You’ve probably never heard of Jimmy DeShong, but Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did.
So did Jimmie Foxx.
Lefty Gomez once roomed with the Harrisburg native.
If you were a baseball fan in the 1930’s, you’d know that DeShong pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics, the New York Yankees and Washington Senators. He won 18 games for the Senators in 1936.
But it was in 1937 when DeShong made history; not with his arm, glove or bat, but with the hand that held an 8mm home movie camera.
DeShong was at long-gone Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. for the All-Star game. He wasn’t in the game, but as a member of the Senators had amazing access to his home field. He shot several Hall of Famers during pre-game ceremonies.
He also was rolling as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s car rolled into the stadium, and he kept rolling as assistants helped a feeble looking FDR struggle to his seat in the stands. It was a quick shot, but DeShong, the pitcher, caught eight seconds of history.
“Eight seconds doesn’t sound very long, but there’s only one other known film footage of the president actually walking,” said Jim Vaughn, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
FDR suffered from polio and his Secret Service tried to keep that a secret.
“In some instances, they confiscated cameras and film to protect his image,” Vaughn said. “They worked really hard for people not to think of their President as paralyzed.”
Jimmy participated in the opening ceremonies for Riverside Stadium on City Island in 1987 but passed away in 1993.
His daughter, Judy Savastio, says baseball was in Jimmy’s blood.
“He played with Babe Ruth so he had lots of stories about Babe Ruth,” she said.
Judy kept her dad’s stories in her memory and his films in a bag in her cupboard. They were important family heirlooms.
“This was home movies,” Jimmy’s grandson, Mike Savastio, said. “We’d get together at my mom’s house and they would come over and put up a reel and we’d watch it in our living room.”
But in recent years the family grappled with the FDR film. What should they do with it? Judy knew the film was rare. What she couldn’t figure out was its value.
“I took it to an appraiser here in Harrisburg,” Judy said, “and he could give me no idea.”
Judy ultimately decided to donate the film to the Pennsylvania State Archive, which publicly unveiled it Thursday morning in Harrisburg.
“Donating it to the Pennsylvania State Archives, having it here in Harrisburg where he was born, raised and lived his whole life, is only fitting for the state,” Mike Savastio said at the ceremony. “The people of Harrisburg will have a chance to enjoy it.”
The Archives considers the film a treasure and was grateful for the gift.
“They just donated it as a public service,” Vaughn said with admiration.
Is that the way it typically works?
“That’s almost always the way it works,” Vaughn said. “We’re not flush with cash.”
Look hard in Senators stadium on City Island and you’ll find a plaque remembering Jimmy DeShong, who actually played minor league ball there back in the day.
The record books will tell you that he never hit ahome runn during his major league career, but historians will tell you he hit a grand slam with his camera.
“I think he was pretty good for just recently buying the camera,” associate archivist Richard Saylor said. “And trying to sneak footage of the president that the Secret Service didn’t really want them to have, I think he did a really good job with it.”
So good thatdocumentaryy film maker Ken Burns will include the eight-second clip in his upcoming movie on theRoosevelt’ss set to air in the fall.