Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Closer Look at Footage from Game Seven of the 1924 World Series

On October 2, 2014, the Library of Congress announced an exciting discovery: newsreel highlights from Game Seven of the 1924 World Series between the New York Giants and Washington Senators. The timing of the announcement was appropriate, as it came just one day prior to the first game of this year's San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals postseason series, and eight days prior to the 90th anniversary of the last game of the 1924 World Series.

The footage is indeed quite remarkable and includes great action shots from the World Series finale played on October 10, 1924, at Washington's Griffith Stadium. I decided to take a closer look at the movie and, in so doing, was able to make a few discoveries and correct a few errors regarding just what we see in the historic film.

First, here's the footage as posted at the Library of Congress's web site (note that the musical score is not original to the footage):


The initial title card reads:

... after which the camera pans across a packed crowd at the ballpark. The 1924 World Series marked the first appearance by the Washington Senators in the Fall Classic and Game Seven remains one of the most exciting in World Series history, with the winning run coming on a one-out double in the bottom of the 12th inning. The next title card reads:

... and indeed we next see New York's 16-game winner, Virgil Barnes, deliver a pitch:

Next is a great shot taken from close behind the plate, a rare angle for newsreels of the day. A left-handed batter for Washington takes a hefty cut at the ball and quickly heads towards first base:

Just four lefty batters took part in the game that day for the Giants: Sam Rice, Goose Goslin, Joe Judge, and Nemo Leibold. While it is not clear which of these four batters is seen at the plate (I'm guessing it's either Rice or Goslin), the umpire and catcher are identifiable. Hank Gowdy caught the entire game for the Giants, while Bill Dinneen was the home plate arbiter that day.

Next we see action from a very different angle. It was commonplace at the time to send just one moving footage cameraman to the game, so it is likely that this action was shot from a different part of the game than the one just seen. In this sequence we see a Senators base runner heading toward second base and ultimately sliding safely into third. Watch carefully as the runner approaches second base:

He does not round the base from a wide angle, as a runner would if he was running from first to third on a base hit. Instead, he runs directly toward second, as if there is going to be a play at the base. Indeed, an infielder for the Giants is seen running to the bag, as if to catch a throw. We next see the infielder turn towards the outfield as the base runner continues on to third base.

This scenario matches perfectly with a critical play that occurred in the bottom of the ninth inning. With the score knotted at three runs apiece, one out, and Washington's Joe Judge on first base, Senators shortstop Ossie Bluege hit a ground ball to Giants first baseman George "High Pockets" Kelly. Kelly threw to Giants shortstop Travis Jackson in an effort to force Judge at second, but Jackson dropped the ball and Judge advanced to third base. (Incidentally, the second base umpire is Tom Connolly.) The result was that the Senators had first and third with just one out and an excellent chance to win the game and the World Championship title. Instead, the Giants wriggled out of the predicament with a play that will show up later in the footage.

The next title card reads:

However, this is followed not by a shot of Washington pitcher George Mogridge, but (as first pointed out to me by my colleague, Lenny DiFranza) yet another shot of Giants pitcher Barnes:

Was this a mistake by the newsreel editors back in 1924? Was there no quality footage if Mogridge from the game, so the editors simply used footage of Barnes and hoped the movie-goers wouldn't notice? Was the film damaged at some point near this spot and a splice was made, with the Mogridge footage being cut out? The answer is not clear.

The next scene shows a right-handed batter for the Giants laying down a bunt, hustling toward first, and sliding safely into the bag, head first:

The play matches perfectly with action that occurred in the top of the third inning when, with one out, Giants second baseman Frank Frisch laid down a bunt and beat the throw to first. (Other players seen in this particular sequence include Washington catcher Muddy Ruel and first baseman Joe Judge.)

The next title card reads:

And, indeed, we see a batter hit a home run. Since there was only one homer hit in the game, there's little question that the title card is correct and we are treated to seeing Senators manager and second baseman Bucky Harris hitting a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth for the first run of the game.

The next title card notes that the President was in the stands:

This footage was certainly taken prior to the start of the game, so it is a bit strange to see it in the middle of this film. But, as we are learning, numerous shots are being presented here with little regard for the chronology of events. Pictured left to right in the front row are Mrs. Grace Coolidge, President Calvin Coolidge, Mrs. Emily Stearns (wife of Frank Stearns, a longtime friend of the President), and Louis J. Taber (master of the National Grange).

The next title card reads:

In this sequence we see a Giants base runner heading home, turning to watch the play behind him, then scoring. This matches the situation in the top of the sixth inning when, with no out and runners on first and third, Giants pinch-hitter Irish Meusel hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field. Ross Youngs, the runner on third, tagged up and scored on the play.

Note that as Youngs touches home, we see Senators relief pitcher Firpo Marberry on the right side of the frame. No doubt the young pitcher had positioned himself behind home in case he was needed to back up a throw to the plate. The next Giants batter, Hack Wilson, is at far left, preparing to come to the plate.

After this scene, the following title card appears:

The action that follows shows a Senators batter swinging and heading to first, while runners on first and third head to their next base:

We then see the Giants first baseman on the bag, catching a throw and retiring the runner heading to first:

... and immediately afterwards the fielders all head toward the Giants' first base dugout:

Clearly the putout at first base ended the inning, but this does not match the scenario in the bottom of the eighth inning, the only instance in which Washington tied the score. In that case, Bucky Harris singled with the bases loaded, scoring a pair of runs to knot the game at three runs apiece ... and then the inning continued with Sam Rice coming to bat.

No. The title card is incorrect. The action depicted is not of the Senators tying the score in the bottom of the eighth. Instead, it is action from the bottom of the ninth when, with runners on first and third (Ossie Bluege and Joe Judge, respectively), Senators third baseman Ralph Miller grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The twin killing ended the Washington threat and sent the game into extra innings. This was the play that occurred right after the one seen earlier in the film (title card "Barnes starts for the Giants"), when Ossie Bluege touched second and headed to third after Travis Jackson's error at second base. Incidentally, the first baseman seen here making the putout is George Kelly and the first base umpire is Ernie Quigley, the only umpire on that day's four-man crew who is not a Hall of Famer.

The title card that follows states:

... and we next see a wonderful shot of Senators legend Walter Johnson (who first entered the game in the top of the ninth) delivering a pitch:

The next shot shows a Giants batter hitting a stand-up triple:

Since the only triple of the game was hit by New York second baseman Frank Frisch with one out in the ninth, that is certainly the play depicted.

The next title card reads:

... and is followed by Johnson pitching and inducing a pop-up to the Washington third baseman:

This exactly matches the play that occurred just before Frisch's triple, when Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom popped out to third baseman Ralph Miller to lead off the top of the ninth.

Finally, the climax of the game is introduced:

Despite the misspelling of Washington center fielder Earl McNeely's surname (the title card has an extra "e"), we next see McNeely at bat, with pitcher Walter Johnson (wearing a sweater) leading off first base. Out of the frame is another Senators base runner, Muddy Ruel, on second:

After McNeely strokes a hard ground ball down the third base line (the famous "pebble"play in which McNeely's grounder supposedly hit a small rock and bounded over third baseman Freddie Lindstrom's head), Ruel gallops home with the winning run:

After the runner scores to end the game, pandemonium breaks out on the field and in the stands, as the Senators secured their first World Championship flag. But take a close look at McNeely as he rounds first base. He gets no further than 20 feet past the bag, at which point he turns and heads for the Washington dugout for the celebration. Clearly he has hit a single. Even the title card says "single." Nevertheless, the official scorer awarded McNeely with a game-winning double ... a very strange and, frankly, incorrect decision.

The rest of the footage shows shots of players and fans celebrating Washington's exciting victory. And despite the presence of some erroneous title cards, the film is a treasure from a bygone era and an absolute joy to watch ... and research.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You Know How to Whistle

On August 13, 2014, one day after Lauren Bacall passed away, my friend and longtime baseball PR executive, Marty Appel, posted the following note on his Facebook page:
Never noticed it before but in the famous "you know how to whistle" scene in "To Have and Have Not," there is a baseball photo behind Lauren Bacall. Rest in peace Ms. Bacall, a resident of New York's famed Dakota.
Accompanying the post was this image of Bacall in her role as Marie "Slim" Browning in that classic movie from 1944. The baseball photo to which Marty was referring is visible at the left of the frame:

You can view the scene at YouTube.

My first reaction to Marty's posting was embarrassment. How did I miss this? I love this movie. I own this movie. I've seen this movie countless times. I've long been interested in ties between baseball and classic movies. (See my blog posting on a baseball mystery in "The Maltese Falcon.") How did this baseball picture elude me?

At first I thought it might have something to do with the ridiculously alluring woman in the same frame. Perhaps I was a bit distracted by her? I could be excused for that, right? But no. The baseball picture actually made its first appearance in the movie half an hour before the "You know how to whistle" scene, when we first see the interior of the room occupied by Humphrey Bogart in his role as Harry Morgan. Note that there's no Bacall to distract me:

There was no getting around it. Like an easy two-hopper that skipped under my glove, I simply missed the baseball picture in this movie. Thank goodness Marty did not.

It's tough to get a good look at the picture from screen grabs. This publicity still from the movie provides the best view of the picture:

And here's a contrast-enhanced detail from that still:

One main thing about the baseball photo jumped out at me: the grandstand in the background. It is unquestionably the Polo Grounds in New York. Compare the structure's various characteristics with those seen in the following photograph of the famous ballpark from 1908. (I discuss this particular image in my blog posting titled "When Wall Street Occupied the Ball Park"):

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-00475

About an hour after his initial posting about the picture in Harry Morgan's room, Marty Appel added a comment to his original Facebook posting:
Almost looks like a Honus Wagner photo, Tom, but of course, very hard to tell.
Indeed, the batter in the picture did have something Wagnerian about him. I searched various images of "The Flying Dutchman" at bat and finally came across this one:

It's a perfect match with the picture on Harry Morgan's wall. Marty's hunch was dead on.

As noted above, the location is clearly the Polo Grounds. But what else can we tell? On Wagner's left shoulder is an interesting symbol. It is an intertwined "PBC" standing for "Pittsburgh Baseball Club." (Or, more accurately, "Pittsburg Baseball Club," as the correct spelling of the city at the time lacked the final "h." Here's a web site that gives the details behind "How To Spell Pittsburgh.")

This particular symbol was worn on the Pirates' uniforms in 1908 and 1909. The Giants catcher wears light-colored stockings with a single dark stripe and an all-dark cap. For the seasons of 1908 and 1909, only the Giants of 1908 wore uniforms that matched this criteria. Thus, the photograph is of Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner batting at the Polo Grounds in 1908.

A quick check at retrosheet.org shows that the Pirates played a dozen games in New York in 1908: June 9, 10, 11, 12; July 24, 25, 27, 28; September 18 (doubleheader), 19, 21. After a good deal of digging around, trying to track down contemporary images of these various games, I found our photograph in the September 20, 1908 issue of the New York Times:

The picture depicted action from the September 19th game between the Pirates and Giants. A quick glance at the box score revealed the third man in the image, the home plate umpire, future Hall of Famer Hank O'Day.

Incidentally, this action took place just four days before one of the most celebrated contests in baseball history: the Giants-Cubs game in which Fred Merkle failed to touch second base, September 23, 1908. Keith Olbermann explains it all here.

A few years later, the photograph of O'Day, Bresnahan and Wagner at the Polo Grounds was republished as a supplement to the October 7, 1911 issue of the National Police Gazette newspaper. Here's what the Police Gazette version looks like:

The title of the print reads: "READY FOR THE WALLOP. Hans Wagner, Pittsburg Club, Well Set for the Coming Ball; Bresnahan, St. Louis Nationals, Behind the Bat." (Note the lack of the final "h" in "Pittsburg.") The photo certainly shows Bresnahan as a member of the Giants, but by the time the image was reproduced in the Police Gazette, Roger Bresnahan was playing for the Cardinals, having been traded to St. Louis prior to the 1909 season.

It is my hunch that the picture on Harry Morgan's wall was a framed, slightly cropped version of this Police Gazette supplement, not the original photograph. Take a look at this still from the movie, showing a different wall in Harry Morgan's room:

Note the two framed pictures in the background, not of baseball action, but of a boxer (at far left) and another athlete (perhaps a boxer) just to Bogie's left. I suspect that these pictures were also framed pages from Police Gazette supplements, but will leave it to other researchers to track down the names of these men and just when their pictures were published.

For now, I'm happy to know two things: Just what that picture is hanging on Harry Morgan's wall ... and, of course, how to whistle.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Some Very Fortunate Footage

A few months ago, I learned of the stunning archival holdings at the University of South Carolina's Moving Image Research Collections. Thanks to the invaluable help of Production Manager Ben Singleton, I had the chance to review some amazing baseball footage, part of the Fox Movietone News outtakes that were donated to USC back in the early 1980s.

When you think about it, this collection of footage is doubly rare. Certainly, very few people have seen the film today. But, since this footage didn't make the cut for the original Movietone News reels shot in the 1920s and '30s, it is likely that few beyond a handful of editors actually saw this footage back in the day.

Given my interest in baseball history, I was entranced by most every frame I viewed, but I was especially fascinated by some footage marked A7378 to A7382. The date associated with the footage was noted as June 1, 1925, but my experience researching some other footage in the collection taught me that these dates did not necessarily correspond with the date the film was shot. For example, different footage (A4510) marked "November 7, 1924" clearly showed Babe Ruth at Washington Park in Los Angeles. But Ruth's appearance there was on October 27, not November 7, 1924.

The footage marked A7378 to A7382 starts with a batter taking his cuts at the plate:

There's no question about the identity of the man with the bat. His powerful upper body, his grip at the very end of the bat (unusual for the time), his distinctive stance and swing. It's clearly Babe Ruth. The Babe is wearing Yankee pinstripes, so going on the tentative assumption that action is from June 1, 1925, this would imply the game took place at Yankee Stadium.

Now let's take a closer look at the opposition catcher:

Note that he wears two-toned stockings, an all dark cap (backwards under his mask), an all-gray uniform and his left sleeve is adorned with a small dark emblem of some sort. That description matches the road uniform of just one American League club during the entire decade of the 1920s: the Washington Senators of 1924 and 1925. Here's baseball researcher Marc Okkonen's drawing of that uniform, as found at the National Baseball Hall of Fame's online exhibit Dressed to the Nines:

After a number of pitches, Ruth finally hits a fair ball and begins running towards first. As the camera follows him towards first, he slows down, turns towards the third base line and heads to the Yankees' dugout, obviously having grounded out to end the inning. As he starts across the diamond, the pitcher for the Senators heads towards the first-base visitors dugout. His lanky form is unmistakably that of pitching legend Walter Johnson.

Certainly Ruth faced Johnson a number of times at Yankee Stadium in 1924 and 1925, but thanks to Dave Smith of retrosheet.org, I was able to confirm that the footage was indeed from June 1, 1925. First, it was easy to verify that Washington played at New York on June 1, 1925. Second, play-by-play from that game corroborated perfectly with action from the at bat captured in the footage.

Ruth came to the plate three times in the game. His first at bat occurred in the second inning as he led off with a grounder to Johnson. Since it was the first out of the inning, it was not this plate appearance that we see in the Movietone outtake. His second time up came in the fourth inning and resulted in a walk. Also not a match.

Ruth's final trip to the plate came with one out in the sixth inning, with teammate Earle Combs already on first base. According to the play-by-play account, Ruth grounded out to second base. This matches nicely with what we see in the footage. But it is another part of the at bat that ultimately convinced me that we're seeing action from the June 1 game.

At one point in the footage, with the count 2-and-1 on Ruth, we see the Senators catcher receive a pitch from Johnson (ball three) and then quickly fire the ball toward the infield. His throw is nothing like his normal, leisurely tosses back to Johnson. It is clearly a throw to second base. This corroborates perfectly with the play-by-play from the June 1 contest which notes that, during Ruth's at bat, Combs tried to steal second, but was retired: catcher Muddy Ruel throwing to shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh for the putout. A perfect match between footage and play-by-play. There's no question that we're seeing Ruth's sixth-inning at bat on June 1, 1925.

One key to dating early baseball footage is to ask oneself, "For what reason did the news service want to cover what we're seeing?" Unlike the situation today, where it seems that everyone and everything is captured on video all the time, in these earlier days, a conscious decision was made before sending a cameraman and equipment out on assignment. But what was so special about this June 1, 1925, game that footage would be wanted? Why cover this contest?

For the answer, we need to look back to early March of that year. As was often the case throughout his career, Ruth fell ill during spring training. However, this time his sickness was much worse than usual. The Babe was hospitalized and ultimately required surgery. Rumor had it that the Babe had serious digestive problems, brought upon by overeating, but this was a charge that Ruth himself denied. Nevertheless, sportswriters quickly dubbed the illness "The Bellyache Heard 'Round the World." The result was that the Yankees lost their star (and biggest drawing card) for the first month and a half of the season. Given that Ruth was the most dominant player of his day, most anything Ruthian was worth capturing on film. But it was simply a "no brainer" to send a cameraman over to Yankee Stadium in the spring of 1925 to cover Ruth's first game back after a long, serious illness.

Footage of Babe Ruth's first game back in 1925 is interesting, but perhaps not worth blogging about. However, it was not this portion of the film that excited me. Instead, it was other footage, shot earlier that same day, that caught my attention. This pre-game footage showed Ruth taking batting practice, tossing the ball around and posing for the camera in front of the Yankees dugout. Here's are a pair of frames from this section of footage:

Behind Ruth, at far left, is a familiar Yankees player: Lou Gehrig. The previous season, Lou had a breakout year with Hartford of the Eastern League, batting.369 with 37 homers in 134 games. But at the moment we see Lou on the bench behind Ruth, Gehrig had played just 11 games with the 1925 Yankees, posting a meager .174 average while seeing intermittent action as an outfielder and pinch-hitter.

That afternoon, just two innings after the Ruth ground out captured on film, Gehrig was sent to pinch-hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger. Lou flied out to Goose Goslin in left field.  But more importantly, it was the first game in which he had participated in four days. The next day, Gehrig started at first base, went 3-for-5 at the plate, and didn't take another day off until May 2, 1939.

In short, not only does the footage capture Ruth's return to the Yanks in 1925, but it also gives us a glimpse of Lou Gehrig on the very day he began his famous streak of 2,130 straight games played, a mark that remained unbroken for well over half a century. In hindsight, some very fortunate footage shot by a very lucky Fox Movietone cameraman.

Update of March 25, 2014:

Thanks to Ben Singleton at University of South Carolina's Moving Image Research Collections, here's a portion of the historic footage discussed above. The first scene is Ruth's sixth-inning at bat that, by comparing to the play-by-play data, helped confirm the date of June 1, 1925. The second scene shows Ruth outside the Yankees dugout prior to the game. The final scene shows Ruth in the dugout, with Lou Gehrig in the background at far left. (Also on the bench, but at the right side of the frame, is Yankees center fielder Earle Combs). Enjoy.