Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Devil and Frank Chance


The baseball photographs at the Explore Chicago Collections web site are wonderful. This is one of my favorites:


Collection ID: DN-0051624

What the Hell?

I first saw the photo around five years ago and my initial reaction was “What the hell?” And that has basically been my reaction every time I revisited the photo, as I tried to solve the mystery behind just what is going on. It has taken me a while to crack this nut, but here's what I've determined ...

The description at the Explore Chicago Collections web site states the photo depicts “Frank Chance, Cubs baseball player, standing with a person dressed in a devil’s costume on the field of the West Side baseball grounds.” There’s no question that the player is Cubs first baseman Frank Chance. And, while I’m not overly familiar with the devil, the fellow at right seems to fit the bill. But the ballpark doesn’t look to me like West Side Park, the Cubs home field from 1893 through 1915.

The Devil is in the Details

Take a close look and you’ll see that the devil and Frank Chance are standing in foul territory near first base. You can clearly see the first base line and the nearby three-foot first base line. Thus, the packed stands in the background are in right field. But no such stands ever stood in right field at West Side Park. In fact, right field at West Side Park featured a large wall behind uncovered, outfield bleachers. Here’s an example from the Explore Chicago Collections web site showing the outfield at West Side Park from 1906:


Collection ID: SDN-004890

Additionally, Chance is wearing a jersey with the word “CHICAGO” arched across the chest. But this style only matches jerseys worn by the Cubs from 1905 through 1907 on the road, as found in the uniform database at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's “Dressed to the Nines online exhibit.

1905:


1906:


1907:


All signs point to the photo having been taken on the road between 1905 and 1907, but where? The key clue is the seating area in the background. What park of this era featured this style of covered seating in right field?

The answer is Cincinnati’s League Park, often called “the Palace of the Fans.” Compare the photo of the devil and Frank Chance with this great image of the ballpark that the Reds called home from 1902 to 1911 (also found at the Explore Chicago Collections web site):


Collection ID: SDN-004288

And the same right field structure can be seen in the background of this postcard:



There’s no question that when Frank Chance met the devil, he did so in Cincinnati. But on what date did the get-together occur?

From 1905 through 1907, the Cubs played in Cincinnati a total of 33 times. But given the overflow crowd in right field, the only possible games are those in which the attendance numbered over 12,000: the seating capacity of the ballpark. Just four of the 33 games meet that criteria. Here are the dates and mentions of the attendance from reports in the following day's Cincinnati Enquirer:

  • April 30, 1905 – “It was another gorgeous crowd, officially announced by [Reds business Manager] Frank Bancroft as 13,658.”
  • April 12, 1906 – “Before 20,000 spectators, the largest crowd that ever attended the first game of the year in this city ....”
  • April 15, 1906 – “A lot of persons were more or less responsible for the sad ending of a very interesting struggle, which kept 13,000 people on the tip-toe of expectancy ....”
  • April 21, 1907 – “Yesterday's crowd, which was numbered close to 18,000 paid admissions, was by far the largest ever assembled at a ball game in this city.”

Speak of the Devil

A quick review of the newspaper coverage for these four games reveals the date the photo was taken: Opening Day in Cincinnati, April 12, 1906. As reported in the Pittsburgh Daily Post the following day:

When the Cubs came on the field, a party dressed as Mephistopheles rushed out on the diamond and presented Frank Chance with a magnificent floral star from his Cincinnati friends.
While I was able to determine the location (Cincinnati) and date (April 12, 1906) for the photo, I am left with one nagging question: For what possible reason did the “party” with the floral star dress up in a devil outfit?

Any ideas?

4 comments:

  1. Wow - another amazing piece of vintage baseball photo analysis Tom, great stuff!!

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  2. Errata: The account of the game that said "Mephestopheles rushed out on the diamond" was published in the Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 13, 1906, page 10.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for catching my error, Peter. I've made the change to the blog post.

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