Photo opportunity

Early team shot of Ruth’s Red Sox donated to Hall of Fame collection

July 30, 2010
From left: Erik Strohl, David Maroney, Joseph Wassick and Hall of Fame assistant photo archivist Jenny Ambrose.(Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Babe Ruth spent his first full season with the Boston Red Sox in 1915. By Sept. 30 of that year, the team had clinched the league title and was set to play a series at the end of the regular season at Polo Grounds in New York.

Five days later on Oct. 5, the team posed for a photo on the foul line before a doubleheader against the Yankees. And thanks to a group of generous donors, that panoramic photo of a 20-year-old Ruth is now in the collection at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

David Maroney and Joseph Wassick, members of the Elks Lodge of Bennington, Vt., brought their wives and Maroney’s 7-year-old grandson to make the donation on Friday in Cooperstown. The donation was made with the support of the Elks Lodge Trustees as well as the entire membership.

“The photo hung in the lodge for as long as we can remember, and we think it was donated to us in the 1930s by a man named Shipwreck Kelley,” said Maroney, who only had a small hand-written donation card for information about it.

“I’ve been a member 55 years and I don’t ever remember not seeing it,” said Wassick, a trustee at the lodge. “We think we’ve narrowed it down to a Kelley who was a member and the gentleman died in 1938, but we can’t be sure.”

The photo hung in a dark game room in the lodge – which probably helped preserve its condition – until 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series and it began to draw more attention.

“It was always in an obscure area because we didn’t know anything about it,” said Maroney. “Then in 2004, a member had it reframed and displayed more prominently.”

One Elks member called into a talk radio show in 2006 for advice on how to get information about it and the host advised them to take it to Cooperstown.

“It took us five years to get here, but it’s here,” said Wassick.

“We were not intending to donate it at first, but find out what it was,” said Maroney. “But once we left, we felt that this is where it belonged.”

The large panoramic photo features a wealth of baseball history, including Hall of Famers Tris Speaker, Herb Pennock and Harry Hopper, and other notable players Smokey Joe Wood – who won a league-leading 34 games in 1912, Ernie Shore – who combined on a no-hitter with Ruth in 1917, and Carl Mays – who once hit a batter in the head with his submarine pitch, causing his death.

“It is not often that someone comes forward with such an important piece, with such an important player like Ruth and in such great condition,” said Erik Strohl, senior director of exhibits and collections for the Hall of Fame. “We are really grateful.”

The collections of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is home to over 500,000 photos, stored in temperature and humidity controlled facilities.

“When we accept a donation, we promise to take care of it forever,” said Strohl. “This photo will be taken good care of.”

The Elk members needed no reassurance, because they know now that the photo will be available for millions of fans to see as they make their trek to Cooperstown.

“That’s why we brought it here,” Wassick said.

Samantha Carr is the manager of web and digital media for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum