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1898 Special Instructions to Players Regarding Obscene Language and 1898 Baltimore Orioles game ticket
Starting Bid - $500.00 , Sold For - $32,312.50
Items of historical significance can take many forms. We have always gone out of our way to stay away from items that we think are in poor taste or off-color. We also try our best to seize opportunities to document the history of the game and its relationship to American culture. Normally, there is never a conflict between those two policies; however, there are always exceptions, which brings us to the offered piece: an official League document, dating from 1898, titled “Special Instructions To Players.” The document addresses the growing use of offensive language by players at the ballpark and stipulates the penalties for future infractions. It concludes with, “By Order of the Committee,” below which is printed, in bold type, “UNMAILABLE. Must be forwarded by Express.” It appears that this document was distributed in person to every player in the League, and may have even been posted in dugouts and clubhouses at the time. What sets it apart from all other official correspondence we have ever seen is the fact that it contains numerous examples of the obscene phrases and “brutal language” that it seeks to ban. The language featured in this document is so over the top that some might think it is simply a joke. It is not! We discovered the document, almost by accident, in a box containing a few odds and ends from the estate of baseball historian Al Kermisch. Collectors will recall that Robert Edward Auctions sold nearly all of Kermisch’s personal collection, comprised of important and rare Baltimore baseball memorabilia dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s, in our April 2007 auction. In winter of 2007 a few additional interesting pieces were later found and brought to us for evaluation, among them this document. At first glance it appeared to be nothing, but as we began reading it, it quickly got our attention. The language kept getting “bluer” and “bluer” to the point where we weren't even sure if this was an item we could present at auction. We posted the story of its discovery on the REA blog. Never, in our thirty-plus years, have we received so many responses, comments, and opinions about a single piece. And not just by baseball memorabilia collectors. This piece elicited responses from hundreds of sports fans, historians, students of popular culture, fans of the HBO Deadwood series, professional linguists, and college professors, all of whom were drawn to the piece because of its ironic and early use of off-color language. Newspapers called. Salon.com did a story. For a couple of days it was hard to get any work done around here. Amazingly, a number of the eminent scholars who read this document believe that it contains the earliest appearance in print of a few, now commonly used, obscene words and phrases. (For more information regarding this piece, we recommend visiting the REA blog to read our three separate entries, two of which include links to additional articles and comments made by others relating to the document. The web addresses are: http://s210975194.onlinehome.us/blog/?p=41and http://s210975194.onlinehome.us/blog/?p=49 and http://s210975194.onlinehome.us/blog/?p=55 or just go the the REA blog on the REA website and click around: you'll find them).
When we showed the piece to eminent baseball historian John Thorn, he commented “Apart from the schoolboy delight in reading this, it is a significant testament to the atmosphere in the single-league era, when professional baseball was losing ground to college football for many reasons, including the atmosphere at the park.” That “atmosphere” was an urgent concern for the committee, as evidenced by its unwavering determination to “clean up” the game:
This shocking indecency was brought to the attention of the League at the Philadelphia meeting in November, 1897, and a committee was appointed to report upon this baseball crime, define and suggest for it a remedy. In response to nearly one hundred communications addressed to umpires, managers, and club officials, soliciting definite, positive, and personal knowledge of obscene and indecent language upon the ball field, the committee received a deluge of information that was so appalling as to be almost beyond belief, showing conclusively and beyond contradiction that there was urgent need for legislative action on the part of the League…Whether it be the language quoted above, or some other indecent and infamous invention of depravity, the League is pledged to remove it from the ball field, whether it necessitates the removal of the offender for a day or all time. Any indecent or obscene word, sentence, or expression, unfit for print or the human ear, whether mentioned in these instructions or not, is contemplated under the law and within its intent and meaning, and will be dealt with without fear or favor when the fact is established by conclusive proof.Research confirms that the subject of “rowdiness” and use of obscene language was a serious topic of concern at the League meetings held in Philadelphia on November 8, 1897. In fact, one of the remedies adopted was assigning two umpires to every game. (Although two umpires per game was recommended at this time, it was not mandated by League rule until 1911.) The document (5.5 x 11 inches) displays three horizontal folds, light foxing, minor tears along the edges of the fold line, and a few small border tears. Very Good condition overall. Accompanying the document is a Baltimore Base Ball Club ticket stub (found with the document in the box of paper items from the Kermisch estate) from a game played at Union Park on Monday, September 12, 1898. The stub measures 3.25 x1.75 inches and is in Very Good condition. Total 2 items (document and ticket). Reserve $500. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $32,312.50
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