Baseball Pinback Buttons of Questionable Taste

In previous columns I have extolled the delicate aesthetics of some baseball pinback buttons, particularly from the early years of the 20th century.  The ability to make pinbacks at that time was limited to companies that could afford the manufacturing technology required to do so.  By the end of the 20th century the technology used to make pinbacks had became more affordable.  It became possible for small companies specializing in creating merchandising products (e.g., fliers, banners, signs, etc.) to also make pinbacks.  Today individuals can purchase the technology and all the component parts required to produce pins.

With the greater ease of production came a concomitant decline in the overall quality of pinbacks, both in terms of design aesthetics and production standards.  Society also became more permissive in what messages were deemed acceptable for public expression, including pinbacks designed to be worn on clothing.  This column is devoted to baseball pinback buttons that contain words or images that never would have been approved for production decades earlier.  These pinbacks also reflect a shift in social preference away from supporting one team (as with a booster pin) to denigrating an opponent team.  I present these pins because they occupy a place in the spectrum of baseball pinbacks, not because they are the highwater mark of the hobby.  From a construction standpoint, many are poorly made.  Most of these pinbacks do not use a straight pin (as found in almost all of the pins from the early years of pinmaking), but instead use the clutchback type of pin.  In several of these pins the clutchback was mounted upside down in its production, suggesting the pinmaker was not familiar with how pinbacks are properly made (i.e., they are most likely “homemade” pinbacks).  I will limit my narrative comments for the most part, and let the pins speak for themselves.

This baseball pinback is one of the first to use profanity.  It is tame compared to the pins that follow.  Reader discretion is advised.

damn yankees

Sucking is a popular epithet in baseball pinback buttons.

American Leagues team do it.

yankees suck

boston sucks

National League teams do it.

dodgers suck

mets suck

Teams that switch leagues do it.

brewers suck

Even owners do it.

stein sucks

There was discussion of Major League Baseball contracting.  Teams that were not very profitable, as the Minnesota Twins, were the most frequent targets of proposed contraction.  One Twins fan did not support the idea.

contraction

After the Twins won the 1991 World Series, contraction talk involving the Twins abated.

bitchh

A “spoonerism” is a phonetic reversal of two consonants in a phrase.  This pin reflects a spoonerism.

yuck

This pin also reflects a spoonerism.

duck

This pin does not reflect a spoonerism.

fuck the dodgers

Cub fans have been taking rebuke for over a century.  One Cub fan was not reluctant to return it.

dodge this

I wonder if any collector has the complete set?

26 rings

I thought adding the (infield?) flies was a nice touch.

metshit

Finally, I got this pin off of eBay.  I recall the seller being from the Boston area.

2 pounds

Next Up:  Baseball Pins Worn by Stadium Employees

Some Intriguing PM10 Pinbacks

This column is about some PM10 pinbacks that I find intriguing.  By “intriguing” I do not necessarily mean scarce and valuable, although some are.  There is something unknown about all of them that invites an answer or explanation.  Unfortunately, as is so often the case with baseball pinback buttons, we will most likely never know.

The first pin is unusual in several ways.  It is of Cincinnati Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi.  I do not know the year of issuance, but since the Reds won the National League pennant in 1939 and 1940, that time period seems most likely.  The pin is 2.125”.  As such, it is the oldest of the large PM10 pins, pre-dating the large player pins of the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers by about 15 years.  The Lombardi pin is one of five that I know of from this team.  The exact number of these large pins that were made is unknown.  The design is unique for PM10 pins in that it features the player in action, not a portrait.  Furthermore, the player’s name does not appear in block letters, but with a signature.  Perhaps the images of the players were also used to make cards, or perhaps they originated from team-issued photographs.  I wish we knew more about the first of these large PM10 pins.

Lombardi

The next two pins are among the most mystifying of all PM10 pins.  They were made from black-and-white photographs that were later colorized by hand.  The pins differ slightly in design.  Each of the plns shown represents several of that design.  At the 3:00 and 9:00 positions there is either a star or Chief Wahoo.  The pins with the star design have the team name in slightly larger letters compared to pins of the Chief Wahoo design.  Rob Dewolf, a collector of Cleveland Indians memorabilia, has identified the following known player pins by each design.  Chief Wahoo: Avila, Doby, Easter, Hegan, Mitchell, Rosen, and Wynn.  Star: Avila, Boudreau, Easter, and Hegan.    The poses of the players common to both designs (Avila, Easter, and Hegan) are different.  It is not known whether the pins were issued in one year or two, the reasons for the two designs, and the exact year(s) of issuance.  I believe the pins were more likely issued over two years, but it is speculation on my part, and others feel differently.  Some pins turn up occasionally, but others are extraordinarily scarce.  Approximately sixty years after their issuance (most likely around the Indians championship year of 1948), previously unknown pins continue to turn up.

Hegan

Easter

As I said in my column about the pinbacks of Jackie Robinson, it would not surprise me if a small (1.75”) PM10 pin of Robinson were to turn up in the hobby with the same pose as found on his large (2.125”) PM10 pin.  The next two pins are a case in point.  While one small PM10 pin of Preacher Roe is easily recognized (he is in his wind-up), this smaller PM10 pin of Roe features the same pose as found on his large pin.  But there is something most unusual about this small pin of Roe.  It is not 1.75”, the standard size of (small) PM10 pins.  It is 1.625”, one-eighth of an inch smaller.  I did not measure the pin incorrectly, as I measured it with three different rulers.  Furthermore, I have several other pins in this bizarre small(er) PM10 size.  All of the pins are of the Dodgers, and none of these other player pins have a known counterpart in the large PM10 size.  One can only speculate as to why a pinmaker would have used a 1.625” die and collett.  1.75” baseball pinbacks are the standard size, and occasionally we find 1.50” baseball pins.  But the 1.625” size is unique (to the best of my knowledge) to this group of Brooklyn Dodger pins.

Roes

This pin of Solly Hemus was selected to represent a group of pins of the same design made in the early 1950s.  The pins are distinctive because of their low quality of construction.  The images of the players often lack the crisp definition found in most PM10 pins.  The images on these pins often look weak or faded.  It is not uncommon to find the celluloid partially separated from the collett on these pins.  The crimping process used to secure the paper image, celluloid cover, and metal collett was apparently defective.  The metal disk behind the paper image is sometimes bent, suggesting thinner metal being used in the construction process compared to other pins.  I know of one hobbyist who believes these pins are recent fantasies because of their construction.  I am convinced the pins are vintage, but their occasional shoddy appearance serves to question their authenticity.  The pins are not limited to players on one team.  The teams most often represented by these pins are the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Red Sox.  Many pinback buttons were made by unionized metal works companies, as evidenced by the union logo or “bug” on the back of the disk, the curl of the pin, or a paper insert.  Union workmanship is typically of high quality.  I think these pins were not made in a union shop.

Hemus

Of all the players featured on the large PM10 pins in the classic design with the name on top, only one player appears in two different poses.  Given their popularity, the most likely candidate would ostensibly include future Hall-of-Famers Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, or Jackie Robinson.  The player is none of these.  The only player to appear in two different poses was Hank Bauer.  Bauer was not a star of the team and his tenure with the New York Yankees was not interrupted.  His second pin of the same design is particularly inexplicable.  Two large PM10 pins were made of Willie Mays, but both of the same pose, differing only in the NY or SF insignia on the cap.  Whitey Ford and Gene Woodling also appeared on large PM10 pins with different poses, but the second pin had their names on the bottom.  The Bauer pins are unique.

Bauers

This pin of Willie Mays was issued when the Giants first moved to San Francisco in 1958.  What is intriguing about the pin is the insignia on the cap Mays is wearing.  It shows the insignia of the San Francisco Seals.  One explanation for this pin is the front office of the Giants could not agree on the new insignia for the team.  Mays was thus featured wearing a cap with the familiar Seals insignia.  I do not know if Mays posed for this picture wearing a Seals cap, or whether the insignia was photographically added to a different cap.

Mays Seals

Finally, pinmakers typically stick with the same design when making PM10 pins.  While the images may occasionally differ across teams or across years for the same team (as by the inclusion of a background, for example), it is rare for a pinmaker to alter the same image of a player using a different design.  One exception to this rule is for some PM10 pins of the San Francisco Giants.  The player pins of the Giants in 1962/63 have the name of the player encased within a white stripe situated between the 3:00 and 9:00 positions.  Nine player pins of the Giants are known with this design.  However, two players (Jim Davenport and Willie McCovey) also have pins made with a modified design.  In these pins the white stripe is situated between the 4:00 and 8:00 positions.  Furthermore, the image of the player on one pin is a cropped version of his image on the other pin.  It is not known why the pinmaker made the modification in design, and why it occurred for only certain players.

DavenportsMcCoveys

Next up:  Baseball Pinback Buttons of Questionable Taste

Boston Red Sox All-Star(?) Pinbacks

This column is about three pinbacks of the Boston Red Sox.  All are 1.75″.  They are from the late 1940s or early 1950s.  All three have the same inscription: “Boston Red Sox” on top and “American League” on the bottom.  Two of the pins present a group photo of players, while the third just lists names.  I often say many baseball pinback buttons are of uncertain origin.  These three pins are among the best exemplars of baseball pins whose uncertainty produces frustration in trying to ascertain their meaning.

The Boston Red Sox hosted the 1946 All-Star game.  I believe all three pins refer to players on the Red Sox who were named to the American League All-Star team in subsequent years.  But that interpretation is both speculative and incomplete, as will be revealed.

I begin with the “names only” pin.  The pin lists the first and last name of four players: “Walt Dropo, Vern Stevens, Dom DiMaggio, (and) Johnny Pesky.”  Dropo appeared in one All-Star game, in 1950.  As such, one might conclude this is an easy pin to identify.  Not so.  First, “Stevens” is a misspelling of “Stephens.”  Second, Pesky was not named to the 1950 All-Star team.  Third, while Dropo, DiMaggio, and Stephens were on the 1950 All-Star team, so too were Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams.  The omission of these two players, especially perennial All-Star Williams (a starter), is most baffling.

Red Sox names

The confusion does not abate with the picture pins.  The first shows three players.  Even with magnification, I cannot definitively establish the identity of the third player.  Pictured are Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and a third player.  In no year did only three Red Sox get named to the American League All-Star team in the four years adjacent to 1950.  Here are the number of Red Sox players who made the All-Star team in those years: 1946 (8), 1947 (2), 1948 (5), 1949 (6), 1951 (5), 1952 (2), 1953 (3), and 1954 (2).  Williams and Doerr both made the All-Star team in 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950, and 1951.  The third player excludes 1947, and the “names only” pin presumably excludes 1950.  My best guess is this pin is from 1948, and the third player (from the All-Star roster) is either Stephens, Pat Dobson, or Birdie Tebbets.

Red Sox three all-stars

The third pin shows four players.  The player to the far right is not holding a bat, suggesting a pitcher.  Mel Parnell made the All-Star team in 1949 and 1951.  Because Doerr did not make the All-Star team in 1949, 1951 becomes the more likely year for this pin.  In 1951 five Red Sox made the All-Star team.  Besides Doerr, Parnell, and Williams, the fourth player would be either DiMaggio or Stephens.

Certified large WS300

So maybe these three pins are from 1948, 1950, and 1951.  Perhaps there is an undiscovered pin from 1949.  The connection to the All-Star team is based on the players named and pictured, plus the inscription “American League” on the pins.  A pin that identifies a league is usually limited to World Series and All-Star games.  However, perhaps my reasoning is off-base.  None of the three pins make any reference to All-Star game participants.  Maybe these pins are of Red Sox players who were just having good years.  Dropo was named to the 1950 All-Star team (his only All-Star year), and Pesky was named to the 1946 All-Star team (his only All-Star year).  Yet both names appear on the “names only” pin.  In addition to misspelling “Stephens” and omitting Williams, perhaps the pinmaker confused Pesky with Doerr.  That is quite an interpretive stretch, in my opinion.  If we abandon the All-Star team connection to these pins, we are left with a less confusing but also less comforting explanation of their origin.

Next Up:  Some Intriguing PM10 Pinbacks