Saturday, January 14, 2012

Where the Bullpen Meets the Pigpen

A few days ago, Matt Rothenberg, an "alum" of the Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, kindly alerted me to an interesting map available at the Library of Congress's web site. Take a look:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-03942

The map was a promotion of H.W. Hill & Company of Decatur, Illinois, "sole manufacturers of Hill's Hog Ringers, Hill's Triangular Rings, Calf and Cow Weaners, Stock Markers, etc." What's a hog ring, you ask? Well, in the good ol' days, one would affix a metal ring to a hog's snout to help deter the animal from its natural instinct of rooting in the ground. Apparently, Hugh W. Hill was the inventor of the startling practice. According to the Centennial History of Decatur and Macon County:

H. W. Hill was so disgusted with the rooting done by one of his hogs one day that he picked up a piece of wire and jabbed it through the nose of the big porker. It worked. With that wire in his nose the hog had to retire from the rooting business. Mr. Hill put the idea to work. He made the hog ringer and rings which bore his name, and the manufacture of which was a leading industry in Decatur for years and built him a fortune.
Indeed, Hill held quite a few hog-ringing patents, including ones for hog-ringing implements, hog ring pinchers, hog tongs, and improvements in snout-rings. Here's U.S. patent number 130,853, Mr. Hill's improvement in instruments for ringing hogs, granted on August 27, 1872:

Of course, all of this has absolutely nothing to do with baseball … until you take a look at the promotional map above and focus in on Maryland. Here's a detail from the map:

Just above North Carolina's hog stirring a pot of tar and to the left of New Jersey's clam-catching hog, there is Maryland's hog, with a bat in hand and a baseball heading his way. The nickname given for Maryland on the map is "Craw Thumper," a somewhat obscure and derogatory term for a Roman Catholic. As early Maryland was predominantly Catholic, the term was used to refer to anyone hailing from the state.

Just what Catholics or craw-thumping have to do with baseball is a mystery. Quite frankly, I have no idea why the illustrator chose a baseball motif for Maryland at all. Sure, baseball was a popular sport in the state in 1884, but not any more so than in numerous other locales around the country. The Baltimore entry in the short-lived Union Association of 1884 was an average contingent that finished with a 58-47 record, miles behind the class of the league, the St. Louis Maroons at 94-19. And the American Association Baltimore Orioles of 1884 finished in sixth place and would not rise to their peak until in the mid-1890s, by which time they were in the National League. The Orioles of the following season were nothing to write home about, either, but at least a nice photo of the club has survived:

Anyone have a thought as to why Maryland was singled out as the state to feature a ball-playing hog?