Incredibly OT baseball-related trivia

charles radbourne 1886 boston beanwaters

As far as anybody knows, this is the oldest (surviving) photo of somebody “giving the finger.”

Why Charles Radbourne, standing at the far left in this team photo of the 1886 Boston Beaneaters (later the Braves), felt compelled to flip off the photographer is a matter lost to time.


  1. Maybe my eyes are failing, but I’m not seeing it. But if Hoss R. is giving anyoneone finger, it may be because after his 1884 season, his arm was still too tired two years later to lift any of the rest of it when he did not have to do so.

    “From that point, July 23 to September 24 when the pennant was clinched, Providence played 43 games and Radbourn started 40 of them and won 36. Soon, pitching every other day as he was, his arm became so sore he couldn’t raise it to comb his hair. “

  2. That actually could explain it, Shrug: he was exhausted and the photographer was taking too damn long.

    Or, of course, the whole thing could just be a 134-year-old urban legend.

  3. The danish sculptor Thorvaldsen threw ‘the horns’ at a photographer in 1840 – whether to ward off the evil eye or out of professional envy/disapproval I don’t know.

  4. “Before you open the shutter, let’s get our signals straight: it’s two for a slow pic, and one for a fast pic.”

  5. The horn sign made by Bertel Thorvaldsen is not the same as the bird or finger extended by Radbourne.

  6. The first filmed UK equivalent (a 2-fingered f-off signal) seems to have been outside Parkgate Iron and Steel Co., Rotherham, in 1901… this link takes you to the 58-second mark where the narrator is explaining about a chap on the right, who, annoyed at being filmed, flicks the V sign. There’s no mistaking his intent in this case as he makes another aggressive gesture a few seconds later.

  7. In the past, it was not uncommon for people to use their middle finger to point. As a kid, I knew a few adults who would do that.

    This feels like one of those click-bait, “Historical photos you just won’t believe!” things.

  8. It’s possible he did it as a joke, just to see if he could slip it past the photographer. Such things are common in group pictures. My high school had a tradition of an annual group photo of the entire student body, and there were always kids who tried to do something “naughty” to see if they could get away with it.

    This reminds me of the infamous Billy Ripken baseball card:

  9. ” My high school had a tradition of an annual group photo of the entire student body, and there were always kids who tried to do something ‘naughty’ to see if they could get away with it.”

    My first university did a panoramic very-high-definition photo of the football stadium at halftime, that was detailed enough to scan around the entire stadium looking for individuals. I found my daughter, although I knew roughly where to look. I never checked to see if anyone was doing anything “naughty”, although I’m fairly sure they would have caught at least a couple of underage drinkers.

  10. @ Brian in STL – “not uncommon for people to use their middle finger to point
    I once witnessed a German priest (in the US) counting off three items in his sermon, using (in German tradition) his (isolated) thumb, index finger, and then middle finger to identify each ordinal item while he was talking about it. The third section was a bit involved, so he ended up waving his solitary middle finger around the church for a rather long time. It was quietly hilarious, but almost everyone maintained composure (except for one short, high-pitched giggle from a teenager in a back pew). After the service, I discreetly informed the clergyman that he might need to alter his counting methods for the remainder of his US assignment.

  11. In the class picture in my high school yearbook, the boy next to me is holding his hand up against his chest, flipping the bird. His middle finger is pointing directly at me.

  12. I’m sure some of my fellow geezers remember the USS Pueblo.

    For some reason the image doesn’t want to embed.

    Some explanation: In 1968 North Korea took captive the USS Pueblo, a now forgotten moment of the cold war. The photo released of the sailors on board shows the men displaying their middle fingers (three easily depicted in front row).

    When the North Koreans questioned the crew; the sailors described it as the “Hawaiian good luck sign.” The ruse was unnoticed until October, when Time magazine spilled details of the symbol’s meaning, as “obscene, derisiveness, and contempt.”

    And I remember thinking at the time, since the sailors were still being held captive, “Nice !@#$ move, Time magazine.”

  13. On other occasions, the automatic embedding feature has proved to work only when the URL is isolated on the final line of the comment (if it still doesn’t appear below, then it might be that WordPress doesn’t like .PNG files):

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