Early Baseball in Boston, Part 3

The third and concluding part of Tri-Mountain’s recollection of old Boston baseball ran in The Boston Journal, Monday, March 6, 1905. Interesting material here about how balls were made, and this noteworthy comment: “The Massachusetts game, as it was called, and as the Olympics formulated it, with the exception of throwing the ball at a player, would be fully as interesting to play or to witness as the national game.”  The review of ancient ball games, and the mention of the rounders vs. baseball controversy, will interest scholars.

Mr. Benj. F. Guild of the Tri-Mountain club was very prominent with Mr. Saltzman, by correspondence and otherwise, in introducing the national game into New England.

In the early days of the game it was a common thing to see many tall hats among the players on the field, and they were more like stove pipes than they are now, but we know of only one man who dared to play in the box two days in a week in a laundered white suit.

Mr. Lowell showed himself to be so agile as catcher in the game with the New Yorkers that they could express their appreciation of it in no other way than by carrying him on their shoulders.

The Harvard Advocate said of Mr. Flagg: “We think it but just to pay some tribute to the spirit and skill with which Mr. Flagg has fulfilled his duties; we fear it will be a long time ere Harvard is to again see his equal or superior.” He was said to be the swiftest runner in the university, and we don’t see how it could be possible for one to cover the ground quicker than he did. He seemed to almost fly along and it was one of the interesting parts of the game to see him run. He was catcher of the first Harvard and University nines. At this writing the Harvard Flagg is still flying.

Mr. Henry of the Tri-Mountains caught a ball in the pocket of his sack coat, and called on the umpire for judgment, because the rules did not specify that the ball should be caught by a hand. Mr. Henry is still living and a very active business man in Boston.

“Hot From the Bat.”

Mr. Allen of the Olympic club took two flies “hot from the bat” in two consecutive innings, the distance from pitcher to striker being only two-thirds as far as in the game now. That was the quickest sight and hand movement that we ever saw in baseball. Mr. Allen was a remarkable player. He was in the bullet ball game and was one of the Olympic original twelve.

Mr. Lovett’s “hot from the bat” was also a very fine play, but as we all know, his generous hand had a way of securing everything that came within his reach, and the ease and grace with which he did it will not be excelled by any player, and we think that drop-hand catch of his would fasten onto anything that did not come from the cannon’s mouth. “Jimmie” is with us yet, good for us; we have always carried a large policy on his shadow. In the memory of amateurs, “Jimmie Lovett” and “hot from the bat” seem to be synonymous terms. [This passage would seem to dismiss my suspicion that Lovett and author Tri-Mountain were one and the same.]

This hot ball was in a silver ball contest on July 14, 1866, in which the Lowells won from the Harvards by 37 to 27. It was known to be a particularly exciting game, from the fact that each club had won two games against the other. Two or three thousand seats were provided under the direction of Mr. Kimball of the Lowells, and it was thought that 10,000 people were present. Mr. John R. Manley, an honorary member of several clubs, had presented to the Lowell club a handsome rosewood bat to be given to the player making the best score, and it was won by Mr. Joslin, four runs, one out. Mr. Manley, as many will remember, was a general favorite, and was always provided with a special pass inside the lines at all match games. He was occasionally selected as umpire and sometimes hesitated, but no one ever questioned his decision. All the clubs, both senior and junior, had the utmost respect and friendship for that most estimable gentleman.

At the Lowell-Harvard game on the Common May 15, 1867, a new rule was nicely demonstrated; the pitcher must be at his plate after “called balls” before he could play, but the pitcher had followed the ball too near the striker and Mr. Flagg, who was on third base, made a dash home and got there before the pitcher could resume play. In the Harvard-Lowell game on June 1, 1867, Mr. Shaw put out twenty of the twenty-seven Lowells.

Schoolboy Players.

There were some schoolboys of Olympic times who had a prominent part in the game with their elders. Of these was Mr. Horace Furbush, who is still in Boston. It was often said that he had eyes in the back of his head. He was called “imp” and “eel” and he was not slow in any position. Mr. George W. Conant, for many years one of Boston’s assessors, was a fine player in the small ball game. Mr. Richards, now on Park street, was highly complimented on his catching.

We must not forget the Bay State club, organized May 1, 1857. They took a game from the Olympics, and were a fine set of young men.

Mr. Chandler proposed for membership in the Tri-Mountain club a boy of those times who used bats four feet long, and his score averaged more than 10 per cent. of home runs. He struck a ball considerable over the vane of Park Street Church, 225 feet up, and would repeatedly send a ball to that height without moving from his position. In 1876 he was invited by the Wakefield club to take part in a game. His strike was declared foul, but the next one sent the ball to the face of the clock on the Congregational Church. The following Sunday the choir remained later than usual at rehearsal, and at 1 o’clock the clock struck thirty-seven times. There are some living who may remember that incident. The boy had to quit using those bats for fear of pitchers becoming cross-eyed dodging between the ball and the broken end of a bat.

First Fly Catch.

The first fly catch game was between Tri-Mountain first and second nines in 1859.

The strong throwers of amateur times were Mr. Sawyer and Mr. Bryant of the Bowdoin club, and one of the Tri-Mountains. They could each throw a ball considerable over the flagstaff on the Common, and from long center field to the home plate. The flagstaff is not near as high as it was then, but if any of the young folks desire to test their backs and arms, let them try throwing over the present pole.

The longest throw on record was by Mr. John V. B.  Hatfield of the Cincinnati club, who threw a ball 369 feet, 387.6, 396, and then in reverse direction, 382.6, 382, 387. Mr. O’Brien, center fielder of the Atlantic club, did not throw by swinging his arm from the shoulder but jerked the ball from his hip.

On July 4, 1867, the Lowell club of Boston, on a visit to Portland, played a game with the Eons in the forenoon, and both clubs worked all night at the great fire there.

In a game between the Lowells and Harvards, July 4, 1868, an all-England nine had a game with three Lowells, three Harvards and three Tri-Mountains; in which the Americans were victorious, 21 to the Englishmen’s 4.

On June 19, 1869, the Atlantics played a picked nine from the Lowells and Tri-Mountains. The score was even at the end of two innings, and with the seventh each side scored 28, the eighth and ninth being blanks for both.

The shortest time for a full game of nine innings that we know of was between the King Philip club and the Tri-Mountains, one hour and thirty minutes.

Fair in Play.

As an incentive to the youth of today to be fair in play, let us mention the case of Mr. Gould of the Waban club in a game with Harvard, who declared himself out when the condition was such that no one but himself and his opponent knew the fact in the case. This noble act was commented upon by all the dailies, one of which had nearly sixty lines about it. There are times when there is a concert of action which must be decided by a draw or declared off, but there are others when it would be impossible to give an honest decision.

The ball of amateur times was between five and a half and five and three-quarter ounces in weight, and measured from nine and a half to nine and three-quarter inches in circumference, but those measures have been reduced from time to time. The ball had three ounces of pure hard India rubber over which was tightly wound the strongest yarn, and it was covered with alum-dressed horse hide, that being the strongest leather known, being very elastic when water soaked, in which way it was used. The body of the horse being smoother, rounder and harder than that of other animals it follows that the skin would be more even throughout. The alum makes the leather white and may add some strength. The boy manufacturer tells us that he bought the best white mitten yarn at $1.25 per pound and had the horse hide specially prepared for him at the tannery in Peabody. He had no clamps; his work was done altogether by hand. The price of balls was $1.25, but the boy charged only $1. Sometimes balls would not last through a game and balls were made with two covers, but the Boston manufacturing broke down that business. When leather was not to be had, a cheap and easy way to cover a ball was with twine in a lock stitch, called quilting.

In our youth, leather was not as cheap as now. Overshoes were made of pure, India rubber and the junk business was not as common as in these times and it was not difficult to procure an old rubber shoe for the foundation of a ball. Many a dear old grandma or auntie of today will remember having stockings and mittens being begged of them, which were knit at home by hand, to be unraveled for ball stock, and many old grandpas will remember parting with their boots that the legs might furnish covers for balls.

Small Ball Game. 

The small ball game must be as broad as New England instead of being limited to Massachusetts, for the writer well remembers when on a visit to Maine in the ’40s of being presented with two balls handsomely covered with leather on account of his love for the play. Good balls were also made partly of sponges[,] curled hair or cork.

In the scrub games tricks were often resorted to for advantage. One man would throw cross-eyed to bother a striker, and again, look on the side in which a man held his bat and throw to the other side, but some were smart enough to take advantage of this and swipe the ball tremendously to the rear. By indication of the catcher with eyes or finger, which the batsman could not see, a thrower would deliver a ball almost out of reach when looking at the catcher’s feet or vice versa, and sometimes there were two catchers, one crouching and the other standing over him, and then the two catchers would stand on either side of a striker. These antics prevented the exercise for which the game was instituted and had no good effect.

The Massachusetts game, as it was called, and as the Olympics formulated it, with the exception of throwing the ball at a player, would be fully as interesting to play or to witness as the national game. There is little danger of injury, it is harmless, so to speak, and for amateurs it is the proper game. It requires more agility and alertness, and quicker decision than the present game and is less laborious. No armor is necessary, and less equipment is requisite. Left-hand throwing at times would come in good play and is sooner acquired than one thinks. It is the finest field exercise and pastime imaginable, and should be adopted by our young men and boys.

Early Morning Play.

In the ’50s it was customary to commence game at 5 A.M. on the Common, and after play of an hour and a half repair to Braman’s excellent system of bath houses at the foot of Chestnut street for a swim of fifteen minutes, and then get home in time for breakfast.

Johnson’s encyclopedia says: “Ball was a favorite gymnastic exercise among the ancient Greeks and Romans, the latter of whom called it pella. At Rome it was played by persons of all ages and men of high rank. The Greeks prized the game as the means of giving grace and elasticity to their figures and motions. In the sixteenth century this game was fashionable in the courts of French and Italian princes. The French jeu de paume and English tennis were modifications of the game of ball. The ball was struck with a mallet (Fr. mall or maile; English mall) sometimes called pall-mall or pell-mell, from the Italian palla or ball.”

An Ancient Game.

From Rees[’s] Encyclopedia we quote: “The Romans had four kinds of pilae balls; the first called Trigon or Trigonalis because the three gamesters at it were placed in a triangle; these alternately tossed and caught the ball, and he who first let it fall to the ground was the loser. The second, called Follis, or Folliculus, was made of leather blown up like our footballs; the largest sort of these were struck with the arm, the smaller with the fist. The former had the appellation Paganica, as being much used in country villages; the fourth was the Harpast, a small ball, so called because the gamesters endeavored to snatch it from each other.”

That ball games were frequent and popular by the ancients there is no doubt, but as so many rules for playing them have been made and adopted in our time, we are loath to admit that our game was in the main derived from that or any other nation. It is claimed that our game of ball came from the English game of Rounders, but after much search and research no book can be found which gives a description of that game or anything more than a mere mention of it.

The question with our young people should be to decide whether they will have enjoyable exercise in an attractive and harmless game among themselves or whether they will pay for a ticket to burn or bleach themselves in a cramped position for two or three hours on a hard seat to see two men throw and catch a ball while seven others do a great deal of standing around, the only relief being rising on their feet for a few minutes between innings, and to resume their discomfort when play begins again….

Many of the old players are with us yet, and we don’t think they are nearly so badly crippled as if they had spent their baseball hours in some other exercise.

Here’s to the memory of the Olympics and Bay States, who played straight ball and never did anything to cripple a delightful game, and here’s to the early clubs in the national game and the memory of pleasant and enjoyable happenings of younger days. The other things do not count.

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