Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Base Ball Flag

Last October marked the 100th anniversary of a classic World Series match-up between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Athletics. The A's won the 1911 post-season affair in six games, all but the final contest being quite close and exciting.

Just two days after the conclusion of the Fall Classic, despite their team's loss, over 100 Giants fans attended a gala dinner to celebrate John McGraw's National League champion club. The event took place at New York's Hotel Imperial (seen below), at Broadway and 32nd Street.

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection [LC-D4-71266 DLC]

The guest list for the October 28th reception was impressive. Nineteen members of the Giants attended, including Larry Doyle, Art Fletcher, Buck Herzog, Rube Marquard, Fred Merkle, Chief Meyers, Red Murray, Fred Snodgrass and McGraw. Local dignitaries included:

  • Robert Adamson, secretary to the Mayor of New York City
  • Charles Ebbets, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers
  • "Big Bill" Edwards, New York City's Street Cleaning Commissioner and former baseball player at Princeton
  • Bernard Gimbel, one of the Gimbel brothers who, just a year earlier, opened their famous department store in New York City
  • Job Hedges, who the following year would run as the Republican Candidate for governor of New York state
  • General Edward McAlpin, who had months earlier been named President and Chief Scout of the American Boy Scouts
The evening's festivities included a baseball-themed menu (de rigueur for such events), waiters dressed in baseball uniforms, the appearance of a faux elephant that roamed the hall (a nod to John McGraw's infamous reference to the Athletics as "white elephants"), and the screening of motion picture footage of the 1911 Series. Sadly, the film no longer exists.

The toasts and speeches of the evening were congratulatory and humorous, but unremarkable. Unremarkable, that is, save for the comments of one Herman A. Metz (pictured below), the former New York City comptroller and a future congressman representing New York's 10th district.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, [LC-DIG-hec-05285]

In a November 11, 1911, article published in Sporting Life, New York sports writer Sid Mercer wrote:
One of the grandest little ideas that has bounded fair on the field of fandom was that batted out last Saturday night by Herman Metz at the citizens testimonial dinner to the Giants at the Imperial Hotel. Metz thinks that base ball has become such an institution that it ought to have a flag—a distinctive symbol that will be recognized as the badge of the national game. While the idea of a base ball flag may not be original with the former Controller of New York City, he is the first man who has pursued it to a definite reality. To think with Metz is to act, and he is now having a design for the flag drawn up by one of the best architects in the city.

Metz was one of the speakers at the base ball banquet, and he improved the occasion to introduce the base ball flag idea. It was enthusiastically received. Everybody wondered why it had not been done before now. "Talking base ball with a friend of mine—an architect—the other day," said Metz. "I mentioned the fact that base ball has grown to wonderful proportions without a banner for its admirers to follow. Each team has its own color scheme, but there is no flag that stands as an emblem of base ball. Pennants are too scarce. There should be something that could be used for decoration at all base ball parks. I therefore believe that we should have a base ball flag—a symbol that could be universally adopted. I am a fan and would like to wear a button with such a symbol thereon. Well, to make a long story short, I have my friend at work on a design. If we can produce something that fits the situation I think we should try to get it adopted by the major leagues and so spread it, all over the country. I hope to present this design to Manager McGraw in a few days, and if it is approved by base ball men they are welcome to the idea."

This wasn't the first time that Herman Metz has made folks sit up and take notice. The idea of a base ball flag, as he presented it, made a big hit with a large gathering of New Yorkers of big ideas and accomplishments, and it's going to amount to something. Joe Humphreys was one of those who warmly applauded the flag idea. Yesterday Joe told it to George Cohan, and Cohan is already at work on a new patriotic musical play—with a base ball flag song as the big knockout.

(With apologies to George M. Cohan.)
It's a brand new flag.
Base ball's latest gag.
And forever and ever may it wave;
It's the emblem of the game we love.
The sport over which we all rave.
Every fan should swear
By this rag and take care
That to hold it aloft is our brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot?
Keep your eye on the base ball flag.
[It should be remembered that Cohan's famous song "It's a Grand Old Flag," was not quite six years old at the time of this parody. The catchy tune had quickly become a major hit after its introduction in Cohan's 1906 Broadway musical George Washington, Jr.]

While Mercer and the party goers seemed impressed, the idea apparently went no further. In fact, other than this particular article, I can find no reference to Metz's base ball flag.

Of course, today, Major League Baseball has its own logo (seen below). [For the story behind it, check out the Wall Street Journal article titled "The Man Behind the MLB Logo".] But it is a logo, not a flag. And perhaps more importantly, it is the logo of an organization, not of the game of baseball.

Additionally, numerous baseball flags have been themed along the lines of the United States flag (a few are shown below), but baseball is a game without borders. Over a century after the idea was first proposed, baseball—not Major League Baseball, not professional baseball, not baseball in the United States, but all of baseball—still has no flag of its own.