Sunday, December 23, 2018

Off-Season’s Greetings!

Actually, there never really is an off-season in baseball. The game’s “hot stove league” ensures that the national pastime is on our minds 365 days a year ... sometimes 366! But this is not a just modern-day phenomenon fueled by our 24/7 news cycle. It’s been going on a long time.

For example, did you know that the Alert Base Ball Club of Charleston (SC) played a match game against the host Forest City Base Ball Club of Savannah (GA) on December 25, 1868? Yes, you read that correctly. They played a game of baseball on Christmas Day, 150 years ago!

As was the custom at the time, the clubs played a best two-out-of-three format that year, the first team to capture a pair of victories winning the “home-and-home series.” As it turns out, the clubs had split their previous two meetings, so this late-December game was the so-called “rubber” game.

The nines first faced one another on July 4, 1868, the clubs apparently displaying a fondness for playing ball on major holidays. For this early summer contest, the Alert Club made the journey to Savannah and were generously and lavishly feted by the hosting Forest City Club.

According to an article in the Charleston Daily News of July 6, 1868:

The [Alert Club] was welcomed on the arrival of the [Steamer Fannie] at Savannah by a committee of the Forest City Club, escorted to and from the scene of [the] contest in omnibuses, and entertained by a handsome supper at the Screven House. In company with their antagonists of the Forest City, [the Alert Club was] photographed and afterward partook of champagne and punch at the Metropolitan Billiard Room.

Alas, I have been unable to track down that enticing photograph. If a reader manages to do so, please drop me a line. I’d love to add the 150-year-old image to this blog post.

As for the game itself, the Forest City Club topped the visiting Alerts Club, 27-16. Two months later, on September 7, the second contest of the series, known as the “return game,” took place at Charleston’s Citadel Green, now called Marion Square. This time around, the Alert Club emerged victorious, topping their Savannah opponents, 51-16 in seven innings, the game ending early due to darkness.

When the two clubs met for the third and deciding game on Christmas Day they did so back in Savannah. This was an unusual occurrence, as such winner-take-all finales were generally played at a neutral site. Despite this disadvantage, the visiting Alert Club ended up securing the victory, 45-42.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 3, 2018

An Important Moment in Baseball History Captured in a Panoramic Photo

This panoramic photograph, one that I had never seen until just a few months ago, captures an important moment baseball history, but it took some research to reveal its story.

In early September of 2018, Andrew Smith of Andrew Smith Gallery in Tucson, Arizona, contacted me regarding the photograph. He informed me that the original, a 14.5" × 47" gelatin silver print, came from a group of Detroit Publishing photographs he has owned for decades and was likely taken with a Cirkut panoramic camera. Other than the information written at the bottom left-hand corner, which reads “Boston Washington Opening Game,” basically nothing was known about the image. Andrew asked if I could identify the date and location the photo was taken. I set to work.

First, given the general appearance of the photo and the attire of the fans, there’s little doubt the shot was taken sometime during the first two decades of the 20th century.

A quick examination of the players’ uniforms reveals that the team in the field is wearing home whites, while the team at bat is clad in their road grays. A closer look at the uniforms allows us to learn even more. Here are details from the photo showing the center fielder (top) and left fielder (bottom):

Note that their uniforms are rather bland. The jersey and pants are solid white. The belt, stockings, and cap are dark. There do not appear to be any distinguishing marks on the sleeves.

As for the rest of the players in the field, every one (save the catcher, who is so far away as to be of no use for our research) is facing away from the camera, so any helpful markings that may be on the front of their jerseys are hidden.

Now let’s turn our attention to the team at bat. Take a look at the batter leading off first and his first base coach:

Even though they are far in the distance, we can see that the club’s jersey, pants, and cap are gray, the belt is dark, and the stockings are gray with a thick dark stripe. Additionally, the coach is wearing a dark sweater-jacket with a light-colored placket.

Working under the assumption that, as the title suggests, the game is between Washington and Boston, it quickly becomes apparent that the team in the field cannot be the Red Sox. Not only did the club not wear dark caps at home until 1933 (as noted above, this photo was clearly taken well before that time), but the ballpark doesn’t match either Fenway Park (which opened in 1912) or its predecessor, the Huntington Avenue Grounds (Boston’s home from 1901 to 1911).

Here’s what Fenway Park looked like in 1914, just two years after it opened:

And here’s a wonderful photo of Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds from 1903. (Incidentally, I blogged about back in 2011.)

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC2-6131 DLC

As seen above, both of these parks featured a covered grandstand behind home, but our mystery photo shows a park in which not a single seat is covered. Indeed, it was this detail that confused me the most, as I was unaware of any big league park from this era that lacked a roof over at least some of its seats. As it turns out, however, this wholly “unprotected” seating would be the clue that ultimately solved this baseball mystery. But more about that later.

Having eliminated Boston as the home team, I looked for seasons in which Washington wore a home uniform as described above. Consulting the Hall of Fame’s Dressed to the Nines database, I found that the club’s duds in both 1907 and 1911 matched up well with what is seen in the photo. The Senators would not again wear such uniforms until the late 1930s, but (as previously noted) the photo was most certainly taken much earlier than that. Here are the home uniforms of the Senators for 1907 and 1911:

Note that while the 1911 Washington caps had thin vertical stripes, this feature does not show up in the panoramic photo. However, it is quite common for such subtleties to be “washed out” in images of this quality.

So what did Boston wear on the road in 1907 and 1911? Two very different uniforms:

Boston’s stockings from 1907 are solid colored, but their striped stockings of 1911 are a perfect match with the uniform worn by the team at bat in our mystery photo. Additionally, a different photograph, this one taken during Boston's 1911 spring training in Los Angeles, shows the club with beautiful sweater jackets:

Note how these jackets match what the first base coach is wearing in our panoramic photo, as it is also dark with a light-colored placket. Too bad we can’t see the left side of the coach’s jacket in the panoramic photo, but I am confident that it reads “RED SOX” as seen in the spring training photo.

So, with some fairly straightforward uniform research, it certainly appears that Andrew Smith’s photo was taken in 1911. Still, it would be wise to confirm this conclusion by a different means.

Recall that the caption stated that the matchup between Boston and Washington was the “Opening Game.” Perusing the American League schedules available at the web site, I carefully jotted down each season in which Boston was the visiting team for a home opener at Washington.

From 1901 through 1920, this occurred on five occasions:

  • April 23, 1902
  • April 22, 1908
  • April 12, 1911
  • April 23, 1914
  • April 22, 1920
Happily, of these dates, one matches years with our prior research: the opening day game of April 12, 1911. Here’s a box score from that game:

Note that the right-handed throwing Clyde Milan is playing center field for Washington. This matches nicely with the center fielder in our photo, who is apparently wearing a glove on his left hand. And the left-handed throwing Jack Lelivelt is manning left field. Again, this matches our photo, as it certainly looks as though the left fielder is wearing a glove on his right hand.

These small details are additional clues that help confirm that the photo was taken on April 12, 1911. But there is one significant problem. Washington’s opening game of 1911 took place at National Park, later and more familiarly known as Griffith Stadium. But the park in the photograph looks nothing like that historic ballpark. Here’s a quintessential image of Griffith Stadium in 1925:

Notice that, other than the bleachers, every section of the park has a covered grandstand. How can this be the same park that we see in the photograph? Here’s how:

On March 17, 1911, fire severely damaged Washington’s home ball park, at the time generally known as “American League Park.” A few photos of the conflagration show the extent of the disaster:

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-hec-00082

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-hec-00084

With opening day less than a month away, the club made the bold decision to rebuild the park at the same site ... and host the scheduled home opener on April 12 against the Red Sox. Working around the clock, they managed to pull off the incredible feat. As reported just a few days before the big game in the Washington, D.C. Evening Star of April 9, 1911:

Except for roof and superstructure, a splendid concrete grandstand—something better than Washington fans ever have had to support their energies when rooting for the home team—is ready at the base ball park for the opening game Wednesday.

A marvel of rapidity in construction has been accomplished in the few short weeks since fire converted into smoke the frame structure which provided in the past a vantage point for enthusiasts to view the performances of the Nationals and their adversaries in victory and defeat.

Day and night the chanting of the negro laborers has been heard in the vicinity. Like Aladdin’s palace, the structure rose as by magic. It is finished—all that is essential for that imperative occasion, the opening game.
And the day after the opening game, the Evening Star reported:

Every one who saw the new concrete stands will have a description to fit them by now. A complete stadium, that’s what the new stands are. They have a solid, well built, aristocratic appearance and inclose [sic] the field almost completely. They will have a better appearance, of course, when the roof is put on, and still better when the double-decker is completed next year.
So the park that rose from the ashes of “American League Park” and opened on April 12, 1911, was incomplete. It lacked the planned roofs and second deck (which were eventually completed), but it was good enough to host opening day. That is the park we see in our mystery photo.

The more completed park did not debut until late July, as noted in the Washington Herald of July 23, 1911:

Tuesday afternoon when the ump shouts. “batter up” at National Park, District fans will be quartered in one of the prettiest baseball grounds in the country.
A remarkable transformation has taken place while the club has been on the road, and while every minor detail will not be completed, the grand stand and two immense concrete bleachers will seat the patrons out of reach of the sun. The double-decker grand stand yesterday lacked only a few finishing touches, and the contractors state that all will be in readiness by Tuesday [July 25].

... The diamond has been shifted to its permanent place, and has been drawn considerably nearer the stand.
So, not only was the ballpark incomplete when the photograph was taken, even the final placement of the diamond was not at the same location within the park.

From 1911 through 1961, the ballpark was home to the Washington Senators ... actually, two different Senators clubs. The first was a founding member of the American League and the second was an expansion club that replaced the old Senators when they left to become the Minnesota Twins.

Though often ridiculed as “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League”—sportswriter Charles Dryden’s quip actually dates back to mid-season of 1904—the Senators had some modicum of success at the ballpark, including winning Game Seven of the 1924 World Series on its diamond in one of the most exciting finales in the history of the Fall Classic.

Every U.S. president from William Howard Taft to John F. Kennedy tossed out a ceremonial first pitch from the ballpark’s stands. This was even true on that first Opening Day in 1911. Indeed, somewhere in our mystery photo, Taft is sitting in the stands, enjoying the ball game. Thankfully, his first pitch was captured in a different photo published in the Evening Star the following day:

In conclusion, Andrew Smith’s panoramic photo depicts the Opening Day game played between Boston and Washington on April 12, 1911. It was the first game played at what would eventually be known as Griffith Stadium, the historic site of half a century of Washington baseball history.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What is the Proper Pronunciation of Nap Lajoie’s Surname?

Let’s just cut to the chase. It’s lazh-uh-way, with the emphasis on the first syllable.

It’s not lah-zhwa, with the accent on the second syllable, though this is the correct French pronunciation. And certainly there are other people named Lajoie who pronounce it that way.

It’s not luh-joy, with a hard J and the accent on the second syllable. However there are a number of Lajoies who pronounce it that way. For example, Bill Lajoie, who played minor league baseball and later became a successful baseball executive, used that pronunciation. (By the way, some sources state that Bill was the grandson of Nap, but this is not true. Nap’s only daughter, Lillian, had no children.) And two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie (and his sons Cory and Casey) use this pronunciation, as well. In fact, you can hear Randy pronounce his name in this video.

So why do we know that the correct pronunciation is lazh-uh-way? Because the overwhelming preponderance of contemporary evidence clearly says so.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-hec-02789

Absent an audio recording of Nap Lajoie reciting his own name, the best method to determine the correct way to say his last name is to scour contemporary accounts for direct references. Doing that research reveals that the vast majority of newspaper accounts that address this question give the answer of lazh-uh-way. Additionally, in doing this research, I found a number of articles that very directly and emphatically refute the luh-joy pronunciation.

Below are just a few examples of the many references regarding the correct way to say Lajoie that were published during Nap’s lifetime:

From the Buffalo Commercial, April 28, 1897:

Lashu-aye, with the accent on the first syllable, which is the proper way to pronounce Lajoie’s name, has rather too much of a French twist to it to suit his colleagues on the Philadelphia team, so the players call him “Larry” for short.

From the Nebraska State Journal of September 29, 1901:

Lajoie is pronounced “Lazhoway.” The way he hits is pronounced “Get-out-of-the-way.”

From the Fort Wayne (IN) News of April 21, 1903:

Lajoie’s name is pronounced “Lazh-ah-we,” with the emphasis on the first syllable.

From the Washington Post of August 12, 1906:

In St. Louis and Washington they call him “La-Joe,” in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and, yes, in Cleveland, it is nearly always “Lo-Joy;” in New York they scorn everything but the nickname, “Larry,” or perhaps they fear to show themselves up on a French word, and pass up his last name for reasons of policy. At any rate, the fact remains that in Boston only is his name pronounced aright among the hoi polloi, “Lazhooay.”

From the St. Louis Star and Times of January 2, 1912

How is Lajoie pronounced? As though spelled “Lash-way.”

From the Elyria (OH) Chronicle-Telegraph of February 24, 1912

According to Napoleon it can be [pronounced] by running the scales a few times and with some finger practice by going at it thus—Lazh-u-way.

From the Louisville Courier-Journal of January 24, 1937:

Most baseball fans called Napoleon “La-Joy,’ with accent on the “joy.” He pronounces his name “Lazh-a-way,” with accent on the “Lazh,” the “azh” being the same as in “azure.”

From the Muncie (IN) Star Press of April 27, 1945:

His name is pronounced Lasj-o-wee, incidentally, with the “a” like the “a” in cat. The accent is on the last syllable. You thoughts it was La-Joy, didn’t ya.

From the New York Daily News of April 8, 1956:

Baltimore’s Bill Lajoie, the 21-year-old college outfielder, pronounces it La-joy not as old Nap did, Lazhway.

Did I find references suggesting that luh-joy was the correct pronunciation? Yes, but these were very few and far between.

Finally, it appears that Nap himself wasn’t particularly concerned about how people pronounced (or mispronounced) his name. In an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal published on May 11, 1911, Lajoie was quoted as saying, “A poet would have to have a whole kit of rhymes to get any poetry out of my monaker. Down East they called me Lazhwah. In Cleveland they call me La-zhu-way. Out on the circuit its La-joy. Down here in Alexandria, its Mistah Lah-joh-ee. My wife is the only one I know who knows how to pronounce it. She calls me Larry, sometimes real sharp.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Second Look at the Illustrations in "Our National Game"

In early 1887, Liebenroth, Von Auw & Company, publishers of blank books, produced what is now one of the most sought-after of 19th-century baseball collectibles, a scrapbook titled “Our National Game.”

The earliest notice of the scrapbook can be found in the March 3, 1887 issue of “The American Stationer.”

The book was apparently produced in two different sizes, 11" × 14" and 12" × 15", and contained around two dozen blank pages. The title page features an illustration of a baseball club, and interspersed throughout the rest of the scrapbook are five additional color lithographs depicting baseball action. Each drawing bears its own title: “Home Run, “Foul Ball,” “Wild Pitch,” “Caught Between Bases,” and “Fly Ball.”

On April 17, 1887, the day after both the National League and American Association celebrated their season openers, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle made note of the scrapbook:

A New York publishing firm have [sic] just published a pretty base ball scrap book containing pictures of the base ball grounds at St. George, Staten Island and Washington Park. It is well adapted for baseball picture collections.
The suggestion that the pictures in “Our National Game” depicted actual ballparks was news to me, so I thought I’d take a closer look at the images to see if they really do match up with these ball parks.

St. George Grounds, Staten Island

The St. George Grounds on Staten Island (not to be confused with St. George’s Cricket Grounds in Hoboken, New Jersey) was home to the Metropolitan Club of the old American Association in 1886 and 1887, and was the site of nearly two dozen games for the National League’s New York Giants during the 1889 season. I am aware of only two images of the park. The first is a woodcut published in Harper’s Weekly of May 15, 1886:

The second image of the park is an advertisement promoting the park's “Fairyland” concerts, water fireworks, and illuminated geysers for the summer of 1886.

Not only is this latter image simply gorgeous, but in the background one can distinctly see the Statue of Liberty, which would not be officially dedicated until October 28, 1886.

Washington Park, Brooklyn

I discuss Washington Park (the first of a number of ballparks of the same name) in my blog post titled “There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here - Washington Park.” Home to big league baseball in Brooklyn from 1884 to 1890, the park had a number of distinctive features, two of which are worth pointing out here. One is that the park was located in a deep basin such that the ground just inside the outfield walls sloped up drastically towards the fences at ground level. This unique characteristic can be clearly seen in this illustration from an 1886 baseball board game:

The other feature of note is that a large archway is visible at the back of the stands, behind and just to the first base side of home plate. It can be seen in the background of this illustration published in the January 24, 1884, issue of Harper's Weekly:

... and in this photograph taken at the park on May 30, 1887:

Comparing Pictures

Notice that the scrapbook images titled “Home Run,” “Foul Ball,” and “Wild Pitch” all show ballparks with sloped outfield grounds topped by tall fences. These match quite well with what is seen in the board game illustration of Washington Park. Furthermore, the distinctive arch of Washington Park can be seen in the background of the scrapbook picture titled “Fly Ball.” Clearly these four scrapbook illustrations were based upon Washington Park, though the hills and buildings beyond the fences are assuredly the result of artistic license.

The scrapbook picture titled “Caught Between Bases” does not show the ground sloping up toward an outfield fence. Instead, there appear to be fans gathered behind a low fence in the outfield. Beyond the low fence there appears to be a stone wall topped by a taller fence. This outfield configuration does not match what we see in the board game illustration of Washington Park. Perhaps, as suggested by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, this picture shows the outfield at St. George Grounds? With no known images of the outfield configuration at that park, it is hard to make this claim with any certainty.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Did Babe Ruth Ever Bat Right-Handed?

There have long been rumors that Babe Ruth, one of the greatest left-handed batters of all time, sometimes batted right-handed. Are those stories true? Let’s take a look at the various claims.

What Babe Ruth might have looked like as a right-handed batter.

May 21, 1930

Marshall Smelser, in his 1971 biography of Ruth titled “The Life That Ruth Built,” recounted a story of the Babe batting right-handed on May 21, 1930. As described by the author, the event purportedly took place in the first game of a double-header against the Athletics at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park:

For the first time in a regular season game he hit three home runs in one game ... and he still had one more time at bat .... When Ruth came up in the ninth he faced the right-handed spitball pitcher Jack Quinn. Outraging reason, Ruth decided to bat right-handed against a right-hander. He took two called strikes in this unfamiliar batter's box, then crossed over to bat left-handed—and struck out.

Jack Quinn

Alas, the story doesn’t add up.

First, Jack Quinn didn’t pitch in the ninth inning that day.

Second, Ruth did not strike out that day, against Quinn or any other pitcher.

Third, Ruth’s first two homers came in his first two at bats. But his third homer came in his fourth and final at bat, a ninth-inning blast off Lefty Grove. Only in his third at bat (this one occurring against Jack Quinn) did Ruth fail to homer, and according to he flied out to right field.

Fourth, if Ruth were to bat right-handed, it would make the most sense to do so off a lefty, but of the three pitchers that Ruth faced that day, only the final pitcher (Lefty Grove) was a southpaw. Ruth homered of Grove and there is no mention of him blasting it as a right-handed batter.

Conclusion: False. There is no contemporary evidence that Ruth batted right-handed for any of his at bats that day.

Facing Coveleski

Another story of Ruth batting from the opposite side was retold by Detroit Tigers manager Steve O’Neill in the May 20, 1947, issue of the Boston Globe. “I remember Coveleskie [sic] once giving Babe Ruth four walks in a row in a game. Ruth batted right-handed the last time up, and Coveleskie still walked him.”

Harry Coveleski

Stan Coveleski

It is unclear if O’Neill was referring to Harry Coveleski or (more likely) his younger brother Stan, but while Ruth notched four walks in a game a total of 18 times during his career (including once in the 1926 World Series), none involved either of the pitching Coveleski brothers.

Conclusion: False. This claim simply doesn’t add up.

Spring Training of 1918

In his book “Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox,” author Allan Wood states that Ruth batted right-handed against noted southpaw Rube Marquard during a 1918 spring training game between the Red Sox and the Brooklyn Dodgers in Dallas. I contacted Allan and he generously tracked down his research notes which revealed that, according to the Boston Herald-Journal of April 3, 1918, Ruth batted right-handed in his second of three at bats that day.

I researched this story further and found in numerous contemporaneous sources that Ruth did indeed face Marquard in his first two at bats that day, striking out on both occasions. Furthermore, in the Boston Globe of April 3, 1918, sportswriter Edward Martin reported that “Ruth was not very much in the limelight today, whiffing three times, batting left-handed the second time he took the ozone route.”

Rube Marquard

Besides the fact that the phrase “took the ozone route” is now officially my favorite euphemism for striking out, Martin’s sentence left me a bit confused. Why call out that Ruth batted left-handed his second time up when he was a natural left-handed batter? Indeed, this implies Ruth batted right-handed in his first and third at bats. But if that were the case, it would make more sense to call out Ruth’s right-handed bats: Ruth ... “batting right-handed the first and third times he took the ozone route.” No, I find it much more likely that Martin made a simple mistake and accidentally wrote “left-handed” when he actually meant “right-handed.”

Conclusion: Likely true. Though I’d prefer to have another independent source confirm this claim, I’m inclined to believe that in this spring training game, Ruth did indeed bat right-handed once.

August of 1923

During NBC’s telecast of the 1983 All-Star Game, broadcaster Vin Scully noted that “when Mike Schmidt was a junior in college he batted left-handed and he can still hit balls out of sight left-handed in batting practice, but he has never played a game or swung [left-handed] in a real game.” Scully quickly followed up this anecdote by mentioning “You know, I found out in a trivia book that in 1923 Babe Ruth hit right-handed several times.”

I tried to track down the trivia book to which Vin Scully was referring, but I couldn’t manage to find it. However, by consulting newspaper accounts of the day, I was able to determine the following:

On August 1, 1923, the Yankees hosted Cleveland at the newly opened Yankee Stadium. With the visitors leading 5-1 entering the bottom of the ninth, Cleveland lefty Sherry Smith looked to notch his sixth complete game of the season. With one out and New York’s Whitey Witt on second base, Ruth stepped to the plate having gone 0-for-2 with two walks against Smith already that day. Instead of heading to the left-hand batter’s box, however, Ruth decided to switch things up. As reported in the Pittsburgh Daily Post the following day, “His last time up, Babe introduced a new one. He became a right-handed hitter for a moment. He looked over one while standing on the left of the plate, that one a strike. Then he switched back to the trances of his childhood and biffed the first one.” In other words, Ruth took strike one as a right-handed batter, then switched back to the left side and promptly hit a home run.

Sherry Smith

On August 4, numerous newspapers carried a syndicated column under Ruth’s by-line (but undoubtedly penned by a ghost writer) in which the Bambino stated:

Bases on balls are like so much poison. When Sherrod Smith passed me twice a few days ago when I had an opportunity to get out in front of Harry Heilman [sic] and lead the American league hitters, I did something I had been thinking of ever since [George] Uhle crossed me at Cleveland.

That’s why I batted right-handed against Smith last week. I wanted him and [Indians manger Tris] Speaker to know exactly how I felt. I’ll never forget what happened as long as I live. It was in the ninth inning. Smith looked at me and stepped out of the pitching box. He thought I was just kidding, but I stayed at the plate as though I would hit right-handed and the Cleveland outfield switches around to play me for a left-field hitter, instead of as they always do.
Then Smith cuts loose with the first good one he gave me all day—and I let it go. It was a strike and I moved over to the other side of the plate to hit left-handed. Smith was a little upset and the Cleveland outfield moves back toward right field. It was a funny sight. Then Smith gives me another good ball. I don’t know whether it was an accident or not. Anyhow, I hit one of the longest homers I’ve made at our new stadium. And I haven’t stopped laughing yet.
Four days after Ruth’s shenanigans versus Sherry Smith, the Yankees hosted the St. Louis Browns. Ruth got off to a fast start, homering in both the first and sixth innings. With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, runners on first and second, and the score knotted at eight runs apiece, Ruth came to the plate and batted right-handed against Browns right-hander Elam Vangilder. No matter, the Browns intentionally walked Ruth to load the bases. The Browns ploy worked, as Bob Meusel followed the free pass by striking out. Two innings later, the Browns and Vangilder once again found themselves in the exact same situation: Yankees on first and second, two outs, and Ruth at the plate. Again Ruth batted right-handed in an effort to entice St. Louis to pitch to him, but the Browns stuck to their game plan and again gave him an intentional pass. This time, however, the ploy backfired. Meusel singled with the bases full, driving in the winning run and giving the Yankees a 9-8 victory. As the New York Daily News reported the next day, “Babe is getting so weary of walking that he’ll try anything to make the opposition pitch to him. Some day we expect to see him go to bat with the stick in his teeth.”

Elam Vangilder

Conclusion: True. Ruth dabbled with batting right-handed a few times in early August of 1923. In a ninth-inning at bat on August 1st he began as a righty, then promptly switched to the left side before homering. And on August 5th, the Babe batted right-handed twice in extra innings, in each instance taking an intentional pass.

June 24, 1927

I can find only one other confirmed instance in which Ruth batted from the right-handed box. It came during an in-season exhibition game on June 24th, 1927, when the Yankees faced Springfield of the Eastern League. As reported in the New York Times the following day, Ruth “was troubled by a lame ankle, which was caused when he ran out a double in the seventh inning. Incidentally, Babe got his two-bagger while batting right-handed.”

Phil Page

The opposing pitcher was likely southpaw Phil Page. The bigger story that day, however, was that the Ruth's favorite bat had been stolen during the contest. The next day the bat was located and soon returned to the Babe.

Conclusion: Likely true. While I’d like further confirmation, the very direct statement in the New York Times makes it probable that Ruth batted right-handed in an exhibition game on June 24, 1927.

If you know of any other contemporary references to Babe Ruth batting right-handed (either in a regular season or exhibition game), please alert me by commenting below.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Dangers of Collecting Baseball Cards

In the spring of 2018, I was asked by Mark Armour and Chris Dial, the founders and co-chairs of SABR's Baseball Card Committee, to give a presentation at their committee meeting as part of the 2018 SABR Convention in Pittsburgh. This is a slightly-updated version of that presentation.

The Dingley Act of 1897, a massive tariff law that was put into effect under the McKinley administration, included a provision that made it illegal for companies to give away coupons (including things such as baseball cards) in packages of tobacco. The exact legalese reads:

None of the packages of smoking tobacco and fine-cut chewing packages of tobacco and cigarettes prescribed by law shall be permitted to have packed in, or attached to, or connected with, them, any article or thing whatsoever, other than the manufacturers' wrappers and, labels, the internal revenue stamp and the tobacco or cigarettes, respectively, put up therein, on which tax is required to be paid under the internal revenue laws; nor shall there be affixed to, or branded, stamped, marked, written, or printed upon, said packages, or their contents, any promise or offer of, or any order or certificate for, any gift, prize, premium, payment, or reward.

Why do this? Because the monopoly known as the American Tobacco Company tried to quash its competition (independent tobacco companies) by giving away goods through this coupon system, something that smaller companies did not have the wherewithal to do.

This effectively halted the creation of baseball cards until the act was usurped by the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, which removed the ban on tobacco inserts. With this new law, baseball (and other cigarette) cards returned ... and with a vengeance.

Today, well over a century later, the various baseball card sets of 1909-1911 — the sets known as T204, T205, T206, T207, etc. — are prized and celebrated. But, as you might expect, baseball card collecting was also quite popular at that time. What you may not know is that nearly just as popular was the press expressing great concern that baseball card collecting was dangerous. Dangerous to children, dangerous to business owners, and dangerous to society in general.

I’ve found dozens of articles detailing dangers (or perceived dangers) of baseball card collecting at and around the time of the return of baseball cards in the 20th century, and these dangers fit into six main categories.

1) Baseball card collecting created a nuisance.

From the Washington (DC) Evening Star, June 30, 1912:


And from the Greenville (SC) News, March 15, 1910:

Wagner, Cobb, Evers, Mathewson, Collins ... and Bugs Raymond? Well, Bugs did have a decent season in 1909, but wouldn't you think they'd tab someone a bit more obvious, like Three Finger Brown or Ed Walsh?

2) Baseball card collecting promoted the illegal purchase of cigarettes by minors.

According to the Lexington (NC) Dispatch, September 29, 1909:

3) As a consequence of purchasing tobacco, children were enticed to become smokers.

This article was published in the Raleigh (NC) News and Observer, August 15, 1909:

"Nude or near-nude picture of a woman?" Perhaps they were thinking of the N166 "Occupations for Women" series? (There were other "tempting bait" series, as well.)

And this from the Raleigh (NC) Times, August 25, 1909:


4) Baseball card collecting promoted gambling.

As published in the Wilmington (DE) Morning News, July 21, 1909:

Additionally, according to the Fort Mill (SC) Times, October 21, 1909:

5) Baseball card collecting brought about physical injuries.

Read this from the Washington (D.C.) Post, May 8, 1910:

6) And, thanks to baseball card collecting, children became criminals.

The Los Angeles (CA) Times, August 10, 1911 wrote:

This report appeared in the Winston-Salem (NC) Twin-City Daily Sentinel, August 6, 1909:

Finally, the Wilson (NC) Daily Times, August 23, 1910 reported:

In doing this research, I found these complaints about card collecting in numerous newspapers during the period of 1909 through 1912, with most occurring in 1909 and 1910. It seems that by 1911, the furor over the evils of baseball card collecting had subsided considerably. Additionally, the majority of newspapers that railed against the practice were based in major tobacco-producing states, particularly North and South Carolina.