Update to Player Identification

Clarke or?

The last post began the discussion of our Helmar Imperial Cabinet #4 and the identity of this mysterious Pirate player. While I’ve suggested that it is Hall of Fame member Fred Clarke, others are certain that the photo is of the ever-popular Hans Wagner. Let’s dig a little deeper:


At the top of the cabinet the photographer has scrawled “Bresnahan catching” and “Pittsburg + N.Y.”. Following that is a much less clear tag that appears to read “Sept. 18”. This does help narrow things down for us.

A quick Internet search shows that the Pirates played the Giants on Sept. 18, 1908 in a double-header at the Polo Grounds. Our photo clearly agrees with other period images of the stadium. On that long-ago September afternoon the Giants crushed the visiting Pirates in both games. Left handed batters for Pittsburgh that day consisted only of these players: Fred Clarke, Chief Wilson, Roy Thomas, and pitcher Nick Maddox (who only had two at bats). The player shown in our Imperial Cabinet would be one of these four men unless Wagner decided to bat from the left side that day. Wagner is known to have hit lefty no more than a handful of times over the course of his long career. It would be a very rare photo indeed if it turns out to be Wagner.

Maddox, I think, can be excluded almost immediately. He simply didn’t look anything like the batter in the photo. Each of the other natural lefties (Clarke, Wilson, and Thomas) had prominent noses and that does complicate things for us.

Chief Wilson

Roy Thomas 

Based on my photo library I am now leaning toward Clarke but an not at all convinced. In my opinion it is definitely not Wagner. The best news of the night is that I found another photo online that I’ve never seen before. It is a photo from the HOF and is dated September 19th, 1908–the very next afternoon from our Imperial Cabinet photo. Pittsburgh and New York again played at the Polo Grounds (with a big win for Pittsburgh). This new photo clearly shows Bresnahan and Wagner together and is taken from the same point of view. Does it change your opinion of the mystery batter? Here it is.

Honus Wagner batting in game, Roger Bresnahan catching

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