Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Illustration Art

Fan based on a Bufford litho, 1887.

Fan based on a Bufford lithograph, 1887.

In March of this year I offered a five-part series titled “Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Photographs.” For each of five successive days I offered five of my considered favorites, after laying out the criteria and landing, ultimately, on one: beauty. So let’s proceed in much the same way here. What is not included: fine art in two dimensions or three; caricature; baseball-card portraiture, even when rendered artfully amid symbols and vignettes. What is included: art designed for mass distribution that illustrates a book, newspaper, or magazine; posters designed to promote the game or sell merchandise linked with it; and art pitched to lovers of the game, who might purchase it for their collections.

So, no Thomas Eakins or William Morris Hunt. No Willard Mullin or Tad Dorgan. No cards from Turkey Red or Kimball or Allen & Ginter. Some fine painters also dabbled in commercial art, or at least fine art produced in multiple numbered prints: George Bellows, Fletcher Martin, to name just a couple. I hate to leave them out altogether, so maybe at some not too distant point I will offer up “Diamond Visions: Baseball Greatest Fine Art” … and perhaps separate portfolios highlighting caricature (cartoons, comics) and graphics (logos, typography).

But I get ahead of myself; back to the subject at hand. I could offer up twenty-five Penfields or Leyendeckers or Rockwells or Gibsons, but each artist is herein limited to one representation. Some images selected may possess little evident artistic merit but warrant inclusion for their historic importance (such as John Newbery’s 1744 image of English base ball, a game played without a bat).

I will offer five illustrations each day, rank-ordered with much trepidation. Because of my antiquarian bent, I tend to like the older images better. You are likely to have other ideas, and I’d love to hear them.

Oh, and if you missed the photographic series, check it out here:






[Clicking on a photo below will enlarge it.]

1. The American National Game of Base Ball, Currier and Ives, 1866.

1. The American National Game of Base Ball, Currier and Ives, 1866.

Long believed to depict the 1865 match between the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn and the Mutual of New York, it has turned out be something else entirely: a fantasy game, one that the baseball world desired but that never was played. For a good deal more about this image, see “Unraveling a Baseball Mystery” (http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/01/30/unraveling-a-baseball-mystery/).

The crowd, reported at 15,000 to 20,000, is barely hinted at, and the rain that halted the contest in the sixth inning is forever off in the distance. When the clouds burst at five-thirty, after an hour and forty-five minutes of play (today’s game is too slow, eh?), the Atlantics led the Mutuals 13-12. The Mutes had two men on base, but play could not be resumed. The Atlantics also won the second game of the series, later that month, 40-28, and by going on to finish undefeated in all its contests with first-class opposition became baseball’s first “national champion.”

Note that the first baseman and third baseman stand right on their bases because the rules at that time permitted the “fair-foul” hit, in which a skilled bunter could angle his bat so that a ball could bounce once in fair territory, skitter off into foul ground, and be a valid hit. The second baseman’s position is harder to explain, but the vast hole between first and second is what prompted Chadwick to suggest, first, that batters hit the ball on the ground in that direction, and second, that a “right shortstop” be added to the complement in the field–a tenth man. By the time anyone got around to testing Chad’s idea, in the mid-seventies, eliminating the fair-foul hit seemed the wiser course.

Currier & Ives printed lithographs only in black and white and employed a legion of colorists to tint the pictures by hand. Smaller editions of this print sold for fifteen to twenty-five cents upon original publication and were made available for ten cents with a subscription to the New York Clipper, the main sporting paper at the time. A 20” x 30” print like this would have cost three dollars in 1866–half a week’s pay for a workingman, but nothing like the figure it might fetch at auction today.

2. The second great match game for the championship, between the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia and the Atlantics of Brooklyn, on the grounds of the Athletics, Fifteenth & Columbia Avenue, Phila., Oct. 22nd, 1866. [graphic] / Drawn & published by J.L. Magee, S.E. cor. 3rd & Dock Sts. Philada.

2. The second great match game for the championship, between the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia and the Atlantics of Brooklyn, on the grounds of the Athletics, Fifteenth & Columbia Avenue, Phila., Oct. 22nd, 1866. [graphic] / Drawn & published by J.L. Magee, S.E. cor. 3rd & Dock Sts. Philada.

This 1867 depiction of a baseball game played in the previous year is less well known than the Currier & Ives image above, but if one were to come to market today it would probably bring about the same figure, nearly $200,000. Both are exceedingly scarce, but the Magee has more brilliantly crisp detail. It gives us a real flavor of being right there, right then. Note the figures in the foreground especially.

A previous attempt to pit these teams against each other had proved disastrous. The proprietors of the Athletic grounds had sold 8,000 seats at twenty-five cents each, but a near stampede to see the game resulted in a crowd of 30,000, who surrounded and constricted the playing area to such an extent that midway in the bottom of the first inning, the game was halted. A return match at Brooklyn’s Capitoline Grounds proceeded without disruption, and the Atlantics won, 27-17.

For the “second great match game” (not counting the abortive first attempt), Philadelphia’s policemen were out in force and the proprietors of the park charged one- dollar admission, the most ever to that time and still a high price half a century later. The Athletics delighted their fans by winning, 31-12, as the game was halted by thundershowers in the eighth inning. For the A’s, Al Reach scored six runs,  Wes Fisler five. Lipman Pike, the first Jewish professional ballplayer, made four outs that day, but he had slugged seven homers in a game earlier in the season. A potentially thrilling rubber match between the clubs was canceled because of a dispute over the division of the gate receipts; the Atlantics thus retained their championship.

Above each player is a small number that corresponds to his position in the key printed below the image.  So we have McBride batting and Kleinfelder taking off from first (is there a hit-and-run play going on?), with Mills catching and Pratt on the mound. On deck is  Reach. The handsome Pike is seated at the far right. Standing next to him (left to right) are Wilkins and Fisler. Dockney is sitting between them. Sensenderfer is seated by the scorer’s table, where Gaskill is standing. Could they be asking that the scorer change a ruling? Unlikely–keeping score is the “father of baseball” himself, Henry Chadwick.

3. Jay Hambidge, Crowd at the Polo Grounds, 1895

3. Jay Hambidge, Crowd at the Polo Grounds, 1895

Also little-known image, this image also has a time-travel quality to it. Artist Jay Hanbidge painted this scene for Truth Magazine ca. 1895, and it was included in the Truth Portfolio of the following year. The image depicted is a press proof held by the Museum of the City of New York. He was a pupil of William Merritt Chase; George Bellows was a disciple of Hambidge’s theory of Dynamic Symmetry.

4. Penfield, Collier's Out-Door Number 1902

4. Penfield, Collier’s Out-Door Number, April 26, 1902

This classic image by Edward Penfield, the father of the American Poster Movement as art director of Harper’s Magazine in the 1890s, was also reproduced by Collier’s six years later as a now rare print titled “Three Men on Base.” The image will also be familiar to baseball book collectors from its use on the cover of the outsized Book of Baseball (Patten & McSpadden, 1911).

Anson and Ewing promoting ale and stout.

5. Anson and Ewing promoting E. & J. Burke ale and stout.

This gorgeous lithograph from 1899 is a monument in the history of celebrity endorsement. While not the first–that honor goes to an 1874 cigar poster featuring Boston’s star shortstop George Wright–it is the most splendid. According to Charles Zuber of the Cincinnati Times-Star:

There is only one case of record where ball players received a large remuneration for acting as models for an advertisement. Those players were Capt. Ewing and ‘Old Man’ Anson. It was before the Brotherhood War, when Ewing was in the very zenith of his glory. A certain ale manufacturing concern wanted a taking ad. for its goods and decided that a base ball picture was the best thing. So when the Chicagos came to New York this firm arranged for Ewing and Anson to sit in front of a tent on which the ad of the company was emblazoned. Barrels and cases of the product were placed in close proximity and Ewing and Anson, in their uniforms and each with a glass of ale poised graceful in his hands, were in the foreground. The ad made a big hit and Ewing and Anson received $300 and a case of ale each. It was quick and easy for them.

For more on this subject, see “The Dawn of Athlete Endorsements.” (http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/01/20/the-dawn-of-athlete-endorsements/)

Illustrations 6-10 tomorrow!

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