Friday, June 24, 2005

Creating worlds, age 5. Posted by Hello

I, Nerd

From "Play's the Thing," Woodstock Times, February 24, 2005:
Spring training arrived, marking the return of the real and natural world of baseball after a winter dominated by dealing and squealing. When pitchers and catchers reported in mid-February, millions of fans in northern climes traipsed through the ice and snow with a lightened step. Yet for some of the game’s most ardent devotees, the grass had not turned brown and sere with the end of the World Series; in the green fields of their minds the lure of the game had, if anything, sparked a new thrill of the grass: there were statistics to digest, projections to make, fantasy transactions to contemplate, and history’s attic to rummage through. Some may call them nerds, intending to deprecate their drive to gather, interpret, and invent new ways of understanding the grand old game that the rest of us have always thought we understood pretty well.

In writing that last sentence I have come to a sticking point. Describing nerds as “them” while placing myself within the “rest of us,” I may proceed to analyze them, categorize them, and finalize them with palms raised to the sky, saying “There but for the grace of God go I.” But I have walked their walk and talked their talk not only in my years as a writer on baseball history and statistics. I have always been one of them – literally an old boy, a strangely earnest lad – as long as I can remember, before nerd was a word. It has always been easy being nerdy, even when my demeanor seemed to be a problem for others. (“Why can’t you be normal?” my exasperated mother used to wail.) Being odd has been the source of substantial solitary pleasure and a lifetime of wonderful friendships with other like minds, who signaled their membership in the nerd tribe not by their devotion to baseball, necessarily, but simply by the intensity of their curiosity, regardless of its object. These were people worth knowing.

In recent years nerds have begun to distinguish themselves from drips, dweebs, geeks, and duds, pejoratives applied by the hipper-than-thou set for a century and more. The film Revenge of the Nerds was a spine stiffener some twenty years ago, while recent book titles have included Nerd in Shining Armor and even the frightening Nerd Gone Wild. While the dictionaries continue to treat square and nerd as synonyms, ask around and you’ll find that nearly everyone detects a difference: while both terms connote a measure of social ineptitude or at least discomfort, the latter has come to be associated with intellectual aptitude and is worn as a croix de paix by some who are not reduced to quivering jelly in the presence of a member of the opposite sex. Indeed, times are good for nerds right now: the internet has brought email, newsgroups, list-servs, dating and friend-finder services, blogs, and other ways for odd birds of a feather not only to flock together but also to influence mainstream society and culture.

Contrast this with the first citation in print after Dr. Seuss created the eponymous critter in If I Ran the Zoo ( “And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo/ And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo/ A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!”), namely, the February 10, 1957, issue of the Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday Mail: “Nerd – a square, any explanation needed?” Like the square peg in the round hole, in the age of conformity the 1957-model nerd came to be simply another term for misfit. Fifteen years later, nerds began to drift into Silicon Valley and Wall Street and such newly sprouted “nonconformist clubs” as the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Sport proved a particularly fertile ground for alternative viewpoints as the very term denotes peculiarity, as in “sport of the litter.” Cut-throat competitors in Scrabble and Monopoly, military re-creation aficionados, vintage ballplayers, all are irritations to the “big-picture” wheelers and dealers who have neither patience nor appreciation for detail.

The stereotype of the nerd is one who is more comfortable with computers than with human beings; has a keen scent for phoniness and opposes the dominant culture; and regards information as the most valuable of all currencies, as it permits the nerd to show up the fatheads who run major software companies, news organizations, and the like. In this country techno-nerds have become somewhat intertwined with hackers and bloggers; in Japan, they have come to be known as otaku-zoku, or otaku for short. Globally, techno-nerds are united in their hunt for covert information. “All that matters,” wrote Karl Taro Greenfeld, in a story on the otaku in 1996, “is the accuracy of the answer, not its relevance. No piece of information is too trivial for consideration: For instance, for … military otaku, it’s the name of the manufacturer of 55mm armor-piercing ammunition for the PzkIII Tank. For idol otaku – fanatics who follow the endless parade of cute girl pop singers – it’s the specific university the father of darling idol Hikaru Nishida attended. Anything qualifies, as long is it was not previously known.”

It is the prestige of ownership – I got it and you didn’t – that makes a data miner into a geek stud. Pretty childish, really – the most accomplished nerds, and the ones who become known in the global media culture – are generally those who are most disposed to share and least inclined to preen. And yet … the lure of late-night net trawling is that you will find something, very nearly in plain sight, that had always been overlooked until you, perspicacious one, spied the gold amidst the dross.

Some nerds are tolerant of mainstream society though assertive in their wish to act outside it. But for most, rejection – both perceived slights and retaliatory acts – is at the heart of the matter. It is defiance that spurs the nerd to his sometimes great if antisocially inspired notions. The nerd is often stuck in toddlerland, at the potty-training stage, with only one arrow in his quiver – “No!”

A trait we might term stubbornness (or independence, or principle) might as easily be called arrested development, a broad and amorphous label that is marked by three essential qualities: a treacly nostalgia for an ersatz childhood, one more imagined than lived, with unrealized benchmarks; an affectionate attachment to media kitsch of one’s childhood, such as the theme song to Gilligan’s Island; and an improbably preserved childish sense of curiosity and wonder. A veneer of cynicism may also present in a self-protective way, but it will be easily penetrated: scratch a cynic and find a sentimentalist. In truth, the nerd has few emotional defenses, which may render him or her a figure of fun among those for whom a taunt is as good as a kiss.

In the further stereotyping of nerds it may be noted that they don’t like to be fussed over, be confined in small places, or have their personal space violated by strangers. (They may themselves, however, be fussy, pushy, and insensitive to the social requirements of others.) Like Amazon headhunters, they like to collect things, either mementoes of experiences they may have had or wish to have had, or items associated with persons of power, from Winston Churchill to Barry Bonds. In the heat of information pursuit they are indifferent to the demands of the body for food, sex, or relief from pain and discomfort. In their profound division of mind and body, life is lived above the neck. With their active imaginations nerds generally have little need for the company of others (the mantras include: a good book is preferable to indifferent company and alone does not mean lonely), though when they are feeling companionable the absence of companions may seem a cruelly personal affront.

In my own life as a nerd, other traits, by no means unique, came into play. I was convinced early on that I was surrounded by secrets, mysteries wrapped in the enigmas of language and time. As an immigrant to this country at age 2½ , I of course spoke no English, only the German I had learned from my nurse/nanny in the displaced persons camp in Stuttgart. My Polish parents spoke German to me as well, but between themselves they reverted to their native tongue. So, placed in an English-language nursery-school setting upon my arrival on these shores, I came home to announce that henceforth I would refuse to speak German or Polish or to respond to questions not posed in English. The message was clear: life was to be solved before it could be lived, an archaic belief that retains much of its force today. I see ghosts everywhere, though not the Bruce Willis sort.

I learned to read by deciphering the backs of cereal boxes and baseball cards. Like all lonely boys I became a listmaker and daydreamer, able to disappear into a fugue state for the better part of an hour. My early interest in reading soon revealed a photographic memory as well as an ability to read right to left or upside down with ease. I built models, I collected fetishes – from baseball cards to bottle caps, from comic books to back-date magazines – and thus fortified myself against the demands of the outside world. In my intense devotion to mastery as the amulet against … who knew what …I felt compelled to bore down deeply and rapidly in order to satisfy my need for completion, then, sated, move on to something else.

Even today, I’m always on the lookout for the next thing, the way a man will look over the shoulder of his date at a dinner table to check the woman who’s just walked in the door. There’s nothing that is as much fun, Yogi Berra might have said, as learning something you didn’t know before. More nerdy bits to come next week, after which we will resume our search for the next thing.

--John Thorn

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Rosen at the bat, Peskin at the lens Posted by Hello

Double Exposure

From "Play's the Thing," Woodstock Times, June 9, 2005:
In the evening of January 11, 2000, I drove my rental car into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in North Miramar, a bedroom community for San Diego. I had flown across the country to spend a week interviewing 84-year-old Hy Peskin for a book about his amazing career in sports photography, mysteriously cut short at its apex 35 years earlier when he abandoned not only his profession but also his name, changing it legally to Brian Blaine Reynolds. He was a legendarily difficult personality, with many admirers but few friends in the sports business. In truth, few people knew what had become of him and most presumed him long since dead.

Upon reaching my room I called the Reynolds household in nearby Murrieta, as I had been requested to do, advising him of my arrival.

“So, you want to get started?” Hy asked in his memorably raspy voice. Not really, I admitted, as I had been in transit for fifteen hours and was exhausted. I assured him I had driving instructions to his home in nearby Murrieta and would be glad see him at 8:00 a.m. sharp. He seemed disappointed but acknowledged that he too might be sharper in the morning.

Half an hour later there was an insistent knock at the door of my hotel room. I opened it to find a round old man in pajamas and bedroom slippers, with an overflowing scrapbook under his arm, who announced in the flamboyant style that would soon become familiar, “I couldn’t wait until morning. I’ve been waiting for you my whole life.” He was accompanied by two young boys wearing yarmulkes and payes, the curling sideburns of the Orthodox Jew. He introduced them as his adopted sons, Preston Blaine Reynolds and Brian Jeremy Reynolds, then turned to me with a stage whisper, “They never heard of Hy Peskin.”

So began the most memorable week of my professional life. Each morning I would interview Hy from the foot of his bed, where he lay with eyes hooded as he conjured up his past, in the pajamas that were never exchanged for conventional clothing. “You didn’t eat breakfast?” he said to me one day. “Want me to throw something on and we’ll go for an early lunch? In this restaurant that I like. We’ll go informal but we’ll go.” For this occasion he changed into a fresh pair of pajamas but kept the slippers. In the afternoons while Hy napped I would speak with his remarkable former wife Adriana McMinn (Godoy), now reconciled after an intervening marriage that had produced the children. Sometimes Hy and I would extend the interview to a second session, but generally not: he typically went to sleep at 6:00 p.m., right after his dinner.

Who was Hy Peskin? I had known him by the hundreds of photographs I had seen over the years, always distinctive in composition and density of color, always recognizably “a Peskin.” I knew that his challenging angles, unprecedented aerial shots, and unequaled athleticism had redefined his profession. I knew he had worked for Sports Illustrated (where he was the magazine’s first staff photographer), Life, Look, Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, and more. What I didn’t know, however, could fill a book.

Hyman Peskin was born in Brooklyn on November 5, 1915 to Russian-born parents Sarah Sokolowsky and Elias Peskowitz (original name Pesachowitz), a tailor who lost his job in the early 1930s. “When I began to sell newspapers,” he told me, “we had been living in an apartment, $27 a month, and my family could hardly pay the rent. When I got them all selling papers, including my father, we moved to a better part of town, the magical Eastern Parkway area. I saved my family with the newspaper selling.”

He went to Brooklyn Evening High School for several years and appears not to have graduated. “I hardly ever went to class; I got off into another direction by having met a newspaper photographer, Izzy Kaplan [of the New York Mirror], and helping him at the ball games. First in Brooklyn and then later at the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium, other events, hoping through him to get a job at his newspaper which in those days paid $12 a week for an office boy. My goal was to be a writer and I thought through him maybe I could get that job. Incredibly I helped him every day, all kinds of events, without pay for three long years… it was 1933, 1934 and 1935. Finally I got the job and after a few months they approved me to transfer to be the office boy in the sports department. Later I left the sports department in great, great frustration because of a run-in with the editor, Dan Parker, and reluctantly asked to be transferred to the picture department, which I knew well but never had real, real interest in. I became the hypo-boy in the photo department, developing the pictures, writing the captions, things like that.”

In 1935 he married his sweetheart Blanche from Erasmus High, “the first girl I ever spoke to,” and became a fulltime professional photographer, often shooting the Brooklyn Dodgers. But after enlisting in the Marines in 1943-44, he returned with an itch to experiment in stop-action color photography. Applying to the leading 30 magazines in the country, Peskin found that only Look had any interest and only the Daily Mirror had a job for him, his old one.

“With my great desire to move to higher levels, I scraped together about $10 and bought one box of Kodachrome and arranged with Saint Nicholas Arena that I could shoot a fight there [on May 11, 1945]. The fight happened to be a match between Lou Nova and a guy named Gunnar Barlund. Virtually every newspaper photographer had one camera, the Speed Graphic. Occasionally they would have the big, big long range cameras but day in, day out, they had a Speed Graphic…. You could shoot it from the back curtain or the front shutter, but you had one camera. When you went to a sporting event the limitations were tremendous. But in boxing you were okay, the action was 12 feet away, you could shoot a lot. I mounted on my Graphic not one flash bulb but a unique setup with three flashbulbs so when I pushed the button all three would go. I knew I would have to shoot wide open to capture every bit of light on the film. Although I thought maybe it would work, I never had made any test in that direction.

“The speed of the film in those days was ten. I was trying to be so careful with my film that in the entire fight I made only three pictures. But trying to shoot at the right time when the fighters were turned right to me, one guy was bleeding, that side of his face was showing and I tried to shoot at the punch, three times in the entire fight. I sent off the pictures to Eastman Kodak in Rochester, which would take several days for developing, and went back to my work at the Daily Mirror. A few days later, I went to Railway Express which was only about three blocks down the street from the newspaper, got the box, ran to the window, tore open the box near the window to look at what I had. And my heart jumped out of my mouth: the three pictures each were fantastically clear, sharp, the blood, three of the greatest pictures of my life. All perfect, perfect, perfect. I didn’t go back up the street to the newspaper, I went down about a mile to Look magazine, to the editor that had been interested in me, brought him to the window when I got to his office and said, look here. When he saw reality, action in color, I was hired on the spot for roughly twice the money I ever made. I was no longer a newspaper photographer.”

Peskin went on to shoot hundreds of covers for This Week, Life, Collier’s, and more. Among his personal favorites was the Life cover and photo spread with Jack Kennedy and bride-to-be Jacqueline Bouvier. He shot a beautiful serene portrait of Joe DiMaggio, with “a soft smile that wasn’t Joe DiMaggio at all.” And he shot beautifully composed shots like Ben Hogan’s dramatic 1-iron shot on the 72nd hole of the 1950 U.S. Open in Merion, Pennsylvania, universally acclaimed as the greatest shot in the history of the sport. But what truly set Peskin apart from his peers was his combination of inventiveness and athleticism. Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times testified to his athletic style by writing in 1961:

“You’ve seen Hy at these things before. He runs more laps than Vladimir Kuts and this is remarkable because Hy only stands about 5’7” and weighs about 195, most of it evenly distributed below the waist. Moreover, he ran his laps under full pack of two Leicas, one Rollei, sacks full of film, a telegraph from the editor, and a note from his wife telling him not to forget to pick up the roast. And Hy was doing all this on only three hot-dogs, a Pepsi and a (double) bag of peanuts. I think Hy’s 72-yard dash across the infield under full equipment was the finest I have ever seen….”

What made Hy Peskin run? “Anticipation,” he told me. “Anticipation is the key word in the coverage of all sports. For example, one day I was shooting for Life magazine a game, maybe at Detroit, and I shot as usual when nobody was on base from the first-base side of the batter as he hit, close by. Often times I really endangered my life by edging closer to the baseline to shoot him when it is very possible for a batter to lash one out right at your nose. But I did it often. There was a particular batter, he hit, I shot, as he ran past me towards first I ran past him the opposite way, around home plate towards third base because there had been a runner on first base. As I ran to third, here comes the base runner from first, sliding into third. I got the picture but the fielder dropped the ball and it was rolling away. Now the base runner picked himself up and was running hard past me toward home plate. I wheeled around and ran as hard as I could behind him and got just in time, close enough to home plate, to shoot him sliding into home. I thought it was one of the greatest stunts I had ever pulled. Those pictures appeared in Life.”

Success followed success until the first Ali-Liston championship bout, in Miami in 1964. “I set up everything the previous day like photographers normally would with the lights overhead, camera down below. I tested everything, everything was great.… I came the next morning, the day of the fight and I went to the arena, like an idiot I didn’t recheck my camera, is it hooked right into the lights to be synchronized with my light? I simply took the camera which I had already checked the previous day, put the film in and proceeded to shoot the fight. I was shocked to learn later that I had virtually no pictures because the lens was not tied in any longer to my strobe lamps overhead. Somebody did something deliberately to put me out of business. So I was a strikeout at a very, very important event and I virtually disappeared from Sports Illustrated thereafter.”

By 1960 or so Hy had turned to entrepreneurial ventures such as the World Series of Sport Fishing with Ted Williams and his BIG idea, the American Academy of Achievement (AAA), formally launched in 1961. As Hy described the basic idea in later years, it was grandiloquently this: “To erect a Mount Olympian Gathering of the Gods of Achievement once a year to meet the greatest young achievers of the country.’” With the aid of his sons Evan, Ron, and Wayne and wife Blanche, the AAA attracted a motley crew of notables, celebrities, ambulatory wallets, strokable egos, and flashes in the pan. High-achieving high-school students would hobnob with the likes of Edward Teller, Brooke Shields, Wayne Newton, Roger Staubach, Jimmy Stewart, Helen Hayes, Stevie Wonder, Ben Feldman (“America’s No. 1 Salesman of 1965”), Col. Harland Sanders (Kentucky Fried Chicken), Helen Keller, Albert A. Morey (“Largest Insurance Brokerage”), Debby Boone, and Jack LaLanne.

After three publicly successful — but for Peskin’s finances disastrous — Golden Plate banquets in Monterey (“Negro haters and Jew haters”), San Diego, and Oceanside, by 1965 Hy Peskin had reached tether’s end. “A guy came and took away my car for not paying, and I was left on the streets of Oceanside, 20 miles from our home in Escondido, nearly 50 years old. No money, no more photo career because I had lost my assignments from Sports Illustrated. No money from the three Banquets of the Golden Plates that we had, standing ovations for me, but nobody realizing that I’m getting virtually nothing.” He moved the operation to Dallas, where he was able to stay afloat, but he was told there would be no further support from civic leaders.

“I decided to stay and to change my name to eliminate the image of the Jewish photographer from Brooklyn as the leader of the Academy. So I became the only man in the history of the world, the only father named after his children, I took my three sons’ middle names, made a new professional name, Brian Blaine Reynolds, and soon enough the program became successful. But I did leave Dallas, when I felt after a number of years they too wanted to get rid of me so they could steal the program. I packed up my family and went to Philadelphia and the support for the Academy grew and today it’s on a very solid foundation.”

By 1985 Reynolds’s youngest son Wayne took over managing the organization but before the decade was out the senior Reynolds filed lawsuits against his sons, charging they had colluded to take control of the AAA from him. A countersuit exposed Brian Reynolds to up to $3 million in liability. What to do? They were making him out to be crazy, "just because of this pajama thing." Adriana Reynolds advised her husband to call Ray Charles, a recent AAA honoree. “Ray Charles came as a witness to the five-week-long trial,” Hy told me. “He came in the very last days or so, and in his own words told how he thought so much of me, how I was the Academy and so forth. The jury was very much taken with him and he saved my life. It was a $3 million lawsuit against me. Those people never collected a penny.” The jury instead awarded him damages of $800,000 (later reduced to $200,000), and another jury granted him a monthly pension of $10,000 from the Academy.

Wayne Reynolds moved the AAA offices to Washington a few years ago, adding world leaders to the roster of prominent Americans; today the organization is known as simply The Academy of Achievement and its annual event is the International Achievement Summit. In 1999 Wayne and his wife Catherine B. Reynolds were able to make her sizable foundation the principal sponsor of the Academy, which now matches international bigwigs with select graduate students rather than high schoolers.

On June 3, 2005 the Academy held its annual International Achievement Summit in New York at the American Airlines Theater on West 42nd Street. Filing in past gawkers were such high-powered figures as Sally Field, Denzel Washington, Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, playwright Edward Albee, NBC’s Katie Couric, U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, novelist Tom Wolfe, and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Also on June 3, Catherine Reynolds announced a $10 million gift to NYU for a program in social entrepreneurship. In recent years her foundation had granted $100 million to the Kennedy Center but had seen its offer of $38 million to the Smithsonian refused because the attached string seemed to the curators too binding: the construction of an exhibit honoring Americans who had made great individual achievements, from Abraham Lincoln to Oprah Winfrey. Wayne Reynolds commented to Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes: “I’ve never met people like this [the Smithsonian curators] who said individuals never mattered in history. My whole career, my whole life, Cathy’s whole life is based on one person can make a difference in America.”

On that same June 3, 2005, Hy Peskin a.k.a. Brian Blaine Reynolds died in Herzliya, Israel. On the homepage of the Academy of Achievement’s website ( one may see the date of founding (1961) but nowhere is there a mention of the man who founded it, the individual who mattered.

--John Thorn

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The trophies of JW Davis's '"Silver Wedding" with the Knickerbockers sold for 761,189 dimes.
 Posted by Hello

Too Late to Reach Home Plate

From "Play's the Thing," Woodstock Times, June 2, 2005:

Three weeks ago on eBay an unusual item came up for sale: a trophy presentation of a silver baseball and miniature bats that had been given to James Whyte Davis in 1875 to commemorate 25 years’ play with the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. The award presentation took place at a banquet following baseball’s first old-timers’game, between the Knicks of 1850 (“Veterans,” including founding father Daniel Lucius Adams, who played catcher) and those of 1860 (“Youngs,” for whom Davis pitched).

The recipient’s name is engraved on each of the bats and the ball reads: “Presented to James Whyte Davis on the Twenty Fifth Anniversary of his election as a member of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club by his fellow members. 1850 Sept. 26 1875. Never ‘Too Late.’” Davis had been such an ardent and energetic player that his vehement protests at being excluded from play when he showed up a few minutes after the appointed time won him the twin nicknames of “The Fiend” and “Too Late.”

After nine days in which no one met the opening ask of $49,999.99, three bidders stepped up to the plate in the last three hours and it was knocked down at $76,118.99. The seller’s representative was Global Garage Sale of Winooski, Vermont, whose eclectic eBay offerings at this moment include a gold Parker pen/pencil set, a Casio electronic cash register, and a John Deere lawn tractor. In the words of the Vermont reps, “The seller discovered the trophy in the attic of her husband’s uncle in New Jersey after the uncle passed away in 1977. He was in his 80s at the time, and had been a huge baseball fan. She doesn’t have any other information other than that he was a big fan and grew up in the area in the early 1900s. She has had it in storage ever since, but wants someone to own it who truly appreciates the history of baseball and the significance of this piece.” The winning bidder was not identified, but I hope he or she, as well as the seller, reads this story.

Who was James Whyte Davis? Famous in his day but forgotten in ours, he comes into view for those who rummage around in early baseball history, exchanging scraps of data and delighting over a new find — a birth or death date, next of kin, a trail of addresses. One perhaps unlikely comrade of mine in such spelunking is Peter J. Nash, author of the recently published Baseball Legends of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery (Arcadia), a book that details how some of the 200 or so baseball pioneers, among them James Whyte Davis, came to this final resting place. To those of you who are hiphop fans, you may know Peter as the onetime Prime Minister Pete Nice of Third Bass.

Davis was born in New York on March 2, 1826 to John and Harriet Davis, both from Connecticut. Drifting away from his father’s trade as shipmaster and sometime liquor merchant, James became a stockbroker, a profession he maintained all his life. Like so many of the early ballplayers, he belonged to a volunteer fire company, in his case the Oceana No. 36. He married Maria Harwood of Maryland, with whom he had two sons though she left him a widower at a young age. These are the prosaic details. His life was wrapped up in baseball, as in death he would come to be.

On the 27th of August, 1855, a month shy of its ten-year anniversary, the Knickerbockers unfurled their first banner from the flagstaff over the clubhouse at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken, New Jersey. That triangular pennant, with a “K” in a circle surmounting a red panel and a blue one, was draped over Davis’s dresser ever since 1875. His long devotion to baseball and involvement in its defining moments made him a key participant in some monumental disputes.

In an 1856 Knickerbocker meeting Louis F. Wadsworth, along with Adams and others, backed a motion to permit outsiders to join in with Knicks in their intrasquad games at the Elysian Fields if fewer than 18 Knicks were present. Original Knickerbocker president Duncan F. Curry counter-moved that if 14 Knickerbockers were available, the game should admit no outsiders and be played shorthanded (by match standards). The Curry forces (which included Davis) prevailed, 13-11. This vote came at a time when baseball was played to 21 runs, and the rules as yet specified no number of innings. The Davis/Curry faction next recommended that a seven-inning game become the new standard. In a twisty tale of intrigue, the defeated Wadsworth/Adams faction convinced the other clubs to go with nine men, nine innings, and the grumbling Knicks began their long fade from the top ranks of competition.

In another enduring controversy, Davis was, with Walter T. Avery, a delegate to the 1867 convention of the National Association of Amateur Base Ball Players. With two other individuals of the nominating committee, he responded to the petition for membership of the Pythians of Philadelphia, an all-black organization, by rejecting any club “composed of persons of color, or any portion of them … and [the committee] unanimously report against the admission of any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons.” In seeking to keep out of the Convention the discussion of any subject having a political bearing, the game’s color line had been drawn. The committee further proclaimed, ‘If colored clubs were admitted there would be in all probability some division of feeling, whereas, by excluding them no injury could result to anyone.’”

So Davis came down on the wrong side of history in two major battles. The Knickerbockers, an anachronism soon after the Civil War, somehow endured until 1882, two years after Davis finally ceased to play. He entered the following decade as a widower, living in want in a Manhattan apartment building. On July 27, 1893, the New York Sun printed his letter to Edward B. Talcott, an owner of the New York Giants:

"My good friend,
"Referring to our lately conversation on Baseball I now comply with your request to write you a letter on the subject then proposed by me and which you so readily and kindly offered to take charge of, after my death, namely, to procure subscriptions to place a Headstone on my grave.

"My wish is that Baseball players be invited to subscribe Ten Cents each and no matter how small a sum is collected, it will be sufficient to place an oak board with an inscription on my resting place, but whatever it may be, I would like it as durable as possible without any ornamentation—simply something that 'he who runs may read.'…

"All relations and immediate friends are well informed that I desire to be buried in my baseball suit, and wrapped in the original flag of the old Knickerbockers 1845, now festooned over my bureau and for the past eighteen years and interred with the least possible cost.

"I suggest the following inscription in wood or in stone:

Wrapped in the Original Flag
Of the
Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of N.Y.,
Here lies the body of
James Whyte Davis,
A member for thirty years.
He was not “Too Late,”
Reaching the “Home Plate.”
Born March 2, 1826.
Died ______

"I should be pleased to show you my Glass case containing the trophies of my Silver Wedding with the Old Knickerbockers in 1875 and which I intend to bequeath to you, should you so desire as a mark of appreciation of the kindly act which you have undertaken to perform. Kindly acknowledge receipt of this.
"And I am Yours sincerely and thankfully,

"James Whyte Davis."

Perhaps it is through the Talcott family that the Davis trophy came to reside with the eBay seller. The dismaying thing is that in the end no dimes were collected for Davis’s headstone, and he lies in the sod at Green-Wood in an unmarked grave. Even his cemetery records have his middle name wrong (“White”) because whoever scribbled the burial transit slip didn’t care. Maybe the buyer or seller could throw a dime toward a fund to place a marker at Section 135, Lot 30010.

Peter Nash wrote to me the other day about the Green-Wood Historic Fund and its “Saved in Time” program. “All contributions regarding player memorials go to the Historic Fund with ‘Elysian Fields Monument Trust’ [the organization that Nash founded] noted on the check memo. We have already fully restored the [Henry] Chadwick monument and the [Jim] Creighton monument’s restoration is underway. (The missing ball at its apex is to be replaced)…. Perhaps JWD’s initial wish of ‘a ten cent subscription’ could be fullfilled in true ‘Too Late’ fashion by our present day MLB players. I’m sure they could afford it.”

Poor Davis, shrouded in his beloved Knickerbocker wrapper, now looks to a rapper of a modern sort to fulfill his dying wish.
--John Thorn