known about this photograph and this is reflected in the minimal metadata that accompanies the image. Other than a non-contemporary title devised by the Library's staff ("Young man in dormitory room") and a rather broad estimate that the photo was taken sometime between 1910 and 1920, the Library of Congress provides no other details.
Thankfully, a few members of the wonderful Shorpy photo blog have made a bit of headway researching the photo. Most significantly, one eagle-eyed researcher noted that a crest seen at the end of the young man's bed frame resembles the insignia of the Quartermaster Corps.
The photograph below of General Carroll A. Devol (the Library of Congress mistakenly identifies his surname as Devoe) shows this insignia affixed to both sides of the subject's collar:
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,LC-DIG-npcc-19825
Compare a detail from the above portrait to a detail from our dormitory photo:
The insignias are essentially identical: an eagle with its wings spread perched on a wheel over which a sword and a key are crossed diagonally. (More information about the Quartermaster insignia can be found in Encyclopedia of United States Army Insignia and Uniforms.) This suggests that the photo may have been taken at the Quartermaster Corps School in Philadelphia, its location from 1910 through 1917.
As for the baseball cards, there are well over six dozen of them adorning the wall in this young man's room. Who knows how many may be hidden from view or attached to the other walls?
Every one of the baseball cards that is visible comes from one of two well-known sets that were issued as premiums in cigarette packages: T205 (Gold Borders) and T206 (White Borders). The T205 set of over 200 different cards was produced in 1911, while the T206 set that numbers well over 500 cards was produced between 1909 and 1911. Given the presence of cards from the T205 set, we can now establish that the photograph was taken no earlier than 1911.
Additionally, two calendars in the background also provide clues. One of the calendars is titled "A Rose Among Roses" (seen below, at left) and is displayed showing May of 1910. The other calendar (seen below, at right) is showing March of 1911.
Of course, neither calendar provides a definite date for the photo, but it certainly suggests that the photograph was taken no earlier than March of 1911.
The baseball cards are grouped together in six distinct areas in the background, highlighted below:
Though most of the cards are slightly out of focus and some do not reveal unique features, the vast majority of these cardboard mementos can be definitively identified.
The small group of four cards at top left are quite out of focus and were a bit of a challenge to identify. The cards are (top to bottom; click on the linked player names below to see their corresponding baseball cards at the Library of Congress web site): T205 Mickey Doolan (Philadelphia NL), T206 Tom Downey (Cincinnati NL), and T205 Cecil Ferguson (Boston NL). The fourth card is a rather generic T206 portrait with hardly any details whatsoever. While I cannot state for certain, I think it is a good possibility that the card may be of Ty Cobb (Detroit AL).
The Downey card is particularly interesting in that it depicts the Reds shortstop wearing an all-blue uniform. But that is historically accurate, as the Cincinnati club wore that seemingly incongruous color scheme on their road duds from 1900 to 1903, 1909 to 1911, and 1913.
Additionally, the card shows Downey wearing a red armband on his left sleeve:
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0750f
That's somewhat historically accurate. Following the death of National League president Harry Pulliam in late July of 1909, the Reds, along with every other National League club, honored the memory of the executive by wearing black armbands. The artist for the T206 cards, however, took some liberties and opted to paint the armband a more artistically arresting red.
The lone card seen directly below Group A is clearly a portrait from the T205 set, but it is extremely difficult to state for certain exactly who is depicted. A best guess is that the card shows third baseman Bobby Byrne (Pittsburgh NL).
Below the topmost calendar is a group of 11 cards. These can be identified as follows:
Top row (left to right): T205 Chief Wilson (Pittsburgh NL) and T206 Admiral Schlei (New York NL).
Second row (left to right): T205 John McGraw (New York NL) and T206 Ed Konetchy (St. Louis NL).
Third row (left to right): T205 Art Devlin (New York NL), T205 Larry Doyle (New York NL), T205 Cecil Ferguson (Boston NL), T205 Frank Chance (Chicago NL), and T205 Bill Foxen (Chicago NL).
Fourth Row (left to right): T205 Deacon Phillippe (Pittsburgh NL), and T205 Ed Konetchy (St. Louis NL).
Many of the T205 images are based on photographs taken by famed baseball photographer Paul Thompson in 1910. As an example, I've overlaid Thompson's photographs of rival managers John McGraw and Frank Chance atop their corresponding baseball cards. (Click on the linked names of these managers to see their corresponding Paul Thompson photographs at the Library of Congress web site). Note that while the faces match perfectly, portions of the uniforms have been altered by the baseball card artist.
To the right of Group C is a trio of cards that includes (top to bottom): T205 Art Fletcher (New York NL), T205 Gabby Street (Washington AL), and T205 Tom Needham (Chicago NL).
Below Group D are seven T205 cards (left to right): Al Bridwell (New York NL), Fred Clarke (Pittsburgh NL), Christy Mathewson (New York NL), Bob Ewing (Philadelphia NL), George Gibson (Pittsburgh NL), Frank Chance (Chicago NL), and Tony Smith (Brooklyn NL).
Directly behind the young man's head is a solid block of baseball cards, over 50 of which are identifiable. All but two of these cards are from the T206 set:
Top row: Howie Camnitz (Pittsburgh NL), Danny Murphy (Philadelphia AL), Jeff Sweeney (New York AL), Patsy Dougherty (Chicago AL), Bill Bradley (Cleveland AL), Orvie Overall (Chicago NL), Hal Chase (New York AL), Heinie Berger (Cleveland AL), Rube Geyer (St. Louis NL), George Bell (Brooklyn NL), Red Ames (New York NL), Christy Mathewson (New York NL), Cy Young (Cleveland AL), and Jimmy Sheckard (Chicago NL).
Second row: Fred Payne (Chicago AL), Ed Konetchy (St. Louis NL), Joe Tinker (Chicago NL), Harry Davis (Philadelphia AL), Harry McIntire (Brooklyn NL), Rube Oldring (Philadelphia AL), Vic Willis (St. Louis NL), Bill Bradley (Cleveland AL), Frank Chance (Chicago NL), Josh Devore (New York NL), Hugh Duffy (Chicago AL), and Chick Gandil (Chicago AL).
Third row: Ed Reulbach (Chicago NL), Orvie Overall (Chicago NL), Joe Tinker (Chicago NL), George Bell (Brooklyn NL), Mickey Doolin (Philadelphia NL), Doc Crandall (New York NL), George Bell (Brooklyn NL), Fred Payne (Chicago AL), Gabby Street (Washington AL), and a card to be discussed below.
Fourth row: T205 Frank Chance (Chicago NL), Joe Lake (St. Louis AL), Josh Devore (New York NL), John Hummel (Brooklyn NL), Ed Reulbach (Chicago NL), Heinie Berger (Cleveland AL), Doc Crandall (New York NL), Doc White (Chicago AL), and Hal Chase (New York AL).
Bottom row: T205 Davey Jones (Detroit AL), Frank Chance (Chicago NL), John Frill (New York AL), Kid Elberfeld (Washington AL), Vic Willis (St. Louis NL), George McQuillan (Philadelphia NL), Zack Wheat (Brooklyn NL), Charley O'Leary (Detroit AL), Ed Foster (Charleston, SC, South Atlantic League), and Johnny Evers (Chicago NL).
Some of the card identifications were quite simple. For example, in the detail below, the trio of images are easily matched to their T206 cards: Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, and Jimmy Sheckard.
But other cards, either greatly out of focus or significantly obscured, proved quite challenging to nail down. For example, the detail below includes a number of cards for which only small portions are visible:
- Some cloth overhanging the bed obscures all but the bottom right-hand corners of the top two cards on the left, but careful research revealed matches with T206 cards of Howie Camnitz and Danny Murphy.
- The young man's head obscures all but the top left portion of the card at far right in the second row and the bottom left-hand corner of the card at bottom right. Still, just enough of these images were visible to match them to known cards of Rube Oldring and Mickey Doolin.
One of the cards in Group F did not match any known T206 or T205 baseball card. It is the far right-hand card in the third row.
After a good deal of research, however, the mystery was solved. The card was not of a baseball player, but of a young woman, part of a series issued in 1910 and today designated as the T106 set of "State Girls." In this case, the card was "Alaska Girl." Just why Alaska was featured as a part of the series is unknown, since it would not be until 1959 that the territory would gain statehood.
Below is another photograph from the National Photo Company Collection that is not tagged with the keyword "baseball," yet contains the same baseball content as in the "dormitory" photo: baseball cards.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-npcc-30803
As was the case with our first photograph, the Library of Congress's metadata sheds little light on the image. It is titled "Lithnan & Latham, F. Baltcry 12 Peduri," but surely much of this jibberish is a misreading of what is written on the original negative (at far right on the original photograph). For example, close examination of "F. Baltcry" reveals that what is actually written is "F Battery." And "12 Peduri" may in fact be "12 Pictures." Still, the handwritten information is difficult to decipher. Additionally, the staff's estimate for the date the photo was created is essentially useless: 1910 to 1935, a whopping 25 year span! In short, as with our previous photo, we know very little about this image ... except, of course, that there are lots of wonderful baseball cards in the background.
Each of the cards seen in this photograph belongs to the T206 "White Borders" set, and many depict players with minor league clubs from the American Association and Eastern League. The cards are found in three large groupings.
A group of cards can be seen just above the right side of the billiards table, each one identifiable except for the bottommost card, which is obscured by a dark spot (perhaps a flaw in the emulsion). The cards are (top to bottom, left to right): Del Howard (Chicago NL), John Anderson (Providence, RI, Eastern League), Harry Krause (Philadelphia AL), Jimmy Slagle (Baltimore, MD, Eastern League), George Ferguson (Boston NL), Ray Demmitt (New York AL), Miller Huggins (Cincinnati NL), Bud Sharpe (Newark, NJ, Eastern League), Harry Gaspar (Cincinnati NL), Danny Moeller (Jersey City, NJ, Eastern League), Paul Davidson (Indianapolis, IN, American Association), Jake Atz (Chicago AL), Harry Krause (Philadelphia AL), Lou Fiene (Chicago AL), Jack Hannifin (Jersey City, NJ, Eastern League), and Bob Groom (Washington AL).
At the far right is another group of cards displayed vertically. These cards are (top to bottom, left to right): Jean Dubuc (Cincinnati NL), Donie Bush (Detroit AL), Spike Shannon (Kansas City, MO, American Association), Ossee Schreckengost (Columbus, OH, American Association), Hal Chase (New York AL), Jean Dubuc (Cincinnati NL), Ted Easterly (Cleveland AL), Pete O'Brien (St. Paul, MN, American Association), Chappy Charles (St. Louis NL), Harry Howell (St. Louis AL), Dode Paskert (Cincinnati NL), Newt Randall (Milwaukee, WI, American Association), Dots Miller (Pittsburgh NL), George Perring (Cleveland AL), Deacon Phillippe (Pittsburgh NL), Ray Demmitt (New York AL), and Roger Bresnahan (St. Louis NL).
The final block of cards is found just to the left of the seated man. This group also contains two non-baseball cards, most likely cigarette premiums of actresses. I will leave it to the adventurous reader/researcher to identify those two cards. The rest are:
Top row: Oscar Stanage (Detroit AL), Ed Willett (Detroit AL), Boss Schmidt (Detroit AL), Ed Willett (Detroit AL), George Hunter (Brooklyn NL), unidentified actress?, John Ganzel (Rochester, NY, Eastern League), Sam Strang (Baltimore, MD, Eastern League), Steve Evans (St. Louis NL), Tris Speaker (Boston AL), and Jimmy Slagle (Baltimore, MD, Eastern League).
Second row: Dolly Gray (Washington AL), Jack White (Buffalo, NY, Eastern League), Jack Hannifin (Jerysey City, NJ, Eastern League), Bob Bescher (Cincinnati NL), Joe McGinnity (Newark, NJ, Eastern League), unidentified actress?, Dan McGann (Milwaukee, WI, American Association), Jack White (Buffalo, NY, Eastern League), and Jimmy Collins (Minneapolis, MN, American Association).
Bottom row: Beals Becker (Boston NL), Nick Maddox (Pittsburgh NL), Shad Barry (Milwaukee, WI, American Association), Bill Abstein (Pittsburgh NL), Jean Dubuc (Cincinnati NL), Heinie Zimmerman (Chicago NL), Ted Easterly (Cleveland AL), Deacon Phillippe (Pittsburgh NL).
Scores of wonderful baseball cards on photographs from a century ago that otherwise have nothing to do with baseball. It just goes to show that baseball is everywhere ... even where it isn't.