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Legends of the Dead Ball Era

Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh, National League, from the White Border series (T206) for the American Tobacco Company, 1909–11. Issued by American Tobacco Company. Commercial lithograph. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (Burdick 246, T206.378)

Legends of the Dead Ball Era
(1900–1919) in the Collection of Jefferson R. Burdick

July 8–December 1, 2013

These are the saddest of all possible words:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Trio of Bear Cubs and fleeter than birds—
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Thoughtlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double,
Words that are weighty and nothing but trouble:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.

—Franklin Pierce Adams (1910)

Anchored by the infield defense of Joe Tinker as shortstop, Johnny Evers at second base, and Frank Chance at first base, the Chicago Cubs won four pennants and two World Series between 1906 and 1910. In 1908 the Detroit Tigers won the American League pennant with ninety wins. That season they hit nineteen home runs. The Chicago White Sox finished two games back, hitting three home runs.

The dead ball era featured some of the lowest offensive output in the history of the game. Cavernous ballparks, spongy baseballs, and pitcher-friendly rules (spitballs were legal!) led to baseball's greatest period of strategy called "small ball," wherein a high value was placed on individual runs and attempts to score them without requiring extra base hits or sometimes without base hits at all, instead using bases on balls, stolen bases, or sacrifice bunts.

By 1920 a series of rules changes (as well as the rise of Babe Ruth) ended the dead ball era. But during those two decades, fans were treated to some of greatest players the game will ever see. This selection of baseball cards from the collection of Jefferson R. Burdick includes such Hall of Famers as Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, and Napoléon Lajoie—who are still among the all-time hit leaders—and the pitchers Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, who trail only the indomitable Cy Young in career wins. The exhibition also includes outstanding players who were never inducted to the Hall of Fame such as Smoky Joe Wood and Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose hard-hitting career ended abruptly after the 1919 scandal in which Chicago White Sox players participated in a conspiracy to fix the World Series.