Sunday, April 23, 2017

The First Bunt

On April 17, 2017, Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber made news by bunting. Yes, bunting. You can watch the video here.

Not only was this the first successful bunt of Schwarber's big league career, but it was one of the prettiest bunts I've seen in many, many years. It also reminded me of a discovery I made a few years ago: the first known instance of a bunt. Here's the scoop:

On June 29, 1860, the Atlantics and Putnams, two clubs from Brooklyn, faced one another in a game played at the corner of Lee Avenue and Hooper Street in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. In the second inning, with no one on, Putnam second baseman Edward Brown came to bat against Atlantics pitcher John Price. Here's the account of what happened next as published in the New York Clipper of July 14, 1860:



Here's a transcript:
A circumstance occurred in the 2d innings which we deem worthy of notice: Brown was at the bat, and Price pitched him a low ball, which, in bringing his bat down, Brown hit with the bat in a similar manner to that in which a cricketer blocks a straight ball; judgment was asked, and as the Umpire deemed it an accident, it was decided "no hit," but we think it should have been considered fair, for the reason, that had a player been on the first base at the time, he could easily have made his second base before the pitcher could have fielded it, and the decision may lead to similar accidents on other occasions when such play would have a more important bearing on the game. If, in the act of striking, the ball be hit forward of home base, however light the touch, it ought to be considered a fair ball, otherwise accidents similar to the above will be of frequent occurrence.
This description makes a few things quite clear.

First, Brown's actions were described in terms of cricket: "Brown hit with the bat in a similar manner to that in which a cricketer blocks a straight ball." Today, this would be a worthless explanation to Americans, as very few in our country are familiar enough with cricket to make the parallel. However, in 1860, cricket and baseball were both quite familiar to the sporting crowd, and so the description worked well.

This woodcut, published in The Boy's Book of Sports, Games, Exercises, and Pursuits (Frederick Warne and Co., London, 1869), shows a cricket batsman executing a "forward block," similar to the play made by Brown:



Second, Brown's actions were clearly unintentional. There was no one on base at the time of the play, so there was obviously no intent to sacrifice. And, as it was described as "an accident," Brown was also most certainly not looking to bunt for a base hit.

Third, the play was so bewildering to everyone involved, that the umpire ultimately decided that it should be considered "no hit." In other words, as kids today would say, it's a "do over."

And finally, no one at the game understood the potential of Brown's actions ... not even Brown himself. The fellow who did, and the one who should get credit for the concept of the sacrifice bunt, was the gentleman who wrote the account of the game in The New York Clipper. It was he who realized that by hitting the ball in the manner that Brown did, "had a player been on the first base at the time, he could easily have made his second base."

So, while Brown was the first player to bunt a ball, he was not the inventor of the bunt. That title should go to the very prescient sports writer and future Hall of Famer, Henry Chadwick.







Monday, January 16, 2017

Criss Cross

Well, it's happened again. I just finished watching the 1949 movie "Criss Cross," starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, and Dan Duryea (who had a small role in "The Pride of the Yankees," but that's another story), and darned if there isn't some baseball in the background.

For those who aren't aware, I've blogged about finding baseball in movies that basically have nothing to do with baseball a number of times. Feel free to read more:
In "Criss Cross," the first appearance of baseball occurs about half an hour into the film, when Steve Thompson (played by Lancaster) and Anna Dundee (played by De Carlo) meet in a drug store. As the two talk, one can see a cigarette advertisement in the background above and behind De Carlo (and through the haze of Lancaster's own cigarette). Here's a screen capture:



The ad is for Chesterfield Cigarettes, and features a slogan they copyrighted in April of 1948: "The Baseball Man's Cigarette." Here's what the actual ad looks like:



The captions for the six baseball men on the ad read as follows (clockwise from bottom left):
  • Bucky Harris, Manager of World's Champion New York Yankees
  • Boston Braves' Bob Elliott, Voted Most Valuable Player in the National League
  • Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox
  • Stan Musial, St. Louis Cardinals
  • Champion N.Y. Yankees' Joe DiMaggio, Voted Most Valuable Player in the American League
  • Ewell Blackwell, Cincinnati Reds
The movie was shot during the 1948 season, so these were great stars for Chesterfield to use. There's the manager of the Yankees, who won the 1947 World Series, as well as both MVPs from the season. Ted Williams and Stan Musial were perennial all-stars, so they were perfect choices to pitch the cigarettes. And while many of today's fans may not have heard of the final player, Ewell Blackwell was the brightest pitching star of 1947.

There was no Cy Young Award at the time, but had there been, Blackwell would have easily captured the 1947 version. Nicknamed "The Whip," the 6'6" sidearmer posted a mark of 22-8 with a 2.47 ERA for an otherwise forgettable Cincinnati Reds club that won just 77 games that season. Blackwell never did approach that kind of success again, as shoulder problems plagued him for the rest of his career. But in 1947, Blackwell was the tops.

Note, that the ad in the movie was slightly altered from the seen one above in two main ways:
  • the bottom portion, which features the famous "Always Buy Chesterfield" slogan, has been cropped out;
  • the pack of Chesterfield cigarettes in the center of the ad has been obscured by three packs of  cigarettes affixed to the front.
These alterations were clearly made so as to hide the manufacturer's name, both at the bottom of the advertisement and on the image of the cigarette pack at center. Here I've superimposed the color ad on the screen capture to highlight the similarities and alterations:



The ad shows up again at the end of the scene, this time over Lancaster's shoulder, as he and De Carlo talk near the entrance to the drug store



The ad is altered in the same fashion as the previous one. In fact, it may very well be the exact same prop, moved to a new location. Again, I've superimposed the color ad on the screen capture:



I consider this a major find, not because the baseball advertisement is significant in any way, but because I somehow managed to take my eyes off the incredibly gorgeous Yvonne De Carlo in order to stumble across the ad in the first place.

The very next scene in the movie also features some hidden baseball. This time, Lancaster is back at his mother's home, preparing to go out on a date. He talks with his mother and just as he is about to leave we see a framed photograph on the wall near his door. Here are two screen shots showing the photo:





And here are two details from the above shots:





The images are quite blurry, but I believe they both show a picture of a ballplayer (at right) posing with another person. Alas, I have been unable to make any headway in identifying this photo. Any ideas?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Baseball, Valentine's Day, and Music


Is there anything more romantic on Valentine's Day than a baseball love song? Well, perhaps. But work with me on this one. Here is a selection of just a few of the many amorous baseball ditties that have been written over the years.

Tally One for Me (1877)



The sheet music for "Tally One for Me," an 1877 polka that sold for 40 cents, features an absolutely gorgeous view of a nineteenth century ball game. Since the publisher (F.W. Helmick) and the lithographer (Monsch & Company) were both based in Cincinnati, it may be possible that the ballpark depicted in the cover art is Cincinnati's Avenue Grounds, home of the National League Reds from 1876 to 1879. If so, this would be remarkable, as I am unaware of any known images of that short-lived major league ballpark.

Here's the song's final verse and chorus:

I soon will stop my "balling,"
For my heart is led astray.
'Twas stolen by a nice young girl,
By her exquisite play.
And after we are married,
why, I hope you'll come to see.
The "tally" I have made for life,
And mark it down for me, oh!

For when I take the bat in hand
My style is sure and free ...
Just put your money on my side,
And tally one for me.

Base-Ball Game of Love (1909)



What more need be said? Here's the first verse and chorus.

When first I gaz’d into your eyes,
Your image made a home run to my heart,
I tried to tag the feeling
Which into my heart was stealing,
But it had too great a start.
I thought ‘twas just a base hit that you made,
And you’d be caught in stealing second base,
But you went the whole way ‘round
And very soon I found
There was going to be a real live pennant race.

I was on first and you on second,
Cupid held the third base down,
He coax’d me to lead off and catch you,
But you saw me start I found;
And as we two reach’d third together,
Cupid gave us such a shove,
That we both slid for the home plate,
In our baseball game of love.

Come on Play Ball with Me Dearie (1909)



Written by the same songwriting team that penned "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," Gus Edwards and Edward Madden's "Come On Play Ball with Me" was featured in "Ziegfeld's Follies of 1909." However, according to the Internet Broadway Database, the 1909 Broadway review actually featured a different baseball song, "Let's Get the Umpire's Goat," by the husband-and-wife duo of Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes. (You'll remember Jack Norworth as the lyricist for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game.") It is likely that part way through the show's eight-week run, "Come on Play Ball" was added and the Norworth./Bayes tune dropped. Here's the song's chorus:

Come on play ball with me dear
I'll "catch" whatever you "throw,"
I know lots of places where we can "run bases"
If you'll only wait for me after the show,

We won't "run home" till you're weary
You'll like my "curves," never fear;
My heart is on fire,
When Cupid's umpire,
Come on, come on, play ball with me, dear.

Base-Ball (1914)



This simple sheet music cover pretty much sums up the theme of baseball and love. Written by Eugene Martin, the tune features this first verse and chorus:

When he runs I have a feeling that makes me glad.
Oh, when the ball goes sailing through the air.
It's joy for me for I know he will out run it there,
It was this booster in the grand stand so near,
that lead him home tho' the ball was near
The race was between it and my little dear.
Now you know how my heart felt
when it looked like it would beat him there.

How you take my eye
How I love I love to be your never never good
But now I'm going to try, I am going to try
It's true as I am looking in to your little eye to never lose no never
No greater game I can play than base ball for you.

You're Hitting a Thousand in the Game of Love (1915)



With a name like Ernest R. Ball, is it any surprise that the longtime songwriter penned a baseball song? While he may be better known for "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," Ball teamed up with lyricists Bill Cahalin and J. Kiern to write "You're Hitting a Thousand in the Game of Love." Here's the chorus:

You're hitting a thousand in the game of love,
You've made a "clean steal" of my heart,
With you on the team what a cinch it would seem
To play the game square from the start;
From your eyes to your lips to my heart
You've made a "triple play,"
If you say you will sign,
It''s a "home run" for mine,
For you're hitting a thousand today.

Latins Know How (1940)

Irving Berlin wrote this tune playing off the stereotype of Latin Americans as great lovers. The song's only connection to baseball is that the chorus rather bizarrely claims "Latins, they don't play baseball." Huh?
Alas, I was unable to track down the sheet music for this one, but here are some of the lyrics:
In a magazine I read
Where a certain author said
That Latins are lousy lovers
And it's a lie
A libelous lie
And who, tell me, who should know better than I?

Latins, they don't play baseball
They're not so good with a rake or a plow
They're not experts at making money
But when it comes to making love
A Latin knows how.