The name Lou Criger is one that is known to many deadball era enthusiasts; during his time he was considered one of the greatest catchers the game had known. The Elkhart, Indiana native was the catcher for most of Cy Young’s wins, staying with the great pitcher during his time with Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston. He was the Red Sox’ first catcher, and caught every inning in the first World Series. Criger later revealed that during that series, he turned down a $12,000 offer from a gambler to call “soft pitches” during the Series. Commissioner Ban Johnson, citing Criger’s honesty and integrity, established a pension fund for retired players – Criger was one of the first recipients.
Criger was our kind of guy.
Health issues plagued the catcher later in his life, as he lost a leg to tuberculosis in 1914 and ultimately relocated to Arizona to take advantage of the warm climate.
In 1930, the Boston Post newspaper hosted an Old-Timer’s Game at Braves Field in Boston, bringing together some of the greatest players ever to take the field. Such luminaries as Cy Young, Ty Cobb, Ed Walsh, Honus Wagner, and Tris Speaker were present; the game’s first hit delivered by future Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins.
The beloved Criger, unfortunately, could not make the game due to illness, prompting the players to present the player with several mementos from the game, including a large, poster-sized certificate of appreciation which was signed by 49 deadball era figures. The poster hung in the hallway in Criger’s Arizona home until he passed in 1934, and remained in the possession of his family until our visit to Arizona, where they graciously consigned it to our Winter auction. It is the family’s desire that the piece find a home in a private collection, perhaps even in the Boston area, where Criger made his name. The family also consigned a large panoramic photo from the day that was given to Criger by the photographer.
It is our belief that reproductions of the poster were given to the participating players, as examples have occasionally been seen in the hobby. For instance, when presenting the poster to James Spence Authentication for review, we were advised that their digital library of exemplars contained a copy. Additionally, a black and white reproduction was featured in a recent Heritage auction. However, the original has never been seen.
We are thrilled to feature this amazing piece in our winter auction. It is simply spectacular, measuring 20″ x 29″ in its original frame (likely framed some time after 1930). Each of the signatures – a veritable “who’s who” of Boston baseball and T206-era history – is strong and bold, and crystal clear, with each measuring approximately 3″ long and nearly an inch high. While some minor staining can be seen near the bottom of the poster (including what looks like a small tea or coffee drop), these signatures are simply amazing.
The hand-lettered message on the poster, written in calligraphy with red and silver accents, reads as follows:
In Appreciation Lou Criger
We want you to know, old pal, that none of us could forget you, that we were all thinking of you and praying for you as we gathered here in Boston for one more good time together.
God in his wisdom has seen fit to give us various burdens. Yours has been heavy, but we know that you are giving it a grand and gallant fight, and we know you’ll come thru, for Lou Criger always fought it out until the last strike was called.
The only shadow on the day was the fact that you couldn’t be here, but since you couldn’t we, your old team mates, and the boys you played against, send you this expression of our affection.
The piece is then signed exquisitely by a “dream team” of deadball era players (and fans), each signature more striking and beautiful than the one before it:
Cy Young (HOF), Ty Cobb (HOF), Harry Hooper, Bill Carrigan, William Dinneen, Hugh Bedient, Jack Coombs, Nick Altrock (who added “Still Nutty – Hope you are OK” in the margin), James Collins (HOF), Fred Parent, Edd Roush (HOF), Chief Bender (HOF), Harry Gowdy, George “Candy” LaChance, Rube Oldring, Fred Tenney, Ed Walsh (HOF), Hobe Ferris, Dick Hoblitzell, Dode Paskert, Larry Gardner, Ralph Glaze, Larry Doyle, Emil Fuchs (Braves owner), Thomas Madden, Johnny Evers (HOF), Bill Bradley, Bill McKechnie (HOF), Kitty Bransfield, Fred Clarke (HOF), Jimmy Archer, Nuf Ced McGreevy, Fred Mitchell, Dave Shean, Bill Sweeney (the only signature that, signed in a lighter ink, has faded), Jeff Tesereau, Leslie Mann, Honus Wagner (HOF), Buck Freeman, Clyde Engle, Steve Yerkes, Tris Speaker (HOF), Duffy Lewis, “Smoky” Joe Wood, Ed Cunningham, Fred Hoey (who inscribed “cheerleader” in the margin), and three names we are still working to identify: “Stick Stick Lew Stick,” Joe Conway and Ed Cunningham.
This piece is simply incredible, an unbelievably high-end, one-of-a-kind piece that commemorates what may have been the last gathering of some of these Deadball Era greats all in one place.
We will undoubtedly be conducting plenty of research on this game and its players in the time leading up to our winter auction, but we couldn’t resist sharing this amazing piece with you right now.
And, of course, if you’ve got any information on Lew Stick, Joe Conway or Ed Cunningham, feel free to get in touch!