Sunday, April 3, 2016

Opening Day - A Hundred or so Years Ago

It was sometimes suggested, partially in jest, that Charles Ebbets' middle initial "H," stood for holiday because the Brooklyn magnate was always looking for special days he could use to promote attendance.  Although it's limited to the baseball world, opening day was one occasion Ebbets didn't have to flog in order to attract fans to the ballpark.  Even though the Brooklyn club spent a lot of time in the first 15 years of the 20th century mired in the second division, the season opener was still a big occasion in Brooklyn.  Certainly it was important enough to catch the attention of Brooklyn Daily Eagle which always took notice through a special drawing or photos.  What follows, in honor of opening day 2016, are a series of drawings and pictures (click to enlarge) depicting the game's return to the City of Churches after a long hard winter.

At the time, the season didn't open until about mid April and some like Charles Ebbets felt that was about two weeks too early.  In 1904, an even colder than usual forecast had the Eagle concerned about possible sub arctic conditions, but as indicated in the below picture, it was cold, but not that bad.  Either way the Brooklyn club was cold, falling to the Giants 7-1 on the way to a sixth place finish.

A few years later in 1907, the theme was about dreams or some combination of hope and faith.  Certainly the World Championship vision was more than a little over the top although the club did climb to the top of the second division.  Once again opening day was something less than successful, a 4-1 defeat again at the hands of the Giants.  Since Washington Park was a wooden ballpark, the knothole idea of young entrepreneur in the lower left wasn't totally unrealistic.

By 1911 the Superbas had been down for so long that the Eagle apparently thought it better to focus on the game's overall appeal than indulge in any wishful thinking about Brooklyn's chances.  The paper was wise to be cautious as after finishing 6th in 1910, the club fell to 7th in 1911.  Opening day was prophetic for the entire season with Brooklyn falling to the last place Boston Rustlers by a 9-5 count.

By opening day 1912, the Eagle had progressed to an all picture approach to their opening day feature.  It had little impact on the field as the opener was a disaster at every level except the box office.  On the field, the Giants hammered Brooklyn 18-3 partially because the large crowd spilled on to the field leading to extraordinary ground rules and another bad start with the team again on the way to a 7th place finish.  The chaotic scene gave Charles Ebbets one more reason to be glad that next year his team would have a new home.

Things had improved dramatically for Brooklyn by the time the 1914 opener rolled around.  Not only were they in a new park, pictured below, but they had a new manager, Wilbert Robinson and would climbed to 5th place.  On opening day they overpowered the not yet miracle Braves by an 8-2 count.

Just 100 years ago this month, Brooklyn opened the 1916 season, again with a loss, this time to Boston, but the club was soon in first place and stayed there almost the entire season to bring home Brooklyn's first 20th century pennant.  A decisive victory against Philadelphia in late September was largely due to an unlikely out of the park home run by Casey Stengel off of Grover Cleveland Alexander who won 33 games, threw 16 shut outs (still a record) with a 1.55 era.

Interestingly the above picture includes Brooklyn's iconic trolley, but clearly names the club the Superbas after a turn of the century vaudeville act.  In fact, through 1925 the paper seldom, if ever, called the team the Dodgers and the club's stationary read simply Brooklyn Baseball Club.  But by whatever name, the team was well loved and hope always sprang eternal as it does for base ball fans throughout the country on opening day 2016.

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