Too Big a Bat

June 12, 2013 § Leave a comment


Small boy with big basebal bat poses in front yard, circa 1920s old photo

Wide grip, c 1920s (click to enlarge

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.”

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Herman “Germany” Schaefer

April 10, 2013 § Leave a comment


Vintage 1913 photo of baseball player Germany Schaefer leaping to catch a ball

Germany Schaefer in a non-comedic pose, 1913 (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

This negative from the Bain Collection in the Library of Congress depicts Germany Schaefer during his time with the Washington Senators, for whom he played from 1910 to 1914. One of the early baseball “clowns,” Schaefer is perhaps best-known for stealing first base (at least once; an anecdote about a possible second instance, related by Davy Jones in The Glory of Their Times, does not seem able to be verified). In the ninth inning of a tie game in 1911, on first base with a runner on third, Schaefer stole second. Failing to draw the throw he had hoped might allow the runner from third to score, he headed back to first base on the next pitch. This started an argument, and after much chaos the runner on third, Clyde Milan, finally broke for home and was thrown out (though the Senators went on to win the game anyway). Several years later baseball instituted a rule that forbade such shenanigans. Rule 52, known to some as the “German Schaefer Rule,” states that  “A base-runner having acquired legal title to a base cannot run bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the fielders or making a travesty of the game.”

Travesties or not, Schaefer’s antics were legion, and you can read much more about them in this excellent piece. Schaefer seems to have felt that his pranks were of some actual value, once commenting that the approach “keeps our fellows in good spirits, and it sometimes distracts the opposing players.” And as the long-time Detroit baseball writer Harry Salsinger once wrote, “As a drawing card, Herman ranks second only to Cobb.”

Sadly, Schaefer died of complications of tuberculosis in 1919 at the age of 43, just over a year after playing his last major league game.

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