The article below, by Tom Altherr, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. His Fall 2011 article “Basepaths and Baselines: The Agricultural and Surveying Contexts of the Emergence of Baseball,” which won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. It is a bad pun but an accurate statement to call it pathbreaking.
Tom is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. His article below, 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 1850.38, reflects that it is the thirty-eighth entry for the year 1850. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
Item 1850.38, Southern Ball-Games: Chermany, Round Cat, Etc.
Thomas L. Altherr
Chumney was similar to baseball,played with two teams, and had batters, pitchers, catchers, and fielders.
Two games with roots in the mid–19th century, both of them pastimes associated with the American South, have come to light only recently: chermany and round cat.
The most common spelling, “chermany,” suggests that there may have been some connection to Germans—that perhaps German immigrants brought the game to Virginia. Diligent searches through many sources about Virginia and other areas of the South, however, have found no connections of chermany to Germans. There were Germans in colonial Virginia onward, but so far there was no mention of a baseball-type game called chermany. Virginia humorist George William Bagby addressed this matter in what is so far the fullest discussion of chermany. Stating the he had purchased a former female academy in Buckingham with plans to convert it to a fiddlers’ college, Bagby revised his goals: “I abandoned the original plan and consecrated the Institute wholly to the instruction of able-bodied young men in the ancient and manly games of ‘Chermany’ and ‘Ant’ny Over.’ The etymology of the former game is obscure. It may have been ‘Germany.’ Though I have never known a Dutchman [i.e., a German] to play it or even be aware of its rules and regulations.”
Whatever the term’s origins, Bagby considered chermany a superior game:
My aim was to supplant the vile pastimes of base-ball and billiards which befell the Commonwealth [of Virginia] as a part of the loathsome legacy bequeathed us by the war. I could not, indeed, believe that these debilitating and abnormal sports would perpetually exclude the time-honored and patriotic game to which Virginians had been accustomed, but my fear was that after the base ball business the awful thing called cricket might follow, and that I could not have borne. Those silly wickets and those absurd bats are to my mind execrable, inexcusable, and unfounded upon reason and common sense.
Indeed, Bagby saw chermany as one of the numerous skills a Virginia boy of his generation had to master around eight years old.
A couple of the sources, however, also referred to a game called chumney, which would lead to a reasonable conclusion that chermany was a variant of chumney or vice versa. In his History of Prince Edward County, Virginia, Herbert Clarence Bradshaw defined chumney thus:
Chumney was similar to baseball, played with two teams, and had batters, pitchers, catchers, and fielders. The pitcher tried to pitch a good ball, and the batter tried to knock the solid rubber ball out of sight. A Runner had to be hit when in motion to down him, and to go around the ring, which was larger than a baseball diamond, twice was a “real accomplishment.”
William Cabell Bruce’s biography of John Randolph of Roanoke provokes additional questions about chumney. Bruce stated that as an adult Randolph enjoyed playing games “then most common” with the local boys, including chumney. While most sources place chermany later, in the 1830s and onward, Randolph was playing chumney in the 1820s. If chumney was an earlier name for the game later termed chermany, then again the game may have had no connection to Germans.
Then where did the name “chumney” come from? None of the older dictionaries consulted lists the term, and a search of British place names did not turn up a locale of that name. There may have been some confusion with “chumley,” which itself is a variant of “Cholmondeley,” the family name of a longtime ruling clan in Cheshire in northwest England. Did a variant of baseball obtain the name in that region and transplant it to Virginia?
The second game under consideration here is round cat. References to this game are few and sporadic, none of them providing conclusive detail. The 1917 Scribner’s story that mentioned chermany also listed round cat, and placed it in the Richmond area in the 1860s. Apparently round cat was thus different from chermany. A listing in an 1892 number of Dialect Notes cited Washington novelist Angelo Hall playing “round-cat” in Georgetown and then compared it to a New England game called scrub, defined as “that form of base ball played when there are too few players to have opposing sides.” An Ohioan named Isaac Fenton King remembered in his autobiography that boys played a variety of ball games including “round cat,” and Virginian E. M. Babb referred to round cat as a Sunday recreation for young males in southern Virginia around 1890. Yet the mode of play remains elusive. One clue may be a description of “round cat” in an 1858 British book, The Playground, but even there the game seems to have been an impromptu mixture of cat games and rounders, employing a wooden cat rather than a ball.
The most sustained references to round cat, however, were in novels of Bernice Kelly Harris. Harris was an eastern North Carolina novelist working in the local color tradition that emerged in the 1930s. Her books seem to have centered in that region of North Carolina and time periods ranged from turn of the century to the 1930s and 1940s.
In Purslane (1939), the first round cat reference occurred: “At first Calvin talked incessantly, following Dele around to take the heavier part of her work, pitching ball to the little round-cat batters on Saturday afternoon. . . .” Earlier in the book, another account of a Sunday baseball game established the image of Calvin as an accomplished baseball player, a home run hitter who played for a minor league team in Alabama. Here mention of round cat suggests that the game was not baseball, but rather a children’s game, an activity that a baseball player would indulge in goofing around.
Two years later in Portulaca (1941), Harris included a short scene in which a few boys played a game of round cat after church. Mostly the episode functioned as mockery of one of the character’s baggy corduroy pants. There were no details about the game, yet the dialogue includes razzing one of the boys about thinking he was Dizzy Dean, which would seem to indicate that the contest imitated baseball and was set in the 1930s.
Sage Quarter (1945) featured the third round cat reference. This one involved a tenant farmer boy named Rough-Dried at school recess playing a ball game with Vic and the other higher-class boys. Vic would allow the new boy to use his bat. But then at one point Vic walked away “to join the boys at round cat.” This sentence injected some confusion about round cat. Was round cat the first game of ball they were playing or a different one? Again there was no information on rules or play other than that round cat employed a bat and ball.
The fourth, and last, round cat usage appeared in Wild Cherry Road (1951). Toward the end of an extended account of a neighborhood baseball team organizing and practicing for an upcoming season, Harris inserted the term round cat into a series of insults the fans threw at an opposing pitcher during a game:
“Better go home and pitch horsehoes!” a wag called from the bleachers.
“Or stick to round cat!” another shouted.
Clearly, whatever round cat was, eastern North Carolinians considered it an inferior version of baseball—a kids’ game for substandard players. For Bernice Kelly Harris, though, round cat seems to have been a common enough, and important enough, childhood game to include it in four novels. Southerners, apparently, with chermany and round cat, had no shortage of baseball-type games.
13. Harris, B. 1951. Wild Cherry Road (p. 172).
The article below, by Patricia Millen, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Ms. Millen is the author of From Pastime to Passion: Baseball and the Civil War (Heritage Books, 2001), the first book on baseball in the war camps. She has written dozens of articles on U.S. history, and is the Executive Director of the Roebling Museum in central New Jersey. 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 1863.11, reflects that it is the eleventh entry for the year 1863. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
Item 1863.11, On the Battlefront, the New York Game Takes Hold, 1861–1865
[In April 1863] the Third Corps and Sixth Corps baseball teams met near White Oak Church, Virginia, to play for the championship of the Army of the Potomac.
The soldiers who marched off to fight the American Civil War did so knowing how to play base-running ball games. Whether from a northern city or a southern country plantation, the farmers, merchants, doctors, clerks, sons and grandfathers who enlisted in Union and Confederatearmies grew up with a sporting heritage. The rules of the ball games they played varied slightly by region, but by the 1840s—nearly twenty years before the Civil War began in 1861—they had taken shapes that a 21st century observer wouldrecognize. The game was not dramatically advanced by Northern soldiers moving south during the War, or by the rare exchanges between Union and Confederate soldiers. Instead, baseball during wartime provided respite, amusement and a taste of home to bored, scared, weary soldiers and POWs on both sides of the conflict. The war helped solidify the New York rules as the favorite form of baseball—a progression that began before the first shot of the war was ever fired. Two years after Fort Sumter, it appears, Union soldiers had even formed all-star teams for two of their Corps, and had crowned a championship nine for their entire Army.
We know of the baseball games played by Civil War soldiers from contemporary newspaper accounts, regimental histories, and from diaries and letters written by the soldiers themselves.Few accounts record the game as anything new—rather, most are presented as commonplace. Accounts salvaged are often similar in nature, reflecting the game as a favorite pastime during the War, but altogether ordinary. As E. F. Palmer of the Second Brigade from Montpelier, Vermont noted in his history of the regiment in 1864:
Since the ground has become dry, many are the amusements. After drilling is over, towards evening, the wide level space in front of the camp is crowded with soldiers. Many are playing ball. The most expert choose up, and one is to keep tally; now they strip off coats and sweating and eager as to the result, push on the lively game.
Three hundred eighty-four major battles and campaigns took place during the American Civil War. We can follow the reports of ball games by soldiers in the regions of the country surrounding these principle operations. The majority of all known baseball games took place in the Confederate stronghold of Virginia—where a full third of all key military operations of the war took place. New York and Massachusetts regiments played the most baseball. Although New Jersey regiments represented a much smaller fighting force, the activity of baseball among the Jersey boys was brisk. Reports of ball play by Pennsylvania soldiers tallied fourth behind New Jersey in recorded accounts.
Extant reports of ball play by Confederates are few in comparison to the writings of the victorious north (references to Confederate ball playing account for only 10 percent of recorded play); but they do exist to tell part of the story of Civil War baseball. Virginia and Florida regiments reported the most ball play, although no southern regiment represented a clear majority in the compilation of histories of Confederate baseball. A typical account is that of William Harding, a corporal in theConfederate Army who wrote in 1863, when he was stationed in Georgia, that he “had a fine game of Town ball which gave me good exercise.” Also behind Confederate lines, James Hall of the 24th Alabama observed his men playing baseball “just like school boys” while waiting for General Sherman to advance his army.
For the most part, baseball and town ball were enthusiastically played between men from the same regiments, from the same part of the country and by commonly accepted rules. Baseball games were said to be “all the rage” and camps were “alive” with ball play during the War. George Rolfe from the 134th New York recollected that while in Chattanooga he played men from the Massachusetts 33rd. Accounts show New York, Pennsylvania and other northern regiments played consistently each evening on their drill fields.
The majority of all ball play took place in winter quarters when spring weather approached and soldiers, restless and bored, took to outdoor sport. Ball games were played with regularity while soldiers were sojourned in camp, and in times of rest between battles and marches. The citizen turned solider did not realize that, during his great adventure away from home, a principal enemy would be boredom. A soldier might spend several months at a time without ever firing a gun! A New Jersey soldier recorded in his diary in 1863, “The boredom became unbearable as the winter wore on. Mud everywhere, limiting outside activities . . . during the long days the men played chess, checkers, cards, and, when weather permitted, baseball and other athletic pursuits.”
From November until spring, the grand armies sat idle waiting for passable roads and foraged food. Athletic games of all kinds—quoits, football, foot races—lifted spirits. The importance of sport and physical exercise to the morale of the men was emphasized by the US Sanitary Commission, physicians, and the press. As Julian Chisolm, a Confederate doctor published in 1864, “gymnastic exercise should be encouraged as conductive to health, strength, agility and address.” The “manly game of ball” was recommended as an important addition to a soldier’s physical fitness regime.
Two variations of base ball were played during the War—town ball, and its cousin the Massachusetts game, and the New York game of baseball. Ora Harvey from the 46th Massachusetts wrote in a letter home in 1863: “We play ball pitch quoits the rest of the time. We play the New York ‘Gam’ [sic] most of the time. ‘Mass’ game some . . . .”
Most often, however, the type of ball game was not specified in the writings left behind by northern or southern soldiers. In a recent compilation of more than150 historical accounts of ball play during the four-year war, the game called “base ball” was cited about 70 percent of the time in those records where the type of ball play could be determined. In the majority of accounts, the game played by Northern soldiers was by the New York or Massachusetts rules. It is not surprising that the New York game appears to have been the most commonly played, because of the sheer number of soldiers from New York. When President Abraham Lincoln called for enlistments in 1861, the largest army of Union men—409 regiments—eventually answered the call to serve from the Empire State.
For their part, soldiers were not overly concerned with the rules of play and only a few occurrences call the rules of baseball into question during the war. One Union soldier remarked in his diary that he and the boys in his company from the 26th Pennsylvania regiment did learn to play baseball in a “new way” but that he had already forgotten the different rules. A sergeant from the 62nd New York regiment wrote to the sporting paper The New York Clipper on May 30, 1863, to clarify the rules as he knew them:
That in making a home run in a game of baseball the runner is allowed to run 2′ either side of the bases without touching them. I claim that he is obligated to touch each base as he passes it . . . to play now in N.Y. is to touch the bases in all cases; so that the matter is settled, and the rules can now be interpreted correctly.
A handful of accounts show baseball was played in Yankee and Confederate prison camps during the Civil War. Imprisoned on Johnson’s Island near Sandusky, Ohio, Confederate Lt. William Peel, a farmer, of the 11th Mississippi gave accounts of a head injury suffered by a fellow prisoner while a “party was engaged in a game of baseball” in the prison yard. He wrote of challenges between ball clubs in the prison that lasted for several weeks.
The condition in many of the army prisons, especially for those soldiers held by the Confederate army, was not conducive to outside amusements. By mid-war, the Confederate government had little means to supply food, clothing or shelter to its own army, let alone its prisoners of war.
The most extensive accounts of prison ball play during the war come from Salisbury prison in North Carolina. An old cotton factory was transformed into a Confederate prison camp in 1861 and for a while, prisoners had free rein of the 16-acre yard and ball games were played almost daily. They were recorded in the diaries of several prisoners and in the writings of a Confederate chaplain who resided in Salisbury. “Took a little walk in the evening and watched some officers play ball,” wrote 23-year-old Union doctor Charles Grey, who was captured and sent to the prison in 1862. Referring to some recently transferred prisoners from New Orleans and Alabama, a Rhode Island soldier wrote in 1863, “And to-day the great game of baseball came off between the Orleanists and the Tuscaloosans with apparently as much enjoyment to the Rebs as the Yanks. . . .”
The pleasant memories of games at Salisbury, before conditions at the prison became as notoriously grim as Andersonville, were depicted in a color lithograph publishedin 1863by Sarony, Major and Knapp. The print shows a lively ball game in the park-like setting of the prison grounds at Salisbury, drawn by former prisoner Otto Boetticher, Captain, Company G of the 68th New York. Otto Boetticher was a commercial artist living in New York before the War and spent one summer in Salisbury before being exchanged in September of 1862.
Baseball games were played by northern and southern soldiers when time and energy permitted in hundreds of places during the American Civil War. Baseball gave soldiers a much needed respite from the realities of the War. The majority of ball play took place in winter quarters as spring weather advanced and the New York game proved to be the favorite version of the game played during the war. It continued to progress as America’s favorite pastime as the country began to heal after four long years of hostilities.
1. History. The First National Bank of Scranton, PA (Scranton, 1906), p. 37. This company history describes how the bank’s 1906 president, James A. Linen, had pitched for the winning side in the championship game.
2. Madden, D. 2000. Beyond the Battlefield (p. 99).
3. Ballplaying in Civil War Camps, database: retrosheet.org/Protoball/CW.htm
5. Millen, P. 2001. From Pastime to Passion, Baseball and the Civil War (p. 19).
6. Protoball Chronology: retrosheet.org/Protoball/CivilWar.htm (p. 20).
7. Rolfe, G. 1864. Diary.
8. Protoball Chronology: retrosheet.org/Protoball/CivilWar.htm (p. 24).
9. Chisolm, J. A Manual of Military Surgery, for Use of Surgeons in the Confederate Army (pp. 56–57).
10. Protoball Chronology: retrosheet.org/Protoball/CivilWar.htm (p. 25).
11. Ballplaying in Civil War Camps, database: retrosheet.org/Protoball/CWtrends.htm
12. Crockett, D. 1962. “Sports and Recreational Practices of Union and Confederate Soldiers,” Research Quarterly 32.3, p. 342.
13. New York Clipper: May 30, 1863.
14. “The Games Endures: A Civil War Diary” Humanities 15.4 (1994), p. 18.
15. Sumner, J. 1989. “Baseball at Salisbury Prison Camp,” Baseball History, p. 20.
17. An Album of Civil War Battle Art, 1988, p. 97.
The article below, by Bob Tholkes, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Bob has written articles for SABR publications, writes a lively monthly newsletter covering new research developments for SABR’s Committee on the Origins of Base Ball, and operates a vintage baseball club in Minnesota.
His 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 1860.6, reflects that it is the sixth entry for the year 1860. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
Item 1860.6, The Sunday Mercury Summarizes the 1860 Season
The year 1860 has witnessed a wonderful progress in the popularity of out-door sports in general, and especially of the game of base ball.
At the end of each calendar year before the Civil War, the weekly New York Sunday Mercury, self-described official baseball organ for New York State, published its annual summary of the season. Its editor, William Pierce Cauldwell, was, along with William Bray of the Clipper, mentioned by Henry Chadwick as one of the two journalists covering baseball at the time Chadwick took up the game. It was Cauldwell who suggested that Chadwick be allowed to attend meetings of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) rules committee in 1857. As a member of the group that founded the Union BBC of Morrisania (now part of the Bronx) in 1855, Cauldwell is credited with helping to bring the new game to the area. He continued through the 1860s as a club officer and delegate to the annual conventions of the NABBP. In 1859, 1860, 1861, and 1862 he was a member of the NABBP Standing Committee on Rules and Regulations. The paper’s claim to overarching “biblical” status is evidenced by the reader correspondence that it published regularly. Reports and game accounts were received from as far away as San Francisco, and from remote baseball outposts like Milwaukee, St. Louis, Louisville, and New Orleans. Reader questions about rules and customs, both on and off the field, came from across New York State and northern New Jersey, as well as from Boston, Toronto, and far-off St. Louis.
The Sunday Mercury’s 1860 season summary for the first time did not provide an all-inclusive list of matches played; the list, as Cauldwell proudly noted, had become too long.
Without further ado, Mr. Cauldwell:
The year 1860 has witnessed a wonderful progress in the popularity of out-door sports in general, and especially of the game of base ball. Our columns record the organization of upwards of two hundred new base ball clubs during the year, and also the scores of nearly six hundred matches that were played. The base ball season was characterized by many very pleasing and noticeable features. It was opened on the 17th of May, with a very interesting and well-contested match between the Excelsior and Charter Oak Clubs, of South Brooklyn—in which the latter was victorious by a score of 12 to 11 runs—and was kept up with great vigor until the 29th day of November. We had intended to give a summary of all the matches played during the season ; but our columns will not permit. We have, therefore, selected only the matches of the senior clubs belonging to the National Association, overlooking, from necessity, the hundreds of matches played by junior organizations—some of which, by the way, were quite as interesting as many of those of the senior clubs…
Among the most interesting features of the last season, were the excursions of the Excelsior Club (of South Brooklyn) to Albany, Troy, and Buffalo, and to Philadelphia and Baltimore. . . . Every match played by the Excelsiors on their tours was crowned with great success; and out of all the matches played by that club during the season, two only went against them: the first with the Charter Oak, and the return match with the Atlantic Club.
The Atlantic Club also maintained its prestige of success during the past year. Twice only was it beaten: once by the Excelsior, and once by the Eckford Club. The contests between the Atlantic and Excelsior clubs, as well as that between the Atlantic and Eckford Clubs, were the most interesting matches of the season.
It will be seen that quite a number of tie games were played—the Gotham Club figuring in three or four matches of this kind.
The closest game of the season was that between the Excelsior Club (of south Brooklyn) and the Union (of Morrisania), played on the 7th of September, at Morrisania. The score of the nine innings played was: 7 runs for the Excelsior, and 4 for the Union. It was a beautifully played game.
The first game of base ball ever played in California came off on the 22d of February, 1860, at which early period in the year base ball was also being played in New Orleans almost daily.
At the annual meeting of the National Association, held on the 14th of last March, sixteen new clubs were admitted as members, and eighteen others were admitted at the meeting held on the 12th of December—making in all eighty-eight senior clubs now represented in the National Association of Base Ball Players. As each of these clubs now average from thirty-five to forty members, the total number of ball-players so represented in the Association, may be safely estimated at three thousand. In addition to this large number, there are probably as many as one hundred senior clubs in this city and vicinity, and in the cities throughout the State, which have not yet joined the Association, and which have, perhaps, a membership of not less than three thousand. And if we add to these the not less than two hundred junior clubs of New York, Brooklyn, and vicinity—comprising at least two thousand members—it will be a safe calculation to say, that the game of base ball during the season of 1860 afforded amusement and invigorating exercise to at least TEN THOUSAND ACTIVE MEMBERS of base-ball clubs.
We anticipate a still further increase next year. The passion for healthy out-door exercise is rapidly spreading throughout the country; and in its season there is no game so simple, and yet so interesting and attractive, as that of our National Game of Base Ball.
Perhaps due to reasons of space, Cauldwell under-represents the extent to which the game expanded geographically in 1860, only mentioning the Excelsiors’ tours to western New York State, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and noting that the game was played in California and New Orleans. The game had spread by the end of the 1860 season to nearly all parts of the United States, and to parts of Canada; the Mercury itself printed reports of the formation of clubs and game accounts from Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Louisville.
Reading the Sunday Mercury’s season summary offers a taste of baseball guides to come, which would similarly fail to dwell on the game’s issues. As an unashamed apologist for the game, Cauldwell did not mention two disturbing trends which advanced in 1860. The Excelsior Club of South Brooklyn, usually considered the champion team of 1860, was considerably propelled in that direction by two new club members, Jim Creighton and George Flanly, transfers from the Star Club, also of Brooklyn. Both were widely rumored to have received certain tangible inducements to transfer, so that they are now considered two of the first, if not the very first, professionals.
The Excelsiors’ championship was not considered clear-cut because their tie-breaking match with the defending champion Atlantic Club, also of Brooklyn, was abandoned by the Excelsiors in the sixth inning, in protest of extensive misbehavior toward both the Excelsiors and the umpire by Atlantic partisans among the spectators. The Excelsiors never played the Atlantics again. Spectator misbehavior, usually blamed on drunks, street urchins and, especially, gamblers, was such a constant problem that Sunday Mercury summaries in 1860 of important games frequently included a comment on the effectiveness of crowd-control measures, a responsibility of the host club.
The 1860 summary is in one sense special: the modern reader knows, while Cauldwell could not, that what lay in store for the coming season of 1861, for which he expressed such high hopes, was not another year of spectacular growth, but diminution in the shadows of Civil War.
1. New York Sunday Mercury: Dec. 30, 1860, p. 6.
2. Thorn, J. “Jim Creighton,” SABR, The Baseball Biography Project, bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&bid=770&pid=16900
3. New York Sunday Mercury: Aug. 26, 1860, p. 5.
The article below, by William Ryczek, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Bill wrote Baseball’s First Inning: A History of the National Pastime through the Civil War (McFarland, 2009) which is an outstanding study of the evolution of American ballplaying. The book is part of a trilogy, alongside When Johnny Came Sliding Home and Blackguards and Red Stockings, covering baseball up to the early professional era.
His 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 1854.9, reflects that it is the ninth entry for the year 1854. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
Item 1854.9, William Van Cott Writes a Letter to the Sporting Press: December 1854
[T]he game has been thoroughly systematized, and . . . the players have attained a high degree of skill in the game.
In mid-December 1854, members of the Knickerbocker, Gotham, and Eagle Clubs held a dinner at Fijux’s, a restaurant located at 11 Barclay Street in New York. Fijux’s was a favored gathering place for the baseball fraternity, and the Knickerbockers often held meetings there. About forty-five men attended the affair and enjoyed a pleasant evening of food, drink, and conversation. Shortly afterward, William H. Van Cott of the Eagles wrote a letter to the sporting press reporting on the gathering and the state of the game of baseball in New York. Van Cott stated that each club had about thirty members, and informed the public that a number of interesting games among the clubs had taken place the preceding summer and fall. The publication of the letter in the New York Times is, to my knowledge, the first mention of baseball in the venerable journal. Interestingly, the Times’ first report on the sport was triggered by a social event rather than an actual game, indicative of the importance of the social aspect of the new sport. During the early years of club play, postgame speeches, singing, and the dispatch of a tasty “collation” were as important as the game itself.
In hindsight, we see baseball of the mid-1850s as a game in its infancy; yet Van Cott referred to the “old fashioned” version in contrast to the contemporary state of affairs and a game that had been “thoroughly systematized,” stating that players had “attained a high degree of skill in the game.” The nine-inning game, called balls and strikes, and the fly game lay in the future, but in the eyes of the correspondent, baseball of 1854 was at a highly evolved state, light years removed from old cat, rounders, and other early bat-and-ball games.
While baseball had certainly not achieved the level of perfection claimed by Van Cott, the game was clearly at a transition point. In the 1840s, the Knickerbockers had gathered together for informal recreation, not competition. By 1854, with the formation of two more clubs, it was perhaps inevitable that the three organizations would play the game together and equally inevitable that some form of competition would emerge. While Van Cott cited the increasing popularity of the sport, the level of interclub activity was very modest that year, as only five games had been played among the three clubs. The Eagles did not play their first outside game until November 10, and the main purpose of each organization was still to gather regularly for exercise. An interclub game remained a rare event.
The matches were clearly more convivial than competitive—contests described by Van Cott as “friendly but spirited trials of skill.” Yet, the clubs had taken the first baby step toward the competitive game that would eventually be played by the Atlantics, Mutuals, and Eckfords, and then by professional nines fighting for championships in a manner decidedly less friendly and more spirited.
Why did Van Cott write the letter? Possibly it was to recruit more members for the three clubs, though that was unlikely, since membership was rather exclusive and decidedly homogeneous. There were Van Cotts, Winterbottoms, Adamses, and Wadsworths, but there were no Kowlaskis, Ramirezes, or Mazzottas, even though European immigrants comprised a growing segment of New York’s population. Was he trying to encourage the formation of additional clubs, or was he attempting to generate publicity for the existing clubs and players? The Knickerbockers, baseball’s pioneer club, had made virtually no attempt to expand the game they had formalized.
With little effort having been made to attract attention to what club members considered mere recreation, press coverage of the new sport had been minimal. During the 1854 season, the New York Clipper published only a few brief reports and box scores, while in November the Clipper printed an article on “canine sports” that took up more column space than all the baseball reports combined. Cricket received far more attention than baseball in editor Frank Queen’s publication, as well as in the rival Spirit of the Times.
The impetus for Van Cott’s letter was a social event, but the subject matter of his communication was the growing popularity of baseball and the relatively novel development of clubs competing against each other. Cricket clubs played each other and kept score. Horses raced against each other, and dogs ripped each other to shreds, and in each case there was a winner and a loser. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was competitive. For several years, the Knickerbockers engaged in exercise, and while they divided into teams and meticulously kept score, there were no consequences to the outcome. With the formation of the Washington Club, which later morphed into the Gothams, there was opportunity for limited competition, and by 1854 the Knicks had played nine times against the Washington/Gotham club. Now, with the Eagles as a third team, there could be more games, more competition, and more public notice.
Just a few years after the publication of Van Cott’s letter, the game of baseball had grown to an extent the author was unlikely to have imagined. Press coverage expanded dramatically and by the end of the decade covered several columns each week in the Clipper and Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times. Less than a month before the dinner at Fijux’s a number of young men had formed the Jolly Young Bachelors’ Base Ball Club, soon to be known as the Excelsior. The following summer the Atlantics, long held to be the first of the rougher-hewn baseball organizations, took the field for the first time. Within a relatively brief interval the game had changed from one of recreation and exercise to one of friendly competition. It then evolved into one of spirited and sometimes unsportsmanlike rivalry. By 1860, brawls had supplanted dinners as postgame activity.
Those were my initial thoughts on the significance of Van Cott’s letter. As I reread the text, looking for hidden meaning and possible foreshadowing of the future growth of the game, a thought hit me with the force of a rising Jim Creighton fastball to the temple. Was I over-analyzing what might be a very simple, straightforward communication? As students of the origins of baseball, are we trying too hard to find meaningful qualities and intent in casual recreational activities? I am reasonably certain William Van Cott had no idea that, more than 150 years after he penned his letter to the sporting press, it would be the subject of an article in a baseball research journal—or even that there would be such a thing as a baseball research journal. Likewise, members of the Gotham, Eagle, and Knickerbocker clubs played their games without any inkling that we would be examining them in minute detail looking for trends, social implications, and transcendental evolutionary moments.
I once asked an acquaintance with a master’s degree in history why he hadn’t pursued a doctorate. He said he had abandoned academia when the curriculum evolved from the study of history to the analysis of historians and their theories. Baseball historians face an ongoing challenge to maintain focus on the field rather than on our own intellectual abstractions. Our knowledge of the eventual result tempts us to find significance and causation in what may have been merely accident or coincidence. Ex post facto interpretation of events is a risky proposition, and the difficulty of analyzing motive a century and a half after the fact is formidable. Was a change in the configuration of the field an attempt to balance offense and defense or an accommodation to a physical obstacle? Was an alteration in the composition of a club a move toward social leveling or the result of relocation, a personal quarrel, or something equally mundane and insignificant?
The study of early baseball is a fascinating pursuit, in part because of the tantalizing gaps in the tale. The growth of the sport and its assumption of the title of America’s national game were products of the confluence of a myriad of events, both those directly related to the game and societal and historical trends that were merely incidental. It was neither preordained nor inevitable in December 1854 and, had Van Cott penned a similar note about three chess clubs, it would have been relegated to the dustbin of history. But Van Cott wrote of baseball, not chess, and the subsequent explosive growth in the game’s popularity renders his letter an interesting reference to a milepost marking a key turn in the road of baseball’s evolution.
1. Spirit of the Times: Dec. 23, 1854.
A couple of nights ago, the Washington Nationals lost a decisive Game 5 in the National League Division Series, in agonizing fashion. Opening a 6-0 lead in the game’s early innings, they carried a lead of 7-5 into the ninth inning. Any of five pitches with two outs and two strikes could have been the last one of the game. The last time a Washington team played a deciding game in a postseason series was the seventh game of the 1925 World Series. Walter Johnson coughed up an early 6-3 lead while allowing 15 hits, shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh made two of his seven errors in the Series, and Washington lost, 9-7–the same score by which they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. I could go on about that sad, mud-spackled ballgame but I thought today I’d give Nats fans a lift. Here’s Walter Johnson, as he related the tale of Washington’s only World Series championship, as told to John P. Carmichael. Asked what was his greatest game, Old Barney–the nickname referenced racecar speedster Barney Oldfield–replied thus.
This won’t be very original, I’m afraid, because there couldn’t be a bigger day for me than the one everybody already knows about … October 10, 1924, in the last game of my first World Series. It was Weiser, Idaho, and Detroit and Washington put together; I guess you’d call it a piece of every day for eighteen years, and it didn’t look like I’d ever see it come around. After all, I was thirty-six years old and that’s pretty far gone to be walking into the last game of a World Series…especially when you couldn’t blame people for remembering I’d lost two Series starts already that year.
You see, I didn’t have much besides a fastball in my life, and there comes a time when speed alone won’t stop a batter. If a boy hasn’t got real, natural speed, it isn’t worth his while to try and force a fastball, because a slow pitch and a curve can fool a hitter better than unnatural speed. Besides, the arm may suffer. A free, loose motion and control are the main assets for a pitcher. That’s all I ever had to amount to anything.
Why, when I started out at 18 years of age, I couldn’t even land a job on the Pacific Coast. I went to Weiser, Idaho, because it had a semipro team and the players worked in the mines. I won my first game 4-0 on two hits. I won the next 2-1 in fifteen innings and then fanned fifteen to make my string three straight.
Weiser people began calling me “Pardner” instead of “Sonny.” I still was at Weiser in 1907 and had won 13 and lost 2 when Cliff Blankenship, a Washington scout, arrived. He’d really come out to look at Clyde Milan; I was just a by-product of his trip.
Well, he never saw me pitch at all, but he knew my record and offered me a job. I wouldn’t take it until he’d promised me a return ticket to California in case I failed. I joined Washington at Detroit on August 2, 1907, despite the pleas of the Weiser folk, who offered to buy me a cigar stand and set me up in business if I’d stay there. But you know how you are at 18 … you want to see things.
I saw something my first start. I got beat 3-2 and Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford bunted me all over the infield. I fell all over myself … and the 1,000 people in the stands laughed themselves sick. I was so confused I even missed the bus back to the hotel … and was walking there in my uniform when some fans gave me a lift.
Seventeen years later I was in a Series, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’d been beaten in New York for the second time by the Giants, and I’ll admit that when I got on the train to Washington, where we were to play the seventh game, there were tears in my eyes. I was carrying my youngest boy on my shoulder and trying not to speak to people when Clark Griffith put a hand on my arm. “Don’t think about it anymore, Walter,” he told me. “You’re a great pitcher. We all know it. Now tonight when we get home don’t stand around the box office buying seats for friends or shaking hands with people who feel sorry for you. I’ve seen many a fastball shaken right out of a pitcher’s hand. Go home and get to bed early … we may need you tomorrow.”
I told him I would, but as far as needing me further … I didn’t think manager Bucky Harris would call on me again. But I got my family off the train and we went straight home.
You can imagine how red-hot Washington was the next day … the last game of its first World Series coming up. Thirty-five thousand people were crammed into our park. President Coolidge was there. I made myself as inconspicuous as possible on the bench, because I didn’t want any sympathy … and I didn’t even want Harris to think of me in a jam. Well, Bucky started Curley Ogden, but pretty soon George Mogridge was in there and then Firpo Marberry, our big relief ace.
We were all tied up in the ninth when I came in. I’ll always believe that Harris gambled on me because of sentiment, but he said no. He just told me, “You’re the best we got, Walter … we’ve got to win or lose with you.” So I walked out there and it seemed to me the smoke from the stands was so thick on the field that nobody could see me clearly anyway. I remember thinking, “I’ll need the breaks,” and if I didn’t actually pray, I sort of was thinking along those lines.
I was in trouble every inning. After getting Fred Lindstrom in the ninth, Frankie Frisch hit a fastball to right-center for three bases. We decided to pass Ross Young and then I struck out George Kelly and Irish Meusel grounded to third. In the tenth I walked Hack Wilson and then, after striking out Travis Jackson, I was lucky enough to grab a drive by the old catcher Hank Gowdy and turn it into a double play.
Heinie Groh batted for Hugh McQuillan, the Giant pitcher, in the eleventh and singled. Fred Lindstrom bunted him along. I fanned Frisch this time, on an outside pitch, and once more passed Young. Kelly struck out again.
They kept after me, though. Meusel singled in the twelfth, but I’d settled down to believe, by then, that maybe this was my day, and I got the next three hitters. I’d tried to win my own game in the tenth with a long ball to the wall, but Wilson pulled it down. So I was up again in the twelfth when it was getting pretty dark. Muddy Ruel had lifted a pop foul to Gowdy, who lost it, and on the next pitch Ruel hit past third for two bases.
The ball never touched Fred. It hit a pebble and arched over his head into safe territory. I could feel tears smarting in my eyes as Ruel came home with the winning run. I’d won. We’d won. I felt so happy that it didn’t seem real. They told me in the clubhouse, that President Coolidge kept watching me all the way into the clubhouse and I remember somebody yelling, “I bet Cal’d like to change places with you right now, Walter.”
A long time later Mrs. Johnson and I slipped away to a quiet little restaurant where I used to eat on Vermont Avenue, in Washington, and do you know that before we were through with our dinner 200 telegrams had been delivered there. I never thought so many people were pulling for me to win, because the Giants were pretty popular. When we packed up and went home to Kansas, we had three trunks full of letters from fans all over the world. Mrs. Johnson answered about seventy-five every day for me … and we still didn’t finish until after Christmas.
It gives me great pleasure today to give Our Game over to John Holway, my friend, colleague, and frequent collaborator over the past three decades. We co-wrote The Pitcher, worked together on Total Baseball‘s first edition, and promoted SABR in the years before its membership was not yet 2000. But John’s forays into baseball’s dimly understood past predates mine by eons. He has been researching baseball since 1944, and he is still at it. Looking at baseball beyond America’s major leagues, he wrote the first book in English on Japanese baseball, Japan Is Big League in Thrills, in 1954. Since then he has published many notable books on the Negro Leagues, most notably perhaps Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues (1975), a collection of interviews with the then virtually unknown Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Bill Foster, Willie Wells, and The Complete Book of the Negro Leagues (2000). Holway saw his first Negro League game–Satchel Paige’s Monarchs against Josh Gibson’s Grays–in Washington, DC in 1945. He has also wrritten frequently about Ted Williams, whom he saw strike two home runs in the 1946 All-Star Game. A former chairman of SABR’s Negro Leagues committee, Holway has received SABR’s Bob Davids Award and the Casey Award for Blackball Stars, voted the best baseball book of 1988. In 2011 he captured a Henry Chadwick Award, capping a great career in which he has viewed baseball’s past from the vantage point of the present. Here he continues to point to the future, in the person of Washington’s Bryce Harper.
John B. Holway
Bryce Harper has now hit 22 homers as a 19-year-old. That puts him #2, behind Tony Conigliaro.
Never heard of Tony-C? He was one of the great tragic men of American baseball. Almost a half century ago, 1964, he slugged 24 home runs in 100 fewer at bats than Bryce.
Fans today don’t know Tony. But us old geezers remember a fresh-faced young guy with a smile who was struck down much too soon.
A Massachusetts boy, Tony signed with the Red Sox when he was 17 and came up to the big time when he was 19. He conked 24 over the Monster in only 404 at bats–Harper has 530 at the moment. That would equal about 32 for an equivalent number of at bats. Conigliaro also batted .290. Harper is struggling to get over .270.
Let’s not even talk about how much more money Bryce is being paid. Tony made a little extra change singing in Boston nightclubs; his most popular hit was “Little Red Scooter,” which he performed on TV too.
Then in August Tony broke his arm and his toes, and that was all for him that year.
But he came roaring back in ’65 with his 32 shots to lead the league, the youngest man ever to do it. Will Harper equal that?
Tony-C added 28 in ’66, but the Sox finished ninth. The one bright spot was, the Yanks finished tenth.
Then came ’67. The “Impossible Dream.”
The Sox charged back from almost worst to first, with Yaz and Tony and pitcher Jim Lonborg leading. Tony was batting .287 with 20 homers Then on August 18 in Fenway, facing Jack Hamilton of the Angels, Tony was almost killed.
The Sox won the pennant in their very last game, and I raced up to Boston to see Game 7 against the Cards. It was the second of three Series the Sox would hobble into without a key star. In ’46 Ted Williams had played with a painfully swollen right elbow; he was really half a player. In ’75 sensational rookie Jim Rice would ride the bench. (Should I mention Bill Buckner in ’86?) All four Series ended in seven-game losses.
I remember clearly when the lineups were announced, and Tony, still on the DL, was called to take his place on the foul-line with the other guys. He lifted his cap and waved it with a happy grin. The only thing bigger than his grin was our ovation.
Tony sat out in ’68, as the Sox fell back to oblivion. But he won the Comeback of the Year award in ’69 with 36 homers and 116 RBIs, his most ever. He’s the guy who made them remove the seats in dead centerfield. (Ted had tried, but they didn’t do anything until Tony complained.)
That winter, Tony’s eyesight almost gone, Boston traded him to California. He hit four homers.
He was interviewing for a broadcaster’s job in Boston when he was hit by a heart attack, then a stroke, and fell into a coma, which lasted for eight years until his death.
So, Bryce, I wish you the best of luck in memory of a guy who didn’t have much.
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 Bat, Somewhere 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 Bat, Somewhere 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.” 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.”
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?” and press patronage in the 1840s, especially in New York, helped promote cricket as “fashionable” and “much in vogue.” 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.” 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. 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. 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.”
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,” 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.” Any hope that the English would “find their equal at Hoboken” 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.
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, 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.”
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.” 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.
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. According to club president Dakin, they formed to make cricket “popular among Americans, by making it a quicker game.” 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. 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.
In 1868, Henry Chadwick was still advocating interclub play—that is between cricket and baseball clubs—to speed up and improve cricket. 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.”
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.” 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.
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. 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.
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.