Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Henry Sandham's Painting of the 1894 Temple Cup Series

On February 27, 1902, the New York Times ran a short article about the “first evening’s sale of the collection of water-colors and oil paintings from the New York shop of the French firm of Boussod, Valadon & Co., dealers in works of art, who have decided to discontinue their branch in this city.” Over the thee-day auction, 267 paintings sold for a total of $267,885. “La Ferte” by French artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot sold for $11,500, while $9,500 took home a painting by Théodore Rousseau. Works by Jules Dupré, Alexandre-Georges-Henri Regnault, and Constant Troyon also sold for thousands of dollars. But, according to the article, “a truthful representation of the national game of baseball, by H. Sandham, was not much in demand, and was knocked down for $55.”

Photograph of Henry Sandham from The True Story of “Ramona,” Its Facts and Fictions, Inspirations and Purpose 

The whereabouts of the original 1894 painting by Henry “Hy” Sandham are unknown today, but in 1896 an engraving based on his work was published by Boussod, Valadon & Company, as noted in this article in the May 16, 1896, issue of Sporting Life:

One of these rare engravings can be found at the Library of Congress’s web site:

The illustration, sometimes known as “A Base Ball Match“ and other times “A Base Ball Game,” may be Sandham’s best-known work, but the prolific Canadian artist painted other wonderful works, as well. In particular, he created a series of sports-themed watercolors (bicycling, ice skating, tennis, and tobogganing) published by Louis Prang & Company in the mid-1880s, as well as another painting depicting baseball.

But back to Sandham’s 1894 baseball painting ...

Many historians believe the picture represents not simply a generic baseball scene, but a game of the 1894 Temple Cup series, a post-season best-of-seven championship series between the top two clubs in the National League: the second-place New York Giants and the pennant-winning Baltimore Orioles. But can this be substantiated?

Indeed it can.


There’s no question that the park seen in the illustration is the famed Polo Grounds in New York. Compare it with this panoramic photograph taken after the turn of the century.

The photograph was taken from a very different angle than that drawn by Sandham, but the grandstand and left field bleachers clearly match. The park in the illustration is definitely the Polo Grounds.


Take a close look at the runner on third base. Across the chest of his jersey are the words “NEW YORK”:

Indeed, the player’s entire uniform is consistent with that worn by the Giants in 1894, as can be seen in this team photo from that season:

What about New York’s opponent? What club wore dark caps, dark jerseys, dark pants, and dark stockings with two lighter-colored stripes? As it turns out, during the 1894 Temple Cup series against the Giants, the Orioles wore specially-ordered uniforms that are remarkably similar to the above description. According to the October 3, 1894, issue of the Charlotte (NC) Observer:

The Orioles are to meet the Giants in the Temple cup series in new uniforms. The shirt and pants will be black. Across the breast of the shirt will be "Baltimore" or "Champions" in orange. A narrow orange strip will ornament the breeches down the side. Black and orange striped stockings and black Eton caps with either an oriole or monogram in orange just above the visor, and black sweaters will complete the outfit.
While the illustration fails to show any wording across the chest of the black jerseys or an orange decoration on the front of the cap, the other features of the uniform match perfectly. For example, in this detail from the illustration the Baltimore first baseman is shown wearing a black cap, jersey, and pants (featuring an “orange strip ... down the side”), and “black and orange striped stockings.”

The teams are assuredly the New York Giants and the Baltimore Orioles playing during the 1894 Temple Cup series.


The Giants swept the Orioles in four straight games during that first Temple Cup series, the first two games taking place at Baltimore’s Union Park and the next two at the Polo Grounds. Thus, Sandham’s painting:

  • depicts a particular moment from Game Three (October 6, 1894), or
  • depicts a particular moment from Game Four (October 8, 1894), or
  • depicts a fictional scene from one of those two games.

If we assume the action depicted is not fictional, what clues does the illustration present? There are many, but the following four stand out as most significant:

  • The Orioles pitcher throws right-handed and is about to deliver a pitch
  • The Giants have runners on first and third base
  • The Giants runner on first is breaking for second base
  • The member of the Giants awaiting the pitch bats right-handed
As it turns out, the handedness of the Orioles pitcher doesn’t help us, as the Orioles did not put a southpaw on the mound in either of the two games played at the Polo Grounds.

Careful examination of Game Three play-by-play reveals that at no time did the Giants have men on first and third at the same time. Thus, Sandham is not showing a particular moment from Game Three.

A similar review of play-by-play from Game Four offers just one promising possibility. According to the New York Sun of October 9, 1894, in the bottom of the seventh inning the Giants “got at [Orioles pitcher Kid] Gleason again. After [Shorty] Fuller had flied out, [Duke] Farrell singled and [Orioles center fielder Steve] Brodie made a fine catch of [Jouett] Meekin's long fly. [Eddie] Burke’s single put Farrell on third, and Eddie stole second himself.”

This description matches the situation in the painting perfectly. The Giants put men on first (Eddie Burke) and third (Duke Farrell), at which point Burke stole second. Alas, there is one problem: the Giants batter when Burke took off for second was Mike Tiernan, who batted left-handed, not right-handed as seen in the illustration. Here’s a baseball card showing Tiernan batting left-handed:

Perhaps Sandham intended to show this particular moment from the seventh inning of Game Four, but chose to use artistic license in placing Tiernan in the right-handed box, thus making for a better view showing the front of the batter? Or maybe it is simply a coincidence that the situation in the illustration is tantalizingly close to that seventh-inning scenario.

No matter what Sandham’s intentions may have been, there’s little question his artwork was meant to show the Giants and Orioles battling for the Temple Cup at the Polo Grounds in October of 1894. But the artist also intended to show something else: Himself!

Take a close look at the bearded gentleman in the front row of the grandstand just below and to the left of home plate:

Now compare this likeness with a reversed version of the photo of Henry Sandham I shared at the beginning of this post:

There is little doubt that the artist painted himself into the Polo Grounds crowd.

I am left with one lingering question. To the left of Sandham in the grandstand is an individual who is facing away from the action and staring straight at the viewer of the illustration:

Certainly this man is an actual person. But, I haven’t a clue just who this person is. Perhaps a reader of this blog can solve this final little mystery?