Here’s an interesting find from the Library of Congress. Dated May 2, 1963, Branch Rickey wrote up a scouting report of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron.
Cincinnati, Ohio May 2, 1963 Cincinnati vs Milwaukee
Surely one of the greatest hitters in baseball today. Can hit late with power, – good wrists. But in spite of his hitting record and admitted power ability, one cannot help think that Aaron is frequently a guess hitter. Will take three strikes down the middle and in fact frequently acts frozen on pitches. For years I have believed and I still believe that Aaron has more trouble with the breaking stuff. He stands close enough to the plate to pull the outside ball and does pull it. However, he is a foot length further from the plate than Frank Robinson of Cincinnati.
[Transcribed and reviewed by volunteers participating in the By The People project at crowd.loc.gov.]
It’s an interesting review of Aaron’s hitting, pretty much right in the middle of his MLB career. Looking at the box score, Aaron went 2-for-4 with a homer and 2 RBIs in this game, but also struck out twice.
While I am too young to have ever watched Aaron’s hitting, what limited knowledge I have makes me think Rickey might not have been alone in his perception of him as a “guess hitter.” At the same time, I would also wager that Aaron might have read pitches better than he sometimes let on.
If you’re interested, you can find the digital document on the Library of Congress website here.
Here is an interesting advertisement I came across in the online photo archives for the Library of Congress. The advertisement is for “Sure Catch” sticky fly paper, and it is estimated that this advertisement came out between 1853 and 1898, which would have been during that era when baseball was really beginning to develop and grow in popularity in America.
The advertisement features flies playing baseball surrounded by a number of insets depicting a variety of scenarios. The caption along the border reads: “‘Sure Catch’ sticky fly paper, 25 double sheets, Sealed with flexible adhesive border. Prepared by J. Hungerford Smith Co., Manufacturing Chemists, Rochester, N.Y., U.S.A.”
It’s a clever little advertisement, for sure, and I find some of the inset illustrations rather amusing. It makes me wonder if this sticky paper was as good as the fly paper my dad used to hang in the garage while I was growing up.
“Sure Catch” sticky fly paper. [Between 1853 and 1898] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2008678726/>.
For some folks, the link does bring you to a page that asks you to “log in” (by which they mean provide your name and email). I don’t know if you would be prevented from viewing the presentation if you did not participate in the original webinar, but I suppose it is worth trying.
WebEx will want you to download a player to display the recording. In our experience, using Internet Explorer as your browser is the easiest option if you do not already have a WebEx player on your computer or do not wish to install anything, though all major web browsers are supported. If you are asked to provide a name and an email address, type in the same ones that you provided with your registration. You may find that you have to wait a minute or two before the recording begins; if so, you may see a message that it is “buffering.”
If you find you are unable to view the presentation, LoC has also provided a .pdf of the presentation slides here: https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/baseball/BatterUp.pdf. You don’t get the audio descriptions that accompany it, but you can at least scroll through the visuals of the items they shared from the library’s collections.
Yesterday, I took part in the Library of Congress’s online webinar entitled “Batter Up! Baseball at the Library of Congress.” Hosted by Peter Armenti of the LoC, the webinar covered the early years of the game, sharing a variety of slides from the LoC’s collection.
Bat and ball games have been around in a variety of forms for a long, long time. What I didn’t realize was that versions of bat and ball games went back as far as ancient Egypt (though, the concept of hitting a ball with some form of club is honestly very elementary, so I don’t know why this surprised me).
The webinar debunks the Abner Doubleday myth, which claimed Doubleday invented the game in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York, pointing out that early incarnations of baseball existed well ahead of the time of Doubleday’s supposed founding of the game. For example, a game known as “Base Ball” was referred to in The Pretty Little Pocket Book in 1787, though the images of the game in said book look nothing like today’s pastime.
Base Ball gets referenced in a number of sources after that, including this 1823 article:
Industrialization and urbanization in the nineteenth century contributed to the rapid growth of the game. Other sports, including horse racing and boxing, were popular at the time, but the appeal for these did not match the appeal of baseball. Over time, the separation between work and play grew more pronounced in America, and baseball became a popular form of leisure in the off hours of industrial workers. Over time, the rules of the game evolved, and in the mid-nineteenth century, the New York Knickerbockers were founded, leading to a greater standardization of baseball rules.
The webinar goes into the development and codification of rules, including the establishment the 90-foot distance between bases, nine players per side, the elimination of “soaking,” and so on. There were two versions of the game at first, the Massachusetts and the New York games, but in the end, the New York version of baseball won out.
In the meantime, baseball spread rapidly, including a club in San Francisco in the mid-1800s that became California’s first (known) ball club. The outbreak of the Civil War also contributed to the spread of baseball’s popularity.
Baseball was also being played within the black population in the late-nineteenth century, and women also participated in the game as well. The webinar did not go into a lot of detail regarding these, but it did at least touch on them.
In 1868, it became allowed (publicly) for players to get played (some players had been receiving under-the-table compensation prior to this). In September of that year, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional ball team, bringing an end to the amateur baseball era. The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players then became established in 1871, then today’s NL was established in 1876.
The Doubleday myth, as we know now, was the brainchild of Albert Spalding and the Mills Commission at the turn of the century. Spalding despised the idea that baseball evolved from the English game of rounders, as was argued by Henry Chadwick, and thus he set out to prove its American origins. Spalding released the commission’s findings of baseball’s origins in 1905. The results were deemed official by the end of 1907, then published in Spalding’s Base Ball Guide in 1908.
The webinar picks apart the arguments of the Mills Commission, pointing out that it is not possible that Doubleday could have invented baseball. Doubleday’s own lack of mentioning the game aside, the events outlined by the commission regarding baseball’s findings did not match up with the events of Doubleday’s life.
The webinar concluded with a brief question-and-answer session. The bit about ancient Egypt aside, I can’t say I learned much new from the session, which naturally is going to happen when you attend a webinar about something you like to study anyhow. However, it’s always nice to get a refresher on things, and the Library of Congress did a great job with this.
Last weekend, I finished 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book, going into it. I don’t consider myself a religious individual, and the thought of a book — even one about baseball — trying to shove faith down its readers’ throats was not an appealing possibility. But I’m glad I gave the book a shot in spite of my hesitation, because it really didn’t do that at all. Yes, it talked about religion quite a bit, but more from an objective, this-is-how-religion-factored-into-these-events kind of approach.
This book isn’t just about Jackie Robinson, but just as much about Branch Rickey and about the rest of the Brooklyn Dodgers team during Robinson’s time with them. It serves a biographical purpose when it comes to the lives of both Robinson and Rickey, while also, of course, highlighting the role of religion and faith for both men, both in their everyday lives and in the steps they took in breaking baseball’s color barrier.
His religious convictions, Henry writes, are a big part of what prompted Branch Rickey in his determination to bring a black player into the big leagues. Based on his research, Henry insists that Rickey was not as certain about his decision to break the color barrier as history now suggests, but rather his faith provided him with the resolve to move forward with the undertaking. And it was Robinson’s faith that sustained him through the slings and arrows flung at him on the diamond, even as he kept his promise to Rickey not to fight back.
The scope of the book doesn’t stop with these two men. Most notably, Henry also takes a long look at Ralph Branca, a devout Catholic and good friend to Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers team. Branca, fans might recall, also happens to be the pitcher who gave up the “Shot Heard Round to the World” to Bobby Thomson in the 1951 National League pennant race. Ed Henry delves into the role Branca’s religious beliefs played in his friendship with Robinson and in how he responded to the aftermath of the 1951 pennant race.
Ed Henry references Robinson’s unpublished memoirs to a great extent in this book. In his research, he also drew from previously uncovered sermons and traveled to perform interviews with Robinson’s and Rickey’s family and friends. Overall, I’d say this book is worth the read. True, it is another Jackie Robinson book in an already-large collection of Jackie Robinson books, but I think that Ed Henry does a great job looking at this story from a different angle, even talking about faith and religion without getting preachy.
For anyone who is going to be in the Washington, D.C. area in the near future, this looks like a fascinating opportunity to learn about the Library of Congress’s baseball collections. The LoC currently has a Baseball Americana exhibit featuring items from their collections and from their partners as they relate to the game’s history. You can find information about the exhibit and some of the online collections on their website.
Then on Friday, July 13th, the LoC is teaming up with JSTOR labs, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Wikimedia for an event that appears to be a sort of mini conference featuring not only the collections, but also a panel on baseball, data, and American culture. The poster for the event is below, and more information can be found through Eventbrite here.
These are just a couple events associated with the exhibit. More information regarding additional events can be found here. It’s one of those things that makes me wish I had a bit more flexibility for travel, because I’d totally go to check some of this stuff out if I could. If anyone reading any of this happens to attend any (or all!) of these, please report back here!
This photograph from the collections of the Library of Congress looks simple enough, but it prompts a lot of questions for me. It is noted that the photo was taken between 1873 and 1916. Given that the catcher’s mask wasn’t invented until 1876 and it wasn’t until a few years later that their use became common among backstops, we can eliminate the first few years of that range. The mitt, meanwhile, resembles the one patented by J.F. Draper in 1899, so I think it is safe to say this photo is likely from the early 20th century.
My questions, however, involve the player himself: Who is he? Where is he from? What team does he play for? Is he really a baseball player, or merely a man off the street the photographer convinced to put on some equipment for a photo op?
And if he really is a ballplayer, what is he thinking? He appears to be standing behind home plate, looking out at the field before him. Is he deciding on what pitch to ask for next? Is he unhappy with how the defense is arranged? Or is he upset because that damned umpire called the last pitch a ball when it was clearly over the outside corner?
I found this photograph while browsing the Library of Congress catalog. Taken in July 1914, it depicts a group of men playing baseball in a large body of water off the beach. There’s no notation as far as an exact location, unfortunately. They appear to be playing ball in the ocean, but there are plenty of large lakes and other relatively-smaller bodies of water in existence large enough to not be able to see the shore on the other side. Regardless, the idea of playing baseball in the water, with other factors such as the tide, rocks, and seaweed, sounds like a fun and interesting twist on the game. Just keep your fingers crossed that your outfield doesn’t get eaten by sharks!
Here’s a cool, old school panoramic of a Yale-Princeton game, dated July 2, 1904, found in the Library of Congress collection. The photo was contributed by R.H. Rose & Son, and the game took place in Princeton, New Jersey. I tried to find a box score or other details about the game, but didn’t have any success in doing so. However, if you go to the photo link here, you can zoom in and pan around the photo. In doing so, you can get some cool views, like this one:
Here’s a photo from the Library of Congress collection simply titled, “Sandlot baseball.” It was published in 1918 by Bain News Service, but beyond this, there isn’t much information available regarding the print.
It is a fascinating one to look at and to contemplate what might be taking place. These two men appear to be fighting it out at third base — it could be first base, I suppose, but given the direction of the play in progress, I think third base is more likely. The runner seems to have made an unsuccessful attempt to dive back to the bag, perhaps due to a pick-off throw, or maybe he overran the bag while running the bases.
I’m curious about the exact location of the photo. They seem to be in the middle of a large field, and there is a town in the background. But those details can apply to just about anywhere in America at this time.