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.