Monday, March 25, 2019

Some Baseball Cards and the Photographs Upon Which They Were Based

Many baseball cards of the first half of the 20th century featured illustrations of ballplayers that were based upon actual photographs. Here are just a few.

White Border (T206) Hal Chase (Holding Trophy)

This card of Hal Chase was based upon an image shot by legendary baseball photographer Charles Conlon. The picture of the talented first baseman was captured at New York’s Hilltop Park on May 3, 1909. For more about this Chase card (pun intended) and the silver “loving cup” he is holding, refer to my blog posting of November 2009.

Turkey Red (T3) Jordan and Herzog

This card issued in 1910 shows Brooklyn’s Tim Jordan and Giants base runner Buck Herzog in a play at first base. The card’s beautiful artwork was based upon a photograph of the two ballplayers taken at New York’s Polo Grounds in 1908.

Cracker Jack (E145) Butch Schmidt

Boston Braves first baseman Charles “Butch” Schmidt is seen leaping high for a catch on this baseball card produced in 1914. The photograph the card was based on was taken during spring training at Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon Park, in either 1913 or 1914.

Goudey (R319) Babe Ruth

The 1933 Goudey (R319) set features four cards of Babe Ruth. Three of these cards, including the card seen here (number 144), were based on a 1927 photograph taken by Charles Conlon at Yankee Stadium.

Goudey (R319) Lou Gehrig

Perhaps the same day that Conlon captured the above image of Ruth, the photographer also took the picture of Lou Gehrig that was used as the basis of both of his two 1933 Goudey (R319) cards, numbers 92 (seen here) and 160.

Play Ball (R336) Ted Williams

This 1941 baseball card of Ted Williams features a portrait of the Red Sox star that was based on a picture taken by another great of the baseball photography world: George Brace. The Brace photo, shot in 1939 (note the barely visible edge of the “Baseball Centennial” patch on Ted’s left sleeve), was also the basis of his 1940 “Play Ball” (R335) card.

Bowman 1951 Mickey Mantle

This baseball card of rookie Mickey Mantle features wonderful artwork that was based on a photograph of the future Yankees star taken at Phoenix’s Municipal Stadium during spring training of 1951. The story behind this photo is detailed in my blog post of February of 2016.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Frank Owen Can't Catch a Break

Poor Frank Owen. He can’t catch a break.

Here’s a pitcher who notched over 20 wins in three straight seasons for the White Sox (1904-1906), became the first American Leaguer to toss two complete-game victories in one day (July 1, 1905), and on July 29, 1904, clouted his first-ever big league home run in the 10th inning to give himself the victory.

Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1904

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan who has ever heard of the fellow. But to make matters worse, even back in his own day he got the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. Not one, but two, contemporary baseball cards misidentified him.

Here are the sad stories:

1) The Fan Craze Error

In 1904, the Fan Craze Company of Cincinnati issued a low-budget baseball card playing game. Each card had revealed a baseball play (“strike,” “home run,” “out at first,” etc.). Players turned over cards one-by-one to determine the outcome of each play.

In 1906, the company released a high-end version of their popular game, a pair of sets known as the “Art Series” and billed as “an artistic constellation of great stars.” One set (known as the WG2 set among baseball card collectors) had blue backs and consisted of 54 cards, each bearing the likeness of an American Leaguer. The companion set (WG3) had red backs and numbered 51 cards, each adorned with photos of National Leaguers.

Geyer’s Stationer, May 3, 1906

The images on each card were reproductions of photographs taken by Carl Horner, a Boston-based cameraman who the weekly sports newspaper Sporting Life called the “official photographer of the major leagues.” Today, Horner is probably best remembered for taking this photo of Honus Wagner:

You’ll likely recognize that this photo was used for the Pittsburgh shortstop’s famous T206 card of 1909, but it was also used for his Fan Craze card from a few years earlier.

A number of cards in the “Art Series” have players misidentified. For example, George Winter is misidentified as George Winters, Norman “Kid” Elberfeld’s last name is misspelled “Elberfield,” and Terry Turner’s card erroneously labels him as “Roy Turner.”

Frank Owen suffered a similar fate. His card is captioned “Billy Owen,” but there was no major leaguer by that name.

The discovery of this gaff and the correct identification of the player as Frank Owen were made by the folks at the Baseball Games web site, the go-to source for collectors of vintage baseball tabletop games. Alas, at the time of their research, they didn’t have the luxury of comparing the “Billy Owen” Fan Craze card to this original Carl Horner photograph of the pitcher:

To summarize, the “Fan Craze” WG2 card identified as “Billy Owen” is, in fact, Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Owen.

2) The Sporting Life Cabinet Error

While the “Fan Craze” WG2 error has been known for a while, this next mistake is a new discovery.

Starting in September of 1902, Sporting Life began advertising the availability of “cabinet sized phototypes of celebrated base ball players.” Over the next few years, issues of the newspaper regularly featured these ads, with new players made available on a regular basis. These cabinet cards (designated W600 in the card hobby) are popular collectibles and number well over 600. Some players are featured in more than one card and such was the case for one of the era’s most popular big leaguers: Mike Donlin. (For those wanting to learn a bit more about Donlin, I blogged about him back in 2010.)

Here are Donlin’s two Sporting Life cabinet cards: his Cincinnati card (at left) was made available in 1902, while his New York card (at right) was offered only after he was traded to Cincinnati in August of 1904.

But the two players pictured are not the same person. The player at right is indeed Mike Donlin. Compare that picture of him to the image below.

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-003778. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

So who is the player at left? Take a close look. Amazingly, it is our old friend Frank Owen, misidentified once again. Poor Frank Owen. He can’t catch a break.

To summarize, the Sporting Life W600 cabinet card identified as Mike Donlin with Cincinnati is, in fact, Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Owen.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Baseball on the Cover of "The Saturday Evening Post"

The cover art of the Saturday Evening Post is unquestionably the magazine’s most iconic feature. And throughout the 20th century, the Post enthusiastically embraced baseball as a favorite topic for these celebrated covers. By my count, no fewer than 68 issues of the Post overtly associated our national pastime with the magazine’s wholesome, all-American values by adorning its cover with baseball-related artwork. Here’s a brief look at a few of these covers, as well as a complete list of each and every one from the 20th century.

June 6, 1908

The Post of June 6, 1908, was the first to feature a baseball-related cover. Titled “Watching Baseball through a Fence,” artist James Ellsworth “Worth” Brehm depicted five boys struggling to catch a glimpse of a ball game through outfield wall knotholes.

The Post revisited this theme half a century later when Norman Rockwell’s “Knothole Baseball” graced the cover of the August 30, 1958, issue of the magazine. Note that Rockwell cleverly signed the artwork by “carving” his name into the wooden fence.

May 15, 1909

While the artwork of Worth Brehm graced the covers of just two issues of the Saturday Evening Post, Joseph Christian “J.C.” Leyendecker’s paintings can be found on over 300 covers of the weekly magazine. This includes the issue of May 15, 1909: the second Post to feature baseball on its cover.

Leyendecker regularly worked from live models, and the photograph below clearly shows that he did the same in making a preliminary sketch for this baseball painting.


October 1, 1910
September 16, 1911
September 30, 1911
April 13, 1912

From October 1910 through April 1912, the Saturday Evening Post featured four baseball-related paintings by Pennsylvania native Robert Robinson. The last of this quartet depicts a batter about to bunt a ball. Many have speculated that the batter depicted by Robinson is Honus Wagner. Perhaps. But whoever the player is, his bunting form (or at least that illustrated by Robinson) is atrocious. He’s simply begging to have his fingers broken!

In 1912, the Curtis Publishing Company, owners of the Saturday Evening Post, republished these four illustrations as postcards that today are much sought-after collectables.

June 14, 1913

The first baseball-themed Post cover that featured the work of a female artist can be found on the June 14, 1913, issue of the magazine. Titled “Young Suffragette,” the painting by Violet Moore Higgins depicts a young girl with a baseball bat over her shoulder as she parades in front of disgruntled young boy.

Note that the young girl’s bat is quite similar to the various “black end” bats sold by A.G. Spalding & Bros. in the late 19th century.

That same year, a large advertisement for the Saturday Evening Post adorned the wall beyond the left field bleachers at New York’s Polo Grounds, home of both the Giants and the Yankees. The ad, which makes it clear that the magazine was even sold at the park, can be easily seen in this photo taken at the historic stadium after Game Three of the 1913 World Series.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-14482


May 20, 1916

Like the work of J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell’s paintings were featured on the covers of over 300 issues of the Saturday Evening Post. It happens that Rockwell’s very first cover for the magazine had a baseball theme. Featured on the front of the May 20, 1916, issue of the Post, “Boy with Baby Carriage” depicts an unhappy boy charged with taking care of a baby, while two friends gloat as they head off to play ball.

As recounted by the artist in his 1960 autobiography “Norman Rockwell: My Adventures as an Illustrator”:

In those days the cover of the Post was the greatest show window in America for an illustrator. If you did a cover for the Post you had arrived. But I was scared. I used to sit in the studio with a copy of the Post laid across my knees. “Must be two million people look at that cover,” I’d say to myself. “At least. Probably more. Two million subscribers, and then their wives, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, friends.”


July 8, 1939

The cover of the Post’s July 8, 1939, issue featured one of Rockwell’s most familiar baseball paintings, “100th Year of Baseball.”

Of course, 1939 wasn’t actually the 100th year of baseball, but the theme made for a wonderful cover. Indeed, the painting was subsequently featured on the covers of two other issues of the magazine: June 1, 1972, and July 1, 1994. For reasons unknown, the 1994 version shows the umpire without a cigar in his mouth.


September 4, 1948

On May 23, 1948, the Chicago Cubs visited Boston for a doubleheader against the Braves. At the ballpark that day were Norman Rockwell and a few of his photographers who captured shots of members of the Cubs, as well as Frank McNulty, the batboy assigned to the visiting team. On September 4, 1948, Rockwell’s finished watercolor, “The Dugout,” graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Seen in the visitors’ dugout at Braves Field are (left to right) pitcher Bob Rush, manager Charlie Grimm, catcher Rube Walker, and pitcher Johnny Schmitz. In front of the dejected quartet of Cubs is the batboy, whose image had earlier been captured by photographer Gene Pelham. Below is one of the numerous shots taken of McNulty at the park that day.

The Cubs lost both games of the doubleheader and ultimately finished the season in last place with a record of 64 wins and 90 losses. As for the particular individuals pictured, Charlie Grimm lasted another year as pilot of the Cubs, losing his job in June of 1949. Rookie moundsman Bob Rush ended the season with a mark of 5-11, while Johnny Schmitz posted an impressive record of 18-13 with a 2.64 ERA.

Rookie catcher Rube Walker started his first major league game in the second contest of the doubleheader that very day, but in the top of the first inning was knocked unconscious thanks to a beaning by Braves pitcher Vern Bickford. Walker returned to the field a week later, and after some struggles at the plate, ended the season with a respectable .275 batting average.

Miami News, May 24, 1948


April 23, 1949

About four months after Rockwell’s trip to Braves Field, the famous artist visited Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field in preparation for yet another Saturday Evening Post cover. On September 14, 1948, the Pirates were in town to play the Dodgers, and Rockwell brought along a photographer to capture images of members of both teams. The resulting painting, titled “Tough Call,” graced the cover of the April 23, 1949, issue of the Post and depicts three umpires (Larry Goetz, Beans Reardon, and Lou Jorda) looking skyward as Dodgers coach Clyde Sukeforth and Pirates manager Billy Meyer discuss the situation.

The painting is a bit confusing. The scoreboard shows that the Pirates are leading 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth (indeed, a Pirates outfielder can be seen in the background). If rain were to halt the game, the Pirates would be declared the victors. But if so, why is it that Brooklyn’s Sukeforth is happy and Pittsburgh’s Meyer is glum?

Inside the same issue of the Post, the situation is explained as follows:

This week’s Norman Rockwell cover depicts Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers are trailing the Pittsburg Pirates 1-0 in the sixth inning. If the arbiters – left to right, Larry Goetz, Beans Reardon and Lou Jorda – call the game because of rain, the score will stand as is, and Pittsburgh will win. This irks the Brooklynites, who dislike having other teams win. In the picture, Clyde Sukeforth, a Brooklyn coach, could well be saying, ‘You may be all wet, but it ain’t raining a drop!’ The huddled Pittsburgher – Bill Meyer, Pirate manager – is doubtless retorting, ‘For the love of Abner Doubleday, how can we play ball in this cloudburst?’”
But this clarification ignores the fact that it has apparently already begun to rain, as evidenced by the drop that has just hit the outstretched hand of home plate umpire Reardon. Other inconsistencies can be found in the illustration, as well, but one must remember that the painting is one artist’s vision, not an historically factual snapshot in time.

Interestingly, the version of Rockwell’s artwork published on the cover of the Post was not what the artist originally provided to the magazine. According to Corry Kazenberg, Curator of Archival Collections at the Norman Rockwell Museum:

... a disgruntled Rockwell wrote to Post art editor Ken Stuart, noting that the original painting of Tough Call “had the piece of sky added when I still feel it was better as I conceived and painted it.” Photographs of Rockwell at work on the piece show that all the clouds running along the top length of the composition had previously been dark gray. The published version of the painting comprised of a blue sky with lightened gray and white clouds in the top right corner. In addition, the visiting Pirates’ gray uniforms were darkened. Who repainted Rockwell’s canvas?
In the late 1940s, the Post employed a Philadelphia artist, William H. Rapp, to adjust details of other artists’ illustrations including size, signature placement, changing real advertising signs to imagined ones, eliminating brand names, and other minutiae required of the editors. In addition to changing the sky and uniforms in "Tough Call," Rapp modified three other Rockwell covers in 1948 and 1949, done under the direction of Stuart. After the fourth altered cover was published, a displeased Rockwell addressed the situation in a letter to his art editor:

This repainting of my work without my knowledge or consent has never happened to me before with the Post or any other magazine.
This is very serious to me. As you know, I am willing to make changes or have a picture rejected, but I do feel that the re-painting of a man’s work to this point is completely unethical ...
I cannot go on painting with any strength or conviction with the threat of such changes to my work constantly hanging over my head.
An indication of his importance to the magazine, Rockwell’s protests did result in a change of protocol. In addition to Stuart’s assessment, two other editors—editor-in-chief Ben Hibbs, and managing editor Robert Fuoss—would together review Rockwell’s work on arrival, and afterward consult with the artist about possible changes.


April 22, 1950

Another controversy related to a baseball-themed Post cover occurred the next spring. The front of the April 22, 1950, issue of the magazine featured a painting by artist Stevan Dohanos titled “Catching the Home Run Ball.”

First, the title is a mistake. Those familiar with the layout of New York’s Polo Grounds will immediately notice that the ball in the painting is headed toward the third base seats in foul territory. The player is not attempting to catch a home run ball at all. He’s trying to snag a pop foul!

Second, in November of 2000, the son of artist Austin Briggs wrote in to the New York Review of Books, relating a much more disturbing problem:

An incident concerning a cover that my late father [Austin Briggs], whose name I bear, painted for the Saturday Evening Post sheds light on the general absence of African-Americans from Rockwell’s American Main Street.

In “Norman Rockwell Painting America,” telecast last Thanksgiving eve in the PBS American Masters series, Richard Reeves related that Ben Hibbs, the editor of the Saturday Evening Post, made his position about African-Americans clear to Rockwell: “Don’t put them in your paintings. It makes people uneasy.” My father learned firsthand just how uneasy the Post was made by “them.”

If you look at the cover of the Post for April 22, 1950, you will see a painting of a group of spectators in the Polo Grounds reaching for a foul ball that is soaring into the stands as a player on the field runs toward them, the ball already out of his reach. Inside the magazine, “This Week’s Cover” offers an anecdote about the problems resulting from painting Post covers a year ahead of time. This cover, we read, originally showed Sid Gordon of the Giants chasing the foul, but when the third baseman was traded to Boston, the artist “irately detached Gordon’s face and substituted the countenance of Oscar Nobody, who isn’t apt to be traded.”

When I look at that painting, I see more than you do. That’s my father, ducking as he looks anxiously up at the ball, a paper cup in one hand and a hotdog in the other; he’s wondering how to protect the Rolleiflex hanging around his neck, the same camera he used to take the photos he worked from. You can’t see the face of the girl with the beautiful bright red hair, but I recognize a portrait of my sister Lorna. And there I am too, another redhead, at eighteen, looking up in the general direction of the fly ball with the same look of dazed confusion I generally brought to my unhappy tours in left field.

But this cover is only indirectly my father’s work, and someone who ought to be in the painting is missing. As Sid Gordon’s head was “detached” and replaced by Oscar Nobody’s, so another far more significant “substitution” took place. In the painting my father delivered to the Post, the hefty man sitting in the foreground with a handkerchief over his head to protect his pate from the sun was a black woman. She was a speaking likeness of Fanny Drain, a woman who worked for my family and was much loved by all of us. When the Giants were playing, she and my father—whose studio was at home—would follow the radio broadcasts avidly and vocally; her pride and pleasure in being included in the cover painting were deep.

When my father delivered his cover to the Post offices in Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love, however, the editors told him that he would have to paint Fanny out of the picture. I don’t know what reason they gave; my father was too angry to recall anything but the demand and his response. He broke the painting, on a gesso panel, over his knee and walked out. The financial sacrifice was great, but he never regretted his act or repented his fury.

You can still see the portraits that remain on the cover because the Post hired Stevan Dohanos, a follower of Rockwell who did numerous Post covers, to repaint my father’s painting. The composition in the cover that ran is my father’s, the tonalities are pretty much his, and his self-portrait and the portraits of my sister and me are still easy to read. But Fanny Drain has been erased, turned into “Nobody.”


March 2, 1957

In the fall of 1956, Norman Rockwell met with Sherman “Scotty” Safford, a student at Pittsfield High School, located less than 20 miles north of Rockwell’s studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The lanky 18-year-old Safford was just the model Rockwell needed for a painting the artist titled “The Rookie.” Below are some photos of the youngster that Rockwell used to create his artwork.

The artwork reproduced on the cover of the Post of March 2, 1957, depicted a green Red Sox rookie arriving at the club’s locker room at Payne Park, Boston’s spring training home in Sarasota, Florida. Not convinced the locale is supposed to be spring training? Check out the palm trees seen outside the window. That ain’t Boston’s Fenway Park!

Also featured in the painting are Boston players Sammy White (bottom left), Frank Sullivan (on bench at far left), Jackie Jensen (tying his shoe), Ted Williams (standing at center), and Billy Goodman (far right). The player standing at far left was not a member of the Red Sox, but a stand-in whom Rockwell referred to simply as “John J. Anonymous.” In May of 2014, the original painting sold at auction for $22.5 million.

Below is a complete listing of every baseball-related image to grace the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in the 20th century.

June 6, 1908
“Watching Baseball through a Fence”
Worth Brehm

May 15, 1909
“Baseball Catcher”
J.C. Leyendecker

April 16, 1910
“Sliding into Home Plate”
Anton Otto Fischer

May 14, 1910
“Sandlot Baseball”
Anton Otto Fischer

October 1, 1910
“Baseball Catcher Looking Up”
Robert Robinson

September 16, 1911
“Boy Pitching Baseball”
Robert Robinson

September 30, 1911
“Baseball Fans”
Robert Robinson

April 13, 1912
“Bunt” or “Baseball Player Bunting”
Robert Robinson

June 8, 1912
“Conference on the Mound”
Leslie Thrasher

June 14, 1913
“Young Suffragette”
Violet Moore Higgins

April 24, 1915
“The Windup”
John A. Coughlin

July 10, 1915
“Fighting a Losing Battle” or “Arguing the Call”
Martin Justice

May 20, 1916
“Boy with Baby Carriage”
Norman Rockwell

August 5, 1916
“Gramps at the Plate”
Norman Rockwell

August 4, 1917
“Baseball Rained Out”
Charles A. MacLellan

July 28, 1923
“Fly Ball”
E.M. Jackson

May 9, 1925
“Daydreams of Baseball”
Robert Robinson

April 17, 1926
“Boy’s Baseball Team”
Eugene Iverd

May 28, 1927
“Safe on Base”
Alan Foster

October 1, 1927
“Baseball Fans”
Eugene Iverd

September 29, 1928
“Safe at the Plate”
Alan Foster

June 1, 1929
“Dad at Bat”
Alan Foster

September 7, 1929
“Pop-Up Fly”
Harrison McCreary

April 26, 1930
“Home Run”
Eugene Iverd

August 30, 1930
“Arguing the Call”
Alan Foster

May 28, 1932
“Baseball Batter”
J.F. Kernan

October 8, 1932
“Shadow Batter,” originally titled “Some Day”
John E. Sheridan

August 18, 1934
“The Windup”
Eugene Iverd

July 8, 1939
“100th Anniversary of Baseball”
Norman Rockwell

May 11, 1940
“Rug Beater”
J.C. Leyendecker

August 10, 1940
“Up at Bat”
Douglass Crockwell

June 28, 1941
“Baseball Stadium at Night”
Roy Hilton

May 20, 1944
Stan Ekman

April 21, 1945
“Island Game”
Stevan Dohanos

June 30, 1945
“Still Life of Boys Toys”
John Atherton

July 20, 1946
“Baseball Player Mowing the Lawn”
Stevan Dohanos

April 19, 1947
“Yankee Stadium”
John Falter

April 17, 1948
“More Clothes to Clean”
George Hughes

September 4, 1948
“The Dugout”
Norman Rockwell

April 23, 1949
“Tough Call” also known as “Three Umpires”
Norman Rockwell

April 22, 1950
“Catching the Home Run Ball”
Stevan Dohanos

September 2, 1950
“Family Baseball”
John Falter

April 21, 1951
“Oregon Baseball”
John Clymer

May 24, 1952
“Day in the Life of a Boy”
Norman Rockwell

October 4, 1952
“Linemen Listen to World Series”
Stevan Dohanos

May 1, 1954
“Stan the Man”
John Falter

August 21, 1954
“Construction Crew”
Norman Rockwell

October 2, 1954
“World Series Scores”
Thornton Utz

March 12, 1955
“Norman Rockwell Album”
Norman Rockwell

April 23, 1955
“Sleepy Inning”
Earl Mayan

April 21, 1956
“Date with the Television”
John Falter

May 19, 1956
“At the Optometrist” or “Eye Doctor”
Norman Rockwell

March 2, 1957
“The Rookie (Baseball Locker Room)”
Norman Rockwell

April 20, 1957
“Yogi Berra”
Earl Mayan

July 6, 1957
“Sandlot Homerun”
John Falter

August 30, 1958
“Knothole Baseball”
Norman Rockwell

October 4, 1958
“World Series in TV Department”
Ben Kimberly Prins

April 11, 1959
“Not Time For a Hotdog”
Richard Sargent

April 2, 1960
“Recess at Pine Creek”
John Clymer

April 23, 1960
“Grandma Catches Fly-ball”
Richard Sargent

October 8, 1960
“Baseball in the Boardroom”
Lonie Bee

April 29, 1961
“Baseball in the Hospital”
Amos Sewell

June 24, 1961
“Checklist for Summer Camp”
Ben Kimberly Prins

April 28, 1962
“Baseball Fight” (fold out cover)
James Williamson

May 11, 1963
“Leo Durocher”
Lawrence J. Schiller

June 1, 1972
“Summer 1972”
Norman Rockwell

September 1, 1973
“School Supplies”
Robert Charles Howe

July 1, 1994
“Norman Rockwell Baseball Reprint”
Norman Rockwell