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Baseball Team Photo is Possibly First Ever ‘Bird Flip’ Caught on Film

First Middle Finger Caught on Film

Several years ago, author Ed Achorn visited the Baseball Hall of Fame and stumbled across what could possibly be the first known picture of a person giving the camera the finger. The ornery flipper turned out to be Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn of the Boston Beaneaters, a precurser team of the Red Sox.

The photo was taken on opening day in April of 1886 in New York City as the two teams about to square off posed for a commemorative picture. Just as the photographer said cheese, Mr. Radbourn, known then as the meanest man in baseball, rested his hand on a fellow teammate’s shoulder, raised the middle digit, and the rest is, well, bird-flipping history.

“He was an ornery character,” said Achorn of Radbourn. “He was famous for being a tough, cantankerous guy.”

The Hall of Fame pitcher was known throughout the league as a fearful man to face. “A teammate used to go to the opposing team’s bench and say ‘you should watch it,’ and then the first pitch would come so close to the guy’s ear. And that’s one of the ways he dominated other teams,” said Achorn.

Some of Old Hoss’ vim and vigor was no doubt caused by his habit of drinking a quart of whiskey a day while playing the sport. “He was a heavy drinker, and that was a heavy theme throughout his career,” said Mr. Achorn in his book titled ‘Fifty-Nine in ’84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had.’

This was not an isolated incident for Radbourn. Later that same year Old Hoss posed for his Old Judge Tobacco baseball card and again gave the finger to the photographer. He then became known for his rude gestures, so photogs knew what to expect. Out of fear of reprisal, photographers allowed Radbourn to display his middle digit and would just airbrush it out later.

Mr. Achorn will release another book about baseball this spring called ‘The Summer of Beer and Whiskey.’ “It’s about league owners wanting to sell alcohol at the ball park,” he said. “It’s crazy and fun.”

I don’t know, Mr. Achorn. Nothing can be more crazy and fun than watching a cantankerous drunk tell the world in no uncertain terms, “Screw You!”

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