Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bobby Thomson's Uniform from "The Shot Heard 'Round the World"

It is arguably the most celebrated moment in baseball history.
The set-up:

  • October 3, 1951
  • Final game of a three-game, regular-season play-off between the Giants and Dodgers
  • Bottom of the ninth
  • New York trails Brooklyn 4-2
  • Two Giants on the bases
  • Ralph Branca on the mound
  • Bobby Thomson at bat
The pay-off:
  • Thomson homers to left
  • The Giants win 5-4
  • The Giants win the pennant. (The Giants win the pennant.)
As New York Times sportswriting legend John Drebinger summed it up in his lead the next day:
In an electrifying finish to what long will be remembered as the most thrilling pennant campaign in history, Leo Durocher and his astounding never-say-die Giants wrenched victory from the jaws of defeat at the Polo Grounds today, vanquishing the Dodgers, 5 to 4, with a four-run splurge in the last half of the ninth. A three-run homer by Bobby Thomson that accounted for the final three tallies blasted the Dodgers right out of the World Series picture, and tomorrow afternoon at the Stadium it will be the Giants against Casey Stengel's American League champion Yankees in the opening clash of the world series.
The bat from that famed home run is in the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Now, 60 years after "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," the uniform worn by Thomson on that historic day has apparently been located. The home jersey and pants are part of a large private collection owned by Dan Scheinman, a member of the San Francisco Giants ownership group and a former executive with Cisco Media Solutions Group. The uniform, acquired by Scheinman from Bobby Thomson himself, has undergone extensive research by both the collector and Elise Yvonne Rousseau, an accredited textile conservator. In short, here's the scoop:

In 1951, all National League clubs adorned their jerseys with special patches commemorating the 75th anniversary of the league. Here's a picture of Pirates outfielder Brandy Davis wearing a 1951 jersey with the patch:

The patches were worn throughout the regular season, including the special three-game playoff between the Dodgers and Giants that would decide the pennant-winner. (That same season, the American League celebrated their 50th anniversary in similar fashion, with all eight Junior Circuit clubs wearing special patches.)

Scheinman's Thomson jersey is marked as "Set 2 - 1951" and is consistent with those worn by the Giants in 1951 with one major exception. There is no patch on the left sleeve. What gives?

Well, it turns out that both the Giants and Yankees did not wear these patches during the '51 World Series. Just why this was the case is not known, but, as an example, check out this photo taken of the starting pitchers of Game Two, the Yankees' Eddie Lopat and the Giants' Larry Jansen:

Is it possible that new uniforms were used for World Series? If so, perhaps Scheinman's jersey is from the Fall Classic, not the "Shot Heard 'Round the World." Or, perhaps the patches were simply removed from the regular season jerseys. But if so, how does one prove that the patchless jersey is the same as that worn by Thomson on October 3, 1951?

Among other key points forwarded by the textile conservator, of critical importance is the analysis of unique features around the number "23" on the back of the jersey. Throughout the season, the Giants had their uniforms regularly steam pressed. In so doing, the wool of the jerseys shrank slightly, though the large uniform numbers made of felt did not. This caused distortions on the back of the jersey: puckerings that formed unique patterns surrounding the "23," akin to a fingerprint. Through photo research, the puckerings of the jersey from Thomson's October 3 jersey are shown to match those found on the jersey in the possession of Dan Scheinman.

To learn more, here's the PDF document that details the analysis.

And there's more about the story at Paul Lukas's Uni Watch column.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jon Huntsman Doesn't Know Baseball

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, a potential Republican nominee for the 2012 presidential election, recently released this campaign advertisement:

[The YouTube video of this advertisement has been removed. I have had trouble tracking down another copy on the Web, but if one of my readers can, please send along the web address and I'll post it. Thanks.]

Initially, the ad left me quite confused. Why was the obvious reference to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney accompanied by a sad rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and B-roll of a baseball glove on the ground? What does Romney's record of job creation have to do with baseball? Did I miss something?

Then I found a few web sites that provided what appears to be the most plausible explanation.

From National Review Online, Jim Geraghty states:
A sad looking baseball mitt — get it? — is used to depict the former Massachusetts governor.
And at Business Insider, Jon Terbush explains:
The ad never mentions Romney by name, though the implication is clear — the ad refers to a former governor of Massachusetts and, whenever mentioned, the camera cuts to images of a dirty, discarded baseball mitt lying in the dust.
Oh, I get it. Mitt Romney = Baseball Mitt. See? They're both Mitts.

There's only one problem. The images in the advertisement don't show a baseball mitt. They show a baseball glove. And that's not nit-picking. That's a cold, hard fact.

The word mitt comes from "mitten," which, according to Webster's Dictionary is "a covering for the hand and wrist having a separate section for the thumb only." Webster's tells us that a glove is "a covering for the hand having separate sections for each of the fingers and the thumb and often extending part way up the arm."

In baseball, the distinction is quite critical, as only catcher's and first baseman are allowed to wear mitts. Yes. It is illegal for any player other than a catcher or first baseman to wear a mitt. Here are the relevant rules:

  • Rule 1.12: "The catcher may wear a leather mitt …"
  • Rule 1.13: "The first baseman may wear a leather glove or mitt …"
  • Rule 1.14: "Each fielder, other than the first baseman or catcher, may use or wear a leather glove."

To recap. This is a mitt:

And this is a mitt:

This is a glove:

If the advertisement had shown a catcher's mitt or first baseman's mitt, there would be no problem. But no. The ad showed a glove … which isn't a mitt.

Jon Huntsman. Want to be our President? Learn about our National Pastime.