Sunday, April 23, 2017

The First Bunt

On April 17, 2017, Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber made news by bunting. Yes, bunting. You can watch the video here.

Not only was this the first successful bunt of Schwarber's big league career, but it was one of the prettiest bunts I've seen in many, many years. It also reminded me of a discovery I made a few years ago: the first known instance of a bunt. Here's the scoop:

On June 29, 1860, the Atlantics and Putnams, two clubs from Brooklyn, faced one another in a game played at the corner of Lee Avenue and Hooper Street in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. In the second inning, with no one on, Putnam second baseman Edward Brown came to bat against Atlantics pitcher John Price. Here's the account of what happened next as published in the New York Clipper of July 14, 1860:

Here's a transcript:
A circumstance occurred in the 2d innings which we deem worthy of notice: Brown was at the bat, and Price pitched him a low ball, which, in bringing his bat down, Brown hit with the bat in a similar manner to that in which a cricketer blocks a straight ball; judgment was asked, and as the Umpire deemed it an accident, it was decided "no hit," but we think it should have been considered fair, for the reason, that had a player been on the first base at the time, he could easily have made his second base before the pitcher could have fielded it, and the decision may lead to similar accidents on other occasions when such play would have a more important bearing on the game. If, in the act of striking, the ball be hit forward of home base, however light the touch, it ought to be considered a fair ball, otherwise accidents similar to the above will be of frequent occurrence.
This description makes a few things quite clear.

First, Brown's actions were described in terms of cricket: "Brown hit with the bat in a similar manner to that in which a cricketer blocks a straight ball." Today, this would be a worthless explanation to Americans, as very few in our country are familiar enough with cricket to make the parallel. However, in 1860, cricket and baseball were both quite familiar to the sporting crowd, and so the description worked well.

This woodcut, published in The Boy's Book of Sports, Games, Exercises, and Pursuits (Frederick Warne and Co., London, 1869), shows a cricket batsman executing a "forward block," similar to the play made by Brown:

Second, Brown's actions were clearly unintentional. There was no one on base at the time of the play, so there was obviously no intent to sacrifice. And, as it was described as "an accident," Brown was also most certainly not looking to bunt for a base hit.

Third, the play was so bewildering to everyone involved, that the umpire ultimately decided that it should be considered "no hit." In other words, as kids today would say, it's a "do over."

And finally, no one at the game understood the potential of Brown's actions ... not even Brown himself. The fellow who did, and the one who should get credit for the concept of the sacrifice bunt, was the gentleman who wrote the account of the game in The New York Clipper. It was he who realized that by hitting the ball in the manner that Brown did, "had a player been on the first base at the time, he could easily have made his second base."

So, while Brown was the first player to bunt a ball, he was not the inventor of the bunt. That title should go to the very prescient sports writer and future Hall of Famer, Henry Chadwick.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Criss Cross

Well, it's happened again. I just finished watching the 1949 movie "Criss Cross," starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, and Dan Duryea (who had a small role in "The Pride of the Yankees," but that's another story), and darned if there isn't some baseball in the background.

For those who aren't aware, I've blogged about finding baseball in movies that basically have nothing to do with baseball a number of times. Feel free to read more:
In "Criss Cross," the first appearance of baseball occurs about half an hour into the film, when Steve Thompson (played by Lancaster) and Anna Dundee (played by De Carlo) meet in a drug store. As the two talk, one can see a cigarette advertisement in the background above and behind De Carlo (and through the haze of Lancaster's own cigarette). Here's a screen capture:

The ad is for Chesterfield Cigarettes, and features a slogan they copyrighted in April of 1948: "The Baseball Man's Cigarette." Here's what the actual ad looks like:

The captions for the six baseball men on the ad read as follows (clockwise from bottom left):
  • Bucky Harris, Manager of World's Champion New York Yankees
  • Boston Braves' Bob Elliott, Voted Most Valuable Player in the National League
  • Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox
  • Stan Musial, St. Louis Cardinals
  • Champion N.Y. Yankees' Joe DiMaggio, Voted Most Valuable Player in the American League
  • Ewell Blackwell, Cincinnati Reds
The movie was shot during the 1948 season, so these were great stars for Chesterfield to use. There's the manager of the Yankees, who won the 1947 World Series, as well as both MVPs from the season. Ted Williams and Stan Musial were perennial all-stars, so they were perfect choices to pitch the cigarettes. And while many of today's fans may not have heard of the final player, Ewell Blackwell was the brightest pitching star of 1947.

There was no Cy Young Award at the time, but had there been, Blackwell would have easily captured the 1947 version. Nicknamed "The Whip," the 6'6" sidearmer posted a mark of 22-8 with a 2.47 ERA for an otherwise forgettable Cincinnati Reds club that won just 77 games that season. Blackwell never did approach that kind of success again, as shoulder problems plagued him for the rest of his career. But in 1947, Blackwell was the tops.

Note, that the ad in the movie was slightly altered from the seen one above in two main ways:
  • the bottom portion, which features the famous "Always Buy Chesterfield" slogan, has been cropped out;
  • the pack of Chesterfield cigarettes in the center of the ad has been obscured by three packs of  cigarettes affixed to the front.
These alterations were clearly made so as to hide the manufacturer's name, both at the bottom of the advertisement and on the image of the cigarette pack at center. Here I've superimposed the color ad on the screen capture to highlight the similarities and alterations:

The ad shows up again at the end of the scene, this time over Lancaster's shoulder, as he and De Carlo talk near the entrance to the drug store

The ad is altered in the same fashion as the previous one. In fact, it may very well be the exact same prop, moved to a new location. Again, I've superimposed the color ad on the screen capture:

I consider this a major find, not because the baseball advertisement is significant in any way, but because I somehow managed to take my eyes off the incredibly gorgeous Yvonne De Carlo in order to stumble across the ad in the first place.

The very next scene in the movie also features some hidden baseball. This time, Lancaster is back at his mother's home, preparing to go out on a date. He talks with his mother and just as he is about to leave we see a framed photograph on the wall near his door. Here are two screen shots showing the photo:

And here are two details from the above shots:

The images are quite blurry, but I believe they both show a picture of a ballplayer (at right) posing with another person. Alas, I have been unable to make any headway in identifying this photo. Any ideas?