Sunday, August 17, 2014

You Know How to Whistle

On August 13, 2014, one day after Lauren Bacall passed away, my friend and longtime baseball PR executive, Marty Appel, posted the following note on his Facebook page:
Never noticed it before but in the famous "you know how to whistle" scene in "To Have and Have Not," there is a baseball photo behind Lauren Bacall. Rest in peace Ms. Bacall, a resident of New York's famed Dakota.
Accompanying the post was this image of Bacall in her role as Marie "Slim" Browning in that classic movie from 1944. The baseball photo to which Marty was referring is visible at the left of the frame:

You can view the scene at YouTube.

My first reaction to Marty's posting was embarrassment. How did I miss this? I love this movie. I own this movie. I've seen this movie countless times. I've long been interested in ties between baseball and classic movies. (See my blog posting on a baseball mystery in "The Maltese Falcon.") How did this baseball picture elude me?

At first I thought it might have something to do with the ridiculously alluring woman in the same frame. Perhaps I was a bit distracted by her? I could be excused for that, right? But no. The baseball picture actually made its first appearance in the movie half an hour before the "You know how to whistle" scene, when we first see the interior of the room occupied by Humphrey Bogart in his role as Harry Morgan. Note that there's no Bacall to distract me:

There was no getting around it. Like an easy two-hopper that skipped under my glove, I simply missed the baseball picture in this movie. Thank goodness Marty did not.

It's tough to get a good look at the picture from screen grabs. This publicity still from the movie provides the best view of the picture:

And here's a contrast-enhanced detail from that still:

One main thing about the baseball photo jumped out at me: the grandstand in the background. It is unquestionably the Polo Grounds in New York. Compare the structure's various characteristics with those seen in the following photograph of the famous ballpark from 1908. (I discuss this particular image in my blog posting titled "When Wall Street Occupied the Ball Park"):

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-00475

About an hour after his initial posting about the picture in Harry Morgan's room, Marty Appel added a comment to his original Facebook posting:
Almost looks like a Honus Wagner photo, Tom, but of course, very hard to tell.
Indeed, the batter in the picture did have something Wagnerian about him. I searched various images of "The Flying Dutchman" at bat and finally came across this one:

It's a perfect match with the picture on Harry Morgan's wall. Marty's hunch was dead on.

As noted above, the location is clearly the Polo Grounds. But what else can we tell? On Wagner's left shoulder is an interesting symbol. It is an intertwined "PBC" standing for "Pittsburgh Baseball Club." (Or, more accurately, "Pittsburg Baseball Club," as the correct spelling of the city at the time lacked the final "h." Here's a web site that gives the details behind "How To Spell Pittsburgh.")

This particular symbol was worn on the Pirates' uniforms in 1908 and 1909. The Giants catcher wears light-colored stockings with a single dark stripe and an all-dark cap. For the seasons of 1908 and 1909, only the Giants of 1908 wore uniforms that matched this criteria. Thus, the photograph is of Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner batting at the Polo Grounds in 1908.

A quick check at shows that the Pirates played a dozen games in New York in 1908: June 9, 10, 11, 12; July 24, 25, 27, 28; September 18 (doubleheader), 19, 21. After a good deal of digging around, trying to track down contemporary images of these various games, I found our photograph in the September 20, 1908 issue of the New York Times:

The picture depicted action from the September 19th game between the Pirates and Giants. A quick glance at the box score revealed the third man in the image, the home plate umpire, future Hall of Famer Hank O'Day.

Incidentally, this action took place just four days before one of the most celebrated contests in baseball history: the Giants-Cubs game in which Fred Merkle failed to touch second base, September 23, 1908. Keith Olbermann explains it all here.

A few years later, the picture of O'Day, Bresnahan, and Wagner at the Polo Grounds was republished as a supplement to the October 7, 1911 issue of the National Police Gazette newspaper. Here's what the National Police Gazette version looks like:

The title of the print reads: "READY FOR THE WALLOP. Hans Wagner, Pittsburg Club, Well Set for the Coming Ball; Bresnahan, St. Louis Nationals, Behind the Bat." (Note the lack of the final "h" in "Pittsburg.") The photo certainly shows Bresnahan as a member of the Giants, but by the time the image was reproduced in the National Police Gazette, Roger Bresnahan was playing for the Cardinals, having been traded to St. Louis prior to the 1909 season.

It is my hunch that the picture on Harry Morgan's wall was a framed, slightly cropped version of this Police Gazette supplement, not the original photograph. Note how they match perfectly:

Incidentally, on the wall above the image of Wagner is a picture of one of the greatest U.S. athletes of the early 20th century: Duke Kahanamoku. Best known today as the father of surfing, Kahanomoku was also a winner of five Olympic medals as a swimmer in three different Olympic Games (1912, 1920, 1924). He is a member of both the Surfing and Swimming Halls of Fame.

Here is his image as published in a 1915 issue of the National Police Gazette.

And here is how the Kahanamoku National Police Gazette image matches perfectly with the picture on the wall:

By the way, take a look at this other still from the movie, showing a different wall in Harry Morgan's room:

Note the two framed pictures in the background, not of baseball action, but of a boxer (at far left) and another athlete (perhaps a boxer?) just to Bogey's left. I suspect that these pictures were also framed pages from National Police Gazette supplements, but will leave it to other researchers to track down the names of these men and just when their pictures were published.

For now, I'm happy to know two things: Just what that picture is hanging on Harry Morgan's wall ... and, of course, how to whistle.