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Spectators Pictured “Fanning” the Flames of Baseball Passion

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The mid-season All-Star Game break provides baseball fans an opportunity to assess their team’s progress thus far, taking stock of strengths and areas for improvement, successes and failings. But, I’m going to take a much further distant historical look at baseball spectators and fans enjoying the game. Going back some 150 years to October 1865, the engraved illustration below from Harper’s Weekly depicts an absence of seating, no grandstand for the assembled, standing beyond the outfield’s periphery, watching the “match”:

Illustration showing spectators around the baseball field in Philadelphia during a baseball game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Brooklyn Atlantics; also shows two fans settling a disagreement in the center foreground.
Base-ball match between the “Athletics”, of Philadelphia, Pa., and the “Atlantics”, of Brooklyn, N.Y., played at Philadelphia, October 30, 1865. Engraving after a drawing by J.B. Beale, Harper’s Weekly, November 18, 1865. //

In this photo below taken some 55 years later in Flatbush, Brooklyn, the Bain News Service captured jubilant fans standing on a hillside overlooking Ebbets Field, home to Brooklyn’s beloved Dodgers. The view of the game was distant, but the price was unbeatable!

Fans outside Ebbets Field
Fans outside Ebbets Field. Photograph by Bain News Service, 1920.

With baseball’s rising popularity in the early decades of 20th century, the place to be is inside the ballpark, especially if your team is playing in October in the World Series. On the left below, tightly-packed early bird fans are likely lined up to buy tickets or perhaps waiting for the gates to open and admit them for a game at upper Manhattan’s storied Polo Grounds. And, on the right side, accompanying information doesn’t designate when ardent fan Miss Elsie Tydings secured her place at the head of the line in order to purchase the first ticket for the Washington Senators initial hosting of a Series game in 1924. The Senators would emerge victorious in a 7-game campaign over New York’s Giants, who won five World Series titles during their years playing at the Polo Grounds, their longtime home field.

Photograph shows lines of baseball fans along a fence outside the Polo Grounds in New York for a World Series game in 1911 or 1912.
N.Y. fans at 7:00 A.M. outside the Polo Grounds. Photograph by Bain News Service, 1911 or 1912.

Miss Elsie Tydings and other fans at ticket booth.
Miss Elsie Tydings who had the distinction of purchasing the first ticket sold for a World Series in the National Capital. She was no. 1 in the 1st line this morning. Photograph by National Photo Co., October 1, 1924.

Once inside the ballpark, alas, all seats are not created equal. On the left, fittingly, are the left field Polo Ground stands at a 1912 World Series game. The epic length of the Grounds center field, just 17 feet shy of 500, may have prompted distant fans to bring along telescopes to see the faraway interplay of pitcher and hitter. On the right, young man J. Woods joins four women including Mrs. E.J. McKeever, spouse of one of the Robins (Dodgers) owners, pictured in box seats at Ebbets Field for a 1916 Series game against the Boston Red Sox. The Sox’ strong pitching, which featured 13 shutout innings by Babe Ruth in Game 2, proved too much for the Robins who won but a single game to Boston’s four. Ruth would go on to become a proficient hitter as an outfielder for the Yankees — so astoundingly proficient to earn him the epithet ”The Sultan of Swat.” The long-suffering Dodgers fans would painstakingly wait until 1955 for a first World Series crown.

Polo Grounds Left Field stands, 10/8/12
Left field stands at the Polo Grounds, first game of 1912 World Series. Photograph by Bain News Service, October 8, 1912.

Photograph shows Brooklyn baseball fans at the 1916 World Series seated with Jennie Veronica Murphy McKeever (1862-1942), wife of one of the Brooklyn team's owners.
J. Woods, Mrs. J. Dalton, K. Conklin, R.L. Cloke, Mrs. M.V. Woods, Mrs. E.J. McKeever. Photograph published by Bain News Service, 1916.

Noting the variety of hats donned by Mrs. McKeever’s party segues to the 1910 advertising poster below. Its message recommends adding a Wick brand hat band in your team’s colors to “cheer up” your hat and display your allegiance. The fine-dressed partisans seated behind home plate suggest baseball games drew both men and women from the upper social strata:

Poster shows baseball fans in the stands behind the catcher, with men and women wearing hats with special bands. Advertisement for the Wick Narrow Fabric Company.
The Wick fancy hat bands. Cheer up – show your colors. Poster advertisement, copyright 1910.

And, this National Photo Co. shot shows that infecting children with baseball fever starts early as these youngsters appear to be determining which side will bat first for a wee bit of a sandlot game inside a major league ball field:

Young boys and girls on the baseball field at a major league stadium.
[Young boys and girls on the baseball field at a major league stadium.] Photograph by National Photo Co, between 1910 and 1930. //
As a coda, the “if you build it, they will come” category features these barn-side fans situated along Highway 101 near Salinas, California:

Barn along US Highway 101 near Salinas, California
Barn along US Highway 101, near Salinas, California. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006. //

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