Note: This 18th-century portrait could be one of the earliest depictions of baseball in America. The location of the original oil painting is unknown. (The image was originally featured in Apollo.)
There’s a fascinating story by Doug Tribou on the WBUR website that originally ran on the station’s show – “Only a Game.” Tribou received an e-mail containing an image of a very early painting – two boys in period dress – one white and one black – holding what appears to be a baseball and two bats. He became hooked on the mystery. This mystery led to much searching for information about the painting, the artist, the boys and the history. The painting – if really of boys who played baseball – may be the earliest painting of baseball. For a sports guy – this was a mystery that had to be solved. The implications in a societal and cultural sense are also worthy of some historical reseach.
Tribou recounts the ups and downs, starts, stops and speculations he encountered in his quest to solve the baseball mystery. For now he concludes:
It’s been fun, and frustrating. But I take comfort in the words of Baseball Hall of Fame’s Shieber, who has done a lot more of this kind of work than I ever will.
“To me it’s about the means, it’s not necessarily about the end,” Shieber said. “The research process to me is the most fun. If I can get something neat at the end, great. It can’t just be about the end, because a lot of times I don’t get there.”
So, I’m throwing in my amateur historian towel and hanging up my research cleats. Until someone finds the actual painting, we might never know the full story of the boys and the game they played. And it’s time to move on. Unless I can get just one more clue…