September 2012

Lost (and Found) Baseball, Part 2

This continues from yesterday’s post (below this one). Happily, a number of baseball films have been restored—and a case study of one such repair involves Headin’ Home.For years, this film existed in bits and pieces similar to the eight-minute excerpt found in the UCLA Film & Television Archive. A truncated, feature-length VHS tape with blurry visuals was available for purchase from Grapevine Video, a company that specializes in marketing public domain silent films. Meanwhile, Minnesota-based film archivists Ted Larson and Harold “Rusty” Casselton spent years piecing together, from a range of sources, a nearly complete 16mm print. This version, running 73 minutes, was screened at a number of venues, including New York’s Film Forum (on February 6, 1995, as part of the Bambino’s 100th birthday celebration); Cinefest (a festival of old films held each March in Syracuse, New York); and the Louisville Bat Museum, during the Society for American Baseball Research’s annual convention. The VHS tape shown at the SABR screening looked so pristine that some audience members assumed they were viewing a newly struck 16mm print.

Artistically speaking, Headin’ Home is not a silent screen classic on the order of King Vidor’s The Crowd, F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, or any number of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd comedies. But its historical value is unmistakable. For one thing, it offers a portrait of Ruth (whose on-screen character is known simply as “Babe”) at a time when his hardscrabble background and off-screen carousing was not yet public knowledge. Thus, he could be believably cast (as he is in Headin’ Home) as a clean-living, mother-loving, all-American boy who is the product of an idyllic small-town America. But there is another aspect to the film that resonates today. “I just remember thinking the first time I saw it that, when you think of Babe Ruth, you think of the image of a ballplayer who is older and heavier,” explained Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein. “But the film is a reminder that, when he [appeared in] it in 1920, he already was a national figure. He was young and thin, and he already was a superstar.”

The manner in which the Headin’ Home restoration came about is reflective of the manner in which “lost” films are found and refurbished. Casselton recalled that, in 1993, he

received a call from a friend in Arizona about a woman who had a nitrate feature in her front closet. She had inherited the film from her father, and he always told her that it was very special because it starred “Baby Ruth.” The Arizona print had no title and was brittle from age. The film was distributed on a states rights basis [meaning that it did not have national distribution; instead, regional distributors purchased licenses from its producer to screen the film], and this print had been edited to remove references of bootlegging and illegal drinking.

The film’s preservation was funded in conjunction with Goldstein and Collector’s Sportslook, a magazine. Once the monies were in place, Casselton and Larson rolled up their sleeves. Casselton continued:

I ended up tracking down a second nitrate print from a collector in Connecticut. The “Connecticut” print had an original main title and a total of nine other inserts that had been cut out of the “Arizona” print. It was, however, missing the last five minutes, and [there were] gaps throughout in the general continuity. I [was] aware of yet another source for material on the film. Many years ago, a company released in 16mm a very substantial print of the film. There certainly would be no use for that material except for the fact that it had one more scene that was still missing from the composite master. I tracked down the negative for that print, but the owner would not cooperate and make the scene available to be incorporated into the restoration print. The scene is near the end of the film, when Babe goes home to visit his sweetheart. The girl’s father now accepts Babe and they leave the room. At this point the print cuts and what is missing is a scene with Babe and the father in the basement with a still having a good old time. I guess this leaves the current print as a restoration project in progress. Someday, it will be completed. 

Years later, in April 2006, a 35mm restoration of Headin’ Home—this one running 50 minutes—was screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as part of “Baseball and American Culture,” a 12-film series organized by Dr. Carl E. Prince, former chairman of the history department at New York University, and Charles Silver, a curator in MOMA’s Department of Film.This version was described in the New York Times as “a rare, freshly restored silent.” According to the New York Daily News, it was restored by Silver “to 35mm format from multiple reels. ‘Charles is a wizard,’ says Prince. ‘[The film] hasn’t been seen in over 80 years. It’s about home, mother and apple pie—it’s just wonderful.'”

Prince’s words are surprising … and misleading. It was as if the Grapevine Video version of Headin’ Home never existed—let alone the Larson-Casselton restoration.  

Regarding the manner in which the print screened at the Museum of Modern Art came into being, Peter Williamson, MOMA’s preservation officer, reported that the Museum “copied a nitrate print of HH—it was in terrible shape, so it took much longer than usual to repair just so we could get it through the printer. I don’t know where the nitrate came from, but I suspect it is the source for all the various releases over the years.”

As for the length of the MOMA print, Williamson added,

Running time for a silent film depends on the projector. If it can only run at sound speed, the action might look too fast, but put it on a variable speed projector and slow it down so people move naturally, then the same length of film will take longer to project. An hour of sound speed film could run 75 minutes if you slow it down to 17 or 18 fps [frames per second]. Whatever the running time, we got five very full reels of film. Is it complete? Well, the AFI [American Film Institute] catalog says it could be five reels, or it could be six reels. One person thought there was a jump in continuity, so we could be missing a reel, but who knows?

One never can tell where or when a nitrate print of a vintage film may turn up. “A man came by here a few years ago with an original nitrate print of Babe Ruth in ‘Heading Home’ [sic],” recalled Janice Allen of Cinema Arts, Inc., a specialist in film restoration. (Allen also oversees John E. Allen, the motion picture stock footage library.) “We cleaned it and I think [I] looked at it with him on our scanner.” Allen reported that the print was sold “by an auction house in Chicago, it went for about $35,000 for five or six reels, not bad.”

Of the other early baseball features that exist, perhaps the most intriguing (beyond Headin’ Home) is One Touch of Nature—if only because it features John McGraw. For years, researchers could view a complete print of this title in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress. An 18-minute excerpt is on the Reel Baseball DVD, along with the Larson-Casselton Headin’ Home restoration, a 55-minute version of The Busher, and the previously mentioned short subjects and baseball film fragments. (One of the films that Jessica Rosner wished she could have included in Reel Baseball is a remake of The Pinch Hitter [1925, Associated Exhibitors]; but alas, this version, starring Glenn Hunter, is no longer in existence.) 

If such films as Right Off the BatSomewhere in Georgia, and The Pinch Hitter remake remain “lost,” one-sheet posters, insert posters, lobby cards, stills, press materials, and other production items are extant—and often are found in auction catalogs and special collections in libraries and archives. One example: In August 2002, Hunt Auctions offered what it described as a “rare 1915 Mike Donlin ‘Right Off The Bat’ movie poster.” The 28-by-42-inch piece was a “color lithographic poster featuring Donlin standing alongside [a] woman under [a] tree with foliage in [the] background. Retains beautiful original color with only light original vertical and horizontal folds backed on linen. Titling at bottom includes mention of the other star of the film, John J. McGraww….” The estimated price for the poster was $3,500-$4,500. The sale price was $5,000.

Somewhere in Georgia was the first and only production of the Sunbeam Motion Picture Corporation, and was distributed on a states rights basis. In its June 2009 catalog, Lelands.com listed what it labeled “a never seen before item that will probably never [be] seen again.” Up for bidding was a lot consisting of two Sunbeam Motion Picture Corporation stock certificates (dated 1916 and 1917); a Sunbeam brochure; several letters, one of which described the selling of screening rights to the film in New England; and a set of eight double-sided 8-by-10 inch Somewhere in Georgia lobby cards. Seven featured Ty Cobb. Lelands offered the entire lot for a $10,000 reserve.

Also in 2009, Robert Edward Auctions put up for bidding a large (10.5-by-13.5-inch) publicity photo, taken in 1920, of Babe Ruth striking a batting pose on the Polo Grounds turf. The still is not related to Headin’ Home because the Bambino is in his Yankees uniform. But his face is covered in white pancake makeup, and the photo more than likely was taken in conjunction with Play Ball with Babe Ruth (1920, Universal), a short instructional film. As noted in the Robert Edward Auctions catalog, “We can only speculate, based on the size and unrivaled quality of the print, that this was produced for promotional theater display or as a special presentation piece for those involved with the film in some significant manner.” The starting bid was $2,500. The sale price: $8,813.

Occasionally, Headin’ Home-related memorabilia surfaces. On two occasions, in 2006 and 2009, Heritage Auction Galleries offered what it described as a “1920 Babe Ruth Signed Tex Rickard ‘Headin’ Home’ Card.” (Rickard then was famed as a boxing promoter and it was through him that Headin’ Home was booked into Madison Square Garden, where it made its world premiere.) On the front of the cigarette-sized card is a black-and-white photo of the Bambino gripping a bat. “BABE RUTH IN ‘HEADIN’ HOME” is printed in white near the bottom—and the card is autographed by the Sultan of Swat. The following is printed on the back: “Here he is BABE RUTH / Colossus of the swat / The home run king in a gripping base ball storm ‘HEADIN HOME’ / Sidney Lust’s LEADER THEATER / First showing in Washington. One week only / Starting Sunday, May 9 at 3 P.M.” In 2006, the card sold for $5,676.25. Three years later, it was re-auctioned. This time, the winning bid was $8,962.50.

In 2004, Heritage also auctioned two similar cards, albeit unsigned, featuring Ruth in different poses. However, these cards were from the New York premiere. The following is printed on the backs of each: “COMPLIMENTS OF TEX RICKARD PRESENTING THE FIRST SHOWING IN THE WORLD OF BABE RUTH IN ‘HEADIN’ HOME’ A DELIGHTFUL 6-ACT PHOTO PLAY AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN 8 DAYS STARTING SUNDAY EVENING, SEPT. 19TH” One sold for $1,075.50. The price of the other was $2,031.50.

The Babe Comes Home may be a missing film, but quite a few lobby cards, one-sheet posters, and insert posters have turned up across the years—and are worth top-dollar. Sometimes, such material is unearthed in the most unusual locations. For instance, two 14-by-36-inch movie poster inserts from the film were discovered in 2006 in the interior wall of a home that was being renovated. They featured an image of the Bambino at bat and head shots of Ruth and co-star Anna Q. Nilsson bursting out of a baseball. Both were offered for bidding respectively in 2006 and 2007 by Robert Edward Auctions. It was noted in the 2007 auction catalog that the posters “were among a significant group of 1920s movie posters which had been used as insulation in the walls of the home during its construction. What makes this discovery all the more significant is the fact that the existence of the insert was completely unknown.”

A smattering of materials related to the early one- and two-reelers also exist—and occasionally, their origins are cloaked in mystery. For example, in 2004, Robert Edward Auctions sold a set of five lobby cards from Spring Fever, a Honus Wagner short that the auction house reported as being released in 1919. Wagner appears in three of the five; on them, he is identified as “Hans Wagner.” “Filmgraphs” is cited as the film’s releasing company; however, it should be noted that the company name is an addition, a photographed overlay. The cards were part of the Hall of Famer’s estate and were put up for auction by his granddaughter, Leslie Blair Wagner.

To be sure, Spring Fever is a curio—and not just because it features Wagner in a rare screen appearance. As described in the auction catalog,

In Spring Fever Honus Wagner teaches a young boy the skill of batting. Incredibly, the young boy in the film was Moses Horowitz [sic], who later became very well known as Moe Howard, of the Three Stooges. The cast of Spring Fever also included Moe’s brother, Shemp Howard. Now really, we must pause for a moment, to contemplate the fact that the great Honus Wagner actually starred in a movie with two future members of the Three Stooges, long before this comedy team’s formal debut.

The opening bid for the set was $500. The sale price: $1,495. (Moe’s and Shemp’s birthname was in fact Horwitz, rather than Horowitz; meanwhile, Shemp later appeared opposite Dizzy and Paul Dean in Dizzy & Daffy [1934, Warner Bros.], a two-reel comedy in which he plays a half-blind hurler who quips, “The only Dean I ever heard of is Gunga.”)

The whereabouts of any existing print of Spring Fever, the actual year in which it was made, and the possibility that it originally was released under a different title remain unanswered questions—as is the breadth of Wagner’s screen career. Apparently, late in life—he passed away in 1975, at age 77—Moe Howard claimed to have appeared with Wagner in 12 short films. All supposedly were made in the early 1920s, a “fact” that is casually noted in a number of Three Stooges histories. “Besides stage work,” according to The Three Stooges Scrapbook, authored by Jeff and Greg Lenburg and Moe’s daughter, Joan Howard Maurer, “Moe also appeared in 12 two-reel shorts with baseball great Hans Wagner.” However, as noted on a post on the Three Stooges.net Forum, made by “BeAStooge” on November 4, 2005, “In the early ’90s at one of the Philadelphia [Three Stooges] Conventions, Joan Howard told me she did not know where the Lenburgs got that information; as co-author, it did not come from her, and she was not aware of anything in her father’s papers that may have sourced the information.” Then in The Three Stooges, Amalgamated Morons to American Icons: An Illustrated History, Michael Fleming reported that a “series of twelve two-reel silent sports comedies [were] filmed outside Pittsburgh. The result: it’s a good thing Wagner could hit a curveball. He won five batting titles for Pittsburgh but was not Oscar material. ‘I think,’ said Moe, ‘that perhaps they made banjo picks out of the [films].'” No detailed production information is cited in either book, and no record of their existence is found in the standard film history sources. (For the record, Wagner in fact copped eight batting crowns.)

The Wagner/Three Stooges connection remains an enigma to Three Stooges experts. “It has been written in the past that Moe and Shemp starred with Honus Wagner in the Spring Fever short and that Moe starred with him in 12 shorts,” explained Wil Huddleston of C3 Entertainment, which owns The Three Stooges brand and sponsors the team’s official website. “As to which ones, I am not sure. Unfortunately, I do not have any way of confirming this because we do not have those shorts available to us.”

Regarding Spring Fever, other sources—for example, the first edition of Total Baseball and Arthur D. Hittner’s Honus Wagner: The Life of Baseball’s “Flying Dutchman”—report that Wagner made the film in 1909 for the Vitagraph Studios. According to Total Baseball, “the movie showed Honus Wagner teaching a little boy the art of batting.” Hittner noted that the film “featured the famous ballplayer delivering batting tips to a young boy, played by Moses Horwitz.” Lending this credence is the fact that Horwitz/Howard was born in 1897; by 1919, he no longer was a “little” or “young” boy. Furthermore, the Vitagraph studio was located in Brooklyn—and the Horwitz brothers were born and raised in Brooklyn.

As listed in The American Film Institute Catalog, Film Beginnings, 1893-1910,Vitagraph released over 175 short films in 1909. None is titled Spring Fever, and most are long lost. So perhaps the Spring Fever lobby cards are connected to the film’s retitling for re-release. Adding to the confusion is another 1919 short with the same title, this one a Harold Lloyd comedy. But the existence of the lobby cards is proof positive that Wagner did appear in a movie that at one time was marketed under the title Spring Fever.

If the Spring Fever lobby cards and other original artworks are too pricey for those wishing to collect baseball film memorabilia, inexpensive reproductions (particularly of lobby cards and posters) are available from a range of venues. An additional source for vintage images is the display advertising found in newspaper archives. For instance, a nifty line drawing of a very recognizable Babe Ruth adorns an advertisement for the Madison Square Garden premiere of Headin’ Home that appeared in the New York Times on September 19, 1920. In the ad, the film is hyped as “A Delightful Photoplay of Youth and Happiness.”

Such ads do not just appear in “big city” papers. A head-to-toe shot of Charles Ray, garbed in a baseball uniform, dominates the display ads for The Busher printed in the Sandusky (Ohio) Star Journal and Sandusky Register in late August and early September, 1919. A non-baseball-oriented ad featuring a headshot of Ray, toplining The Pinch Hitter, appears in the June 27, 1920, Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal-Gazette; at this juncture, Ray was a major film star, and such an image was deemed sufficient to attract ticketbuyers. Simple, no-frills ads for Right Off the BatSomewhere in Georgia, and One Touch of Nature respectively appear in theJanuary 22, 1916 issue of the Janesville (Wisconsin) Daily Gazette, the September 16, 1917 Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun, and the January 2, 1918 Freeport (Illinois) Journal-Standard. Similar ads for The Busher appear in the June 29, 1919 Lowell Sun and August 27, 1920 Charleston (Virginia) Daily Mail.

While such visuals may fascinate collectors, fans, and historians, the question remains: Will material from Right Off the Bat, Somewhere in Georgia, The Babe Comes Home, and the missing shorter films ever be unearthed? One never can tell.

For one thing, prints or even negatives may be languishing in foreign film archives. In 2008, a cache of eight American newsreels, trailers, promotional films, and documentaries was uncovered in Australia’s National Film and Sound Archives. One was Screen Snapshots (1925, Columbia), one in a series of documentary short subjects produced between 1924 and 1958, in which film stars are pictured playing baseball. The following year, while vacationing in New Zealand, Brian Meacham, a film preservationist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, visited the country’s film archive and inadvertently came upon dozens of long-lost U.S.-made features, short films, and trailers dating from 1898 to the 1920s. The highlights included Upstream, a 1927 feature directed by John Ford; Maytime, a 1923 Clara Bow drama; and the earliest surviving film directed by and starring Mabel Normand. The films, some of them shrunken or in varying degrees of decay, are set to be preserved and eventually screened.

Not surprisingly, Babe Ruth was one of the most frequently photographed sports heroes of his era. Moving images of the Bambino on the ballfield, waving his bat as he waits for a pitch and then smashing dingers and waddling around the bases abound in Ken Burns’ Baseball. So are shots of him chopping wood, kibitzing with kids, playing with his young daughter and some puppies, and standing on a window ledge while autographing baseballs and tossing them to the masses below. There even is footage of a pre-1920 Ruth, in his pre-New York days. One of the most endearing (culled from John E. Allen) dates from 1919 and features the Babe, in a Red Sox uniform, playfully emerging from behind a door and joking with a woman.

But not all Babe Ruth footage has been found and archived; far from it. One of the more impressive recent discoveries came in 2011, when it was announced that eight reels of 16mm film had been unearthed in an Illinois cellar. The footage included three-and-a-half minutes of the Bambino and Lou Gehrig, reportedly taken with a home movie camera in Sioux City, Iowa, on October 18, 1927, during a barnstorming tour. The New York Times reported that this discovery “might be unlike any other, showing Ruth in his prime and shot from close range, sitting atop a pony while wearing a child’s cowboy hat and muttering into a home movie camera, as a boyish Lou Gehrig, who never had children and was known for his dignified demeanor, held children and framed his smile with big dimples.” An unnamed antiques dealer bought the lot in an estate sale. He, in turn, sold the reels to R.C. Raycraft, an Illinois antiques dealer and producer of law enforcement videos.

Another recent Babe Ruth discovery consists of eight seconds of the Bambino patrolling right field in the House That Ruth Built, along with additional seconds in which he expresses his opinion to an umpire after striking out and summarily heads away from home plate, with Lou Gehrig on deck. This footage, which reportedly dates from 1928, also includes views of the ball yard. It was taken from the first -base stands in Yankee Stadium and was discovered in a home movie collection in New Hampshire. The outfield footage reportedly is the only one of its kind. No known footage exists of Ruth tossing pitches in a Boston Red Sox uniform.

Additional recent finds include what reportedly is a 1924 instructional film featuring Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Ty Cobb and a kinescope of the television broadcast of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series pitting the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates (which ended with Bill Mazeroski’s legendary game-winning dinger). The latter was discovered in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar.

Despite the unearthing of these gems, what remains lost is unimaginable and incalculable. Granted, one easily can compile a list of all early baseball-related films and newsreels and determine which are missing. But it would not be possible to verify all the baseball-related footage, taken by amateur cinematographers, of everything from major and minor league teams and games to regional semi-pro nines to youngsters pitching and catching in schoolyards.

That being said, other similar discoveries invariably will be made in the future. One never knows if—or when— fragments or complete prints of Right Off the Bat or Somewhere in Georgia might be discovered resting unobtrusively in a corner in an archive in Europe, South America, or Australia, or covered in decades’ worth of nitrate dust in grandma’s attic.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Audrey Kupferberg; John Thorn; Janice Allen of Cinema Arts, Inc. and John E. Allen; Tim Wiles of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum; Peter Williamson and Charles Silver of the Museum of Modern Art; Bruce Goldstein of Film Forum; John Scheinfeld; Jessica Rosner; the late Harold “Rusty” Casselton; Wil Huddleston of C3 Entertainment.

Lost (and Found) Baseball

Once again I am pleased to give Our Game over to one of my friends and esteemed colleagues, Rob Edelman. In two parts, this accomplished film historian will share with the readers of Our Game a splendid essay he contributed to the Fall 2011 edition of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game. Edelman is the author of Great Baseball Films and Baseball on the Web. His film/television-related books include Meet the Mertzes, a double-biography of I Love Lucy’s Vivian Vance and fabled baseball fan William Frawley, and Matthau: A Life—both co-authored with his wife, Audrey Kupferberg. He is a film commentator on WAMC (Northeast) Public Radio and a Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. His byline has appeared in Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond, Total Baseball, The Total Baseball Catalog, Baseball in the Classroom: Teaching America’s National Pastime, The Political Companion to American Film, and dozens of other books. He authored an essay on early baseball films for the DVD Reel Baseball: Baseball Films from the Silent Era, 1899-1926, and has been a juror at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual film festival. He is a lecturer at the University at Albany, where he teaches courses in film history.

Lost (and Found) Baseball

Rob Edelman

A gloomy fact of film history is that more than half the movies made during the silent film era (pre-1927) are lost—vanished into the mists with the passing generations.

One of the culprits is the evolution of film technology. For decades, prints and master materials of films were generated on nitrocellulose film stock, which deteriorates over time. Across the years, archivists have recovered “lost” films in rotting film cans that were hidden away under piles of boxes in grandma’s attic or deep in the bowels of motion picture studio storage facilities. When a can was pried open—if it could be pried open—all that remained was its contents in various stages of corrosion. The chemically deteriorating celluloid may have become sticky, or even solidified into a mass, or was coated in varying amounts of nitrate dust. Some images still could be seen and identified while those on other frames simply had dissolved.

Beyond the issues relating to the longevity of film stock, another practical reality of motion pictures comes into play here. One can view a film as a reflection of history or a mirror of the era and culture that produced it. One also can view a film as a work of art. However, an unavoidable fact of the film industry is that a moving image (whether it was made by a major Hollywood studio, a poverty-row studio, an independent outfit, or a producer of newsreels) is a product, no different from an automobile churned out in Detroit or a keg of beer from Milwaukee. Unless they are home movies shot by amateur camerapersons or non-narrative films, moving images are made strictly for commercial purposes, to be marketed to the public with the expectation that they will turn a profit. Furthermore, in the pre-television/pre-VHS/pre-DVD era, a film that had completed its theatrical play was the equivalent of yesterday’s newspaper. Simply put, it was old news. Beyond the reissue of a popular hit, there were no existing venues in which films could be repackaged and resold. So they often were discarded—tossed into a dumpster along with last night’s stale fish and rotting vegetables.

Some enterprising souls—for example, the powers who worked for Walt Disney—realized that, even theatrically, a film did not have to be the equivalent of a Gone with the Wind to be recycled every few years and marketed to new audiences. This was logical, particularly with regard to the children’s films produced by Disney. Every few years, a fresh generation of kids was ripe for introduction to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Snow White. As a result, before it became stylish (not to mention profitable), Disney took extra-special care to preserve its product.

That studio was not the first to grasp the concept of remarketing its product. In 1925, Eastman Kodak established the Kodascope Library, which rented 16mm versions of popular films to institutions and private collectors for noncommercial screenings. Kodascope features generally were edited down to between four and five reels (with one full reel lasting approximately eleven minutes) and were sepia or amber-tinted, while short films usually were unedited. While in business, the Kodascope Library marketed more than 700 films. Many exist to this day, and are coveted by film collectors.

But such was not the case pre-1920. As a result, an immeasurable number of moving images from that era exist only in faded memory.

To be sure, a handful of baseball-related feature-length films were produced before 1920. Those that are considered “lost” include Right Off the Bat (1915, Arrow), starring Mike Donlin; Somewhere in Georgia (1916, Sunbeam), featuring Ty Cobb; and Casey at the Bat (1916, Triangle), with DeWolf Hopper—not to be confused with a 1922 DeForest Phonofilm which utilizes the sound-on-film technology developed by Theodore Case and features a hammy Hopper reciting the poem that earned him immortality. Of the early non-baseball films in which ballplayer-turned-actor Donlin appeared, prints exist only for Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1917, States Rights); copies of Jack Spurlock, Prodigal (1918, Fox), Brave and Bold (1918, Fox), and The Unchastened Woman (1918, Rialto De Luxe-George Kleine System) all have vanished.  

Other missing features peripherally deal with ballplayers and ballgames. The titles listed under the headings “Baseball” and “Baseball players” in the subject index of The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1911-1920 are: The Grandee’s Ring (1915, Interstate); Little Sunset (1915, Bosworth-Paramount), which, at four reels, straddles the line between short and feature and includes in its cast “members of the Pacific Coast League’s Venice team”; The Stolen Voice (1915, William A. Brady); The Varmint (1917, Morosco-Paramount); The Final Close-Up (1919, Famous Players-Lasky); Better Times (1919, Brentwood); The Greater Victory (1919, B.P.O.E.-Arrow); and Muggsy (1919, Triangle). Feature-length documentaries whose status is classified as “unknown” include The Giants-White Sox World Tour (1914, Eclectic Film Co.), a six-reel record of the New York Giants-Chicago White Sox 1913-1914 trip around the world, which includes moving images of John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, Charles Comiskey, Germany Schaefer, Hans Lobert, and others; and The Baseball Revue of 1917 (1917, States Rights), five reels in length, which features footage of a couple dozen ballplayers from Grover Cleveland Alexander and Home Run Baker to Ed Walsh, Smoky Joe Wood, and Heinie Zimmerman.

Meanwhile, prints of varying lengths and quality exist for such baseball features as The Pinch Hitter (1917, Triangle) and The Busher (1919, Famous Players-Lasky), both starring Charles Ray; One Touch of Nature (1917, Edison), featuring John Drew Bennett and John McGraw; and Headin’ Home (1920, Yankee Photo Corp./States Rights), Babe Ruth’s first non-fiction film. (Of all the “lost” silent-era features, perhaps the most coveted is The Babe Comes Home [1927, First National],  also starring the Bambino.) The Pinch Hitter is one of the few baseball titles marketed by the Kodascope Library. But it is an abridged version. According to the aforementioned American Film Institute Catalog, the film runs 4,768 feet. In the third edition of the Descriptive Catalogue of Kodascope Library Motion Pictures, published in 1928, the film is listed as being “3960 feet standard length—on 4 reels.”

Of the one- and two-reelers produced prior to 1920 that are labeled as “missing,” some of the more fascinating feature big-name big leaguers. Such a list begins with two films starring Rube Waddell: Rube Waddell and the Champions Playing Ball with the Boston Team (1902, Lubin) and Game of Base Ball (1903, Lubin). Other titles include Hal Chase’s Home Run (1911, Kalem); The Baseball Bug (1911, Thanhouser), featuring Chief Bender, Jack Coombs, Cy Morgan, and Rube Oldring; Baseball’s Peerless Leader (1913, Pathé), with Frank Chance; Breaking Into the Big League (1913, Kalem), featuring Christy Mathewson and John McGraw; The Universal Boy (1914, Independent Motion Picture Company), also with McGraw; and Home Run Baker’s Double (1914, Kalem). One unusual title is Baseball: An Analysis of Motion (1919, Educational), described on the Silent Era website as “a slow-motion study of baseball players.” The titles of quite a few others begin with the word “baseball”: The Baseball Fan (1908, Essanay); Baseball, That’s All! (1910, Méliès); The Baseball Star from Bingville (1911, Essanay); Baseball and Bloomers (1911, Thanhouser); The Baseball Umpire (1913, Majestic); Baseball, A Grand Old Game (1914, Biograph); Baseball and Trouble (1914, Lubin); The Baseball Fans of Fanville (1914, Universal); and Baseball at Mudville (1917, Selig Polyscope). The status of all the films in the Universal-produced “Baseball Bill” comedy series remains unknown; the films starred Billy Mason and first were released in 1916. Other missing titles include everything from Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1910, Essanay); Slide, Kelly, Slide (1910, Essanay); and Spit-Ball Sadie (1915, Pathé)also known as Lonesome Luke Becomes a Pitcher; to The Fable of the Kid Who Shifted His Ideals to Golf and Finally Became a Baseball Fan and Took the Only Known Cure (1916, Essanay).

Savvy baseball historians may list their most sought-after “lost” films—or, for that matter, images that likely never even were recorded. One is Tim Wiles, Director of Research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, co-author of Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan. While researching his book, Wiles learned of the existence of the 1910 Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which was made by G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, one of the movies’ first cowboy heroes, and tells of a baseball nut who manages to forget his wife at the ballpark. According to Wiles,

While the film does not survive, there was a review of it in one of the early film publications—Moving Picture World. We ran the review as an illustration [in] the book. Also … we report that Anderson filmed part of a 1908 White Sox-Highlanders game at Chicago’s South Side park. Would love to see that, but beyond that, according to David Kiehn’s book on Broncho Billy, Anderson also signed a contract, presumably with the NL and AL, to film the World Series for 1908, ’09, and ’10. How would you like to watch the Cubs’ last World Series in 1908, Cobb’s Tigers, Wagner’s Pirates, and Connie Mack’s A’s play in the World Series? I sure would. To my knowledge, none of that footage survives.

Meanwhile, a relatively small number of pre-1920 baseball shorts and film oddities are known to exist—some in their entirety, others in fragments. Included here are one- and two-reelers and footage shot for early newsreels or by individuals with home movie cameras. The vast majority of the baseball footage housed in the UCLA Film & Television Archive is post-1920—and post-silent film era. Early moving images in this collection include shots of “Mr. and Mrs. Babe Ruth handing out shoes to children,” found on a 20-minute Hearst newsreel dated 1919-1920, and two minutes and 25 seconds of “unedited silent newsreel footage” from 1921 featuring the Bambino, Miller Huggins, Tris Speaker, and others. (UCLA also is home to an eight-minute excerpt from Headin’ Home, with picture quality that is described as “fuzzy and jumpy,” and two reels of Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman.)

A small number of baseball-related shorts—including His Last Game (1909, Independent Motion Picture Company) and Homerun Hawkins (circa 1920)—are listed in the Catalog of Holdings: The American Film Institute Collection and the United Artists Collection at The Library of Congress. One of the clips found in the “American Memory” section of the Library’s website is the earliest known baseball footage: The Ball Game (1898, Edison), which runs scant seconds and consists of an amateur team from Newark, New Jersey, battling a rival nine. One of the more intriguing extant baseball-related films is The Selig-Tribune, No. 21 (1916, Selig Polyscope), a one-reel newsreel that includes footage of members of the Chicago Cubs. Meanwhile, Casey at the Bat (1899, Edison)—also known as Casey at the Bat or The Fate of a “Rotten” Umpire—along with How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game (1906, Edison); His Last Game; The Ball Player and the Bandit (1912, Broncho); Hearts and Diamonds (1914, Vitagraph); and an undated one-minute “Kinogram” featuring Babe Ruth are among the baseball shorts selected by film historian Jessica Rosner and included in Reel Baseball: Baseball Films from the Silent Era, 1899-1926, a DVD released by Kino International in 2007.

A representative sample of existing early baseball footage may be found in Baseball (1994), Ken Burns’ high-profile documentary. The section that covers 1900-1910 includes snippets of everything from small-town nines and bloomer-clad girls playing ball in fields and young boys doing the same on urban streets to major events and personalities. Unsurprisingly, the Baseball segment spotlighting 1910-1920 includes even more footage: male and female factory workers manufacturing baseballs and sewing gloves; players exercising, warming up, and batting; masses of fans populating stands and walking across ballfields; and athletes in baseball jerseys mingling with men in military uniforms during World War I. The Philadelphia Athletics are seen taking batting practice and there is the façade of the newly opened Comiskey Park as well as footage of some of the era’s top names: Grover Cleveland Alexander; Ban Johnson; Connie Mack’s famed $100,000 Infield (Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, Home Run Baker); and Ty Cobb warming up, at bat, sliding—and on horseback. The 1919 Black Sox scandal is well represented, with a bit of in-game World Series footage and shots of players warming up, fans in the stands, and images of some of its key figures (Eddie Cicotte, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, Kenesaw Mountain Landis).

In the closing credits of each section of Baseball, “newsreel sources” are cited. They range from the Library of Congress, the Oregon Historical Society, the University of South Carolina News Film Library, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive to commercial and other private sources such as John E. Allen and Streamline Archives. The small amount of extant pre-1920 footage is further underscored upon perusing the Allen web site. Of the 458 records found under “baseball” on the site’s search engine, a handful are dated 1920 or earlier. They include 56 seconds of footage of the 1913 opening of Ebbets Field; several seconds’ worth of a couple of small-town ball games (1912, 1918); and Ty Cobb hunting (1918) and with his family (1920). A smattering of additional images may be uncovered while searching the Internet. For example, among the clip titles found on YouTube are: Walter Johnson Pitching Footage (running one minute, 29 seconds); Christy Mathewson Pitching Footage (24 seconds); 3 Finger Brown Pitching (40 seconds); Pete Alexander Pitching Footage (46 seconds); John McGraw and Christy Mathewson (one minute, 13 seconds); Ty Cobb Footage (one minute, 34 seconds); 1905 New York Giants (23 seconds); 1909 World Series Footage (26 seconds); 1910 World Series Footage (43 seconds); and 1919 World Series Footage (three minutes, eight seconds).

Quite a bit of this footage may be found in Baseball. Nevertheless, the majority of images from this era included in the documentary are still photos. For example, the 1912 World Series, pitting the New York Giants against the Boston Red Sox, is recalled in detail via words and stills. But there are no moving images. Such also is the case with the 1916 World Series between the Bosox and Brooklyn Superbas.

Early extant baseball footage also may be found in other films. One example is We Believe (2009, No Small Plans Productions), a Chicago Cubs documentary. According to John Scheinfeld, the film’s director,

When making We Believe, we found two sequences of actual game footage shot in 1909 involving the Chicago Cubs. The first, running approximately two minutes, was shot in Pittsburgh with the Cubs in town to take on the Pirates. The second, longer sequence, running approximately four minutes, was shot at the West Side Grounds on September 16, 1909. Cubs vs. New York Giants. It was the day President Taft visited Chicago and he and his entourage are seen in the stands. Then the camera cuts to another angle from behind home plate facing the first base line. There are several pans of the Chicago Tribune marquee on the outfield walls. Then, most interestingly, the camera was moved on top of the grandstand, shooting down at the home plate-to-first base-line. We found the footage … the Library of Congress. Actually, it was a bit of a happy accident as we were looking for one thing and came across this footage spliced at the end of a reel of raw film. I don’t know anything about the Pittsburgh footage, but we learned that a local Chicago film studio shot much of President Taft’s visit to the city, including his going to the ballpark…. It’s pretty spectacular and we felt fortunate to have found it.

Part 2 appears in this space tomorrow.

How I Pitched the First Curve

First, some background on Mr. Cummings’ perfidious pitch. Historians dispute whether this 120-pound “pony pitcher” deserves more credit as pioneer or publicist, but he is certainly a historical figure to reckon with. And he does have that plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame testifying to his innovation. Others may have established competing claims of authorship, more or less convincing Some went on to pitch in the professional leagues, such as Fred Goldsmith,  Phonnie Martin, Bobby Mathews, and Tommy Bond, while collegiate twirlers Ham Avery (Yale)  and Joseph Mann (Princeton) had their supporters too. But Candy Cummings’ claim still seems the best, and he rode it—and wrote it, as you’ll see below—into immortality. 

Cummings had to deliver his curve underhand, according to the rules of the day, with one foot just inside the front line of a “pitcher’s box,” and the other inside the rear line. The ball had to be released below the waist, and the distance then mandated was only 45 feet. So Cummings could not throw a modern curve—one that breaks downward as well as laterally—and he admittedly had to add a then illegal twist to the wrist, imperceptible to the lone umpire. 

A few years before his death in 1924 at age 75, Cummings was asked how he would pitch to the new sensation, Babe Ruth. The first pitch, he said, would be a raise curve close to his hands, followed by a high out curve that that would start close to the plate. Next, a ball that would start two feet off the plate but curve over the plate to the knees. 

“I would change the program each time he faced me,” Cummings said. “I’d change the speed of each ball. A free swinger like Ruth goes after a ball that looks good, but you won’t fool him often on the same ball. I’d start the ball the same way every time, but make it go another way.” 

Here is William Arthur “Candy” Cummings’ reminiscence from Baseball Magazine in August 1908. The magazine’s editor, Jacob C. Morse, prefaced Cummings’ remarks thus: “To William Arthur Cummings of Athol, Mass., belongs the honor of having discovered—or invented—how to curve a ball. What thirty-eight years ago was considered a work of magic, is now a common practice. The curved ball has completely revolutionized baseball methods. This is the first authentic article ever published on the subject.” 

How I Pitched the First Curve

I have often been asked how l first got I the idea of making a ball curve. I will now explain. It is such a simple matter, though, that there is not much explanation.

In the summer of 1863 a number of boys and myself were amusing ourselves by throwing clam shells (the hard shell variety) and watching them sail along through the air, turning now to the right, and now to the left. We became interested in the mechanics of it and experimented for an hour or more.

All of a sudden it came to me that it would be a good joke on the boys if I could make a baseball curve the same way. We had been playing “three-old-cat” and town-ball, and I had been doing the pitching. The joke seemed so good that I made a firm decision that I would try to play it.

I set to work on my theory and practiced every spare moment that I had out of school. I had no one to help me and had to fight it out alone. Time after time I would throw the ball, doubling up into all manner of positions, for I thought that my pose had something to do with it; and then I tried holding the ball in different shapes. Sometimes I thought I had it, and then maybe again in twenty-five tries I could not get the slightest curve. My visionary successes were just enough to tantalize me. Month after month I kept pegging away at my theory.

In 1864 I went to Fulton, New York, to a boarding school, and remained there a year and a half. All that time I kept experimenting with my curved ball. My boyfriends began to laugh at me, and to throw jokes at my theory of making a ball go sideways. I fear that some of them thought it was so preposterous that it was no joke, and that I should be carefully watched over.

I don’t know what made me stick at it. The great wonder to me now is that I did not give up in disgust, for I had not one single word of encouragement in all that time, while my attempts were a standing joke among my friends.

After graduating I went back to my home in Brooklyn, New York, and joined the “Star Juniors,” an amateur team. We were very successful. I was solicited to join as a junior member the Excelsior club, and I accepted the proposition.

In 1867 I, with the Excelsior club, went to Boston, where we played the Lowells, the Tri-Mountains, and Harvard clubs. During these games I kept trying to make the ball curve. It was during the Harvard game [October 7] that I became fully convinced that I had succeeded in doing what all these years I had been striving to do. The batters were missing a lot of balls; I began to watch the flight of the ball through the air, and distinctly saw it curve.

A surge of joy flooded over me that I shall never forget. I felt like shouting out that I had made a ball curve; wanted to tell everybody; it was too good to keep to myself.

But I said not a word, and saw many a batter at that game throw down his stick in disgust. Every time I was successful, I could scarcely keep from dancing from pure joy. The secret was mine.

There was trouble, though, for I could not make it curve when I wanted to. [Cummings lost the game 18-6.] I would grasp it the same, but the ball seemed to do just as it pleased. It would curve all right, but it was very erratic in its choice of places to do so. But still it curved!

The baseball came to have a new meaning to me; it almost seemed to have life.

It took time and hard work for me to master it, but I kept on pegging away until I had fairly good control.

In those days the pitcher’s box was six feet by four, and the ball could be thrown from any part of it; one foot could be at the forward edge of the box, while the other could be stretched back as far as the pitcher liked; but both feet had to be on the ground until the ball was delivered. It is  surprising how much speed could be generated under those rules.

It was customary to swing the arm perpendicularly and to deliver the ball at the height of the knee. I still threw this way, but brought in wrist action. I found that the wind had a whole lot to do with the ball curving. With a wind against me I could get all kinds of a curve, but the trouble lay in the fact that the ball was apt not to break until it was past the batter. This was a sore trouble; but I learned not to try to curve a ball very much when the wind was unfavorable.

I have often been asked to give my theory of why a ball curves. Here it is: I give the ball a sharp twist with the middle finger, which causes it to revolve with a swift rotary motion. The air also, for a limited space[,] around it begins to revolve, making a great swirl, until there is enough pressure to force the ball out of true line. When I first began practicing this new legerdemain, the pitchers were not the only ones who were fooled by the ball. The umpire also suffered. I would throw the ball straight at the batter; he would jump back, and then the umpire would call a ball. On this I lost, but when I started the spheroid toward the center of the plate he would call it a strike. When it got to the batter it was too far out, and the batter would not even swing. Then there would be a clash between the umpire and batter.

But my idlest dreams of what a curved ball would do, as I dreamed of them that afternoon while throwing clam shells, have been filled more than a hundred times. At that time I thought of it only as a good way to fool the boys, its real practical significance never entering my mind.

I get a great deal of pleasure now in my old age out of going to games and watching the curves, thinking that it was through my blind efforts that all this was made possible.

American Cricket in the 1860s: Decade of Decline or New Start?

The article below, by Beth Hise, appeared in print in a  special issue of the journal Base Ball.  Ms. Hise is a top authority on the commonalities of and contrasts between baseball and cricket. Her 2010 book on the subject is Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect (Scala Publishing). A social history museum curator trained at Yale, she curated special exhibits on the two games last year at both the MCC Museum in London and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Her article, like others from the special Protoball issue, appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones at mlb.com. For example, the article below, indexed as 1862.3, reflects that it is the third entry for the year 1862. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.

1862.3, American Cricket in the 1860s: Decade of Decline or New Start?

Beth Hise

Cricket is essentially an English game; a game in such favour with the English cannot well have much attraction for the American, the disposition of both people being as different as base ball is from cricket.

So proclaimed the Brooklyn Eagle on April 25, 1862. And yet, this same article goes on to preview, in glowing terms, the coming cricket season in Brooklyn: “from the preparations that are being made, and the interest manifested by the members, we have every reason to expect a brilliant season and many interesting matches.” Further, the “cricket clubs have been strengthened by several acquisitions of base ball players, as the latter have by cricketers.”[1] How to explain these contradictory statements? If, as the article asserts, cricket has little attraction for Americans, why go on to outline plans for an active season involving up to seven clubs in Brooklyn alone? And if cricket reflects an English disposition, how is it that this alien game attracted baseball players, and that cricketers took up the apparently completely different American game of baseball? The article simultaneously dooms the sport (the past season was “very dull” with few matches of “no great importance”) and promotes its future (“as the coming season advances, the more promising do matters appear”).

A few weeks earlier, cricket had brought out the same double-speak in the Eagle. Cricket “is not an American game” and will never be “in much vogue” . . . but all the same the season promises “very fair” and “we shall have more to say hereafter through the columns of the Eagle.”[2]

Such sentiments should come as no surprise from the Eagle’s Henry Chadwick, a well known English-born advocate of baseball who never stopped promoting and trying to reform cricket in America. But, such contradictions occur more widely in American press commentary on cricket in the 19th century. Indeed, this ambivalence seems to underline many aspects of the game in America from the 1840s to the 1870s and beyond. Cricket was an excellent game—it was interesting, strategic (scientific) and had many fine features—but as a British game it couldn’t be fully embraced in America without reservations.  And it is true that as cricket became established in the 1840s, influential clubs such as the St. George Cricket Club in New York and Philadelphia’s Union Club were deeply Anglocentric. Moreover, many early American cricket clubs were formed by resident Englishmen. But it would be a mistake to conclude that few Americans played the sport or did so only under English influence. Or that by the 1860s cricket was an English-dominated sport of rapidly declining interest to Americans.

The 1860s were in fact a pivotal time for cricket in America, one that reinforced a desire in some quarters to Americanize the game and build bridges between cricket and baseball. At the same time, cricket lost momentum during and after the Civil War, and by the end of the 1860s couldn’t hope to match baseball’s rapid growth and popularity. Yet, paradoxically, the decade set the stage for cricket’s revival in the 1870s as an established, if minor, American sport.

Americans had long been interested in cricket. As early as 1839 New York’s Spirit of the Times asked, “What can be done to naturalise this beautiful game in America?”[3] and press patronage in the 1840s, especially in New York, helped promote cricket as “fashionable” and “much in vogue.”[4] In 1843, the Spirit of the Times insisted that “this invigorating and manly game promises to become exceedingly popular” with new clubs “springing up in all directions.”[5] One was the New York Cricket Club, presided over by the Spirit’s editor, William Porter. This club encouraged more American-born and younger players to play and promoted American control of the organizational structure of the game, an example later emulated in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Newark.

Cricket grew rapidly in America in the 1850s. In 1855, the New York Clipper estimated that there were 5000 match-playing cricketers in all of the United States. By 1859, when 300–400 clubs were active in at least 22 states, the Spirit of the Times estimated 6,000 active cricketers lived within 100 miles of New York City alone, including Philadelphia.[6] And pockets were decidedly American. The first all-American cricket match was played in August 1854 at Hoboken between a New York side, including many students from the Free Academy, and the Newark Club, a strong promoter of American-born players.[7] In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Cricket Club fielded an American eleven from 1856, and membership in the Young America Cricket Club, formed in 1855, was restricted to American-born players. Exciting all-American matches brought the Philadelphia and Newark clubs together in both competition and in spirit, encouraging the New York Clipper in 1857 to lambast “certain ignorant and prejudiced parties” for insisting that cricket was only played by Englishmen, and to wonder why anyone would object to “making Cricket an American pastime.”[8]

North America was undoubtedly the stronghold of the game outside England at this time, and twelve of the best English professional players, eager “to promote and extend . . . that love for the noble game of Cricket,”[9] made their international debut here in October 1859. American cricket authorities hoped the series of highly anticipated matches would increase cricket’s profile in the face of baseball’s growing popularity. Yet, the English cricketers, all seasoned full-time professionals, were destined only to prove that cricket was, after all, the “great national game of England.”[10] Any hope that the English would “find their equal at Hoboken”[11] was quickly dashed. The great match of the tour saw the Americans, given the then traditional handicap of additional players, in this case 22 against the England eleven, humbled in front of 24,000 spectators over three days at St. George’s ground at Elysian Fields. It was a humiliating loss when it was all over by an innings and 64 runs—the English didn’t even need to bat their second innings because the American batting total was so low. This result was sadly indicative of all the matches the English tourists played on that tour.[12]

There have been many reasons put forward as to why cricket failed to capitalize on its promising start in America in the 1840s and ’50s and “lost out” to baseball as the premier bat and ball sport for the nation. One might presume that the disappointments of this lopsided tour, one of the most widely reported sporting events in antebellum America[13], might have harmed cricket’s viability. Certainly, the tour did little to captivate sustained popular enthusiasm, but many American cricketers, especially the Philadelphians, relished the opportunity to see and play the world’s best cricketers. The number of clubs and players did increase, including in schools and colleges, and, as only three of the 22 US players at Hoboken were born in America, that loss could be conveniently blamed on the amateur English residents playing against “English professional players, who make a living by it, and never do anything else.”[14]

Throughout the 1860s this distinction between American-born and English-resident players encouraged the idea that it was not cricket per se, but the way the English residents played cricket that was the problem. Henry Chadwick was a prominent critic of their “bad habits,” especially their lack of punctuality in a country where time “is almost literally money.”[15] The 1860s was a decade of shared grounds and shared players when the crossover between cricket and baseball was at its strongest.  Chadwick, through the pages of the Brooklyn Eagle, saw this as a positive, declaring in 1862 that “Americans improve the game in one respect, certainly; they blend the intricacies and necessary tardiness of cricket with the alacrity of base ball.” And so a game often “a bore to an American, who could not think of playing a match for two consecutive days,” could be finished up in six or seven hours.[16]

Likewise, Harry Wright, James Creighton, Asa Brainard, John Whiting and Thomas Dakin—all baseball players with strong cricketing backgrounds—founded the American Cricket Club in 1860 to infuse “an American spirit” into the game.[17] According to club president Dakin, they formed to make cricket “popular among Americans, by making it a quicker game.”[18] This short-lived club would be one of many attempts to “reform” cricket to suit the American temperament, and the injection of baseball players into cricket in the 1860s did speed up the game. One match in Long Island in 1860, the “shortest on record,” pitted the Americans of Long Island (including several Atlantic and Excelsior baseball players) against the Americans of Newark. The match commenced at 9 o’clock and took four hours and 50 minutes to play the full two innings.[19] The success of these kinds of matches brought calls for closer affiliations between cricket and baseball clubs, increased opportunities for younger and more novice players, and restrictions on players appearing for multiple clubs. Some players even formed the short-lived American Cricketers’ Convention to try to implement these changes fully.[20]

In 1868, Henry Chadwick was still advocating interclub play—that is between cricket and baseball clubs—to speed up and improve cricket.[21] When Edgar Willsher’s team of English professionals crossed the Atlantic that same year, they found baseball’s exploding popularity meant that cricket no longer enjoyed the same éclat that it did when the first English toured in 1859. A baseball game played between the English cricketers and the Union Base Ball Club of Morrisania brought the biggest crowd to the St. George ground in almost a decade—a situation only mildly alleviated by the pronouncement of the New York Times that the “good old game of cricket has not been entirely given up in New York, and our old citizens still delight in this manly sport.”[22]

So did baseball improve cricket for Americans? A cursory review of match results shows that many two day matches were played in one afternoon, the second innings left for another day that never came around.  American cricket clubs had earlier copied English traditions and employed professional players to bowl, coach and look after all aspects of their cricket grounds at a time when baseball was strictly amateur. Now, as baseball took its first steps toward full professionalization, cricket moved in the opposite direction. While the professional All-England players were “hardly ever without a bat or ball in their hands,” the best American players were “unable to spare more than a few leisure hours a week from their offices and ledgers.”[23] A combination of baseball’s influence early in the decade and the realities of amateurism meant that by the 1870s cricket matches were shorter, and, with less time to devote to the game, players did not achieve the highest skill.

Ambivalence and feelings that cricket needed improvement lingered. In 1890, prominent Philadelphian cricketer John Thayer proposed a whole new code of rules that would adopt, among other radical changes, baseball’s “three out, side out” rule with each side retiring after three wickets had fallen. By alternating batting and fielding, with no more than four minutes between “turns,” the game would, he proposed, be more interesting. Players would also spend less time waiting for their turn at bat. Even with Chadwick’s backing, these changes were never seriously implemented.[24]

But that was still decades away and the end of the 1860s was a new beginning of sorts for American cricket after a lull early in that decade. The Clipper’s disappointment in 1862 at the meager attendance at an annual cricket convention should not be taken to mean the decline of the sport was nigh.[25] True, baseball had overtaken it in popularity at home, and the international game had passed it by when the Civil War made a follow-up tour to North America impossible. A professional English cricket team went instead to Australia, launching the nascent beginnings of the international game. But some of American cricket’s brightest moments were still to come. The American Cricketer was launched in 1877 and ran for over fifty years. Competitive leagues, like the Metropolitan District Cricket League of 1890, were formed and the Gentlemen of Philadelphia toured England five times between 1884 and 1908. The decades from 1870 to 1910 are now considered cricket’s golden age in America, with Philadelphia at its heart.

Notes

1. “Cricket Season for 1862,” Brooklyn Eagle: Apr. 25, 1862.

2. “The Incoming Base Ball Season,” Brooklyn Eagle: Apr. 7, 1862.

3. The American Cricketer: a Journal Devoted to the Noble Game of Cricket 1.9, p. 34.

4. New York Herald: 1845; “City Intellegence,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle: June 15, 1846.

5. “Cricket in America,” Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle: Dec. 3, 1843.

6. Kirsch, G. 2007. Baseball and Cricket: the Creation of American Team Sports, 1838–72 (p. 21).

7. New York Daily Times: Aug. 11, 1854.

8. New York Clipper: May 16, 1857, reprinted in: Sullivan, D. 1995. Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825–1908 (p. 25).

9. Lillywhite, F. 1860. The English Cricketers’ Trip to Canada and the United States (pp. v–vi).

10. “News of the Day,” New York Times:Oct. 3, 1859.

11. “The Cricketers,” Chicago Press and Tribune: Sept. 28, 1859.

12. “The International Cricket Match,” New York Times:Oct. 4, 1859; “The Great Cricket Match,” New York Times:Oct. 5, 1859.

13. Melville, T. 1998. The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America (p. 43).

14. “The ‘International’ Game of Cricket—a Suggestion for a Game of Base Ball,” Chicago Press and Tribune: Oct. 12, 1859.

15. Chadwick, H. 1868. “The Game of Cricket in America,” The American Chronicle and Pastimes of Sports, Feb. 13, 1868.

16. “Cricket Season for 1862,” Brooklyn Eagle: Apr. 25, 1862.

17. Their first match was against the Satellite Club of Williamsburgh on Oct. 18, 1860. The American Club was victorious. See New York Times: Oct. 17, 1860, p. 1, and Oct. 20, 1860, p. 8.

18. New York Times: Oct. 20, 1860.

19. Spirit of the Times quoted in The American Cricketer, p. 45. See also New York Times: Sept. 4 1860.

20. Kirsch, G. 1989. The Creation of American Team Sports: Baseball and Cricket, 1838–72 (p. 106).

21. This was first tried almost by accident, when a snowstorm canceled an All-England cricket match in Rochester in 1859 and the touring English cricketers played a pick-up game of baseball instead. See Lillywhite 1860, 45–46; Rochester Union and Advertiser: Sept. 17, 1859; Rochester Express: Dec. 10, 1859.

22. New York Times: Sept. 3, 1868, and Oct. 21, 1868.

23. “Sporting News,” New York Times:Sept. 15, 1859.

24. Chadwick, H. 1890. “A Revolution in the Cricket Field,” Outing, June 1890, pp. 228–229.

25. New York Clipper: May 24, 1862, quoted in Protoball Cricket Chronology.

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