When I saw it in a fairly obscure auction listing I could not believe it. Since I have been able to closely examine it, the photo is even more baffling than ever. The listing of information about the photo may be useful in some way, but my guess is that the story behind this cabinet card will never be known.
OK. Based on the style of the cabinet card mount, and the typeface, the photo was made in the 1890s. You will remember that was a decade of economic recession and depression, the United States paying for the excesses of the 1880s. That meant that fewer photographs were being requested than in years past, and that fewer photographers were in business.
This photograph was made in Mobile, Alabama, a southern port city, where commerce and the comings and goings attached to it are continuous. The Copley Photo Company was probably not too far from the docks. The studio backdrop is nothing but a curtain, and on the floor a vague covering, so the studio operation was low-budget, at best.
But, our young African American pitcher wears a nice, new-looking uniform, representing a team with a serious sponsor. What league would he have played in? In Alabama the choices would be extremely limited, if existent at all. The closest city with a Negro League team at this time would be equidistant from Babylon, New York and Chicago. Integrated teams would be impossible south of Ohio, and black professional teams were unknown in the deep South at that time.
To make matters worse, look at the uniform he is wearing. Having taken photoshop around the bend to look at this uniform shirt in every which way, the only name I can come up with that fits here is “OKLAHOMA.” It does not make sense that a uniform reading Oklahoma should be worn in the 1890s in coastal Alabama, but what could be the possible connections? Maybe there are none, but I would remember that Oklahoma was a legendary spot in the early 1890s. The Great Oklahoma Land Rush occurred in 1893, which was news nationwide. Though not yet a state, Oklahoma was well known everywhere. But, I still don’t know why the name would turn up in Mobile, and we may never know.
I love a mystery, and this is a cool one. From his pose I think this fellow is demonstrating a trick-pitch grip he developed. The stance he has taken for the camera is a feature which greatly improves the photo’s eye appeal and composition.