The deadball era was a simpler time for baseball, but the New York-Boston rivalry was already in full flower. A rare photo from iconic photographer Charles Conlon captures a 1909 game at Hilltop Park in New York, and this stunningly clear shot is part of RMY Auctions’ November Collectors Auction.
Pictured in the photograph is Boston Red Sox second baseman Amby McConnell, with New York Highlanders (they would not be known as the Yankees until 1913) catcher Walter Blair standing behind the plate in a very slight crouch, waiting for the pitch.
Preparing to make the call was home plate umpire Tim Hurst.
Conlon was positioned near home plate when he took this shot. The back of the photograph has had-written notes by Conlon identifying the players and umpire.
The photo eventually wound up in the archives of The Sporting News and their stamp was added at a much later date.
It was also used on a 1912 Hassan Triple Folders card.
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) November 25, 2020
While an exact date cannot be determined, thanks to Retrosheet it can be narrowed down to two possibilities in 1909 — Wednesday, May 5 or Friday, May 7. Those were the only games Hurst was the plate umpire at Hilltop Park when McConnell and Blair played.
The Highlanders won both games, 2-0 on May 5 and a 12-inning, 4-3 victory two days later. The first game took a mere 1:39 to play, while the May 7 game “dragged on” for 2:20.
McConnell, the Red Sox leadoff hitter nicknamed “Midget” because of his 5-foot-5 frame, used his split-grip batting style to go 2-for-4 in both games. On May 5, McConnell had a pair of singles. Two days later, he singled, tripled and scored a run; he was also hit by a pitch and had a sacrifice hit.
It was his second season with the Red Sox, and he finished the year batting .238 in 121 games. However, he is more famous for lining into the first unassisted triple play in major league history.
In the first game of a doubleheader at Cleveland’s League Park on July 19, 1909, Boston’s Heinie Wagner singled off Cy Young to lead off the second inning. Jake Stahl then had a bunt single to put runners at first and second. On a hit-and-run play, McConnell laced a 3-2 pitch up the middle, where shortstop Neal Ball leaped to catch the ball. Ball doubled Wagner off second and then tagged Stahl, “who didn’t have a chance in the world to get back to first base,” to pull off the triple play, according to the Evening Herald of Fall River, Massachusetts.
Cleveland would win the game, 6-1.
Blair, meanwhile, was nicknamed “Heavy” despite standing 6 feet tall and weighing 185 pounds. He only played 42 games in 1909 and batted .209. His fielding average was .964 behind the plate.
Interestingly, Hurst was involved in a controversy on May 7 at Hilltop Park. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Kid Elberfeld tagged up on Joe Ward’s fly ball to left field and scored, seemingly giving the Highlanders a win. However, Hurst called Elberfield out, causing the Highlanders’ third baseman to argue strenuously. When Elberfield jabbed Hurst in the side, the umpire picked up his mask and swung away, hitting the angry player in the jaw. Elberfeld was ejected, but American League President Ban Johnson suspended Hurst until May 13.
Hurst would be suspended for good after an incident in Philadelphia on Aug. 3, 1909. During an argument with Athletics second baseman Eddie Collins, Hurst spat on the player. Johnson removed Hurst from the umpiring crew shortly after that incident.
Future Hall of Famers Tris Speaker and Wee Willie Keeler played in both games at Hilltop Park, and another Cooperstown inductee, Harry Hooper, would fail to get a hit as a pinch hitter on May 7.
Hilltop Park, officially called American League Park, was located on a high ridge in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan. It is now the site of NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
The photo taken by Conlon measures 6.5 inches by 9.5 inches. It has an overall grade of 9/10, is rated 5/5 for quality and 4/5 for condition.
The auction, which includes over 600 historic images, began on Nov. 10 and ends on Nov. 28.