Thrift Shop Find: Baseball’s Golden Age

I’ve just finished reading Baseball’s Golden Age: the Photographs of Charles M. Conlon, Baseball's Golden Ageand I enjoyed it very much. I’ve known about Charles Conlon for a while – ever since 1991, when Topps put out its Conlon Collection series of cards – and I’ve seen this book in the bookstores. However, I was lucky enough to come across my copy a couple of weeks ago in a thrift shop, in great condition, for 99 cents! Thanks to the kind person who gave this beauty up!

Charles Conlon was born in 1868, and was a proofreader at the Evening Telegram in New York City, but he was also an amateur photographer. John Foster, who worked with Henry Chadwick on the annual Spalding Guide, knew Conlon, learned of his hobby, and in 1904 invited him to take pictures of ball players for the annual Guide. “It will be a good pick up for you, ” Foster said, “and it will be something for a day off.”

It turned out to be a little more than that.

Conlon took pictures of ball players from 1904 to 1942, an amazing and massive collection of thousands of glass-plate photos, and Baseball’s Golden Age presents a nice selection of these, both the well-known stars of the Golden Age, and also a number of players you’ve never heard of. Many of these pictures will be familiar to baseball history buffs. Conlon took classic and well-known shots of Cobb, Mathewson, Ruth, Gehrig, and Wagner. Some of these were also used as the basis for the old Goudey baseball cards of the ’30s, such as these two shots of the Waner brothers.

waners - conlon and cards

Occasionally in the book they’ll have large pictures of the same player on facing page, with 10 or 20 years between the two shot. One of my favorites in this regard were these two shots of Charlie Gehringer.

Charlie Gheringer - Conlon - 1925-34 sm

The text in the book includes an introduction to Conlon’s story and his work, and then paragraph-length captions to the pictures. The pictures are beautifully printed, with many full-page shots. This is the sort of thing I’ll go back to again and again, as I love photography almost as much as I love baseball.

One thing I did learn from this book — Conlon destroyed thousands of his glass-plate negatives in the early ’30s.

…my plates were running me out of the house, so I destroyed hundreds of them. Perhaps it was a mistake, but where would I have kept them?

The Sporting News has the photographer’s 8000 remaining negatives. Most of the original prints remained in the files of the New York World-Telegram till it ceased publication in 1967, after which they were acquired by the Baseball Hall of Fame.

1904 – Mr. Watkins Comes to Town

The National Hotel, Minneapolis - photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

The National Hotel, Minneapolis – photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

“Watch Millers” says Mr. Watkins
NEW OWNER OF MINNEAPOLIS
TEAM ARRIVES IN CITY

The article on page 5 of the January 7th evening Journal says that W. H. Watkins has come to town, staying at the National Hotel. So far, I’m not impressed. Typical baseball team owner.

I have been dickering for a number of players, and can promise you that I will give Minneapolis as good a ball team as the city ever had.

Hard to say if that is a bold claim or not; minor league records from back then seem to be pretty scarce, and it looks like it would take some time to dig through old newspaper records to find official (or published, at any rate) standings over the years. I did find what seems to be the final standings of the American Association’s 1902 season, and Minneapolis’s record is nothing to boast about, 54-86.

American Association Standings - 23 Sept 1902

In 1903 their record was even worse, 50-89, and – insult to injury – the American Association Champion was the St. Paul Saints. (I couldn’t find this information in the Journal. Fortunately the St. Paul Globe is also part of the Library of Congress database!)

American Association Standings - 22 Sept 1903

St. Paul Globe - Sept 27 1903 - Saints Championship photo

Well, Watkins is here, so don’t worry folks. Nothing but Quality from here on.

All the players from last year are back, he says, though he’s not sure how many of the “old men” he’ll keep. Certainly, with the record of last year, there doesn’t seem to be much argument for keeping anyone. Ed Johnson, though, assures him that pitcher “Frosty” Thomas is a “good man and conscientious worker.”

Frosty Thomas - Minneapolis Journal - 3 April 1906

Frosty went 8-20 in 1903. Still, there’s a lot to be said for being a conscientious worker.

Don’t nuke the Ueck!

not today, anway.

Because it’s Bob Uecker’s birthday today!

And it just so happens that I’m the proud owner of an authentic Bob Uecker 1963 baseball card! As I recall, I had to give up a ’55 Mays and a ’53 Mantle to get it. I felt like I was stealing it, practically. Bob UECKER!

bob uecker B

I never saw Mays or Mantle on the Tonight Show. Uecker was on all the time.

Bob grew up in Milwaukee and signed with the Braves in 1956.

I signed with the Milwaukee Braves for three-thousand dollars. That bothered my dad at the time because he didn’t have that kind of dough. But he eventually scraped it up.

He came up to the Braves in 1962, then played for the Cardinals and the Phillies before finishing his career with the Atlanta Braves in 1967. When his playing days were over, he had a very successful career in broadcasting. But baseball was always the most important thing to Bob.

The biggest thrill a ballplayer can have is when your son takes after you. That happened when my Bobby was in his championship Little League game. He really showed me something. Struck out three times. Made an error that lost the game. Parents were throwing things at our car and swearing at us as we drove off. Gosh, I was proud.

I won’t embarrass Bob by putting the back of his card up here, with all his minor league stats, all the records. I know he’s a modest guy, and wouldn’t want that. But I will mention that there is a bronze statue of Bob outside Miller park in Milwaukee. Also honored with statues at Miller Park: Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, and … Bud Selig. One thing about Milwaukee. They have a good sense of humor there. Bud Selig?

Happy Birthday Bob. Good game!

Bob Uecker 2011

1904 – The National Commission Rules!

Jan 2 – 5, 1904

Not much baseball news on these days. On the 5th there’s an article about the National Baseball Commission meeting in Cincinnati and making some decisions about some players, and, as I didn’t know anything about this Commission, and as it was mentioned earlier in the year, and seems to be kind of important, I thought I’d investigate a bit.

The National Commission was created by the National Agreement of 1903, which brought “peace” between the National and American Leagues. (I suppose this means the owners in the rival leagues stopped raiding each other’s players, which was probably getting expensive for them.) The Commission basically runs baseball from 1903-1920, mediating disputes, sorting out who owned particular players when there were conflicting opinions about that, and doing whatever else needed doing. (i.e. holding meetings.) There were three people on the Commission – the Chairperson, the AL President, and the NL President, and the Chairperson was nominally “in charge” of baseball, though that person, in turn, was nominated by Ban Johnson, who was President of the American League. So there was sort of a balance of power, with all the power being balanced in Ban Johnson.

The obvious problem with the National Commission was that the members were also club owners, and so one could possibly get the impression that there might be occasionally an element of self-interest in their decisions. Not that anything like that ever happened. Of course not. But the scurrilous scandal sheets, I suppose, the Yellow Press, could certainly make a lot of noise and sell a lot of newspapers by saying otherwise.

Despite this small flaw, the National Baseball Commission lasted quite awhile. (Possibly because it didn’t really need to do very much, and perhaps did even less than that.) Eventually it was replaced by the establishment of a Baseball Commissioner, following the 1919 Black Sox scandal, when there was hue and cry in the muckraking press about “cleaning up the game.” At this point the National League owners were fed up with Ban Johnson. They supported a plan to have a National Commission made up on non-baseball men, (the Lasker Plan, after Albert Lasker, a Chicago Cubs shareholder,) while a majority of American League owners supported Ban Johnson and opposed the Lasker plan.

The situation was deadlocked throughout the 1920 season, and the National League made plans to invite the White Sox, the Red Sox, and the Yankees (whose owners also supported the Lasker plan) into the National League, while adding another team in Detroit. The Tiger’s owner, Frank Navin, a Ban Johnson loyalist, was thus fairly well motivated to come up with some other option, and he brokered a compromise among all the owners that would install only non-baseball men as National Commissioners. The club owners then asked the widely-known-and-respected Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be the new Chairperson of the Commission. Landis responded that he would only serve if he was the sole Commissioner, with nearly unlimited authority to act “in the best interests of baseball.” And he wanted a lifetime contract.

Judge Landis and owners 1920 b2

The owners, (somewhat surprisingly to me, and maybe to Landis) agreed to all of this. They must have been weary of the whole thing, and Landis probably had a lot of regrets later on that he had not asked for more perks, a valet, one of those Hot Spot Chalmers, twenty weeks paid vacation. Perhaps this explains why he is generally looking so glum all the time.

The Many Moods of Landis b fr

The owners did agree to pay him $42,500 a year, on top of the $7,500 he was making as a Federal Judge, and they also agreed that they couldn’t fire him, cut his pay, or criticize him in public. (Judge Landis was the one who wrote up the agreement, coincidentally.)

Anyway – in 1904 the National Commission is pretty brand new and making all the calls. They are probably still in the honeymoon period, but how long can that last?

Johnson, Brush, Herrmann, and Pulliam - National Baseball Commission 1904 d

Blaze update…

bupdate2 fla wct 2

When last we left the Louisiana Blaze, on the 8th of August last year, the 2053 season was winding down, and the Blaze were looking towards next year. Well, time has passed. Let’s catch up.

2053

We finished the year with a 64-98 record, 5th place, 24 games back. We scored 602 runs, but we allowed 738. We hit .240 as a team, and had an ERA of 4.15, with a WHIP of 1.42. This is not a recipe for success. Masuhiro Yoshida led us in most offensive categories, while Ledford and Wright were the top starters.

In the 2054 draft I had the fifth pick, and my number one choice was a starting pitcher, Babe Glumak, the younger brother of my number 2 pick last year, Bucky. Babe’s got basically two pitches a sinker and a knuckle-curve, and he throws them hard. I’m looking for great things from young Babe.
After Babe, there didn’t seem to be a lot of stand out pitching available, so I went with four fielders: left fielder Franklin Amp, shortstop Bobby Collyard, first baseman Danton Samba, and catcher Curt Mathews. Certainly, we could use someone to hit the ball.

2054

In ’54 we improved. We went 65-97. At this rate, a 100 win season is only a matter of time. We scored 634, (+32!) but allowed 792 (+54!) – not a good trend. We finished in 5th place, 27 games out, and once again claimed a moral victory by avoiding the predicted 100 loss season. Take that!

In ’54 Masahiro Yoshida had some knee problems, missed about five weeks of the season, and faltered a bit. Young third baseman Jesus Rosales took over the batting lead in most categories, finishing with a .303 average and 20 home runs in his second full season. Only 24 years old. I love this kid!

The pitching was terrible in ’54 – a 4.50 ERA. The most pleasant pitching surprise of the year was Pedro Cardenas, who, at 35, was brought up from the minors in sheer desperation, and who managed to start off by going 4-0, or something like that, before finishing up at 7-7 with a 4.70 ERA. One of my other starters was Michael Gore, who went 6-15 with a 6.03 ERA. I kept on thinking he couldn’t be that bad, but he was. Meanwhile, it was Wright’s turn to have a decent season (14-11, 3.62) and Ledford’s turn to disappoint (10-16, 3.42). Ledford was always just good enough to lose. Ben Stewart had a decent season as a closer, with 36 saves and a 3.39 ERA. Not that I needed a closer, but his trade value is minimal, I think, as he’s 35 year’s old. Still, make me an offer.

In the ’55 draft I would have gone with pitching if there would have been someone there for me in the three spot. But there wasn’t, so I took a college kid, rightfielder Ty Pharoh, as my number one, number 3 overall. Looks to be a good hitter with some power and speed, and I’m hoping he comes up soon. My outfield is a shambles. My other picks, in order, pitcher Barlow Quirk, first baseman Franzwah Thibidaux, pitcher Johnny Dark, pitcher L.C. Crow, and pitcher Sam Gunsolly. Yes, I could use some pitching.

2055

Another season where 100 losses were predicted. Another season where we beat the odds. We finished at 73 and 89, 4th place, 29 games back, and just short of a wild card spot in the playoffs. General Manager of the year? Not likely. What’s the secret of our success, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. We scored 596 runs, -38 from last year (!), and gave up 647, which is -145 from last year! Yes, almost 150 less runs were scored against us. Unethical Chad McCall came up this year, and – genius that I am – I pitched him in middle relief almost all season. He went 6-1, with a 1.70 ERA in 100 innings of work. I finally put him in the rotation at season’s end, and, his second start, he throws a no-hitter.
I think he’ll be starting next year.

chadwick_mccall_2055_

I will probably need him, as one of my other top starters is now 37 years old, and perhaps will retire? Carlos Ibarra went 12-11 with a 3.35 ERA, at 37, the best I’ve seen from him. Perhaps he’s working on the knuckleball? Wright and Ledford both posted 8-14 marks, Ledford with a 3.06 ERA. I also brought up former first round pick Dale Smokervich, but he has had some injury troubles and is fading a bit. He went just 7-10 with a 4.57 ERA; I’m hoping he will improve next season, though he might find himself in the bullpen.

If we could have scored a few runs last year, we might have made the playoffs! But we didn’t. Jesus Rosales again led our “offense” in most categories, hitting .297 with 77 rbis. Yoshida led the club in HR with… 13. Yes. Thirteen. John White would probably have led the club in home runs, but he got hurt after 40 some games, so he only ended up with 9. Our outfield was terrible. We used first baseman Clint Cotton in left and right field, and he hit more than we thought he would, going .247-10-42, but Robert Riley (another first baseman playing left) only hit .227-9-47. Centerfielder Carlos Lopez rebounded from some disappointing years to hit .299, but let’s see if he can do that again, because I’m doubtful. Olimpio Molnes was brought up from Baton Rouge, and he did okay for a rookie, at .242-9-41; plus he can actually play outfield! Run, catch, and throw! I don’t know if he can hit so much next year, but we plan on having him out there to catch the ball.

One thing for sure in 2056 – both our pitching and our outfield should be better than in ’55. Babe Glumak should be in the rotation, and Ty Pharoh will be in right.

Currently the playoffs begin tomorrow; they’ll take awhile. And then comes the ’56 draft. I’ll be picking 8 or 9, I think, somewhere in there. Pitching? Hitting? Well, we’ll have to see what’s available.

blazeball 2 copy

January, 1904

I thought it might be interesting this year to take a look at the adventures of the Minneapolis ball club of 100 years ago. (With a big tip of the cap to 19th Century Baseball, New Haven Style) Unfortunately, I found that the 1914 Minneapolis Tribune archives are only available via the ProQuest database, and, as I thought I might want snippets of articles, pictures, etc., that did not seem like a very useful resource. But then I found that the 1904 Minneapolis Journal is a part of the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database, which makes it quite a bit more accessible. And so, using the Library of Congress’s newspaper Time Machine, we will travel back a 110 years, to January, 1904, to follow the struggles and adventures of the hometown club.

HG Wells Time Machine d fr

Welcome to the early days of the 20th Century!

1 January – Friday

A bit of a slow baseball news day, as you might expect for New Year’s Day.

There’s a brief article on page 13, disputing a story from Pittsburg that claims that Jack Menefee, “the famous pitcher and former Miller” has been offered $5000 to manage the Minneapolis club in ’04. Menefee plans to consult his partners prior to accepting or declining the offer, the story goes, as he had planned on quitting baseball to devout himself to his brickyard interests. The Minneapolis Journal reporter, though, has talked to Ed Johnson, former president of the Minneapolis club, “who is looking after the interests of Watkins until the latter arrives in Minneapolis.” Johnson says that the story probably has no truth to it, as Watkins has always managed his own teams, and probably will continue to do so.

Watkins?

Bill Watkins - old judge - 1888-89

William Henry Watkins was, I learn, a Canadian with a long involvement in the early days of baseball. There’s a detailed biography of him on the SABR website, but, briefly summarizing, 1884 finds Watkins as a 26 year old second-baseman for the Indianapolis Hoosiers club in the American Association. On August 1 of ’84 he also took over as manager of the club,  but on August 26th he was hit on the head and nearly killed by a pitch thrown by Cincinnati’s hard-throwing Gus Shallix. He spent several days slipping in and out of a coma before he finally came to. And then, amazingly, he puts himself back into the lineup on September 11th. He went 2 for 4 on that day, but only 3 for 37 in the remaining games of the season, and that was the end of his playing career. In 1885 Watkins joined with two partners in organizing the Western League, with Watkins owning the Indianapolis franchise. The Western League did not last an entire season, but once it folded Watkins went on to Detroit, then Kansas City, Sioux City, St. Paul, Rochester, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis (again), and then, finally, Minneapolis. In November of 1901 Watkins’ Indianapolis club joined the new American Association, which was to be one of baseball’s more resilient minor league circuits. In 1902 the Indianapolis Indians won the Association championship, but in 1903 they finished fourth, and Watkins resigned his position so as to take over the rival Minneapolis club in 1904.

Gus Shallix

I was a little curious about this pitcher Gus Shallix, whose real name (or former name) was August Schallick. Shallix was born in Paderborn, Germany, in 1858, and I found a brief story about him in the St. Paul Globe, dated July 19, 1896:

Shallix story - St Paul Globe

“…he contracted a powerful attack of dead arm”?

I wonder if that’s very contagious?

Back to the 20th Century. There’s also a small blurb on the first of January about the case of infielder Charles Donahue, which has been reopened by the National Commission. Apparently Donahue was claimed by both the St. Louis Nationals and the Chicago Americans. The National Commission awarded him to the St. Louis club, but now the President of the Spokane club, where Donahue played last season, has come forward with “new evidence,” and the case is thus reopened. Though the National Commission has seemed to have mostly lost interest in the case, and have kicked the case downstairs, referring it to the National Association of Minor Leagues. Deal with this, will you?

Thus begins the year 1904. I had hoped to follow this day by day, but Life has intervened, and I’m getting a late start. However, how much baseball news will there be in January and February? Probably not much. I figure I’ll be caught up by mid-February.

old war-time baseball up for auction…

We’re not talking WWII, or even WWI.

Or even the Spanish-American War.

We’re talking Civil War.

civil war baseball 1 sm

This ball was in Sherman’s march to Atlanta, in 1864. Written on it is Zouave B.B.C. [which must mean Base Ball Club]. The Zouave units in the Civil War were modeled after the French elite Zouave units, which were first formed in Algeria, from native tribesmen. There were numerous volunteer Zouave units on both sides of the Civil War, and initially at least some of these units practiced light infantry tactics. They often wore eye-catching (and bullet-attracting) uniforms, with baggy red pants, short open jackets, and, at times, fezzes.

Zouave fez

In any case, this old baseball is up for auction. Interested? Details here. It will be interesting to see what this goes for.