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.


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