Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Closer Look at Footage from Game Seven of the 1924 World Series

On October 2, 2014, the Library of Congress announced an exciting discovery: newsreel highlights from Game Seven of the 1924 World Series between the New York Giants and Washington Senators. The timing of the announcement was appropriate, as it came just one day prior to the first game of this year's San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals postseason series, and eight days prior to the 90th anniversary of the last game of the 1924 World Series.

The footage is indeed quite remarkable and includes great action shots from the World Series finale played on October 10, 1924, at Washington's Griffith Stadium. I decided to take a closer look at the movie and, in so doing, was able to make a few discoveries and correct a few errors regarding just what we see in the historic film.

First, here's the footage as posted at the Library of Congress's web site (note that the musical score is not original to the footage):

The initial title card reads:

... after which the camera pans across a packed crowd at the ballpark. The 1924 World Series marked the first appearance by the Washington Senators in the Fall Classic and Game Seven remains one of the most exciting in World Series history, with the winning run coming on a one-out double in the bottom of the 12th inning. The next title card reads:

... and indeed we next see New York's 16-game winner, Virgil Barnes, deliver a pitch:

Next is a great shot taken from close behind the plate, a rare angle for newsreels of the day. A left-handed batter for Washington takes a hefty cut at the ball and quickly heads towards first base:

Just four lefty batters took part in the game that day for the Giants: Sam Rice, Goose Goslin, Joe Judge, and Nemo Leibold. While it is not clear which of these four batters is seen at the plate (I'm guessing it's either Rice or Goslin), the umpire and catcher are identifiable. Hank Gowdy caught the entire game for the Giants, while Bill Dinneen was the home plate arbiter that day.

Next we see action from a very different angle. It was commonplace at the time to send just one moving footage cameraman to the game, so it is likely that this action was shot from a different part of the game than the one just seen. In this sequence we see a Senators base runner heading toward second base and ultimately sliding safely into third. Watch carefully as the runner approaches second base:

He does not round the base from a wide angle, as a runner would if he was running from first to third on a base hit. Instead, he runs directly toward second, as if there is going to be a play at the base. Indeed, an infielder for the Giants is seen running to the bag, as if to catch a throw. We next see the infielder turn towards the outfield as the base runner continues on to third base.

This scenario matches perfectly with a critical play that occurred in the bottom of the ninth inning. With the score knotted at three runs apiece, one out, and Washington's Joe Judge on first base, Senators shortstop Ossie Bluege hit a ground ball to Giants first baseman George "High Pockets" Kelly. Kelly threw to Giants shortstop Travis Jackson in an effort to force Judge at second, but Jackson dropped the ball and Judge advanced to third base. (Incidentally, the second base umpire is Tom Connolly.) The result was that the Senators had first and third with just one out and an excellent chance to win the game and the World Championship title. Instead, the Giants wriggled out of the predicament with a play that will show up later in the footage.

The next title card reads:

However, this is followed not by a shot of Washington pitcher George Mogridge, but (as first pointed out to me by my colleague, Lenny DiFranza) yet another shot of Giants pitcher Barnes:

Was this a mistake by the newsreel editors back in 1924? Was there no quality footage if Mogridge from the game, so the editors simply used footage of Barnes and hoped the movie-goers wouldn't notice? Was the film damaged at some point near this spot and a splice was made, with the Mogridge footage being cut out? The answer is not clear.

The next scene shows a right-handed batter for the Giants laying down a bunt, hustling toward first, and sliding safely into the bag, head first:

The play matches perfectly with action that occurred in the top of the third inning when, with one out, Giants second baseman Frank Frisch laid down a bunt and beat the throw to first. (Other players seen in this particular sequence include Washington catcher Muddy Ruel and first baseman Joe Judge.)

The next title card reads:

And, indeed, we see a batter hit a home run. Since there was only one homer hit in the game, there's little question that the title card is correct and we are treated to seeing Senators manager and second baseman Bucky Harris hitting a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth for the first run of the game.

The next title card notes that the President was in the stands:

This footage was certainly taken prior to the start of the game, so it is a bit strange to see it in the middle of this film. But, as we are learning, numerous shots are being presented here with little regard for the chronology of events. Pictured left to right in the front row are Mrs. Grace Coolidge, President Calvin Coolidge, Mrs. Emily Stearns (wife of Frank Stearns, a longtime friend of the President), and Louis J. Taber (master of the National Grange).

The next title card reads:

In this sequence we see a Giants base runner heading home, turning to watch the play behind him, then scoring. This matches the situation in the top of the sixth inning when, with no out and runners on first and third, Giants pinch-hitter Irish Meusel hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field. Ross Youngs, the runner on third, tagged up and scored on the play.

Note that as Youngs touches home, we see Senators relief pitcher Firpo Marberry on the right side of the frame. No doubt the young pitcher had positioned himself behind home in case he was needed to back up a throw to the plate. The next Giants batter, Hack Wilson, is at far left, preparing to come to the plate.

After this scene, the following title card appears:

The action that follows shows a Senators batter swinging and heading to first, while runners on first and third head to their next base:

We then see the Giants first baseman on the bag, catching a throw and retiring the runner heading to first:

... and immediately afterwards the fielders all head toward the Giants' first base dugout:

Clearly the putout at first base ended the inning, but this does not match the scenario in the bottom of the eighth inning, the only instance in which Washington tied the score. In that case, Bucky Harris singled with the bases loaded, scoring a pair of runs to knot the game at three runs apiece ... and then the inning continued with Sam Rice coming to bat.

No. The title card is incorrect. The action depicted is not of the Senators tying the score in the bottom of the eighth. Instead, it is action from the bottom of the ninth when, with runners on first and third (Ossie Bluege and Joe Judge, respectively), Senators third baseman Ralph Miller grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The twin killing ended the Washington threat and sent the game into extra innings. This was the play that occurred right after the one seen earlier in the film (title card "Barnes starts for the Giants"), when Ossie Bluege touched second and headed to third after Travis Jackson's error at second base. Incidentally, the first baseman seen here making the putout is George Kelly and the first base umpire is Ernie Quigley, the only umpire on that day's four-man crew who is not a Hall of Famer.

The title card that follows states:

... and we next see a wonderful shot of Senators legend Walter Johnson (who first entered the game in the top of the ninth) delivering a pitch:

The next shot shows a Giants batter hitting a stand-up triple:

Since the only triple of the game was hit by New York second baseman Frank Frisch with one out in the ninth, that is certainly the play depicted.

The next title card reads:

... and is followed by Johnson pitching and inducing a pop-up to the Washington third baseman:

This exactly matches the play that occurred just before Frisch's triple, when Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom popped out to third baseman Ralph Miller to lead off the top of the ninth.

Finally, the climax of the game is introduced:

Despite the misspelling of Washington center fielder Earl McNeely's surname (the title card has an extra "e"), we next see McNeely at bat, with pitcher Walter Johnson (wearing a sweater) leading off first base. Out of the frame is another Senators base runner, Muddy Ruel, on second:

After McNeely strokes a hard ground ball down the third base line (the famous "pebble"play in which McNeely's grounder supposedly hit a small rock and bounded over third baseman Freddie Lindstrom's head), Ruel gallops home with the winning run:

After the runner scores to end the game, pandemonium breaks out on the field and in the stands, as the Senators secured their first World Championship flag. But take a close look at McNeely as he rounds first base. He gets no further than 20 feet past the bag, at which point he turns and heads for the Washington dugout for the celebration. Clearly he has hit a single. Even the title card says "single." Nevertheless, the official scorer awarded McNeely with a game-winning double ... a very strange and, frankly, incorrect decision.

The rest of the footage shows shots of players and fans celebrating Washington's exciting victory. And despite the presence of some erroneous title cards, the film is a treasure from a bygone era and an absolute joy to watch ... and research.