By Phil Hecken
When the Oakland Raiders finally leave Oakland Alameda County Coliseum (2019? 2020?), it will mark the end of an era in the NFL. With that move, there will be no teams who play football in baseball (or multi-purpose) stadiums with natural grass, and it’s likely we’ll no longer see players running across dirt infields kicking up dust (or mud) for the foreseeable future. But there was once a time when not only was this a common occurrence, many NFL teams were tenants in baseball stadia, and since these edifices weren’t designed with a gridiron in mind, it made for some very interesting layouts (not necessarily very fan-friendly however).
I’ve been following an account on twitter for a while, @OTBaseballPhoto, or “Old Time Baseball Photos,” as it is fully known. Recently I’ve gotten to know the man behind the account, Ronnie Bolton, pretty well. As the name would indicate, the account is primarily a treasure trove of wonderful photos of baseball fields, players, stadiums and uniforms, from the past. But, as we’re entering the penultimate weekend of NFL football (The NFC and AFC Championship games are today, if you happen to be living in a cave, followed by the Supe in a couple weeks) I decided the time was right to introduce Ronnie and his twitter page (he’s a must follow) to Uni Watch — and I asked him if he could do a twist on his usual baseball postings — could he give us some nice historical perspective on football played in baseball stadiums. He obliged.
But first, a quick Q&A to get to know Ronnie a bit better.
Uni Watch: Are you a Uni Watch reader and if so, how long have you been following?
Ronnie Bolton: I do and just about the time I joined twitter, but as we both found out the other night when I was totally unaware of the 1960 Boston Patriots helmet logo, I need to step that up!
UW: How old are you and where do you live?
RB: I’m 52 and I’m a Queens native but I moved to New Jersey when I was young and have been living in Sayreville for most of my life.
UW: Ah, so we’re the same age and you were born on LI too. Nice. Where and how do you find the photos you post? Are they all from google searches or is there a special site from which you mine them?
RB: A lot of great finds can be had by Google search, if you know the right keywords, but I also dig through digital libraries, if I came across any of them, you better believe I’m in there digging, finding a gem of a baseball photo that is hidden away and researching the details is a great thrill, and it’s even a greater thrill to be able to share the photo and its history with everyone. But I also get photos through friends like Don Stokes or Jay Gauthreaux. But mostly it’s digging on my own, and I love doing it.
UW: Do you own any of these photos or are they all just tracked down through meticulous searching?
RB: While the more I do this, I do get intrigued of acquiring photos, I just never been much of a collector of anything, including autographs, baseball cards, any kind of sports memorabilia. When I was young I brought baseball cards like most kids did, but I more interested in the stats on the back, because at that time there weren’t many outlets to get them from. Plus I got gum.
UW: Do you clean them up (edit them) or alter them in any way?
RB: I’m lucky enough to have a buddy like Don Stokes who is an old pro at cleaning up photos with Photoshop. But there are many photos I will personally work on, most of the time enlarging them without losing its clarity or working on panoramas. And I love panoramas prints, but truth is not many social media platforms are user-friendly towards them to be fully appreciated, especially on Facebook.
UW: How long have you been doing this? I see you have a large amount of twitter followers (especially since I started R/Ting you a lot ;)). Has that number increased steadily?
RB: With social media and old baseball photos, late 2013 I believe. My twitter account I started in October of 2014 and the growth of followers has always been steady since, but the last few months it’s really taken off and it was about the same time Twitter increased their characters from 140 to 280. I hate leaving characters on the table, and I will try to use them all to tell the story of a photo, so my tweets have had more content and I think it’s a sign that people just don’t enjoy the photos, but enjoy the history behind them. But if Twitter ever increases their tweets to characters to say a 1,000, I’m in big trouble.
UW: Do you have a website or blog or social media presence besides twitter?
RB: I do, or I should say “we” do. I have been running a Facebook page “Old-TimeBaseball Photos” since July 2014 and have been lucky enough to partner up on this with Gary Livacari, a great writer and historian who recently put out a book titled “Great World Series Moments”, and we both run a blog called “Baseball Comes Alive”.
UW: Peter Frampton would be proud. This is all strictly a hobby, correct? Do you have any plans to expand (or create a dedicated website)?
RB: Hobby for now but exploring maybe putting out an E-Book on the very subject you and me worked on here and me and Gary have talked about collaborating on something soon.
UW: Anything else you think our readers would like to know about you?
RB: I’m a very disgruntled Mets fan.
UW: Aren’t we all, though? How much research is involved in the posting?
RB: I do quite a bit of research on the photos, any time I come across something that I think our readers/followers would enjoy, I will find out as much as possible the details of the photo and tell its story. If a photo that has no details and content but has a scoreboard, that’s like a puzzle for me and well I’m happy as a pig in mud. And sometimes researching online or books doesn’t give you the answers you’re looking for, but I’m fortune enough to be able to check with MLB’s official historian John Thorn, who is kind enough to give me answer every time. Which is something I learned from him and try to do, I get plenty of questions – or even requests – and I try my best to answer each one or fulfill each request. And I have learned a great deal from Tom Shieber as well, he’s the Senior Curator at the National Baseball Hall of the Fame and one of the best baseball sleuths you’ll ever find, reading his blog you learn how to decipher photos in ways you never thought of. And Bee Smile [UW readers know him as Bruce Menard — PH], someone who knows about baseball photos as anyone I know, is always someone I can reach out to.
UW: What is the most satisfying thing about all this?
RB: My biggest satisfaction is being able to add more to a photo than its image, adding the history of that event at that moment. But maybe even more satisfying is when someone tells us that our work has piqued their interest in the history of the game, because that’s what it’s all about.
I asked Ronnie if he could give us 8 football played in baseball stadia/fields historical lookbacks, and he did NOT disappoint.
For each of these – I’ve linked to the great Clem’s Baseball site, which shows how the football fields were laid out inside the baseball stadia. There are some that were wedged in pretty good!
OK, here’s Ronnie with his great eight:
Chicago Bears vs New York Giants, December 30, 1956, Yankee Stadium
The icy gridiron is ready for the 1956 NFL Championship between the Chicago Bears and New York Giants . It would be the first time in the title game for both teams since the Bears beat the Giants 24-14 in 1946. It’s also the Giants first season playing at Yankee Stadium.
And just like in the 1934 NFL Championship contest against the Bears, the Giants switched from cleats to sneakers to counter the slippery turf, a move that proved to be a major factor in the game’s outcome as the Giants won with ease 47-7 and captured their first NFL Championship since 1938.
Washington vs Detroit Lions, October 16, 1938, Briggs Stadium
The first ever Lions game at Tigers Stadium, then known as Briggs Stadium, takes place against Washington with 42,855 in attendance. But the Lions would fall short 7-5 thanks to a lifeless offense.
And while this was the first time the Lions played at Tiger Stadium, they weren’t the first, or even second, NFL team to do so. In 1920 the Detroit Tigers/Heralds of the APFA (renamed NFL in 1922) played in 1920 and 1921 there, but folded quickly. In 1925 the Detroit Panthers gave it a go but they too folded after just two years.
New York Giants vs Pittsburgh Steelers, September 25, 1949, Forbes Field
Just 20,957 are on hand for the NFL season opener to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers drub the NY Giants 28-7, in part due to a second quarter that saw the Steelers score 21 unanswered points.
Forbes Field was home to the Steelers for 31 years (1933-1963) before they moved to Pitt Stadium in 1964.
As far as the layout of the gridiron at Forbes Field, the one end zone would be in the area of the third base and the other end zone was in right-center field.
Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Cardinals, November 27, 1949, Comiskey Park
Even so it looks like Chicago Cardinals end Mel Kutner lets the ole pigskin slip out of his hands against the Green Bay Packers, he did recover and catch the 11-yard pass from quarterback Jim Hardy for six points giving Cards a 13-0 lead. At the final gun the Cardinals trounced the Pack 41-21 in front of 16,787.
From 1922 to 1938, the Cardinals split time between Comiskey Park, Wrigley Field and Normal Field until they finally settled into Comiskey in 1939. There they stayed for the next 20 years before leaving for St Louis after the 1958 season.
Dallas Texans vs Oakland Raiders, September 24, 1961, Candlestick Park
A sparse crowd of just 6,700 got their moneys worth in a AFL contest that saw the Candlestick Park scoreboard get lit up with 77 points. The “home team” Oakland Raiders lost the lead in final two minutes when halfback Johnny Robinson’s 13-yard run and a two-point conversion gave his Dallas Texans (today’s Kansas City Chiefs) a 42-35 lead that would hold up.
In the Raiders first year in 1960, they shared Kezar Stadium with San Francisco 49ers, but conflicts between the two teams forced the Raiders to move to Candlestick for final three games of the season and all of 1961.
Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears, November 16, 1963, Wrigley Field
Two of the NFL powerhouses, the Green Bay Packers (8-1) and Chicago Bears (8-1), meet up for a crucial game. The Bears already handed the Packers their only loss of the season in the first week with a 10-3 win at New City Stadium (known today as Lambeau Field). The Bears held the Packers to 150 yards in the first meeting, but they did intercept the Packers backup quarterbacks 5 times in this one.
As this photo shows, the crowd is practically on top of the field and the players on the sideline making Wrigley Field an intimidating experience for opponents.
Green Bay Packers vs Minnesota Vikings, October 14, 1962, Metropolitan Stadium
The undefeated Green Bay Packers (5-0) and the winless Minnesota Vikings (0-5) meet on remarkable warm October 14th day as the highs would hit 75 degrees. And it would be the Packers dominant run game helping win the day by churning out 209 yards in a 48-21 romp. Green Bay’s All-World fullback Jim Taylor accounted for 164 of those rushing yards.
The Vikings called Metropolitan Stadium home in 1961, the same year the Twins (formerly Washington Senators) did after moving from the nations capital, and in 1982 both would move out together and into the newly built Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Fenway Park, Boston, ca 1963
This classic baseball cathedral has been home to five professional football teams, including its most recent football tenant, the Boston Patriots. This fourth-year AFL team played their first game in shadows of the Green Monster on September 9, 1963 when they beat the New York Jets 38-14, and their last game on December 1, 1968 losing to Cincinnati Bengals 33-14.
As far as the large photo, we also know it’s around 1963 because of the construction on the Prudential Building that opened in 1964, and look where the goal posts are located – on the goal line. So it rules out college football.
Awesome stuff, Ronnie. Thanks so much for sharing and for the history lesson to boot.
We’ll be hearing more from Ronnie in the future on Uni Watch, but I hope today served as a nice intro and if you’re into baseball, history, and historical baseball photos, Ronnie is a must follow on the Twitter.
Uni Watch News Ticker
Baseball News: Check out this gorgeous oil on canvas portrait of Jackie Robinson (from artist Andy Brown). Here’s a “timelapse” of how he created it. … Friday was photo day for the Florida State Seminoles (from Christina Dodson). … High Point High School has a new white and purple jersey. … UGH. Let’s hope this isn’t a trend: “I’ve never seen a baseball team wear a camo jersey AND camo pants,” says David Murphy. “This is Jake Margolick from Highland Park High School in Illinois. Not sure if the uni is from high school or a travel team. I perused HPHS and saw pink jerseys, rainbow jerseys, maybe even a camo jersey – but no camo pants.” … CROSSOVER ALERT! The one-time president of the St. Louis Steamers (soccer) apparently also played baseball (from Jimmer Vilk). Also posted in soccer. … The Montgomery Biscuits will become the ‘Greenbow Biscuits’ on Forrest Gump tribute night June 1. … We all know (or should) that the Padres almost moved to Washington, D.C. for the 1974 season, but did you know that the San Francisco Giants almost moved to Toronto and would have been known as the Toronto Giants? (from Minor Leaguer). Toronto would get it’s own MLB team one year later. … Our pal Chris Creamer has a real nice thread on Twitter on the Toronto Giants and their proposed move up north. Make sure to read thru the whole thing! … Here’s a video still and some rare footage of the Red Sox from their “no-stripes” season, 1974 (from Retro Rob McGill). Marc Okkonen notes this as an alternate home uni (different cap and no stripes on the stirrups). … You’ve always wanted to see Denny McLain in HALF a White Sox uni, right? Bob Gassel notes, “Shortly after being signed by the White Sox, just out of high school, in 1962. Sort of anticipates their late ’70s look a bit!” … WHOA! Check out this time Lapse of Sharpie-ing Forbes Field (home of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1909-70). From Jeff Callahan.
NFL/CFL News: According to Action News on abc6, the Philadelphia Eagles have a new logo (from Nick LaRosa). … Here’s a copy of an ad for the first ever Eagles game in 1933 (from Todd Radom). … When NFL Tabletop Football typography goes wrong: This actually says FLICK IT (from James Gilbert). … “I found an interesting eBay auction for a (rather pricey) lot of game used CFL gear from U.S. based teams, ” says Andy Rawlings, who adds, “Very cool.” … Check out this New York Football Giants jean jacket. Al N. Kreit says, “never saw this type of jean jacket before. In my day it was a dungaree jacket.” … CROSSOVER ALERT! CFL uniforms get the hockey treament: “The Tim Hodge jerseys shown at the start have been in the Uni Watch ticker before,” says Wade Heidt. “They are from April 2017. This is what is new. Another fan, Jason Ethier, has done up full hockey uniforms for all CFL teams. Here is the story from the CFL website which links to Jason’s tweets.” Also posted in hockey. … Remember when great sporting moments belonged to fans? N. Harvill notes the Vikings are now seeking trademarks for ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ and ‘Minnesota Miracle’.
College/International Football News: The NCAA Football regular season (and Bowl season) may be over, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still games. At the Collegiate Bowl yesterday, most of the players had multiple decals from other schools on their helmets, a practice that dates back years. It’s one of the cool things about the game (from Ignacio). Here is a look at some more hats. … There was not much contrast in this color-vs-color International Bowl matchup. Black (British Columbia) against navy (USA). From Chris Mycoskie. … Here is a before and after of the latest engraving for Alabama HC Nick Saban’s statute unveiled yesterday (from Griffin Smith). … “The #Gators got scanned for helmet size and this blue/orange two tone helmet shows up in a tweet,” says @drryanbohannon. “New look for UF?” he asks. Well, apparently not (from Chad Fields).
Hockey News: Looks like Antti Niemi still has his Pittsburgh Penguins gloves in Montreal. Submitter TheGoalNet adds, “The front graphics have @ChameleonSports Pad Skinz on them to match @CanadiensMTL Unis.” … It was color vs color for St. Cloud and St. Cloud Cathedral high schools on Hockey Day Minnesota outdoors. Submitter Cody Wolfe adds, “These jerseys are beautiful.” … Speaking of Hockey Day in Minnesota, check out this AMAZING five-person custom sweater seen during the Minnesota-Duluth/St. Cloud State game (from Cody Wolfe). … Yesterday’s lede featured the fauxback Grand Rapids Griffins sweater designed by our own reader John Elbertson. Their opponent that night? The Cleveland Monsters. Well, guess who’s having own fauxback jersey night on February 2? And guess who their opponent is? (from Brad Foster). I don’t think John designed the Monsters fauxbacks. … CROSSOVER ALERT! CFL uniforms get the hockey treament: “The Tim Hodge jerseys shown at the start have been in the Uni Watch ticker before,” says Wade Heidt. “They are from April 2017. This is what is new. Another fan, Jason Ethier, has done up full hockey uniforms for all CFL teams. Here is the story from the CFL website which links to Jason’s tweets.” Also posted in football. … There was an outdoor game in Hershey last night. Wade Heidt notes “As part of the festivities before, the Hershey Bears Alumni played the Philadelphia Flyers Alumni Friday night. 1)The Bears Alumni uniform featured the club’s 80th Anniversary Season logo as the crest; 2) The teams switched sweaters halfway through. Bears changed from white to brown. Flyers from orange to white; and 3) Ray Bourque was in the game as an honourary Hershey Bears Alumni member for the evening.” Details and photos can all be found in this story. … Al Montoya has a digitally printed wrap while he waits for a new painted mask from Bishop Designs. Expect his MI Wolverine + NHL team mashup theme to continue (from TheGoalNet). … Check out these alternate uniform concepts for the Caps 2018 Stadium Series game. … Here’s some video from the Hershey Bears vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms outdoor game from last night. Here’s a closeup of the sweaters worn by Hershey and the all orange outfits worn by Lehigh Valley.
College/High School Hoops News: It’s bad enough when one team goes BFBS or GFGS. When both teams do it, it’s brutal. That’s Va Tech and FSU (from Andrew Cosentino). Here’s another shot (from Clark Ruhland). … In that same game, Virginia Tech guard Justin Robinson suffered a pretty bad jersey tear in the first half (also from Andrew Cosentino). … Then there are good color vs. color matchups, such as Minnesota vs. Ohio State (from Ben Teaford). … Big East fans from the mid-80s will appreciate this color vs. color matchup between the Hoyas and Johnnies, er, Georgetown and St. John’s (from bryanwdc). Here’s some more shots (note the rolled waistbands for G-town). … During that game, Oddly Mulmore’s NOB went missing (from bryanwdc). … Yesterday, Oklahoma State unveiled “Remember The 10” shooting shirts and throwback uniforms for Bedlam (Oklahoma). … Check out the 1985 throwback unis worn by Vilkanova yesterday (from Robert Hayes). … ICYMI, here’s a shit-ton of photos of the MSU alternates worn Friday night against Indiana. … Here’s a look at the Kansas State throwback uniforms. Submitter Mike Lefko had an interesting way of conveying that information. … An Elizabethtown HS girls team was honoring the 1998 state title team with a throwback warm-up and fauxback jersey. The original uni was gold, but home teams must wear white in Kentucky now (from Josh Claywell). … It was Military Appreciation night at Salem High School (Indiana). ‘MURICA! (from Duane L Davis). … Those throwback lavender unis that Kansas State wore the other night were such a hit that they may wear them again this year. … The Texas A&M Aggies have some nice throwback unis in their locker (from Luke Hillin).
Soccer News: CROSSOVER ALERT! The one-time president of the St. Louis Steamers (soccer) apparently also played baseball (from Jimmer Vilk). Also posted in baseball.
Grab Bag: On Friday night, the 2017 Women’s National Lacrosse Team was presented with their World Champion rings to celebrate both an FIL Worl Cup Win and a World Games win (via James Gilbert). … Also from James, In the latest “Carolina People” meet Derek Lochbaum, director of trademarks and licensing at the University of North Carolina. … The Army Lacrosse team has a new black helmet, and it looks pretty nice! (from Lax Sports Network). … Looks like UTEP will be switching to a lighter shade of orange in the future (via Paul). … I always get a kick out of the “HAT FAIL” meme, so this article gave me a chuckle (from Drew Stiling). … I love curling. I was once a Deadhead. Someone PLEASE GET ME THIS SHIRT (from Dave Tumminello). … Dennis Kucinich has changed his logo colors again, now to black and yellow. This is his third color change in the 10 days his campaign has been active (from our own Anthony Emerson).