Monday, February 8, 2016

Two Panoramic Photographs of Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees

On September 19, 1920, in a special screening at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Babe Ruth made his major film debut in a silent film titled "Headin' Home." But Ruth and his Yankees teammates were unable to attend, as they were nearing the end of an extended road trip to the western cities of the American League: Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis.

On September 22, 1920, Babe Ruth and the Yankees played an exhibition game against the Indianapolis Indians of the minor league American Association at Indy's Washington Park. A fantastic panoramic photograph taken prior to the game can be found at the Indiana Historical Society's Digital Image Collections web site:

Indiana Historical Society

Panoramic Photographs

Today, most smart phones are equipped to take panoramic photographs. But in the past, photographers employed special cameras to create these dramatic images.

The Bretzman Photograph Studio run by Charles Bretzman (the first official photographer of the Indy 500) took the above photo of the Yankees and Indians using a Cirkut panoramic camera, the most common such camera of its day. You can learn more about the camera at The City of Vancouver Archives Blog.

In the case of the above image, the photographer placed the camera and its tripod on the ballfield and arranged the ballplayers in an arc in front of the grandstand such that each individual was the same distance from the camera's focal plane. In other words, while it appears that the players were standing in a (somewhat) straight line, each was actually positioned on the arc of a circle, with the camera at the circle's center.

After loading the camera with film and winding the gears, the photographer aimed the camera toward the left side of the player lineup and started the mechanism. Unlike the traditional method of taking a photograph where a shutter opens and closes in a split second, the aperture of a panoramic camera remains open and the camera "pans" across the scene. Meanwhile, the film inside the camera moves in perfect synchronization with the rotating camera. By this method, the panorama is captured on film, with the left side of the photo taken many seconds before the right side.

One of the humorous tricks one can play with a panoramic camera is known as the "Pizza Run." In the case of our photo above, the individual at far left (Yankees coach Charley O'Leary) decided to perform this photographic joke. When the photographer first started the camera in motion, the players on the left side of the scene remained motionless, because any movement would cause the subject to appear blurry. However, once the camera rotated such that the players on the left side were no longer in the field of view, they could relax. But O'Leary did not. Instead, he quickly ran out into the field, around the camera and back into line at the far right side of the group, before the camera had rotated around to the end of the lineup. Thus, O'Leary appears in the photo twice: on the left and the right of the group photo:

Interested readers may enjoy seeing a short video showing the "Pizza Run" in action at the Library of Congress's web site. And the story of another interesting baseball panoramic photo is related in one of my earlier blog postings: "Nix Flicks Sticks in Box for Sox in Rox."

The Great and Only Babe Ruth

According to an article in the Indianapolis News the day of the Yankees-Indians exhibition game, special bleachers were erected in order to accommodate the expected crowd of some 15,000 fans, each eager to see the "great and only Babe Ruth."

Indianapolis News, September 21, 1920

Ruth entered the exhibition contest having already clouted 49 home runs, 20 more than his previous season's big league record of 29 homers. The Bambino ultimately ended the 1920 campaign with 54 round-trippers, the second of three straight years in which he would set a new home run mark.

Besides his outstanding home run total, Ruth was posting other outrageous stats. For example, two days prior to the Indianapolis game, Babe had scored his 148th run of the season, eclipsing Ty Cobb's 20th century record of 147 runs, set in 1911. Ruth went on to notch 158 runs that year, a total that has since been surpassed just four times: twice by Ruth and twice by his future teammate, Lou Gehrig.

The New York Yankees and Indianapolis Indians

Take a close look at the Yankees uniforms. Most are adorned with black armbands on the left sleeve. The club had donned the memorial markings ever since the tragic death of Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman, who had been beaned in a game against the Yankees on August 16 and passed away the following morning. At least seven other big league clubs also honored the memory of the beloved player in the same fashion: Cleveland, Boston, and Detroit in the American League, and Cincinnati, Brooklyn, Chicago, and New York in the National League.

The individuals in the long line in front of the grandstand included Yankees (left to right) Charley O'Leary, Rip Collins, Hank Thormahlen, Chick Fewster, unidentified, unidentified, unidentified, Bob Ferguson, Joe Lucey, Aaron Ward, Lefty O'Doul, unidentified, Sammy Vick, Fred Homann, Ernie Shore, Wally Pipp, Babe Ruth, unidentified; Indianapolis Indians (left to right) Butch Henline, Pug Cavet, Sam Covington, Jack Hendricks, Johnny Jones, Ralph Shinners, Dick Gosett, Jimmy Smith, Duke Reilley, Wally Rehg, Jesse Petty, Hank Schreiber, Dutch Stryker, unidentified, Clint Rogge(?), Art Kores, Dutch Zwilling, and unidentified; and, at the far right, as noted, a second appearance of Yankees coach Charley O'Leary.

Another Panoramic Photograph

Now take a look at another photo from the collection at the Indiana Historical Society's Digital Image Collections web site:

The minimal description of the picture reads as follows: "Washington Park Baseball Field, Indianapolis, Indiana, Circa 1920." But careful research now shows that this is a second photograph of the late-September Yankees-Indians exhibition game. Note that the on-deck batter is wearing a black armband on his left sleeve, just like those worn by the Yankees in the first panoramic photo:

And the right fielder is wearing the same uniform worn by the Indianapolis players in the first panoramic photo:

To further confirm that both photos were taken at the same event, one can even match up fans in both images. For example, below are details from both photographs, highlighting particular fans in the front row just to the left of the third base dugout.

A Fire and St. Mary's Band

Let's briefly flash back to the beginning of the 1919 season, when Babe Ruth was still a member of the Boston Red Sox. On Opening Day in New York, Ruth homered (of course), scoring twice, and driving in three runs as the visiting Red Sox routed the Yankees, 10-0. The following day, a fire broke out at St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, the school that Ruth attended as a youth in Baltimore. The story of the fire was detailed in the July 1919 issue of the "Quarterly of the National Fire Protection Association":

Story of Fire.
During the day of April 24, 1919, a tinner had been at work on the east end of the tower building repairing a portion of the roof and cornice. In order to accomplish this work, it was necessary to expose a goodly portion of the roof sheathing. A high wind blew over the charcoal pot which the workman was using and scattered the burning coals over the exposed roof surface. The tinner claims to have collected all of the coals placed them in the fire pot and left the roof about 3.30 p.m., bringing the charcoal pot and his overalls, which had been burned, with him.

Some of the scholars discovered the fire about 4.30 p.m. in the vicinity of the roof referred to above. The private fire brigade, consisting of the scholars and their instructors, was immediately called into action and the various standpipes throughout the buildings placed in service. After fighting the blaze for about twenty minutes, it was discovered that the water supplies were extremely low and that no headway was being made. A telephone call was sent to the Violetville Volunteer Fire Department, and at practically the same time an outsider turned in a fire alarm through the Baltimore City fire-box in the vicinity. Upon the arrival of the Chief on the third alarm, the entire roof of the central portion was burning. A strong west wind, reported as blowing thirty miles per hour, carried the fire to the extreme east end of the building. The large amount of water being used from hydrants Nos. 1 and 2 made it impossible to secure a hose stream which would reach higher than the second story. Two hose lines of 2000 feet each were then connected at hydrant No. 3 and hydrant No. 5, each being supplemented by a fire department steamer. Due to the great distance, it was necessary to pump this water, and also owing to the fact that these hydrants were considerably below the level of the fire, these streams were of little value. Finally two good hose streams were secured by running a fire department steamer down a 15-foot bank and pumping water from a stream crossing Wilkens Avenue, about 2200 feet east of hydrant No. 2. This steamer pumped the water to a second steamer about 1000 feet away, which in turn relayed the water to the hose being used in an effort to get the fire under control and save the adjoining property.

Loss of Life.

About 8.00 p.m. the floor of the west section of the main building collapsed and buried about forty firemen. Thirty-six of these men were injured, the majority of them receiving broken arms and legs. Two fire department lieutenants were killed.

Property Loss.
The entire group of buildings of ordinary construction are practically a total loss, while the chapel of fire-resistive construction is damaged by smoke and water. While some statuary and paintings were removed from various buildings which were damaged, the contents are also practically a total loss.
The next year, in early September of 1920, Ruth had St. Mary's School Band travel with the Yankees for the final weeks of the season in an effort to raise money to rebuild the school's destroyed buildings. For the extended road trip, the musical entourage was known as the "Babe Ruth Band." In the second panoramic photo, we see the boys of the band sitting in foul territory, just to the left of the first base dugout, each wearing a navy outfit and a white sailor's cap:

Compare their outfits to those seen in this photograph of Ruth and the band taken at Philadelphia's Shibe Park just a few days later, as the Yankees played their final series of the season:

Getty Images #71989167

The Ball Game

In the game at Indianapolis, Ruth played first base (as he generally did in exhibition contests), collected three hits (no homers), and stole a base. The game itself began as a lop-sided affair, with the Yankees holding a seemingly comfortable 6-1 lead after seven innings. But then things got interesting. Here's the scoop as retold in the Indianapolis News the following day:

Incidentally the Indians beat the Yanks, 7 to 6 by making a Garrison finish. When the eighth inning opened, the score was 6 to 1 in favor of the Yanks. Three singles and a double mixed in with a couple of poor throws gave the Indians three more runs in the eighth at the expense of [Yankees starter Bob] Ferguson. [Rip] Collins was sent to the mound in the ninth and the Indians made three runs after two men were out. [Sam] Covington walked and [Wally] Rehg, [Dutch] Zwilling and [Butch] Henline singled in a row.
We now know that the second panoramic photograph is also of the September 22, 1920, exhibition between Indianapolis and New York. Happily, that panoramic has one more gem to reveal. Leading off of second base is the unmistakable figure of our great and only Babe Ruth:

As would be the case with most every exhibition game in which Ruth ever took part, the game was secondary to the appearance of the Bambino. The final sentence of the Indianapolis News article truly sums up the Ruthian phenomenon: "The crowd was there to see Ruth and he gave the fans a real outing." Indeed.


  1. Great find Tom...and great research again!

  2. Great stuff as always, Tom. I recall seeing a panorama in the HOF's collection from a Detroit game where (I think) Ty Cobb appears at both ends of the line of players.

    In regards to Charley O'Leary, here's a short article I wrote about his days as a member of the Tigers when he and Germany Schaefer formed a very interesting double play duo:

  3. That first panoramic picture is fantastic! My favourite detail is the man on the right with the huge megaphone speaker.

  4. This is great! Really enjoyed reading it.I have an old family photo of Babe Ruth with Brother Matthias(his mentor from St Mary's)and also a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. They had a muster going on then in Indianapolis. It was taken by Charles Bretzman also and I believe it was during the tour of the St.Mary's Band, so probably at this game. Brother Matthias was my Great Uncle so this photograph was passed down in the family and I treasure it.