Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nice Hitting Streak for an Uggla Season


Dan Uggla extended his consecutive-game hitting streak to 30 games last night, joining a rather exclusive group. According to a list at baseball-reference.com, there have been 53 hitting streaks of 30 or more games prior to Uggla's current run.

As one might expect, when a player fashions such a streak, he generally ends the season with an excellent batting average. Joe DiMaggio batted .357 in 1941 when he recorded his astounding 56-game hitting streak. And in 1897, Willie Keeler batted .424, beginning the season with hits in 44 straight games, the record prior to Joltin' Joe's 56.



Looking from the other end of the telescope, the player with the lowest batting average in a season in which he posted a 30-game hitting streak is Willy Taveras (top right), who batted just .278 in 2006 despite hitting in 30 straight games for Houston. But through August 9 (the date of his 30th straight game with a hit), Dan Uggla (top left) is batting just .220. In short, Uggla has an excellent chance of setting the mark for the lowest batting average in a season with a 30-game hitting streak. How excellent is that chance? Let's see:

In 116 games played this season, the Braves' second baseman has had 437 at bats, for an average of 3.78 at bats per game. Assuming Uggla plays in each of the remaining 45 games in Atlanta's schedule (so far he's only missed one game this year), he'll have nearly 170 at bats (more precisely 169.52) in which to get really hot. How hot? Some quick math provides the answer. He'll need 73 hits in those 170 at bats to pass Taveras's mark. If he does, his average would be .2784, just barely topping Taveras's .2779.

Can he do it? You decide. So far during his 30-game streak (from July 5 through August 9), Dan Uggla has batted .345. (He began his streak batting just .173!) But to get past Taveras's mark, Uggla would need to bat at a .429 clip … for seven weeks. Welcome to the record books, Mr. Uggla!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nix Flicks Sticks in Box for Sox in Rox


What's up with my Seussian blog title "Nix Flicks Sticks in Box for Sox in Rox?" To understand, first check out this great photograph from the extensive collection of panoramic images at the Library of Congress's web site.


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC2-6131 DLC

There are two main ways to create panoramic photographs. The first is the most obvious method, in which multiple images are placed side by side to create a wide shot. Here's an excellent example showing a game at Chicago's South Side Park in 1904. This panorama is comprised of three separate prints (from three separate negatives) placed side by side forming one magnificent photograph:


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-24414A,B,C DLC

The other method of creating a panoramic photograph utilizes a special camera that rotates on a tripod while its aperture remains open, creating a single, long image. There are excellent descriptions of both methods at the Library of Congress's web site.

The panoramic photo that is the topic of this blog entry can also be found on page 83 of Baseball Americana, a book featuring a number of wonderful images from the collection of the Library of Congress. Here's the caption accompanying the photo in that book:

Boston, American League baseball grounds, E. Chickering & Co., photograph, 9½ x 9½ in., 1903. This image illustrates a fictitious moment as the pitcher, at left, is seen making his throw, but the batter, catcher, and umpire at right are not the least bit engaged in the play. Not only that, but the ball that should be in flight is missing. In the thirty seconds or so that it took for the camera to pan from one end of the scene to the next, the pitcher made his throw and what followed is anybody's guess: the batter hit a foul ball, swung and missed, or took a strike or a ball. By the time the camera had home plate in its sight, the play was over, and the threesome on the right were all standing up straight again.
Alas, there's not a lot of information provided in that caption, or in the data accompanying the image at the Library of Congress's web site. Additionally, I disagree with the statement that the "image illustrates a fictitious moment."

First of all, a panoramic photograph doesn't depict a "moment" in time. Indeed, as the caption goes on to note, it takes many seconds for a panoramic camera to capture the full scene. What is seen on the left side of the photo was not taken at the same time as what is seen on the right. While normal photographs are essentially taken at a single moment, true panoramic photos capture a scene over a stretch of time lasting many seconds.

Additionally, the word "fictitious" is overstating the situation. In fact, a bit of research reveals the exact date, inning and at bat during which the photograph was taken. A quick look at the photo establishes some basic information.

The photo is clearly of the Huntington Avenue Grounds in the Roxbury district of Boston, where the Boston Americans (now known a the Red Sox) played their home games from 1901 to 1911. In 1912 they moved into Fenway Park. Compare our panoramic photo with the numerous photos of the Huntington Avenue Grounds at the Boston Public Library's Sports Temples web site. For example, in the detail below from a 1912 photo of the park, note the grand stand at far right and the long buildings behind the bleachers on the first base side. They are identical to those seen in the panoramic photo.


Boston Public Library Image 05_02_011008

Written at the bottom right-hand corner of our panoramic photo is the following information: "Copyright by E. Chickering & Co. 1903." Elmer E. Chickering was one of Boston's leading photographers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His studio at 21 West Street was just a block east of Boston Common and about two miles northeast of the Huntington Avenue Grounds. While not definitive, the date suggests that the year is 1903. Certainly the photo was taken no later that that.

A close examination of the players' uniforms in our panoramic image not only confirms that the club in the field is Boston, but that the man at bat, the coach at first, and the players on the bench are members of the visiting Chicago White Sox. In fact, both clubs are wearing uniforms worn exclusively in 1903. For Boston, this was the only season in which they donned caps featuring a single horizontal stripe. (In 1901, '02 and '04 the club went with a pair of stripes.) And for Chicago, 1903 was the only year the club wore dark-colored stockings with a wide, white stripe.

The teams and year identifications are substantiated by reviewing close-ups of two of the players in the panoramic photo alongside corresponding uniform drawings from the National Baseball Hall of Fame's online exhibit, Dressed to the Nines:





We've established that the photo is an American League Boston vs. Chicago game at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in 1903. In order to determine the exact day of the contest we need to know the various dates the White Sox played in Boston that season. According to the game log for the 1903 White Sox at retrosheet.org, Chicago visited the Roxbury park on three separate road trips that year: June 4, 5 and 6; July 8, 9, 10 and 11; and September 19, 21 and 22.

After checking various game accounts from these ten contests, I happened across a note on page 6 of the September 23 Chicago Tribune. Following their recounting of the final game of Chicago's September visit to Boston, the paper stated:
The game was stopped twice to allow a photographer to get panoramic views of the men in action on the field.
Bingo! There's little question that the game depicted in our panoramic photo was the one played between Chicago and Boston on Tuesday, September 22, 1903. A different article mentioned that it was Ladies' Day at the Huntington Avenue Grounds that afternoon, so each woman who was accompanied by a male escort gained admission to the park free of charge. Indeed, a close look at the fans in the grandstand reveals an unusually large number of women in attendance.



The box score of the September 22, 1903, game is readily available, this one coming from page 6 of the October 3, 1903, issue of The Sporting Life found at the LA84 Foundation web site.



From this information, we can quickly identify a number of Boston fielders in the panoramic photograph, as there were no substitutions and the players remained at the same positions throughout the game.
  • The Boston pitcher was Long Tom Hughes, who logged his only 20-win season in 1903, finishing the campaign with a 20-7 record.
  • The player seen at far left was second baseman Hobe Ferris, who three weeks after this photo was taken drove in all three of Boston's runs in the eighth and final game of the 1903 World Series to give the club its first world title.
  • The outfielder positioned in front of the "C.C.A. 10¢ Cigar" advertisement in right field was Buck Freeman, a slugger who twice led his league in home runs.
  • The individual seen just under the "Red Fox Ale" advertisement was Candy LaChance, one of the top fielding first basemen of his day.
  • Catching for Boston was Duke Farrell, who, at 36 years of age, was the elder statesman on the club.
Additionally, the umpire behind home plate was Frank "Silk" O'Loughlin in his second season as a big league arbiter. He eventually fashioned a 17-year big league umpiring career in which he called a record-seven no-hitters.

Determining the identity of the White Sox batter is a bit more difficult, requiring more than just the box score. First, take a look at the scoreboard in right field:



Unfortunately, it is a bit out of focus. Still, careful examination of the line score numbers already hanging on the board reveals that the last completed inning was the fourth. Thus, the photo was taken in the top of the fifth inning.

In order to determine which White Sox players batted in the fifth inning, the game's play-by-play is needed. Thankfully, the incomparable David Smith of retrosheet.org was able to supply me with just that. Here's a close-up of the fifth inning play-by-play as reported in the Chicago Daily News of September 23, 1903:



And here's a transcription of Chicago's top of the fifth (with additional notes in brackets):
  • [Nixey] Callahan singled to center.
  • [Pep] Clarke lifted a high one to [shortstop Fred] Parent. [One out.]
  • [Danny] Green out, [undecipherable] to [first baseman Candy] LaChance. [Two outs.]
  • [Lee] Tannehill singled to right, scoring Callahan.
  • Tannehill out stealing second, [Duke] Farrell to [Hobe] Ferris. [Three outs.]
[Note: Thanks to Lenny DiFranza who was able to decipher the name of the player who threw out Danny Green at first base. It was pitcher Hughes.]

We've now whittled down the possibilities to one of four White Sox players who batted in the top of the fifth inning: left fielder (and White Sox manager) Nixey Callahan, third baseman Pep Clarke, right fielder Danny Green or shortstop Lee Tannehill. However, as Green batted left-handed and our batter is clearly right-handed, we can quickly eliminate Green. Additionally, since Callahan was on first base when Clarke came to bat and the photo clearly shows that first base is unoccupied, Clarke cannot be our batter. This leaves two possible batters: Nixey Callahan or Lee Tannehill.

Let's compare photographs of these two players with the batter in our photo. Here's our unidentified batter:



Here are two photos of Nixey Callahan:


SDN-004735, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum


SDN-003587, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

And here are two photos of Lee Tannehill:


SDN-002967, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum


SDN-004248, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

Check out Nixey Callahan's ear and jawline. They are an excellent match to those of the White Sox batter in our panoramic photo. Tannehill features don't match up. Additionally, while I wouldn't solely rely on this for identification purposes, every photo I find in Lee Tannehill from this time period shows him wearing his collar up (as seen in the above images). Apparently, this was his preference. Our White Sox batter, however, does not wear his collar in that fashion. So we've now identified our batter as Nixey Callahan.

Here's my theory as to just what is going on in the photograph:

After the bottom of the fourth inning, a photographer for Chickering & Company set up his camera to take a picture of action in the top of the fifth. The cameraman aimed his special panoramic camera at pitcher Tom Hughes and started the long, rotating exposure as Hughes delivered a pitch. The camera's aperture was open and pointing at Hughes when he threw the ball home. This is why Hughes' arm is blurred.

But what about the baseball? Why is it not seen at all? There is no blurred image of the baseball because it traveled much faster than the rotating camera and quickly moved out of the camera's field of view. If the photo had been taken with a standard camera, there would be a blur. That is because the shutter would be open for just a split second, during which the ball would travel a short distance, leaving a blur on the film.

What about the batter, who is clearly not ready to receive the pitch? How is that possible when Hughes is shown in mid-throw? Well, by the time the rotating camera reached the right side of the scene, many seconds later after the pitch was delivered, the baseball had already been caught by the catcher and thrown back to the pitcher. We are seeing the batter, catcher and umpire well after the pitch was delivered, about to get ready for the next pitch.

And what about that Seussian title? Well, let's recap the situation: That's Nixey Callahan of the White Sox wielding his bat in the batter's box, leading off the top of the fifth inning in a game against Boston at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Roxbury on September 22, 1903. Or, as Dr. Seuss might say: Nix Flicks Sticks in Box for Sox in Rox.



Research Update: August 21, 2011

On August 18, 2011, blog reader "Jere" wrote in and stated (in part):

I only have one issue with your analysis. Look at the shadows. They differ pretty significantly between the left and right halves of the photo. So there was a lot of time between photos, meaning it's the fifth inning in the left half, but the batter is not batting in the fifth, but a later inning.
These true panoramic photos are wonderful things, but they can often be a bit confusing. It's important to remember that a panoramic photo is a flat representation of a curved scene. For this reason, straight lines can appear to be curved and parallel lines (in this case, shadows) appear not to be parallel. For example, here's a photo of Hilltop Park in New York from the same collection of panoramic photos at the Library of Congress:


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-117224 DLC

Note how the first base line, which we all know should be straight, appears anything but straight in this photo. But if one were to print out the photo and curve it around the arc of a circle (perhaps about 180 degrees), the line would straighten out just perfectly.

I've borrowed an excellent image of the Huntington Avenue Grounds created by artist Juff Suntala. You can find the original at Jeff's web site. In the version below, I've added red-arrow overlays showing the direction of the shadows for the pitcher, batter, and first base coach. In the panoramic photo, the shadows do not appear parallel. But take a look in this image. They are quite parallel indeed:



I hope that clears things up.