Blood and Base Ball, Part 4

Blood and Base Ball, Part 4

Randall Brown

This important article first appeared in the journal Base Ball, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2009. It is reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher, McFarland & Co. Randall Brown majored in American Studies at Wesleyan and is still addicted to history. His discovery of an obscure 1887 interview with William Wheaton, the first umpire, led to an article, “How Baseball Began,” in the 2004 issue of The National Pastime. Brown’s articles on local history have appeared in The Staten Island Historian and the Santa Cruz History Journal, and he recently completed the documentary How Base Ball Was Born, featuring the story of Wheaton and the New York Base Ball Club. Part 3 of this article commenced yesterday and may be linked directly at: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/30/blood-and-base-ball-part-3/.

During the summer of 1866, a club was formed by Octavius Catto, Jacob White Jr., and others. Catto, now the principal of the boys half of the Institute for Colored Youth, hosted the first practices at the school. The team soon found a home at the Pythian Hall, adopting the name of the fraternal organization.

At first, the Pythians played in nearby Camden, New Jersey, to avoid trouble in the Irish neighborhood near the local ball fields; but by the end of the season, they were able to hold matches at the local Parade Grounds. When the touring Bachelors visited on October 3, they schooled the newer club severely, winning 70–15.45

The election of 1866 turned the tide in favor of the Radical Republicans, who won control of the Congress thanks to black voters in the South, where former rebels were disenfranchised. For Charles Douglass, the change resulted in a job as a clerk in the Freedman’s Bureau in Washington.

The Excelsior Base Ball Club of Philadelphia inaugurated its 1867 season with a fundraising concert. “The music, both vocal and instrumental, was of a high order,” commented the Christian Recorder, “and all the artists acquitted themselves finely. A beautiful silk flag and 12 caps were presented to Mr. James Needham Jr. by the young ladies of Philadelphia.”46

On June 21, the Pythian club traveled to South Camden to meet the L’Overtures. Catto played second as the Philadelphians romped to a 62–7 fifth-inning lead before the admirers of the Haitian general surrendered the prize ball.47

In Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington DC, baseball clubs contended for various “colored championships.” The Monrovia and Shaw clubs once again battled for bragging rights, while the Bachelors of Albany traveled to Utica to take on the Fearless nine. “The Albanians,” admitted the local paper, “beat their Utica competitors badly.”48

The sporting papers that summer were enthusiastic about the tour of the (white) Nationals of Washington, orchestrated to take on the clubs in Ohio and points west. Like the Mutuals of New York, sponsored by “Boss” Tweed, the politically connected leaders of the club offered patronage jobs to entice players. It is likely that Charles Douglass spent more time at a desk than shortstop/treasury clerk George Wright, but he too found time to play. Frank Stewart was in Washington that summer and, as they had in Rochester, Stewart and Douglass helped organize a baseball club, known as the Alerts. Stewart was a particularly skillful player, hitting three home runs in a match with the Monumentals.49

Like Charles Remond Douglass, named for an antislavery activist, Octavius Catto and Jacob White Jr. had been reared in political households. Seeing an opportunity to gain positive publicity by playing the National Game, the Pythians agreed to take on two Washington clubs, the Alerts and the Mutuals, in home-and-home series. Friendly members of the mainstream Athletic club helped facilitate the plan.

The idea caught the attention of the public and press. “Fred. Douglass Sees a Colored Game,” reported the Clipper in July. 

The announcement that the Pythian, of Philadelphia, would play the Alert, of Washington, D. C. (both colored organizations) on the 15th inst., attracted quite a concourse of spectators on the grounds of the Athletic. The game progressed finely until the beginning of the fifth innings, when a heavy shower of rain set in, compelling the umpire, Mr. E. H. Hayhurst, of the Athletic, to call the game. The score stood at the end of the fourth innings: Alert 21, Pythian 16. Mr. Frederick Douglass was present and viewed the game from the reporters’ stand. His son is a member of the Alert.”50

The home nine was less successful in its second encounter, losing to the Mutual club by one run, 44–43. The Philadelphians returned the visits in August, triumphing over both Washington clubs.51

The Nationals returned to face the New York Mutuals and top-notch nines. Like the Atlantics of Brooklyn and the Gothams of New York, the Mutuals were strongly anti-Republican. They took advantage of their trip to the national capital to make a statement of their own. On August 27, the press was advised that:

The Mutual Ball Club of New York yesterday elected President Johnson as a member. The President, upon the presentation of the badge of the club, accepted the honor, commending base ball as a moral and national game. Subsequently the Mutuals beat the Nationals by 24 runs. The President, Secretary Seward, and many Government officials and some 5000 spectators witnessed the game.52

At the beginning of October, the Philadelphia Excelsiors embarked on a tour of the North. The Black baseballists of Brooklyn had temporarily found a home at the Satellite Grounds (formerly used by the burned-out cricket club mentioned above). Located near the popular Union Grounds, the venue had failed to bring in crowds and the management was open to experiment. One of Brooklyn’s premier players, John Grum, volunteered as umpire for the matches. Regrettably, the offer was not agreeable to all parties.

The October 3 match between the Philadelphians and the Uniques received thorough, if not flattering, coverage. Chadwick’s Ball Players’ Chronicle described the Excelsior Club as “the principal colored organization,” noting that the visitors had brought their “band of music and a large crowd of Philadelphia friends” and “a reputation as skilful experts on a par with that of the Athletic Club.” The Uniques, “a party of colored ball players familiar to the patrons of the Fulton Market,” were seen as “second-rate exponents,” but the contest was a lively one.

The Excelsiors took the lead at the start, and maintained it all the way through, the close of the sixth innings securing them in the van by the totals of 37 to 24. In the seventh innings, however, the Brooklyn players pulled up considerably, but, not finishing the innings before it became dark, the game was decided by the close of the sixth.53

According to the Clipper,

…the affair was decidedly unique, and afforded considerable merriment to several hundred of the “white trash” of New York and Brooklyn. The game was a “Comedy of Errors” from beginning to end, and the decisions of the umpire—a gentlemanly party from the Bachelor Club, of Albany—exceeded anything ever witnessed on the ball field. At 6 ½ o’clock, while the Brooklyn club was at the bat, with every prospect of winning the game, the Excelsiors, profiting by the example set them by their white brethren, declared that it was too dark to continue the game, and the umpire called it and awarded the ball to the Philadelphians.54

The Excelsiors left for Albany and a match with the Bachelors, returning a week later to play the Monitor Club. This time the laurels went to Brooklyn, as the Monitors “avenged their brethren by a handsome victory,” 32–18. “After the match,” the Chronicle noted, “the club marched to the ferry, headed by a band of music, and followed by a large and enthusiastic crowd.”55 

It seemed that “the colored element in the fraternity” was winning the acceptance and, occasionally, the respect of baseball audiences. The Pythians decided that the time was right to seek official recognition. The Pennsylvania State Association of Base Ball Players, a subsidiary of the national organization, held a convention in Harrisburg in the middle of October.

Although the famous Athletics, led by Hayhurst, their president, had agreed to sponsor the application of the Pythians, it soon became apparent that the idea was unpopular with most of the delegates. As Pythian secretary Jacob White Jr. later reported:

Whilst the Committee on Credentials were making up their report, the delegates clustered together in small groups to discuss what action should be taken. Sec. Domer stated although he, Mr. Hayhurst, and the President were in favor of our acceptance, still the majority of the delegates were opposed to it, and they would advise me to withdraw my application, as they thought it were better for us to withdraw than to have it on record that we were black balled.

Instructed to “fight if there was a chance,” White finally relented, as “there seemed no chance for any thing but being black balled.”

Your delegate feels bound to state that all the delegates seemed disposed to show their sympathy and respect for our club by showing him every possible courtesy and kindness.  While at dinner Messrs Hayhurst and Rogers and others invited him to attend the base ball match that was to be played that afternoon in company with them.

The rest of the Pythian club visited Harrisburg the following week, besting the local Monrovians 59–27.

On October 31, the Chronicle continued its coverage of “the championship of colored clubs,” this time between the Uniques and Monitors for the honors in Brooklyn.

This match has been the theme of comment for some time in colored circles. The play exhibited on both sides was very creditable at first, but afterwards the Uniques failed to play up their mark, and did some very bad muffing. The Monitors outplayed them at all points, but especially in batting, which, in the latter part of the match, they did in terrific style. The Monitors began to draw away from their opponents, who became demoralized, and their contest ceased, although play continued.56

The National Association of Base Ball Players met in Philadelphia for the first time that December. Mr. Arthur Pue Gorman, of the Nationals, presided. 

When the roll was called each prominent club was applauded. The Athletics, Quaker Citys, Keystones, Nationals, Mutuals, Atlantics, Unions, and other well-known clubs received an ovation, also the delegates from Oregon and Omaha. The report of the Nominating Committee in which they decided not to admit clubs with colored delegates, was adopted.57

Notes

45. Casway, J. 2007. “Octavius Catto and the Pythians of Philadephia,” Pennsylvania Legacies 7.1.

46. Christian Recorder: June 1, 1867.

47. Ball Players’ Chronicle: July 4, 1867.

48. Utica Morning Herald: Nov. 3, 1867.

49. Astifan 2000, 8.

50. New York Clipper: July 13, 1867.

51. Casway 2007.

52. Utica Morning Herald: Aug. 27, 1867.

53. Ball Players’ Chronicle: Oct. 10, 1867.

54. New York Clipper: Oct. 19, 1867.

55. Ball Players’ Chronicle: Oct. 17, 1867.

56. Ibid.: Oct. 31, 1867.

57. “Report of Delegate to President and Members of Pythian Club. Dec. 18, 1867.”

[End of Part 4; concluding part 5 tomorrow!]

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