August 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
This snapshot — more or less evenly split between the game action (or perhaps infield practice?) and a small group of spectators, with what looks like a distant farmhouse visible past the head of the person standing towards the left of the crowd — has a simple beauty, I feel. It’s also interesting to me in that it shows that split, Ty Cobb-like grip in use. I’ve always wondered how common that actually was (and how long it was used), especially after seeing some film of Ty Cobb in which he started with his hands apart, but then seemed to bring them together as he swung. This person clearly finished his swing with them still held apart. I have enlarged a section with the batter so it can be better seen.
June 14, 2013 § Leave a comment
Jack Clements played from 1884-1900, and is regarded as being the last left-hander to catch regularly, as well as the first to wear a chest protector. I hope he also — at least eventually — wore a glove. According to this excellent overview of the history of the baseball mitt, the first confirmed use of a glove was in 1875, and by the 1890s wearing one was the norm.
When Clements passed away in 1941, his obituary in the New York Times read in its entirety: “NORRISTOWN, PA., May 24 (AP) — Jack Clements, former left-handed catcher who played with the Phillies, St. Louis Nationals and Cleveland Spiders in the Eighteen Nineties, died yesterday after an illness of six weeks. His age was 76.”
June 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
This boy’s “grip” is of course not really a grip, but players of the era did sometimes employ — as it would appear George Pinkney did, from the previous post’s photos — a wide grip for better bat control. Ty Cobb famously claimed he could hit more home runs if he so chose, and he appears to have abandoned his classic grip at times to generate more power. From a piece on baseball bats at sabr.org:
“In 1920 and 1927, Babe Ruth hit more home runs than every other team in the American League. On May 5, 1925, however, Ty Cobb put up power numbers that even the great Ruth couldn’t muster. Frustrated with the publicity Ruth’s slugging had garnered, Cobb commented to a reporter that hitting home runs was not as hard as it looked. He declared that he too would start trying to swing for the fences. With a new mindset and a hands-together grip, Cobb went 6-for-6 that day, with two singles, a double, and three home runs, giving him sixteen total bases—still an American League record (shared with several others) for a nine-inning game. The next day, Cobb hit two more home runs, totaling five in two days—still a major-league record. Satisfied he had proved his point, Cobb returned to his familiar grip and style: trying to get base hits instead of hit home runs.”
June 8, 2013 § 3 Comments
George Pinkney played major league baseball from 1884 to 1893, for teams such as the Cleveland Blues, Brooklyn Grays/Bridegrooms/Trolley Dodgers and the Louisville Colonels. He is the player whose record for most consecutive innings played (5,152, from 1885-1890) was broken by Cal Ripkin, Jr. in 1985. (Note that this was a different statistic than the consecutive-games record Ripkin set when he bested Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 in 1995.) Interestingly, I have seen Pinkney listed as both a left- and right-handed hitter in different places (but not a switch hitter) — perhaps explaining (or explained by?) the photos from each side of the plate?
C.M. Gilbert and William Bacon were well-known photographers in Philadelphia beginning in the 1870s; their studio was located at 830 Arch Street, with a second (from 1886) at 1030 Chestnut Street.
June 4, 2013 § Leave a comment
Frank Chance was, of course, the first baseman in the famous Chicago Cubs’ double-play trio of Tinkers to Evers to Chance. He was also the team’s manager from 1905 to 1912, and in fact his winning percentage of .667 is still a franchise record.
This circa 1910 photo — part of a series of portraits used for a set of baseball cards issued by the American Tobacco company in 1911 — was done by New York freelance photographer Paul Thompson. According to a 2009 article by Harry Katz on smithsonianmag.com, not much is known of Thompson: “Even such basic biographical information as the dates of his birth and death is hard to establish. But some two dozen of his player portraits survive in the Library of Congress, bringing to life the subjects’ determination, their enduring passion for a physical game and the ravages of a lifestyle that predated the luxury travel, sophisticated equipment and personal trainers of today.”
It is a striking image. Thompson had a studio at 10 Spruce Street, but according to Katz, he took the photos “against rough wooden backdrops at New York’s ballparks. With a shallow depth of field and an unsentimental lens, he brought out in sharp relief the players’ leathery faces and steel-eyed stares, capturing their pride, their toughness and the effects of extended exposure in the field. The rough dignity of his portraits survived the translation into color prints on cardboard.”
May 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
This snapshot of Peanuts Lowrey would date from the early 1950s, as he played for the Cardinals from 1950 to 1954. One of the reasons I like it is for the signs on the outfield wall, something you just don’t see very much anymore. (And when you do, like currently at Dodger Stadium, it isn’t, of course, at all the same.)
Lowrey was born in the Los Angeles area and apparently worked as a child actor for a time. He also set a record with seven consecutive pinch hits while playing for the Cardinals in 1952.
May 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
This 1964 Warren Spahn flexi disc (for those who aren’t familiar with what that is, it’s a lightweight record printed on a flexible vinyl sheet) is part of a series produced by a company called Auravision for what I believe was a few years in the early 1960s. Others featured included players such as Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Mays, Whitey Ford and Frank Robinson.
The back of the record looks more or less like a baseball card, with the player’s year-by-year statistics listed through the previous season. I thought it was interesting that while Spahn’s record in 1963 was a remarkable 23-7, he only recorded 102 strikeouts in 260 innings. It does seem that batters struck out less in previous eras (as a recent Sports Illustrated article discusses), but still, the major league leader that year among pitchers was Sandy Koufax, with a healthy 306. Spahn was, rather amazingly, 42 that season, so must have brought to bear all the craftiness with which nearly 20 years in the big leagues had endowed him. In any case, that was the last season in which he would post a winning record; in 1964 he was to fall all the way to 6-13, while his ERA more than doubled.
April 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
A backyard pose, with glove close at hand. I’ve blown up a detail of the boy below, as it’s a little hard to see the great glove in the full photo. I picture him heading off to a game right afterwards, though I am not actually sure how many leagues they had for kids at the time (Little League baseball began in 1939 with just three teams, and until 1947 was limited to Pennsylvania). There are many snapshots of boys from that era in uniform, and I assume that at times they were on actual teams, but suppose that in many cases they were just wearing uniforms they were given by their parents.
April 14, 2013 § 1 Comment
What is now Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California was previously known as Pasadena Junior College, and the 1937 yearbook for the school features “Tech transfer” Jack Robinson (as he is called in the baseball and track sections) in his P. J.C. Bulldog uniform (though he seems to have missed the team photo). The 8-page varsity baseball section also includes brief accounts of the season’s games, an example of which is included below. It is full of charming lingo, such as “horsehiders,” and descriptions like the one of a batter who “swung a mighty bludgeon in this fray, and sent one out over the fence.” Interestingly, it seems the College also played company teams at times — Pasadena’s last two games took place on “the beautiful Emerald Isle of Catalina” (which in those years also served as the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs) against “a strong Firestone Tire team,” with which Pasadena split two games.