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Friday, October 09, 2009

A Ruthian Mystery

Major League Baseball Productions, the sport’s official archivist, has about 150,000 hours of footage dating back more than a century. But it recently acquired a scintillating 90-second clip featuring Babe Ruth, shot by a fan in the first-base stands at Yankee Stadium in the 1920s.

It features the only in-game footage in the archive of Ruth playing the outfield, where he spent more than 2,200 games. It also features a rare glimpse of Ruth striking out, then arguing with the umpire, while a young Lou Gehrig looks on.

Historians are placing the footage from the 1928 World Series.

Mark S is on vacation Posted: October 09, 2009 at 02:13 AM | 22 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: general

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   1. Hectoring Villanueva Posted: October 09, 2009 at 06:12 AM (#3346068)
Awesome. I think the total amount of unique game footage of Babe Ruth I've seen in my life wouldn't last more than a minute or so. In the DVD extras in the Ken Burns documentary someone tells a story of going to some archive somewhere and looking at reels of Babe Ruth footage that no one had seen in 50+ years, but much of it disintegrated as they played it. Hearing that almost made me want to cry.
   2. Sleepy was just “inspecting the bunker”, y’all Posted: October 09, 2009 at 06:54 AM (#3346070)
frigging east coast bias. 8 whole seconds of Babe Ruth in right field, and not a single mention of what Hornsby did that day in STL.

Seriously though, there's a 4 minute video here (linked of the page in the original ny times link) that makes me sad- how can MLB have all of that video and not make any attempt to let the fans see it? That stuff should be on youtube, not locked in some vault to rot.

Well, OK, it's probably wrong to ask for a freebie. We'd almost certainly pay for it, so why not at least try to sell it to us? Should be next to trivial to make happen.
   3. Zipperholes Posted: October 09, 2009 at 07:10 AM (#3346071)
The comments to the article point out a lot of clues. Lots of fascinating responses.
   4. Dr. Vaux Posted: October 09, 2009 at 07:39 AM (#3346074)
It's historical data. While charging money for it is what capitalists do, it is--and they are--an affront to the purity of academic pursuit.
   5. Jeff K. Posted: October 09, 2009 at 09:15 AM (#3346081)
Honestly not trying to start a big thing here, totally just my opinion, but I would say that before I, a trained and devoted capitalist, would accept any of the requisite blame for "affront" territory, you'd have to:

Be able to show that academic pursuit is actually pure (I don't believe it is, though it is a good thing), and
Be able to show that the purity of academic pursuit has some benefit that can justify itself being valued over a pretty robust and effective economic concept.

Sure, academic pursuit is a noble and worthy thing, but not everyone shares your or my or another's value system, and many of them value economic growth and attendant advancement in nearly all areas over the value of lofty ideals and historical/archival records.
   6. AndrewJ Posted: October 09, 2009 at 10:39 AM (#3346084)
The Baseball Research Journal (published by SABR) periodically runs a feature like this -- they'll publish an undated game action photo, and they'll have a baseball historian deduce when it must have been taken (from the type of uniforms, outfield wall advertisements, and so forth). Fun stuff.
   7. Rally Posted: October 09, 2009 at 12:14 PM (#3346109)
Academic journals have pricing schemes that put capitalists to shame. I have access to many while at work, and I assume actual academics have access through their institution. Yesterday I found a study, wanted to check some facts, and was turned away for not being willing to pay $30 for a 20 page PDF.
   8. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 09, 2009 at 12:41 PM (#3346124)
Why don't they just group together an hour's worth of great clips, lease the rights to ESPN, and let advertisers foot the bill?
   9. bunyon Posted: October 09, 2009 at 12:54 PM (#3346132)
Academic journals have pricing schemes that put capitalists to shame. I have access to many while at work, and I assume actual academics have access through their institution. Yesterday I found a study, wanted to check some facts, and was turned away for not being willing to pay $30 for a 20 page PDF.

We have access to what our institutions pay for. It is a crazy scheme fed by the "need to publish". Basically, academics need to publish to continue working so lots and lots of stuff gets published, creating a need for lots and lots of journals. These journals, as you say, charge outrageous prices but the academics can't really do anything but (quietly) complain or they'll stop having a place to publish and will cease upward motion in their careers.

But, yeah, talking about modern academics as if it isn't a grotesquely capitalist venture is silly. Of course, I suspect this bugs Vaux more than most academics so it's also silly to lecture him on it.

As it is, academics (museums) pay for all sorts of historically relevant stuff that is privately owned. I suggest we write a grant to pay MLB for this footage and then spend the next 4 or 5 years compiling data and writing papers. Who's with me?
   10. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: October 09, 2009 at 01:01 PM (#3346138)
In a book about Jack Johnson I read there was a footnote about newsreel footage of the Detroit Stars and specifically Bruce Petway and Turkey Stearnes that has been lost to time. That's just depressing.
   11. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 09, 2009 at 03:07 PM (#3346292)
In 1928 the Yankees played five teams who wore white caps on the road: the Red Sox, the Browns, the A's, the White Sox and the Cardinals.

Because of the capacity crowd, you can almost certainly narrow it down to four games: Either of the first two games of the 1928 World Series---Ruth took a third strike in each of those---or one of the two games of a September 9th doubleheader against the A's, which drew a reported crowd of 85,265, "the largest crowd that ever saw a baseball game in the United States, Asia, Africa, Australia or other parts", according to the Times. Too bad that we don't have easy access to the play-by-play of those games, as neither the box scores or the writeup in the Times give enough detail about strikeouts.
   12. OsunaSakata Posted: October 09, 2009 at 04:03 PM (#3346358)
which drew a reported crowd of 85,265, "the largest crowd that ever saw a baseball game in the United States, Asia, Africa, Australia or other parts", according to the Times.


So I take it there have been bigger crowds for baseball games in Europe and Antarctica?
   13. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: October 09, 2009 at 04:11 PM (#3346369)
Seriously though, there's a 4 minute video here (linked of the page in the original ny times link) that makes me sad- how can MLB have all of that video and not make any attempt to let the fans see it? That stuff should be on youtube, not locked in some vault to rot.


I hate to making another boxing hijack but there's actually an even more egregious affront in that sport; Mike Tyson's former manager Bill Cayton owned the largest private collection of boxing film footage in the world, film stretching all the way back to 1897 (presumably the title fight between Bob Fitzsimmons and Jim Corbett, the first heavyweight championship bout ever filmed). The entire collection was sold to ESPN/Disney in 1998 but nobody outside of tat group even has an inventory of what it contains.

This is a big source of consternation among boxing historians, as many historic fights were known to have been filmed, but no copies have been viewed for many decades. Harry Greb, arguably the greatest pound-for-pound boxer in the history of the sport, has no known surviving in-ring footage although at least 5 of his fights were filmed. Sugar Ray Robinson, considered the perfect fighter by many, has no surviving footage from his welterweight prime despite approximately 10 being filmed. And many others - Jim Jeffries, Gene Tunney, Harry Wills, Willie Pep, Sam Langford - may or may not be in that collection.

Baseball historians have the benefit of statistics in evaluating early players, with film footage serving as a nice bonus but not considered essential. In boxing, however, evaluating the footage is perhaps the most important consideration in evaluating a fighter's ability. Who knows what lies hidden in ESPN's vaults? Perhaps the Holy Grails of fight footage locked away, like the Lost Ark at the end of the famed movie, with only "top men" knowing of its existence.
   14. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: October 09, 2009 at 04:14 PM (#3346374)
with only "top men" knowing of its existence.

What do the Royals have to do with this? There too busy scouting Julian Tavarez to worry about boxing.

But seriously, they should at least transfer that stuff to DVD before the film degrades.
   15. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 09, 2009 at 04:34 PM (#3346395)
which drew a reported crowd of 85,265, "the largest crowd that ever saw a baseball game in the United States, Asia, Africa, Australia or other parts", according to the Times.


So I take it there have been bigger crowds for baseball games in Europe and Antarctica?

Nah, but back then Europe was considered among the "other parts," and since Global Warming is a myth, we have to assume that in 1928 Antarctica was all under water.
   16. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: October 09, 2009 at 04:38 PM (#3346401)

But seriously, they should at least transfer that stuff to DVD before the film degrades.


One collector who claimed to have owned a copy of the Harry Greb vs Mickey Walker title fight from 1925 says that's exactly what happened to his copy from the 1950s. All I'd really like ESPN to do is release an inventory so the historian community could weigh in on preservation efforts.

One bit of footage that should exist is the original theatrical film print of the epic 1899 heavyweight championship fight between champion Jim Jeffries and challenger Tom Sharkey. A small snippet of footage does exist from this fight:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17FjFuGr61k

But here's the thing - this footage comes from a smuggled film camera that was taken into a movie theater that was showing the original film print. The quality is awful, but the original theatrical showing was said by many boxing men of the day to be the clearest, best-filmed footage of a fight from that era ever seen. I was lucky enough to do some basic restoration work on the existing "film of a film" footage and the fight itself is incredibly violent and brutal - without examining it closely you don't see the headbutts, the forearm smashes, the kidney punches, etc. I would guess that the original film would be the closest thing to two men beating each other to death in boxing history.
   17. Rally Posted: October 09, 2009 at 06:16 PM (#3346521)
What I see as a failure of capitalism is that MLB is not taking every game still stored on a reel somewhere, and every bit of game footage surviving on film, and making it available to download. Yes, for a fee. They incur costs to make this stuff available, and I'd be more than happy to pay it.

I wonder if the first ever Angels game was televised? And if so, whether that TV station still has footage?

Talking with Chris Dial at SABR he brought up the idea that we should be using old game footage to go back and recode defensive play by play data. And that it's possible that many games since the 70's are available somewhere. But I don't have a clue how to find out if these games still exist, or how to convince anyone to make them available.
   18. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 09, 2009 at 06:33 PM (#3346546)
I wonder if the first ever Angels game was televised? And if so, whether that TV station still has footage?

That was a road game in Baltimore, and that year the Angels televised 10 road games and the Orioles televised 11 home games. The chances of there being a surviving film or kinescope of that game are next to zero.
   19. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: October 09, 2009 at 06:44 PM (#3346559)
What they should do with the boxing film (and any existing old baseball films) is to either commission the American Film Archives to preserve the films & release them on DVD/online, or set up to do it themselves. I agree with the above posters who suggest that this could pay for itself, with very reasonable sale/viewing fees.

The longest stretch of Negro Leagues footage I've ever seen was on an American Film Archives DVD set -- "Goose" Tatum, before, during and after a game in what appears to be Indianapolis, ca. 1946. It's delightful. Why MLB Network can't get it together to show REALLY old game footage as a once-a-week feature or something is just beyond me.
   20. rr Posted: October 09, 2009 at 06:45 PM (#3346562)
They incur costs to make this stuff available, and I'd be more than happy to pay it.


Me too. I would love to see some games from the 1950s and 1960s. I saw an ad in Baseball Digest once by a guy who sells radio broadcasts of regular-season games from the 50s and 60s.
   21. Tom Nawrocki Posted: October 09, 2009 at 06:54 PM (#3346570)
WGN broadcast nearly every Cubs game going back to at least the early 1960s. There must be some of that stuff surviving somewhere. I've seen footage of Don Cardwell's no-hitter from 1962, and they used to show Ernie Banks' 500th homer, from 1970, all the time. I'd love to see either of those games in their entirety.

If WGN or MLB set up a library with, say, 100 random Cubs games from the 1960s and 1970s, I'd certainly be willing to pay a fee for access to it.

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