#Shortstops: Video revolution
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Using his professional playing experience for observation, Mann focused on the qualities necessary to develop fundamentals. Mann created films to demonstrate correct and incorrect ways to play, enlisting the help of more than 85 professional baseball players, including future Hall of Famers such as Rogers Hornsby, Max Carey, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker.
In 1925, Mann began assembling the player footage along with titles and captions. These films were a way to build baseball skills by highlighting the finer details of batting, base running, sliding, pitching, defensive play and coaching. The instructional films consisted of 16 sections, each containing 40 minutes of material to develop a particular ability. Mann used 35mm cellulose nitrate film, which was standard at the time – yielding a higher quality image than the more economical 16mm.
However, Mann decided it was not enough to develop only film content. He wanted to be able to play the reels in super slow motion, advance a frame at a time, pause, and reverse. Since these features were not readily available, he invented a new projector.
Patented on Oct. 11, 1927, the Mannscope was a combination motion picture and lantern projection machine. Rather than having an electric motor, the manually-operated machine could work in either continuous motion or be held stationary.
According to the patent: “The operator is then given plenty of time to thoroughly explain each play or movement shown on the screen before passing to the next one.” While held in a fixed position, the Mannscope contained water enclosed by two glass discs with a vent, which served as a cooling device, and prevented the radiating heat of the electric lamp from damaging the film.
The Mannscope was not mass-produced; rather Mann marketed it personally. While on the road during his final big seasons of 1927 and 1928 with the New York Giants, he used his films and projector for lectures at high schools and colleges. After his playing career, he continued to devote time to expanding and building the amateur game by utilizing the films. The owners of the National and American Leagues hired Mann to tour the United States to publicize amateur development in 1929.
As the secretary treasurer for the National Amateur Athletic Federation in 1931, Mann announced the formation of the United States Amateur Baseball Association (later known as the United States Baseball Congress). The organization’s chief goal was to sponsor an international baseball tournament. In October 1935, Mann traveled with an amateur team to Japan. As the world prepared for the next great war, Mann continued to popularize the game in small tournaments in Great Britain and Cuba. During World War II, Mann served as the USO director of athletics in Hawaii.
Through his work with the USABA, Mann introduced baseball to 27 countries between 1931 and 1943. “We have them thinking, promoting, and playing our great game. Let’s be sure not to lose them now,” Mann wrote in a report to the NAAF. Mann continued working to expand and develop amateur sports throughout his lifetime.
Springfield College offered a Baseball Instructional Course in 1935 for freshmen, sophomores and coaches based on Mann’s films. However, the use of film for the instruction of baseball fundamentals, while widely accepted, had a slower expansion than the game itself. During the 1940s, the National League sponsored a film bureau, which produced a series of films that combined fundamental instruction with promotional material. The 30-minute films targeted colleges, amateur clubs and Latin American countries.
After an interview in 1927, the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call said: “In the long run we would say that a fellow like Mann will do as much even as a Babe Ruth to further the great national game.” While the Morning Call may have missed with its prediction, Mann’s invention gave the sporting world a new tool. His character and his desire to teach and expand the game built part of the foundation for training and analytical video systems used today.
Meghan Anderson was the 2017 curatorial intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development