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When It Was A Game, PPP style: 1940 Baseball Film in Color

September 17, 2013

More than 20 years ago, HBO premiered a series that delighted baseball aficionados everywhere.Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 4.56.04 PM

Years before Ken Burns presented his comprehensive look at the national pastime, When It Was A Game presented a view of baseball that most folks had never seen: Home movie footage of players, fans and stadiums from the Great Depression all the way until the 1950s – a lot of the time in full color.

Two decades later, we at Priceless Photo Preservation have managed to preserve something along those lines:  A small snippet of a 1940 game at Chicago’s Comiskey Park between the White Sox and the Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins).

The color footage was captured on an 8 mm camera by the family of a PPP client, who generously allowed us to share this clip with you.

Shown below, this 73-year-old field-level film does not show much: A bit of pre-game shagging, a few pitches , a run being scored and a look at several mostly unidentifiable players. Among the Senators we think we can recognize are  pitcher Walt Masterson (at 0:18 mark, warming up), a 1948 All-Star game starter who would become a lifelong friend of Ted Williams, and infielder Sherry Robertson (signing autographs at the 0:12 mark), a Montreal native and a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.


What makes this film especially valuable, however, is the brief but memorable footage of one of baseball’s original clown princes: Nick Altrock, a former player and coach who moonlighted in the offseason as a vaudeville duo, first with Germany Schaefer and later with the better known Al Schacht. Supposedly, during the height of his performing career – when he would  reenact Jack Dempsey fights, among other routines –  he earned more money than Babe Ruth.

Altrock, who began pitching in 1898 and appeared as a pinch hitter at the age of 57 in 1933, is one of only two players to appear in a Major League game in five different decades. (Minnie Minoso is the other). His 42 years as a Senator coach (his official role in the film we preserved) made his tenure with one franchise the longest in Major League history.

But that’s besides the point when it comes to this film, which sees him mugging for the camera and doing a quasi-juggling act. In fact, we love it so much that we isolated it and slowed it down so that everyone can appreciate its wackiness. It’s highly possible that we see Altrock on the mound later in the longer film excerpt, crawling around in the dirt and performing for the Comiskey crowd.

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