Have you ever seen either of the Nicholas Cage National Treasure movies? If you have, then I’m sure you loved how Cage looked for clues in solving complex riddles that resulted in finding things that people had been looking for for decades. This is what I want to talk about today within the context of the World Champion 1919 Cincinnati Reds. Within the realm of baseball memorabilia, anything connected to a team’s World Series season is of interest and highly sought after. Programs, ticket stubs, photographs, period newspapers, advertising or promotional pieces, and cards are some of the more common items. The rarest and most desirable items are those items actually used by the members of the team as the link to the player and event is more direct and very real. These sort of “Holy Grail” items include uniforms, gloves, caps, and bats.
Collections, either those of private individuals or institutional ones belonging to halls of fame or museums, pride themselves on completeness, especially with respect to rare or one of kind items. For those of you that are team collectors, you have surely realized by now that while star player bats may be pricey, they are not actually that difficult to find. But if you are looking to complete a team set, how many bats can you find belonging to the teams 3rd string catcher? These tend to be pricey as well based on the number of examples that can be found and the number of people who might need this 3rd string catcher to complete their set.
Getting back to my hometown “National Treasure”, the Cincinnati Reds…The 1919 World Series is often associated with the Chicago Black Sox, but lest we forget, the Sox played someone in that World Series and that someone was the Reds. The Cincinnati ball club of that year featured many players with unmistakable and legendary last names such as Roush, Groh, Kopf and Luque. They also featured some interesting first names such as Ivy (Wingo), Rube (Bressler), Hod (Eller), and Slim (Sallie). Game used items from these players have long been sought out by Reds collectors or those focused on the World Series of that year.
Part of the uniqueness of the names mentioned makes identifying their items fairly easy when they surface, but what about some of the lesser known players from that team that had fairly common names such as catcher Nick Allen? Nick Allen appeared in some 15 games for the Reds in 1919 and can seem here in this picture of the 1919 NL Pennant Winners. To my knowledge, the Reds Museum and Hall of Fame has never had one his bats for display or exhibit. Why is this? Allen was a 3rd string catcher and not many 3rd string catchers become household names or fan favorites. This often results in items for guys like Nick Allen not being seen as important enough to have been saved by someone, and after the passing of almost 90 years, they appear to have been lost to the ages. Even when they do show up or at least are suspected to being that of a player from a legendary team, common names such as Allen makes their attributable identity difficult to confirm at times.
To better understand the problem this presents, consider this bat of Reds outfielder Rube Bressler. You will notice that only his last name is stamped on the barrel of the bat. If you look through any of the many baseball references that list major league players by name and era of play, you will find only one Bressler. The labeling on this bat places it to having been manufactured 1922 and 1925 based on the presence and size of the “MADE IN USA”. Rube player for the Reds from 1917-1927. This leaves us little doubt that this is the same Rube Bressler who played for the Reds in 1919.
Now let’s consider the Nick Allen bat. The general period of manufacture for this bat is from 1917-1921 based on the presence of both the “125” and the “Dash-Dot-Dash” in the center brand. In looking at the same references used to find Rube Bressler, you will find:
Bob Allen: 1919 (Philadelphia A’s)
Frank Allen: 1912-1917 (Brooklyn, Boston)
Horace Allen: 1919 (Brooklyn)
Nick Allen: 1914-1920 (Cincinnati)
Since only the last name is stamped on the bat, we know that the player this bat was made for did not have an endorsement contract with Hillerich and Bradsby at the time of the bat’s manufacturer as those under contract feature the likeness of their signature stamped on the barrel. Although Nick Allen did sign an endorsement contract with Hillerich and Bradsby, it was not signed until 1921. As an interesting side note, the 1919 World Series did a lot with respect to bringing notoriety to the to many of Reds players as Bill Rairden, Heinie Groh, Larry Kopf, Morrie Rath, Edd Eoush, and Greasy Neale all signed with Hillierch and Bradsby in 1920.
Getting back to the Nick Allen bat, in looking through a list of other Hillerich and Bradsby endorsers, I could not find listings for Bob Allen, Frank Allen, or Horace Allen. Given what we know about the date this bat was manufactured and when Nick Allen signed his endorsement contract, any of these four players could have in fact been the ALLEN on the bat.
So how do I put this bat in the hands of Nick Allen? Let’s go back to the first Nick I mentioned in Nicholas Cage and the National Treasure movies. In the first movie, Nicholas Cage was looking for a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Well it just so happens that there is a map, so to speak, recorded on the back of this bat.
For bat collectors and researchers, this map or annotation is know as “side writing.” Side writing refers to information that was recorded on a bat sent into Hillerich and Bradsby for identification and or duplication purposes. To put this into some context I think we can all understand, have you ever used someone else’s bat, and then after trying it decided to get one like it for yourself? I suspect the same thing could be asked about a golf club, tennis racket, or any number of pieces of sporting goods.
When a player wanted a bat made for him from another model, the bat was sent into Hillierch and Bradsby and his name recorded on the bat with respect to who sent it in and when. Hillerich and Bradsby would then either copy the bat or use the model sent into as a template. In some cases, even non Hillerich and Bradsby bats were sent in. The H&B Model B278 that became the mainstay of Johnny Bench in the 1970s, was actually made off the Adirondack Model 220 A with those first B278’s being sent to Bench on 27 April 1970.
Even at the major league level, players using another player’s bats is not uncommon. I don’t know if you knew this, but Mickey Mantle’s legendary tape measure 565 foot home run out of the old Senators Griffith Stadium was hit with a Irv “Babe” Noren model bat. Mantle and Noren were Yankee teammates when this happened in April of 1953.
The back of this ALLEN bat has the following information recorded in grease pencil:
“Christensen 5 15 22
St. Paul B.B.C”
Before I go much further, please understand that side writing does not indicate when the bat was made, but rather when it was received back by Hillerich and Bradsby. There have been documented cases when bats were returned years after their manufacturer. Side writing can also be tough to read at times. The scan of this is not as clear as it reads in person. Lighting techniques and magnification can also help in reading these valuable annotations.
It would appear that “Christensen” played for the St. Paul Saints in 1922 and borrowed a bat from ALLEN and found it to his liking. But who was this ALLEN? In looking through old newspapers on microfiche, I found an article from the 3 April 1922 Davenport Democrat and Leader titled “St. Paul Ready to Start 1922 Pennant Race”. At the closing of the article, it mentions that Nick Allen will be on hand to serve as a back up catcher. In 1921, Nick was involved in a deal that brought catcher Eugene “Bubbles” Hargrave to Cincinnati. Allen went to St. Paul of the American Association, where he was to remain for eight years. There he continued as a catcher from 1921 to 1924. In 1924 he took on the additional task of manager, winning the American Association pennant that same year. To bring things full circle, this Christensen who played for St. Paul in 1922 was Walt Christensen who would later play for the Cincinnati Reds 1926-1927.
While I don’t prefer autographs on the items I obtain, I am certainly glad someone decided to write on this bat. It provided a valuable clue to unlocking the ALLEN mystery and has given me the chance to add an item that I consider to be a “Hometown National Treasure” to my collection.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com