Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lillie Langtry at the Ball Game


In the summer of 2010, I had the pleasure of traveling to London to attend the opening of an exhibit at the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum. In touring the prestigious club, I entered a room dominated by a magnificent painting of a cricket match. It absolutely bowled me over (pun very much intended). What stunned me was not so much the image itself, but the feeling that I had seen it before, and yet I knew that I had not. After a brief moment, however, I realized why it looked so familiar. Let me start at the beginning. Or, rather, two-and-a-half years after the beginning ...

On a two-page spread in the August 31, 1889, issue of Harper’s Weekly you’ll find this gorgeous woodcut titled “A Collegiate Game of Base-Ball”:


"A Collegiate Game of Base-Ball"

Illustrated by Willard Poinsette Snyder, better known as W.P. Snyder, the image has been reproduced numerous times. But while the picture is a favorite of many baseball fans and historians (including myself), it has apparently never been researched to any extent.

Harper’s Weekly accompanied the illustration with an article by Charles Pike Sawyer, the sporting editor of the New York Evening Post. Titled “The Base-Ball Situation,” the article gave a brief synopsis of the baseball season through early August of 1889. Besides covering the major leagues and various minor leagues (but not college baseball), Sawyer devoted a paragraph to an organization known as the Amateur Athletic League (sometimes shortened to Amateur League), a mostly-forgotten association of four New York-area clubs: the Crescent Athletic Club, Orange Athletic Club, Staten Island Athletic Club, and Staten Island Cricket Club. (Yes, the Staten Island Cricket Club fielded a baseball nine.)

It should be noted that “amateur” did not mean that the players in the league weren’t talented athletes. Many were college athletes who could not accept remuneration lest they lose their amateur status. For example, the Orange Athletic Club featured a Yale pitcher named Amos Alonzo Stagg. Yes, the very same Amos Alonzo Stagg whose versatile and stellar career as both an athlete and a coach led him to enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame (both as a player and a coach) and the Basketball Hall of Fame. By the way, he also coached baseball at the University of Chicago for 19 years.


Amos Alonzo Stagg

According to Sawyer’s article, the Amateur Athletic League ...

is having a great battle for the championship, and the last game of the season will probably be played before a decision is reached. The two Staten Island clubs are having a contest for supremacy which is close and exciting, and as yet the winner is doubtful. That amateurs can play base-ball well was clearly shown when the two clubs met in a well-played game a short time ago. The day was clear and cool, and each man of the opposing nines was fit to do battle for his life. The grand stand was well crowded with people, and the cool bright dresses of the pretty girls, mingled with the light costumes of the cricket and tennis players, who had stopped their own play to watch the game, and here and there a bright blazer, and again dresses of a more sombre hue, all added to the beauty of the scene. Friends greeted friends as rivals on the ball field, and the merits of the players were discussed by both young men and maidens in a knowing way. For three hours the two nines struggled for supremacy, and when dark came neither side had been able to secure a run. The players fought well, and although neither team gained a victory, all had the satisfaction of knowing that they had taken in part in one of the best games of base-ball on record, amateur or professional.
This is the only paragraph in the article in which a particular game is discussed, and with Sawyer’s detailed descriptions of “the pretty girls,” the “blazers” and “dresses,” and the “beauty of the scene,” it seems safe to assume that Snyder’s woodcut was intended to depict this all-Staten Island contest. As such, it becomes clear that the word “Collegiate” in the title of the illustration was not meant to suggest that the scene portrayed a college baseball game, but rather a “collegial” match between amateur clubs. This particular baseball game between “the two Staten Island clubs” took place on July 20, 1889, with the Staten Island Cricket Club (SICC) hosting the Staten Island Athletic Club (SIAC).

An article in the November 1889 issue of Outing, a monthly sporting magazine, featured this photograph of members of the SICC:



Take a close look at the individual standing at top right. Now look at the young men in Snyder’s illustration who are standing near the grandstand, just below home plate. The cricket caps and blazers are remarkably similar. Could these be “the cricket and tennis players ... [who] had stopped their own play to watch the game?”

The September 1889 issue of Outing magazine covered the remarkable game between the SICC and the SIAC:

The most noteworthy event in the amateur arena up to August 1 was the remarkable game played at West New Brighton, Staten Island, on July 20, between the nines of the Staten Island Athletic Club and the Staten Island Cricket Club. The former had held a winning lead from the beginning of the season in the Amateur League pennant race, and they were regarded as sure victors on this occasion. To the delight of the Cricketers, however, after a battle lasting fifteen innings, the game had to be called on account of darkness, and during the contest not a run was scored on either side. We append the full score of this remarkable game, as it ranks among the best ever played by amateur nines, if not the best on record.

The 15-inning contest lasted just under three hours and both starting pitchers went the distance. Interestingly, both of these pitchers were Harvard men. James Alexander Tyng pitched for the SICC. A dozen years earlier, as a member of the Harvard nine, Tyng made his mark on the game by becoming the first player to wear a catcher’s mask. After making the switch to pitching, Tyng ultimately played a handful of games for the Boston and Philadelphia National League clubs. Pitching for SIAC club that day, Harry Wakefield Bates also twirled for Harvard, graduating in 1892.


James Alexander Tyng

Additionally, Henry Warner Slocum Jr., a Yale alum who played shortstop for the SICC, was a stellar tennis player, winning back-to-back titles at the U.S. National Men’s Singles Championships in 1888 and 1889. He is enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport, Rhode Island.


Henry Warner Slocum Jr.

The All-Staten Island game took place at the grounds of the SICC, located between Bard and Davis Avenues, Delafield Place and Livingston Court in northeast Staten Island. The location is now called Walker Park and still serves as the home grounds of the club. This park should not be confused with the more familiar St. George Grounds on Staten Island where the American Association New York Metropolitans played their home games in 1886 and 1887.



As there are limited contemporary descriptions of the SICC grounds, it is difficult to determine how accurate Snyder’s representation of the July 20, 1889, scene might be.  However, while it is known that the SICC grounds featured a grandstand, it seems unlikely that it was as substantial as that seen in the illustration.

In fact, the grandstand pictured has more in common with one located over 3,400 miles east of Staten Island ... at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London! That is because Snyder’s illustration is clearly a “baseballized” version of the painting I saw back in 2010. It hangs in the Writing Room at the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord’s.


Writing Room at the MCC

Painted by artists Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples and George Hamilton Barrable in 1887 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the MCC, the approximately 5½ foot by 10 foot picture is known by several names. According to the MCC Museum, it is titled “Imaginary Cricket Match: England v. Australia.” But most contemporary sources referred to it as “An Ideal Cricket Match.” No matter the name, the painting depicts a fictional match between elevens from England and Australia, along with numerous spectators of note.



According to the Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) Leader of February 12, 1887, the painting was described as follows:

The Englishmen are in. W. G. Grace and W.W. Read are at the wickets, and the former has hit one of Spofforth’s to the off. The ball having been saved at the boundary by Garrett, cover point, the batsmen are evidently in doubt about the practicability of a third run. The field has been carefully placed for the purposes of the picture by Spofforth himself, and while he has chosen the Australian team in conjunction with Scott and others, the English Eleven has been selected on the advice of Lord Harris, Messrs. V. E. Walker, L. D. Walker and other competent English judges. Half life sized portraits of the two elevens are introduced at the base of the picture in the pridella [sic], a method adopted by the early Italian Masters. The idea of the picture is due to Sir Coutts Lindsay, Bart., who proposes to hold a series of exhibitions in the chief capitals of Australia and New Zealand, for which purpose the ideal match has been painted. The artists, in a comprehensive view of Lord’s—giving full prominence, of course, to the pavilion—have introduced among the numerous spectators H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, with most of the principal representatives of the colonies in England, as well as a number of the chief notabilities of the cricket world, including the Earl of Bessborough, Sir Ponsonby Fane, treasurer of the Marylebone Club, Mr. V. E. Walker and others. The animation of the scene is increased by the charming toilettes of the ladies, among whom will be easily recognised some of our most popular English beauties. The picture is a graphic representation of our national game.
The Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) can be seen standing on the field at far right, the Princess carrying a white parasol. W.G. Grace, arguably the greatest cricketer of all time, is the bearded batsman at the wicket, looking on as his ball heads to cover point and is about to be fielded by Australia’s T.W. Garrett. All told, well over five dozen individuals, both on the field and in the stands, are identifiable. A key to the painting is in the collection at the MCC Museum.

Just when and how Snyder came to see the painting is a mystery. As noted in the story above, it originally toured Australia and New Zealand. Its whereabouts afterwards are a bit cloudy, but it was not until 1927 that the painting came to reside at the MCC. However, as a photogravure of the painting was produced by the international art dealer Goupil & Cie as early as March of 1887 (perhaps earlier), it seems likely that it was this version (titled simply "Australia v. England) that acted as the model for Snyder's work.


"Australia v. England" photogravure by Goupil & Cie

Clearly there are major differences between the Staples-Barrable painting and Snyder's illustration. Most significantly, Snyder has replaced the cricket pitch with a baseball diamond, he has eliminated Lord’s original pavilion (the large brick building seen at right), and he has removed the various buildings and stands in the background. However, the crowd in the foreground still contains many of the same individuals as seen in the cricket painting.



For example, in the original painting the woman at left who holds a note in her hand is Constance Gwladys Robinson, also known as Lady de Grey, close friend of the celebrated Australian opera singer Nellie Melba and the famous Irish writer Oscar Wilde. She is essentially identical to the woman in the Harper’s Weekly woodcut, though Snyder has added a pen to her hand, suggesting that perhaps she was keeping score.


Lady de Grey

Snyder also retained the woman in the extreme foreground at far right, Lady Hermione Wilhelmina Fitzgerald, the Duchess of Leinster. Note that her likeness in the cricket painting was almost assuredly based on a photograph taken at the studio of W. and D. Downey, who billed themselves as “Photographers by Special Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen.”


Lady Hermione Wilhelmina Fitzgerald

Of the dozen or so individuals who appear in both pictures, my favorite is the especially conspicuous woman wearing a yellow dress and red bonnet. Note that her attentions are far from the field of play, as she is practically facing the opposite direction.


Lillie Langtry

This woman is none other than Lillie Langtry, the celebrated beauty who went on to a successful career in the theater. She also happened to have had a three-year affair with Prince Albert ... the very top-hatted prince seen above and to the right of her in the Staples-Barrable painting. Perhaps she is deliberately looking away from him. Understandable, and yet it's too bad, because in either picture, she’s missing a heck of a ball game.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Babe Ruth Most Certainly Predicted That He'd Homer off Charlie Root at Wrigley Field


No doubt you’ve heard about Ruth’s “Called Shot” home run in the 1932 World Series. As a refresher, the Yankees faced the Cubs in that season’s Fall Classic and New York took the first two games at Yankee Stadium. At Chicago’s Wrigley Field for Game Three, New York and Chicago the Yankees came to bat in the top of the fifth inning with the score knotted at four runs apiece. With one out, Ruth stepped to the plate to face Cubs starter Charlie Root. After taking strike one, Ruth made some sort of gesture that even today remains the subject of much controversy. He then followed the motion with a homer to deep center field, giving the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish.



Just what was the gesture? Was Ruth pointing to the Cubs dugout, engaging with the Cubs players who had been riding him all game long? Was he motioning to Root, signifying that it would only take one mighty swing to break up the tie? Or did he point to Wrigley Field’s center field bleachers, claiming he’d deposit the next pitch in that very spot, and then make good on that promise?



Historians and fans have forwarded dozens of arguments for and against Ruth having called his shot. But what they (and you) might not know is that there is now definitive proof that the Bambino most certainly did predict he’d homer off Root ... some five years earlier. Here’s the story:

Following New York’s defeat of the Pirates in the 1927 World Series, Ruth and teammate Lou Gehrig spent the rest of October barnstorming across the country. During their tour, Ruth played for a team dubbed the “Bustin’ Babes,” while Gehrig starred for the “Larrupin’ Lous.” At each stop, local talent would fill out the rest of the two teams, a brilliant marketing and money-making concept devised by the headliners’ agent, Christy Walsh. The tour ran for 19 days, stopped in 20 cities, and staged 21 games. It remains one of the greatest barnstorming spectacles in baseball history and is the subject of an upcoming book by awarding-winning writer Jane Leavy and is due out in 2018.



Throughout the tour, Ruth and Gehrig generally played first base on their respective teams, but it was common for each of these sluggers to move to the pitcher’s mound when his counterpart came to bat. This way both stars were assured of getting good pitches to hit, which is what everyone at the park really wanted to see. It also helped avoid the risk of an overzealous local pitcher trying to upstage (or accidentally bean) a big league legend.

However, the second-to-last game of the tour, a much-anticipated October 30th contest at Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field, proved to be a bit different than most of the other tour games. For this contest, Gehrig would remain at first base, and Cubs pitcher Charlie Root (yes, that Charlie Root) would do the pitching for the “Larrupin’ Lous.” Root, a former pitcher with the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Angels, had just completed his second major league season, winning a National League-leading 26 games for the Cubs. Now he was scheduled to face the Bambino in front of a Los Angeles crowd.

 

When Ruth learned that he would be facing Root, the Babe wired to local organizers of the game that he was “glad you signed Root to pitch against me. Tell the fans for me that I’ll hit two home runs off Root or be disappointed.” This boast wasn’t a gesture that remains unclear today. And it isn’t mere speculation by modern-day historians. It’s a cold, hard fact and was printed in the Los Angeles Times a full three days before the game took place:


Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1927

So did Ruth back up his prediction? Alas, he did not. Facing Root for the first six innings of the game and former major league southpaw Red Oldham for the final three innings, Ruth went 1-for-5 with a first-inning double. Ruth had boldly predicted he’d clout two home runs against Root ... and failed.

But while Ruth fell short, Gehrig (sans braggadocio) rose to the occasion. In front of a crowd of over 25,000 fans that day (some reports estimate 30,000), it was Lou who hit a pair of home runs, as well as a double, all off Pacific Coast League pitcher Dick Moudy.

Case closed: Babe Ruth did boast that he'd hit a home run (actually two) off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root at Wrigley Field ... only it happened in 1927, in Los Angeles, and the Bambino failed to homer even once.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Devil and Frank Chance


The baseball photographs at the Explore Chicago Collections web site are wonderful. This is one of my favorites:


Collection ID: DN-0051624

What the Hell?

I first saw the photo around five years ago and my initial reaction was “What the hell?” And that has basically been my reaction every time I revisited the photo, as I tried to solve the mystery behind just what is going on. It has taken me a while to crack this nut, but here's what I've determined ...

The description at the Explore Chicago Collections web site states the photo depicts “Frank Chance, Cubs baseball player, standing with a person dressed in a devil’s costume on the field of the West Side baseball grounds.” There’s no question that the player is Cubs first baseman Frank Chance. And, while I’m not overly familiar with the devil, the fellow at right seems to fit the bill. But the ballpark doesn’t look to me like West Side Park, the Cubs home field from 1893 through 1915.

The Devil is in the Details

Take a close look and you’ll see that the devil and Frank Chance are standing in foul territory near first base. You can clearly see the first base line and the nearby three-foot first base line. Thus, the packed stands in the background are in right field. But no such stands ever stood in right field at West Side Park. In fact, right field at West Side Park featured a large wall behind uncovered, outfield bleachers. Here’s an example from the Explore Chicago Collections web site showing the outfield at West Side Park from 1906:


Collection ID: SDN-004890

Additionally, Chance is wearing a jersey with the word “CHICAGO” arched across the chest. But this style only matches jerseys worn by the Cubs from 1905 through 1907 on the road, as found in the uniform database at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's “Dressed to the Nines online exhibit.

1905:


1906:


1907:


All signs point to the photo having been taken on the road between 1905 and 1907, but where? The key clue is the seating area in the background. What park of this era featured this style of covered seating in right field?

The answer is Cincinnati’s League Park, often called “the Palace of the Fans.” Compare the photo of the devil and Frank Chance with this great image of the ballpark that the Reds called home from 1902 to 1911 (also found at the Explore Chicago Collections web site):


Collection ID: SDN-004288

And the same right field structure can be seen in the background of this postcard:



There’s no question that when Frank Chance met the devil, he did so in Cincinnati. But on what date did the get-together occur?

From 1905 through 1907, the Cubs played in Cincinnati a total of 33 times. But given the overflow crowd in right field, the only possible games are those in which the attendance numbered over 12,000: the seating capacity of the ballpark. Just four of the 33 games meet that criteria. Here are the dates and mentions of the attendance from reports in the following day's Cincinnati Enquirer:

  • April 30, 1905 – “It was another gorgeous crowd, officially announced by [Reds business Manager] Frank Bancroft as 13,658.”
  • April 12, 1906 – “Before 20,000 spectators, the largest crowd that ever attended the first game of the year in this city ....”
  • April 15, 1906 – “A lot of persons were more or less responsible for the sad ending of a very interesting struggle, which kept 13,000 people on the tip-toe of expectancy ....”
  • April 21, 1907 – “Yesterday's crowd, which was numbered close to 18,000 paid admissions, was by far the largest ever assembled at a ball game in this city.”

Speak of the Devil

A quick review of the newspaper coverage for these four games reveals the date the photo was taken: Opening Day in Cincinnati, April 12, 1906. As reported in the Pittsburgh Daily Post the following day:

When the Cubs came on the field, a party dressed as Mephistopheles rushed out on the diamond and presented Frank Chance with a magnificent floral star from his Cincinnati friends.
While I was able to determine the location (Cincinnati) and date (April 12, 1906) for the photo, I am left with one nagging question: For what possible reason did the “party” with the floral star dress up in a devil outfit?

Any ideas?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Photograph in a Photograph in the New York Times


Recently, my good friend Grace Richter alerted me to a brief story at mashable.com about photographer Marjory Collins’s visit to the New York Times in September of 1942. She was working for the Office of War Information at the time and tasked with photo-documenting how the famous newspaper made each issue. It’s a very cool look at just how complex it was to put together a newspaper some 75 years ago. Collins’s photos from the assignment can also be found at the Library of Congress's web site.

Here is one of Collins’s photographs:


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-fsa-8d22707

The photo’s caption at the Library of Congress web site reads: “Photo retoucher touching up a fashion photograph for Sunday paper.” But that’s not a fashion photo at all. It’s a shot of actress Ginger Rogers in the 1942 film “The Major and the Minor,” and it ran in the Screen, not the Fashion, section of the Times on Sunday, September 13, 1942. You can easily see it at the top right of the page:



Neat stuff, but I’m assuming that Grace really wanted to call my attention to a baseball picture found in this photograph that leads the Collins story at mashable.com:


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-fsa-8d22746

This photo’s accompanying caption reads “Composing room of the New York Times newspaper. Making up the sport page.” Indeed, that is just what’s happening. But in what issue of the Times did this page appear?

To find the answer, I first zoomed in on Collins’s photograph, distorted it slightly to correct for the keystoning effect, and finally flipped it left-to-right to get this image:



At the bottom of the page there is an image of a baseball:



Though it is a bit difficult to discern, the text inside the baseball reads “DOUBLE HEADER / YANKEES vs. PHILADELPHIA / At Yankee Stadium / TODAY 1:30 P.M.” As it turns out, the Philadelphia Athletics played three doubleheaders at Yankee Stadium in 1942: July 5, August 10, and September 7. A quick check of the sports sections of the New York Times from each of those dates provided a match to the page in question. It is page 23 of the September 7, 1942, issue of the paper:



And here’s a close-up of that little baseball at the bottom of the page:



Of course, it’s no surprise that the September date was the correct one, given that Collins’s assignment took place that month.

Now here’s a comparison of the cropped/de-keystoned/flipped version Collins’s photo and the actual newspaper page:



And here’s a closer look at the action photo at the top of the page:



The action took place in a September 6 doubleheader in which the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Giants in the first game, 6-2, but dropped the second contest, 4-2.

The title of the photo reads: “A HITTER AS WELL AS A PITCHER.” And the lower caption reads: “[Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher] Max Macon sliding into the bag for a double in the second inning of the first game at the Polo Grounds yesterday as [Giants second baseman] Mickey Witek takes the throw from right field. The umpire is George Barr.”

Macon was a good hitting pitcher. In fact, in 1944 he became a full-time position player with the Boston Braves. Splitting time between first base and the outfield, Macon batted .273: third best on the club. Military service during World War II forced him to miss the next two big league season (1945 and 1946) and he played just one more major league game, pitching the final two innings of a game against the Dodgers on April 17, 1947. The first batter Macon faced that day was a rookie named Jackie Robinson, playing in just his second big league game.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Portrait of Mickey Mantle in Decline


You’ve probably seen this iconic photo of Mickey Mantle before:



According to “Twilight of the Idol: A Portrait of Mickey Mantle in Decline,” a 2014 article by LIFE.com’s Ben Cosgrove:

The John Dominis picture ... remains not just one of the best photos of Mickey Mantle, and not just one of the finest baseball pictures to run in LIFE magazine, but one of the most powerful photographs ever made of a sports hero in decline. Shot during a meaningless game at Yankee Stadium during the team’s abysmal 1965 season—the Yankees finished below .500 for the first time in 40 years—Dominis’s picture of Mantle tossing his helmet in disgust after a lousy at-bat distills in a single frame the wounded pride of the inexorably fading athlete.
But exactly when was the photo taken? And was it actually “shot during a meaningless game?” I recently conducted research to answer both of these questions.

The photo, taken by longtime photojournalist John Dominis, was first published in the July 30, 1965, issue of LIFE magazine. Not only did the exterior of the magazine feature a beautiful shot of Mantle, but the cover story, written by John McDermott and titled “Last Innings of Greatness,” featured a dozen photos of Mantle, each taken by Dominis.



There’s no doubt that Dominis shot the photo of Mantle tossing his helmet in 1965 and specifically for the LIFE Magazine story, but most sources fail to give an exact date.

In a September 16, 2014, New York Post article about a lawsuit between Dominis’s ex-wife and his longtime mistress, reporter Julia Marsh stated that,

besides the July 30, 1965 Mantle shot, other notable Dominis photographs include the historic image of athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists to protest racism at the 1968 Olympics and the 1966 LIFE feature “The Great Cats of Africa.”
But here Marsh confuses the date that the Mantle photo was taken with the publication date of the LIFE Magazine in which it appeared.

And the Getty Image web site, where one can purchase the Mantle helmet-tossing photo, states that the picture was taken on June 25, 1965. A quick check reveals that the Yankees hosted the Angels at Yankee Stadium that day, but Mantle did not play in the game and the contest took place at night, while the photo clearly shows daytime action. Clearly June 25th, 1965, is also incorrect.

To determine the exact date the photo was taken, I jotted down four straight-forward clues:

1) The photograph had to have been taken in 1965 before the LIFE Magazine publication date of July 30.
2) The photograph was clearly shot during a day game.
3) The venue was most certainly Yankee Stadium.
4) Mickey Mantle participated in the game.

These four clues, as simple and obvious as they may seem, quickly winnowed the number of possible games in which the photo was taken from 104 (the number of games played by the Yankees from Opening Day through July 30, 1965) to just 26.

I discovered a critical fifth clue by closely examining an uncropped version of the photo:



Note that a large portion of the left-hand side of the photo was cropped when it ran in the LIFE magazine article. That portion shows that the on-deck batter wore uniform number 6. This was the number assigned to Yankees third baseman Clete Boyer from 1961 to 1966. Mantle is nearing the dugout when he tosses his helmet and yet Boyer is in the on-deck circle with two bats in hand. This means that Boyer’s spot in the lineup came after the batter who followed Mantle. For example, if Mantle batted third in the lineup, Boyer must have batted fifth; or, if Mantle batted fourth in the lineup, Boyer batted sixth; etc.

As it turns out, this Mantle-Boyer batting-order scenario was quite rare, as Mantle generally batted fourth and Boyer usually batted seventh or eighth. Nevertheless, I checked each of the 26 games that I had isolated from clues one through four to assess which featured the correct Mantle-Boyer positions in the lineup. This left me with just five possible games:

  • April 22 vs. Twins (Mantle bats fourth, Boyer sixth)
  • April 25 vs. Angels (Mantle bats fourth, Boyer sixth) (first game of doubleheader)
  • June 5 vs. White Sox (Mantle bats fourth, Boyer sixth)
  • June 19 vs. Twins (Mantle bats fifth, Boyer seventh)
  • June 20 vs. Twins (Mantle bats fifth, Boyer seventh) (first game of doubleheader)
(For those unconvinced that the photo reveals that Mantle and Boyer had a batter in between them in the lineup, I also checked to see if Boyer ever immediately followed Mantle in the lineup in those 26 games: It never happened.)

Finally, a sixth clue comes from the caption that accompanied the helmet-tossing photo as published in the LIFE Magazine article:

Frustration and bitterness are Mantle’s regular companions this season—and he displays them with passion. Before 72,000 fans in Yankee Stadium, he erupts after grounding out and striking out.



Yes, there were 72,000 fans at Yankee Stadium! Indeed, the photo shows that the grandstand behind Mantle is completely packed.

In 1965, there was just one date at Yankee Stadium that had an attendance anywhere near that mark: a June 20th doubleheader which drew 72,244 fans (71,245 paid). Indeed, from 1960 through 1965, Yankee Stadium had cracked the 60,000 attendance mark just four times, each date being a doubleheader:

  • July 24, 1960
  • July 4, 1961
  • June 17, 1962
  • June 20, 1965
So, with these six clues, I was able to isolate the date of the photo to just one possibility: the first game of a doubleheader played on June 20, 1965. In the first game of the doubleheader, Mantle had four plate appearances:

  • In the bottom of the first, with no outs, Mantle grounds into a fielder choice and reaches first base safely. After Joe Pepitone makes the second out, Clete Boyer hits a grounder to force Mantle at second base to end the inning.
  • In the bottom of the fourth, Mantle leads off and grounds out to the pitcher on an attempted bunt hit.
  • In the bottom of the sixth, Mantle leads off with a strikeout.
  • In the bottom of the seventh, Mantle singles to third base and is removed for a pinch-runner.
The first-inning scenario doesn’t match the photo, as Boyer would not have been in the on-deck circle when Mantle returned to the dugout and tossed his helmet. However, the other three at bats are possible matches, with Mantle returning to the dugout after making an out in the fourth and sixth, and Mantle leaving the game after singling in the seventh.

While the exact moment that Dominis took the photo remains a mystery, we now know that Dominis captured the frustrated Mantle in the first game of a doubleheader against the Twins on June 20, 1965.

Was it true that the photo had been “shot during a meaningless game?” Not at all. As reported in the New York Times on June 20:

For today’s double-header a crowd of more than 50,000 is expected. It will be “Bat Day.” Every child under 14 who is accompanied by an adult will get a Little League bat.
And here’s an ad from the same paper:



Indeed, June 20, 1965, was the first-ever “Bat Day” at Yankee Stadium.

On June 21, the New York Times published the following photo with a caption that read: “Young fans holding aloft bats they were given by the Yankees yesterday at the Stadium.”



Was this game meaningless for the many thousands of delighted kids who received free bats? Was this game meaningless for the many thousands of fathers who took their child(ren) to the park that day, which just happened to be Father’s Day? Was this game meaningless for many of the over 72,000 fans who are now able to say that they were at Yankee Stadium the very day that photographer John Dominis took one of the most celebrated photos in modern baseball history? I think not.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The First Bunt

On April 17, 2017, Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber made news by bunting. Yes, bunting. You can watch the video here.

Not only was this the first successful bunt of Schwarber's big league career, but it was one of the prettiest bunts I've seen in many, many years. It also reminded me of a discovery I made a few years ago: the first known instance of a bunt. Here's the scoop:

On June 29, 1860, the Atlantics and Putnams, two clubs from Brooklyn, faced one another in a game played at the corner of Lee Avenue and Hooper Street in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. In the second inning, with no one on, Putnam second baseman Edward Brown came to bat against Atlantics pitcher John Price. Here's the account of what happened next as published in the New York Clipper of July 14, 1860:



Here's a transcript:
A circumstance occurred in the 2d innings which we deem worthy of notice: Brown was at the bat, and Price pitched him a low ball, which, in bringing his bat down, Brown hit with the bat in a similar manner to that in which a cricketer blocks a straight ball; judgment was asked, and as the Umpire deemed it an accident, it was decided "no hit," but we think it should have been considered fair, for the reason, that had a player been on the first base at the time, he could easily have made his second base before the pitcher could have fielded it, and the decision may lead to similar accidents on other occasions when such play would have a more important bearing on the game. If, in the act of striking, the ball be hit forward of home base, however light the touch, it ought to be considered a fair ball, otherwise accidents similar to the above will be of frequent occurrence.
This description makes a few things quite clear.

First, Brown's actions were described in terms of cricket: "Brown hit with the bat in a similar manner to that in which a cricketer blocks a straight ball." Today, this would be a worthless explanation to Americans, as very few in our country are familiar enough with cricket to make the parallel. However, in 1860, cricket and baseball were both quite familiar to the sporting crowd, and so the description worked well.

This woodcut, published in The Boy's Book of Sports, Games, Exercises, and Pursuits (Frederick Warne and Co., London, 1869), shows a cricket batsman executing a "forward block," similar to the play made by Brown:



Second, Brown's actions were clearly unintentional. There was no one on base at the time of the play, so there was obviously no intent to sacrifice. And, as it was described as "an accident," Brown was also most certainly not looking to bunt for a base hit.

Third, the play was so bewildering to everyone involved, that the umpire ultimately decided that it should be considered "no hit." In other words, as kids today would say, it's a "do over."

And finally, no one at the game understood the potential of Brown's actions ... not even Brown himself. The fellow who did, and the one who should get credit for the concept of the sacrifice bunt, was the gentleman who wrote the account of the game in The New York Clipper. It was he who realized that by hitting the ball in the manner that Brown did, "had a player been on the first base at the time, he could easily have made his second base."

So, while Brown was the first player to bunt a ball, he was not the inventor of the bunt. That title should go to the very prescient sports writer and future Hall of Famer, Henry Chadwick.







Monday, January 16, 2017

Criss Cross

Well, it's happened again. I just finished watching the 1949 movie "Criss Cross," starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, and Dan Duryea (who had a small role in "The Pride of the Yankees," but that's another story), and darned if there isn't some baseball in the background.

For those who aren't aware, I've blogged about finding baseball in movies that basically have nothing to do with baseball a number of times. Feel free to read more:
In "Criss Cross," the first appearance of baseball occurs about half an hour into the film, when Steve Thompson (played by Lancaster) and Anna Dundee (played by De Carlo) meet in a drug store. As the two talk, one can see a cigarette advertisement in the background above and behind De Carlo (and through the haze of Lancaster's own cigarette). Here's a screen capture:



The ad is for Chesterfield Cigarettes, and features a slogan they copyrighted in April of 1948: "The Baseball Man's Cigarette." Here's what the actual ad looks like:



The captions for the six baseball men on the ad read as follows (clockwise from bottom left):
  • Bucky Harris, Manager of World's Champion New York Yankees
  • Boston Braves' Bob Elliott, Voted Most Valuable Player in the National League
  • Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox
  • Stan Musial, St. Louis Cardinals
  • Champion N.Y. Yankees' Joe DiMaggio, Voted Most Valuable Player in the American League
  • Ewell Blackwell, Cincinnati Reds
The movie was shot during the 1948 season, so these were great stars for Chesterfield to use. There's the manager of the Yankees, who won the 1947 World Series, as well as both MVPs from the season. Ted Williams and Stan Musial were perennial all-stars, so they were perfect choices to pitch the cigarettes. And while many of today's fans may not have heard of the final player, Ewell Blackwell was the brightest pitching star of 1947.

There was no Cy Young Award at the time, but had there been, Blackwell would have easily captured the 1947 version. Nicknamed "The Whip," the 6'6" sidearmer posted a mark of 22-8 with a 2.47 ERA for an otherwise forgettable Cincinnati Reds club that won just 77 games that season. Blackwell never did approach that kind of success again, as shoulder problems plagued him for the rest of his career. But in 1947, Blackwell was the tops.

Note, that the ad in the movie was slightly altered from the seen one above in two main ways:
  • the bottom portion, which features the famous "Always Buy Chesterfield" slogan, has been cropped out;
  • the pack of Chesterfield cigarettes in the center of the ad has been obscured by three packs of  cigarettes affixed to the front.
These alterations were clearly made so as to hide the manufacturer's name, both at the bottom of the advertisement and on the image of the cigarette pack at center. Here I've superimposed the color ad on the screen capture to highlight the similarities and alterations:



The ad shows up again at the end of the scene, this time over Lancaster's shoulder, as he and De Carlo talk near the entrance to the drug store



The ad is altered in the same fashion as the previous one. In fact, it may very well be the exact same prop, moved to a new location. Again, I've superimposed the color ad on the screen capture:



I consider this a major find, not because the baseball advertisement is significant in any way, but because I somehow managed to take my eyes off the incredibly gorgeous Yvonne De Carlo in order to stumble across the ad in the first place.

The very next scene in the movie also features some hidden baseball. This time, Lancaster is back at his mother's home, preparing to go out on a date. He talks with his mother and just as he is about to leave we see a framed photograph on the wall near his door. Here are two screen shots showing the photo:





And here are two details from the above shots:





The images are quite blurry, but I believe they both show a picture of a ballplayer (at right) posing with another person. Alas, I have been unable to make any headway in identifying this photo. Any ideas?