One of my favorite pastimes during the winter months is photographing baseball artifacts. There’s nothing like being in my nice warm studio, turning up the stereo system and working with these treasures from the past while there’s a couple of feet of snow on the ground and no baseball games in sight for a while. Documenting old baseball stuff is a way for me to stay connected to the game during it’s long off season. I’m an avid collector and for me the older the better. My main interest is in 19th century and turn of the twentieth century artifacts. Some of my oldest items date back to the early form of baseball called town ball. As far as we know, town ball, also known as the Massachusetts game, was played during the early to mid 1800’s. It fizzled out because of a new set of rules that were being established in New York. This new game soon became preferred and was known as the New York game or baseball.
I find the evolution of equipment fascinating and discovering the impact it had on the game intriguing. In addition to collecting equipment, I also enjoy baseball imagery because it demonstrates how important the game was in the lives of many Americans and reveals how passionate they were about our National Pastime.
Every item tells a story so collecting is only half the fun. The other half is researching and learning the histories that accompany these pieces.
ENTRANCE TO MY STUDIO/MAN CAVE
LATE 19th CENTURY FULL COLLAR UNIFORM
DEAD BALL ERA BASEBALL - Before 1920 a single baseball was often used for an entire game. Foul balls were not kept by excited fans but rather tossed back onto the playing field so the game could continue. During the course of a game these balls became coated in dirt, grime and tobacco juice. They also softened up as the game wore on due to multiple strikes of the bat. This softening “deadened” the ball so it wouldn’t travel as far as the balls of today. During the dead ball era, home runs were uncommon so ball placement was the strategy rather than clearing the bases with one swing of the bat.
Dead balls were also very dangerous to hitters because the dirtier and darker they became the more difficult pitches were to see especially at dusk. On August 16, 1920 Cleveland Indians short stop Ray Chapman was struck in the head, late in the game, by a pitch that he probably didn’t see. Eye witnesses say that he never even tried to move out of the way of the pitch. Chapman died of his injuries the next day. Following Chapman’s death, in the name of safety, baseball adopted a rule to use brand new baseballs more frequently during the course of a game. This rule indeed made baseball safer but it also transformed the game. Home runs were about to become king!
FIRST BASEMAN'S MITT CIRCA 1910's
19th CENTURY FLAT BAT - During the 19th century, base ball bats at times were referred to as paddles. These bats were helpful with ball placement. By 1893 flat bats were no longer allowed.
1880's CATCHER'S MASK - Early catcher’s mask designs were inspired by the fencing mask. This mask reveals the oblong shape and modest padding typical of a fencing mask.
19th CENTURY SHAVING MUG - Discovered during a dig at the foot of a railroad bridge which crosses the Quinnipiac River in North Haven, Connecticut, this early shaving mug depicts a very early baseball scene.
EARLY 20th CENTURY CABINET CARD PHOTOGRAPH -
The Huron Base Ball Club from Rochester, New York.
LATE 19th CENTURY CRESCENT PAD CATCHER'S GLOVE
1880's APRON STYLE CATCHER'S CHEST PROTECTOR
SHIN GUARDS CIRCA 1920's
MID 19th CENTURY UNIFORM BELT BUCKLE - During baseball's amateur era, pitches were delivered underhand as depicted on this small belt buckle. Pitchers were often called bowlers.
FULL WEB FIELDER'S GLOVE CIRCA 1880's
CADET COLLAR JERSEY - This cadet collar jersey features the logo of the REO Motor Car Company of Lansing Michigan. It comes out of Lapeer, Michigan, a town 75 miles east of Lansing. REO are the initials of the company’s founder Ransom Eli Olds. Olds first founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897 then later founded the REO Motor Car Company in 1905. The company is more commonly known as Oldsmobile.
It was not unusual for individuals to be hired by a company for their skills on the baseball field and not necessarily for their skill in the factory. During this time the Major League farm system did not exist so big league teams scowered many different players from many different leagues including the popular Industrial Leagues, to find talent.
This piece crosses over into both the automotive and baseball genres of collecting. Fans of the 1980's rock band REO Speedwagon, might also get a kick out of seeing the band's familiar logo on this 100 year old jersey.
Special thanks to the R.E.Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, Michigan for providing me with a picture of the 1914 Industrial League champions depicting this jersey. They have been extremely helpful in my research of this item.
VICTORIAN TRADE CARD CIRCA 1880's - Much like today, businesses in the 19th century used baseball imagery to promote their products. Trade cards were very highly collectable then and could be thought of as the first baseball cards.