It took us a couple of weeks to begin to entertain the idea that perhaps the “guy in the middle” of this postcard was, perhaps, not a pro ballplayer.
First, we thought he might be a minor leaguer, or someone given a tryout with the Pirates or something of that nature. He seemed a little old for that, but we’d found photos of every person who played a game for the Pirates between 1906 and 1910, and this gentleman was simply not among them. We had a host of great guesses, from Butts Wagner to Lew Ritter with many others, but none seemed plausible.
Trying to identify a random person in a photo is difficult. There are lots of people out there, and many have one or two facial characteristics in common. Sometimes you’ll see two guys with the same nose, or the same cleft chin, or the same hairstyle, and you’ll be convinced that they must be the same guy. Once you’ve done all the homework, and chased down every lead, you want it to be your guy.
That being said, it was Net54 member Todd, who wrote this on the board:
“let me throw out the wildest theory yet. There was an alderman/magistrate (low level judge) named Louis Alpern from Pittsburgh’s 3rd ward in 1909, and there is a person by that name said by Ancestry.com to have been residing in the area in both 1920 and 1940 who was born around 1880, putting him in his late 20’s – early 30’s in 1909. It looks like he may have been the subject of corruption charges later on, and it’s possible he considered himself quite the big shot. Could the photo be of a Pittsburgh politico who wanted his fantasy pic with the local boys of summer?”
Well, Todd, allow us to introduce you to Louis “Squire” Alpern.
Alpern was born on September 25, 1875, taking an early interest in politics, eventually running for alderman – and winning – in 1905. In 1909 he was appointed police magistrate as well. He married Lillie Cohen, and passed away of influenza and pneumonia on January 22, 1937.
Once you’ve got the guy and you’ve got his picture, it’s pretty easy to fill in the blanks. We can now date the postcard photo to March of 1911, probably to March 13 exactly.
The March 12 issue of the Pittsburgh Post contains an article entitled “Rear Division Of Buccaneers Off For Camp.” It goes on to describe a party of nine people, headed by Pirates owner Barney Dreyfus, who were heading to Hot Springs, Arkansas for spring training. Buried in the article is this paragraph:
“The baseball party consisted of nine persons, but only four of these were players. They were Thomas W. Leach, John B. Miller, William B. McKechine and Rivington Bisland. The others who accompanied President Dreyfus were John P. Harris, who is now one of the stockholders in the club; Police Magistrate Louis Alpern, William J. Murray, former manager of the Philadelphia Nationals, and now the chief scout for the Pirates, and Michael J. Feeney, a local baseball enthusiast.”
So we can place Alpern with a group of Pirates heading to Hot Springs on March 11 or 12 of 1911.
Even better, the March 14 edition of the Pittsburgh Gazette contains this tidbit:
“In the morning the 14-pound medicine ball figured prominently in the stunts on the athletic field. The players kept it going in a circle, which embraced also Vice President John P. Harris and Squire Louis Alpern, for whom Trainer Ed Laforce dug up uniforms. Harris evidently came out here to take off weight, and he succeeded on the first day to the extent of six pounds. He thoroughly enjoyed the sport, and the players had a lot of fun at his expense.”
If you look off in the distance behind Wagner, to his left, you can see the 14-pound medicine ball in question, sitting on the ground near a small group of players. In the foreground, manager Fred Clarke (HOF) and shortstop Honus Wagner (HOF), flanking Third Ward Alderman and police magistrate Louis Alpern, wearing a catcher’s mitt and the uniform provided him by trainer Ed Laforce, the players also having fun at his expense.
The supporting documentation makes this postcard, on our opinion, one of the coolest pieces we’ve ever sold. We offer our thanks to our friends over at Net54 for giving us a venue for a collective brainstorming session, and we offer our thanks to Todd for finding Louis Alpern’s name and offering his wild theory.
And of course, we’re happy to award Todd a $200 credit to use in the auction!