Thursday, April 1, 2021

Baseball in “Go, Dog. Go!”

Published in 1961, author/illustrator P.D. Eastman’s “Go, Dog. Go!” is a classic children’s book in Random House’s successful “Beginners Books” series. If you are not familiar with the book, I suggest you grab a copy or watch it being read on YouTube.

The plot is rather straightforward. A large number of different-sized, multicolored dogs participate in various activities, eventually ending up at a dog party (a big dog party) in a tree.

A scene and the accompanying text near the end of the book summarizes the story line quite well:

Big dogs, little dogs, red dogs, blue dogs, yellow dogs, green dogs, black dogs, and white dogs are all at a dog party!

Just over halfway through the book, we see three “dogs at work.”

A blue dog is using a shovel, a yellow dog with black spots handles a pickaxe, and a red dog operates a jackhammer.

On the very next page, Eastman deftly contrasts the dogs at work with three “dogs at play.”

Though not explicitly stated in the text, the dogs (one blue, one yellow, and one red) are clearly playing baseball.

Full-well understanding that this is a drawing, not a photograph, and thus the artist may have taken certain liberties in terms of historical accuracy, I decided to see what I could learn about this image.

First, as noted above, the book was published in 1961, so we know the action depicted could not have taken place after that year. Additional clues help further narrow down the possible years:

  • Chest protectors first appeared in baseball in the mid-1880s.
  • The five-sided home plate was not introduced until 1900.
  • Roger Bresnahan pioneered the use of shin guards for catchers beginning in 1907.

Roger Bresnahan Novelty Cutlery card, c. 1907

Thus, it seems most likely that the illustration shows action from a game played sometime between 1907 and 1961. However, we can learn more by noting the following:

  • The umpire is not wearing a mask.
  • The catcher’s mask is rather rudimentary.
  • None of the players are wearing uniforms.

In short, this was almost assuredly an amateur (or perhaps semi-pro) game.

At what ballpark did the action take place? Unfortunately, P.D. Eastman provides no clues, instead isolating the individuals from their surroundings in order to focus the reader’s attention on the action, rather than the locale.

Additionally, we must not ignore the “elephant in the room”: the fact that the umpire and players are dogs. Clearly this is an unusual circumstance. In fact, one would think that such a rare occurrence would be covered in newspapers of the era.

Alas, I was unable to find any mention of multiple dogs participating in a baseball game during the above time period. However, I did find reference to a dog playing baseball in the Miami News of October 15, 1948:


Clearly, however, this description does not match what we see in P.D. Eastman’s illustration.

What of the dogs themselves? Can they be identified?

The umpire is a blue dog and the batter is a yellow dog. Both are not wearing collars. A careful review of other pictures in the book does not appear to show any collarless dogs that match the above descriptions. Of course, the dogs may have removed their collars before participating in the game, and thus they may indeed appear elsewhere in the book. But why would they not sport their collars while playing baseball when they are clearly seen wearing them “at work” (see image above), “going around in cars,” and “at a dog party?” I find it more likely that the umpire and catcher either do not appear elsewhere in the book or P.D. Eastman has simply overlooked illustrating the collars.

As for the right-handed batter (a red dog with a yellow collar), we see three such dogs early in the book as they manage to escape from a hedge maze. Additionally, similar dogs appear elsewhere in the book: “on a blue tree,” “in a house on a boat the water,” “going around,” etc.

In short, there is little hope of identifying the umpire, catcher, or batter.

Finally, while the umpire wears a traditional black cap, what can be made of the caps worn by the players? Both the catcher’s red cap and the batter’s blue cap appear to have no distinctive features, no pinstripes, and no team logos. All we can say for certain is that they are indeed baseball caps, not party hats.