Monday, November 11, 2019

The Death of "Death to Flying Things"


The Web is chock full of lists of the greatest (coolest, most unusual, favorite, etc.) nicknames in big league baseball history. Here are just a few such lists:

All of these lists (and lots of others) call out the eminently enjoyable nickname “Death to Flying Things.” I think we can all agree that it’s cool, fun, and unique. Well, except for the part about its being unique. Indeed, most sources today attach this nickname to not one, not two, but three big leaguers.


Jack Chapman — A baseball “lifer” who played the outfield from 1860 through 1876, he also managed in the big leagues for 11 seasons.


Bob Ferguson — An infielder and catcher whose on-field career lasted from 1865 through 1884, he is often credited with being the game’s first switch-hitter.


Franklin Gutierrez — A veteran of 14 years in the big leagues, he won a Gold Glove Award in 2010 as a center fielder.

Gutierrez was certainly an exciting outfielder and talented with the glove. And I love that, soon after his trade to Seattle in 2009, Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus christened him with the “retro” nickname, both as a compliment to the Venezuelan’s abilities and a nod to the nickname’s prior attachment to Chapman and Ferguson.

As for Chapman and Ferguson, the “Death to Flying Things” sobriquet makes sense, as well, for both players were known to be excellent fielders.

For example, in a much-anticipated, well-attended, and exciting contest between the Mutuals of New York and the Atlantics of Brooklyn on August 17, 1868, Atlantics left fielder Chapman saved the day. As reported in the next day’s Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



Regarding Ferguson, time and again contemporary newspaper accounts sang his praises as a stellar third baseman:

  • “Ferguson made a splendid catch of a line ball, and stopped the run-getting.” — The Brooklyn Times-Union, June 10, 1873
  • “Ferguson made a great running catch, and this was the only brilliant play of the game.” — The Philadelphia Times, May 18, 1883
  • “Ferguson made a brilliant catch of a hot liner and made a double play.” — The Philadelphia Times, September 23, 1883
But in researching the nickname, I simply cannot find any contemporary evidence that the sobriquet was used for either Chapman or Ferguson. The first reference of any player being dubbed “Death to Flying Things” is found in Alfred Spink’s “The National Game,” a history of baseball published by The Sporting News in 1910. On page 10, Spink recounts how Chapman earned the nickname:



After this mention, I don’t find another independent reference to the nickname until 1969, when the inaugural edition of “The Baseball Encyclopedia” included it in its entry for Ferguson ... but surprisingly not for that of Chapman. Here are those entries from the 10th edition of “The Baseball Encyclopedia”:





To add to the confusion, while the entire run of “The Baseball Encyclopedia” tags Ferguson with the nickname and Chapman without it, the exact opposite is the case for the full run of “Total Baseball”: Chapman is listed with the nickname and Ferguson is not. Here are those entries from the fourth edition of “Total Baseball”:





(For what it’s worth, baseball-reference.com gives the nickname to Chapman, Ferguson, and Gutierrez.)

Note that in Spink’s “The National Game,” the statement about Chapman’s nickname comes just a few paragraphs below a note about Ferguson and under a heading calling out Ferguson as “THE FIRST GREAT CATCHER.” Here’s that full paragraph:



Perhaps in prepping “The Baseball Encyclopedia,” a researcher found the nickname in Spink’s book and made two errors:

1) mistakenly assuming the nickname to be accurate; and,
2) mistakenly assuming the nickname belonged to “THE GREATEST CATCHER,” Bob Ferguson.

Who knows?

For now, all we can say for certain is that while the nickname is most certainly fun, there is no evidence that it was contemporaneously connected to either Ferguson or Chapman. Ironically, despite being based on the erroneous belief that the moniker first belonged to those two 19th century ballplayers, the nickname can only truly be linked to Franklin Gutierrez!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Tragedy and Comedy (and Beer) on the Diamond


On September 13, 2019, @TheSkimmers shared this wonderful photograph on Twitter.



First of all, if you love vintage (and often overlooked) baseball pictures, you need to follow @TheSkimmers on Twitter. Second, let’s see what can be learned about this particular image.

According to the caption on the photo mount, this picture was apparently taken on May 25th, sometime in the 1880s. A quick search of newspapers of the era turned up this note in the Boston Globe of May 25, 1886: “There will be a quaint game in New York today, when it is expected an enormous crowd will gather on the Polo Grounds to see the disciples of Thespia wrestle with the sphere for the benefit of Bartley Campbell.”



About a week earlier, celebrated American playwright Bartley Campbell, suffering from dementia, had been transferred from Bellevue Hospital to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. This exhibition baseball game was just one of a number of benefits that were organized in order to raise money for Campbell, his wife, and his two boys.

Poorly promoted and staged in uncomfortably cool and damp conditions, only around 500 patrons attended the contest. Still, the game raised $430.25 for the unfortunate Campbells.


Illustration from Harper's Weekly of May 8, 1886, depicting Opening Day at the Polo Grounds, April 29, 1886, just one month before the benefit game for Bartley Campbell

Stage actors and others who made their living in the theater formed two competing nines: the Tragedians and the Comedians.

George Boniface Jr. pitched for the Comedy Nine, while Burr McIntosh, who the previous August made his theatrical debut in Bartley Campbell’s “Paquita,” did the catching. Comic star De Wolf Hopper, a well-known baseball fanatic and the man who popularized the poem “Casey at the Bat” in August of 1888, manned first base. The rest of the infield included famed comedian Nat C. Goodwin at second base, theater manager Robert Hilliard at third, and Francis Wilson at shortstop. The outfield featured Charles Bowser, James T. Powers, and Victor Harman.


George Boniface Jr.


De Wolf Hopper


Nat Goodwin

Will Rising took the mound for the Tragedy Nine and theater manager G.W. Sammis handled the role of catcher. Randolph Murray, best known as the then-husband of well-known singer and dancer Pauline Markham played first base. Joseph Frankau (second base), R.E. Graham (third base), and Edwin Cleary (shortstop) filled out the infield. Italian actor Alexander Salvini (who had now idea what he was doing) played left field, H.S Hilliard manned center, and Paul Arthur stationed himself in right.


Will Rising


Joseph Frankau


Alexander Salvini

Many of the contestants donned theatrical costumes. For example, Robert Hilliard dressed as Romeo, Joseph Frankau as King Lear, and Alexander Salvini as Ingomar the Barbarian.

A few special rules were adopted for the game. Five innings, not nine, would decide the contest, and no team was allowed to score more than nine runs in an inning. Additionally, two (some sources say three) kegs of beer (humorously labeled “Arnica”) were stationed next to third base, with players reaching the base being rewarded with the refreshment.

Incidentally, this humorously innovative idea to encourage base runners to try for third base was not new. As far as I am able to determine, the gimmick was first introduced in a baseball game played on July 4th, 1882, in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. A notice about the game was published in the Philadelphia Times on July 6th, 1882:



The keg-of-beer-at-third-base gimmick was popular throughout the late nineteenth century. Sometimes the kegs even showed up at first and/or second base, as well. An illustration in the May 1896 issue of Judge, shows the practice in full swing (or, perhaps more accurately, full swig):


Later, well into the 20th century, the concept was twisted a bit, generally being seen in games of softball. Instead of rewarding a player with a beer for making it to third base (and/or second and first), the base runner was required to drink a beer before leaving the base. This form of the game is still played today.

But getting back to the Comedy vs. Tragedy contest of May 25, 1886 ...

From the moment the game began, chaos ensued on the field. Other than just a few of the participants, most had limited ability in playing baseball, and some had no clue at all. And with confusion and inebriation being the order of the day, umpire Gus Heckler and official scorer John Mackay had their work cut out for them. Sources differ on the final score (20-9, 20-10, 19-7), but all credited the Comedians with the victory.

A few weeks later, on June 11, another benefit baseball game was staged by actors for Bartley Campbell. The exhibition contest took place at the home grounds of the Philadelphia Phillies and this time some 1,000 spectators raised over $500. While these games and various other fundraisers no doubt helped the Campbells, the playwright never recovered from his illness and passed away in the summer of 1888.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Walk-Off Firsts


Today, most historians agree that pitcher Dennis Eckersley coined the now-popular term “walk-off,” referring to game-ending home runs as “walk-off pieces.” The idea was that once the home run was hit, there was nothing left for the pitcher to do, so he would simply walk off the mound.

It’s only appropriate that term be associated with “Eck,” because he surrendered one of the most famous “walk-off pieces” in baseball history: Kirk Gibson’s game-ending, two-run homer in Game One of the 1988 World Series.

But in the early days of baseball, there was no such thing as a “walk-off” hit. And by “no such thing,” I don’t mean that game-ending hits weren’t called “walk-offs.” I mean that there were no game-ending hits, regardless of what you called them. That’s because the rules of baseball simply did not allow for the possibility. Here’s the relevant rule from 1879:

The game shall consist of nine innings to each side, but should the score then be a tie, play shall be continued until a majority of runs for one side, upon an equal number of innings, shall be declared, when the game shall end. All innings shall be concluded when the third hand is put out.
In other words, no matter which club was ahead in the bottom of the ninth (or the bottom of an extra inning), the inning was not over until all three outs were made. For example, if the team batting second was ahead going into the bottom of the ninth, that half inning would be played, even though the outcome was already determined. Furthermore, if the team batting second was behind going into the bottom of the ninth, and then scored enough runs to gain the lead, that half inning still continued until the third out was made ... again, even though the outcome was already determined.

It wasn’t until 1880 that the rules were changed to essentially the modern-day situation, allowing the game to end once the outcome was assured even if the third out had yet to be made. Here’s the exact wording of that new rule:

A Game shall consist of nine innings to each contesting nine, except that: (1) If the side first at bat scores less runs in nine innings than the other side has scored in eight inning, the game shall the terminate. (2) If the side last at bat in the ninth innings scores the winning run before the third man is out, the game shall then terminate. (3) If the score be a tie at the end of nine innings to each side, play shall only be continued until the side first at bat shall have scored one or more runs than the other side, in an equal number of innings; or until the other side shall score one more run than the side first at bat.
In short, it wasn’t until 1880 that a walk-off hit could occur under the rules of the game. This raises the question ...

When was the first walk-off hit in major league history?


The answer is: Opening Day of 1880. Yes, you read that correctly. On the very first day that a walk-off hit could occur, it did occur.

On May 1, 1880, Cincinnati hosted Chicago on the first day of the National League season. While the Reds were the home team, they batted first. That is because the rule at the time called for the winner of a pre-game coin toss to earn the choice of whether to bat first or second. In this case, the Reds most likely won the toss and opted to bat first. This seems counterintuitive from the modern-day point of view, but as these early games were generally played with just one ball, there was a real advantage to batting first and getting a crack at that brand new baseball.


Joe Quest

Just about two-and-a-half hours after that fateful coin toss, the visiting Chicagoans found themselves trailing Cincinnati, 3-2, as they came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Then Chicago rallied and, with one out, had Larry Corcoran on third and Tom Burns on second. As reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer the next day:

[Joe] Quest dropped a little fly over [Cincinnati second baseman Pop] Smith’s head safe for a base and Corcoran scored the trying [sic] run and Burns kept bowling right along for victory. [Cincinnati right fielder Jack] Manning had plenty of time to head him off, but after holding the ball and hesitating, he threw it six feet over [Cincinnati catcher John] Clapp’s head, and the game was lost. According to the new League Rules the game ended with Burns’ run, though but one of the Chicagos was out.
Making his major league debut with the National League’s Cleveland club that very same day was a 21-year-old infielder named Fred Dunlap. Just over two months later, Dunlap became the answer to the following trivia question:

Who hit the first walk-off home run in major league history?


On July 10, 1880, Cleveland played host to the same Chicago club that had earlier recorded the first big league walk-off hit. Entering the contest, Chicago was riding an amazing 20-game winning streak. In fact, with a win and a tie prior to that streak, Chicago had fashioned a run of 22 straight games without a loss.

As noted in the Chicago Tribune on July 11, “it was a pitcher’s game.” Cleveland’s Jim McCormick and Chicago’s Fred Goldsmith matched goose eggs, for eight straight innings, and after Chicago failed to score in the top of the ninth, Cleveland came to bat. “[Jack Glasscock] got [to] first on a hit in the ninth, and [Fred] Dunlap, the next striker, drove a ball down in the lower corner of the grounds, bringing in Glasscock and making a home run himself.”


Fred Dunlap

Under today’s rules, Dunlap’s hit would have only counted as a triple, because it was not an over-the-fence home run and thus the game would have ended the moment Glasscock’s winning run scored. But at the time, the play was allowed to continue, Dunlap was credited with a homer, Cleveland earned a 2-0 victory, Chicago’s streak came to a halt, and the first walk-off home run entered baseball’s record books.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Black Sox Jack World Series


This year marks the centennial of what is often referred to as the “Black Sox World Series.” But before it earned that infamous nickname it was more accurately called the “Black Jack World Series.” Here’s why ...

In 1919, the American Chicle Company, makers of Adams Pure Chewing Gum, embraced the World Series as a way to market their product. The company’s vice president, John F. Bresnahan, devised a scheme knowing that all eyes would be on the much-ballyhooed World Championship between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds. Just days before the series began, Bresnahan launched an advertising blitz in newspapers across the country, promoting Black Jack, the company’s licorice-flavored gum. As later described in the October 18, 1919, issue of The Fourth Estate, a weekly magazine devoted to newspaper advertising:

The idea of hooking up Black Jack with a big news event seemed too good to be limited to one city, so Mr. Bresnahan straightway arranged for a series of Black Jack ads in ninety newspapers.
The copy built on the theme of “nerves” in baseball, and o chewing gum for nerves. The happy combination was treated sympathetically by artists, and mats were rushed to the newspapers. ... “Total figures are not available but it is likely that millions of extra papers were sold on game days during the series. Every paper carried a sympathetic baseball and gum message to men, and men are our greatest customers. The copy appeal, the product and the news all synchronized perfectly.”
Here are the ads which ran every day from October 1 (the first day of the World Series) through October 10 (the day after the final game of the World Series):

Indianapolis Star, October 1, 1919:



Pittsburgh Press, October 2, 1919:



Detroit Free Press, October 3, 1919:



New York Evening World, October 4, 1919:



Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1919:



Minneapolis Star-Tribune, October 6, 1919:



St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 7, 1919:



Chicago Tribune, October 8, 1919:



Philadelphia Inquirer, October 9, 1919:



Des Moines Tribune, October 10, 1919:



But American Chicle’s real genius idea came by way of their sales manager, Paul S. Kantner.

With the World Series fast approaching, the Houston Post was looking to find a way to ensure that they would be the first news source to relay the result of each World Series contest. The standard method of getting such news to the public was to rely on the consumer to actively seek out this information. The interested baseball fan might head to a corner to buy a newspaper or stand in front of a remote scoreboard and “virtually” watch the game. What if the newspaper could flip this model on its head and have the news travel to the customer, rather than the other way around?

As reported in the Houston Post on the day of Game One:

... The Post, amply aided and abetted by the American Chicle Company—makers of Yucatan and Black Jack—a few days ago sought some new method of getting the news over to all the people in the briefest possible time.
The Post was looking for speed; the Adams people for something else. Both seem to have found what they want—and the people, especially the baseball fans, are the richer therefor.
... “I have it,” said Kantner, who had found himself in a discussion outside his particular line. “We’re going to put on a campaign here to introduce Yucatan and Black Jack.”
Kantner’s idea was to drop Adams chewing gum from an airplane circling high above the city, the particular kind of gum signifying the winning club. If Yucatan gum rained down on Houston, it meant the White Sox won. A deluge of Black Jack relayed that the Reds were victors. Here’s the description from the Post:




Monday, March 25, 2019

Some Baseball Cards and the Photographs Upon Which They Were Based


Many baseball cards of the first half of the 20th century featured illustrations of ballplayers that were based upon actual photographs. Here are just a few.

White Border (T206) Hal Chase (Holding Trophy)



This card of Hal Chase was based upon an image shot by legendary baseball photographer Charles Conlon. The picture of the talented first baseman was captured at New York’s Hilltop Park on May 3, 1909. For more about this Chase card (pun intended) and the silver “loving cup” he is holding, refer to my blog posting of November 2009.

Turkey Red (T3) Jordan and Herzog



This card issued in 1910 shows Brooklyn’s Tim Jordan and Giants base runner Buck Herzog in a play at first base. The card’s beautiful artwork was based upon a photograph of the two ballplayers taken at New York’s Polo Grounds in 1908.

Cracker Jack (E145) Butch Schmidt



Boston Braves first baseman Charles “Butch” Schmidt is seen leaping high for a catch on this baseball card produced in 1914. The photograph the card was based on was taken during spring training at Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon Park, in either 1913 or 1914.

Goudey (R319) Babe Ruth



The 1933 Goudey (R319) set features four cards of Babe Ruth. Three of these cards, including the card seen here (number 144), were based on a 1927 photograph taken by Charles Conlon at Yankee Stadium.

Goudey (R319) Lou Gehrig



Perhaps the same day that Conlon captured the above image of Ruth, the photographer also took the picture of Lou Gehrig that was used as the basis of both of his two 1933 Goudey (R319) cards, numbers 92 (seen here) and 160.

Play Ball (R336) Ted Williams



This 1941 baseball card of Ted Williams features a portrait of the Red Sox star that was based on a picture taken by another great of the baseball photography world: George Brace. The Brace photo, shot in 1939 (note the barely visible edge of the “Baseball Centennial” patch on Ted’s left sleeve), was also the basis of his 1940 “Play Ball” (R335) card.

Bowman 1951 Mickey Mantle



This baseball card of rookie Mickey Mantle features wonderful artwork that was based on a photograph of the future Yankees star taken at Phoenix’s Municipal Stadium during spring training of 1951. The story behind this photo is detailed in my blog post of February of 2016.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Frank Owen Can't Catch a Break


Poor Frank Owen. He can’t catch a break.

Here’s a pitcher who notched over 20 wins in three straight seasons for the White Sox (1904-1906), became the first American Leaguer to toss two complete-game victories in one day (July 1, 1905), and on July 29, 1904, clouted his first-ever big league home run in the 10th inning to give himself the victory.

 
Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1904

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan who has ever heard of the fellow. But to make matters worse, even back in his own day he got the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. Not one, but two, contemporary baseball cards misidentified him.

Here are the sad stories:

1) The Fan Craze Error

In 1904, the Fan Craze Company of Cincinnati issued a low-budget baseball card playing game. Each card had revealed a baseball play (“strike,” “home run,” “out at first,” etc.). Players turned over cards one-by-one to determine the outcome of each play.



In 1906, the company released a high-end version of their popular game, a pair of sets known as the “Art Series” and billed as “an artistic constellation of great stars.” One set (known as the WG2 set among baseball card collectors) had blue backs and consisted of 54 cards, each bearing the likeness of an American Leaguer. The companion set (WG3) had red backs and numbered 51 cards, each adorned with photos of National Leaguers.

 
Geyer’s Stationer, May 3, 1906

The images on each card were reproductions of photographs taken by Carl Horner, a Boston-based cameraman who the weekly sports newspaper Sporting Life called the “official photographer of the major leagues.” Today, Horner is probably best remembered for taking this photo of Honus Wagner:



You’ll likely recognize that this photo was used for the Pittsburgh shortstop’s famous T206 card of 1909, but it was also used for his Fan Craze card from a few years earlier.



A number of cards in the “Art Series” have players misidentified. For example, George Winter is misidentified as George Winters, Norman “Kid” Elberfeld’s last name is misspelled “Elberfield,” and Terry Turner’s card erroneously labels him as “Roy Turner.”







Frank Owen suffered a similar fate. His card is captioned “Billy Owen,” but there was no major leaguer by that name.



The discovery of this gaff and the correct identification of the player as Frank Owen were made by the folks at the Baseball Games web site, the go-to source for collectors of vintage baseball tabletop games. Alas, at the time of their research, they didn’t have the luxury of comparing the “Billy Owen” Fan Craze card to this original Carl Horner photograph of the pitcher:



To summarize, the “Fan Craze” WG2 card identified as “Billy Owen” is, in fact, Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Owen.

2) The Sporting Life Cabinet Error

While the “Fan Craze” WG2 error has been known for a while, this next mistake is a new discovery.

Starting in September of 1902, Sporting Life began advertising the availability of “cabinet sized phototypes of celebrated base ball players.” Over the next few years, issues of the newspaper regularly featured these ads, with new players made available on a regular basis. These cabinet cards (designated W600 in the card hobby) are popular collectibles and number well over 600. Some players are featured in more than one card and such was the case for one of the era’s most popular big leaguers: Mike Donlin. (For those wanting to learn a bit more about Donlin, I blogged about him back in 2010.)

Here are Donlin’s two Sporting Life cabinet cards: his Cincinnati card (at left) was made available in 1902, while his New York card (at right) was offered only after he was traded to Cincinnati in August of 1904.



But the two players pictured are not the same person. The player at right is indeed Mike Donlin. Compare that picture of him to the image below.

 
Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-003778. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

So who is the player at left? Take a close look. Amazingly, it is our old friend Frank Owen, misidentified once again. Poor Frank Owen. He can’t catch a break.



To summarize, the Sporting Life W600 cabinet card identified as Mike Donlin with Cincinnati is, in fact, Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Owen.