Blood and Base Ball, Part 5

Blood and Base Ball, Part 5

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 4 of this article commenced yesterday and may be linked directly at:

Charles Douglass kept his father current on events in Washington by letter. In the early months of 1868, it became apparent that the political tide was overwhelming the President. “The city is in the wildest excitement in consequence of Johnson’s last drunk,” he wrote home to his father in February. “Before you receive this, Johnson will be impeached.” His prediction was sound, but the trial in the Senate resulted in acquittal by one vote.58

In April, the President’s home state boasted a new nine. The Clipper was advised that: “The Cumberland Base Ball club of Nashville, Tenn., challenges any club, black or white, to play them for the championship of the county.” The National Game continued to attract ballplayers of all political parties. In New York, the Ku Klux Klan Club of Oneida challenged the Rough and Readys of Clinton for $200 and the local championship, losing 38–21. In Little Falls, another Rough and Ready club held a social hop to kick off its season.59

Upstate New York had become a hotbed of black baseball clubs. The Unexpected of Rochester, Invincible of Buffalo, Lincoln of Niagara Falls, and Bachelors of Albany were joined by clubs from Little Falls, Utica, Troy, and Canajoharie. As various clubs claimed local championships, the demand grew for intraregional competition. “This morning,” the Utica Daily Observer reported in the spring of 1869, “two colored base ball clubs left Utica to engage in a tournament among colored clubs at Little Falls. The nines are the Fearless and Riversides. Into no manner of sport do the boys enter with more zest than the National Game.”60

The Fearless nine took away the prize and continued to win recognition that summer. As the Utica paper proudly commented,

The club is well disciplined, and it is fully entitled to the colored base ball championship of the State. Evidence of their skill and ability has been left in matches they have won east and west of us. On the 3rd of August last they played the Rapids of Niagara Falls. The match took place at Medina, and the Fearless Club won by the score of 18 to 3. August 5th they played the Invincibles, of Buffalo, and the score stood: Fearless 88, Invincibles 18.61

In early September, there was another showdown. The Observer gleefully recorded another Fearless victory on the 10th:

Hast heard of the Heavy Hitters? From Canajoharie they come; colored boys are they, strong of limb and fleet of foot, ambitious youths, who aspire to win and keep the name of dusky base ball champions. Undaunted were the Hittites, and full of fire, the Fearless ones stood, furious for the fray. Then waxed the combat fierce; then heavy was the hitting, and thick and fast the Fearless ones did fly from base to base. And so the battle ended not until the innings fifth, and then because of falling rain, the hits became less heavy, the Fearless ones grew faint, the ball felt flabby—the jig was up, the dog was dead. Score 24 to 7. 

Last evening the Canajoharie boys were entertained by the Fearless Club. Refreshments were served and dancing was indulged in until the peeping of the dawn.62

For the politically savvy clubs of Philadelphia and Washington DC, the aspirations went beyond “colored championships.” On September 5, the front page of the New York Times featured the following item:

Novel Game in Philadelphia. A Negro Club in the Field. The White Club Victorious.                             

The Pythian Base Ball Club, after challenging a number of white clubs of this city, who refused to play, succeeded in getting an acceptance from the Olympic, which Club defeated them by a score of 44 to 23. The novelty of the affair drew an immense crowd of people, it being the first game played between a white and colored club.63

Founded as a townball club in 1831–1833, the Olympic Club had been eclipsed by the Athletics but had remained competitive in local circles. Hayhurst and his club had apparently turned down the challenge, although the game was held on their grounds. The umpire, Colonel Fitzgerald, a founder of the Athletic Club, lent his prestige to the affair. Following the match, he offered the Pythians a game with the nine from his newspaper, the “City Items.”

On August 28, the Clipper spoke positively of the integration of baseball:

White vs. Colored Clubs. The prejudices of race are rapidly disappearing. A week or two ago we chronicled a game between the Pythian and Olympics clubs of Philadelphia. The affair was a great success, financially and otherwise. On the 19th the Pythians encountered the City Item Club, of the Quaker City, and defeated them by a score of 27 to 17. In Washington, on the 20th, the Olympics of that city, were announced to play the Alerts, a colored club. The Unique Club, of Williamsburgh, composed of colored gentlemen, is anxious to get on a match with the Pythians. What say the Quakerdelphians?64

The Olympics of Washington were ranked with the nation’s best clubs. Big-time baseball was becoming a business, spurred by the fully salaried Red Stockings of Cincinnati. Founded as an amateur club in 1867 by Abraham G. Mills, the Olympic nine had improved by adding quality players like catcher Fergy Malone and shortstop Bob Reach (brother of Athletics star Al Reach), to a roster that included infielder Davy Force and outfielder Nick Young. The Red Stockings had mastered the Olympics on several occasions, but the Washington nine had taken the local championship away from the Nationals and surprised the visiting Mutuals of New York. Returning home after a close match with the Athletics in Philadelphia, Young, who also served as club secretary, responded positively to the invitation of the Alerts.

“White vs. Black,” headlined the Clipper on October 2.

The Alert club of Washington, D. C., backed by some of the public men of this city, challenged the Olympic club to a series of games. The first game was played on the National grounds, Sept. 20th, in the presence of a large assembly of both sexes and colors, and quite a number of prominent government officials. The game was a success in all respects. From the manner of handling the ball, before the game, it was thought that the Alerts would give the Olympics close work, but in a game of seven innings, the colored gentlemen were beaten by a heavy score. They could not hit Leech, five of them striking out.65

In the spirit of fair play, the Olympics agreed to try their skill against Washington’s other “colored champions.” The Clipper chronicled this game on October 23:

On the 12th, the Olympics, of Washington D. C. accepted the invitation of the Mutual Club to play a friendly game of ball. The Olympics were short four of their nine on account of the elections, and had but two men in their regular position. Their play was of the muffin kind, dropping no less than seven fly balls. The Mutuals fielded well and batted heavily, but lost the game by not playing steadily. Score 24 to 15.66

In Ohio, the Forest Citys of Cleveland, another first-rate club, challenged the limits of National Association policies by agreeing to play a match with the Resolute Club of Oberlin. The visiting club was composed primarily of students from the town’s unapologetically radical college, including its star pitcher, Simpson Younger, class of 1870. In a rain-shortened match, pitcher Al Pratt, catcher Jim “Deacon” White, and other probable professionals defeated the amateurs 17–2. “The popular traditions in regard to Oberlin were sustained,” observed the Clipper’s correspondent, “the pitcher of the Resolutes being one of those whose forefathers came from ‘Afric’s sunny fountains.’ He ‘fought nobly,’ however, his play being inferior to none on the nine.”

The election of President Grant, accomplished with the assistance of black voters, convinced the Republican party to push for universal male suffrage. The requisite constitutional amendment was ratified in the spring of 1870. The good news was welcomed with an outburst of sports.

…the Fearless Base Ball Club, of Utica, the acknowledged colored champions of the State, are again in the field as fearless as ever. On Thursday of the coming week, the colored residents of Geneva will unite in a celebration of the ratification of the XVth Amendment. One of the features of the joyful demonstration will be a new trial for the championship of the State between colored nines from Utica, Canandaigua, Geneva, Lockport, and Rochester. The Utica men, as the present champions, will be expected to retain all the well-earned laurels of the past. If defeat awaits them, they will at least “die hard.”67

In July, there was another tournament at Little Falls, where the Fearless Club contended with the Wide Awakes of Johnstown for a silver-mounted bat. The prize bat was placed among the other trophies of the Fearless Club after a 45–36 victory.68

In Washington, Charles Douglass had switched his allegiance to the Mutuals. His fluid script and political connections earned him the position of club secretary and he was soon corresponding with baseballists in Rochester and vicinity. Having heard of the Fearless Club and the Heavy Hitters, the “Colored Mutes” decided to take a summer trip to upstate New York.

At the beginning of August, the Utica Express advised its readers that: “The colored gentlemen composing the Mutual Base Ball Club, and hailing from Washington took a farewell promenade on Pennsylvania avenue the other day, and stretched their sable pinions for a Northern flight.”69

The tourists stopped for matches in towns known as Underground Railroad stations, soundly defeating clubs in Lockport and Niagara Falls. In Buffalo they were challenged by a picked nine of white players and emerged victorious.

For Charles Douglass, the visit to Rochester was also a homecoming; the Mutuals were welcomed heartily. After another victory over a picked nine, they looked ahead to a battle with the Fearless club. In its coverage of the occasion, the Utica paper plugged its favorite nine:

At Rochester the club was entertained by Fred. Douglass. A son of the gifted colored orator is a member of the Mutual nine. Therefore Fred extended a cordial greeting, and after feasting the lads, admonished them concerning the mettle of the Utica crowd. Douglass, Jr., by the way, is the President of the visiting Club, and the senior Douglass was anxious that his son Charles should flank the enemy at all points.

The Mutuals then headed for Canajoharie, where they beat the Heavy Hitters, then proceeded to Troy where the Hannibals were added to the list of vanquished foes. In his report to the sporting press, Douglass summed up by noting that “the members speak in the highest terms of their treatment on the tour,” regretting only that “they were compelled to decline several games for want of time, one of them with the Clinton, of Lansingburg.”70

As the season of 1870 concluded, it was apparent that progress had been made.    The Clipper informed its viewers of a struggle for “the Colored Championship of Illinois” between the Blue Stockings of Chicago and a club from Rockford. The nines were evenly matched, trading victories at home before the Blues captured the prize at the Rockford fair grounds, home of the professional Forest Citys, by the score of 28–21.71 That October, there was also news of a friendly “White vs. Black” contest in Massachusetts reported by the Clipper, in which the white Resolutes played the black Resolutes , with the victor to become the sole club entitled to the name.

During the 1871 preseason, organized baseball was reorganized. The success of the Cincinnati Red Stockings inspired their opponents to imitate their hiring practices as well as their “knickerbocker” trousers and colored stockings. The arguments of traditionalists were cut short when elite clubs, including the Philadelphia Athletics, New York Mutuals, Forest Citys of Cleveland, and Washington Olympics, formed the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, seceding from the old amateur Association. The increasingly businesslike sport enjoyed an improved quality of play, but, at the same time, it became more exclusive.

After mastering local opponents, the Pythian and Mutuals met again in August. The first match, played on the Athletic grounds in Philadelphia, went to the home nine, 20–15. Charles Douglass took on the job of pitcher in the return match. The Washington club rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth, but failed to overcome what the Clipper called “some very loose play” in the sixth inning, winding up on the short end of a 17–16 final score. In the interim, the Mutuals also played host to the Hannibals of Troy, posting a 48–20 win.72

Black baseball lost two of its pioneers during the final months of the season. In September, Charles Douglass and other friends mourned the passing of Frank Stewart, at the age of 33, after a long bout with consumption. In his obituary, the Rochester Unionand Advertiser commented: “He was considered the best general ball player in the State, and but for his color would have commanded a high salary from the best club in the country. He was a general favorite, and held in high esteem by all classes of citizens.”73

Octavius Catto was not in the Pythian lineup that summer. The busy educator was a prime mover in the effort to follow up the victory of the 15th Amendment by registering newly eligible voters. Blacks in northern cities had generally been disenfranchised by property restrictions, and Democratic bosses like Tweed in New York and McMullin in Philadelphia knew that the party of Lincoln would be the beneficiaries of the new rules. Fearing loss of control, they did not hesitate to stir up racial animosity.

October 13 was Election Day in Philadelphia. Squads of shoulder-hitters, abetted by some of the local police, appeared at the polls. Under the headlines “Bloody Election Riot. The Negro Voters Assailed in Philadelphia. Democratic Police Sympathize with the Mob,” the staunchly Republican New York Times had this to say regarding the day’s events.

The trouble first commenced between white and colored men in the immediate vicinity of Squire McMullin’s headquarters. A shower of paving stones was fired into this assemblage, and directly the fight commenced. While the fight in Lombard street continued, a number of colored men, armed with muskets, came out an alley just below Seventh street and charged upon a squad of Police officers, who were backed by a host of supporters, and, being beaten back, retreated into a tavern, taking up their position at the second story windows. From these they fired a volley, which was spiritedly returned. The riot is attributable by those who watched its origin, to the ill treatment of colored voters at more or less all the polls in the Fourth and Fifth wards.

Catto, a major in the Colored Brigade of the Pennsylvania National Guard, had reported to the Armory when he learned of the fighting. General Wagner, commander of the unit, told the press: “It was while in the act of obeying an order he had received as a soldier that murder met him.” Before calling out his men to suppress the riot, Catto had returned home “to obtain his equipments,” including ammunition for the pistol he had just been issued. “While upon his own door step,” the General continued, “he was ruthlessly assaulted with a bludgeon, knocked down and mortally wounded by pistol shots through the heart.”74

The prime suspect was a Democratic ward-heeler named Frank Kelly. There were rumors that Catto, “a great lover of women,” had been “seen to frequent a certain Ice Cream saloon with one of the fair ones, and that Frank Kelly was snubbed by her on account of Catto’s flirtations.” The accused killer escaped capture until 1876, when he was spotted intimidating voters in Cincinnati. Brought back to Philadelphia, he was acquitted by a jury of his peers.75

In his oration on the death of the “Colored Martyr,” as summarized by the Times, Reverend Henry H. Garnett

compared the rioters in Philadelphia to the Kuklux of the South. He said all color distinction must be done away with. Octavius V. Catto was sleeping in death, but the principles for which he died still live and are growing. He was slain because like many of his race, he would not affiliate with corrupt politicians.76

Catto also received a Sportsman’s tribute, mentioned in the “Death’s Doings” column of the Clipper. There was, however, no reference to the Pythian Base Ball Club.77 


58. New York Clipper: Dec. 21, 1867.

59. McFeely 1991, 261.

60. Utica Daily Observer: May 1868.

61. Ibid.: May 1869.

62. Ibid.: Sept. 10, 1868.

63. New York Times: Sept. 5, 1869.

64. New York Clipper: Aug. 28, 1869.

65. Ibid.: Oct. 2, 1869.

66. Ibid.: Oct. 23, 1869.

67. Utica Daily Observer: May 5, 1870.

68. Ibid.: July 22, 1870.

69. Ibid.: Aug. 24, 1870.

70. New York Clipper: Sept. 10, 1870.

71. Ibid.: Sept. 2, 1970; Oct. 15, 1870.

72. Ibid.: July 8, 1871; Aug. 19, 1871; Sept. 2, 1871.

73. Rochester Union and Advertiser: Sept. 14, 1871.

74. New York Times: Oct. 13, 1871.

75. Griffen, H. 1878. The Trial of Frank Kelly for the Assassination and Murder of Octavius V. Catto.

76. New York Times: Oct. 30, 1871.

77. New York Clipper: Oct. 28, 1871.

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