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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Da Babe offers assistance in righting a 90-year wrong

Matthew Clifford is a baseball historian and self-described fanatic. He is also a member of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research)

Two years ago, he started a writing project about an old-time pitcher named Sylvester “Syl” Johnson. ...

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Matthew Clifford is a baseball historian and self-described fanatic. He is also a member of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research)

Two years ago, he started a writing project about an old-time pitcher named Sylvester “Syl” Johnson.

As they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.

Clifford’s writing project turned into a mission to correct a 90-year-old error involving an Associated Press image that was supposedly of Hall of Famer Harry Heilmann.

Like Apollo astronauts, who need a boost into orbit, or a NASCAR racer getting a “bump draft” to get to the finish line, Clifford needed a little help to complete the journey.

Da Babe was happy to oblige.

Let the record show that Clifford did all the legwork and heavy lifting. While researching his Johnson article, Clifford, who lives in Mendota, Ill., came across a 1923 spring training photo that showed several Detroit Tigers.

Being the ever-curious researcher, Clifford decided to check out each of the players pictured.

Looking at profiles on www.baseball-reference.com, he did a double take. The same photos appeared on Charles Lawrence “Larry” Woodall’s page and on Heilmann’s page.

Woodall’s image was in both places.

What was up with that?

Then Clifford noticed that the image on Heilmann’s 1960 Fleer Baseball Great’s card (No. 65) was that of Woodall.

Imagine. The wrong photo of a Hall of Famer and it apparently went unnoticed for more than six decades. Neither Beckett’s Almanac of Baseball Cards nor the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards from the editors of Sports Collectors Digest notes the error. Moreover, they do note other cards in the set with a wrong image.

That was just the beginning. Clifford found the wrong image on:

A 2005 Upper Deck Legendary Cuts “Dual Cuts” card featuring signatures of Ty Cobb and Heilmann was Woodall’s.

A 2012 Helmar Brewing Co. L3 Cabinet card.

Some of the 2012 Panini National Treasures Baseball relic cards. There are more examples, but you get the idea.

While it’s been six decades since Fleer used the misidentified World Wide Photo, the error apparently dates back 90 years when the original image was entered into the AP files in 1923. (World Wide Photo was always AP’s picture division, becoming AP Images more recently.)

It’s not easy to fool Mother Nature or correct something that’s been wrong for 90 years.

Clifford let everyone who would listen know about the errors, but he wasn’t sure if changes were made to prevent reoccurrences.

Enter Da Babe. At AP, Clifford never got past the folks who sell images

Da Babe decided to bark up the journalistic tree. Once folks on the news side were brought up to speed, the image (2301010266 in AP’s archive), was finally corrected.

“We’re unable, so many years later, to determine how the image came to be misidentified initially. However, it is properly identified now, so that any future licensor of the photo from AP Images can be confident,” said Paul Colford, AP’s director of media relations.

“…As soon as we were made aware of the situation, we contacted our service provider to have them correctly identify the image as Larry Woodall.  Concurrently, we immediately updated the photo’s ID in our digital asset management system to ensure that the photo is properly identified for any future use,” said Mike Payne, Panini’s baseball brand manager.

Others also said steps have been taken to prevent the mistake from being repeated.

Interestingly, all involved said either they did not know where the image came from or refused to say where they picked up the Woodall image.

“Both the Heilmann and Woodall families deserve that justice. Card collectors deserve to get the accurate cards that they pay for. Those who seek to discover baseball history deserve to see the true and accurate face of a man that earned the batting crown four times while toting the title, ‘Slug.’”

Babe Waxpak is written by Bill Wagner and is a feature of the Record Searchlight (www.redding.com) in Redding, CA. If you have a question for Babe Waxpak, include your full name and hometown, the card number, year and manufacturer or send a photocopy. Please do not send cards. The address is: Babe Waxpak, Box 492397, Redding CA 96049-2397 or e-mail babewaxpak(at)charter.net.