Frank Chance by Paul Thompson

June 4, 2013 § Leave a comment


Vintage portrait of first baseman Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs, 1910

Frank Chance of the Chicago ‘Nationals’ (Library of Congress)

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.”

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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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