Baseball of the Bygone Days: A Memoir by Jimmy Wood

Jimmy Wood, 1871

Jimmy Wood, 1871

When The Baseball Encyclopedia first came out in 1969, and even twenty years later when Total Baseball followed, Jimmy Wood was a mystery man. We weren’t sure where he was born; Canada and England were both reasonable guesses; today we think Wood was born to English immigrants on December 1, 1842, most likely in Canada. Moreover, we suspected that the death date both encyclopedias listed was wrong, but even as late as Total Baseball‘s seventh edition in 2001, SABR’s Biographical Research Committee offered us a death date of November 30, 1886, which we continued to list. Personally I had long known this was wrong because I had uncovered correspondence between Wood and A.G. Mills from 1926, inviting Wood to take part in the celebrations surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of the National League. In 2004 baseball’s great detective, Peter Morris, wrote to me and some others: “I’ve found an intriguing candidate.  A James Wood, 84, died in New Orleans on November 30, 1927.  I have no proof that this is the player and there was no obit or death notice in the Times-Picayune, but it’s intriguing for several reasons:  [1] Our player’s son had died in New Orleans four years earlier; [2] there was no James Wood of appropriate age in New Orleans on the 1920 census; [3] our ballplayer’s granddaughter told Lee Allen that he died in 1926 or 1927 (although she thought it was in NYC).”

Two years later, the Biographical Research Committee reported in its newsletter:

Jimmy Wood Found. 

James Leon “Jimmy” Wood has long been one of our most interesting missing players. He was very prominent in the National Association as both a player and manager. In 1874, he decided to do a little home surgery when he lanced an abscess on his leg with a pocket knife. An infection led to a misshapen leg, which doctors attempted to straaighten. Unfortunately, thel eg broke in several places, compelling these doctors to amputate his right leg “to save his life.” Wood was written up as a mystery in Lee Allen’s column in the Sporting News on April 20, 1963. Wood moved to Florida and did well investing in citrus groves. His daughter Carrie married William Chase Temple. Temple moved to Pittsburgh and became extremely wealthy and it was he who established the Temple Cup. Wood’s granddaughter, Dorothy Temple, married major league pitcher Del Mason. It sounds like it would be an easy task to find Jimmy Wood, but that was not the case. Allen’s column suggested that he died in Brooklyn in 1926 or 1927. We could never find any proof of that in Brooklyn. It turns out that the date was about right; the location was just 3000 miles off. In our long and fruitless search for Wood we had tracked him to Quebec, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, and Pennsylvania without finding a death certificate. Peter Morris was able to find a death certificate in California showing that he died November 3, 1927 in San Francisco. The birth matches what he have and his body was sent to New Orleans for burial next to his son. This is a great find. Wood was on our Top 20 Most Wanted list so Peter wins the Find of the Month award.

William Chase Temple

William Chase Temple

So who was Jimmy Wood, and why was he worth a search that lasted nearly fifty years? He began play with the Brooklyn Eckfords in 1859, was wooed by other clubs and left  in 1865 (but returned in 1868). In 1869, his last season with the Eckfords, a reporter for the New York Tribune wrote that Wood

has no superior. His play is a rare combination of shrewdness, courage and activity. He covers the great part of the in-field and has been known to put out men on all three bases, although the second was his position. His stopping and throwing are superb. He faces every ball that comes near him, never flinching, no matter how hot it may come. He is also very efficient at the bat, generally getting his bases on clean hits.

Jimmy Wood reached the pinnacle of his career as the star second baseman and manager of Chicago’s first White Stockings club back in 1870. Even after losing a leg in 1874, when Chicago reentered the National Association after a two-year hiatus prompted by the Great Fire of October 8, 1871, he continued to manage the club through the 1875 season. Not only did Wood not die in 1886, he was lively enough to pen a six-part memoir which ran in many newspapers in mid-August 1916. Never before published in total, its serialization commences today at Our Game. Five more parts will follow, daily. [Editorial note: Wood’s reminiscences are more trustworthy for the years of his maturity, from the late 1850s on, than for earlier periods in which Frank Menke, his ghost, may have “helped” his recollection.]

Related by James Wood, Captain and Manager of the Famous Chicago White Stockings of  1870-71, to Frank G. Menke.

Henry Chadwick has been called “The Father of Baseball,” but that, in a certain sense, is a misnomer. Chadwick did not originate the great na­tional game. Baseball, in a crude way, was played some years before Chadwick became involved in it.

But to that grand, lovable sports­man must go the full credit for revolutionizing baseball; for bringing it from a state of chaos and crudity to the rank of the dominating sport of  America. It was Chadwick, the genius, who saw in the game of 60 or 70 years ago its wonderful scientific possibilities and who worked unceasingly through the years to standardize the sport; to lift it to its present crest.

There always has been consider­able dispute as to where baseball really had its origin. One story has it that many years ago, a boy had a bundle of twine and amused himself by throwing it against a barn, catching it on the rebound. Eventually, another boy joined him. Later a few more youths wanted to play in the game. A new “ball” made of twine and sewed to prevent unraveling was put into play. One of the boys suggested that it would be greater sport to hit the ball, with a club. An axe handle was used.

And so, in this way, according to many historians, baseball became a game.

Abner Doubleday by Mathew Brady

Abner Doubleday by Mathew Brady

Back in 1839 Abner Doubleday, of Cooperstown, N. Y., who later became a Major General in the Unit­ed States Army, designed the base­ball diamond then called a “square.” The original lines laid out by Dou­bleday are the same as the baseball diamond of today. Along in 1845 Alexander J. Cartwright, of New York, also brought out a baseball “square” exactly the same as Doubleday’s. The Cartwright supporters claim that his “square” was the first made, but the Doubleday people have submitted what they declare is indisputable proof that Doubleday outlined the diamond six years earl­ier.

The    Knickerbockers, of New York, was the first baseball club in history. It was organized in 1845. The first real baseball game played was in Hoboken, N. J., on June 19, 1846 between the    Knickerbockers and another club, known as the “New York Nine.” The latter was victorious, the score being 21 to 1 in its favor, the game lasting only four innings. The rules for that first game, made in 1845, and for all games up to 1857,  provided that victory should go to the team first scoring 21 runs, irrespective of innings played.

Among the rules laid down bv the Knickerbockers of 1845 which have endured through all the succeeding 71 years are these:

(1) A baseball knocked outside of the boundary lines of first and third base shall be considered a foul.

(2)  If three balls are struck at and missed, the last being caught, it is a hand out (strikeout); if not caught, it is considered fair and the striker is privileged to run to the base.

(3) A running player who prevents an adversary, from catching or getting the ball before making the base is a hand out (out).

(4) Three hands out, side is out.

(5) If two men are out the scoring of a player on a hit on which the batter is put out before reaching first does not count.

(6) Players must bat in regular turn.

The next recognized contest was not played until five years later when the Knickerbockers accepted the challenge of a team composed of New York men who called their club the “Washingtons,” and the Knickerbockers introduced uniforms in that game which was played in Hoboken, June 3, 1851. The reason given for the use of the uniforms was that the Knickerbockers had found in their game five years before that trousers impeded their movements and that the wearing of linen shirts was a handicap.

The Knickerbockers won that second “big league” game 21 to 11 in eight innings. Two weeks later the same teams—Knickerbockers and Washingtons—played a 10-inning contest in Hoboken, the Knicker­bockers winning out 22 to 20.

The Washingtons, immediately after this second defeat, changed their name to the Gothams and the following year issued another chal­lenge to the Knickerbockers. It was accepted and the game was played in New York on June 27, 1852. It went 16 innings before the Gothams scored their 21 to 16 victory.

A year later—on July 5, 1853 to be exact—the Knickerbockers competed again, the Knickerbockers achieving victory of 21 to 12. The first tabular box score in baseball was compiled during the game. It was published July 16, 1853 in the New York Clipper. It follows, just as it appeared, without notation as to positions, and without errors, hits, assists, etc., which were not counted until a later period. [Note that the brothers “Faucet” are in fact Van Cott; “Miebuhr” is Niebuhr; and “Parison” is Parisen.]

Clipper Box Score July 19, 1853

Clipper Box Score July 19, 1853

It was just about that time that the people in New York began to take a real interest in the new game. Its devotees began to increase. A club, called the Eagles, was organized early in 1853, to be followed later in the summer by the formation of the Empire. The following year the Excelsiors, of Brooklyn, came into existence, to be followed in 1855 by Putnams of Williamsburg and the
Eckfords, also of Williamsburg and the Atlantics, of Jamaica, N. Y., in 1856.

It was in 1857, however, that baseball began to gain its real impetus. Until then there was no governing organization. The games were played in a haphazard way, some under the rules laid down in 1845, others partly under those laws but mainly under regulations made by the captains of both sides before a game began.

But in January, 1857, those who had been instrumental in forming the first Knickerbockers team, called together a “Baseball Convention.” Representatives from 25 clubs attended, and it was at that meeting that baseball was voted “America’s National Game.” And it was at that conference and later ones that Henry Chadwick was among the dominat­ing spirits.

With one major and two minor exceptions, the rules of 1845 were approved at that Conference. The one important change was to do away with the rule awarding a victory to the club first scoring 21 runs. Objections had been made to that rule due to the fact that many of the games had taken all afternoon and part of the evening before one or the other clubs scored 21 tallies.

The new rule accorded victory to the club scoring the most runs in nine innings but permitted the rival captains to play 5 inning games if they desired. In cases where 5 in­ning games were played and the score was tied at the end of the fifth inning, the game then went to nine innings, even though one club took the lead in the sixth, seventh or eighth. If the score was tied again in the ninth, the game continued as it does today—until one side or the other took the lead after a full in­ning of play.

Eckford trophy balls

Eckford trophy balls

After baseball became a, stand­ardized sport in 1858 it gained devotees by the hundreds. Teams sprang up everywhere. Its popular­ity spread beyond the confines of New York and reached all the big cities along the Atlantic seacoast, as well as many of the inland towns in New York state. The baseball colony increased by leaps and bounds.

It was in 1859, when I was 16 years old, that I really began my baseball career with the Eckfords. I began playing as a second baseman and continued there [i.e., at second base] barring one year until I finished my active diamond career in 1875.

(Note—The second chapter of “Baseball of Bygone Days” will ap­pear in these columns tomorrow. It will tell how royally umpires of the past era were treated; how the rule came about permitting players to | overrun the first bag; of a pitcher who hurled an iron ball all winter to develop speed, of many other in­teresting incidents of the past. Ed­itor).

Part Two follows.

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