Arts & Culture
7:14 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Forget Peanuts and Cracker Jacks: Baseball Souvenirs Were Invented in Milwaukee

Lake Effect's Mitch Teich interviews sportswriter Steve Rushin.

Everybody wants a piece of baseball history, but it turns out, souvenirs are a unique part of the game's story in their own right.

In fact, most people don't know how souvenirs first became linked with the experience of going to a ball park. That included sportswriter Steve Rushin - until he found the answer while researching his book, The 34-Ton Bat: The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobble Heads, Cracker Jacks, Jock Straps, Eye Black, and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects.

Decades ago, a Milwaukee man named Danny Goodman started selling souvenirs here when he realized he could make money by selling items that would make watching baseball more comfortable.

“He came up with all these innovations, including ‘Why should a guy come to a game in a suit (as people did then) and sit on a wet bleacher seat after a rain? We should sell them or rent them seat cushions,’” Rushin says.

Later taking his idea to Baltimore and Newark, Goodman came up with other items that could be used for marketing purposes, like seat cushions, umbrellas, t-shirts, and even bars at the back of the stadium. Some were met with resistance and others were accepted right away.

Pretty soon, the Hollywood Stars baseball team came calling, seeing in Goodman a potential for marketing. He finally ended his career working with the L.A. Dodgers, which today has one of the strongest marketing systems in baseball history.

Steve Rushin's new book tells the history of baseball - through objects.
Credit Steve Rushin

Of course, baseball is much more than just souvenirs, as Rushin documents in his book. The Sports Illustrated columnist and Marquette alum uncovered dozens of items that bring the story of the baseball alive.

He offers three that are integral parts of game's history:

Stirrup Socks

The stirrup is a decorative sock used to display team colors and were an integral part of baseball uniforms until players started wearing pants down to the ankle. But stirrups were originally designed not as a fashion piece, but as a precaution to blood poisoning, according to Rushin.

If a player was spiked, it was thought, the dye from their colored socks would get into their blood stream and they'd become sick. Not wanting to sacrifice good fashion or team pride, players wore white "sanitary" socks underneath the stirrup. The heels and toe areas of the stirrup were then cut out, so the player's shoe could still fit.

Athletic Cup

Contrary to what you might expect, the protective athletic cup was created not by an athlete, but by an actor. Thespian Foulproof Taylor was the founding father of the cup, though not the only inventor. He was coming off the stage after a show at the Metropolitan Opera when he was stabbed in the groin by a spear carrier. Rushin says it was a strange "Eureka!" moment, but one nonetheless that lead to him creating a protective cup for actors and athletes alike. Today, athletes from boxers to baseball players use the protective equipment. Rushin says one might image his elevator pitch: "Hit me here."

You can find an excerpt on the athletic cup from Rushin's book here.

Protective Lining

It turns out Foulproof Taylor wasn't just an early inventor of the athletic cup, but also of batting helmets. He went around to baseball clubs trying to sell his wares and even pitched the Brooklyn Dodgers on his helmets in the 1930s, asking players to whack him over the head. Rushin says the players obliged.

But Taylor never made a fortune off the helmets, since they weren't mandatory until decades later. The thinking in his time was that helmets, even though players had died without them, made the batter look chicken. Instead, the players took to wearing a plastic lining that was place under their ball caps.