Friday, March 26, 2021

Why Didn't Christie's Research This Photo of Babe Ruth?

In December 2020, Christie’s offered the following photograph as part of its auction titled “Home Plate: A Private Collection of Important Baseball Memorabilia.”

The lot description accompanying the photograph reads as follows:

Very Fine Babe Ruth Boston Red Sox Photograph c.1918 (PSA/DNA Type I)

Unique and striking sepia tone 7 ½" x 9 ½" original image picturing Ruth standing on the field with his Red Sox teammates in full uniform. Ruth is standing at center with another gentleman in non-MLB uniform who appears to be receiving a presentational trophy from the Babe. Surface wrinkling to the front with corner crease at top left and some small tape residue at bottom edge. Mounted on its original linen backing from photo album mount. Encapsulated by PSA/DNA (Type I): VG

7 ½ x 9 ½ in.

Alas, this is all the famed auction house had to say about the photo. While I would not expect them to write a 1,000 word treatise on the image, it might have been revealing (and frankly add to the value of the photograph) if they had done just a little research.

Since they dropped the ball, I figured I’d pick it up. Here’s what I found out about this wonderful photograph.

The Red Sox Players Pictured

Certainly it is obvious that the player fourth from right is Boston Red Sox star Babe Ruth. Joining him in the photo are six of his teammates, each wearing lightly pinstriped uniforms with “RED SOX” emblazoned across their jersey fronts. A quick look at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s online exhibit “Dressed to the Nines” reveals that during Ruth’s tenure with the club, the Red Sox wore uniforms such as these on the road from 1916 through 1919.

The Red Sox of this era featured a number of stars, many of whom are readily recognizable in this photo.

Stuffy McInnis

The individual third from left is Stuffy McInnis, once a member of Connie Mack’s celebrated “$100,000 infield” and arguably one of the greatest fielding first basemen in baseball history. In 1921, he made just one error in 152 games at first base, a record that was not topped until Steve Garvey’s errorless season of 1984.

Everett Scott

At far right is Everett Scott, a great shortstop of the era and the man who whose record for most consecutive games played (1,307) was not eclipsed until Lou Gehrig did so in 1933.

Wally Schang

Just to the left of Scott is Wally Schang, often cited as the best catcher of his day. In 1916, Schang became the first player to homer from both sides of the plate in one game. Today, his .393 career on base percentage remains higher than every other Hall of Fame catcher except for all-time greats Mickey Cochrane and Josh Gibson.

Ossie Vitt

Third from right is third baseman Ossie Vitt, a veteran of seven seasons with the Detroit Tigers who, like McInnis, Scott, and Schang, had earned praise as a slick fielder.

As Vitt didn’t join the Red Sox until his January 1919 trade to the club, and Ruth was famously sold to the Yankees just over 11 months later, it is clear that the photo must have been taken sometime that year.

Looking through Boston’s roster for 1919 and comparing player names to known images, the other two lesser-known Red Sox can be identified. At far left is backup outfielder Frank Gilhooly, who was in his final major league season. And just to the left of Ruth is Norm McNeil, who played just five big league games, but could boast of having roomed with Babe Ruth during the last few months of the Bambino’s Red Sox career.

The Others Pictured

Two other men can be seen in the photo. One stands second from left, behind two members of the Red Sox. The other is at center, holding on to a silver cup with Ruth, and wearing a jersey with letters that are partially obscured. Certainly the top word is “BALTIMORE,” but all we can see of the bottom word(s) is “DOO” or “DOC.” Additionally, in front of the men there are two young girls holding a bouquet of flowers.

Identifying of the Photograph

Since the ballpark does not match any big league stadiums of the era and the “Baltimore” uniform is clearly not from a major league club, I suspected this was an exhibition game. Searching through digitized newspapers from 1919 for keywords such as “Babe Ruth,” “silver cup,” “Baltimore,” and “flowers,” I came across an article in the Baltimore Sun of September 8, 1919. Its headlines read:

The article goes on to cover an in-season exhibition game played September 7, 1919, between the Red Sox and the Baltimore Dry Dock & Shipping Company baseball club of the Delaware Shipyard Baseball League. No doubt the lettering on the jersey of the fellow next to Ruth reads “BALTIMORE DRY DOCKS.”

With the action taking place at Baltimore’s Oriole Park, the Red Sox topped the Dry Docks, 10-6. Ruth thrilled the crowd by clouting a pair of homers, scoring all the way from first base on McInnis’s infield hit, and taking the mound for the final two innings. The final paragraph of the story completes the picture:

Before the game, Babe Ruth, acting as spokesman, presented the Dry Docks team with a silver cup for winning the pennant in the Shipyard League, and a pair of little girls presented a bunch of flowers to Manager Sam Frock.

Sam Frock

Indeed, that’s former big league pitcher Sam Frock receiving the silver cup from Ruth.

As for the other man pictured, take a close look at the object to his right, seen just behind Gilhooley. It’s a large megaphone, suggesting the man is Oriole Park public address announcer Lefty Shields. Just one year earlier, Ruth had been part of an All-Star team that played the Dry Docks at Oriole Park on November 10, 1918. According the following day’s Baltimore Sun, “the defeat was the first in ten games for the Dry Docks, and Lefty Shields, their announcer, was so heart-broken that he smashed his megaphone.” Looks like he got a new one!

Babe Ruth’s Phenomenal Season

When he posed for this photograph, Ruth was nearing the end of an incredible season. Fans coming to Oriole Park that day saw the Babe standing at the cusp of history. Just two days earlier, Ruth had pushed his regular season home run total to 25, matching what was thought to be the record set two decades earlier by Washington’s Buck Freeman. While the pair of homers Ruth hit in Baltimore did not count toward his regular season total, the next day, facing the Yankees, the Bambino blasted his 26th homer to pass Freeman’s mark. However, Ruth was still one shy of the true single-season record of 27 home runs hit by Chicago’s Ned Williamson in 1884. This latter mark had been largely discounted by the media, the fans, and Ruth himself, due to the fact that Williamson was materially aided by the incredibly short porches at Chicago’s diminutive Lakefront Park: 196 feet to right field and just 180 to left. No matter, Ruth would finish the season with 29 circuit clouts, making him the undisputed home run champion.

The Auction Winner

Whoever purchased this photo may never know its full story. However, for the $11,875 they paid for the lot (that’s nearly $2,000 more than the Red Sox paid Ruth for his services in 1919!), I sure hope they somehow find out the rich history behind the picture.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Federal League in Film - Part II: "Hearts and Diamonds"

Last month I posted about a new discovery: footage from a Federal League ball game between Buffalo and Brooklyn on July 6, 1915. Prior to this find, there was only one known example of moving images from a Federal League game: action preserved in a silent movie titled “Hearts and Diamonds.”

This latter film, shot during the summer of 1914 and released in late September of that year, starred John Bunny, a famous, beloved, but today much-forgotten comedian who died from kidney disease just half a year after the movie opened. On April 27, 1915, the day after Bunny’s untimely death, the New York Times wrote: “Wherever movies are exhibited, and that is everywhere, Bunny had his public. It is perfectly safe to say that no other camera actor was as popular in this country.”

John Bunny (right) and
William Chase Temple attend the 1913 World Series at Shibe Park

Bunny was a fervent baseball fan. He attended Game Four of the 1913 World Series, his appearance causing the crowd to cheer wildly as he walked to his front row seats at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park. Sitting next to Bunny that day was William Chase Temple, the part-owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates who two decades earlier had established the Temple Cup, an early World Championship series played from 1894 through 1897. Interested readers may wish to take a look at my earlier blog post about Henry Sandham’s painting of the 1894 Temple Cup Series.

Produced by Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn, “Hearts and Diamonds” is a rather uninspired two-reeler that transparently plods its way from scene to scene to provide Bunny a couple opportunities to perform his comic shtick. Those interested in watching the movie can find it on KINO International’s two-DVD compilation of early baseball movies titled “Reel Baseball.” In past posts, I have discussed a couple of other films from this treasure trove.

The plot of “Hearts and Diamonds” revolves around the widower Tupper and his attempt to woo the wealthy Miss Rachel Whipple, an ardent baseball fan. After attending a baseball game with Miss Whipple, Tupper finds to his dismay that what she really loves is baseball players, not fans. Tupper’s chance meeting with pitching star Matty Christheson (get it?) results in a plan: the widower will put together a baseball nine to challenge Matty’s club, with the latter player assuring Tupper “I’ll see that you win.” This leads to the main comic sequence on the ball field that ultimately results in Tupper’s inept team completing a ninth-inning comeback, thanks to the widower’s improbably home run. This victory fails to bring about Miss Whipple’s full affections, but Tupper lucks into a fortuitous rescue of the spinster, saving her from the clutches of Jack Zinn, an insane baseball player who had just escaped from a mental institution. This heroism does the trick and Tupper and Whipple embrace. A rather unnecessary side plot running throughout the movie (you have to fill 30 minutes somehow) involves Tupper’s two daughters and the young men with whom they elope.

How popular was John Bunny? Well, after the initial introduction of his character, the intertitles generaly dispensed with the charade of using his character’s name, instead simply referring to him as “Bunny.”

Beyond Bunny, the film’s only other actor of note is Flora Finch who plays the role of the wealthy Miss Rachel Whipple. Bunny and Finch worked together in anywhere from 100 to 160 films (source differ) during the early 1910s.

The first baseball scene of interest occurs about six minutes into the film when Miss Whipple’s automobile arrives at the ballpark. The baseball action, as we will see, was shot at Brooklyn’s Washington Park, a brand new, steel and concrete stadium, which replaced the old wooden park (also known as Washington Park) that stood on the same lot. Here we see the exterior of the park:

I am aware of very few pictures showing the new Washington Park from the outside. Here’s one that shows the park as it was being built. Comparing the photo to the movie still, one can see the same ticket booth as well as some other matching features.

About seven minutes into the movie we see Miss Whipple in her grandstand seat. Tupper sits down in the same row and eventually moves his way right next to her.

This scene was also shot at Washington Park, home of the Federal League Brooklyn Tip-Tops. According to an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of July 22, 1914:

Yesterday morning [Brooklyn Tip-Tops] Manager [Bill] Bradley had his charges out bright and early at Washington Park and put them through a long hitting practice preparatory to opening the all-important series with Chicago, which begins this afternoon. Many a ball was lost during the workout in being driven over the right field wall, to the edification of the several hundred movie actors and actresses who sat in the stand waiting for a scenario in which they were showing to get under way.

Thus it appears that most of the scenes of fans in the grandstand were shot on July 21, 1914, an open date for the Brooklyn Tip-Tops.

The Federal League game action takes place next and there are basically four distinct sequences that are presented.

First Real Game Sequence

The first real game sequence takes place about 7½ minutes into the film. Here we see a high wall in right field, the scoreboard in center, and the bleachers in left: all perfectly matching the configuration of Brooklyn’s Washington Park in both 1914 and 1915. And the large advertisement on the right field wall (seen prominently later in the movie) reads “Ward’s Tip-Top Bread,” the company run by club owner Robert Ward.

While the quality of the footage is rather poor, a careful review of the game action shows a right-handed pitcher with a dark cap and all-dark stockings delivering the ball with no men on base. A right-handed batter with a light-colored cap and two-tone stockings grounds the ball up the middle. The second baseman goes to his left, makes a nice pick-up, fires to first, and apparently retires the batter-runner.

What can be made of the uniform information? First, the home club Brooklyn Tip-Tops wore uniforms with dark caps and all dark stockings in 1914. (Actually, the stockings were dark blue with a red stripe, but on film the difference between these colors cannot be discerned so the stockings simply appear dark.) Thus, Brooklyn is the team in the field in this first sequence.

Second, we know that the road club is the one that wore the light colored cap and two-toned stockings. As it turns out, five of the eight Federal League clubs wore such uniforms on the road in 1914: Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.

Second Real Game Sequence

After a cut to the stands, action returns to the field, where it appears the sides have now switched, Brooklyn at bat and the visitors in the field. 

The pitcher (a right-hander) wears a light-colored cap and two-tone stockings and the batter (a lefty) wears a dark cap and all-dark stockings. Two pitches are delivered in this sequence, the batter taking the first one and swinging and missing at the second.

Third Real Game Sequence

After yet another cut to the actors in the stands in which Tupper gets into a brief fight with another fan, a third on-field sequence takes place. 

As with the second sequence, the pitcher wears a light cap, but now the batter (in a dark cap) is right-handed and there is a runner is on first base. We see three pitches delivered. On the third pitch the runner on first takes off for second, but apparently the pitch was called a ball, and the batter trots to first.

Fourth Real Game Sequence

Yet another cut to the grandstand is followed by a fourth sequence on the field.

In the movie clip above we see a left-handed batter with a light cap bats against a right-handed pitcher with a dark cap. So we’ve returned to Brooklyn in the field and the visitors at bat. The batter connects for a hit to left field. There are runners on first and third and both score as the batter-runner sprints toward third base. However, after a brief cut back to the grandstand, we see the batter-runner head back to second, apparently changing his mind about going for a triple.

Fictional Game Footage

About ten minutes later, the next in-park sequences take place. This is the scene in which Tupper and his team play baseball against Matty Christheson’s club. While the actor who portrays Christheson is on the mound, the rest of his team is apparently comprised of members of the Tip-Tops.

At one point during this fictional game, we see Bunny coaching first base:

In the background we can see the bottom of the center field scoreboard. Here’s a detail from the clip above:

Though a bit difficult to discern, careful review of the footage shows the following partial line scores:

NEW YORK   2 0 2 0 0
PITTSBURGH 0 1 0 0 0


Also visible at the very bottom of the scoreboard are the words “ST. LOUIS HERE” with some undecipherable words that follow. This suggests that the next club scheduled to visit Brooklyn would be the Federal League St. Louis Terriers.

A review of big league game scores from 1914 reveals only one date in which the partial line scores on the scoreboard match up with actual game line scores: Saturday, July 25, 1914. On that day, the Giants beat the Pirates 4-2, with Christy Mathewson (yes, the real Christy Mathewson) earning the victory. The full line score was:

NEW YORK   2 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 X
PITTSBURGH 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0

And the White Sox topped the Yankees 1-0 (in 13 innings) with the following line score:

CHICAGO  0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
NEW YORK 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Additionally, the next series that Brooklyn would host started two days later, July 27, against the Federal League St. Louis Terriers.

So far, all signs point to the fictional game being filmed at Washington Park on July 25. But the Tip-Tops hosted a doubleheader against Chicago that day. How could they make time for a movie shoot? No. It is more likely that the Tupper vs. Christeson game was shot the following day (an off-day for Brooklyn), with the partial line scores from the previous day’s games left on the scoreboard as they were.

With filming of the fans taking place on July 21 and the fictional game most likely on July 26, it seems likely that the real game action was shot at around the same time. Brooklyn’s schedule during their 15-game home stand in late July reads: Chicago July 22, 23, 24, and 25 (doubleheader); St. Louis July 27, 29, 30 (doubleheader); Indianapolis July 31, August 1, 3; Kansas City August 4, 5, 6.

Now, of the four real game sequences detailed above, only the final one provides enough details to reasonably find an exact match to a play. As a review, a lefty visiting batter faces a right-handed visiting pitcher with men on first and third. The batter hits a double to left, scoring both runners.

I began “fishing” by looking in box scores for any game in the home stand noted above in which a lefty visiting batter had at least one double and two RBI. I found that happened three times:

  • July 23: Chicago’s Dutch Zwilling had a double and two RBI
  • July 25 (game two of doubleheader): Chicago’s Jim Stanley had a double and two RBI
  • August 4: Kansas City’s Duke Kenworthy had a double and 2 RBI

Next I examined these three possibilities closer. I eliminated Dutch Zwilling’s double on July 23, because he also had a home run that day. This means that at least one of his RBI came on his homer, and thus he couldn’t have driven in two runs with his double. And while Duke Kenworthy’s double in the August 4th game did indeed score two runners, one of these runners was injured at the plate. But in the footage, we see both runners score without incident. This leaves only Jim Stanley’s double of July 25th’s second game. Here’s the play-by-play of the top of the sixth inning as reported in the Brooklyn Standard Union the following day. With Brooklyn’s right-handed pitcher Happy Finneran on the mound ...

[Harry] Fritz struck out. [Jack] Farrell was hit by a pitched ball. [Mike] Prendergast singled to right. [Austin] Walsh singled to right, scoring Farrell. Stanley doubled to left, scoring Pendergast and Walsh.

The scenario matches perfectly with the fourth sequence that we see in “Hearts and Diamonds.”

What about the third sequence? Did it occur in either game of July 25? Recapping the details: With a runner on first, a right-handed visiting pitcher walked a right-handed Brooklyn batter. Unsurprisingly, this not-too-uncommon scenario occurred twice that day. We are seeing one of the following two instances:

  • In the first game, in the bottom of the fifth, with Grover Land on first and Tom McGuire pitching, Tom Seaton walked.
  • In the second game, in the bottom of the fourth, with Steve Evans on first and Mike Pendergast pitching, Solly Hofman walked.

In hindsight, and from a practical point of view, it makes sense that Vitagraph would film on a day in which a doubleheader was scheduled. Why spend a day shooting just one game, when you can spend the same day shooting two?

In summary, “Hearts and Diamonds” featured three types of baseball footage, all shot at Brooklyn’s Washington Park: Scenes of fans in the stands, scenes of a fictional game, and scenes of a real game. Most, if not all, of the fan shots were taken on July 21, 1914, an open date on Brooklyn’s schedule. The fictional game footage was almost certainly shot on July 26, 1914, another opening date for the Tip-Tops. And the real game footage was filmed during the Chicago vs. Brooklyn doubleheader of July 25, 1914.