Tag Archives: Baseball

Baseball Bearings

It’s high summer and high time for some baseball: of the ephemeral kind. The Library of Congress’s major summer exhibition, Baseball Americana, presents all sorts of compelling and colorful images of America’s pastime, but I want to add a few. The first two sections of the exhibition look particularly interesting to me–on the early game and the players–because I’ve always been curious how the “New York Game” beat out the “Massachusetts Game” (sometimes called Town Ball or the New England Game), which was basically a North American version of the rounders, a ball game that dates back to Tudor times. I think it would have been kind of cool if Massachusetts prevailed, if only because you could out someone by hitting them with a ball as they ran between the bases, but the New York game became “National” by the close of the Civil War.

Baseball collageThe Base Ball Player’s Pocket Companion. Boston: Mayhew and Baker, 1859.

And once everyone was playing by the same rules, baseball took off, leaving a trail of PAPER in the wake of its ascent: scorecards, scouting reports, sheet music, advertisements, drawings and photographs and lots and lots of baseball cards. All and more is in the exhibition, but I’m going to insert a few of my own favorite items here, from my parochial perspective of course. For example, Baseball Americana features an uncut sheet of the first baseball cards depicting players from the Washington Base Ball Club in various stilted poses in 1887, when tobacco companies first started tucking these slips of paper into their product. There is nothing more charming than early baseball cards, and such uncut sheets are very rare, but Historic New England has a similar image that is even older: of just one famous Boston Red Stocking Player, George Wright, posing in a slightly more naturalistic way as he illustrates the key baseball “attitudes” or stances, for an 1875 instructional pamphlet. And as you can see, these images are by Salem photographers Smith & Bousley, who operated a studio at 214 Essex Street.

Baseball Uncut sheet of Baseball Cards

Baseball George Wright

George Wright’s Book for 1875 containing record of the Boston Base Ball Club, with scores of base ball and cricket trip to England, and other items of interest, also, base ball attitudes, in twelve different styles, with an explanation of each. Hyde Park, Mass., printed at the Norfolk County Gazette Office, 1875; Historic New England.

Wright was quite the sportsman, in Boston and elsewhere, and he is also a Hall-of-Famer, so let’s stick with him—which is easy to do as he appears to be one of the first celebrity pitchmen in early baseball: featured in an 1871 cabinet card, and an 1874 advertisement for Red Stockings Cigars. I’ve also included a Red Stocking cigar label from 1874, just because I love it. You can also see images (and words!) of George and his equally-famous brother Harry “the original Wright Brothers”), along with other Red Stockings, in this million-dollar appraisal on Antiques Roadshow.

Baseball George Wright 1871

Baseball 1874-red-stockings-cigar-advertising-display-poster-george-wright REA Auctions

Baseball 1874-red-stockings-cigar-labelAll images from Robert Edward Auctions, a sports memorabilia collector’s dream.

The Library of Congress has a great collection of baseball sheet music so I’m surprised more of these items are not included in Baseball Americana, but then again its breadth encompasses the entire history of baseball while I seem to be stuck in the pre-World War I era. To be worthy of its title, Baseball Americana has to deal with segregation and free agency and moneyball, while I can just dwell on the grand old game if I like.

baseball songs collageBaseball Sheet Music covers, 1910-12, Library of Congress.

Opening Day at Fenway

For everyone in New England (excluding pockets of Connecticut and Vermont where New York fans abound) and those regions of Red Sox nation beyond, tomorrow is an exciting day:  the opener at Fenway against the Yankees.  I always feel better knowing that baseball is on, even if I’m not watching.  And this is also an opportunity for me to showcase some really great photographs:  of the park but mostly of the players.

Fenway Park was built almost a century ago, in 1912, to replace the older Huntingdon Avenue Grounds.  A few years ago I wasn’t sure it would be standing for its centennial (it was placed on Preservation Massachusetts’s most endangered list in 1999) but its present owners seem committed to its preservation.  A century ago, it was the most modern of parks featuring all sorts of innovations for crowd accessibility and control:  reserved seating (with gold leaf lettering!), separate entrances for the bleacher, grandstand and pavilion seating (which some contemporaries feared was destroying the egalitarian sociability of baseball games).   I think of Fenway as the most intimate of stadiums, but at least one historian has noted that it and the other “modern” parks built just before World War I “standardized and depersonalized the sport while allowing more fans to see the game”, separated these same fans from the players, and “generally removed much of the previous informality”. (Robert  Bluthardt, “Fenway Park and the Golden Age of the Baseball Park, 1909-1915”, Journal of Popular Culture 21 (1987), a reference I owe to my SSU colleague Brad Austin) Still, Fenway is a far cry from the super stadiums of the later twentieth century, and for that I am grateful.

Some images of Fenway in its first few years (1912-14) from the Bain News Service archive at the Library of Congress; the last one features backup catcher Hick Cady who is so prominent in pictures from this era you would think he was Babe Ruth!

And now for some photographs of the old towne team in the same era.  From the collection of the Boston Public Library, photographs of the 1911 and 1912 Red Sox teams, the first on a down day in Los Angeles, the second in a (rather strange) diamond formation, and the third at the World Series of 1912.  The last photograph is a conventional roster shot of the 1913 team on a cigarette card from the New York Public Library.

The ability of the modern sports stadiums of the twentieth century, both early and late, to separate the players on the field from the fans in the stands must explain why I find the photographs of individual players (and managers) of the early century so particularly poignant.  The photographs below are from another archive in the Library of Congress:  a collection of photographs taken by Chicago Daily News photographers from 1902-33.  Among this collection are several of Boston Red Sox players at Comiskey Field.  Babe Ruth was there and is here, but the rest of the photographs I have chosen are of players (and one manager, Patsy Donovan) who are not quite as well-known:  after Patsy (1911), there is Harry Bartholomew Hooper (1912), Clarence “Tilly” Walker (1916) and Babe Ruth (1918).

I chose these particular photographs just because they seem so immediate and intimate.  Baseball players, politicians, average everyday people, it doesn’t matter:  people just seem to have a closer, more honest relationship with the camera in the earlier days of photography.  They are really there; look at Harry Hooper.

Baseball cards deserve another exclusive post, as they’re important forms of ephemera as well as cultural artifacts.  I’m going to include Harry Hooper’s card from 1912 here, however, just because of my particular fascination with him. 

Hooper is also an inspirational figure for the beginning of the season,  as he is the only player (SO FAR) to be a part of FOUR Red Sox World championship teams:  those of 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918.

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