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The Mass Media

Boston Public Library works to preserve treasured images of Boston’s baseball past

From+the+McGreevey+Collection%2C+Boston+Public+Library

From the McGreevey Collection, Boston Public Library

In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, we sometimes forget about where we come from, where our roots lie. Sometimes we only think about the present. That is the case even in one of the most historical things that we still enjoy: baseball. If you want to escape all the talk of nine figure contracts and juicing and expanded replay, the history of the game is a great refuge. For the public, there is quite possibly no better resource in discovering the history of the game than the Print Center at the Boston Public Library (BPL).
The BPL is well-known for its millions of titles available for borrowing and its special exhibitions, but if you know who to ask and where to look, you can access an archive containing thousands of the best images of the game’s past that you can find. Through just a few minutes of browsing you can find scenes from a 1930s opening day at Fenway Park, or a young Babe Ruth signing autographs for a very excited group of young fans whose great-grandchildren likely fill the very same stands every season. There are even photos of the Red Sox’s first home at the Huntington Avenue Grounds and scenes from the old home of the Boston Braves.
Luckily for everyone that can’t head over to the library, Print Curator Jane Winton and her staff have worked tirelessly to make the incredible collection available online. The process of digitizing the decades-old photos is arduous but the result is an archive that every baseball fan can enjoy.
The collection centers around two donated sets of photos. The first is from legendary saloon owner Michael T. “‘Nuf Said” McGreevey. McGreevey owned the Third Base Saloon, an early watering hole for the original Red Sox super fans, the Royal Rooters. According to Winton, when Prohibition kicked in, McGreevey had to shut down his operations and he leased the saloon to the BPL in 1923 for use as its Roxbury Crossing Reading Room. When the deal was completed, McGreevey gave the Library all of the priceless photographs that hung on the walls of the tavern.
Among the collection are images of some of the first icons of baseball. You can see photos of Cy Young, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker, among many others. Because McGreevey opened up his first establishment in 1894, the images are a window into the game’s Mesozoic Era, before the modern game even began in 1901.
“We don’t know when McGreevey hung the first photos on the walls of his saloon, creating one of the first sports bars in Boston,” Winton said, ”But by 1916, he had hundreds of baseball photos festooning his establishment.”
While there is a diverse and rich catalog of photos in the collection, it is clear what McGreevey’s ultimate treasures were. There are photos from the first World Series, between the then Boston Americans (later to be renamed the Red Sox) and the Pittsburgh Pirates. There are images of the Royal Rooters and of McGreevey himself at the games in addition to group shots of both teams and a view of the Huntington Avenue Grounds, Boston’s first Baseball Bastion.
Winton is very grateful for McGreevey’s donation many years ago. “As a result of McGreevey’s generosity, the Boston Public Library now owns one of the most important collections of early baseball images in the United States,” she said.
In addition to McGreevey’s collection, the BPL also has a very large donation from the estate of photographer Leslie Jones, which was donated in 1972. While the collection consists of thousands of photos of all aspects of New England life, the baseball collection is sublime. Highlights include images of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and countless other Boston legends.
There are panoramic shots of Fenway Park from 80 years ago that show how little has changed since the ballpark was built. Jones’s collection also feature rare shots of Braves Field, the former home of the Boston Braves, that depict an Opening Day before the franchise moved to Milwaukee.
The process of digitizing the old images was time-consuming, but necessary. According to Aaron Schmidt of the BPL’s Print Department, the opening of the Digital Services Department in the Library helped expedite the process. Schmidt said that now, in order to preserve the photos digitally, the negatives are placed on a light box and photographed with a digital camera, then the digital photos are converted into positive images before being cataloged in a spreadsheet and finally being uploaded to the Library’s Flickr page.
According to Winton, digitizing the collections is critical because it makes them more accessible to the masses and there’s no guarantee that the originals can survive forever. She said, “Before the collection was digitized, access to the collection was limited and the process of finding a specific image for a Library user was difficult, time-wise. In addition, this meant that the negatives had to be physically handled and brought to a local photo lab to be photographically printed.”
“Some of the acetate file negatives had begun to deteriorate, a process that could progress to the point that they could no longer be scanned or printed. It was critical to the preservation and access of the collection to have them digitized.”
The next big mission for the BPL is to digitize the photo morgue for the Herald Traveler, which is now the Boston Herald. As of right now, the public can view the photos by appointment (just call the BPL to set it up), but the Digital Services Team is planning on working with Winton’s staff to make the collection of over one million images — many of them of baseball games — available online in the future.
In Boston, baseball is a part of life. It is as intertwined with the culture in the city as any other entertainment medium and preserving the history of the game is something that benefits generations to come.
Winton said, “One of the library’s missions is to preserve and provide access to the cultural history of the region and this, of course, includes the history of Red Sox Nation… the library is fortunate to have such a strong collection on the rich history of sports in Boston.”
To access the McGreevey collection, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/sets/72157604192772559/
To access the baseball portion of the Leslie Jones collection, visit
Close play at third, Fenway Park, Red Sox vs. Yankees
To view the library’s entire collection of Boston baseball images, visit
Jimmy Foxx / Joe Cronin