September 24, 2010
Which white whales are still out there?
That was the one question that kept popping into my head as I wrote Friday morning's post about Bing Crosby and the complete and long-lost broadcast from Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.
After all, the recent Crosby find and 2006's discovery of Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series rank as two giant discoveries in the game of tracking down footage that's never been archived.
So what items are still on the most-wanted list at MLB Productions, the baseball arm that does the detective work when it comes to finding lost films?
To find out, I got on the horn with Nick Trotta, the senior library and licensing manager for MLB Productions, on Friday afternoon. Trotta works with a staff of 10 people at the New Jersey complex they share with MLB Network. The archives contain about 200,000 hours of footage and the workers there have an encyclopedic knowledge of the shots they have — as well as the ones they don't.
1. Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round The World Game" (complete broadcast)
"That's absolutely at the top of the list," Trotta quickly said when I posed the question and for good reason. Not only is the third game of the 1951 NL pennant tiebreaker a big piece of baseball history, it's also a big piece of television history as it was the first baseball game to be broadcast from coast-to-coast. And while Thomson's homer has been seen millions of times from the newsreels that were produced, Trotta says there's nothing quite as valuable as having the broadcast of a complete game at your disposal.
"The newsreel highlights were put together by people who knew what was going to happen," he said. "But with a complete game, it's being called by broadcasters who don't know what's going to happen. It's a much different kind of tension and drama."
2. Game 7 of the 1962 World Series (complete broadcast)
Bing Crosby's wine cellar just produced the original footage from the low point of Ralph Terry's career — giving up the winning home run to Bill Mazeroski — so the universe should reward him by allowing the discovery of the high point of his time. That would be his 1-0 complete-game victory over the San Francisco Giants, which ended dramatically when Bobby Richardson snagged Willie McCovey's hard line drive to first.
Trotta says there are more than a few complete World Series games from the '50s and '60s that they're still searching for. Though the first earliest complete World Series contests are games 6 and 7 of the 1952 World Series, many after that weren't saved for posterity. Recording games via kinescope was an expensive proposition and networks didn't have the space, money or foresight to save the games on videotape.
"Back then, no one thought anyone would want to go back and watch them," Trotta said.
3. Footage and clips of early Hall of Famers
Players like Cy Young, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson are icons of the game, but MLB Productions does not have a single clip of them playing during their careers. They even only have about an hour's worth of Babe Ruth footage, which was why the 2009 discovery of a clip of the Bambino playing outfield made for such a big headline. The Ruth film was found by a man in New Hampshire who was looking through his grandfather's home-movie collection, so Trotta always holds out hope that clips of other old-timers will be found in a similar fashion.
4. Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal's 16-inning game in 1963
Trotta says finding this famous game is one of his co-worker's pet obsessions and for good reason. Both Spahn and Marichal went the distance in this 1-0 Giants victory, and five other Hall of Famers — Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda — played in the game. A solo homer by Mays in the 16th ended the duel.
Trotta says the game is good enough to be a movie on its own, but it's unknown if it was ever televised. Spotty records show that only 18 Giants games were broadcast that year while 45 Braves games made it to the airwaves. There's still a lot of sleuthing to be done.
5. Fred Merkle's Boner in 1908
It's the smallest needle in the biggest haystack, but Trotta would love to find footage — no matter how crude — of the baserunning mistake that cost the Giants the National League pennant. Yeah, there's a good chance that it was never captured, but Trotta says that when people head up to their attics and down to their basements, you never know what they're going to turn up.