Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buyer Beware!


I subscribe to an eNewsletter published by the folks at Old Cardboard: Vintage Baseball Cards. In their December 2009 issue they made note of an interesting item that was recently auctioned off at Lelands.com. Here's what the eNewsletter stated:

A piece of baseball memorabilia that caught our attention in last week's Leland's Sports auction was Lot #232: a walking stick presented to J. Ward, Jr. in 1886 by the "Star B.B. Club."
At first glance, the walking stick in the auction might be attributed to Hall of Famer John Ward, who was 36 years old at the time the piece was engraved. In fact, the title and description of the lot in the auction catalog state that the piece did indeed belong to HOFer Ward.
However, it was later determined that the subject piece did not belong to HOFer John Ward and that there is no known connection between Ward (the Hall of Famer) and the "Star B.B. Club." An "update" statement to that effect was added to the online lot description before the auction closed.
Old Cardboard's initial research revealed several baseball teams that were active in the mid-1880's and named themselves "Star's." None that we have found so far, however, included a J. Ward (or J. Ward, Jr.) on their roster. Perhaps one of our readers from the Society for Baseball Research (SABR) might be in a better position to link player J. Ward, Jr. to the Star B.B. Club. Please let us know if you can provide any additional info.

It sounded like a good challenge, so I thought I'd dive in.

I took a look at the description of the lot (#323)at the Lelands web site. The lot is titled "1886 John Ward Walking Stick Presented by the Star Base Ball Club" and, indeed, below the title is a note stating "UPDATE: This is a baseball player J. Ward Jr. not John Ward the Hall Of Famer."

The lot description reads as follows:

Who developed the first curve ball? Who also put together the very first labor union for baseball players? The same guy: John Montgomery Ward. He was an American Major League Baseball star pitcher, shortstop, and manager. Multi-talented John Ward, Hall of Famer, is also credited with developing The Players' League and even graduated Columbia Law School (in 1885) -- a highly educated man and highly accomplished athlete. After retiring from playing baseball at 34, he practiced as an attorney who represented baseball players. This 14K gold-topped smooth wooden walking stick is gorgeously engraved with small sunbursts and ornate swirls on the gold section. A few tiny scratches to the color of the wood. It was presented to John Ward by the Star Base Ball Club in 1886, and stands at 35" tall. It is in excellent condition with minor wear. The top is engraved with "Star B.B. Club to J. Ward Jr. 1886." It is in near mint condition with slight wear affecting the first "J." Also on one side of the gold top, stamped down the length of the gold are "2", just below it a script "S", and then a "49." The complete opposite of pedestrian.

The very first words of the description raised a red flag. John Ward "developed the first curve ball?" Ridiculous. What's going on here?

Reading further, other tidbits about the famous player are listed: his involvement with the Players' League, his graduation from Columbia Law School, etc. It is not until nearly halfway through the lot description that the walking stick itself is actually mentioned, at which point it is stated that it "was presented to John Ward by the Star Base Ball Club in 1886." This is the statement that Lelands later retracted with the blurb just below the title of the lot. In short, the first half of the description is worthless. Indeed, it could be argued that it is a subterfuge.

That Lelands would state that the cane had anything whatsoever to do with John M. Ward is appalling. Very simple, straightforward research clearly reveals that John Ward was not a "junior" (his father's name was James). Additionally, he was not associated with any "Star Base Ball Club" in or around 1886. With a common name such as "Ward," it is nothing short of reckless to jump to the conclusion that the J. Ward on the cane was John M. Ward, the Hall of Famer.

So who is "J. Ward, Jr." and what is the story behind the cane?

First, let's take a look at the images provided by Lelands:







The last image shows that "STAR B.B. CLUB / TO / J. WARD, JR. / 1886" has been inscribed on the knob handle.

Unfortunately, as noted in the Old Cardboard eNewsletter, numerous baseball clubs of the era adopted the "Star" nickname. This, in combination with the common name of "Ward," didn't give me much hope of making any progress. Nevertheless, I remained diligent and eventually came across an article in the Boston Daily Globe of July 14, 1886, which noted:

The Star club of Lawrence has several open dates in July and August, and would like to arrange games with strong amateur teams having enclosed grounds. Address J. Ward, Jr., manager, Lawrence, Mass.

This seemed quite promising. Here was a "J. Ward, Jr." affiliated with a Star club, not as a player, but as their manager. During this era of the game, by the way, a club manager was more akin to a business manager rather than a field manager. Indeed, in tracking down a precious few box scores of the club, no "Ward" showed up on the field.

A second note in the Globe of the following year also provided a helpful clue. In the April 18, 1887, issue it stated that:

The Stars of Lawrence, champion amateurs of Essex county, have reorganized for the season of '87, and would like to arrange games with clubs having enclosed grounds. McCreadle, c.; Clucher, p.; Judd, s.s.; Sullivan, 1b.; Maxwell, 2b.; Woodhall, 3b.; McGibbon, l.f.; Toohey, c.f.; Rowan , r.f. Average age, 23 years. J. Ward, Jr., manager, Lawrence.

Evidently the Stars were no run-of-the-mill club, but the amateur champions of Essex County for 1886!

Though I don't have complete access to City Directories from Lawrence, Massachusetts, it appears that at this time the only J. Ward, Jr. in Lawrence was one "James Ward, Jr." This may or may not be the same James Ward, Jr. who in the 1890s frequently advertised in The Phillipian, the longstanding newspaper of Phillips Academy (aka Phillips Andover) in Andover, Massachusetts, just down the road from Lawrence. Here's an example from the January 10, 1894, issue of The Phillipian:



So, though the research is far from complete, all signs point to a J. (James?) Ward, Jr. of the Star Base Ball Club of Lawrence as being our man. Indeed, I think it is not unlikely that after the club won that 1886 championship they awarded their manager this engraved walking stick. Most importantly: Buyer Beware! Hall of Famer John Ward had nothing to do with this cane.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bowl Games


My friend Andy Strasberg is working on an interesting project he's titled "Fantography." His idea is to collect photos taken by fans that reflect personal moments in professional baseball. The ultimate goal is to produce a book of the candid photos and the stories behind them. You can learn more about the project at the Fantography web site.

Andy's already collected thousands of photos and he recently passed along a trio of snapshots from the project that begged for research. Here are the pictures:







While player identifications were included with the submission, Andy was looking for help in identifying where and when the photos were taken. But first I wanted to confirm exactly who's who.

In the uppermost photo, two Dodgers are featured with a young boy: Cal Abrams faces the camera, while Duke Snider walks by in the background. No need to corroborate Duke. He's a "gimme." But here's a photo of Abrams for comparison:


Photo courtesy of bestsportsphotos.com

The second photo, though a bit out of focus, features Braves pitching great Johnny Sain. Here's a photo of Johnny for those who are unfamiliar with the Braves star:


Photo courtesy of mlb.com

And the bottom action photo shows the Dodgers' Tommy Brown rounding third base. Here's a detail of the image:



The identification of Brown was a bit tougher to corroborate, but the lanky infielder-turned-outfielder whose strong but wild throws earned him the nickname "Buckshot" can be seen at the far left in this photo from 1951:

Photo courtesy of Corbis Images

I'm confident the identification of Brown is correct. By the way, thanks to Mark Stang's invaluable encyclopedia of uniform numbers, Rosters, we can identify the Dodgers coach wearing number 27: it's former Brooklyn infielder Milt Stock.

Tommy Brown was signed by the Dodgers as a 16-year-old in 1944 and made his big league debut in August that season. Just over a year later, on August 20, 1945, Brown homered off Pirates southpaw Preacher Roe, setting the record for the youngest major leaguer to hit a home run at 17 years, 8 months, and 14 days of age. Brooklyn traded Brown to the Phillies in June of 1951, so we know the photo must have been taken sometime between 1944 and 1951.

Johnny Sain's uniform helps to further narrow the possible dates of the photos, as the Braves did not debut their famous tomahawk-logo jerseys until 1946. So we're down to six years: 1946 through 1951.

A quick look at the images makes it clear that the park at which the photos were taken is not a major league stadium, though obviously there is a significant stadium off in the background. But for now, the more important feature of the photos is the presence of palm trees, suggesting a spring training game. Going with the theory that the snapshots were taken at a preseason game, we can eliminate 1946 as a possible year, as ball clubs generally wore their previous season's uniforms in spring training, waiting for Opening Day before unveiling their new duds.

So, when between 1947 and 1951, did the Braves and Dodgers meet in spring training? Let's start by taking a look, year by year.

In 1947, the only time the Dodgers and Braves met in spring training was in Havana, Cuba. But in the background of the Johnny Sain photo one can see the word "GATE" underneath a large "10." If the photo were taken in Havana, the English word "GATE" would not be used.

In 1948, the Dodgers held pre-season camp in the Dominican Republic and did not face the Braves or any other major league club until Opening Day of the regular season.

In 1949, the Dodgers settled on Vero Beach, Florida, as their spring training home. But photographs of their home field during the late 1940s and early 1950s don't show a large stadium beyond the outfield wall. Additionally, the Braves' spring digs in Bradenton also does not match up. So where was this photo taken?

Well, in 1949, the Braves and Dodgers faced one another in spring training on two occasions: March 12 and March 13. Both contests were held at a neutral location in Miami, Florida. Indeed, on March 12, the Braves were designated as the "home" team, while the Dodgers played host as the "home" squad for the next day's game.

So what large stadium would be looming over a baseball diamond in Miami during this era? Well, I'm a baseball researcher, not a football researcher, but I had a hunch that perhaps this was Miami's famous Orange Bowl.

Thankfully, the State Archives and Library of Florida has a wonderful collection of digitized materials available at their Florida Memory Project. I searched for images of the Orange Bowl from the era and hit pay dirt. Here's an image of the celebrated football stadium in 1950:


Photo courtesy of Florida Memory Project

Note the baseball park in the upper left corner of the photo. Its position relative to the Orange Bowl matches that seen in the Fantography images. Also note the distinctive curved ramp ways on the outside of the stadium (just barely visible at the bottom right corner). They are identical to those seen in our baseball photos above.

There's no question that the ballpark we're seeing is the one right next to the Orange Bowl. Its name: Miami Field. So is this one of the games from 1949, or perhaps a different year?

Corroborating our dismissal of prior years as possible dates for the baseball photos is the fact that the second deck of the Orange Bowl (which necessitated the addition of the external curved ramp ways) was not completed until early in 1948. But what of the later years: 1950 and 1951?

Well, on March 11 and 12 of 1950, the Dodgers and Braves did indeed play one another in a pair of spring training games in Miami. They repeated the pre-season get-togethers on March 10 and 11 of 1951, as well. But each of those games took place at Miami Stadium (later known as Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium), a park that opened in August of 1949, a little over a mile from the Orange Bowl. We are left with but one conclusion: The only possible dates for our three photos are March 12 and March 13, 1949.

So which of the two 1949 dates is the most likely?

One helpful clue can be found in the photo of Cal Abrams. Note that the collar and the button-down placket on his Dodgers uniforms is highlighted with colored piping. Only the Dodgers' road jerseys featured this styling, a tradition they adopted in the late 1930s. Here's a close-up showing the detail:



This would imply that the Dodgers were the road club, thus dating the game to March 12. But sometimes in spring training, clubs were less-than-rigorous about their selection of uniforms. It would be best to confirm the date using other methods, as well. So, let's take a look at some newspaper coverage of the games.

In the March 13, 1949, issue of the New York Times, sportswriter Roscoe McGowen wrote:

With a record crowd of 7,518 cash customers filling all available seating and standing room, the Dodgers opened the citrus circuit season here today by trouncing the champion Boston Braves, 5-2, at Miami Field.

And the following day McGowen stated:

Today, before an all-time record Miami crowd of 9,675 cash clients, the battling Brooks made it two straight over the National League champions, beating them, 6-0. ... Ground rules were invoked because of the great outpouring of Negro fans, who had to be spread out on part of the playing field from the Dodger dugout all the way around center field.

Amazingly, the record crowd of March 12th was exceeded by another 2,000 fans on the 13th. But looking at the photo featuring Tommy Brown rounding third, it is clear there are just a couple of people in the outfield ... nothing like the crowd reported by McGowan as being "spread out on part of the playing field ... all the way to center field." The lack of a crowd in the outfield suggests the March 12 game as the best bet for our three photographs.

Finally, what about that image of Tommy Brown? What's going on? The Braves shortstop seems to be looking straight ahead, not at Brown. The umpire is wandering off toward the left field foul line, paying no attention to the action at third. And, the third base coach is apparently approaching Brown, congratulating him. All evidence points to Brown having just hit a home run. Checking the game accounts, it turns out that Brown homered in the March 12 contest, but not that of March 13.

Thanks to some baseball research and (dare I say it?) a little football research, it looks as though the photos sent to Andy were taken at Miami Field on March 12, 1949, when the Dodgers topped the Braves, 5-2.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

May Day at the Polo Grounds


My sister-in-law recently sent me an image of her grandfather, Lazar Weiner, conducting a chorus at a ballpark. She asked me if I could track down when and where the photo was taken. Here's the picture:



The "where" was simple. The facade of the ballpark makes it clear that it is the Polo Grounds. It was the "when" that was a challenge.

The critical clue was some information we knew about Weiner: that he conducted the ILGWU chorus and was the national director of the Workmen's Circle chorus for many decades. Given this information, the banners on the facade at the park took on special meaning. Here's a detail showing the banners:



These were hung especially for the event that was being hosted at the park, as they were certainly not a regular feature at the Polo Grounds. Note that the banner at far right promotes the ILGWU, the very union whose chorus was headed by Weiner.

Everything pointed to some sort of union-related event being held at the Polo Grounds. After some brief searching, I came across an article in the New York Times from May 2, 1936, that read in part:

A group of labor unions and the Old Guard of the Socialist party celebrated May Day yesterday with a rally and open-air festival at the Polo Grounds that attracted a crowd estimated by the police at 45,000.

From noon to almost 6 o'clock there was a program featuring athletic games, pageants, a chorus of 500 mixed voices, concert and radio singers and addresses by labor leaders.
This seemed to be a perfect match for the event in the photo. But I still felt I needed something more to corroborate this, so I browsed through the same edition of the paper and came across a photo of the event at the park:



Though the photograph is taken from a slightly different angle, it is clear that the speaker system seen in both images match perfectly. Here are details from both photos that show the match:



So the image of Lazar Weiner and his chorus was taken on May 1, 1936, during a May Day rally at the Polo Grounds.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cut to the Chase


The famous, rare and much sought-after Honus Wagner baseball card is just one of well-over 500 cards that are part of what is known as the T206 White Border set. The cards were issued as premiums in tobacco packs from 1909 through 1911 and feature colorful images of both major and minor league baseball players. While the Wagner card garners most of the press, it is a different card in the set that has me intrigued: that of legendary first baseman Hal Chase.

Actually, there are a few different Hal Chase cards in the set:


Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0969f


Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0968f


Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0970f


Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0971f


Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0972f

It is this last card, often noted on T206 checklists as "Hal Chase (Holding Trophy)," that has me wondering. The image on the card is clearly based on a photograph, though the background is just as clearly the result of artistic license. Does a copy of that photo still exist? And just what is that trophy?

While I haven't been able to track down the photo upon which the image was based, I did manage to determine the story behind Chase's hefty hardware.

Back in spring training of 1909, the New York American League club (often called the Highlanders, but rarely known as the Yankees) was barnstorming their way back home for the opening of the American League season. In Augusta, Georgia, Chase fell ill and it was initially reported that he had malaria. Actually, he had varioloid, a relatively mild form of smallpox.

It was reported that Chase had contracted the disease from some bellboys at a hotel in Macon, Georgia, where the team had previously stayed. So, while Chase was quarantined in a hospital in Augusta, his teammates were vaccinated and their belongings "fumigated." The hope was that this would protect the Highlanders against infection and, perhaps more importantly, reassure the various host cities, opposing players, and fans that it was safe to play against and attend exhibition games as the big leaguers worked their way north.

The club met with some resistance along the way and there even were fears that the opening of the season might be delayed. However, no games were canceled and the club played its Opening Day game on April 12 as originally scheduled.

Chase was released from the hospital near the end of April and made his season debut on May 3. As he approached the plate for his first at bat of the game, former manager Kid Elberfeld interrupted the proceedings with a short speech, followed by the presentation of a silver "loving cup," the very one depicted in the T206 card.

That's the story behind the picture. Now all that is left is to track down the original photo of Chase holding the cup.



Update of December 30, 2014:

Baseball Researcher reader Graig alerted me to the following photo at the Detroit Public Library Digital Collections:


Detroit Public Library Digital Collections, Resource ID: hr002587

The photo, taken by famed baseball photographer Charles Conlon, is obviously the one used as a model for the Chase T206 card. Chase wears the home uniform of the 1909 Highlanders and he's posed at Hilltop Park, May 3, 1909.

Case closed.



Friday, October 23, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Polo Grounds


Just over 100 years ago, the duo of Albert Von Tilzer and Jack Norworth wrote was has become baseball's unofficial anthem: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Within days of its release, the tune became a popular sing-along at movie theaters, with magic lantern (or "song") slides advancing the story and displaying the lyrics. While the projectionist was busy switching reels, the audience was entertained with singers performing the song and encouraging a sort of "group-karaoke" form of entertainment.
While most everyone is familiar with the song's famous chorus, very few know the full lyrics. Here's how the song goes:
Katie Casey was base ball mad.
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev'ry sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday, her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go,
To see a show but Miss Kate said, "No,
I'll tell you what you can do."

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game."

Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names;
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along good and strong.
When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game."
Happily, original "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" lantern slides still exist. The slides are hand-colored glass positives and measure about 3¼"×4" in size. The beautiful images preserved on these slides are interesting fodder for the baseball researcher.

On May 2, 1908, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was submitted to the United States Copyright Office. The song quickly took hold. As early as mid-May, the song and perhaps the accompanying slides were featured at The Nelson Theater in Springfield, Massachusetts. Note of this comes from the Springfield Republican of May 18, 1908:
The musical features of the week will include a "Kid song festival," in which Lillian Payette will be heard in three costume songs, with electrical effects and illustrated songs by Charles L. Taylor of New York, who on Wednesday and Thursday will sing "Take me out to the ball game."
Unquestionably, the song and accompanying slides were playing in theaters by the end of the month, as evidenced by a note in the Boston Globe of May 31, 1908:
The moving pictures at the Star theater this week will include new films in comedy and drama. The patriotic program yesterday drew a crowd at every performance and a similar show will be given this evening. The songs "Nobody's Little Girl" and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" will be sung by able singers and illustrated by colored slides.
The song proved so successful that, within a month, a rip-off titled "Take Your Girl to the Ball Game" was already available and was most definitely being confused with Von Tilzer and Norworth's gem, no doubt cutting into sales. The composer was none other than George M. Cohan.


Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection

The first slide for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is an image of the cover of the original sheet music for the song, but with one important difference. The sheet music cover can be seen here:


Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection

And here is the first lantern slide:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

There were numerous sheet music covers printed, each featuring an inset photograph of a vaudeville star. Some covers show lyricist Jack Norworth, others feature Henry Fink, Susie Fisher, Sadie Jansell, or the popular Nora Bayes, who married Norworth in 1908. But the inset on this lantern slide simply contains information about the producer and manufacturer of the song set: DeWitt C. Wheeler.

Wheeler was a major manufacturer of lantern slides, producing sets for songs such as "Pansies Mean Thoughts and Thoughts Mean You," "You Have Always Been the Same Old Pal," and "Brother Noah Gave Out Checks For Rain." The latter is a somewhat obscure baseball tune with the unforgettable (or utterly forgettable?) chorus:
Eve stole first and Adam second;
St. Peter umpired the game.
Rebecca went to the well with a pitcher
And Ruth in the field won fame.
Goliath was struck out by David;
A base hit on Abel by Cain.
The Prodigal Son made one home run
Brother Noah gave out checks for rain.

Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection

In 1912, Robert Grau wrote in The Stage in the Twentieth Century (Vol. 3):
The name of Dewitt C. Wheeler is, and has been for a generation, something to conjure with. Mr. Wheeler made song slides long before the advent of cinematography, and he has maintained his position to this day as a leader. It is interesting to note that through Mr. Wheeler alone hundreds of singers without reputation with the public, have found a lucrative field. It is estimated that there are three thousand singers of illustrated songs in this country—and the demand is increasing every day.
In the spring of 1907, the Manhattan-based Wheeler moved his offices from 1215 Broadway to new digs just a few blocks away, at 120-122 West 31st Street. It is this latter address that is found on the first slide. What I find intriguing about Wheeler's newer location is that it may point to the location where some of the "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" slides were shot.


Collection of the National Baseball Library


Collection of the National Baseball Library

In the two slides above, Katie Casey is seen with "her young beau" outside what appears to be a home. We'll assume that Wheeler intended this to be a shot of where Katie lives. Note that the address above the doorway is 121. It is slightly clearer in this detail:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

When I first saw the address, I didn't think much of it. Assuming the photos were taken somewhere in the New York City area, I figured there had to be literally hundreds (if not thousands) of locations with an address of 121. But as the address of Wheeler's headquarters is 120-122 West 31st, it dawned on me that perhaps the photographs were taken right across the street, at 121 West 31st.

I was able to track down a New York City Atlas from 1899, published nearly a decade before the photographs were shot, that shows that the building at 121 West 31st was a stable. Clearly that is not the building where Katie and her beau are standing. An atlas from 1911 shows the lot to be empty, also not the case in our lantern slide. By 1912, the brand new, 16-story Cuyler Building was erected in the same spot. But exactly what the situation was in 1908 I have not been able to determine, as I have not yet had a chance to review a New York City atlas from that year. Anybody have access to a 1908 New York City Atlas?

Another slide in the set is a photograph showing Katie Casey reading the "Baseball Extra" edition of the paper:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Here we see that "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" lantern slides must have been a low-budget affair, as they simply took an existing newspaper and crudely painted "BASEBALL EXTRA" across the top. Thankfully, the quality of the slide was much better than that of the prop. Here's a detail from the slide:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

I set out to determine the date and make of the newspaper. The page Katie holds provides a number of clues, but the most obvious are the multiple advertisements for automobiles. Stearns, Lozier, and (partially obscured by Katie's hand) Northern are fairly easily discerned. Additionaly, given the fact that the actress portraying Katie appears at the Polo Grounds in other slides in the set, there's little doubt she's holding a newspaper from New York City. Armed with this information, I searched for a newspaper page that matched the one held by Katie.

Happily, I managed to track down the exact newspaper: The New York Times of Monday, May 11, 1908:



Not only do the various advertisements match perfectly, but it turns out that the page really did contain baseball content. In fact, Katie happens to be pointing to coverage of a Cardinals vs. Reds doubleheader played on May 10. Just under Katie's hand is the following note:
GIANTS LEAVE FOR WEST.
National League Eastern Clubs Invade the West---Yankees Home To-morrow

The Giants started for Pittsburg last night, where they will begin the first of the Western series. Four games will be played in that city, and then Cincinnati will be visited. ... The trip will last a trifle over two weeks, the team returning to the Polo Grounds on June 4, when they will play St. Louis.
At the very least, we now know that this studio shot of Katie holding the newspaper took place no earlier than the date of the paper: May 11, 1908. But what of the slides that show Katie at the Polo Grounds? Here's one:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Compare this photo with that of boxer Terry McGovern seen below. McGovern, the former bantamweight and featherweight world champion, was also a gifted baseball player who often practiced with the Giants.


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, [LC-DIG-ggbain-02294]
Note the dark colored doors in the picket fence, similar to those seen in the lantern slide. Clearly, Katie and her beau are rooting for the home team at the Polo Grounds, on the third base side of the grandstand. It is worth noting that both Katie and her beau are wearing the same outfits seen in the earlier discussed slides. This suggests (though does not prove) that the photo sessions at Katie's place and at the Polo Grounds took place at or around the same time.

A few other slides in the set show baseball being played at the Polo Grounds and provide useful information. The following slide helps determine who was playing the Giants the day of the photo shoot:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Note the uniforms of the players in this detail:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

The third baseman (and other players in the field) are wearing dark caps, light-colored uniforms, and stockings that are light with a single, dark stripe. This matches perfectly to what the Giants wore at home in 1908.

The third base coach is seen with a gray uniform and jacket, dark stockings, and a dark-colored cap. Note, however, that the cap has light colored piping on the seams that separate the panels of the cap crown. This uniform matches that worn on the road by just two clubs in 1908: Boston (NL) and Cincinnati (NL).

Since the lantern slides were available by the end of May, we are left with the following question: When in 1908 did either Boston or Cincinnati visit the Polo Grounds prior to the end of May? A check of the daily results of the Giants in 1908 at the handy and indispensible Retrosheet web site quickly reveals only one possible date: Boston's visit to the Polo Grounds on Saturday, May 9.

Boston was to play a four-game set at New York starting on Wednesday, May 6, but the inclement weather washed out the first three games, leaving just Saturday's contest between the clubs. Indeed, the game of the 9th was started in the rain, but the sun soon came out and, despite a shaky start by the Giants' ace pitcher Christy Mathewson, New York ultimately earned a 7-3 win. Here's the box score from the New York Times of May 10:



Taking a look at the Giants line-up, we get the following identifications for the players in the field: running in from left field is Spike Shannon; at shortstop is Al Bridwell; the third baseman is Art Devlin. Assuming that is the right fielder seen just to the right of the third base coach, that would be Mike Donlin. And assuming the rightmost Giant in the photo is the second baseman, it would be Larry Doyle. The umpire on the bases that day, seen at far right, was future Hall of Famer Bill Klem. Just who the third base coach for Boston was remains a mystery.

Another slide from the set shows the fans on the field after the ball game, as they head toward the exit in the outfield:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

An important clue that helps corroborate the early May date is found in a detail from the image:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Note that the advertisement for Luna Park states that the popular amusement park at Coney Island would open on May 16. Though billboards at ballparks rarely were altered in mid-season, one would guess that after May 16, this particular ad would change. Indeed, that is exactly what occurred. The following image taken on September 26, 1908, reveals that very change:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

This photo was taken at the Polo Grounds late in the season, on September 26, 1908. In between games of a doubleheader, the Giants presented Mike Donlin with the gift of a loving cup, in honor of his winning a popularity contest. Of interest to us, however, is the Luna Park ad in the background. This enhanced detail clearly shows how it has changed since the early May photo:


Collection of the National Baseball Library

Though the angle is somewhat different from the lantern slide, it is clear that the O.F.C. Rye and Clysmic ads remain unchanged, while the Luna Park ad no longer declares that the park is opening on May 16. It now says:
THOMPSON AND DUNDY'S
LUNA PARK
A WORLD OF FUN
As guessed, they did indeed change the sign after the park opened and thus we've further corroborated that the slide was shot on May 9th.

So, the slides shot at the Polo Grounds were shot on Saturday, May 9. Then, perhaps as early as Monday, May 11, the slide of Katie holding the newspaper was shot. Just when Katie and her young beau were photographed outside "her house" (quite possibly across the street from DeWitt Wheeler's offices) is unknown, though it's likely it was around the same time.

One more slide from the "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" set is of interest. It depicts Katie and her young beau arriving at the Polo Grounds.


Collection of the National Baseball Library

A close examination of the image reveals that this is none other than the Polo Grounds entrance along the 155th Street entrance to the park. Note the signs above the doors at the far left in the slide read "GRAND STAND":


Collection of the National Baseball Library

And the flag seen at the right of the slide is the very same one that is seen hanging from the flagpole in dead center field in the other lantern slides. Note also the Tudor style building, the opposite side of which can be seen in the slide showing the fans.

Finally, what to make of this next slide?


Collection of the National Baseball Library

I can only assume that Katie is about to bite into some Cracker Jack. Is this what the candy looked like back in 1908? Any Cracker Jack experts out there to confirm this?



Each of the lantern slides seen in this blog is from the photo collection at the National Baseball Library (NBL) and I encourage anyone interested in purchasing quality reproductions to contact the NBL in Cooperstown, New York.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Musings on Images of Detroit's Recreation Park


The University of Michigan has digitized many thousands of images at their "Early Detroit Images from the Burton Historical Collection" web site, including these wonderful photographs of Recreation Park in Detroit, the home of the Detroit Wolverines of the National League from 1881 to 1888.
(Clicking on an image below will open a new window and allow you to view larger versions).








The following image is a detail from the first photo, showing an intriguing poster:



Though it is difficult to decipher, some of the text on the poster reads as follows:
RECREATION PARK
?? 16 17 18 19
CAPT. PAUL
BOYTON
?? ENTERTAINMENT
2,342 MILES

Captain Paul Boyton was an adventurer who specialized in long-distance swimming with the aid of a special rubber suit and paddles. He would propel himself while on his back, something like a cross between kayaking and luging. In 1879, Boyton made his way from Oil City, Pennsylvania to the Gulf of Mexico in just 80 days, a distance of 2,342 miles. No doubt this latter number is the same as seen in the poster. This suggests that Boyton was making an appearance at Recreation Park sometime after his remarkable accomplishment, in mid-to-late 1879 or perhaps 1880.

These fantastic images of Recreation Park spurred my interest in looking for other photos of the ballpark, and in so doing I found that the last of the four photos above was the basis for this woodcut by Charles W. Sumner found in Silas Farmer's The History of Detroit and Michigan: or, the Metropolis Illustrated (1884):



The caption for the drawing reads "Recreation Park Entrance and Reception Building" and an accompanying paragraph describes the park as follows:

As a place for out-door entertainments, Recreation Park affords all facilities that can be desired. It is located on the Brush Farm, the entrance being a few blocks east of Woodward Avenue, on Brady Street. The grounds, embracing eighteen acres, are fitted up to accommodate exhibitions of various kinds. The Reception Building has every needful appliance for comfort and convenience. The Park was opened on May 10, 1879.
Since the book was published in 1884, this corroborates my guess that the photo was taken in 1879 or soon thereafter.

In tracking down still more images of the park, I stumbled on a bit of a mystery. The following photo of Recreation Park comes from page 81 of David Lee Poremba's Detroit: 1860-1899:



The note written near the top of the photograph reads:

BASE BALL GAME
PLAYED AT
RECREATION PARK DETROIT, MICH
ON
JUNE 19, 1886
BETWEEN DETROIT & CHICAGO
13 INNINGS WERE PLAYED ENDING IN A SCORE OF 1 TO 0
IN FAVOR OF THE HOME TEAM. RECREATION PARK
WAS LOCATED WHERE BRUSH ST. IS NOW BETWEEN
BRADY ST. AND ALEXANDERINE AVE. EAST

From the phrase "... where Brush St. is now between ...," we know that the note was not written contemporaneously. So how much do we trust this caption? Well, as it turns out, not much. A quick check of numerous sources reveals that Detroit and Chicago did not play a 13-inning, 1-0 game on that date. Is that date wrong? Or the score? Or the number of innings? Or some combination of any of the above?

At first, I thought the date had to be wrong, as I found the same photo (sans the notation) on page 53 of Picturesque Detroit and Environs, a book available at Google Books and purportedly published in 1883:



Since the publication date for the book was 1883, this would eliminate 1886 as a possible year. But after browsing through the book, I found that the author made mention of facts that took place after 1883. Indeed, various statistics for years up to and including 1892 are cited. It appears that the book was actually published in 1893, not 1883.

So I'm still left with the question: When was the photo taken? Alas, I don't have a definite answer, but my suspicion is that the date of June 19, 1886, is correct. The key is the enormous crowd, clearly evident in the photograph, and definitely on hand for the mid-June game.

That day, Detroit did indeed face Chicago in a much-anticipated game. The Wolverines had not lost a game at home all season: 18-straight victories at Recreation Park! As Chicago came to town, Detroit stood in first place with a record of 30 wins and just six losses (along with a tie game). Meanwhile, the Chicago White Stockings were in second place, just 2.5 games behind, with a 26-7 record (with one tie). A large contingent from the Windy City traveled to Detroit in anticipation of not just a single victory, but a series sweep, moving Chicago into first place. It was an audacious goal given the Wolverines unblemished record at home, but one that was embraced.

Fans of the White Stockings brought brooms with them to the park, each marked with the motto "Record Breakers," predicting the demise of Detroit's impressive victory skein. But Detroit fans had their own retort: a giant broom painted with the phrase "The Big Four and Five More." "The Big Four" was the nickname of the Wolverines' infield (Dan Brouthers, Jack Rowe, Hardy Richardson, and Deacon White), acquired in a controversial deal late in the season of 1885. "And Five More" referred, of course, to the rest of the starting nine.

The crowd was estimated at well over 10,000 and described as the most ever seen at the park. Coverage in The Washington Post of June 20 corroborates what we see in the photo:

The down-town ticket offices were thronged all the early part of the afternoon with people buying baseball tickets. The Woodward Avenue and Brush Street car lines tried in vain by putting on extra cars to accommodate the crowds going to see the first Chicago-Detroit ball game at Recreation Park. It was worse than any Fourth of July. The Chicago procession of carriages was noticeable for the brooms in the ship-socket of each. At 3 o'clock it was estimated that there were 10,000 people on the grounds. Rows of chairs were placed in front of the stand ten deep, and were all occupied by 3 o'clock. It was found necessary to stretch a rope about half way between the diamond at the back fence to keep the crowd back. This necessitated making special rules barring all home runs and three-base hits.
... as does this from The Chicago Tribune:

Ample accommodation had been made at the grounds to seat the immense crowd by placing 5,000 seats upon the lawn in front of the grand stand and open. Extending northward from both ends of the open and circling across the field was a line of spectators ten deep, and at 3:30 the diamond was literally enclosed by a living hedge of 13,000 people.
Chicago topped Detroit 5-4 (not 1-0) in nine innings, though Detroit came back to win the last two games of the series to remain in first.

Though I cannot say for certain that the photo is from this particular game, I think it highly likely.



Research Update: November 5, 2009

Baseball researcher Peter Morris made great progress on the handbill posted outside Recreation Park. He found that a note in the Detroit Free Press from June 15, 1879, confirmed that Boyton was scheduled to appear at Recreation Park from June 16 to 19.

I followed up on Peter's invaluable lead and found that starting in the June 13 issue of the Free Press there were a number of articles and advertisements about Boyton's visit. Apparently, his exhibitions were such a success that additional shows were scheduled for June 20 and 21. Here's the final advertisement from the June 21 issue of the Free Press:



Earlier ads heralded "CAPT. PAUL BOYTON, The World-famed Navigator, in his Rubber Life-saving Dress, in a New Original & Unique Entertainment. This is the first appearance in Michigan waters and his Nautical Exhibition, as given by him in all the leading cities in Europe and America, will be presented in its entirety. A splendid sheet of water, 7 feet in depth, adjacent to the Grand Stand, has been prepared especially for the occasion."

The article on June 15 stated that "Capt. Boyton has been engaged by the Recreation Park Company to give a series of exhibitions at the park next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, at 5 o'clock each afternoon. A miniature lake seven feet in depth and 200x100 feet in area has been provided in full view of the grand stand and good music will be furnished during the exhibition."

This explains the water that is seen in front of the grand stand in the second of the four photographs above. Originally I thought this water was a feature of the park, but in light of the Free Press article it is clear that this "miniature lake" was created especially for Boyton's exhibition. Here's another look:



I think we can now state with certainty that the four photos of Recreation Park that were digitized at the University of Michigan were taken in mid-June of 1879.

I've tracked down a few other Boyton-related links, for those who wish to learn more about "The World-famed Navigator":