Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Nineteenth Century Performance-Enhancing Drug?

Keith Olbermann recently posted a fine blog entry in which he unveiled some wonderful photos from the 1894 Temple Cup Series, a post-season match-up between the National League pennant-winning Baltimore Orioles and the second place New York Giants. In this early incarnation of the World Series, New York won the best-of-seven series in four straight games to become World Champions.

Like Keith, I was unfamiliar with the photos, so I thought I'd research them. While I didn't make much headway on that front, I did uncover another new facet to the Series: accusations of the use of performance-enhancing drugs!

The November 26, 1894 issue of The Medicine Age: A Semi-Monthly Review of Medicine published an article titled Facilis Est Descensus Averni (Latin for "the descent to hell is easy"). The article, available at Google Books, quoted heavily from the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat of November 12th. I don't have access to the original Globe-Democrat article, but here is how it was quoted in The Medicine Age:


… A man who traveled with the Giants during the last half of their present season, … equally a friend of the star pitcher of the Giants and … the Orioles, is responsible for the current row. A few days after the final Temple Cup game had been won by the Giants, a party made up of ball-players and actors were seated around a table at a New York club discussing the recent event, when the man above referred to said: "Boys, you are all wrong. I know how these games were won. Two of the Giants made the telling plays in the Temple Cup games, just as they did two weeks ago in Chicago. … The first game that day was won by a terrific hit over the left-field fence in the seventh inning. In the second game a long hit to right in the fourth inning won out. I could follow every game played and show you how at a critical point one or the other of these two men rose to the occasion. You wish to know why these two particular men, and how they did it? This is the solution." The speaker held between his finger and thumb a diminutive three-cornered blue phial. He continued: "May be, you all do not know that R——
is a pretty good doctor. … When we got to Washington he asked W—— and myself to go with him one morning to call on a doctor who is supposed to be thoroughly up in Isopathy. The visit was most interesting, and when we left, R—— and W—— had promised to test the virtue of the elixir contained in these little bottles. The opportunity occurred in Chicago September 18th. The score was 1 to 1, each team having tallied in the sixth. R—— was now up, but before taking the bat I saw him pass something to his mouth and then look up for quite two minutes. His eyes brightened and the veins across his temples and the arteries down his neck knotted like cords as he stood at the plate. … R—— met the ball … and he put his 230 pounds in the lunge he made; … the ball was bound for the outer world, and would not have stopped if the fence had been twice as high. Three runs were tallied, and, as it proved, they were just about the number needed.

"As R—— dropped down on the players' bench beside me all breathless from the home run, he managed to pant, 'Charlie, the elixir is a "Jimdandy."' R—— did not play in the second game that day, but just before W—— went to the bat in that critical fourth inning he gave him a dose from the blue phial. The effect was marvelous. W——'s strength seemed to be doubled and he whacked out that hot liner to right which saved the game to the Giants. … Those two boys have used it ever since, except in Pittsburg, when a new supply of the stuff failed to arrive. The Giants lost that game, but won the next day when the package arrived. They used the Washington physician's elixir in every Temple Cup game, and I tell you that is the secret of the Giants holding that trophy to-day. R—— and W—— will both tell you so."

… Anson of Chicago, hearing it, claimed that the effect of ——'s Cerebrine, the extract of the brain of ox, is to add immediate strength to the player, and thus place his opponent at a great disadvantage. … He sent copies of the protest to every club in the league.

From a small beginning a tempest has arisen, which bids fair to end only when the question shall have been decided as to the rights of players in regard to utilizing scientific methods for adding to their dynamic value during the progress of ball games.

This final paragraph is astonishingly prescient, foreshadowing issues facing Major League Baseball over a century later.

The article disguises three names: those of two Giants players (R—— and W——) and the doctor (——), but a quick bit of digging reveals these individuals' identities.

As described in the article, the Giants did indeed face Chicago in a doubleheader on September 18, winning both games. The Washington Post of September 19 corroborated the Globe-Democrat story:

Rusie won the first [game] by a home run hit over the left field fence in the seventh inning with two outs and two men on bases.
Clearly, R—— is none other than famed pitcher Amos Rusie. Indeed, he is the only player on the 1894 Giants roster whose last name begins with "R." Here is an 1895 Mayo Cut Plug (N300) tobacco card of Rusie (misspelled "Russie"):

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0597f

While three players on the club had a last name starting with "W" (John Ward, Parke Wilson and Huyler Westervelt), only Ward participated in the doubleheader. It was Ward whose "strength seemed to be doubled" and who "whacked out that hot liner to right" in the second game against Chicago. Here's Ward's baseball card from the same set as above:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-bbc-0598f

As for the Washington doctor, I suspect it was one William Alexander Hammond, pictured below. Hammond had been Surgeon General of the U.S. Army during much of the Civil War and a co-founder of the American Neurological Association. More to the point, by the 1890s the doctor was a major player in the world of isopathy, researching and writing extensively on the subject.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-cwpb-05202

Hammond was very familiar with the animal extract research undertaken years earlier by Dr. Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard. Apparently, one of these Brown-Séquard elixirs was used in the late 1880s by pitching great Pud Galvin. (More on that story can be found here.)

Under Hammond's supervision, the Columbia Chemical Company manufactured animal extracts such as Cerebrine, which the doctor both advocated and advertised. An ad published in the May 8, 1894 issue of The Washington Post was typical, stating that

… the physiological effects produced by a single dose of CEREBRINE are acceleration of the pulse with feeling of fullness and distention in the head, exhilaration of spirits, …
[and] increase in muscular strength and endurance.
In the March 10, 1894 issue of The Medicine Age, a letter to the editor described that "the preparation employed was put up in a triangular bottle holding two drachms, and obtained directly from the Columbia Chemical Company." And, in the September 26, 1893 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) an article by Dr. John Harper Long of Northwestern University examined two of Hammond's extracts (Cerebrine and Medulline), noting that

… each small blue bottle was in a dark red pasteboard carton, labeled "Sterilized Solution of Cerebrine" and "Sterilized Solution of Medulline," with the name "William A. Hammond" in facsimile printed diagonally across it in red ink.

Both of these quotes match up well with the "
three-cornered blue phial" described in the Globe-Democrat article.

Baseball Researcher blog reader Matthew Namee sent along a wonderful article in which Hammond is extensively interviewed about his products. The reporter was favorably impressed:

Five drops, with an equal quantity of distilled water, injected under the skin in the ordinary way is the dose. In five or ten minutes the pulse begins to beat much stronger and fuller, and increases ten to twenty beats a minute. The face becomes slightly flushed and there is a feeling of distension in the head, sometimes accompanied by a headache.

… Still more remarkable is the effect upon muscular strength. In the experiment which the writer had the pleasure of witnessing, a large and strong man was asked to put up a dumb bell weighing forty-five pounds. He did it fourteen times with his right hand and eleven times with his left. … After an injection of the fluid he "put up" the dumb-bell forty-two times with his right arm and thirty-five times with his left, and did it easier than before.
As it turns out, the whole thing was quackery at its finest. Not only were the effects of Cerebrine called into question by the medical community, but it appears that what Hammond was selling to the public was not animal extract at all. In the JAMA article, Dr. Long ultimately concluded that "the preparations 'Cerebrine' and 'Medulline' contain nitroglycerin as their active ingredients."

And in the June 1894 issue of The National Medical Review, Professor Albert B. Prescott of the University of Michigan described tests he made of Cerebrine purchased from Hegeman and Company, a drugstore at 196 Broadway in New York. Like Dr. Long, Professor Prescott found that the bottles contained nothing more than

The professor then prepared his own batch of Cerebrine, following the procedure published by Dr. Hammond. A warning: Prescott's description of the experiment may be a bit disturbing to the faint of heart.

I have macerated the brain of the ox and the contained blood in a mixture of equal parts of absolute alcohol, glycerin, and a saturated solution of boric acid in water, with frequent agitation and strong pressure, five months and twenty days, and have then made chemical examination of a portion of the product. The product, at this period of maceration, perfectly agrees in appearance every way with the ' cerebrine' which I obtained from Messrs. Hegeman & Co. last September. But the ' cerebrine ' of my preparation, under the directions published by Dr. Hammond, with the time of maceration just stated, does not contain a trace of nitro-glycerin.
Were Rusie and Ward ingesting the "real" Cerebrine, as disturbingly described above? Or did they take the nitroglycerin substitute? In either case, was the potion they swallowed responsible for an increase in their on-field strength and ability?

An article titled "The Latest Medical Fad," published in the February 1894 issue of The American Journal of Politics, summarized the apparent contradiction between Hammond as a respected physician and Hammond the "snake oil" salesman:

Dr. Hammond claims that cerebrine can strengthen the energy of the prize fighter, and the college crews, as well as cure disease, restore lost vigor, stimulate decaying intellect, renew the departing life. … If he is sincere he should be able to furnish some evidence of the truth of his claim.

Dr. Hammond is a scientist second to no physician in the United States. He offers us no clinical evidence. He shows us no cures. He points out no cases of old men made young again. He shows us only this farce of an athlete putting up a dumbbell, and a patent for his remedy.

… It is a pitiful —most pitiful exhibition of designing therapeutical insincerity. Dr. Hammond is a great man in the profession. He is a tower of professional grandeur and example. He is no man's intellectual inferior in the medical profession. In his specialty he has stood for years as the most imposing Colossus of them all. His cerebrine marks his fall.
To summarize: Assuming that the Globe-Democrat article is factual (which is by no means a certainty), over a number weeks near the end of the season and into the post-season of 1894, John Ward and Amos Rusie ingested an elixir that they thought would enhance their performance on the field. Whether it did or not, from actual physiological changes or a placebo effect, is not clear.

It should be noted that the use of Cerebrine was neither illegal nor was it banned by Organized Baseball. Indeed, the Globe-Democrat article implies there was nothing to hide: "They used the Washington physician's elixir in every Temple Cup game. … R—— and W—— will both tell you so."

Still, should Ward and Rusie's use of Hammond's elixir constitute an early dalliance in the use of a performance-enhancing drug?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


One of the most famous baseball quotes of all time is attributed to famed sportswriter Red Smith. There have been various versions used by Smith, but it essentially goes like this:

Ninety feet between bases is perhaps as close as man has ever come to perfection.
The problem is that the distance between the bases isn't 90 feet at all. What is the 90-foot distance all about? Well, the key is that a 90-foot square (generally called a "diamond") is used to help lay out the bases on the infield. But the bases aren't all the same size (home is a very special shape) and they are not all placed in similar locations relative to the corners of the 90-foot diamond.

In a prior blog entry (which I encourage the reader to review), I discuss the little-known fact that the rules of baseball require that home, first, and third bases each nestle neatly in their respective corners of the 90-foot diamond, but second base is centered on its corner of the diamond.

Here's a diagram (not drawn to scale) from the official rule book that shows the situation:

So, while the infield is laid out on a 90-foot diamond, the shortest distance between consecutive bases is clearly less than 90 feet.

So what are the distances between bases? To answer this question we first need to first define these distances as the shortest length between one base and the next.

It seems that we have four distances to determine: home to first, first to second, second to third, and third to home. However, the layout of the bases is reflectively symmetrical. That is, one can draw a line running through the center of home base and through the center of second base such that the left side and right side of the infield are mirror images of one another. Thus, the distance between home and first is identical to the distance between third and home. And the distance between first and second is the same as the distance between second and third. So, there are actually only two distances to calculate, not four.

Let's calculate two distances that are often covered by base stealers: first to second and third to home. Obviously the dynamics of stealing second base are quite different from those of stealing home, but still it should be interesting to compare the actual distances covered.

The easiest distance to calculate is that between first and second base. The shortest distance between first and second is represented by the double-headed red arrow in the diagram below, while the double-headed blue arrow is identical in length to one side of the 90-foot diamond:

All one needs to know to determine the length of the double-headed red arrow is the size of first and second base (which, of course, is also the size of third base). Each base is a square, 15 inches on a side. So, we need to subtract the full length of first base and half the length of second base (remember it is centered on its corner of the diamond) from the 90 foot double-headed blue arrow to determine the length of the double-headed red arrow:

distance between first and second = 90 feet - 15 inches - 7.5 inches
distance between first and second = 90 feet - 22.5 inches
distance between first and second = 90 feet - 1.875 feet
distance between first and second = 88.125 feet or 88 feet 1.5 inches

Now we are left with the more difficult calculation: the distance between third and home. The problem is the rather strange shape of home base. First, a bit of an aside to explain why it is that we have such an awkward-looking, five-sided home base.

For a number of years prior to the turn of the century, home base was a square, 12 inches to a side. Like first and third, home was nestled snugly in its corner of the diamond. However, in 1900 home plate was changed to its modern shape. Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide of 1900 explained the reasons behind the change:
With the plate placed in accordance with the form of the diamond field, that is, with its corner facing the pitcher instead of one of its sides, a width of 17 inches was presented for the pitcher to throw the ball over instead of 12 inches, the width of each side of the base. But this left the pitcher handicapped by having to "cut the corners" as it is called, besides which the umpire, in judging called balls and strikes, found it difficult to judge the "cut the corner" balls. To obviate this difficulty, the Committee [of Rules], while keeping the square plate in its old place—touching the lines of the diamond on two of its sides—gave it a new form in its fronting the pitcher, by making the front square with its width of 17 inches, the same as from corner to corner, from foul line to foul line. The change made is undoubtedly an advantage alike to the pitcher and umpire, as it enables the pitcher to see the width of base he has to throw the ball over better than before, and the umpire can judge called balls and strikes with less difficulty.
Now back to the calculation. In the diagram below, the shortest distance between third and home is represented by the double-headed red arrow. Note that this double-headed arrow runs from the home-base side of third to the closest corner of home plate. As in the above diagram, the length of the double-headed blue arrow is 90 feet.

Now for the hard part. What is the distance represented be the double-headed green arrow? The following diagram should help us determine that important information:

Distance C is what we are trying to determine. But C is the sum of distance A and B. To calculate A and B, we simply need to apply the Pythagorean Theorem. Remember that? Here's a refresher: In a right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse (the longest side of the triangle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

By the way, have you ever noticed that near the end of The Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow, in an effort to show off his new honorary degree of Th.D. (Dr. of Thinkology), incorrectly states the Theorem? His butchered version is "The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side." Check it out:

But we've stalled long enough. Back to the math. First let's calculate distance A:

A2 + A2 = (17 inches)2
2A2 = 289 inches2
A2 = 144.5 inches2
A = 12.02 inches

Now distance B:

B2 + B2 = (8.5 inches)2
2B2 = 72.25 inches2
B2 = 36.125 inches2
B = 6.01 inches

And so the double-headed green arrow (C) can now be calculated:

C = A + B
C = 12.02 inches + 6.01 inches
C = 18.03 inches

All that is left to do is to subtract the full length of third base (15 inches) and distance C (18.03 inches) from the 90 foot double-headed blue arrow to determine the length of the double-headed red arrow:

distance between third and home = 90 feet - 15 inches - 18.03 inches
distance between third and home = 90 feet - 33.03 inches
distance between third and home = 90 feet - 2.7525 feet
distance between third and home = 87.2475 feet or 87 feet 2.97 inches

Finally, let's compare the two distances between bases:

distance between first and second = 88.125 feet or 88 feet 1.5 inches
distance between third and home = 87.2475 feet or 87 feet 2.97 inches
difference = 0.8775 feet or 10.53 inches

And so we have our answer. Indeed, the distance between bases is very different. In fact, the distance between third and home is over 10½ inches shorter than the distance between first and second.

Sorry, Mr. Smith.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

George Bignell

Ever heard of George Bignell?

No? Maybe this will help: Bignell played four games for the old Milwaukee Brewers of the Union Association in 1884.

Still doesn't ring a bell? On October 3, 1884, Bignell set the record for most chances accepted in a game by a catcher with 23. The record has never been equaled.

Now got him?

No? Well, me either. Before I started researching him, I had never heard of the man. Of course, this raises the question: Why research him?

The answer: Because I recently ran across this photo at the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery web site:

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55702

The photograph is identified as "George Brynan" and is listed under the subject of "baseball." But a quick check of any baseball encyclopedia will reveal that just one person named Brynan ever played in the big leagues: Charles Ruley "Tod" Brynan. Indeed, there doesn't appear to have been a "George Brynan" who played at any level of professional baseball.

Like Bignell, Tod Brynan played just four games in his major league career, pitching in the National League for Chicago (three games in 1888) and Boston (one game in 1891). Coincidentally, an image of Tod Brynan is also available at the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery web site. Alas, the NYPL has misidentified Tod Brynan as George Brynan. Here is that image:

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55700

Note that at the bottom of the photograph is written "C. BRYNAN. P, CHICAGO." The image is actually of an Old Judge tobacco card of Brynan issued in 1888, part of what is referred to in the card collecting hobby as the N173 set. A similar card was sold at Legendary Auctions in August of 2010 for a whopping $1,777.50.

While there is some similarity between Tod Brynan in the N173 photo and the player in the head-and-shoulders photograph, a more obvious clue caused me to question the identification of the latter image. Take a look at the reverse of that photo portrait:

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55702

Below and to the right of the New York Public Library stamp is a handwritten name: George Bignall. Below that name is a notation that appears to be an attempt to decipher the handwritten last name ... a rather poor attempt: Brynan. While the latter name was added to the NYPL database, it was the former name that I thought was more likely to be correct. I failed to find a big leaguer named Bignall, but big leaguer George Bignell was pretty close.

The next step was to contact the Pictorial History Committee (PHC) of the Society for American Baseball Research. The Committee's Player Image Index project is an attempt to catalog at least one image of every major league ballplayer. The entry for George Bignell was supplied by ace baseball researcher and New England baseball expert Bob Richardson, who found the following woodcut in the October 10, 1885 issue of the Brockton Gazette of Brockton, Massachusetts:

The image above was clearly based on the photo found at the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery web site. Additionally, the Bignell photo was taken at Bass Photo Studio in Brockton, while the woodcut was published in the Brockton Gazette.

There's really no question: the NYPL photo identified as George Brynan is actually one of former major league catcher George Bignell.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Wild West at West Side Park

From the mid-1890s to 1915, the Chicago Cubs (known as the White Stockings during much of the 19th century) played their home games at West Side Park, located at the corner of Polk and Lincoln (now Wolcott) Streets. This was the park of the famed Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance Cubs; the park of the dominant Cubs squad that won an astonishing 116 games in 1906 (they lost just 36); the park that hosted three out of four straight World Series (1906-1908 and 1910), with the Cubbies winning two of those championships.

But beginning in 1916, the Cubs moved to a different home: Weeghman Field (now known as Wrigley Field). With the departure of the Cubs, West Side Park dropped from the major league scene, becoming a venue for semi-pro baseball, amateur games, and (as we shall see) other events.

Thankfully for the baseball researcher, the park is well-documented online, with many hundreds of photos available at the Library of Congress's Photographs from the Chicago Daily News web site. A few of these images follow.

Here's a shot of the park in 1908:

SDN-007231, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

And here is a photograph taken in 1907 at West Side Park showing Giants catcher Roger Bresnahan donning the innovative shinguards he first introduced at the beginning of the season:

SDN-053191, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

And check out this great photo of Pirates legend Honus Wagner at West Side Park. Note that Honus is wearing his cap backwards, a common practice today, but very rarely done a century ago.

SDN-054782, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

As a brief aside, for what it's worth, the earliest example I've found of a baseball player wearing his cap backwards is this 1879 photo of the University of Pennsylvania baseball team:

University of Pennsylvania Photograph Collection Record ID 20050308013

Check out the player standing third from right, one Gustavus Remak:

But let us return to West Side Park in the 20th century.
One of the most intriguing Chicago Daily News photographs taken at the park is this image:

DN-0066934, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

Sure, some great games were played at West Side Park over the years. But none could match the game seen here. Horses, cows and bulls are all over the field and in front of the outfield walls are enormous pieces of scenery, painted to look like mountains. What's the story?

An easy clue is found at the top of the photo: a date stamp seen in reverse. That date is August 23, 1916. What happened that day at West Side Park? Well, take a look at this advertisement from the Chicago Daily Tribune of August 19, 1916:

From August 19 to 27, 1916, West Side Park was the site of a round-up and "Shan-Kive" (purportedly an Indian word for "good time") with "88,000 square feet of scenery": the giant murals in the outfield.

The advertisement noted that there will be "2 complete exhibitions daily at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m." with "15,000,000 candle power illumination." Take another look at the photo above. Could those be small light standards mounted atop the grandstand roof down what once was the left field line?

Additionally, the advertisement states that "all contests [will be] supervised by Col. W.F. Cody (Buffalo Bill)." The 70-year-old Cody was a fixture at the event, one of the last appearances of his illustrious career, as he passed away less than half a year later. Indeed, two other photos from the Chicago Daily News captured the colorful showman seated on the field at West Side Park. Take a look at this wonderful pair of portraits of the famed "Buffalo Bill" taken on August 23, 1916 (and be sure to take note of the stunning mountain scenes in the background):

DN-0066931, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

DN-0066930, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

A promotional description of the event was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune of August 14, 1916. It reads:

Arena Being Transformed Into Miniature Wyoming Ranch with Background of Mountains

The cowboys, the cowgirls, and all the other ranch people who are coming to Chicago to contribute to the strenuous incitements of the big Shan-Kive and Roundup, which opens next Saturday afternoon, will find themselves in a familiar scenic atmosphere at the old Cubs' west side ball park.

The work of transforming the arena into a miniature Wyoming ranch, with its panoramic background of hills and mountains, has been rapidly progressing. The scenic effects at the ball park are expected to prove a revelation.

The money prizes, which will be awarded by a board of judges led by Col. William F.Cody, the famous scout and Indian fighter, will range from $1,000 in gold for the "best all round cowboy or cowgirl" to $500 for the winner in a wild horse race. Every day will have its own special contests. Interspersed will be arenic performances by Indians, Siberian Cossacks, Bedouin Arabs, Japanese, and Mexican Vaqueros.
The Cubs may have left months before, but in August of 1916, Buffalo Bill and the Wild West came to West Side Park.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Play at the Plate

In 1999, the Detroit News published Home Sweet Home: Memories of Tiger Stadium, a book containing some wonderful photos from the newspaper's archives. Check out this one of Detroit's Recreation Park on page 15 (more about that park here):

... and this nice action shot on page 19:

Another great photo is found on page 25:

Its caption reads:
Ty Cobb was safe at home in this close play at the plate, sliding deftly under the tag of Boston catcher Lou Criger in a game at Bennett Park.
It's a marvelous photo, but I've got a problem with the caption. I agree that the catcher is Lou Criger, a fairly distinctive looking fellow with light brown (or red?) hair, a thin build, and a somewhat gaunt face. Here are a few other photos of the longtime American League catcher:

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-001462. Courtesy of Chicago History Museum

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, [LOT 13163-17, no. 43]

There's really no question that the catcher is Criger, but he's certainly not wearing a Boston uniform. Take a good look at this detail:

There is clearly a patch on Criger's left shoulder. In fact, it's a Fleur-de-lis. The same marking adorns Criger's cap, which he tossed behind him and is seen on the ground just beyond the umpire's left leg. The decorative symbol has long been associated with the city of St. Louis and was used at various times on St. Louis Browns uniforms. Indeed, Criger's uniform and cap are consistent with the club's outfit of 1908 and 1909. Since Criger's only season with the club was 1909, we can be pretty certain that was the year the photo was shot.

So while the caption states that the photo is of Criger with Boston in 1904, it's actually of Criger with the Browns, five years later.

As for the location, it is most certainly Bennett Park in Detroit. Not only are the Tigers wearing their home whites, but the roof of the stands in the background matches that seen in this large panoramic photo from the Library of Congress:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-123165 DLC]

Note also that the two light "patches" on the roof match those seen in the panoramic photo. Here's a detail from the above panoramic photo:

In 1909, the Browns played a dozen games against the Tigers in Detroit: April 30, May 1, June 22, June 23, June 24, June 25, June 26, September 5, a doubleheader on September 6, September 13 and September 14.

According to The Sporting Life of May 8, 1909, the April 30 game between Detroit and St. Louis was "played on a damp field in very cold weather." Not only does the field not look particularly damp, many of the fans have removed their jackets. This date is highly unlikely.

The next day's game can also be eliminated, as the same paper stated:
It was bitterly cold, a high wind blew and the umpires stopped the game in the fourth and again in the sixth because of blinding snowstorms that interrupted play.
The next series of games took place in June and these five dates are all much more likely.

The early September series is a possibility, though Criger did not play in the field during the first game of the doubleheader on September 6, so we can eliminate that game from the running.

Finally, the mid-September pair of contests are out, as Criger did not play in either game.

We are left with the following possible dates: June 22, June 23, June 24, June 25, June 26, September 5, and the second game between the Browns and Tigers played on September 6.

The photo is wonderful, not just because it captures a great bit of action at the plate, but it encapsulates the turbulent history between Criger and Cobb. According to The Sporting Life of March 27, 1909:
Catcher Criger, of the Browns, [was] quoted as saying that Ty Cobb is a bone-headed base-runner, and that he can outguess Tyrus.
Two months later, in the May 22 issue of The Sporting Life, Cobb was reported as saying:
I never knock a ball player. Yes, Criger is a good catcher, but I don't believe he's playing the game he put up last year. I'll say this much, though, that I think he and Cy Morgan tried to put me out of business last year over in Boston. You know Morgan throws a vicious ball. He aimed one at my head and if I hadn't fallen it would have killed me.
In the biography titled Ty Cobb, Charles Alexander summarized the Cobb-Criger rivalry of 1909:
Just as the Browns left Dallas (their spring training site) and the Tigers came in, the local newspapers quoted Criger as bragging that Cobb had never given him much trouble and that "I've got his 'goat,' and I've got the rest of that Tiger bunch, too." Criger went on to say that in past seasons, when Cobb got up after dodging close pitches called by Criger, "the fight was all out of him."

Before Criger could get out of Dallas, Cobb hunted him up to promise that he would steal on Criger the first time he got on base against the Browns that year. That he did, when the Browns came into Bennett Park on April 30. It would make a good story if Cobb had actually run wild on Criger everytime Detroit and St. Louis met for the rest of the season, as Cobb later claimed in his autobiography. Yet besides Cobb's confusion in chronology, so that he had Criger in 1909 still catching Cy Young for Boston, the fact is that Criger generally held his own against Cobb and the rest of the Tigers on the few occasions when he played against Detroit that year. Cobb never successively stole second, third, and home on Criger, as he maintained. On May 1 he did clearly show up the veteran catcher by taking second after hitting into a fielder's choice, as Criger held the ball at homeplate; and toward the end of the season he stole second and third in succession on Criger. But on June 24, Criger pegged him out twice in a row, and later that day Criger took Cobb's spikes on his unguarded shins to tag out the Georgian as he tried to score from third on a grounder to shortstop Bobby Wallace. Criger stamped the pain off, stuck a gauze pad on his wound, and stayed in.
I tried to track down microfilm of The Detroit News Tribune on inter-library loan, but unfortunately I struck out. So I contacted my good friend, Peter Morris, who lives in Michigan, in hopes that he might be able to do some quick sleuthing. It also doesn't hurt that Peter is simply unsurpassed when it comes to baseball research.

Indeed, Peter came through with flying colors, tracking down the photo in the Sunday, June 27, 1909 edition of The Detroit News Tribune. The photo, taken the previous day, was preceded by the following title:
... and below the photo was a caption that read:
The Camera Shutter Snapped as the Georgian Slid to the Plate and the Veteran, Lou Criger, Tagged Him. The Ball Hit the Right Field Bleachers, But Bounded Back Into Hartzell's Hands, and a Quick Relay Resulted in the Georgian's Retirement at Home.
Umpiring behind the plate that day was Billy Evans, seen running in on the play at right.

The story of the game was a mistake by Criger (likely caused by Cobb's tactics) that cost the Browns the game. Here's the synopsis of the play as reported by The Washington Post on June 27:
Catcher Lou Criger made the champion bonehead play of major league history today, and through it lost a chance for an almost sure triple play and the cutting off of four Detroit runs. Incidentally, Detroit for a moment practically had four men on bases, paradoxical as the statement may seem. Crawford, Cobb, and Rossman had got on in order, with none out and O'Leary next up. He hit rather weakly to Jones, who pegged to Criger to force Crawford.

The play was so easy that Crawford only trotted in, expecting a sure out. But Cobb upset things. He commences to yell to Rossman and O'Leary to come on, and apparently got to Criger's goat, for Criger, without touching the plate, pegged back to Jones. Jones kept his head and shot the ball back to Criger, O'Leary being safe at first in the meantime.

Crawford stopped stockstill and nobody was out and four on, while Criger just stood and looked. Finally, Crawford made a dash for the plate and Criger touched him. On the original toss home, if he had stepped on the plate and thrown to third he surely would have got Cobb and probably Rossman too, and there would have been three out and no runs.
Still, Criger managed to retire Cobb on his attempt for an inside-the-park home run, as captured in this beautiful photo of the play at the plate of June 26, 1909.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Man Who Wasn't Mike Tiernan

Mike Tiernan was a very good ballplayer. He patrolled the outfield for the New York Giants for over a dozen years (1887-1899), piling up 1,838 hits, 428 stolen bases, a .311 batting average and 106 home runs. The latter mark seems underwhelming, but one must remember that the long ball was an uncommon occurrence at the time. Indeed, Tiernan was one of just seven players to sock 100 or more home runs in the 19th century.

According to his obituary in The New York Times of November 9, 1918:

In the early days of the Giants the name of Mike Tiernan was on the lips of every baseball fan, and to this day the old-timers talk about the long drives which Silent Mike used to make in Harlem.
All-in-all, Tiernan put together quite a career on the diamond.

A number of photos of Tiernan can be found on the web. Here are a few from the Library of Congress's American Memory web site:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LOT 13163-05, no. 214

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LOT 13163-05, no. 212

And in this photo found at the Baseball Fever web site, Tiernan can be seen sitting with his 1888 Giants teammates (he's two players to the right of Jim Mutrie, who sits at center in street clothes):

And this stunning image of Tiernan is found at the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery web site:

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 1227068

However, one image in particular intrigued me. It is the following photo found also from the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery web site:

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55889

The individual in this latter image looks nothing like the other photographs of Mike Tiernan, yet under "Subjects and Names" the web site lists: "Baseball," "New York Giants" and "Tiernan, Mike."

The name of the photo studio and its location can be clearly seen on the reverse of the photograph: , J. Gurney & Son, 707 Broadway, N.Y. Here's an image of the reverse:

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55889

But according to Craig's Daguerreian Registry, Gurney & Son was only in business at 707 Broadway from 1857 to 1869. Mike Tiernan wasn't even born until 1867, so clearly this cannot be our baseball star. Additionally, close examination of the photo shows that the individual's name as hand-written on the front appears to be Tieman, not Tiernan.

So who is this "Tieman?"

The photo of the mystery individual is actually one of a set of seven at the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery web site, each produced at the same photo studio and each listed as a baseball subject. Here are the other six photos:

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55912

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55903

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55875

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55893

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55863

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55861

So who are Fox, Kavanagh, Estephe, Foley, Goldthwait, Deery, and Tieman? Happily, the answer is revealed in a New York Times article of January 12, 1863, headlined:

Dudley Kavanagh the Champion of America
Grand Match of the East Against the West
The article reads, in part:

Last evening the grand billiard tournament that has been held for the last eight or ten days at Irving Hall, came to a most brilliant conclusion by a grand match, entitled the East against the West, and played by the following gentlemen:

Michael Phelan
Dudley Kavanagh
Wm. Goldthwait
Victor Estephe
Chris. Bird

Philip Tieman
John Seereiter
Michael Foley
Louis Fox
John Deery

This match caused the greatest amount of enthusiasm, the hall being filled by both ladies and gentlemen, who manifested the liveliest interest in the game. After playing two hours and thirty-three minutes, the Eastern players were declared the victors by 162 points; the East had 70 innings; the West 69. The largest score was made by GOLDTHWAIT who counted 222; the smallest by FOX, who only made 54 for his side. PHELAN for the East strung 139, being beaten in point of numbers, both by KAVANAGH and GOLDTHWAITH [sic].

At the conclusion of the match the prizes were awarded to the conquerors by Mr. JAMES KELLY, who in a few, but most appropriate words, presented the winner of the greatest number of games during the tournament, DUDLEY KAVANAGH, with the richly inlaid billiard-table and the beautiful gold mounted cue, at the same time installing him as the Champion Billiard-player of America.

Mr. KAVANAGH, in returning thanks, hoped he should be enabled, and he would do his best, to keep the cue against all comers.

LOUIS FOX, as the second best player in America, was presented with a check for $250, which prize was suitably acknowledged by that gentleman.
Just how these photographs of top billiards players were misidentified as baseball players, including the specific err of Mike Tiernan, is a bit of a mystery. However, as the photos apparently originated from the collection of A.G. Spalding, the former baseball player, executive and sporting goods mogul, perhaps the assumption was that all of his images were baseball-related.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Love a Parade

Well, Andy Strasberg has done it again. Last year he sent along a few photos from his Fantography web site that provided great fodder for baseball research. Now he's sent along another beauty that, I must say, has been incredibly fun to research. Check out this photo:

Andy had no information about the image at all. What you see is what you get. So what do we see?

First, a quick perusal of the picture reveals the following information:

  • some sort of parade is going on
  • a baseball float dominates the scene
  • given the size of the street and buildings, the location is likely a good-sized city
The float is adorned with autographs of numerous baseball players. Here are the names that can be discerned and the years they played in the big leagues:

  • Babe Dahlgren (1935-46)
  • Eddie Lake (1939-41, 1943-50)
  • Pee Wee Reese (1940-42, 1946-58)
  • Bob Feller (1936-41, 1945-56)
  • Dizzy Trout (1939-52, 1957)
  • Birdie Tebbets (1936-42, 1946-52)
  • Pat Mullin (1940-41, 1946-53)
All seven men played for different clubs, so apparently the float isn't meant to honor a specific team. And the years the players have in common are 1940, 1941 and 1946. Given the predominance of military uniforms worn by men and women both on the float and lining the streets, it's a good guess that the photo was taken either during or after World War II. This would point to 1946 as the most likely year, but at this point that's just an educated guess ... nothing more.

Not much more can be gleaned from the float. Some of the kids on top are wearing uniforms with words or letters across the chest, but nothing definitive can be discerned. And the words on the side of the float are extremely difficult to read, though I suspect the upper words read "JUNIOR BASEBALL."

Let's move to the street. An address, street sign, or business sign would be helpful, but very little jumps out. Indeed, I could find only three clues in this vein.

The first clue is the advertising on the side of the building behind the float. Here is a close-up:

We are seeing just the left half of the advertising on the wall, so it is a challenge to determine exactly what is written. At the top are the letters 'CUNNI." Below that is a circle with just a few letters visible: "DOW" and "D" and "ST." (I wonder if this might not read something like "DOWN THE D--- STREET?") Below the circle are the words "BUSH & LANE" displayed vertically and "PIA" and "AND" and further down "SAL" and "5" displayed horizontally.

Thanks goodness for the unobstructed vertical "BUSH & LANE." This was the name of a piano company, which means that the "CUNNI" is likely "CUNNINGHAM" (also a piano manufacturer) and the "PIA" is assuredly "PIANO." In short, the wall is probably an advertisement for a store that sells pianos. Alas, this information does no help determine a date, location or explanation for the photo.

A second clue is the presence of two strange towers, one at the right side of the photo and the other behind the float. Here's a close-up of one:

The image on each tower appears to be a movie reel floating above an automobile. Could this be a sign for movie parking? If so, why are there two signs? And why such an elaborate sign for such a mundane purpose.

The final clue is tough to see. It is hidden far down the street and sits atop a building on the left side. Here's a detail from the photo:

Above the roof of a building, a sign with three letters reads, from top to bottom, "FOX." It's not a unique word, but it is one that is often associated with theaters. Could this be a Fox Theater?

Following this hunch, the next move is to search for theaters named "Fox." As one might guess, there are quite a few. In fact, the folks at Cinema Treasures, a web site devoted to classic movie theaters, has cataloged nearly 200 theaters with the word "Fox" in their name, half of which were known simply as "Fox Theater." From the Fox in Spokane, Washington to the Fox in Hollywood, California to the Fox in Hackensack, New Jersey to the Fox in Pensacola, Florida: it seems that the four corners of the country and everyplace in between has had (or still has) a Fox Theater.

Continuing with the hunch and putting everything together, our Fox Theater was located in a decent-sized city during the 1940s. While that should help eliminate a number of theaters, it still lays before us a daunting task: which Fox is our Fox?

After hours of "Fox hunting," I managed to track down this image of the Fox Theater at 2211 Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan.

Photo courtesy of

The vertical "FOX" sign on this building is slightly different than that seen on our mystery image, but the above photo was taken in recent times, not back in the 1940s. It is reasonable that the FOX sign may have changed a bit over the years, so I decided to dig a little further and found another image of the Fox Theater in Detroit:

Photo courtesy of,_Michigan)

What is interesting about this modern photo of the theater is that across Woodward Avenue and down a block or so there is a church with a steeple. Referring to our baseball float photo, we see a similar church and steeple on the other side of the street from the building topped by the "FOX" sign. A quick look at a map of the area reveals that the church is the Central United Methodist Church at 23 East Adams (the corner of Woodward Avenue and Adams).

So both the Central United Methodist Church and the Fox Theater are still standing on Woodward Avenue. If only we could go to Detroit, walk down Woodward Avenue and see if any of the buildings we see match those in our mystery photo. Well, thanks to Google Street View, we can virtually take a walk down Woodward Avenue, so I did just that.

I started at the Fox Theater in Detroit and "walked" southeast on Woodward. Here's the view southeast with the Fox Theater on the right:

After "walking" few blocks southeast, I got to the Central United Methodist Church. Here's the view looking back (northwest) at the Fox Theater (on he left) from the church (on the right):

And, after "walking" a number of blocks further southeast, I turned around and looked back (northwest) at this scene:

We're just about half a block south of John R Street, looking northwest up Woodward Avenue, and voila! It's a perfect match with our baseball float photo. (Click here to enter Google Street View at the above location).

Revisiting the float photo, let's explore some of the distinctive buildings seen here on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

A) Fox Theater, 2211 Woodward Avenue.

B) Central United Methodist Church, 23 East Adams Avenue (corner of Woodward and Adams)

C) Fyfe Building, 10 West Adams (corner of Woodward and Adams). Here's a great photo:

Photo courtesy of Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, LC-D41-40

D) David Broderick Tower, 10 Witherell Street (corner of Woodward and Witherell). Here's a picture of the Broderick Tower (on the left):

Photo courtesy of

E) Wright-Kay Building (also known as the Schwankovsky Temple of Music), 1500 Woodward Avenue. This is an absolutely gorgeous building and, apparently, the first in Detroit to have an electric elevator. Here is a photo:

Photo courtesy of

F) St. John’s Episcopal Church, 50 East Fisher Freeway. Hard to see in the baseball float photo as it is pretty far away. Here's a photo:

Photo courtesy of

So there's no doubt exactly where the photo was taken. But when was it taken? When was there a World War II-era parade on Woodward Avenue? Here's the answer:

Back in 1946, Detroit held the Automotive Golden Jubilee, a two-week celebration of the end of the war and war-time related manufacturing and a return to doing what Detroit did best: making cars. On June 1, 1946, the World's Fair-like celebration reached a climax with the Motor City Cavalcade, a parade down Woodward Avenue.

The Detroit Public Library has an excellent online exhibit about the Jubilee. The site features the following image of the cover of the Jubilee program:

Recognize the logo? It's the same "movie reel" floating above a car seen on the towers in the baseball float photo. But that's not a movie reel, it's a wheel orbited by electrons, a symbol of the automobile industry moving into the atomic age.

The following image of the parade is from Life magazine in 1946:

Note the numerous towers topped by the Jubilee logo, identical to those seen in our float photo. There's no question that our mystery photo was taken at this parade.

Amazingly, there is even footage of the parade on YouTube.

So, the baseball float photo was taken during the Motor City Cavalcade parade on June 1, 1946, from a location just about half a block south of John R Street, looking northwest up Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

But what of the baseball float? What is its story? Alas, I have been unable to find any information about that particular float. Perhaps one of my readers can help solve that final mystery.