We have gotten a lot of feedback on who the “guy in the middle” of our Wagner/Clarke postcard is – some from way out in left field, some seem reasonable. Unfortunately at this point, we’re not confident in any of the guesses thus far.
A few people suggested that the person we’re looking for might be Lew Ritter. Ritter was a catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers between 1902 and 1908, who pulled together a .219 lifetime batting average in mostly part-time play.
Of the many suggestions we’re received, there are commonalities between the facial features of Ritter and the gentleman in the center of the postcard photo. Some pictures of Ritter:
The problem, of course, is the uniform.
Here’s what’s misleading about the photo in the postcard: the only identifying markings visible on the uniform is on the player’s left sleeve. It looks like the left side of the letter “B.” Given that Honus Wagner is wearing what is quite obviously a Pirates uniform, and it’s impossible to tell what jersey Clarke is wearing because it’s underneath his Pirates sweater, the logical conclusion is that the player in the center is with a different team. It doesn’t take much research to know that Brooklyn and Boston both trained in Hot Springs during the early 1900s – there are plenty of photos documenting that fact. So if you can find a physical resemblance, it must be that player, no?
Here’s the thing: the player in the center is not wearing a Brooklyn uniform. He’s also not wearing a Boston uniform. It appears that what he’s wearing is a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform.
The outstanding “Dressed to the Nines” online exhibit from the Baseball Hall of Fame illustrates each team’s home and away uniforms for each season. It only takes a quick look to realize that neither Brooklyn nor Boston’s uniforms had anything embroidered on the left sleeve.
The Pirates, however, did.
In the postcard image, Wagner is clearly wearing a uniform consistent with the Pirates’ 1907 uniforms. Borrowing an image from “Dressed to the Nines,” you can see that clearly. It appears as if perhaps he’s wearing the team’s road grays, right up to the cap (light cap with dark bill).
In 1908, however, Pittsburgh modified their home and away uniform jerseys and caps (the pants and socks look identical). They removed the “P” patch from the pocket – in fact, they removed the pocket altogether – and, on the upper left sleeve, added the “PBC” patch, for “Pittsburgh Baseball Club.” They wore similar uniforms in 1909.
You can see what that patch looks like in this team picture. Not all the players’ jerseys are visible, but if you look closely at the upper sleeves of those wearing jerseys, those “PBC” patches look an awful lot like a plain “B” when the player is facing the camera directly. You can see it on Wagner himself.
So why is Wagner wearing a 1907 uniform and the guy in the middle wearing a 1908 uniform? No idea.
However, we are beginning to take the side of a Net54 poster who suggested that perhaps the player was not a major leaguer at all.
The contest, of course, is still on.