Monday, December 16, 2019

Elizabeth Taylor Goes to the Ball Game


I love watching baseball and I love watching Elizabeth Taylor. But how often does one get the chance to combine the two pastimes? Alas, not often.

I’ve long been aware of a couple of instances in which Liz and baseball have crossed paths. The first occurred on August 1, 1949, when a 17-year-old Liz participated in a celebrity ball game at Gilmore Field in Hollywood, California. In this case the game was softball, not baseball, and Liz didn’t actually play, but let’s not quibble over minutia. Liz was one of a dozen “bat girls” that cheered on Frank Sinatra’s “Swooners” and Andy Russell’s “Sprouts” in a benefit contest for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s youth welfare fund. Players included stars such as Nat “King” Cole, Peter Lawford, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, and Mel Torme. Other bat girls included Ava Gardner, Virginia Mayo, and Jane Russell.

Here are a couple of photos of Liz at the 1949 game, the latter one with “Swooners” captain Frank Sinatra:





A few months later, on December 21, 1949, Taylor and Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner went on a well-publicized date, attending the premiere of “Twelve O’Clock High” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Afterwards, the couple drove to a star-studded supper party honoring the movie’s star, Gregory Peck, at Romanoff’s Restaurant in Beverly Hills. And that was that. The two stars never saw each other again. Thankfully for posterity’s sake, the paparazzi managed to snap a few pictures of Liz and Ralph that evening:





I thought these were the only notable instances in which Liz and baseball crossed paths, but thanks to a “head’s up” from my friend Mark Armour, it turns out that there’s another Liz-baseball connection. About 17 minutes into the forgettable (except for Liz, of course) 1952 movie “Love Is Better Than Ever,” Jud Parker (played by Larry Parks) takes Stacie Macaboy (played by Taylor) on a date to the Polo Grounds in New York. If you have a spare 80 minutes, you can watch the movie at archive.org.

After taking a cab to the ball park, we see a brief 10-second clip of real, in-game footage. More about that segment in a moment.

We also see footage of a batter awaiting a pitch. It is clearly staged for the film, most likely shot at Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field, for many years the “go-to” location for movie studios needing baseball shots.



But for most of the baseball-related scene, we see Liz and Larry talking in the stands. This includes an sequence in which Jud (and a boy in the stands) explain the infield fly rule to Stacie. Alas (and I don’t think the script writers did this intentionally) they get the much of the rule wrong. Again, these shots were not taken at the Polo Grounds, but more likely in the grandstand at Wrigley Field.



Here’s the approximately two-minute clip:



Tearing myself away from wondering about Liz, I got to wondering about the real, in-game baseball footage. What could I find out about it? Was it really shot at the Polo Grounds? What’s the date, which clubs are playing, and who are the individuals seen? Let’s dive in.

The Ballpark


While we don’t have the luxury of a long-range shot to help us identify the ballpark, it is quite obviously the Polo Grounds. Here’s a screen shot from the film (at top) and a photo of the celebration at home plate following Bobby Thomson’s famed home run at the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951 (below). Note the similarities of the wall and the fencing atop the wall in the backgrounds of both images. (By the way, pardon the low quality of the screen shots throughout this post. It’s the best I could do with the archive.org version of the film.)





Additionally, the left field corner seen in the footage matches perfectly with the infamously short porch and high wall at the Polo Grounds. Compare this screen shot from the movie (at top) with another photo from the playoff game of October 3, 1951 (below).





A List of Clues


Now that we know where the footage was taken, let’s assess what other clues we have.

  • Contemporary newspaper research shows that the movie was released in February of 1952, thus the action we see must have taken place in 1951 or earlier. However, the general quality of the real, in-game footage suggests it was not shot before the early 1940s.
  • It is a day game. The batter is wearing home whites and thus is a member of the Giants, while the visiting team (in road gray uniforms) is in the field. Other than home whites and road grays, the uniforms for both clubs are similar in that both feature all dark caps and apparently solid-colored stockings.
  • Decorative bunting is hanging on the third baseline grandstand walls.
  • The pitcher is right handed and it appears he is wearing a double-digit uniform number that ends with a “6.”

  • The left fielder is right handed and wears uniform #8.

  • The batter is right-handed.

  • After the batter hits what appears to be a single to left field, the left fielder throws the ball back in to the infield and we can see no base runner on third base. (The member of the Giants seen behind third base is most certainly the coach.)


Following the Clues


Now let’s see where these clues lead.

For the years 1940 through 1951, only twice did the Polo Grounds host a contest against American Leaguers. In 1951, the Giants played the Yankees in the 1951 World Series. However, only Yogi Berra wore #8 with the Yankees and he did not play left field in any of that year’s World Series contests. And in 1942, the Polo Grounds was the site of the annual All-Star Game. But the American League left fielder that day was Boston’s Ted Williams, who wore #9, not #8. So we can now safely eliminate the footage as showing an interleague game.

By perusing the uniform database at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s online exhibit “Dressed to the Nines,” it becomes clear that in the dozen seasons between 1940 and 1951, there were only three campaigns in which the Giants wore solid-colored stockings as part of their home uniform: 1949, 1950, and 1951.



Another check of the uniform database eliminates the Cardinals (image at top) and Braves (image below) as potential opponents, because in each of these three seasons both of these clubs wore stockings with distinct white stripes, a characteristic not seen in the film clip.





This leaves only five possible opponents for the Giants in the game: the Dodgers, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, or Pirates. Of these clubs, which had one (or more) players who wore uniform #8? The uniform number data available at baseball-reference.com gives the following possibilities:

  • 1949: Brooklyn’s George Shuba; Chicago’s Smoky Burgess and Rube Walker; Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler; and Pittsburgh’s Monty Basgall and Clyde McCullough. But none of these men played left field in 1949.
  • 1950: Brooklyn’s Cal Abrams and George Shuba; Chicago’s Rube Walker; Cincinnati’s Hobie Landrith; Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler; and Pittsburgh’s Clyde McCullough. Of these, only Abrams, Shuba, and Sisler played left field in 1950, but we can eliminate Abrams as a possibility, as he threw left-handed.
  • 1951: Chicago’s Bruce Edwards and Rube Walker; Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler; and Pittsburgh’s Bill Howerton and Clyde McCullough. Of these, only Sisler and Howerton played left field in 1951.
To recap, we now have the following possibilities for the year and the left fielder:

  • 1950: Brooklyn’s George Shuba or Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler.
  • 1951: Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler or Pittsburgh’s Bill Howerton.
Thanks to the invaluable resources available at retrosheet.org, we can further narrow down possible dates of the real-game footage.

1950:

  • Brooklyn’s George Shuba played just one game in left field at the Polo Grounds: April 28.
  • Philadelphia’s Dick Sisler played 10 games in left field at the Polo Grounds: May 26, 27, 28 (doubleheader); August 18, 21; September 27 (doubleheader), September 28 (doubleheader).
1951:

  • Dick Sisler played 11 games in left field at the Polo Grounds: May 12, 13 (doubleheader); July 2, 3; August 11, 12 (doubleheader), 13; September 3 (doubleheader.)
  • Bill Howerton played left field in two games at the Polo Grounds: May 9, 10.

We’re now down to two dozen possible dates, but we can eliminate another three because they were played at night: April 28, 1950; July 2, 1951; and August 13, 1951.

The Exact Game


Now let’s turn our attention to the bunting seen hanging on the third baseline grandstand walls. These patriotic decorations at big league parks were reserved for special events and holidays, such as Opening Day, July 4th, Labor Day, the All-Star Game, and the World Series. We have already eliminated the latter pair of possibilities. Of the remaining 21 dates noted above, just one falls on such a special date: Labor Day, September 3, 1951.

On that day, the Giants hosted the Phillies for a doubleheader at the Polo Grounds. The first game saw Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts toss a complete game, 6-3 victory over New York. In the second contest, Phillies rookie Niles Jordan went the distance against the Giants, taking a 3-1 loss in just his third big league contest. But while Roberts was right-handed, Jordan was a southpaw, so we can eliminate the second game of the twin-bill as a possibility.

It appears that the only possible date for the game footage is the first game of the September 3, 1951, doubleheader. Recall that the pitcher in the clip wears a uniform number that ends with a “6.” This matches with our identification of Robin Roberts as the pitcher, as the future Hall of Famer wore uniform #36 throughout his career with the Phillies. Additionally, Roberts’ distinctive delivery, with a slight flip of his left foot as he strides toward home, matches what is seen in the footage. You can check out footage of Roberts’ pitching motion here.

By the way, this particular Labor Day victory over the Giants must have meant a great deal to Roberts, as he kept a ball from the game. It was made available at auction in 2011.



The Exact Play


Now that we know the exact game, that our pitcher is Robin Roperts, and the left fielder is Dick Sisler, let’s turn our attention to the final clues: The batter is right-handed, hits what appears to be a single to left field, and when Sisler throws the ball back in to the infield we can see no base runner on third base. A check of the play-by-play data of the game made available at Retrosheet, this only occurred twice during the first game of the Labor Day doubleheader:

  • In the 4th inning, when Willie Mays singled with one out;
  • In the 8th inning, when Eddie Stanky singled with one out.
But Eddie Stanky notoriously choked up and wiggled his bat while at the plate, something we do not see the batter doing. Here’s a photo of Stanky in his typical batting stance:



No. The batter in the film is not Stanky. It is none other than the great Willie Mays nearing the end of his rookie season.

Looking over the box score of the game, the rest of the men seen in the 10-second clip can now be identified: catcher Andy Seminick, home plate umpire Babe Pinelli, shortstop Granny Hamner, and third baseman Eddie Pellagrini.

And now that we know which ballgame Stacie Macaboy attended, I’d suggest we get back to the movie and pay a little more attention to Liz.

1 comment:

  1. Sports Illustrated ruined its sivault site some years ago. But you can still find articles by searching key words and si vault or sivault on Google. If memory serves, SI did a long feature piece on Lasorda in the late 70s or early 80s. Tommy's adjective of highest praise was "outstanding"; he used it like a litany throughout the article. Which also featured a few photos of Hollywood stars in Dodger jackets whom Lasorda had lured to the Stadium. Sinatra was one. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were pictured, too. Lasorda said something like: 'You wouldn't think Richard Burton would be much of a baseball fan, he being from Wales and the English stage. But let me tell you, Richard Burton is an outstanding baseball fan.'

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