Early Baseball in Boston

On Monday, February 20, 1905, The Boston Journal commenced a three-part story on the introduction of the “National Game”—i.e, the New York version—to Massachusetts in the late 1850s.  The author, identified only as Tri-Mountain but perhaps James D’Wolfe Lovett, was, in the words of the newspaper’s editor, “a member of Boston’s first baseball club and a player who in the ’50s and ’60s had a reputation more than local.” As I related in my previous post, “The Game That Got Away,” the triumph of the Gotham Game meant the rapid disappearance of the many vibrant versions of baseball that had flourished not only in New England but also in Pennsylvania and the Western Territory—Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and other (then) frontier outposts. Baseball was played in the South, too before the Civil War, but afterwards its several regional variants were likewise vanquished by the “National Game.” 

As in its 1905 appearance, this article will run in three segments. Of particular interest below, perhaps is the fate of the celebrated silver ball over which Boston’s clubs contested fiercely in the 1860s. Note that the New York Game is treated first though clearly it arose second. As “Tri-Mountain” notes in the following segment: “Although the old Massachusetts game had many interesting facts in connection with it, the story of the national game seemed to call for the most attention, and that is why it was presented first.” Now, on to Part 1! 

A pleasing story might be told about baseball in Boston if one could be found who was clever at it, but the only merit the writer claims is that he remembers it for more than half a century and participated in it from the early ’50s up to the entrance of professional clubs into the sport.

In the spring of 1856 Edward G. Saltzman of the Gotham club of New York came to Boston. [ Saltzman was something of a Johnny Appleseed, next bringing the New York Game to Savannah in 1867.] Associated with him were Augustus P. Margot and Richard Busteed of Brooklyn. These three gentlemen with two or three more began to play a game, which with the implements used seemed very strange to us. Mr. Saltzman was the prime mover in this game, and was afterward called the father of the game in New England. Mr. Margot laid out the first baseball diamond on the Common. The Tri-Mountain club was organized June 16, 1857, with Mr. Saltzman as president; vice president, J. Busteed; secretary, J. Edward Burtt; treasurer, B. Frank Guild [this was Benjamin Franklin Guild of the Boston Society’s Golden Ball, which prompted the previous entry in this space]; game keeper, J. G. Donaldson; judge, Charles Taylor. The game was not popular at that time, but the newcomers continued to play it.

In 1858 the Portland club challenged the Tri-Mountain and three games followed: the first on Boston Common, September 9, was won by the visitors: Portland 47, Tri-Mountain 42. Mr. Saltzman, who was change pitcher and catcher with Mr. Guild for the Tri-Mountains, did not play in this game. The time occupied was three hours and each side scored one home run. Capt. Crowell of Portland sent a ball into the sky (there were no clouds) and it seemed as if it would not return to earth. The captain fainted, but it was later in the game, and it was said to be from the heat. Everything went off charmingly. The Boston people, although obliged to accept defeat, were pleased with the new game. The evening was spent in jollification around the board at the Cummings House.

Slid for His Base.

On June 28, 1859, these two clubs were together again on Bramhall hill, in Portland before a large assemblage of people to witness a game that they had not seen before. The result was in Boston’s favor—Tri-Mountains, 21; Portlands 11. Mr. Saltzman was catcher for the Boston Club. It was in this game that Mr. Chandler introduced his original feature of diving at a base, which produced an uproar of laughter, and won for him a cane. The cane is a Malacca joint, with an octagon head made from a large Mexican coin and is engraved as follows: “Presented to M. E. Chandler from R. A. Nicholas of the Tri-Mountain Baseball Club, June 28, 1859, Runs, 5; H.L. 1” (H.L. means hands lost or outs). [This cane turned up in Maine in 1996 and was put up for auction, along with the trophy bat with engraved silver banding that read “First Prize Tournament of New England Association, 1867, Won by Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club of Boston.” More on this tomorrow!]

The Boston club was handsomely entertained at Cape Cottage the next day.

On November 8, 1859, the third game was played on the Common in the presence of an immense gathering of interested ones, to see whether victory should perch on the pole of the parent club or go to Portland. The home club won—Tri-Mountains 33; Portland, 20. The ball of the first game was gilded and lettered and sent to the Portland club. The balls used in the other two games are in the hands of the boy who made them and who also made balls for the Boston clubs, some of which were used in the later New York games.

In the year 1858, by the efforts and enterprise of Mr. John A. Lowell, the Bowdoin Square Base Ball Club was formed from young men located at the Bachi House on the square, the name being afterward changed by leaving out the word square; they played mixed games with the Tri-Mountains before breakfast and on afternoons. On May 25, 1859, in a match game, the Tri-Mountains won 23 to 11, but on October 15 the Bowdoins were victors over their teachers, 32 to 26.

In the early sixties Mr. Lowell formed a club from the High and Latin school boys, who adopted the name of the founder. A few years later, this club defeated the Tri-Mountains 37 to 1, but it must be clear that the conditions were very much strained, a little more so than when Harvard took a game from the Lowells, 21 to 4. The Bowdoin and Lowell clubs were later merged into one under the name of the latter.

The Harvard Crimson says: “It is said that baseball was introduced in Harvard in 1862 by two enthusiastic freshmen, Frank Wright and George A. Flagg of the ’66 class; in the autumn of 1863 the incoming freshmen pressed the sophomores so closely that on October 12, 1864, the University club was formed, and in the spring of 1865 the University nine was determined upon.” Harvard’s first match game was with Brown University at Providence on June 17, 1863, Harvard winning 29 to 17. The first match game of Harvard University nine was in June, 1865, defeating Tri-Mountain 59 to 32.

A Silver Ball.

In 1864 Mr. Lowell presented to the New England Baseball Association a silver ball as a trophy to arouse more interest in the game, and the first contest for it was on September 27, when the Tri-Mountains won it from the Osceola Club of Portland, 53 to 18. The Lowell club then won it from the Tri-Mountains, 33 to 18. Three country clubs failed to take it from the Lowells. The Harvard club won four silver ball games from the Lowells and Lowell won three from Harvard. On August 24, 1867, Harvard surrendered the silver ball to the Lowell club and forfeited a game of ball on account of the challenge coming in vacation time, when they could not call their fellows together. It was an unjust rule of amateur times that permitted a forfeited ball to be marked with a score of 9 to 0.

It had now come Tri-Mountain’s turn again, and the statement was made in meeting. “We can take the silver ball and we ought to challenge for it”; the challenge was sent and a series of three games played, the first at Riverside Park in Cambridge on September 24, 1867, resulting in Lowell’s favor, 20 to 16. The second game was on the Common September 23, and the Tri-Mountains were the victors, 40 to 35, in eight innings. At the close of the fourth the score stood 18 to 9 in Lowell’s favor, but in the fifth the old fellows started off in a rattling way, 8 to 1, 7 to 3, 7 to 9, 9 to 4. On September 28, 1867, the fifteenth silver ball contest and the last game for that beautiful trophy, was played on the Common before an immense crowd. The Tri-Mountains took a lead of 5 to 1 in the first and the nine innings finished Tri-Mountains, 42; Lowells, 22; the only failure to count [register a run] being by the Lowells in the ninth. The time of the game was 3 hours, 15 minutes. Home runs—Tri-Mountains, 2. Passed balls—Tri-Mountain, 12; Lowell, 25. Umpire—Mr. N. S. Smith of the Harvard Club.

The national game was now at its height among amateurs and up to this time the Tri-Mountains had not taken a game from Harvard, and as the college players had not lost the silver ball in competition a great game was looked for, but at the opening of the last series a request had been made that the silver ball should be retired; it had been knocked about in thought and feeling as much as the game ball had been over the field. The Tri-Mountains reluctantly surrendered it to the committee of the association, who decided to melt it and put the proceeds into the association funds. The committee therefore met at Mr. Margot’s office, and there Mr. Saltzman swung the sledge hammer that forever retired the silver ball.

Mr. Margot then and there put it into a crucible and melted it and it sold for about $16. The metal was then bought again and small balls were made of it and presented to members of the different clubs. It was about regulation size, hollow and about an eighth of an inch in thickness. The names of the different clubs which contested for it, with the scores of the games, were engraved upon it.

To be continued tomorrow. 



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