Before the Anniston Rams, before Ty Cobb, before Casey Stengel, before the Models and Moulders and Nobles, there were these guys. If there’s an older photograph of a baseball team in Anniston, I can’t find it, and Lord knows I’m nerdy enough to look, and have. This one’s from the 1890s. And, oh, the stories it contains.
First, the names.
There’s Claude Robertson, seated cross-legged in the front row, on the left, staring at the camera off to his left, a thin mustache on his upper lip.
There’s Tom Jones, seated in the middle row, on the right, his arms draped over the shoulders of the player in front of him, his face wearing the 1,000-yard stare of a Gettysburg veteran.
Second, the uniforms.
The striped hats. The collars. The belts. The “ANNISTON” sewed in a vertical arch across the chest, but what color was the lettering and socks? Black? Red? Blue? I’d love to know.
My guess is the photograph was taken at the Russell Brothers gallery, which documented virtually everything in this post-Civil War city for decades. (Given the photo technology of that era, I wonder how long those guys had to hold that pose.) The backdrop tricks you into thinking the team is posed in front of a Victorian-era home and underneath a tree. There are nine players and two coaches; one player is missing his hat, another wears a mismatched hat. The jersey of a player in the front row features short sleeves, unlike those of his teammates. A catcher’s mask and mitt act as props.
And third, those aforementioned names.
Why are Tom Jones and Claude Robertson the only players identified? Were they the team’s stars? Were they memorable? I don’t know. In fact, I can’t find any irrefutable references to a Tom Jones and a Claude Robertson with Anniston baseball in Alabama newspapers. But I may have found them nonetheless.
Two briefs in The Anniston Hot Blast in 1899 provide clues — maybe.
Here’s the first.
In describing a Labor Day game in Anniston, the newspaper lists two Robertsons among a team of workers from the Southern Car and Foundry Co.: Will Robertson and another Robertson, minus his first name. No positions are listed.
Here’s the second.
This brief describes a game between Anniston and Jacksonville, which won, 9-4. The Anniston lineup featured a Robertson in left field. Could that be Claude? I don’t know.
Proof that’s not.
Here, though, is another possibility.
In 1892, The Hot Blast covered a baseball game between Anniston and Atlanta. (Not the Braves, obviously.) Anniston won, 3-0. But check out the Anniston lineup in the box score.
Jones started in left field. Robinson started in right field. And while that box score offers no ironclad proof, it does present a few options, such as:
— Neither Claude Robertson nor Tom Jones played in that game.
— It could be Tom Jones, but it’s not Claude Robertson.
— It could be Claude Robertson, who is erroneously listed as Robinson, but it’s not Tom Jones.
— It is Tom Jones and Claude Robertson, who is erroneously listed as Robinson.
I’m resigned to the fact that this hunt for two 19th-century Anniston baseball players is in all likelihood a colossal waste. This Tom Jones and Claude Robertson are almost assuredly lost in time. But I’ll say this: if Anniston ever has another baseball team — independent league, perhaps — it could do worse than replicating the threads these players wore more than a century ago.