Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cross-category gem: A circa 1900 Unidentified Baseball Game Spinner in the April Sports Auction

April 7, 2009
Posted by Noah

This is one of those things that’s just plain cool that I like to dig through our catalogs for. It’s enigmatic, artistic, bespeaks an era unto itself and looks like it’d simply be a lot of fun to play with. It’s also in our April 23-34 Signature Sports Auction, which features a ton of great stuff. What this thing is, exactly, is hard to say. It’s obviously a baseball game of some kind from around 1900, and it’s obviously well made. It doubles as baseball memorabilia and American folk art alike, and I’d love to get my grubby little paws on it.

Jonathon Scheier, one of the sports consignment directors – and a writer I am trying to recruit to post occasionally to this blog - wrote the catalog description for it, which is quite good:

“Try as we might, we've been unable to solve the mystery of this beguiling game piece, a rather ingenious and fully-functional toy that simply oozes Dead Ball Era charm. A four and a half inch batter, complete with high-collared jersey and wide-handed grip, is spun into place against the resistance of a coiled spring. A push of a button releases the batter's powerful swing, and the bat smacks a small roulette wheel with a satisfying ‘ping,’ causing it to spin at a high rate of speed. An arrow points to one of a number of random scenarios when the wheel stops, signifying hits, outs, balls, strikes and home runs. It's definitely one of the most attractive and outright cool game pieces we've ever encountered for the sport of baseball, certain to pique the interest of many a collector with a concentration in the field...”

In the field, or out of it, I might add again, as this thing would fit as well in a hobby memorabilia shop as it would on the floor of a high-end Northeastern U.S. antiques show. I saw more than a few oddities like this little beauty on that circuit, and this thing has all the hallmarks of working beautifully across any number of categories.

It reminds me of the games my brother Cris and I would play as kids, drafting players from our baseball cards and rolling dice to signify hits and strikes and outs. We later switched to Mattel Intellivision Baseball, where we played the game as our respective teams and players and kept in-depth stats. I once had a team that, if I remember, had Gary Carter, Thurman Munson, Jim Sundberg, Buddy Bell and Catfish Hunter. On one magic, blisteringly hot 1979 afternoon – the baseball gods smiling on me – I managed to play a perfect (video) game against my brother with this team. It was a rare victory for me, let alone in such spectacular fashion. It led to my brother smashing his fist on the game console, ripping up his stat sheet and then punching me in the arm several times before sticking a finger in my face and telling me never EVER to talk about this again.

It was akin to having an opponent wreck the board in the middle of a game of chess because he had an obviously losing position. I never had that pleasure in my competitive chess playing days, but I know the pleasure from watching my brother freak that sun-bleached July day. We never played the game again, but I can still show you exactly where the three bruises from his knuckles appeared on my left arm.

Check out the spinner here. A real beauty in an auction full of amazing stuff.