As an undergraduate studing history, I've enjoyed spending my past semester interning at the Brooklyn Collection. Because of my love for all things sports, I jumped at the opportunity to help create an exhibit focused on the history of sports in Brooklyn. I quickly realized that there's so much more to Brooklyn's sports history than the Brooklyn Dodgers! I sorted through hundreds of old photographs, newspaper clippings, and even yearbooks to create a diverse representation of sports in Brooklyn. Come check out the display in the Brooklyn Collection (on the 2nd floor balcony level in the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza), it'll be up until early May.
While typing captions for the selected pictures and ephemera, I came across a striking picture with a note that read: “Overton Tremper, Bushwick Baseball, May 25, 1934.” I don't know if it's just me, but his name caught my attention (and perhaps also the attention of the ballplayer in the background of the photograph). I wanted to learn more about Overton Tremper.
The Brooklyn Collection Photo Archive
It turns out Overton Tremper was a popular guy during his time. Tracing his history through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, I discovered Tremper’s unusual background ... and despite whatever impressions the image above might create, he was never an aspiring model.
Brooklyn-born Tremper expertly balanced academics and baseball. He grew up playing on the Parade Grounds, and became a star academic and player for Erasmus High School and then Poly Prep. While studying for a degree in economics, he continued his baseball career at the University of Pennsylvania. He made only one error as a centerfielder on the freshman team in 1924, and finished with a batting average of .410. He became captain of the varsity team in 1927, and according to his coach Doc Cariss, he was “one of the best college hitters.” Cariss went on to say, “He is easily the best outfielder in the Eastern ranks today and there is no reason in the world why he shouldn’t make the major league grade.”
Brooklyn Eagle - June 5, 1927
As his coach predicted, Tremper signed on with the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1927 team with a $10,000 bonus. His contract with the Dodgers caused public outrage. John McGraw of the New York Giants announced that Tremper had accepted financial aid from the Giants to pay for his Ivy League education, with the assumption that McGraw’s investment required Tremper to play for them. Tremper publically confirmed that he had received payment from the Giants during his college career. Defending his choice, Tremper said, “I could have gone to a bank, borrowed $1,000 and there would have been no objections. Instead, I borrowed from a ball club and paid it back. What’s the difference?” (As a side note, this entire situation is HIGHLY illegal in today’s world of sports.)
Brooklyn Eagle - June 27, 1927
Despite the debate that complicated his professional baseball debut, Tremper proved relatively unsuccessful in the major leagues. According to a Brooklyn Eagle article published on August 11, 1928, journalist Thomas Holmes wrote, “Probably [New York Giants Manager John] McGraw felt avenged when Tremper failed to show hitting ability or fielding talent to justify all the fuss about him.” The Dodgers quietly demoted him to the minor leagues in his second season, and he was eventually dropped by the team.
Not yet willing to give up his love of the game, Tremper started to play semi-pro baseball in Brooklyn in the 1930s. Becoming a household name in the area, he first played for the Bay Parkways and then the Bushwicks.
Brooklyn Eagle - April 28, 1930 | Brooklyn Eagle - June 11, 1932
In 1935, after three successful years as an outfielder for the Bushwicks, Tremper moved to the Springfield Greys in New Jersey to become a playing manager. By the end of the 1940s, Tremper went back to graduate school to study education. He became a math teacher and a baseball coach for Freeport High School in Freeport, Long Island, while continuing to play for the Grays. In addition to his teaching salary, by 1939, the Grays were paying Tremper $55 per week to both manage and play during the season – a sum well above the team’s average. Using his education, and following a path that's probably uncommon for once-professional athletes, Tremper ultimately became a school administrator at Freeport.
With a little digging, I was amazed by how much I discovered about the Brooklyn native who struck a pose for a photographer in 1934.
Sarah Scalet is a new blogger on Brooklynology and working as an intern in the Brooklyn Collection.