Daily Archives: February 17, 2010

The Nazi ballplayer?

There seems to be a heckuva story behind the swastika baseball photo.

As pitchers and catchers begin to report to spring training, here’s a heckuva story to kick off my annual rite of spring.

This has been an interesting photo for the last few months, discovered by Paul Lukas in September 2009. It is Boston Braves shortstop Rabbit Maranville sporting a swastika on his cap. But the photo is from around 1914, long before the Nazis took the symbol.

And there is an interesting potential story behind the photo, which can be found here in a wonderful post.

The key part:

Still, we are left wondering why the Braves wore caps with swastikas.. At this point, a little history of the controversial symbol helps.

The swastika has been around for thousands of years, the word coming from the Sanskrit “svastika” meaning “all is well.” Up until its adoption by Nazi Germany, the swastika was known as a symbol of luck, and was often worn as a good-luck charm. Of course, the symbol’s association with the Nazis has overshadowed this earlier meaning.

But in 1914, there was no stigma associated with the swastika. Well, at least very little. On January 26, 1912, the New York Times ran an article with the headline “‘Jinxes’ Have No Place With Yankees: Manager Wolverton Will Drive Superstitious Ideas Out of His Ball Team.” The article goes on as follows:

Manager Harry Wolverton of the Yankees says that the day of the superstitious ballplayer is over. He doesn’t believe in jinxes, good or bad omens, rabbits’ feet, swastika signs, or all that ancient baseball lore.

Despite the best efforts of Harry Wolverton, the lucky swastika was and continued to be embraced by people around the world, including ballplayers. In fact, it is my belief that the Braves wore the special “swasti-caps” on Opening Day of 1914 as a good-luck charm … or at least as an end-the-bad-luck charm.

The Boston Braves entered the 1914 season having finished in the National League’s second division 11 straight years — dead last in four of the previous five campaigns. Opening the season in Brooklyn, it’s not hard to believe that the exasperated club might choose to adopt a good luck symbol to help turn things around.

At first it appeared that the superstitious move was a failure. The club lost both games in Brooklyn and continued to slide downhill for nearly three months. After dropping both ends of a doubleheader to Brooklyn on July 4, the Braves found themselves with a record of 26-40, in last place and 16 games out of first. Then, things turned around.

The Braves won their next four games and, ultimately, 68 of their final 87. The turnaround was nothing short of incredible, as the club took sole possession of first place by early September and ultimately grabbed the pennant by 10.5 games over the second place Giants. In the World Series, Boston dismissed the powerful Philadelphia Athletics in four straight games.

Today known as the “Miracle Braves,” Boston’s celebrated comeback remains unparalleled in big league history. Who would have guessed that it all began with a superstition and a symbol that has long since become taboo?


Filed under Alex Podlogar, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald