The fun detective work we get to do

1900s Boston Cabinet FrontLate last fall, we drove out to rural Pennsylvania to visit with a potential consignor who had a large collection of paper ephemera, some of which included baseball items.

When we arrived at the house, we encountered a very nice family with binders and binders of all sorts of baseball-related items: individual cards, complete sets, postcards, and various forms of memorabilia.

It was a pretty incredible collection of stuff: some was particularly valuable, some not so much, but most of it was incredibly interesting.

In reviewing one of the binders, which was filled with off-grade baseball cards from the 1950s, we encountered this cabinet-style photograph.  Immediately, we were intrigued by the image: obviously an “important” ballpark, very likely from the major leagues, but not a field we could immediately recognize.  We visited with the family for a few hours and ultimately were awarded a nice consignment that included a few complete Topps sets, some baseball cards and Exhibits, a few memorabilia items – and this photo.

1900s Boston Cabinet BackWhen we began researching the photo, we quickly noted the back.  Underneath the word “Getz” (or “Yetz”) in pencil, is written “Boston + NY Giants.”  While we realize that anyone can write anything on the back of a cabinet photo, but that does not make it so (and believe us, we’ve seen all sorts of crazy claims made about cabinet photos based on the handwritten notes on the reverse), it seemed at least possible that we were looking at a photo of a Giants/Braves game, and perhaps even probable.  Magnifying the photo enabled us to look at the scoreboard, however, confirmed that it was, at least, a National League game: the scoreboard was monitoring games from eight National League teams.  This dated the photo to at least 1900 (the year the NL went to eight teams).

Rather than just leave it “as is” and make a guess, however, we dug in a bit, by researching the stadium.  We guessed from the shape of the diamond and the uniform style that we were looking at a photo from the early 1900s, but it was more difficult than one would think to identify the ballpark.  The Braves played at the South End Grounds in Boston until 1915, when Braves Field opened.  But very few photos of the South End Grounds exist (the second version of the park burned down in 1894, and the third version was renovated several times between 1894 and 1903), and Braves Field was renovated multiple times, the orientation of the diamond moved around, fences moved in, and grandstands and bleachers added between 1915 and 1952.  This made it difficult to unequivocally identify the park.

That’s when we consulted with stadium expert Tom Daley.  Tom has helped us with research numerous times, specifically with regard to stadiums, and with this example we were stumped.  Within minutes of consulting with Tom, he ruled out the South End Grounds as a possibility by producing a map of Boston that included the Grounds and other geographical landmarks that were not visible in the picture.  Then, Tom produced a photograph of Braves Field from August of 1915, just before it opened.  It was clear: we had our ballpark.

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From there, we focused again on the scoreboard to see what games were being played that day.  New York at Boston, Brooklyn at Philadelphia, Pittsburgh at St. Louis, and Chicago at Cincinnati.  By consulting boxscores, we were then able to determine which days those eight teams played at those four ballparks.  From that point, it was simply a matter of reviewing the boxscores and comparing the scores, and we were able to isolate the date of the game: May 26, 1916.

On that day, John McGraw’s Giants clobbered the Braves by the score of 12-1.  Braves manager George Stallings left pitcher Lefty Tyler in the game for the entire 9 innings to take the abuse; he gave up 12 earned runs on 14 hits.  Thought Tyler would go 17-9 with a 2.02 ERA for the Braves in 1916, this was not his best day.

Larry Doyle had 4 RBI for the Giants, and Fred Merkle and Dave Robertson each had three hits.  Sailor Stroud got the win for New York; it would be his only win of the season.

By consulting the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s uniform database, we can reasonably ascertain based on cap color (and also by the scoreboard) that the Giants are on the field and the Red Sox are at bat.  Based on this, we can be reasonably certain that the picture is showing us Sailor Stroud on the mound, Fred Merkle at first, Larry Doyle at second, Art Fletcher at short, and Hall of Famer Bill McKechine at third.  We can see Benny Kauff in center, and it is reasonable to assume that Red Dooin is behind the plate.  The home plate umpire is none other than newly-inducted Hall of Famer Hank O’Day.  The umpire on first (just to the right of the support beam) is Mel Eason.

Dissecting this photo was one of the most fun things about putting together this auction.  It went from being a nondescript photo of a nondescript game to being a real photo, with real people we could identify.  The photo includes at least two Hall of Famers – one officiating behind the plate, and one playing third base.  The photo also documents the only 1916 victory for Sailor Stroud.  The New Jersey native won 20 games in his major league career, but enjoyed a successful career in the Pacific Coast League, winning 20 games three times and playing 14 seasons, posting a 2.21 lifetime ERA.

The photo itself is worn, with “Compliments of G. L. Jewell” written in ink on the front of the mount, and the aforementioned pencil writing on the reverse.  Wear and staining to the mount protect the photo somewhat, but the photo is also subject to some cracking and general surface wear.  Still, it is a beautiful piece, an actual document of Braves Field just a few months after it’s inauguration.

 

Special thanks to Tom Daley for invaluable research assistance.

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