Some Baseball Tricks: The Unfair Means by Which Some Games Were Won in the 1860s

Tom Barlow 1873

Tom Barlow 1873

Found this neat piece while looking for something else (ain’t that always the way?). I spotted it in the Omaha Bee of March 25, 1888 while digging for scraps about Tommy Barlow’s possible death date. (No, we still don’t know when he died, this man who invented the fair-territory bunt or “baby hit” with the aid of an eventually banned two-foot-long bat.) It seems the story originally appeared in the New York Mail and Express.

As far back as 1862, the records will show that the Mutuals of this city won a game through the cleverness of Ed Brown, the second baseman. In that year the Mutuals visited Newark to play the Eurekas. Ten innings were played before a victory was gained. The score was thirteen to thirteen when the Mutuals went to bat in the last half of the last inning. The first two men were quickly retired. Things began to look somewhat dubious, when Brown came to bat. He managed to reach first base ahead of the ball, but only by a nose, as it were. A passed ball advanced him to second. He reached third on another close shave. This time the crowd thought he was out, and so gave vent to [its] feelings. However, the umpire thought he was safe and said so. Brown, who was up to all kinds of tricks, then stopped on the base and offered to fight the man who said he was out. At this the Eureka players, who were all gentlemen, gathered around third base to quiet Brown. Of course this left home plate unguarded, and Brown started for it and tallied the winning run.

Levi Meyerle

Levi Meyerle

A singular incident happened in Baltimore in 1869. The Athletics, of Philadelphia, went to the Monumental City to play the Pastime club. The latter was one run ahead in the ninth inning when the Athletics came to the bat. Levi Meyerle, after two men were out and two on bases, hit a line ball directly at the pitcher. It struck him full in the chest and knocked him insensible. The ball bounded back over the fence behind the catcher, and Meyerle made the circle of the bases, sending in the two men ahead of him before the ball was recovered. It was the late little Tommy Barlow who introduced the trick of hiding the ball under his arm after it was returned from the outfield when a hit had been made, and then catch the base-runner napping on a neat throw to the base-man, who would be on the lookout. It was Dickey Pearce who conceived the idea of touching the top of the ball with his bat and making the famous fair-foul hits, which were practiced by others with such telling effect, Barlow, Barnes and Pearce being noteworthy at that style of butting the ball.

Hartford 1876

Hartford 1876

Probably one of the most remarkable events in the history of the national game was the double ball racket, which was worked to such perfection by the old St. Louis league club. It was in the season of 1876. Whenever the St. Louis players went to the bat they would have a lively ball to bat , but when their opponents were at the bat a dead ball would be worked in on them. The ball the club had made especially for its own use. The Hartfords were victimized by the Mound City club, and a most remarkable thing occurred which led to the discovery of the two balls. The Hartfords were scheduled for three games, on July 11, 13 and 15, and the St. Louis team won all three games, as follows: first, 2 to 0; second, 3 to 0; third, 2 to 0. Up to this time the Hartford club had not been shut out by any other club in the league, and it had a demoralizing effect on the team, and did more than anything else to keep the Hartfords from winning the championship of that year.


Unfair? Simply one of the points of the game. Brown was regarded as one of the best second baseman of his day.

Bob Tholkes

It is probably known by a lot of SABERITES. but cutting third base was pretty common when the game had only one umpire. I forget the details, umpire and player, but a man was called out for cutting. He argued, but to no avail as the umpire said, “You’re Out, You got here too quick.

I recall Bill McSweeney of the old Boston Record American reporting that a variation of the “double ball racket” was put in play by Eddie Stanky during his managerial stint with the Chicago White Sox in the late sixties.

Signed on as Al Lopez’s successor as skipper of the 1966 Pale Hose, “The Brat” inherited a team that had plenty of speed on the basepaths (they would finish first in stolen bases in ’66, second in ’67) and plenty of stuff on the mound (tops in team e.r.a. in both ’66 and ’67) but a paucity of potent sticks in the lineup (last in the American League in OPS in both seasons).

To even things up a bit for his offensively-challenged Sox, Stanky reportedly had the season’s supply of baseballs placed in cold storage. Stashed in a freezer during the off-season and retrieved only on game day, these icy spheres would be taken out of the mildewed boxes they’d wintered in, wiped off, and placed in new, pristine boxes prior to being delivered to the umpires for pregame prepping. By the time the umps began applying the Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud, the outer surface of the balls would have returned to room temperature; their interiors, however, were still frozen and rock hard, a condition that kept even well-struck balls from traveling very far. Little surprise then that the 1966-67 White Sox pitching staff led the American League in fewest home runs allowed.

It only helped during home games, of course, and while a combination of talent and trickery did, in fact, result in the Pale Hose out-homering their opponents 89 to 87 in 1967, it wasn’t enough to put the South Siders over the top. In first place in late September with only five games against second division teams left to play, the team faded badly, being shut out three times as they lost all five games and the pennant, finishing fourth at 89-73.

Great stuff as per custom. Thanks, David!

Pingback: Old News in Baseball, No. 7 « Our Game

Hartford selling baseball’s best pitcher, Tommy Bonds in the stretch and heat of the pennant race in 1876 was a very strong reason why they couldn’t win the pennant too.

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