October 2009

Babe Ruth Film: September 9, 1928

Honestly, they could’ve called first.

Major League Baseball Productions has unearthed a wonderful, almost archaeological find – 51 seconds of film, apparently home movies, of Babe Ruth in action at Yankee Stadium. Ruth is briefly shown playing right, then we watch him called out on strikes on a check swing, then we see a pan of the outfield, which stops tantalizingly maybe a second before we could’ve seen the scoreboard. MLBP’s call for detectives to help it pinpoint just when the footage is from and who else is shown in it, reached both NBC Nightly News and The New York Times.
Uh, fellas, I’m standin’ right here. The acknowledged ace amateur unidentifiable photo identifier, certified by the Hall of Fame for crying out loud!
There are several good conclusions drawn by the MLBP researchers: That the advertisements in the outfield are said to match still photographs known to have been taken in 1928 (which I assume they have carefully researched) – that Ruth (and Gehrig, on deck) are wearing uniforms without numbers (the Yankees first adopted them in 1931) and Gehrig is seen approaching the plate from the third base side (the Yankees called the third base dugout home until 1946).
But then come the suppositions – unclear if these belong to MLBP or The Times:

…the archivists believe that the clip dates to 1928. Perhaps it is the World Series, which might explain the full stands and long shadows.


Narration in an additional Times video clip adds in the possibility that the “full stands” owe to it being Opening Day or the 4th of July or, as mentioned, the Series.
So if it’s a big day like that – where’s the bunting?
Check any photo, or any of the film, of baseball in the ’20s, especially at Yankee Stadium. Opening Day, the major holidays, the Series, and they festooned the place to within an inch of its life. Film from any of those days in 1928 would show bunting designed to evoke the American flag on every available railing not in fair territory. There is no bunting.
Also, why the assumption that only Opening Day could produce “the full stands”? That’s one of the easiest things to check. The Yankees’ game-by-game log, with boxes for every game and attendance figures for most, is found in two seconds at the fabulous Retrosheet.Org. From it we learn the Yanks opened at home on April 20th, 1928, against the Philadelphia A’s, and drew just 30,000.
In point of fact, the big days for attendance in the house that the guy striking out in the film clip built were July 1 (65,000 for a doubleheader with the A’s), August 19 (65,000 versus Cleveland), and September 9 (85,265 for another doubleheader with the A’s). 
The jam-packed nature of those crowd shots sure suggests 85,265.
September 9 might also produce you those “long shadows” while still explaining the large amount of white in the crowd (for the most part, the gentlemen are not wearing jackets). And it also jibes with the only bit of information that the catcher in the image provides, until somebody puts the clip through computer enhancement. Clearly the top of his cap is light-colored. And per Marc Okkonen’s opus Baseball Uniforms Of The 20th Century the only American League teams to wear such caps in 1928 were the Browns, Red Sox, White Sox — and Athletics. Cleveland wore dark caps.
So we’re getting there.
Huge crowd? September 9 versus the Athletics (85,265) works. No bunting, no cold weather, not a holiday, not the World Series? September 9 versus the Athletics works. Catcher’s got a light-colored cap? September 9 versus the Athletics works.
So, what do we know about Ruth in those games? Again, per Retrosheet, we see he played in them both – and struck out in them both, twice in the opener, in which the only strikeouts by Philly pitchers were recorded by John Quinn and Eddie Rommel, and once in the nightcap, in which all the Philly strikeouts were by Rube Walberg.
Mickey Cochrane caught the first game for the A’s, and also got four at bats in the nightcap before  being replaced by Cy Perkins (probably late, after Walberg was lifted in the seventh). We never see the pitcher in the film, not even a hint as to whether he’s a lefty or righty. We do see the third baseman, the second baseman, and probably the rightfielder. Conveniently, the same three guys played both games for the A’s on September 9, 1928: third baseman Jimmy Dyk es, second baseman Max Bishop, and rightfielder Bing Miller.
So, given that everybody sees long shadows, the better bet here is the second game. Thus the informed guess here — assuming MLBP’s 1928 date is accurate — is:
Date: September 9, 1928
Game: Yankees versus Philadelphia Athletics, Second Game
Attendance: 85, 265
Pitcher: Rube Walberg
Catcher: Mickey Cochrane
Third Baseman: Jimmy Dyk es
Second Baseman: Max Bishop
Rightfielder: Bing Miller
Umpires Visible: Brick Owens (Home), Bill MacGowan (third)
Third Base Coach: Art Fletcher
There is a very small percentage chance that the images could be from the other Yanks-A’s doubleheader on July 1, but the crowd isn’t packed enough. Kind of too bad: the A’s rightfielder for both games that day, just barely visible at the end of the film, was Ty Cobb!
The Times’ headlines that day tell us all else we need to know:

CROWD OF 85,265, BASEBALL RECORD, SEES YANKS WIN TWO; 
Largest Gathering in Game’s History Overflows Stadium– Receipts Are $115,000. 
100,000 ARE TURNED AWAY 
Shirt-Sleeved Throng Cheers as New York Regains Lead From Athletics. 
FANS WAIT TWENTY HOURS 
Three Start Their Vigil Early on Saturday Evening–Mayor Walker Receives an Ovation. 
Yankee Stadium Too Small. Receipts Set a Record. Crowds on Apartment Houses. 
85,265 SEE YANKEES WIN AND TAKE LEAD 50,000 Linger Outside. Seventy in Line at Midnight.

Sorry about the delay on this, but you guys didn’t call, and I was in the hospital much of the evening, and I don’t carry my Okkonen with me.
Oh yeah, one other thing. I could’ve told you straight up that whatever it was or wasn’t, it certainly wasn’t Game One of the 1928 World Series. My friend, the venerable actor Norman Lloyd, stunned me one day by asking “Did I ever tell you about the first baseball game I saw in person? First Game of the World Series! How about that! The 1928 World Series! Babe Ruth slid into second base, ripped the seat of his pants. We howled! Normally the player runs to the bench for repairs. Not the Babe! Little man runs out to him with a sewing kit, patches him up right at second base! Tremendous! I was thirteen! I loved it.”
The video’s pretty clear. Babe Ruth’s pants have not been patched!

Outfield Defense!

Carlos Ruiz’s sinking liner meets Brad Hawpe’s ole’ play and the Phillies extend a 1-0 lead over the Rockies in the fifth. An inning later, Carlos Gonzalez plays pin ball with his own body, and Ryan Howard’s screamer to left – and then Utley sticks Dexter Fowler against the centerfield fence like a butterfly stuck in a collection. I know the wind was in the 40’s – my home in New York was creaking the Pequod going after Moby-Dick. 

But in the post-season, the two biggest changes are: A) the evaporation of mediocre pitching, and B) if your outfield defense is mediocre, it will be writ large against the sky before the 27th out is completed.
Looking ahead: if you watch Cole Hamels pitch against the Rockies today will you, like me, be unable to get out of your head his new commercial, and that almost munchkin-like question to the fan who comes to the mound: “Who are yoooooo?”
One other note: I commend Joe Girardi for trying something to make A.J. Burnett into a winner Friday night, even if it is the silliness that is the personal catcher. It may or may not work, but it shows the kind of imagination and flexibility that are usually the only traits a skipper can bring that might really impact the outcome of a game.

More Notes From A Hospital Waiting Room

Just briefly… I hope the Yankees volunteered to fly the Twins in on a private jet for Game One tonight. Detroit would have upset New York, but Ryan Rayburn made absolutely the worst defensive play I’ve ever seen in such a vital game (anybody ever mention anything about keeping the ball in front of you — or if you decide to risk it, about putting the glove down rather than just sliding purposelessly?) and so it is Minnesota. The storybook Twins have been utterly stumped by the Yankees for six years and should remain so.

Instead the Red Sox could knock off the Angels, another team that would handily dispatch New York. And the Yankees continue to match up well against Boston. Thus a team with dubious starting pitching and nightmarish outfield defense is the favorite for the World Series (unless the Angels fend off Boston – I’m not convinced Brian Fuentes will come up big for the Angels, not a guy who once lost a closer’s job to Manny Corpas).
The Dodgers won a bad division badly and Manny Ramirez was, for some unknown reason, just not the same after returning from suspension. The Cardinals might roll right through them, though Joel Pineiro, nearly flawless until September 1, has looked like a tired tanker since. As to the other NL Series, it’s possible neither team (Phillies: no closer; Rockies: no De La Rosa, and Marquis being skipped) will win. Thus are the Phillies favored solely for hosting the 5th Game and the fact that their key lefty sluggers are now facing an all-righty rotation. Either winner of the Cards-Dodgers series will handle either winner of the Phils-Rockies clash.
So the Series looks like the Yankees and the Cardinals, but we’ll get to that if and when any of these predictions accidentally come true.
And, yes, my Dad is, as of tonight, still holding a grudge against the Yanks for trading his favorite player, Steve Souchock, in the off-season of 1948-49. However, he has advised me that the “check, please,” moment was actually the day a year later when they then shipped his next-favorite, second baseman George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss, to the St. Louis Browns. I hadn’t known that. Dad hasn’t forgotten.

Dumb Stuff And Dumber Stuff

One of the silliest things I’ve ever read about televised baseball has been authored by a guy whose readers have had to develop a virtual immunity to silliness and missing details over the years. Bob Raissman writes in The New York Daily News about the misdirected charges of prejudice against this team or that, especially in the post-season. It’s a mostly insightful piece about Ron Darling – one of the best analysts in the business – until he veers off into a theoretical that seems to leave out a vital historical reality:

Can you imagine if the Yankees and Cardinals meet in the World Series on Fox? First, stink bombs – and charges of bias – will be flying in the direction of Tim McCarver, the former Cardinals player, andJoe Buck, the former Cardinals broadcaster.

To paraphrase Timmy, well that’s a fine piece of amnesia. The supposedly anti-Yankees McCarver broadcast Yankees’ games for the local Fox station from 1999 through 2001.
MUCH DUMBER STUFF
First time I’ve included a non-baseball story in here, I think. You saw the David Letterman extortion/blackmail attempt? Without defending Letterman’s forced-to-confess-transgressions, I went slack-jawed went suspect Robert J. Halderman was arrested. He has been a Producer for CBS News 48 Hours, but what you haven’t read is that when I made my television debut as the New York correspondent for CNN Sports in 1981, Robert J. “Joe” Halderman was the chief assignment editor in the CNN New York bureau. You know when somebody gets arrested for some horrific or moronic crime (like taking a personal check for two million dollars as a blackmail payment), you hear somebody say “that’s not the guy I knew”? Not this time. This is exactly the guy we knew at CNN in 1981.

Quick Hit

Still facing what I’ve been dealing with lately, no need to go into details, no major changes.

I just stumbled across the saga of Garrett Broshuis, veteran of six years as a pitcher in the Giants’ farm system but a major league writer with a sharp eye and a writing gift. Highly recommended reading…
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