Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hey! Get your Scorecard!

While going through the "hits" for  "Ebbets" or, in this case, "Ebbetts" in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of March, 1888, I found the following brief, but enticing entry:

"Charles Ebbett's new score card book will be the handsomest in the association or the league"

A slightly longer article 10 days later reported that the new version, which the paper called "a decided improvement," provided pictures and sketches of all the players and gave the credit to "Charley Ebbetts, who edited it."  The attraction for an Ebbets' biographer lies in the possibility of comparing the two scorecards, to see the nature of the improvements and perhaps find some insights into the capabilities of the then relatively young baseball executive.  Obviously the practical question was where to find copies of the two scorecards.  One possibility was the Hall of Fame or perhaps closer to home, the Brooklyn Historical Society which I knew from prior visits had some 19th century scorecards for the Brooklyn club.  I'm dating myself by not thinking first of trying the Internet and while it shouldn't have been that surprising, I was pleased to find the full 1888 card and a number of pages from the new and improved 1889 version on the web sites of different auction houses.  While the following pictures may not be worth the promised 1000 words, they do give a sense of Ebbets' creation.

The 1888 program pictured above and below consisted of only the four pages that are shown.  While the front cover is quite colorful, the scorecard provides only the bare necessities necessary to keep track of the game plus a few ads as well as making sure the purchaser knows about other home games he or she might attend.

The examples provided below from the 1889 program suggest that calling the new product a "decided improvement" may well have been an understatement.  Totaling some 32 pages, it is really more of a combined scorecard and yearbook anticipating by decades the issuing of two separate publications.

Although not serving any functional purpose, the below picture showing the record crowd at a Browns - Brooklyn 1888 Decoration Day doubleheader reminded fans of an exciting day from that year's pennant race and perhaps holding out the hope that 1889 might be different, which, in fact, it was.  Looking at it over 125 years later also gives a sense of what that first version of Washington Park looked like before the May 1889 fire.  That conflagration was limited to the enclosed grandstands behind home plate at least limiting the amount of work needed to rebuild the park which took only about 10 days.  If I understand it correctly, there were actually two covered grandstands behind the plate, one of which was built when the park opened in 1883 with the other being added later.

In more modern times, one incentive for a fan to go into his/her pocket to buy a scorecard is because you "can't tell the players" without one.  Since numbered uniforms didn't become the norm until the 20th century, Ebbets, as can be seen below, offered the next best thing by providing a reasonably sized picture of each player or at least most of the team's basic roster.  In almost every case, the opposite page contains an ad, in the below example, D. E. Harris was the contractor who built the first Washington Park and would complete the 1889 rebuilding in what seems like record time even for a wooden ballpark.

Examining the new publication makes it clear that no small amount of work went into the project.   It's not clear whether Ebbets came up with the idea on his own or it was assigned to him, but it must have kept him very busy.  Among other things, he had to have the pictures taken, or at least collect them, write the biographies, or again, collect them, sell the ads and arrange the layout.  The bottom of the left hand side of the below page shows that the team also used the program to push other sources of revenue, in this case, pictures of the team, doubtless suitable for framing.

Based on the number of ads in the score card/program, it seems likely the paid advertising covered the publishing cost and may have even generated a small surplus.  The selection below gives a sense of the baseball promotions of the day.

Ebbets was not one to rest on his laurels as just three years later, the media was praising him for another scorecard, better even than what had come before.  All I've been able to find from that program is the below pictured front cover which is certainly colorful.  It also subtly refers to one of Ebbets other great 19th century achievements.  The printed schedule on the cover is broken down into spring and fall championships as the 1892 season was divided into split seasons to accommodate the absorption of four American Association teams into a 12 team National League.  On Ebbets fell the daunting and thankless task of preparing the schedule and he once again emerged triumphant.

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