The Case of the Missing ‘Base Ball Polka’

From SABR member Peter J. Nash at Hauls of Shame on April 26:

Robert Edward Auctions says its one of the rarest items of its kind; The Base Ball Polka sheet music, composed in 1867 by James M. Goodman.  The auction house contends that in their forty years of dealing in baseball artifacts its the first one they’ve ever handled. It’s clear that not many copies of the Base Ball Polka are known to have survived since the musical score was first published by C. F. Escher of Philadelphia in 1867. 


In 1983, John Thorn and Mark Rucker compiled and edited a 19th century review of baseball images for the Spring, 1984, edition of The National Pastime, published by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). In the course of creating the publication, they conducted a photo shoot at the New York Public Library featuring items from the A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, and one of the items they captured on a Kodak film contact sheet was, none other than, the ultra-rare 1867 Base Ball Polka.


In order to verify that the NYPL’s Base Ball Polka was still in its possession, we searched the library’s online digital collection and main catalogue, but were unsuccessful.  However, when we inquired through NYPL staff, they were able to locate a copy of the rare sheet music in the “Performing Arts Research Collection” at the Lincoln Center library branch.

But surprisingly, under close examination, the copy found by NYPL staff differed from the example credited to the library in Coffin’s 1975 book and photographed by SABR in 1983.  In addition to appearing in better condition than the missing copy, the example the library found featured a distinctive brown oval stain or mark above the second letter “O” in the composer’s last name, “Goodman.”

The 1983 SABR photo shoot at the library was strong evidence that a second copy of the Base Ball Polka was part of its collection, so we reported our concerns to both the NYPL and FBI.  Could it have been misplaced in the library after all these years, or had it been victimized by theft like many other baseball relics that have since vanished from the library and are part of an on-going Federal investigation?  Considering the great rarity of the Base Ball Polka, could one of the copies in private hands belong to the NYPL?

Read the full article here:

Originally published: April 26, 2011. Last Updated: April 26, 2011.