Monday, November 12, 2012

Bagpipes and Baseball, or Clash of the Tartans

This summer, I came across an absolutely fantastic image in the photo collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum:

National Baseball Library (BL-3270.71)

Pictured is a baseball team wearing what I believe to be the first (and likely only) all-tartan baseball uniform in professional baseball history. How great is that?

A number of questions came to mind and, in an effort to answer them, I eagerly researched the photo. Here are those questions, my research and the answers that I determined.

What team is pictured in the photograph?

Obviously, with "Ottawa" plastered across the front of each player's jersey, the team likely represents that city. Additionally, a previous owner of the photograph added a handwritten note at the bottom of the mount that reads:

Eastern League Team of Ottawa Canada 1897
Transferred from Rochester New York
Rochester's Eastern League club, sometimes called the Patriots, did indeed move to Ottawa, but as evidenced by this short article published in Sporting Life of July 16, 1898, the transfer occurred during the middle of the 1898 season, not 1897:

Apparently, the handwritten note on the photo mount was off by a year.

(By the way, while many sources refer to this short-lived Ottawa club by the nickname "Wanderers," I have yet to see this name in any contemporary sources.)

In order to confirm that this is indeed the 1898 Ottawa club, it may prove helpful to ask another question:

What players can be identified?

Seated fourth from left is a player identified with another handwritten note. Inked below the player's feet is the name "Joe Gunson." Since we've already determined the handwritten date on the mount is inaccurate, it would probably be best to double-check Gunson identification by checking other known images of the player. Here is an Old Judge cigarette card of Gunson with Kansas City of the minor league Western Association in 1888:

Compare the man identified as Gunson in the Ottawa photo with his image on the cigarette card:

Despite the nearly ten-year difference in age, there's no question that these fellows are one and the same, and that the identification of Gunson is correct. A check of his record reveals that Gunson played with Scranton in 1897, but with the Ottawa/Rochester club in 1898. Thus, the team photo is almost assuredly the 1898 Ottawa baseball club.

Gunson, a veteran of four big league seasons with five different clubs, would be a forgettable figure in baseball were it not for the claim that he invented the catcher's mitt back in 1888. Other individuals, such as Ted Kennedy and Harry Decker, have also been linked to the origins of the mitt, but Gunson's name is the one most often associated with the innovation.

The other relatively famous player on Ottawa in 1898 was Mike Kelley. Not to be confused with the Hall of Famer Mike "King" Kelly, the Kelley on Ottawa was a mediocre first baseman who played just one season of big league ball. But following his professional playing career, Kelley went on to make his name as a longtime manager and owner of minor league clubs in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Here's a photo of Kelley:

Minnesota Historical Society (negative no. 100206)

Compare this image of Kelley with the player standing just above Gunson in the Ottawa photo:

Once again, we have a match. There really is no question at all: We're clearly dealing with the Ottawa Club from Eastern League in 1898.

Where was this photograph taken?

A good first assumption is that the photo was shot in Ottawa, but there are other clues that should help determine the exact location.

In the background there is a storefront window adorned with the name "J.R. McNEIL." And to the left, above a door, is a street number: 203. Given this information, I was able to track down the following advertisement found in the final pages of a 1903 publication titled A Regimental History of the Forty-Third Regiment, Active Militia of Canada by Captain Ernest J. Chambers:

Indeed, upon further examination, we can see that inside the store, behind the name "J.R. McNeil" on the window, is a poster that confirms that the establishment is that of a tailor.

Though partially obscured, the poster reads:
According to the Canadian census of 1901, a gentleman named "James R. McNeil" was listed as a "merchant tailor," immigrated to Canada in 1885, and, though he was born in England, he listed his "racial origin" as "Scotch." Born on December 11, 1858, he was 39 years old at the time the photograph was taken.

A check of the 1898-99 Ottawa City Directory confirms that McNeil's tailor shop was indeed at 203 Sparks Street:

Now compare the image of the gentleman seen in the poster and the fellow wearing the vest posing with the club:

They are one and the same: James R. McNeil, the tailor.

So where is 203 Sparks Street in Ottawa? Here's a map (courtesy of Google Maps) that shows that the location (marked by the pin "A") is just a stone's throw from Parliament Hill, in what is now the Sparks Street Mall:


The Library and Archives of Canada has a wonderful online collection of photographs taken by William James Topley (1845-1930). In the collection is the following undated photograph is labeled "Sparks Street."

Library and Archives Canada (online MIKAN no. 3325937)

The photo was taken looking northeast up Sparks Street, with the first intersection being Bank Street.

At right, at the southeast corner of Sparks and Bank, is a distinctive building. While the structure has nothing to do with our tailor's shop (it wasn't even built until a year after the Ottawa team photograph was taken), it was a prominent landmark in the area and, as we shall see, some of the building still stands today. Here's a detail from the above photograph:

And here's another view of the building, from a different Topley photo at the Library and Archives of Canada:

Library and Archives Canada (online MIKAN no. 3318384)

This was the Sun Life Building, constructed in 1899. The structure was one of the first Beaux-Arts buildings in Ottawa and was designed by Canadian architect Edgar Lewis Horwood. Today, Horwood is perhaps best known as the designer of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in British Columbia, where their 72-inch telescope was supposed to have been the world's largest. However, the telescope failed to see first light until after the 100-inch Hooker telescope opened at Mt. Wilson Observatory. (Why include this rather tangential detail? Because I used to work at Mt. Wilson Observatory.)

As noted above, the Sun Life Building still stands today, though it has been significantly altered, lacking its distinctive dome and many of the other details that made it a landmark a century ago. Here's what it looks like today, as captured by Google Street View:

Returning to an examination of the location of McNeil's tailor shop, here's a detail from the first Topley photograph above, showing the buildings on the left (north) side of Sparks Street, just beyond the Bank Street intersection:

Note the partially obscured sign at the center of this detail reads "J.R. McNEIL" That is our tailor's shop: the location of the team photo.

As one might guess, J.R. McNeil is no longer at 203 Sparks Street. In fact, the building at that location is not the same one that was there when the Ottawa club posed for their photo. The Wellington Building, originally built in the 1920s and expanded eastward in the 1960s, lies atop the location of McNeil's shop. Today the Wellington occupies most of the western half of the block bounded by Sparks, Bank, Wellington and O'Connor Streets. In the current-day satellite image below, the blue arrow points to the Wellington Building, while the green arrow points to the approximate location where McNeil's shop once stood:

Who took the photograph of the Ottawa club?

At the bottom right-hand corner of the mount there are some markings. Here's a detail:

Generally, photo studios would place their name and location on each photo they mounted, but in this case the mount has been significantly trimmed. Though we are left with very little to go on, we can see that at the far right of what's left of the studio imprint there appears to be an apostrophe after a cursive letter "O, "C," or "G." The 1898-99 Ottawa City Directory has a listing of all photographic studios in the Ottawa area. Here's that listing:

(Hey, there's the Topley Studio! No doubt that is where William James Topley set up shop back in the day.)

Of all the studios listed, only one features an apostrophe: Sproule & O'Connor at 134 Bank Street. Could the markings on the mount be a small portion of the Sproule & O'Connor imprint? A search on the web uncovered the following photo that features the studio's full imprint at the bottom of the mount:

snap-happy1 photo stream at flickr

Here's a detail of the imprint:

And here's an overlay of the markings on the Ottawa baseball team photo and the full imprint:

It's a perfect match. Clearly, the Ottawa team photo was taken by the studio run by Henry W. Sproule and Nicholas R. O'Connor at 134 Bank Street, just a few blocks south of McNeil's tailor shop.

When was the photograph taken?

Since the club made Ottawa its home for just the last half of the 1898 season, we already have a fairly short span of time in which the photograph could have been shot. However, there are other clues to help date the photo.

According to a short note in Sporting Life of August 13, 1898, "The Ottawa Club has released pitcher Harper and catcher Joe Gunson." The pair was actually released on August 2, and since we've already established that Gunson is in our team photo, the shot had to have taken place before his early August departure.

The Ottawa club's first home game took place on July 15, 1898. Since we know the photo was taken in Ottawa, it could not have been done so before that date. We now know the Ottawa players posed for their team photo sometime during the fortnight between July 15 and August 2, 1898.

Thankfully, a fortuitous find allowed me to determine the exact date of the photo. Google News Archive contains numerous digitized issues of the Ottawa Citizen, a daily newspaper in the capital city. By reading coverage of the baseball club over the two week window determined above, I found the following paragraph in the issue of August 2, 1898:

Baseball Monday was ushered in with a grand flourish of bagpipes, the home team wearing for the first time their new home uniforms presented to them by Mr. McNeil, the tailor. The gathering of the Clans took place at the Grand Union Hotel from whence a march started, first to Mr. McNeil's, where they were photographed, and thence to the Metropolitan grounds, where the Scottish colors were dragged in the dust literally and figuratively by the heartless barons, the Ottawas being defeated by the score of 4 to 3.
... The appearance of the Ottawas will be quite a surprise to the slouchy ball players of the Unites States. The locals are the most stylish looking aggregation in the league.
Question answered: The photo was taken on Monday, August 1, 1898.

Incidentally, the Grand Union Hotel, where the day's festivities began, can be seen in this Topley photograph:

Library and Archives Canada (online MIKAN no. 3422795)

What's up with the tartan uniforms?

Take a close look at James McNeil:

His vest is made from the same tartan material as that used for the players' uniforms. As noted in the Ottawa Citizen, McNeil was the very man who outfitted the ball club. His choice for the pattern? Well, the good folks at the Scottish Tartans Museum were kind enough to alert me to the very useful Tartan Registry and help confirm that the players were wearing one of the historic McNeil family tartans. Here's that pattern:

It seems that without actually placing his name on the team uniforms, James McNeil managed to leave little question as to who made the outfits.

Who are those bagpipers?

Indeed! Well, according to their web site, the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band are Canada's oldest civilian organization of bagpipers, having first formed in 1896. Now take a look at this entry in the 1898-99 Ottawa City Directory:

The Sons of Scotland were formed five years before their pipe band, and seven years before the Ottawa baseball club came to town. I was able to determine that their meeting place at Workman's Hall was located at 181 Sparks Street, just a few doors down from McNeil's tailor shop. The bagpipers simply have to be members of the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band.

Here's a Topley photo of the Sons of Scotland's meeting place as it appeared in 1918:

Library and Archives Canada (online MIKAN no. 3504638)

... and here's what the building looks like today (though the address is now 183 Sparks Street):

After all of these questions, perhaps you are now wondering ...

Where can I purchase a quality reproduction of the Ottawa team photograph?

Glad you asked. Actually, there's only one place to get a copy of this photograph: The National Baseball Hall of Fame. I encourage you to contact John Horne in the Hall of Fame's Photo Department ( and he can help you obtain a copy.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Bat with the Concaved End

According to Nathan Stalvey, Exhibitions Director and Curator at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, about 60% of all big leaguers use bats with a concave end — what is known in the business as a "cup-balanced" bat. Despite the popularity of the feature, the origins of the cupped-end bat are still a bit of a mystery.

Many sources state that José Cardenal was the first player to introduce the bat style to the big leagues. According to an article at the Cardboard Gods Web site:

Cardenal borrowed a bat from coach George Altman that was made of a yellowish wood. What intrigued the outfielder was that he noticed that the Japanese-made bat didn’t have marks where the contacts were made. So he bought the dozen of bats from Altman for $100. A few hits later, complaints were filed about the unique lumber, but the Commissioner’s Office gave an okay to Cardenal to use the bat, as he went onto hit in the .290’s. 'It had a little cup at the end and good balance,' [said] Cardenal.
(Former major leaguer George Altman played baseball in Japan from 1968 to 1975.)

But an article in The Sporting News of September 11, 1971, gives a different twist to the story, with Cardenal quoted as stating that "Lou Brock got a dozen [of the bats] from a player on the Tokyo Giants [likely Sadaharu Oh] and he gave me four. Somebody stole three of them, and I have only that one left."

In fact, another article in The Sporting News from three months earlier (June 12, 1971) also gives credit to Lou Brock as the major leaguer who introduced what the St. Louis Cardinals assistant general manager Jim Toomey called a "teacup" bat: "Brock has used one of the Japanese bats at infrequent intervals. 'I think I'm 2-for-6 with it,' said Brock."

So how far back does the cupped-end bat go? Cardenal? Brock? Japanese players? Actually, a few years ago, bat historian Dave Bushing uncovered the fact that the Hanna Batrite company was selling cupped-end bats decades earlier. In an article authored by Bushing, he noted that the Georgia-based company sold their "OK'd Cup Bat" in the early 1940s.

Here's an advertisement for the bat as found in a Hanna Batrite catalog from 1942:

According to a Dick Young article in The Sporting News of January 15, 1972, "The cupped-end bat, now approved by the major leagues, is not a Japanese innovation. An American company has been making them since 1936." No doubt Young was referring to the Hanna Batrite company, suggesting that the bats were introduced back in the 1930s.

But now, new research has uncovered an even earlier reference to the cupped-end bat. The following note appeared in an article in the October 16, 1897 issue of the Philadelphia-based Sporting Life, a weekly sports newspaper:

By a simple method of their own, the Robert Reach Company have succeeded in making a bat of such perfect balance, that, while retaining the weight and driving power of the best second growth white ash owing to the perfect balance, feels much lighter and, therefore, easier to swing. This result is obtained by simply concaving the large end of the bat. By doing this is [sic] taken away one ounce and a half of absolutely useless wood, which in itself does not weigh much, but placed on the end of a 34-inch bat weighs considerable. This is an undisputable [sic] law of physics. Taking advantage of this fact they have secured a patent on the article in question, and offer the ball players a scientifically constructed bat of such perfect balance that they are enabled to use a much heavier bat than heretofore, thereby securing greater driving power, without requiring any more effort to swing it. Every bat is guaranteed to be straight grain, split, second growth white ash.

Despite the information noted in the article, research has failed to track down a contemporary patent for the new design.

A few months after its initial mention, the cupped bat was offered as a premium for selling subscriptions to the Sporting Life. And a week later, on January 15, 1898, the following advertisement was prominently placed in the same publication:

While it is unknown if any professional ball players used Robert Reach's "bat with the concaved end," it is clear that the idea of a cupped-end bat is much older than previously thought.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Closer Look at Photos Used to Authenticate the $4.4 Million Babe Ruth Jersey

On May 25, 2012, the Hauls of Shame web site posted an article by Dave Grob, Senior Baseball Uniform Researcher at MEARS (Memorabilia Evaluation & Research Services), in which the the author explained how he went about authenticating a purported Babe Ruth 1920 New York Yankees road jersey. The jersey sold earlier in May for a record $4.4 million.

A significant part of the authentication process relied on comparing the jersey with known photographs of Ruth. Reproduced below are the three main photos featured in the article:

Photo #1:

Photo #2:

Photo #3:

Let's take a closer look at each of these photographs.


This photo depicts Ruth with Joe Jackson. Here's the description from the Hauls of Shame blog:

Babe Ruth and Joe Jackson. Photo has to be from 1920 as in 1919 Ruth was with the Red Sox. In 1921 Jackson was out of Major League Baseball.
Indeed, for these very reasons, the photo most assuredly dates from 1920. But can we determine just when in 1920 the photo was taken?

First, a quick look around the Web reveals that there are many versions of the photo available. This one comes from Getty Images:

Getty Images #97293261

... and is accompanied by the following caption:
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Shoeless Joe Jackson (r.) of the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees' Babe Ruth look at one of Babe's home run bats. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Well, certainly the Getty-provided date of "c. 2002" is inaccurate. We've already established that the photo is from 1920. But this larger version of the photo makes it easier to confirm that Ruth is wearing a road Yankees uniform, while Jackson is wearing the White Sox' home duds. Below are the relevant drawings by Marc Okkonen as found at the Hall of Fame's "Dressed to the Nines" online exhibit.

Yankees 1920:

White Sox 1920:

Thus, the photo was taken in Chicago in 1920. That season, the White Sox hosted the Yankees for three different series at Comiskey Park:
Given the limited number of dates above, I was able to track down this very same photo in the June 17, 1920 issue of the Chicago Tribune. Here's the picture with its original caption:

Our research is complete: The photograph was taken at Comiskey Park on June 16, 1920, before the Yankees vs. White Sox game in which Ruth hit his 18th homer of the season.


According to the Grob article, this photo dates from "late season 1921 or early season 1922." But how accurate is this range of dates?

For starters, while not mentioned in the blog posting, the photo clearly shows Ruth with his first wife, Helen, and their daughter, Dorothy. It will be seen that these identifications are critical to dating the photo.

As with the previous image, I thought it would be helpful to track down a higher quality version of the photo. Once again, I managed to find one at Getty Images:

Getty Images #72726016

The Getty caption reads:
NEW YORK - 1921. Babe Ruth poses with wife Helen and baby Dorothy before a game in Yankee Stadiium [sic] in 1921. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
While the identifications are correct, there are other problems with this caption. Why would Ruth be wearing a road uniform (as evidenced by the words "NEW YORK" across his chest) when the photo was taken "before a game in Yankee Stadium?" And, perhaps more importantly, how could the photo have been taken in 1921, when it wasn't until September 22, 1922, that he and his wife Helen revealed to the public that they had a daughter?

The news that Ruth was a father was widely covered, this report being published in the Chicago Tribune of September 23, 1922:
Wife Admits It; Child Bred in Incubator.

New York, Sept. 22. -- [Special.] -- For sixteen months the one and only "Bambino," George Herman Ruth, has been the father of a little Bambino, and her name is Dorothy.
This surprising fact became known tonight when Mrs. Ruth indignantly denied that she had adopted a baby, a rumor to this effect having been circulated when she was seen at the Polo grounds, accompanied by a nurse and baby.
"Adopted a baby!" Mrs. Ruth exclaimed. "I have not! It's my own baby!"
Why She Kept It Secret.
Asked why the birth of the baby had been kept a secret, she explained, "Because it has been sick ever since it was born."
At the time of its birth, the exact date and place of which Mrs. Ruth refused to divulge, the baby weighed only 2 1/2 pounds, she said. Since its birth it has been "with a nurse," she explained, but would not say where the nurse had been.
According to clerks at the hotel where the Ruths live, the baby has been with Mrs. Ruth and the "Babe" in the hotel for only about a month. Mrs. Ruth has been taking it out in a baby carriage about 4 o'clock in the afternoon recently, a clerk said.
The clerk added a description of "Babe" Ruth with the infant when he was in New York. The big "Babe" comes downstairs about 7 o'clock each evening carrying the tiny bundle of humanity on one of his shoulders.
Happy, Hearty, and Fat.
Asked for a description of the baby, since Mrs. Ruth denied all reporters and photographers a glimpse of it, the clerk described it as "happy, healthy, and fat." He added it didn't resemble one of its parents more than the other.
Mrs. Ruth declared the infant was still quite small and thin, explaining that it had been bred in an incubator. She admitted it had been born prematurely. She was reluctant to talk of the child or discuss the details surrounding its birth.
She explained she did not want "to worry the 'Babe' while he was in Cleveland by reports of the baby's illness."
The mystery behind the 16-month-old Dorothy was never fully resolved. Was she Helen's biological daughter? Was she adopted? Was she Ruth's daughter by another woman? All of these possibilities have been forwarded by reporters and historians over the years. But for our purposes, Dorothy's background is of little consequence. The key is that Ruth and Helen did not make the existence of their daughter public until late September of 1922, so both the Getty and Hauls of Shame dates are off base.

So when was the photo taken? Let's start with the assumption that the Ruth family portrait was indeed captured in 1922, soon after the revelation that Ruth was a father. If so, it must be from the very end of the season. The Yankees played three series on the road following the revelation that Ruth was a daddy:
  • September 22-24 at Cleveland
  • September 28-30 at Boston
  • October 1 at Washington
After some digging, I was able to track down a September 30, 1922, issue of the Sandusky (Ohio) Register that featured the following photo:

Dorothy's outfit (love that bonnet!) and Helen's fur hat and clothing match well with those seen in the photo in Dave Grob's article. Certainly these pictures were taken at the same occasion. We can thus narrow the possible dates to a time period between September 22 (when the baby was revealed) to September 30 (in the very off-chance that the photo was taken the same day that the Sandusky Register went to press).

This latest date range implies that the photo was taken during the Yankees visit to Cleveland or to Boston. We know from the Chicago Tribune article that on September 22 Helen was in New York, not in Cleveland with Ruth. But did she later travel to Cleveland or Boston?

A clue comes from yet another image of Ruth with his baby daughter, this one found at the Corbis Images web site:

Corbis Image #BE045320

According to the Corbis web site, the photograph was taken on September 26, 1922, though the original caption was dated September 27, 1922 and read:
Boston, MA: Photo shows Babe Ruth playing with his baby Dorothy Helen Ruth at Fenway Park in Boston. He is here limbering up with his Yankee cohorts for the series with the Red Sox, which will determine the pennant race. Mrs. Ruth and the baby journeyed to Boston to spend a few days with the slugger.
Almost certainly this photo was taken at Fenway Park on the same day as the rest of the family portraits. The caption implies that the photo was shot on a date before the opening of the Yankees series in Boston, likely September 26, 1922.


This final photograph is a posed shot of Ruth in his batting stance. Dave Grob's article dates the photo to 1920, but is not more specific. Can we narrow down the time frame?

A quick search on the web shows that the picture is a cropped version of the following image:

The wall in the background certainly doesn't look like any found at a major league park of the era, so a reasonable initial guess is that the photo is from spring training. Following this lead, it didn't take long to find the same image in the Syracuse Post-Standard of March 28, 1920:

Thus the photo was taken no later than March 28, likely the 27th or earlier. And while we do not have an exact date for the photo, we have at least confirmed that spring training of 1920 is the correct time frame.

The entire 39-page analysis conducted by Dave Grob contains numerous other photographs, but I'll let other researchers have a crack at those images.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here - Ewing Field

With apologies to the folks responsible for the current Dos Equis advertising campaign: I don't always research minor league baseball, but when I do, I prefer the Pacific Coast League. (See my earlier posting titled The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, featuring an appearance by the PCL San Francisco Seals and Hollywood Stars).

In this second installment of my "There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here" series, I'm taking a look at a San Francisco ballpark that was built nearly a century ago.

Every season from 1907 to 1930, the PCL San Francisco Seals played their home games at Recreation Park, located at 15th and Valencia. Every season, that is, except for one: 1914. That year, the Seals played at Ewing Field, a brand new park built by (and named after) club owner James Calvin Ewing.

Built for some $90,000 just eight years after the great San Francisco earthquake and conflagration of 1906, Ewing Field was billed as the city's first fire-proof ballpark. But it was fog, not fire, that doomed the park in 1914. Though the Seals finished the long PCL season with a record of 115 wins and 96 losses (their .545 winning percentage was third-best in the league), the constant presence of fog ultimately forced the club to abandon Ewing Field and hightail it back to Recreation Park. Thus ended the one-year "career" of Ewing Field as home of the Seals.

The park wasn't completely abandoned, however. For years, the site hosted numerous baseball and football games, as well as other special events. For example, back in late March of 1922, a two-day circus and athletic demonstration was staged at the park to benefit the San Francisco Community Service League. A number of wonderful photos of that particular event can be found at the Online Archive of California.

Here's one showing some sailors from the U.S. Navy sitting atop giant medicine balls, with the Ewing Field grandstand in the background:

Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

And who could forget the "royal feminine loveliness" (the San Francisco Chronicle's words, not mine) of Agnes Margaret Pape, the Queen of the Community Service Circus?

Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

But back when Ewing Field first opened, May 16, 1914, optimism for the new park was running high. Nearly all of the park's 18,000 seats were filled as local photographer W. Wesley Swadley captured a scene of Opening Day at Ewing Field in a gorgeous panoramic image available at the Library of Congress website:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-126031

Located at what is now the southwest corner of Anza and Masonic, the ballpark sat some a half dozen blocks north of Golden Gate Park's panhandle. Today, all that is left of the park is its name, as the looping Ewing Road lies atop what used to be the ballpark's infield.

Taking a closer look at the panoramic image above, just two features can be seen outside the park: the cupola of a building and a water tower, both looming just beyond the left field wall. Here is a detail from Swadley's photo:

And here's an even closer look, zooming in on the cupola:

(By the way, check out the young men operating the scoreboard. One is resting against a box that contains various number placards, waiting to be posted on the board.)

While the water tower looks somewhat generic, the cupola appears quite distinctive. A different view showing the cupola is found in a detail from another photo at the Online Archive of California. As in the panoramic image, we are essentially looking south from the ballpark toward the building with the cupola:

Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

But atop what building did this cupola rest? After some digging, I found the answer in an article about the ballpark's ultimate demise. The story was covered in numerous papers. This article is from the Nevada State Journal of Sunday, June 6, 1926:


Flames Destroy Ewing Field, 12 Residences, Jumps Five Blocks


Worst Fire Since 1906 Levels Gomes, Factories; Destroys Hemp

SAN FRANCISCO, June 5.—(AP)—Fire, believed to have been caused by a lighted match being dropped in the wooden grandstand at Ewing Field in the Richmond district, today started a conflagration which terrorized a neighborhood, destroyed many homes, did property damage estimated at $207,500, defied the entire fire department and forced volunteers into service when a $100,000 fire in the Mission district started at the same time.

Carried by a stiff trade wind over Calvary cemetery down to Broderick street, a distance of five blocks, embers from the Ewing Field blazes furnished thousands of torches that fell on wooden roofs and started numerous small blazes.

A number of wooden homes surrounding the field went up like so much tinder and householders, caught unnwares by the quick spread of the blaze, escaped without hats or coats in most instances.

The water mains in the vicinity of the Ewing Field fire were unable to furnish sufficient water to meet the demands of the firefighters and the auxiliary salt water system, built for fires of major proportion in the downtown urea, was out of reach.

Banners of smoke from the blazing field were visible throughout the city and attracted throngs of
spectators. Directly above the fire zone rose Lone Mountain with its cross, and thousands of men and women watched the fire from its sides and summit.

The nuns at Presentation Convent, operated by the Sisters of the Presentation, at Masonic Avenue and Turk street, only half a block removed from Ewing Field, prevented a panic by their cool-headed work. When it appeared that the convent structure was doomed, the nuns collected their movable valuables and were prepared to depart at an instant's notice.
Exactly what part of "fire-proof" did Ewing Field not understand?

Could the cupola belong to the Presentation Convent at Masonic and Turk? More digging produced the following image of the convent as found on page 427 of "The Catholic church in the United States of America - Volume II" published in 1914:

The cupola on the convent matches that seen outside Ewing Field quite well.

Though the convent was threatened by the Ewing Field fire, it was apparently spared, as the same building (sans cupola) still stands today at the northwest corner of Masonic and Turk. Here's an aerial image taken from the east from Google Maps:

And here's the view from the north, showing the side that faced the ballpark.

Another view of the one-time convent, this time from the ground and also looking from the north, is available in Google Street View:

The convent building, renovated by Oculus Architects, Inc. at the cost of $3,5 million, is now owned by the University of San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Sisters of the Presentation are today headquartered at 2340 Turk, just one building west of their old convent.

The moral of this story? Well, back in 1914, if you were a member of the Sisters of the Presentation and were crazy for Seals baseball, you could simply climb to the top of the convent cupola and peak out for a free view into Ewing Field.

From a baseball standpoint, I suppose this would make you nun the wiser.