Jack Clements: Left-Handed Catcher

June 14, 2013 § Leave a comment


19th-century baseball player Jack Clements, who played for the Philadephia Quakers/Phillies for mot of his career

Catcher Jack Clements, c 1880s (NY Public Library, A.G. Spalding Collection)

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.”

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George Pinkney, Ironman

June 8, 2013 § 3 Comments


19th-century major league baseball player George Pinckney swings at a ball

George Pinkney by Gilbert & Bacon, Philadelphia, c 1880s (New York Public Library)

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?

Vintage cabinet card photo of early major leaguer George Pinckney

George Pinkney shown batting from the left side of the plate in this circa 1880s cabinet card

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.

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.”

Harry “Peanuts” Lowrey & Outfield Advertising

May 21, 2013 § Leave a comment


Vintage original snapshot of baseball player Peanuts Lowrey, circa early 1950s

Early 1950s outfield wall (and Peanuts Lowrey)

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.

Warren Spahn Flexi Disc

May 19, 2013 § Leave a comment


1964 flexi disc of Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn

Warren Spahn: 13 times a 20-game winner

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.

Jackie Robinson at Pasadena Junior College, 1937

April 14, 2013 § 1 Comment


1937 yearbook photo of baseball player Jackie Robinson

An 18-year-old Jackie Robinson in his first year at Pasadena Junior College

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.

Text from the 1937 PCC yearbook baseball section mentioning a young Jackie Robinson's performance

A triple for horsehider Robinson; in the fourth he “cracked a double”

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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