Thursday, August 23, 2012

Great Photos of Baseball's Greats

I think that some people have the idea that baseball a hundred years ago was very primitive and that the players wouldn't be great by today's standards. However, ask people from previous generations who really know the game and they'll generally tell you that baseball players were actually better the farther back you go. I know my dad always felt that way, but he was always quick to acknowledge a great modern day player too. He grew-up watching Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial with the Cardinals and would say unequivocally that the 40s Cards were considerably better than any team they've ever fielded since.

I think there's something about seeing really high quality photographs from the early days of baseball that makes you somehow appreciate the great calibre of play they had back then. I don't know why, it just does. So many of the photos you see from the turn of the 20th century are grainy and just plain poor overall, and I think this somehow causes people to believe this reflects on their play when this really couldn't be further from the truth. So here are some great photos from the golden days of baseball. You can click on most of them to enlarge them considerably.

Stan Musial as a roookie - 1941
Enos Slaughter - 1938
The Cardinals were a great team long before Musial ever joined them though. In fact, Stan came to the club as a regular in 1942, the year after the great Johnny Mize left for new York.
Johnny Mize - 1939

The Cardinals are known for big power hitting 1st basemen, and long before McGwire and Pujols was Johnny Mize. He and Slaughter were great together although the Card's never one a world series with them. (Slaughter did win several alongside of Musial later though.)

And of course before any of them was the old Gashouse Gang of 1934 with the likes of Dizzy Dean (probably the best pitcher of the decade and one of the best ever), Pepper Martin, Frankie Frisch, and of course Joe Medwick. That team had five starting players batting over 300 and won the world series that year. The Cards won five world championships between 1926 and 1934 with many of the players in that lineup. They may have been even better than the 1940s Cardinals. The Cardinals didn't win any championships before 1926, but they still had some great teams and terrific players like Jim Bottomley, Jack Fournier, and Rogers Hornsby.
Rogers Hornsby - 1925

Hornsby was almost certainly the greatest right-handed hitter who ever lived and maybe the best period. He was also one of the best 2nd basemen. He hit over 400 three times and once hit for a 401 average and 40 home runs in the same season—a feat that will likely never be repeated. You might recall that the 1926 world series between the Cardinals and the Yankees was among the best ever recorded. It went the full 7-games and the Cards took game seven by one run. Babe Ruth hit three home runs in one game and hit the longest fly ball ever recorded at the old park. Actually, he kind of blew the series though. He walked in the 9th inning and tried to steal second with two outs but didn't make it, and that was that. He hit two home runs recorded to be over 500 feet in the series though. I would have loved to have lived back then, but this was even before my dad was born.

I found some footage of that series. It's grainy, but it's very cool to see Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play against (and lose to) Hornsby, Bottomley and the Cards in a world series.

Here are some other nice photos of some early ball players mostly from the dead ball era:

Babe Ruth in 1914 when he was still a pitcher.

Ty Cobb sliding into 3rd - 1914

Shoeless Joe Jackson -1920

Joe hit 408 as a rookie in 1911. Babe Ruth said he more or less copied Jackson's swing.

Tris Speaker - 1911

What a great stance Tris Speaker had! And what a great hitter. He would be in the top 10 or 20 at least on anybody's list.

Fielder Jones - 1904 with the White Sox


  1. I expect that baseball is going to see an upsurge in skill levels in the coming decades as the economy slowly, or perhaps rather quickly, collapses.

    Baseball is a lot like soccer in other countries. All it takes to play a game is a ball, a bat, a glove and a field. And most of that stuff can be made from scratch if need be. No helmets, no ice, nets or anything else. Basketball is like this, too. They're all sports that poor kids can play. That's why so many of today's great players are coming from the Dominican Republic and other poor nations.

    America has become too rich and lazy to make great ball players like the guys you show above. They all came from farms and working class families. But we'll see 'em again. As things get tough and the video games, fast food joints, malls and all the rest begin to disappear from our everyday world there'll still be baseball. The gloves'll get oiled up, the bases put down and the sweet sound of wood smacking against leather will be heard again all across this great country.

    We'll see the VFW leagues come back. The small towns will have their teams again, too. We'll spend those long summer evenings drinking beer and rootin' on the home team. The radios will get turned back on and the theater of the mind will be back in business. And math skills will suddenly be something worth having, too, as we argue the various stats surrounding our favorite players.

    When baseball was THE national pastime America was a strong and virtuous country. Coincidence? I think not!

    "Take me out to the ball game,
    Take me out with the crowd;
    Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
    I don't care if I never get back.
    Let me root, root, root for the home team,
    If they don't win, it's a shame.
    For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
    At the old ball game."

    Man, but I do love this game!

  2. I was never very good at playing, but I sure like the game. In fact, I like it better now than I did as a kid. There's something special going on this year. I feel like wev'e finally returned to the baseball of old. So many of the young guys today, most of them rookies, remind me of the older generations. Allen Craig, Mike Trout, Anthony Rizzo, Bryce Harper, and Mark Trumbo to name just a few. These guys would be right at home playing with Hornsby and Ruth.

  3. There's not an athletic bone in my body. I played Khoury League ball and excelled at keeping the bench anchored in periods of strong wind. But I'm with you on the age thing. I've ALWAYS liked baseball but the older I get the stronger my love of the game becomes. I think it's the tradition...and the pace. It's as much a thinking game as anything else which just about suits my sedentary lifestyle perfectly. That and my eyes are so bad now that there isn't a chance in hell I can follow that little speck in a hockey game. There are a bunch of guys out there today putting up some great numbers so you may be right about the caliber of player today. The other thing I've noticed is that baseball is making a real comeback with younger people in general. My daughter is 27 and she and her friends LOVE the game. Maybe that's as much a St. Louis thing as anything else...I don't know. But it does my heart good to see at least something that transcends time and the generations. There aren't many things left that my granddaughter and my great-grandfather would have in common.

  4. I didn't get a pair of hands till I was sixteen, and I eventually got to be a pretty fair basketball player, but I was a lousy baseball player, at least in the field. I could hit, but I was one of those guys who would run in for a fly ball only to have it go over my head. Me and the bench were well acquainted. I was only in it for the ice-cream.