The Standard Ball Player

On a recent cloudy day I wandered in to one of the amazing antique malls in New Bedford.  Looking for nothing in particular I stumbled across this:

My first thought was that it was baseball related. “Ball player” usually means a baseball player. Right?  But why would it be on a sign? The tag on the sign said it was a 19th century sign. Perhaps the phrase stood for something else. Was it the name of a store that player pianos in New Bedford?

The sign is in very good shape. It is clearly hand painted and the pencil lines can still be seen that the artist used to stencil in the lettering evenly.

My gut (or my hope) told me that it is a baseball related sign. So I snapped the pic and headed home to do a little research. My gut was right. While I wasn’t able to find out a whole lot I did discover that the Standard Ball Player referred to a 6’ x 10’ mechanical scoreboard that hung on the side of a building just before to World War I. These were in the days before baseball fans could follow a game on the radio (and obviously television). But this wasn’t just a scoreboard. The board displayed a layout of a ball field. It was an actual recreation of a game in which an operator would receive the latest action of a game via ticker tape and then used a magnet to move a small iron ball from the pitcher’s mound to a bat at home plate. The operator would then move the ball to the area of the field where the ball was hit. This happened for each pitch of the game, including balls and strikes. The operation of this scoreboard was usually reserved for the World Series. The blog, Old Picture of the Day features one of these scoreboards in use in Washington D.C during the 1917 World Series:

The inventor of this contraption was William Ashley, an electrician for the New Bedford Standard newspaper. The board was first used for the 1915 World Series between the Red Sox and Phillies. The sign hung on Market Street on the Standard building. Mr. Ashley went on to produce other boards for football and horse racing and in 1917 he incorporated the Standard Ball Player Corporation.

Now the sign for Mr. Ashley’s business of his unique scoreboards sits in a local antique mall. While the sign is not as old as the price tag indicates it certainly is a fascinating piece of local history. And for $400 you can own it.

Speaking of Rabbit…

The Whaling Museum is opening up a new exhibit in July. The photo exhibit, “Standard Times Collection, 1895-1925″,  is from a collection of dry-plate glass negatives which were used by photographers of the paper’s forerunner, the New Bedford Standard.

The Whaling Museum is asking for votes on your favorite images (read their blog for more details) at the their Flickr page. There are 44 images displayed of which they are looking to use around 30. Among those images happens to be one of Rabbit Maranville (pictured above)! Choosing to cut any one of these fantastic images is going to be a very difficult decision. But if you vote for any of them be sure to include Rabbit Maranville.

Rabbit

The South Coast has had its share of well known ball players grace its soil over the years from Moonlight Graham to Mo Vaughn. There also have been the occasional Hall of Famer to pass through these parts.

Walter “Rabbit” Maranville was one of those players. His major league career began in 1912 and lasted 23 seasons in which he batted .258 with 28 home runs. Okay, so he played about half of his career during the dead ball era. Still not exactly Hall of Fame numbers. His highest average was .295 in 1922 for Pittsburgh.

His Hall of Fame selection in 1954 was the result of his glove work. Primarily a short stop, his fielding average was .956. He committed 711 errors in 15,380 chances. Which I believe comes out to only about a 5% chance that he would make an error when the ball has hit to him.

Maranville spent the 1911 and 1912 seasons with the New Bedford Whalers of the New England League. He was hitting .283 when the Boston Braves purchased his contract for $1,000 sending him on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Incidentally, it was while he was in New Beford that he acquired his nickname “Rabbit”. As he tells the story that he was having dinner with a local family. One of the daughters, Margaret Harrington, asked if he could get tickets for her and her younger sister so that they could see him play. He obliged by leaving the tickets at the ball park for them. After the game he returned to the Harrington house for dinner and was greeted by Margaret who apparently saw him play:

‘Hello Rabbit.’

‘Where do you get that Rabbit stuff?’ Maranville responded.

‘My little seven-year-old sister (Skeeter) named you that because you hop and bound around like one.'”

However, it has been suggested that he had other features that gave him the nickname:

For an interesting story related to Rabbit and the 1914 Boston Braves caps pictured below, check out the Baseball Reasearch blog.

For more information about Rabbit Maranville check out his bio on the SABR Baseball Biography Project and check out his stats at on Base Ball Reference and the Baseball Almanac. You can also read about him in the book Run, Rabbit Run: The Hilarious and Mostly True Tales of Rabbit Maranville by Harold Seymour. Get it at your local library!

Photographs – New Bedford Post One

I haven’t had much time to hit the research trails the past several months so I thought I would share some photographs I have collected over the years in hopes of finding more information about them.

The two below are images of New Bedford Post 1 American Legion baseball team. I am guessing the photographs were taken circa 1950.

Cursory searches online did not identify much about the history of New Bedford Post 1. The American Legion baseball program was founded in 1925 in South Dakota. In 1926, the first season began with teams in 15 states taking the field. It isn’t clear how many teams there were in that inaugural season or which states fielded teams according to the American Legion website. But it does indicate that currently there are over 5,400 teams covering all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Among the many alumni of American Legion ball are Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.

Any suggestions as to the identification of the individuals in the photos or the year they were taken?

Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary

Dickson Baseball Dictionary 3rd Ed.

New Bedford will make an appearance in the next edition of the Dickson Baseball Dictionary and be noted with a first. The Dictionary is an amazing piece of work that any baseball fan would love. It contains over 7,000 entries of baseball definitions along with cross references, illustrations, etymology, notes and first usages.

The first that New Bedford is associated with is the earliest known print use of the phrases “New York Game” and “Massachusetts Game”.

On September 2 the New Bedford Republican Standard noted:

The Base Ball Club recently formed in this city, is progressing finely. Its members met on the City Common at 5 o’clock Monday morning, and had a very spirited game. They have assigned Monday and Wednesday mornings, at the hour mentioned, and Friday afternoons at half-past 4 o’clock, as the time for practice. The manner of playing is the New York mode, and not the one usually adopted in Massachusetts.

Then on September 13 the New Bedford Evening Standard reported:

A number of seamen, now in port, have formed a Club entitled the “Sons of the Ocean Base Ball Club.” They play on the City common, on Thursdays, and we are requested to state that the members challenge any of the other clubs in the city to a trial either of the New York or Massachusetts game.

I was surprised to learn that I had discovered the first known use of the phrases. I’m sure the phrases were not invented in New Bedford. But where did New Bedford hear of them? Where and when were they first used? The early usage of the phrases may help explain how the New York game spread.

For the record, according to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the previous noted first usage of the phrases was in the 1859 publication of the Base Ball Player’s Pocket Companion which was published in Boston.

Incidentally, New Bedford is mentioned in the current (3rd) edition of Dickson’s. Under the entry for “season” on pages 753-754 the November 26, 1858 Evening Standard is quoted as an example.

For all of you that are eager to get a look at this volume it looks like only one library in the area will be getting a copy of it. According to the library catalog the New Bedford Free Public Library has a copy on order.

Less Than Nine

Fig 7: Eight boys with a ball ... Digital ID: 56145. New York Public Library

According to many baseball historians baseball didn’t always have nine players on a team. Depending on which version of baseball you are talking about it sometimes had as many as 20 or 30 participants per team. The version you know today may have been played with 8-11 players at one time. The codified rules of 1857 was the first time the rules mandated nine players per team. A team was often referred to as a “club nine”. In the 1870s there was talk of adding an extra shortstop putting 10 players on the playing field. The 10th player was experimented with, but never caught on.

Modern day vintage base ball teams often find themselves short of players at the last minute. I have played in a couple of games in which we were short a player for each team, limiting us to 8 players each. We managed to get by with the batting team supplying the catcher. Modern vintage players are an honest and trusting bunch.

It appears that 19th baseball teams sometimes had problems fielding a full nine for games. In 1869 the Red Rover Base Ball Club of Fairhaven played the Union Base Ball Club also of Fairhaven. The Red Rover, using only eight players, beat the Union club by a score of 35 to 28. The box score for the game suggests that the Red Rover club went without a left fielder.  They most likely shifted their fielders around when necessary.

Probably one of the more unique games with less than nine involved the Riverside Base Ball Club of Acushnet and an “unattached nine” of New Bedford.  Both clubs took the field with only seven players. The unattached went without a right and left fielder while the Riverside club went with out a shortstop and center fielder.

It would seem that the Riverside club made the better choice in using two outfielders instead of one. But the unattached players beat them 45-22 in 5 innings. Unfortunately, the newspaper at the time didn’t give any information about how the game was played with so few players other than the box score and line score:

Runs in each Inning.

Riverside,                  0          0          8          10        4

Unattached,               9          14        12        3          7

A couple of weeks before this game the same two teams played. It is not noted in the papers of the time if both teams had all nine players for the game but these unattached fellows beat the Riverside club in that game 70-34. Not bad for “9” guys without a team.