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Ed Seward and Old Judge cards

Tuesday 11/9/21

Baseball weirdness: In 1888, for the Philadelphia Athletics, Ed Seward went 35-19 with a 2.01 ERA in his age twenty-one season. He was an umpire by 1892, but in two seasons, he umpired less than three dozen games, and was then done with baseball. His is a life that would merit researching. He did not die a young man, living until 1947, and the age of eighty, which meant that Seward could have seen Citizen Kane, Hitchcock pictures, film noir movies, listened to Charlie Parker, watched Joltin' Joe and the Splendid Splinter. He was born in Cleveland and died in Cleveland, and would have grown up hearing first hand recollections of the Civil War, and then also lived through WWII. I don't know what took him away from baseball, or why he wished to leave the game. Maybe it simply no longer held his interest. But it would be worth finding out.

This is his 1888 Old Judge card. These are fascinating works of art, anticipating Modernism. The Old Judge cards are staged--they were shot in living rooms, often as not, or offices--and they can be surreal, with attendant visual jokes. There will be a ball on a string, for instance, in front of a batter, and you are meant to see the string, reflect upon the string; it's not a "seam showing," which is also not a baseball pun.

You could--or I could--write a book of narrative history and art history on the Old Judge cards, and in that book you could get into the lives of some of the men--such as Seward--depicted in the set. Beautiful works of late nineteenth century art. They could also be pastoral, thanks to a backdrop curtain--similar to a cyclorama in film--as with Seward's card. Elysian fields, yes, but the magical as well, and the modern.


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