Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Olympic Athletes at Hilltop Park and Baseball at the 1912 Olympics

The web site of the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library Congress features over a million items, the vast majority of which are photographs, prints, or drawings that have been digitized and made available to the public. Thousands of these images are related to baseball. But, as with any collection this vast, some image metadata is incomplete or erroneous. I recently stumbled across this photograph with the title of “Olympic athletes coming on field” and a summary at the Library of Congress web site that states “Photo related to the 5th Olympic Games, held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912.”

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-12183

Something about this photo sure seemed familiar to me. Take a look at the distinctive building in the background:

Now take a look at this photo of Cleveland utility man Neal Ball shot in 1910 by famed baseball photographer Charles Conlon:

This latter photo was taken at Hilltop Park (also known as American League Park), home to the New York Yankees from 1903 to 1912, and, very briefly, to the New York Giants for some six weeks in the spring of 1911.

Recognize the building in the background at left? It is the same one that we see in the Library of Congress’s photo titled “Olympic athletes coming on field.” The building was New York’s Public School No. 169 located at 68 Audubon Avenue, between West 168th and West 169th Streets in the city’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Here’s a close-up view of the majestic structure as seen from Audubon Avenue:

As an aside, attending the school at this very time was one George Ranft. The young boy later simplified his surname to Raft and became a film star whom you might recall from such movies as “Scarface” (1932), “They Drive by Night” (1940), and “Some Like It Hot” (1959). I like to imagine that as a youth, Raft skipped class now and then, peered out a school window, and watched baseball stars such as Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, or Hal Chase play ball at the nearby park.

George Raft (left) with Jimmy Cagney, June 29, 1935, at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles

But back to our photo of “Olympic athletes coming on field,” we now know that the action took place at Hilltop Park. In this early 20th century era, ballparks generally changed outfield wall advertisements once a year. For the baseball picture researcher, these ads act as “ballpark fingerprints” and thus help date photographs. Many of the advertisements in this photo have been intentionally obscured with black ink so as not to give free ad space to companies when the photo was reproduced in newspapers. Happily, however, the process was done rather clumsily and enough of these ads are visible to match them with unobscured images of the park from known years. For this picture the ads match perfectly with those seen in other photos of Hilltop Park from 1912, the last season in which the park hosted big league baseball.

At far left is an ad for Vogel & Co. clothiers. Moving towards the right field corner we next see ads for Adams’ Pepsin Tutti Frutti gum, Young’s Hats, Coronet Dry Gin, Underwood Typewriters (“The Machine You Will Eventually Buy”), and a large sign for “Bull” Durham Tobacco.

Here are a pair of photos of Hilltop Park from 1912 that show these identical outfield signs:

We have a year and a location for the photo, but exactly when in 1912 did Hilltop Park play host to a bevy of Olympic athletes? Scouring old newspapers it becomes apparent that the date was June 12.

New York Times, June 13, 1912, page 9

The Yankees were out of town that day, nearing the end of a two-week road trip. The club was mired in seventh place in the American League and would eventually finish dead last with a record of 50-102-1. Their .329 winning percentage that season still ranks as their all-time worst.

Despite the gloom of intermittent rain showers, a sizable crowd flocked to Hilltop Park that June 12th. There they cheered on some 100 U.S. track and field athletes as they participated in a friendly intrasquad meet. It was the final competition for these Olympians as, just two days later, they boarded the Red Star Line’s SS Finland for their journey across the Atlantic to the Summer Games in Stockholm, Sweden. 

Between 5,000 and 10,000 fans attended the benefit event (newspaper estimates varied widely), with receipts to be split between two organizations: the American Olympic Fund, which helped finance the U.S. team; and the Newsboys’ Home Club, a building at Second Avenue and East 11th Street that served as a safe gathering place as well as a second (and sometimes first) home to the city’s large population of newsboys.

Now let’s take a second look at the “Olympic athletes coming on field” photo where an on-field entourage is marching across the field toward the ballpark’s grandstand. A detail of this picture allows us to identify a few of those individuals leading the parade:

The four athletes at left are:

1) Matt McGrath

Matt McGrath competed in four Olympic Games (1908, 1912, 1920, and 1924), earning a gold and two silver medals in the hammer throw. Dubbed the “Modern Hercules,” his throw of 179 feet 7.1 inches at the Stockholm Games remained the Olympic record for two dozen years. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2006.

2) Emil Muller

A native of Paterson, New Jersey, Emil Muller burst on the national track and field scene just prior to the 1912 Olympics. The 21-year-old finished 12th in the men’s discus throw and sixth in the discus throw with both hands. As an Olympic event, this latter competition, which combined distances thrown from both the left and right hands, was held in 1912 only.

3) Ralph Rose

At 6’6” and 250 pounds, Ralph Rose was a giant of a man. His record as a shot-putter was also oversized. He won gold medals in the shot put in the 1904 and 1908 Olympics and a pair of medals in the 1912 Games: silver in shot put and gold in shot put with both hands. Like the discus throw with both hands, this latter event was held just this once in Olympic competition. In the same trio of Olympics, Rose also participated in other events such as discus (winning silver in 1904), hammer throw (bronze in 1904), javelin, and tug-of-war (which was sadly discontinued after the 1920 Summer Games). Rose’s shot put record of 51 feet set in August of 1909 remained unsurpassed for nearly 19 years. Rose died of typhoid fever at the age of 28, just 15 months after the 1912 Olympic Games. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1976.

4) Pat McDonald

Born in Ireland, Pat McDonald earned three medals for the United States in Olympic competition. In 1912 he took home gold in shot put and silver in shot put with both hands. And in 1920, at the age of 42, he won gold in the 56-pound weight throw, the last year this event was held in the Olympics. As such, he set a still-standing record as the oldest Olympic track and field competitor to take home a gold medal. McDonald was the U.S. flag bearer in both the 1920 and 1924 Olympic Games, though he did not compete in the latter competition. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2012.

And in civilian clothes at right we see:

5) Matt Halpin

Matt Halpin, who was long affiliated with the New York Athletic Club, managed the U.S. Olympic teams in 1908 (London), 1912 (Stockholm), and 1920 (Antwerp).

6) James E. Sullivan

A co-founder of the Amateur Athletic Union in 1888, James Sullivan served as the organization’s president from 1906 through 1909. In his honor, the AAU established the James E. Sullivan Award in 1930, annually bestowing the prestigious prize to “the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.” He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1977.

7) Gustavus T. Kirby

President of the AAU from 1911 to 1913, Gustavus Kirby was president of the United States Olympic Committee for the 1920 Summer Olympics and the chairman of the USOC for the 1924 Summer Olympics.

A careful inspection of the wealth of photographs at the Library of Congress’s web site reveals a number of other photos that were clearly taken at the same June 12th event.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-12184

The above photo was taken at the Hilltop Park grandstand after the athletes and officials completed their march across the field. There they were greeted by Colonel Robert M. Thompson, president of the American Olympic Committee, and a ceremonial exchange of flags took place. Gustavus Kirby presented Thompson with the U.S. flag that flew at White City Stadium during the 1908 Olympics in London, while Thompson handed Kirby a brand new U.S. flag.

In the foreground of the above detail we see: 1) Ralph Rose; 2) Matt Halpin; 3) James E. Sullivan; 4) Gustavus Kirby (partially obscured); 5) Colonel Robert M. Thompson.

Three photographs, taken in front of Hilltop Park’s right field wall, capture over two dozen of the U.S. Olympic athletes in attendance. Here are these photos and identifications of the Olympians seen in them:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-11775

1) Ralph Rose; 2) Pat McDonald; 3) Matt McGrath (name incorrectly spelled on image); 4) Emil Muller (misidentified as [John Paul] Jones); 5) John Nicholson (misidentified as [Abel] Kiviat and misspelled Kaviatt).

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-11987

6) Jim Rosenberger; 7) Tell Berna; 8) Walter McClure; 9) Harry Grumpelt; 10) Ben Adams; 11) Platt Adams; 12) Harry Babcock; 13) Jim Thorpe; 14) Fred Kelly; 15) George Horine; 16) Hal Heiland.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-10947

17) Jim Duncan; 18) Jack Eller; 19) Alvah Meyer; 20) John J. Reynolds; 21) Jim Donahue; 22) Fred Allen; 23) Ted Meredith; 24) Ira Davenport; 25) Sam Bellah; 26) Peter Gerhardt; 27) Ira Courtney; 28) Eddie Fitzgerald.

A few other photos take on that June 12th feature Olympians such as ...

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-11576

Clarence Childs and Simon Gillis

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-11577

Tell Berna

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-11296

Peter Gerhardt

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-11295

John Reynolds

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-12196

Ira Courtney

Just over a month after the Hilltop Park event, with the U.S. Olympic team still in Sweden, a pair of baseball games took place in Stockholm. While not a medal sport, the baseball games were considered official Olympic exhibitions. Many of the athletes seen in the above photos took part in these games.

The first game took place on Monday, July 15, at the Östermalm Athletic Grounds, where the Olympic equestrian events took place. The contest pitted U.S. track-and-field athletes against the Västerås’ Basebollklubb, Sweden’s first baseball club. The star-studded U.S. squad featured eight Olympic medalists: George Bonhag, Dick Byrd, Ira Davenport, George Horine, Frank Irons (1908 medalist), Fred Kelly, Abel Kiviat, and Larry Whitney. Additionally, in an effort to balance the competition, the U.S. supplied the Swedish club with a catcher and some pitchers, including Olympic medalists Ben Adams and Frank Nelson. Incidentally, the umpire for the game was none other than future Baseball Hall of Famer George Wright. Some photos of the game:

On Tuesday, July 16, the second baseball game was played. This one was an all-American affair, with the track-and-field athletes splitting into two teams dubbed the “Finlands” and the “Olympics.”

Track-and-field sensation Jim Thorpe (seen above) was unable to play in the first exhibition baseball game as he was still competing in the decathlon, one of two events (along with the pentathlon) in which he earned gold medals in Stockholm. But he did take the field in the second game for the “Olympics” team, helping them to a 6-3 victory.

In January of 1913, Thorpe was stripped of his amateur status and of his medals after admitting he played professional minor league baseball in 1909 and 1910. However, nearly 70 years later, the International Olympic Committee restored Thorpe’s amateur status and awarded his family duplicate gold medals, both struck from the original 1912 mold.

One final note about those baseball games at the 1912 Olympics: Participating in both of these exhibition contests was Howard Drew (seen above), often acknowledged as the first great Black sprinter. On July 6, Drew qualified for the 100 meter final, finishing first in his heat, but an injury kept him from competing for a medal the following day. No doubt the talented Drew was disappointed, but just over a week later he healed sufficiently so that he was able to play baseball with his Olympic teammates.

Here are the box scores from these exhibition games, the first baseball games ever played in the history of the Olympics:

For those interested in learning more about the 1912 Olympics, as well as Olympic athletes, events, and baseball games, I heartily recommend visiting the Olympedia web site.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Baseball in “Go, Dog. Go!”

Published in 1961, author/illustrator P.D. Eastman’s “Go, Dog. Go!” is a classic children’s book in Random House’s successful “Beginners Books” series. If you are not familiar with the book, I suggest you grab a copy or watch it being read on YouTube.

The plot is rather straightforward. A large number of different-sized, multicolored dogs participate in various activities, eventually ending up at a dog party (a big dog party) in a tree.

A scene and the accompanying text near the end of the book summarizes the story line quite well:

Big dogs, little dogs, red dogs, blue dogs, yellow dogs, green dogs, black dogs, and white dogs are all at a dog party!

Just over halfway through the book, we see three “dogs at work.”

A blue dog is using a shovel, a yellow dog with black spots handles a pickaxe, and a red dog operates a jackhammer.

On the very next page, Eastman deftly contrasts the dogs at work with three “dogs at play.”

Though not explicitly stated in the text, the dogs (one blue, one yellow, and one red) are clearly playing baseball.

Full-well understanding that this is a drawing, not a photograph, and thus the artist may have taken certain liberties in terms of historical accuracy, I decided to see what I could learn about this image.

First, as noted above, the book was published in 1961, so we know the action depicted could not have taken place after that year. Additional clues help further narrow down the possible years:

  • Chest protectors first appeared in baseball in the mid-1880s.
  • The five-sided home plate was not introduced until 1900.
  • Roger Bresnahan pioneered the use of shin guards for catchers beginning in 1907.

Roger Bresnahan Novelty Cutlery card, c. 1907

Thus, it seems most likely that the illustration shows action from a game played sometime between 1907 and 1961. However, we can learn more by noting the following:

  • The umpire is not wearing a mask.
  • The catcher’s mask is rather rudimentary.
  • None of the players are wearing uniforms.

In short, this was almost assuredly an amateur (or perhaps semi-pro) game.

At what ballpark did the action take place? Unfortunately, P.D. Eastman provides no clues, instead isolating the individuals from their surroundings in order to focus the reader’s attention on the action, rather than the locale.

Additionally, we must not ignore the “elephant in the room”: the fact that the umpire and players are dogs. Clearly this is an unusual circumstance. In fact, one would think that such a rare occurrence would be covered in newspapers of the era.

Alas, I was unable to find any mention of multiple dogs participating in a baseball game during the above time period. However, I did find reference to a dog playing baseball in the Miami News of October 15, 1948:


Clearly, however, this description does not match what we see in P.D. Eastman’s illustration.

What of the dogs themselves? Can they be identified?

The umpire is a blue dog and the batter is a yellow dog. Both are not wearing collars. A careful review of other pictures in the book does not appear to show any collarless dogs that match the above descriptions. Of course, the dogs may have removed their collard before participating in the game, and thus they may indeed appear elsewhere in the book. But why would they not sport their collars while playing baseball when they are clearly seen wearing them “at work” (see image above), “going around in cars,” and “at a dog party?” I find it more likely that the umpire and catcher either do not appear elsewhere in the book or P.D. Eastman has simply overlooked illustrating the collars.

As for the right-handed batter (a red dog with a yellow collar), we see three such dogs early in the book as they manage to escape from a hedge maze. Additionally, similar dogs appear elsewhere in the book: “on a blue tree,” “in a house on a boat the water,” “going around,” etc.

In short, there is little hope of identifying the umpire, catcher, or batter.

Finally, while the umpire wears a traditional black cap, what can be made of the caps worn by the players? Both the catcher’s red cap and the batter’s blue cap appear to have no distinctive features, no pinstripes, and no team logos. All we can say for certain is that they are indeed baseball caps, not party hats.


Friday, March 26, 2021

Why Didn't Christie's Research This Photo of Babe Ruth?

In December 2020, Christie’s offered the following photograph as part of its auction titled “Home Plate: A Private Collection of Important Baseball Memorabilia.”

The lot description accompanying the photograph reads as follows:

Very Fine Babe Ruth Boston Red Sox Photograph c.1918 (PSA/DNA Type I)

Unique and striking sepia tone 7 ½" x 9 ½" original image picturing Ruth standing on the field with his Red Sox teammates in full uniform. Ruth is standing at center with another gentleman in non-MLB uniform who appears to be receiving a presentational trophy from the Babe. Surface wrinkling to the front with corner crease at top left and some small tape residue at bottom edge. Mounted on its original linen backing from photo album mount. Encapsulated by PSA/DNA (Type I): VG

7 ½ x 9 ½ in.

Alas, this is all the famed auction house had to say about the photo. While I would not expect them to write a 1,000 word treatise on the image, it might have been revealing (and frankly add to the value of the photograph) if they had done just a little research.

Since they dropped the ball, I figured I’d pick it up. Here’s what I found out about this wonderful photograph.

The Red Sox Players Pictured

Certainly it is obvious that the player fourth from right is Boston Red Sox star Babe Ruth. Joining him in the photo are six of his teammates, each wearing lightly pinstriped uniforms with “RED SOX” emblazoned across their jersey fronts. A quick look at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s online exhibit “Dressed to the Nines” reveals that during Ruth’s tenure with the club, the Red Sox wore uniforms such as these on the road from 1916 through 1919.

The Red Sox of this era featured a number of stars, many of whom are readily recognizable in this photo.

Stuffy McInnis

The individual third from left is Stuffy McInnis, once a member of Connie Mack’s celebrated “$100,000 infield” and arguably one of the greatest fielding first basemen in baseball history. In 1921, he made just one error in 152 games at first base, a record that was not topped until Steve Garvey’s errorless season of 1984.

Everett Scott

At far right is Everett Scott, a great shortstop of the era and the man who whose record for most consecutive games played (1,307) was not eclipsed until Lou Gehrig did so in 1933.

Wally Schang

Just to the left of Scott is Wally Schang, often cited as the best catcher of his day. In 1916, Schang became the first player to homer from both sides of the plate in one game. Today, his .393 career on base percentage remains higher than every other Hall of Fame catcher except for all-time greats Mickey Cochrane and Josh Gibson.

Ossie Vitt

Third from right is third baseman Ossie Vitt, a veteran of seven seasons with the Detroit Tigers who, like McInnis, Scott, and Schang, had earned praise as a slick fielder.

As Vitt didn’t join the Red Sox until his January 1919 trade to the club, and Ruth was famously sold to the Yankees just over 11 months later, it is clear that the photo must have been taken sometime that year.

Looking through Boston’s roster for 1919 and comparing player names to known images, the other two lesser-known Red Sox can be identified. At far left is backup outfielder Frank Gilhooly, who was in his final major league season. And just to the left of Ruth is Norm McNeil, who played just five big league games, but could boast of having roomed with Babe Ruth during the last few months of the Bambino’s Red Sox career.

The Others Pictured

Two other men can be seen in the photo. One stands second from left, behind two members of the Red Sox. The other is at center, holding on to a silver cup with Ruth, and wearing a jersey with letters that are partially obscured. Certainly the top word is “BALTIMORE,” but all we can see of the bottom word(s) is “DOO” or “DOC.” Additionally, in front of the men there are two young girls holding a bouquet of flowers.

Identifying of the Photograph

Since the ballpark does not match any big league stadiums of the era and the “Baltimore” uniform is clearly not from a major league club, I suspected this was an exhibition game. Searching through digitized newspapers from 1919 for keywords such as “Babe Ruth,” “silver cup,” “Baltimore,” and “flowers,” I came across an article in the Baltimore Sun of September 8, 1919. Its headlines read:

The article goes on to cover an in-season exhibition game played September 7, 1919, between the Red Sox and the Baltimore Dry Dock & Shipping Company baseball club of the Delaware Shipyard Baseball League. No doubt the lettering on the jersey of the fellow next to Ruth reads “BALTIMORE DRY DOCKS.”

With the action taking place at Baltimore’s Oriole Park, the Red Sox topped the Dry Docks, 10-6. Ruth thrilled the crowd by clouting a pair of homers, scoring all the way from first base on McInnis’s infield hit, and taking the mound for the final two innings. The final paragraph of the story completes the picture:

Before the game, Babe Ruth, acting as spokesman, presented the Dry Docks team with a silver cup for winning the pennant in the Shipyard League, and a pair of little girls presented a bunch of flowers to Manager Sam Frock.

Sam Frock

Indeed, that’s former big league pitcher Sam Frock receiving the silver cup from Ruth.

As for the other man pictured, take a close look at the object to his right, seen just behind Gilhooley. It’s a large megaphone, suggesting the man is Oriole Park public address announcer Lefty Shields. Just one year earlier, Ruth had been part of an All-Star team that played the Dry Docks at Oriole Park on November 10, 1918. According the following day’s Baltimore Sun, “the defeat was the first in ten games for the Dry Docks, and Lefty Shields, their announcer, was so heart-broken that he smashed his megaphone.” Looks like he got a new one!

Babe Ruth’s Phenomenal Season

When he posed for this photograph, Ruth was nearing the end of an incredible season. Fans coming to Oriole Park that day saw the Babe standing at the cusp of history. Just two days earlier, Ruth had pushed his regular season home run total to 25, matching what was thought to be the record set two decades earlier by Washington’s Buck Freeman. While the pair of homers Ruth hit in Baltimore did not count toward his regular season total, the next day, facing the Yankees, the Bambino blasted his 26th homer to pass Freeman’s mark. However, Ruth was still one shy of the true single-season record of 27 home runs hit by Chicago’s Ned Williamson in 1884. This latter mark had been largely discounted by the media, the fans, and Ruth himself, due to the fact that Williamson was materially aided by the incredibly short porches at Chicago’s diminutive Lakefront Park: 196 feet to right field and just 180 to left. No matter, Ruth would finish the season with 29 circuit clouts, making him the undisputed home run champion.

The Auction Winner

Whoever purchased this photo may never know its full story. However, for the $11,875 they paid for the lot (that’s nearly $2,000 more than the Red Sox paid Ruth for his services in 1919!), I sure hope they somehow find out the rich history behind the picture.