The baseball research community has been abuzz about a photo that surfaced last September of Braves Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville. The infielder, who played nearly a century ago, is shown wearing a hat with a swastika on it.
The photo was originally posted by Paul Lukas at UNI WATCH BLOG with the attribution:
That’s Rabbit Maranville, circa 1915, and (photo contributor) Bruce (Menard) says the cap was worn to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania. I know the swastika has a lengthy pre-Nazi history, so let’s not rehash all of that, but I didn’t know about this Lusitania connection. Anyone know more?
For centuries, the swastika was credited as a symbol of good luck. It was around long before the Nazi Party, which was founded in 1919, brought shame to the mark.
It is a pretty stunning thing, to see a baseball hall of famer taking ground balls for the Braves before a game while doffing a cap with perhaps the most infamous symbol in recorded history.
Even more amazing is the circumstances of the Braves’ fortunes immediately following Maranville’s swastika sighting.
Tom Shieber of the blog Baseball Researcher combed through countless records and photos in concluding the photo was taken April 14, 1914. Opening Day for the 1914 major league season.
Along with the Maranville photo, Shieber turned up a similar shot of Johnny Evers, of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance fame.
Though there’s virtually no way to ultimately confirm why the swastikas were used, Shieber thinks he’s got a pretty good idea why Maranville and Evers wore the logo on their hats:
The swastika has been around for thousands of years, the word coming from the Sanskrit “svastika” meaning “all is well.” Up until its adoption by Nazi Germany, the swastika was known as a symbol of luck, and was often worn as a good-luck charm.
In 1914, there was no stigma associated with the swastika. Well, at least very little. On January 26, 1912, the New York Times ran an article with the headline “‘Jinxes’ Have No Place With Yankees: Manager Wolverton Will Drive Superstitious Ideas Out of His Ball Team.” The article goes on as follows:
Manager Harry Wolverton of the Yankees says that the day of the superstitious ballplayer is over. He doesn’t believe in jinxes, good or bad omens, rabbits’ feet, swastika signs, or all that ancient baseball lore.
Despite the best efforts of Harry Wolverton, the lucky swastika was and continued to be embraced by people around the world, including ballplayers. In fact, it is my belief that the Braves wore the special “swasti-caps” on Opening Day of 1914 as a good-luck charm … or at least as an end-the-bad-luck charm.
The Boston Braves entered the 1914 season having finished in the National League’s second division 11 straight years — dead last in four of the previous five campaigns. Opening the season in Brooklyn, it’s not hard to believe that the exasperated club might choose to adopt a good luck symbol to help turn things around.
If Shieber’s theory is correct, what a good-luck charm it turned out to be.
That was the season of the “Miracle Braves”, who won 68 of their final 87 games (!) to erase a huge standings deficit in claiming the pennant. The Braves then swept Philadelphia four straight in the World Series.
All the more ironic when you consider if there was ever a year for a throwback cap promotion for the Braves, 1914 would be it.
Thank god Marge Schott never bought the Braves.