July 7th, 2012

Early Baseball in Boston, Part 2

This story by “Tri-Mountain” ran in the Boston Journal of February 27, 1905. It continues the story commenced in this space yesterday. Of particular interest, I think, is the detailed use of a glove in a baseball game in 1858—far earlier than the histories cite. In July of 1862 the Excelsior team of New York [actually Brooklyn, a separate city until becoming a part of “Greater New York” in the consolidation of 1898], the crack team of the country at that time, made a trip to Boston, and on the 10th of the month had a game with the Bowdoin club. On the next day the visitors played with a picked nine of five Lowells and four Tri-Mountains, in which they were victorious over the Boston players by a score of 39 to 13, the four Tri-Mountains scoring 7 of the 13 runs. Home runs—Excelsior, 3; Bostons, Chandler, Lovett, Miller.

Previous to this time our pitchers had taken two steps in delivering the ball, and would follow it half way to the striker, but Mr. [Jim] Creighton of the Excelsiors did not move from his position. He took a step with his left foot, but kept his right in place. Mr. [Joe] Leggett, his catcher, caught on a bound except when a man was on third base, and then he went up behind the bat.

In 1865 the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn came to Boston, and on September 25 won a game from the Lowell club by 30 to 10. About 3000 people witnessed this contest, and seats were provided for ladies. On September 26 the Atlantics won from the Tri-Mountains by 107 to 17. On the 27th the Harvard boys took their turn and scored 22 against 58 for the Atlantics. Home runs—Atlantics, 2; Mr. Parker of Harvard, 3. In these games Mr. [Frank] Norton of the Atlantics caught up behind the bat when there was a man on any base, and on a bound when the bases were free. Mr. [Tom?—check] Pratt did not move either foot from the ground in pitching. It was said that he could pitch ninety-five balls through a barrel and the other five of the hundred would touch the barrel. He afterward joined the Tri-Mountains.

History of Silver Ball.

In May of 1866 Mr. Lowell and his partner, Mr. Brett, at a meeting of the Junior Association at the Parker House, presented a silver ball to be played for by junior clubs only. The first game for this ball took place on May 24 between the Clifton club, to whom the ball had been awarded, and the Independent club, the latter winning, 69 to 32.

Mr. Moses E. Chandler also presented to the Junior Association a full set of equipment comprising a silver mounted bat, bases, foul ball posts with flags, and a champion streamer. The juniors were now well provided with everything to make their games as interesting as could be and they showed their appreciation of it.

In 1867 there was a tournament at the New England Association, in which thirty-nine clubs were represented. Mr. Chandler presented a silver mounted bat as a prize for the winning club, which was captured by the Tri-Mountains, who won, it is said, every game in which they participated. The bat is composed of pieces of wood from the John Hancock house on Benson [check—Beacon?]street, the Lincoln cabin, the old Boston elm, the apple tree under which Gen. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, and the battleships Kearsarge and Alabama. The silver belt on the bat is inscribed:

First prize, Tournament of New England Association, 1867.

Won by the Tri-Mountain Base-Ball Club.

 It is in a box of black walnut burl. Inlaid on the cover is a bat, ball, cap and foul ball post with flag, and on each end is a base, inlaid. [This bat sold at auction on July 17, 1996 for $37,400. According to the auctioneer, the bat came from a western Maine home where it had been under a bed. The consignor, who took a couple of years to decide to part with the bat, was no relation to Moses E. Chandler. The trophy bat had been given to her great-uncle, who apparently was a caretaker of Chandler in his declining years. The bat is depicted in the cover of the sheet music for "The Baseball Quadrille" at the head of Part 1 of this article.]

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.

Olympic Club Formed.

Previous to the year 1854 the game of bat and ball was played in a “scrub” way, and there were too many differences of opinion on rules to allow the game to proceed smoothly; but in that year the Olympic Ball Club was organized by twelve young men of Boston. They elected officers and adopted a set of rules for playing the game. This club was the first in New England, and the rules were of much assistance in playing and prevented many disputes. Their first game was with the Elm Tree Club in 1855, but the new club soon disappeared. There were a number of young men, principally cartmen from the vicinity of Pearl street, who styled themselves the Green Mountain Boys, but we did not recognize them as an organization. They furnished much merriment to bystanders from their disregard of rules, which was inexcusable, to say the least. We remember of their playing with some clubs.

The word base was not used at that time, the infield being shown by bounds, or byes: it was probably introduced to designate the game from other games of ball and on account of the bounds being changed to a firmer base.

To draw crowds at the Worcester fair, it was the custom to offer a prize of $500 to be competed for by two leading ball clubs, but these contests frequently ended in disputes.

The Olympic club was the most popular club in this section and was classed as the champion. They had games in the morning before breakfast, in the afternoon and on holidays and drew crowds of admirers. All went well until the year 1858, when on May 31 a country club having invited the Olympics to play a match game, came to Boston for that purpose. Every kind of preparation had been made to receive the visitors; the ground had been roped off, strong stakes four feet high had been placed in the ground for bounds, and new bats and balls provided; but there was a delay in commencing the game.

The visiting club had brought some things never seen before. The rules of the convention specified the size and weight of the ball and that it should be covered with leather, but the actual component parts of the ball inside the cover were not mentioned.

The Bullet-Ball.

It was understood that balls for this game were to be made of rubber and yarn, but in the absence of this particular mention the visitors produced a ball of minimum weight made of yarn wound as loosely as possible over a bullet to secure the proper size, and insisted on using it. The bats provided by the home club were of little use with such a ball, but the guests had been equal to all contingencies and brought flat sticks, not for striking the ball to the foreground, but to touch it merely and direct it from its course to the rear. Heavy gloves had to be used with such a ball, for bare hands could not hold it and it would twist more fingers and do more injury than the ball of the national game.

Gloves had not been seen in play before, neither were gloves used in the national game in old amateur times.

The immense company of spectators did not see the game that they were accustomed to, and many left the grounds disappointed, declaring it a fizzle. That the bullet ball was made for the occasion and for points was evident. Whenever this game was afterward mentioned in the presence of anyone who took part in it, there was a show of fingers as “relics” of that game.

After the game the Olympics entertained their guests and escorted them to the depot the next day, but that was the last of the bullet ball, it was never heard of again.

Mr. Gill and Mr. Arnold of the Tri-Mountain club were in the twelve who formed the Olympic club in 1854. Mr. Gill and Mr. Chandler of the Tri-Mountain and Mr. Forbush and Mr. Crosby of the Bowdoin club were in the bullet ball game. Mr. Chandler still survives.

Part 3 tomorrow!

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