Tuesday, August 23, 2011

1938 Kellogg's Baseball School #5, Infielding

Scavenging through oddball tables at the 2011 National in Chicago turned up today's Corn Flakes box panel, an educational refugee from the late 1930s. This set of tips on handling grounders is just one of a series on position defense, pitching, and hitting that Kellogg's added to their cereal in an effort to compete with General Mills' huge success of players endorsing Wheaties. (See 1936 Wheaties set profile for one example.)

8" x 10" box panel (blank back)

Best thing about this card: Kids trimmed away actual "K"s (from FLAKES) to send away for baseballs, which some probably took right off boxes on the shelves. ("CORN FLAES," anyone?)

I was immediately curious about Kellogg's promotional tie-in with Lew Fonseca. Why sign a former player/manager three years out of baseball to a cereal deal? Did people know him better as an announcer in the 1930s, like Bob Uecker today? The answer was yes, but with longer-lasting significance.

Lew's little mentioned today, but his work with cameras and baseball highlights looms large over modern sports, particularly our TV-driven era. After helping with a Hollywood baseball film in 1927, Lew saw its potential both as an on-field tool for managers and way to share the game to fans around the country. By 1938, most of America knew him for traveling newsreels of World Series stars and All-Star highlights.

1930s Chicago teammate (and future HOFer) Al Simmons picked up the nickname "Bucketfoot" because he stepped out and away during each swing, leaving his front foot "in the bucket" and seemingly far from the plate. Curious why this didn't limit his reach, Fonseca used his camera to figure out how this unusual approach still allowed Al to reach pitches anywhere in the strike zone.

Al Simmons, stepping into the bucket on a hit to left field

Lew's camerawork discovered that Simmons went for the bucket on inside or middle pitches, but stepped straight ahead on pitches away, keeping his bat in the striking zone throughout. (The swing above comes 2:04 into the 1934 All-Star Game highlight film on YouTube.)

This kind of film review seems second nature now, thanks in large part to Fonseca's promotion of traveling highlight compilations. The phrase "highlight reel" came literally from Lew filming, editing, and screening his 16mm films around the country and to troops overseas throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

Read more about Lew in The Innovations of Lew Fonseca, which describes how he built initial support for in-game films, measured the speed of Bob Feller's fastball before radar guns, and captured essential pieces of history like Jackie Robinson's steal of home (above) in the 1955 World Series. It's great stuff.

Value: This low-grade box panel cost $40. They appear so rarely that it's hard to set a market price. (For comparison, the more popular Wheaties panels go for $15 and up, depending on the player pictured.)

Fakes / reprints: Doubt there are any fakes out there, given its lack of a specific player.

1 comment:

The Lost Collector said...

These are cool! Alw3ays love when a cereal got in on the game with baseball cards.