Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rabbit Maranville Is Not a Nazi

In September of 2009, Paul Lukas, keeper of all-things uniform and editor of the invaluable and entertaining Uni Watch column and blog, alerted his readers to a photograph forwarded along by Bruce Menard:

The player is quite clearly Boston Braves shortstop Rabbit Maranville in a posed action shot in foul territory near third base. A quick check of the Dressed to the Nines uniform database confirms that Maranville is wearing a Boston Braves road uniform from either 1913, 1914 or 1915. The uniforms match perfectly save for one detail: a swastika on the front of the baseball cap.

Was Rabbit Maranville a Nazi? Should he be referred to as Herr Maranville, or better yet, "Hare" Maranville? What's the story?

Here's what Paul related in his blog entry:

That’s Rabbit Maranville, circa 1915, and Bruce says the cap was worn to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania. I know the swastika has a lengthy pre-Nazi history, so let’s not rehash all of that, but I didn’t know about this Lusitania connection. Anyone know more?
Let's see if we can shed a bit more light on the photograph.

We've already established a window of possible years: 1913, 1914 or 1915. The latter season works well with the Lusitania theory, since the ship sank on May 7 of that year. Alas, beyond the possible year match, there are numerous problems with the theory:
  • At the time of the disaster, the Braves were in the midst of a nearly month-long homestand that stretched from May 6 to June 3. Assuming the club wore the special caps soon after the ship's sinking, why would they don road uniforms at home?
  • Alternatively, if the photo was taken after the Braves' homestand, why bother? The incident was a month in the past.
  • And why wear the "swasti-cap?" What does a swastika have to do with calling attention to the tragedy? Why not wear an armband or special pin?
No. The Lusitania theory just doesn't seem to add up. Rather than focusing on this theory, the best angle to research the photo is to see what other clues present themselves.

We have a date range. What about the location? Look at the area directly behind Maranville. Though it is a bit out of focus, the word "FATIMA" can be seen on the outfield wall, with light-colored lettering over a dark-colored background. This is an advertisement for Fatima cigarettes, a popular brand that was advertised at many big league parks. To the right of the cigarette ad there appears to be an outfield scoreboard, and above both the ad and the scoreboard it appears that the wall is generally white. These clues should help determine at what ballpark the photo was taken.

Examining numerous photos of ballparks found at the Library of Congress' Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, I came across a few that helped identify the park.

Here's a photo of Brooklyn pitcher Duster Mails wearing Brooklyn's special cross-hatch uniforms worn only in 1916:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-22441

The style of the outfield wall and the position of the scoreboard match the Maranville photo perfectly. However, the "Fatima" advertisement has the wrong color scheme (dark lettering on a light background, rather than light lettering on a dark background) and the area above the ad and the scoreboard is not white, but rather has an advertisement for "Uneeda Biscuit" by the "National Biscuit Company."

Here's a photo showing more of center field at the same park in 1916. This time the picture features Otto Miller, the Brooklyn catcher who was tagged out by Cleveland's Bill Wambsganss for the final out of Wamby's famous unassisted triple play during the 1920 World Series:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-22473
Though the quality of the image is poor, one can readily see the dark "batter's eye" in center field and a flag atop a flagpole.

Finally, the right field portion of the park is seen in this photo of Zack Wheat, also from 1916:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-22484

So what park is this? It's a very "young" Ebbets Field! The signature "concave" wall in right field can be seen in the photo of Zack Wheat. What few people realize is that prior to the extension of the third base-side grandstand in the early 1930s, the wall in left field was similarly concave.

Now that the ballpark has been identified, we need to find an exact match for the "Fatima" advertisement with the light-colored wall above it.

A word of warning. Matching outfield wall advertisements is a great way to help date photos, but it is not an exact science. While ad space was generally sold in the off-season and new ads painted prior to the opening of the season, sometimes (though rarely) ads or other outfield wall features changed during the season. (A good example is discussed in my Take Me Out to the Ball Game Polo Grounds entry.) Additionaly, not all ad space changed from one season to the next, so an ad could last for multiple seasons without apparent change. In short, outfield wall ad matching is like a chainsaw. Both are great tools when you know how to use them, but without proper training, they can both be rather dangerous. (Of course, the chainsaw is slightly more dangerous, but you get the idea.)

Here's a photo of Braves second baseman Johnny Evers that matches the outfield wall in the Maranville photo perfectly:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-15794

This photo also helps narrow down the possible years of the Maranville shot, because Evers didn't play with Boston until 1914, so 1913 can be eliminated as a possible year.

But wait. Take a closer look at Evers' cap:

He's wearing a "swasti-cap," too! The photo was almost assuredly taken the same day as the Maranville shot. After searching for other photos of Braves players at Brooklyn, I came across this one of Maranville:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-15793

Amazingly, though it was taken from a slightly different angle, this photo was made at exactly the same time as the other Maranville image.

Using similar research methods as described above, I spent quite a few hours researching other photos from the Library of Congress, and was able to create "maps" of the outfield walls for Ebbets Field for quite a few years, specifically 1913, 1914 and 1915. From this work, I was able to conclude that the photo of Maranville (and Evers) could only have been taken in 1914.

Additionally, the latter photo of Maranville as well as the Evers photo have handwritten dates on the emulsion. Both read "4/16/14."

It's tempting to think that this is the date of the photograph, but I've researched quite a few photos from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress (where all of the above photos originate) and found that the handwritten dates do not necessarily correspond to the date the photo was taken. More likely, they represent the date that the photograph was developed. Nevertheless, they do approximate the correct date, which in this case points to mid-April of 1914. In fact, Brooklyn hosted the Boston Braves on Opening Day at Ebbets Field on April 14, 1914. It is my belief that this is the date of the Maranville photograph.

Still, we are left wondering why the Braves wore caps with swastikas. At this point, a little history of the controversial symbol helps.

The swastika has been around for thousands of years, the word coming from the Sanskrit "svastika" meaning "all is well." Up until its adoption by Nazi Germany, the swastika was known as a symbol of luck, and was often worn as a good-luck charm. Of course, the symbol's association with the Nazis has overshadowed this earlier meaning.

But in 1914, there was no stigma associated with the swastika. Well, at least very little. On January 26, 1912, the New York Times ran an article with the headline "'Jinxes' Have No Place With Yankees: Manager Wolverton Will Drive Superstitious Ideas Out of His Ball Team." The article goes on as follows:

Manager Harry Wolverton of the Yankees says that the day of the superstitious ballplayer is over. He doesn't believe in jinxes, good or bad omens, rabbits' feet, swastika signs, or all that ancient baseball lore.
Despite the best efforts of Harry Wolverton, the lucky swastika was and continued to be embraced by people around the world, including ballplayers. In fact, it is my belief that the Braves wore the special "swasti-caps" on Opening Day of 1914 as a good-luck charm ... or at least as an end-the-bad-luck charm.

The Boston Braves entered the 1914 season having finished in the National League's second division 11 straight years — dead last in four of the previous five campaigns. Opening the season in Brooklyn, it's not hard to believe that the exasperated club might choose to adopt a good luck symbol to help turn things around.

At first it appeared that the superstitious move was a failure. The club lost both games in Brooklyn and continued to slide downhill for nearly three months. After dropping both ends of a doubleheader to Brooklyn on July 4, the Braves found themselves with a record of 26-40, in last place and 16 games out of first. Then, things turned around.

The Braves won their next four games and, ultimately, 68 of their final 87. The turnaround was nothing short of incredible, as the club took sole possession of first place by early September and ultimately grabbed the pennant by 10.5 games over the second place Giants. In the World Series, Boston dismissed the powerful Philadelphia Athletics in four straight games.

Today known as the "Miracle Braves," Boston's celebrated comeback remains unparalleled in big league history. Who would have guessed that it all began with a superstition and a symbol that has long since become taboo?

Update of April 14, 2014:

Thanks to the great work of uber-baseball researcher Peter Morris, we now have a final confirmation that the Braves wore their special "swasti-caps" on Opening Day of 1914. The following paragraph comes from an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of April 15, 1914, titled "Yesterday's Ball Game As a Woman Viewed It." Note the final sentence:

Thanks, Peter!


  1. WOW! This is some great research, Tom. What a fascinating backstory to the caps. I couldn't imagine a team today wearing caps with a horseshoe or shamrock on them in order to change its luck.

  2. THAT was some amazing research! Very cool. Thanks.

  3. Outstanding research, Tom. Thanks for writing this.

  4. Well...there you have it then.
    Good to know the more likely truth behind it.
    ~Bruce Menard

  5. Great work, enjoyable read. Thanks.

  6. he is still a racist nobody wears a swastika unless you are one!!!

  7. Wow. Thank you. That was incredible.

  8. Very cool. Thanks for researching, and thanks for sharing.

  9. Very interesting piece, Tom. Imagine, a writer curious enough to seek out actual answers to questions! Well done.

  10. Amazing!! Great job

  11. That's pretty interesting, and kudos on the research. I lived in a building in Verdun, Quebec (basically a part of Montreal) once that had a swastika as part of the brick-work of the facade. I have quite a few Chinese friends, so I was aware of the older meanings of it, and I always wondered when that building was built, and what meaning was intended (and also why it hadn't been removed), but I'm afraid I don't have the appetite for research you do, so I never found out.

  12. Boston should keep wearing them. It will keep their city looking nice!

  13. Great article! Your explanation seems highly probable. This might be a bit of a stretch, but I remembered hearing (and Wikipedia backs up: that Native Americans used the swastika as a symbol with various meanings.

    Given that the Braves is an explicit reference to Native Americans, any chance there is a connection between Native use and the team's use?

  14. Thank you for such a wonderful nice story.

  15. Great work and thoroughly enjoyable. It is rare these days to learn something new and interesting about our great pastime. Thank you.

  16. The swastika was an American Indian motif for centuries, a positive one. It was woven on blankets and beaded on regalia of many different Tribes Could it be that these players are wearing it because of one Jim Thorpe, who also played for the Boston Braves?? And the fact that their team was called the "Braves"??? Just speculating...

  17. Quite a bit of detective work. One point on the swasstika that was left out though, in almost every example associated with WWII nazism, the swastika is tilted counterclockwise so the vertical bars are at the 10, 2, 4 and 8 o'clock positions, not 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock as pictured on the caps.

  18. Your baseball research is fabulous. But your swastika research is sadly lacking. The whole setup to your piece around the sinking of the Lusitania is silly, since the swastika was not a symbol of Imperial Germany, but was adopted by the Nazis decades later. Their choice of the symbol was driven by Hitler's conception of German connections to an "Aryan" race, which you correctly note bears ancient Sanskrit/Indian origins.

    Indian as in India (Asia) that is. That's important, because you miss the most likely origin of the swastika on the Brave's caps - as a completely independent good luck symbol of Native American "Indians" ("Braves"), most notably the Navajo. I can't past a link here, but search "Swastika" on Wikipedia, and go to "Native American Traditions". The swastika was a popular enough symbol within American culture that it served as the divisional (shoulder) patch of the U.S. Army's 45th Infantry Division, whose origins were as an Arizona National Guard unit, until 1939, long after the Nazis came to power in Germany. Again you can see this on Wikipedia by searching "45th Infantry Divison".

    Keep up the great baseball research! But dig deeper elsewhere.

  19. Excellent piece of work.

    I do wonder, however, about the conclusion that the Braves wore the caps only for their road opener. I'm not aware of any other example of a cap from that era with such a short shelf life, and I'm particularly doubtful about the famously tightwad Braves shelling out for specially embroidered caps for only one game's use. It strikes me as more likely that they were worn for a somewhat longer portion of the 1914 season, and then abandoned (perhaps in connection with the Braves' poor start).

    On the other hand, from the 1914 NL schedule available on Retrosheet, it appears that the Braves were scheduled to play four games in Brooklyn to open the season (before travelling to Philadelphia). It appears that the Tuesday and Wednesday games with the Dodgers were rained out (or cancelled for other reasons). Might the two day delay after an 8-2 opening loss have caused the Braves to rethink their good luck caps?

  20. Very impressive research. Nice job

  21. This is a neat article -- I was waiting for this to be photographic documentation of the 1912 minor league team, the Cañon City Swastikas -- but with these players, that didn't seem likely.

  22. Very nice job on the field identification! Field history if very sketchy without thorough research.

  23. Awesome article. Reminds me of a road trip I took to Paris, Kentucky in college where a friend of mine and I found a building with 22 swastikas designed into the bricks. We did some asking around town and found out that the building was built in 1917 (which we confirmed by going back and checking the flagstone), when the swastika was still a good luck charm.

    Thanks for the cool research!

  24. Thanks for the interesting research!

  25. Wow, terrific work. Your work with the archives is wonderful (I can only imagine the images you dug through), and I am exceedingly jealous. I am amazed at the history here, and am so pleased to have this insight into the culture of early 20th century baseball. Please keep up the great work.

  26. Terrific article, sir. Wonderfully done.

  27. swastikas are commonly used in India as it has a 5000+ year history in the hindu religion.

    If you go to India, you will notice freshly painted swastikas all over the place. In addition, India was a safe haven for Jews for many years until the creation of modern day Isreal.

    Amazing how a few years of evil can destroy 5000+ years of history

  28. They were the Boston "BRAVES", right?

    Well, the swastika was universally used by American Indians long before the coming of the White man.

    Because it was a popular symbol of American Indians, it was also adopted by the Boy Scouts of America, which used that symbol until the Second World War.

    If you look at old highway signs, you'll find the swastika on Arizona route markers prior to the Second World War.

    A while back, there was a HUGE controversy because a motel out West, honoring their American Indian neighbors, had the motel cabins shaped like tipis, with swastikas painted on them.

    I don't know the date or what eventually happened.

    I just remember seeing the photographs.

  29. Ironic that the swastika was at the time considered a talisman not just on the Indian subcontinent, but among Native Americans as well. Given that, it might have not only served as a good-luck charm, but symbolized the Braves franchise as well. Imagine if it had stuck!

  30. Great job on the research. Did the Braves wear the cap again after the opening games with Brooklyn?

    Also, I'm betting the Atlanta Braves won't be wearing this as a throwback.

  31. Another clue in cases like this is that the symbol is not turned 45 degrees from the horizontal, as German National Socialists did in order to use the symbol as crossed S-letters for their "socialism." See the work of the symbologist Dr. Rex Curry. The Nazis did not call it a swastika, they called it a Hakenkreuz (hooked cross). Also, the Nazis did not call themselves Nazis (they called themselves Socialists: the National Socialist German Workers Party).

  32. Another question is raised by your amazing research. If the swastikas are remarkable, then you and your readers might enjoy finding photos of this: At that time, the Pledge of Allegiance used the pledge's early stiff-armed salute. Did players and spectators start the games with the National Anthem (as they do now)? Or even the pledge itself? If so, there might be photos of the players and the crowds performing the early pledge stiff-armed salute, as the players and spectators often do today at sporting events (but with the modern hand-over-the-heart that replaced the straight-arm salute). The Pledge Of Allegiance was the origin of the salute adopted later by German National Socialists (again see the work of Dr. Rex Curry). There are even examples of the early pledge salute being used outside of the pledge, so there might be examples of the gesture used as a "cheer" or as a physical exclamation/salute by excited fans.

  33. Amazing. Absolutely amazing...

  34. Awesome article. Thanks.

  35. Wow! Great research. That's pretty cool, especially that NY Times find.

  36. Nice work, I admire your dedication - something baseball fans seem to have in common.
    And fortunately most people reading this article will have the mental fortitude not to accuse you or the Boston Braves of being anti-semites, but I am still waiting for that to happen.
    Keep up the good work.

  37. I wonder if there are any of hats still in existence. Bet that would be worth a fortune as a collector's item.

  38. Excellent story. Did they wear it the next season?!?!

  39. The older of the two active federal courthouses in Albuquerque NM, as well as one of its municipal auditorea, is still to this day festooned with pre-WWI swastika imagery.

  40. I've got to admit, I chuckled out loud at the caption to the second Maranville photo.

    Yes, S.S. Boston does not seem so surprising a caption for a picture of a ballplayer wearing a swastika...

  41. Great sleuthing as always, Tom! (Do readers of this blog know of your other work? We just got here from a Net54 link.)
    We kinda thought the general history of the swastika itself (although certainly not of this particular usage) was, by now, common knowledge -- but when out-of-town acquaintances make their first visit to Buffalo (whence we hail), we like to take them to the Ellicott Square Building downtown. Built in 1893, it was for a while the largest office building in the entire world. Its original mosaic tile floor is intact -- decorated liberally with Native American swastikas, which usually startle and worry our visitors until the story's told.

  42. What great work. Perhaps it's now time for you to look over all the photos from the day JFK was shot and tell the world what really happened. Was there more than one shooter? Where did the shots come from? The world is waiting...

  43. Great job narrowing down the date range for the photo, but you haven't demonstrated why the Braves wore those caps. "Good luck charm" is a decent surmise, but isn't proven and doesn't explain very much. Guess I'd like to know a little more about the ancient history of alternate uniforms, and a little more about the use of the swastika in baseball lore before I could feel sure you've placed the photo in the proper context.


  44. Reading this, I felt like I was 13 again and just discovering what was so cool about baseball history. What wonderful historical reporting.

  45. Solid theory. I checked the NY Times article about the game, but there's no mention at all about the Braves wearing a swastika. I'd think that if they wore it that day, it'd be mentioned, since it was a little unusual.

  46. Fabulous article!

  47. In your comments of the second picture, you make reference to the "National Biscuit Company's advertising."
    I'm wondering if you happen to have any information on their amateur baseball team; the NBCo. Dating from 1914 to 1918.

  48. The symbol on the cap was also an American Indian symbol before it was a Nazi Symbol. Check with the National Museum of tne American Indian (Smithsonian)

  49. Swastikas have always been a sign of peace, good luck, and all things good. Most sports teams wore them for good luck,especially at the height of its popularity in the early 1900's. It doesn't matter which way it is turning, or what angle its at. Most religions that use the swastika don't differentiate at all; a swastika is a swastika. In India the they generally use a right-facing swastika, Buddhists a left-facing swastika mostly, but they also use a right facing swastika. Native Americans used the right-facing, cocked just like the Nazi variant. In the early 1900's Arizona road signs had swastikas on them. San Francisco street lamps had them, too. It was a very popular symbol and is still used by many countries, religions and cultures as a sign of all things good. These photos are clearly pre-WWII and has nothing to do with war or battle-- its a sign of good luck. He's obviously not racist for wearing a swastika. I am Native and have a swastika tattooed on me. My grandfather had one, too.

  50. This is great... thanks so much for your research. It's a great story!

  51. As usual, nice job researching this angle. I am a huge fan of the 1914 Braves (even have a screenplay ready to go!)and I am still picking interesting tid bits.

    Frank Ceresi

    PS Your investigation of the photo made me think of my good friend George Michael, who many of us miss very much, but who relished this sort of "photo" research and would have loved your work on this, Tom.

  52. Please help to correct the New York Times article (April 19, 2014) that references your blog article. The NYT perpetuates the lie that the Germans called themselves "Nazis," that they called their symbol a "swastika," and that the symbol "traveled" to Germany from India (there is no evidence of that). The Germans called themselves "National Socialists" and they called their symbol a "Hakenkreuz," which means "hooked cross" because their symbol was a type of cross. It was also not a swastika in that they used it to represent crossed "S" letters for their dogma -"socialism"- as alphabetical symbolism (see the book about the work of the symbologist Dr. Rex Curry- by turning it 45 degrees from the horizontal and always pointing it in the "S" letter direction. That is another reason why the baseball cap symbol has a distinctly different meaning from the "socialist" alphabetical meaning from Germany. Germans did not "hijack" the symbol. The hijacking of the symbol was done by people who did not want to disparage the Christian cross, so they began deliberately mis-identifying the German socialist symbol as a "swastika." That continues to this day.

    1. Daniel Ruth - I suggest you contact the New York Times regarding your concerns.

  53. Wow, I can’t believe it’s been over 4 years since I originally sent that photo to Paul at Uni Watch. It sure still gets people going! By the way, the Lusitania theory & dating weren't directly mine back then, they came from an erroneous auction description that you can see here:


  54. Love that the update was posted exactly 100 years after the photo is thought to have been taken!

  55. Nothing to do with baseball, but another contemporary use of the swastika was by the the KRIT Motor Car Company of Detroit, MI between 1909 and 1916: