Monday, August 10, 2015

Old Footage Now Identified as Showing Babe Ruth Setting a Home Run Record

It doesn't happen very often, but every once in a while there's a jewel hidden in plain sight. Sometimes it just takes a little research to uncover that jewel. Herewith the story of a classic silent movie that contains two such jewels.

Jewel 1: The Earliest-Known Celebrity Photo Bomb

In the 1920s, there was no bigger star on the baseball diamond than slugger Babe Ruth. And during the same decade, you'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger star on the silver screen than comedian Harold Lloyd. So when the Bambino made a cameo appearance in Lloyd's 1928 silent film "Speedy," fans of both our national pastime and motion pictures were elated.

Motion Picture News, January 28, 1928

You can watch the film here, with the Ruth appearance running from 49:03 to 53:20.

In the 85-minute-long movie, Lloyd plays Harold "Speedy" Swift, a rabid Yankees fan whose obsession with baseball results in his inability to hold a job. Speedy eventually becomes a cab driver and is lucky enough to pick up the Babe for a fare. Ruth asks Speedy to take him to Yankee Stadium and so begins a wild ride through the streets of Manhattan en route to the ballpark in the Bronx.

At the end of the trip, an exasperated Ruth exits the automobile, relieved to have made it to his destination in one piece. He turns to Lloyd and exclaims:

But the real gem comes just prior to that title card. Pay close attention to the end of the scene at approximately 52:42 as Ruth exits the cab. In the background at far right you will see a familiar face:

Yes. That's Lou Gehrig! This discovery was made by Kevin Dale back in 2011 and was first revealed at silent film historian/detective John Bengtson's always entertaining blog.

Jewel 2: A Ruthian Record Captured On Film

In the scene that follows Ruth's taxi cab ride, "Speedy" watches a ball game at Yankee Stadium. The scene includes two separate shots of Ruth at bat. The movie doesn't call out the footage as coming from a specific event (or events). Instead, it is simply used to establish that Speedy is at a Yankees game and Ruth is playing in that game. The following video shows both sequences:

The First Sequence: Ruth Strikes Out ... But When?

The first sequence lasts just two seconds and shows Ruth striking out and the catcher juggling the third strike or, perhaps, the foul tip on the third strike. The umpire quickly raises his fist to call Ruth out. Here are a few stills from the sequence.

First, it is clear that the action was not staged for the movie cameras. This is a real, in-game sequence. And since "Speedy" was released on April 7, 1928 (four days before the Yankees opened the season), the action must have taken place in 1927 or earlier.

Since Ruth is seen in pinstripes, we know that the action took place in New York. And the proximity of the dirt track near the grandstand (seen at the upper-left hand corner of the above stills) is consistent with the layout of Yankee Stadium, not the Polo Grounds. Thus the footage must have been taken at Yankee Stadium sometime between 1923 (the year the park opened) and 1927 (the year that "Speedy" was filmed).

The catcher's uniform provides some additional clues. He wears a cap with a white crown and dark bill, his stockings feature a thick dark band near the top, and a thin stripe runs down the side of his pants. From 1923 to 1927, the only major league clubs to wear such uniforms on the road were the 1923, '24, and '26 St. Louis Browns and the 1923-27 Boston Red Sox.

Unfortunately, there is not much else to go on to help narrow down possible dates for this first sequence. I suspect that the competition was the St. Louis Browns, as the Red Sox road uniforms for the years noted featured pinstripes and, though it is difficult to state with certainty, it appears that the catcher's uniform is not pinstriped.

My research into this first sequence is ongoing, so for now, all I can say is "Stay Tuned."

The Second Sequence: Recording Ruth's Record Round-Tripper

The second sequence shows Ruth hitting a home run and trotting around the bases. Here are a few stills from that sequence.

Once again, this is actual, in-game action from 1927 or earlier. And Ruth's pinstripes, the opposition's darker uniforms, and the dirt track near the grandstand (seen at the upper-left hand corner of the fifth still above) all point to action taking place at Yankee Stadium.

The uniforms worn by the catcher and the rest of the fielders are quite different from that worn by the catcher in the first sequence. This time each fielder is wearing a cap with a light-colored crown and dark bill, and gray stockings with three dark bands (the middle band being thicker than the ones above and below). For the time period between 1923 and 1927, only one club wore such uniforms on the road: the 1925 and 1926 Cardinals. However, the 1925 Cardinals wore special patches commemorating the 50th anniversary of the National League on their left shoulder, and the fielders in this footage do not have such patches. Here's an image that shows the patch on the left shoulder of Cardinals pitcher Leo Dickerman in 1925:

So, if this sequence shows action between the Cardinals and the Yankees in 1926, we are left with the question: When did these clubs face each other that year? The answer, of course, is in the 1926 World Series. You may recall the story that prior to Game Four, Ruth made a promise to hit a home run for a sick boy named Johnny Sylvester. As it turns out, the Babe hit three that day.

Boston Globe, October 13, 1926

Those three homers (the first three that Ruth hit that post-season) set a single-game World Series record that has since been tied, but never surpassed. However, none of those homers is seen in this sequence, since Game Four took place at St. Louis's Sportsman's Park and the footage from "Speedy" was certainly taken at Yankee Stadium.

So when did Ruth hit his fourth home run of the 1926 Series? In the third inning of the seventh and final game, October 10. Play-by-play for that game corroborates what we see in the footage. With two outs in the bottom of the third and no runners aboard, Cardinals pitcher Jesse Haines surrendered Ruth's fourth and final homer of the Series. With the blast, Ruth set another record: most home runs (four) hit in one World Series. It took over fifty years before Reggie Jackson broke that record in the 1977 World Series.

Game Seven of the 1926 World Series is also known for the drama of its final innings. The Yankees were trailing 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when they mounted a rally and loaded the bases. Cardinals player/manager Rogers Hornsby pulled starter Jesse Haines and brought in Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander to face New York's Tony Lazzeri. In one of the most celebrated moments in the history of the Fall Classic, Alexander struck out Lazzeri to end the threat. Two innings later, Ruth was caught stealing second base to end the game, and the Cardinals celebrated their first modern World Championship.

We can now identify the various individuals seen in the Ruth home run sequence. Catching for the Cardinals is Bob O'Farrell and all four infielders can be seen as Ruth rounds the bases: at first is Jim Bottomley, at second is Rogers Hornsby, at shortstop is Tommy Thevenow, and at third is Les Bell, who can be seen tossing a new baseball to pitcher Jesse Haines. The Yankees third base coach is likely Benny Bengough. The umpires are George Hildebrand at home, Bill Dinneen at second, Hank O'Day at third. (First base umpire Bill Klem is just out of the field of view as Ruth rounds first.) The Yankees bat boy is Eddie Bennett and awaiting his turn at bat is New York's Bob Meusel.

Some avid baseball fans might be surprised to see Meusel following Ruth in the Yankees' lineup, as that spot was usually reserved for Lou Gehrig. Indeed, Gehrig spent most of the 1926 season batting fourth, with Ruth batting third. But in mid-September of that season, Yankees manager Miller Huggins began experimenting with different line-ups for the heart of the Yankees order (3-4-5 hitters): Gehrig-Ruth-Meusel, Ruth-Gehrig-Lazzeri, and Ruth-Meusel-Gehrig. For the World Series, Huggins settled with the latter combination.

What a wonderful surprise: an old sequence found in a silent movie can now be identified as footage showing Ruth's record-breaking moment in the 1926 World Series.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Arthur Irwin and Kalamazoo Bats

Recently, my good friend Tim Wiles asked me about this wonderful posed action shot of Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Arthur Irwin:

He asked me what can be learned about this old photograph?

First, a little bit about Irwin, a man of many talents. Arthur Albert Irwin Jr. played baseball in 13 big league seasons, from 1880 to 1891 and then a one-game appearance in 1894. The Canadian-born ball player was the starting shortstop for the 1884 Providence Grays, the winners of the first post-season series for baseball's World Championship. He is seen standing second from right in this photo of the 1884 Grays at Providence's Messer Street Grounds:

Irwin managed in the big leagues, minor leagues and collegiate ranks, and in 1895 penned a baseball manual titled "Practical Ball Playing."

In the 1880s, Irwin helped popularize the use of baseball gloves:

And in 1899, he earned a patent on a football (yes, football) scoreboard:

But today, Irwin is probably best known for the strange story surrounding his surprising demise.

In June of 1921, the 63-year-old Irwin learned that he had terminal cancer. While in the hospital, family members came to visit the sick man ... family members from two different families: one in Boston and another in New York. Apparently, Irwin had led a double life for decades, with neither of the families learning about the other until the former ballplayer's health problems surfaced.

Irwin married his first wife, Elizabeth, in 1883, and with her had four children. The family lived in Boston. In the mid-1890s, he married a second wife, May, in New York. The couple had one child.

Just weeks after the families learned of his polygamy, Irwin boarded a steamship in New York bound for Boston. When the ship arrived in Boston, Irwin was nowhere to be found. It was concluded that, during the trip, the distraught Irwin had jumped overboard, meeting his end in the Atlantic Ocean.

New York Times, July 17, 1921

But, back to the photograph ...

The picture is remarkably similar to one that was used to create this baseball card:

This card was one of a set of some 60 produced by Charles Gross and Company, a Philadelphia-based cigar dealer. Each pack of their "Kalamazoo Bats" cigars included one of these baseball card giveaways. The cards are extremely scarce and much sought-after by high-end baseball card collectors. One of the reasons for their rarity is that the company offered various prizes for the cards if returned in bulk, the offer being detailed on the back of each card:

Some historians believe that the company may have made this offer as nifty way to cut costs, simply reusing the returned cards as inserts in new packs of their cigars. Of course, the cards may also be scarce simply because very few were produced. Little else is known about this obscure card set, which has long been speculated to date from 1887, but a fine article about the set was written by Keith Olbermann back in 2007.

The tobacco card shown above is labeled "CAPT. IRWIN and MAUL, Phila." We've already been introduced to Arthur Irwin, who played for the National League Philadelphia Phillies (sometimes referred to as the Quakers) from 1886 to 1889, and that one-game appearance in 1894. The other player is Albert Joseph Maul:

New York Clipper, August 31, 1889

The Phillies purchased pitcher/outfielder Al Maul (a native of Philadelphia) from Nashville of the Southern League in June of 1887. He spent the rest of the season with the club and was traded to Pittsburgh in early January of 1888. Thus, the photograph used to make the Irwin/Maul tobacco card had to have been taken sometime between June and the end of the 1887 season.

Compare the tobacco card with our original photo above:

Note that the images are similar, but not identical. Art Irwin has moved slightly from one picture to the next, and the players seen in the background of the original photograph are missing from the one used for the tobacco card. But clearly the pictures were taken at the same photo shoot, just moments apart.

Now take a look at this photograph:

It certainly appears that this picture was taken at the same park as the Irwin/Maul example, likely on the same day and during the same photo shoot.

This photograph was also used as the basis of a "Kalamazoo Bats" tobacco card. In this case, the image on that tobacco card and the photo are absolutely identical:

This card is labeled "BASTIAN 2nd B. with LYONS, Phila." The second baseman is Philadelphia native Charlie Bastian, who played for the Phillies from 1885 through 1888, and one game in 1891. But who is Lyons?

A number of sources identify the base runner as Denny Lyons, but that seems unlikely, since Denny never played for the Phillies. He did, however, play for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association from 1886 to 1890. The only player named Lyons who played for the Phillies in 1887 was Harry Lyons.

So which Lyons is pictured? Denny or Harry? Take a close look at the runner's face (middle below) and compare it with known images of both Denny (right) and Harry Lyons (left):

Clearly, the player at left is a match for the base runner. Thus the tobacco card features Charlie Bastian and Harry Lyons.

Harry Lyons made his major league debut with the Phillies on August 29, 1887. In fact, that was his only game with the club that season, as Philadelphia released him in early September. He caught on with the St. Louis Browns for a few games before the season ended. Thus, the photo of Bastian and Lyons had to have been taken some time between mid-August and early September of 1887.

Now compare the scoreboard in the background of the Irwin/Maul photo with that seen in the Bastian/Lyons photo:

Though the players in the Irwin/Maul photo are partially obscuring the background, the scoreboards are showing the same four match-ups for the games being played in the National League: Philadelphia v. Indianapolis, Pittsburgh v. New York, Chicago v. Boston, Washington v. Detroit. As noted above, there's little question that these photos were taken on the same date at the same park.

The park was the Philadelphia Baseball Grounds, also known as the Huntingdon Street Grounds. This ball park should not be confused with Boston's Huntington Avenue Grounds, site of the first modern World Series game in 1903. The Philadelphia Baseball Grounds opened on April 30, 1887, and was heralded by Sporting Life newspaper as the "finest base ball park in the world." So, in these photos we are treated to a view of a brand new, much-celebrated, state-of-the-art ballpark.

It is important to note that during these early days of the game, the first (top) team listed in a match-up was not necessarily the road team. Indeed, in this case, the team listed at the very top of the scoreboard was the home Phillies, who were hosting Indianapolis when the photo was taken.

A quick check of the National League schedule for 1887 reveals that the four match-ups occurred on the same date just twice that season: August 22 and August 23. On those days, Philadelphia hosted Indianapolis, New York hosted Pittsburgh, Boston hosted Chicago, and Washington hosted Detroit.

These late August dates are consistent with the time frames that have already been deduced: the Irwin/Maul photo being taken between June and the end of the 1887 season, and the Bastian/Lyons photo being taken between mid-August and early September of the same year. Furthermore, close examination of the top of the scoreboard reveals the words "NEXT GAME AUG ??" with the exact date being too blurry to discern.

It is quite likely that a number of other "Kalamazoo Bats" tobacco cards were taken during the same photo shoot, including this card of pitcher/outfielder Charlie Buffinton (misspelled Buffington), who struck out 417 batters in 1884:

... and this card of southpaw pitcher Jim Devlin:

Note that Devlin's jersey has cut-off sleeves and he wears his jersey in a rather droopy fashion. It is apparently the same jersey, worn in the same haphazard fashion, that he is seen wearing in this team photo of the 1887 Phillies at the Philadelphia Baseball Grounds. Devlin is seated, second from left:

Now take another look at the player at left in the background of the Irwin/Mail photograph:

He's wearing the same cut-off sleeves and droopy jersey. No doubt it's Jim Devlin, perhaps waiting his turn to be photographed.

Speaking of Devlin, take a look at this "Kalamazoo Bats" baseball card:

The caption states "Lyons, L.F. with Taylor Trainer," but clearly the player is, once again, Jim Devlin. As for Taylor, numerous sources identify this individual as Billy Taylor. But Billy Taylor was a ballplayer, not a trainer. No, this is Tom Taylor in 1887, his first year as trainer for the Phillies. In fact, he was one of the first men ever hired as a trainer on a baseball club.

Finally, take a look at this photograph, the one that was actually used for the Irwin/Maul tobacco card:

Now compare it to the photo first introduced at the top of this posting:

Once again we see that Arthur Irwin has moved slightly, and the players seen in the outfield (the one at left we now know being Jim Devlin) are missing from the one used for the tobacco card. But look at the outfield wall in the background. This newly introduced photograph shows advertisements for "A.J. Reach and Co. Base Ball Supplies" and "Gumpert Bros. Cigars," while the first photo introduced has mostly blank outfield walls. How is that possible if both pictures were taken at the same photo session?

Take a close look at this detailed comparison of the area where the "Gumpert Bros." advertisement is seen:

The outfield walls actually featured the advertisements for Reach and Gumpert. But careful examination of the photo with the "blank" walls reveals evidence that the photo was altered and the ads carefully "removed": a rudimentary 19th century "Photoshop" job.

But why remove such ads? Remember that one of the main purposes of the tobacco cards is to advertise "Kalamazoo Cigars." Why should Charles Gross and Company give free advertising to other cigars ("Gumpert Bros.") or other businesses ("A.J. Reach and Co.") when they can virtually "whitewash" the outfield walls, leaving them blank?

In summary, we now know that the original mystery photograph features Arthur Irwin, Al Maul, Jim Devlin and a fourth, unidentified ballplayer in a posed action shot taken at the Philadelphia Baseball Grounds. The photograph was taken in late August of 1887, likely the 22nd or 23rd of the month. This and another photograph (that of Charlie Bastian and Harry Lyons) were taken at the same photo session and thus the tobacco cards that featured these photographs were created sometime thereafter. Furthermore, it is likely that some of the other photos used for the "Kalamazoo Bats" tobacco cards were taken at the same time.