Baseball of the Bygone Days, by Jimmy Wood, Part 5

Harry Wright, Ars Longa rendition

Harry Wright, Ars Longa rendition

Below, the fifth chapter of Jimmy Wood’s memoirs, unpublished since their serialization by a newspaper syndicate in August 1916. The opening segment, of six, may be read at http://goo.gl/SHvXtL.

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

The first game of the memorable Chicago White Stockings-Cincinnati Red Stockings series was played in the latter part of September, 1870, in Cincinnati amid scenes unparalleled on any ball field.

The Red Stockings never had been beaten on their own grounds. The feat was considered impossible by other teams that had played there during 1869 and the early part of 1870. Those players had told us that if the visiting team had a chance for victory the umpires—Cincinnati products—would get busy in behalf of the Red Stockings; if the umpires couldn’t swing the trick alone, the crowds would menace the opposing players to a point where they would quit trying to win rather than risk the danger of being hit by missiles or mobbed by the crowds after the game.

I had considered all these things before I took any boys to Cincinnati. I told each one what he might expect from the crowd if we should happen to win. (But they were a brave, fearless lot, my boys, and they vowed — and kept that vow—that no show of hostility by the fans would effect their playing one iota.

I was determined that the umpire was not to be a Cincinnatian, making thacondition emphatic from the out­set. The Red Stockings demurred at first, but when they found that I meant exactly what I had said—and wouldn’t play the game unless we had an impartial umpire—they reluctantly agreed.

Just before the game began we made an announcement to the stands that we wanted some spectator to umpire the game for us—and that Cincinnati and Chicago residents were barred. From out of the stands, after a long delay, stepped a salesman named Milligan, from Philadelphia. He convinced us quickly that he was thoroughly conversant with the game, and he was named as umpire.

 Cincinnati Ballpark (Union Grounds)

Cincinnati Ballpark (Union Grounds)

The game began, with the Cincinnati ball park crowded to its 10,000 capacity. At the outset, the Cincinnati gamblers were circulating through the stands waving huge rolls of bills. They offered odds of 20 to 1 against us at first, but these gradually sluffed down to 15 to 1, when the Red Stockings supporters saw how quickly their money was snapped up by the small band of rooters who went to Cincinnati with us.

We jumped into the lead in the early innings and held it throughout. Several times the Red Stockings tried to rally—but failed. They never caught up with us and we won, 6 to 3. During the first part of the game the crowd was orderly. It felt cer­tain that the Red Stockings would overhaul us. But when the game had gone along seven innings, with the White Stockings still in the lead, the crowd got busy.

It hurled threats at our players and menaced our catcher and tried to frighten Umpire Milligan. The Red Stockings also tried to bulldoze Milligan. But he was of the sort who wouldn’t stand for it. He knew full well that if the Red Stockings were beaten on their own grounds, that he was in great danger of foul treatment by the thousands who had bet so heavily on their Cincinnati team.

But Milligan was of a heroic mold. He umpired that game fairly and squarely as he saw it. He played no favorites. And we accomplished, on that hot September afternoon, what had been considered impossible—the defeat of the Red Stockings on their home grounds.

Immediately after the game was over the crowd swarmed upon the field, intent upon wreaking vengeance upon us. I had anticipated this move and instructed my players for a quick get-away. When the last out was made we dashed for the exits and jumped into our carriages. As we ran across the field many of us were struck with stones and bottles. The frenzied Ohioans pursued us even after we had entered our hacks, pelting us with rocks until our horses had distanced them.

Our victory over the Red Stockings on Cincinnati soil was the greatest sensation to that time. And Chicago went wild with joy. When we got back home we were given a greeting unlike any ever accorded ball players before. We were the heroes j of the hour—and of the year.

Three weeks later we played the second—and the last game of the series. It was played in Chicago on a diamond in the Dexter Park Race Course. No other place in Chicago was considered big enough to accommodate the crowd that wanted to go to that game.

Dexter Park 1870

Dexter Park 1870

The day the game was played the crowds started for the park early in the morning. All forenoon and during the early part of the afternoon, carriages wended their way to the park and there was always outside the gate a mob howling for admission. Before the game began, 27,000 admis­sions, at $1 each, had been sold, with another 25,000 in a wild scramble for tickets.

And then the fence, unable to withstand the pressure of that surg­ing mob, went down with a crash—and the mob swarmed in. Several attempts were made by the club offic­ials to have that broken section of the fence fixed, but it was useless. The crowd, rushing in, swept everything before it, and the game began with the fence broken and the “free ad­missions” still coming.

The paid admissions for that game totaled 27,000; the “free admissions” went well beyond 25,000, making a 52,000 crowd within the park when the call “play ball” sounded — the greatest crowd that ever witnessed a professional baseball game.

Eleven hundred carriages—the popular form of locomotion in that period, also were inside the park.

Umpire Bob Ferguson

Umpire Bob Ferguson

Bob Ferguson of Brooklyn umpired that game. He was paid $100 and his expenses and was guaranteed every protection. He was chosen in a rath­er unusual way. About two weeks before the game was played, Harry Wright, manager of the Red Stock­ings, and myself, agreed that we would select the umpire in this way: Each would write three names on a slip of paper and mail it to the other. In case one candidate was named by both, he would be the umpire.

It was found that Ferguson had been named by both, whereupon he was appointed. The owners of the White Stockings wanted to pay Fergu­son $300 and expenses, but the Red Stockings owners balked and all Fer­guson got was $100 and expenses.

When the game began the betting was even. A vast sum of money was wagered on the outcome of that dia­mond battle. It seemed that every Chicago fan wanted to plunge his bankroll on our chances. The city, as a whole, had unbounded confidence in our ability. A big delegation of Cincinnati rooters and gamblers went to Chicago for that game and from the way they flourished $500 and $1,000 bills in the stands, it made it look as if they were commissioned to bet the entire wealth of the Ohio city on the chances of their ball club.

It was in that game, by the way, that the Reds introduced to Chicagoans fast fielding practise as a prelim­inary. Before that time no club ever had practised fast fielding in a game in Chicago. The efforts of our play­ers were devoted only to increasing their hitting skill.

A mighty roar went up from the stands when Ferguson sounded his “play ball” and then the crowd settled back to watch the game.

Things broke badly for us in the early innings. An error or two on the part of my boys, mixed with several long hits by the Red Stockings, gave them a lead of five runs. Later on they increased it and when the seventh inning was ended the score stood 11 to 2 in favor of the Cincinnati club.

And then I rallied my boys.

“All together now,” I told them. “Here comes our ‘bloodied innings.’ Get out and get after that pitcher. We’ll win—we can’t lose.”

And the boys began playing with a new spirit. It always had been a peculiarity of my White Stockings to play their greatest ball, during the last two innings of the game, and all around the circuit the eight and ninth innings became known as the “blood­ied innings” of the White Stockings.

It so happened in that game that the Red Stockings got last bats. The choice was decided by the flip of the coin—and I had lost. So we went to bat first in the eighth inning and ham­mered out five runs, holding the Red Stockings scoreless in their part of the inning.

With the score 11 to 2 against us at the end of the seventh, the Cincinnati rooters were rushing around the stands offering odds of from 25 to 100 to 1 against us. Strange as it may seem, they found many takers. Our backers still had confidence in us.

Red Stockings at Cleveland, October 1870, one week before their game in Chicago

Red Stockings at Cleveland, October 1870, one week before their game in Chicago

When we went to bat in our part of the ninth—the first half—with the score 11 to 7 against us, the Cincinnatians still were laying huge odds against us. And then, amid an ever-increasing roar of applause from the crowd, we “got” to that Cincinnati pitcher; rallied in a way that ranks among the greatest ninth inning fin­ishes of all time. We smashed the bail to all parts of the lot, and when our side finally was retired, it was found that the tide of battle had shift­ed; that we, by scoring nine tallies in that final inning, had forged into the lead, 16 to 11.

The Red Stockings took their final bats and attempted gamely to over­come our lead—but their efforts were futile. They pushed across two and then went out, making the final score 16 to 13 in favor of the White Stockings.

And so ended the series—with Cin­cinnati and the major portion of the baseball world of that era aghast at our “impossible” performance — and with Chicago in a delirium of baseball fever from which it never has recovred—and never will.

(Note—The sixth and final chapter of “Baseball of the Bygone Days” will appear tomorrow.)

Chapter 6 tomorrow.

1 Comment

As a point of information, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune estimated the crowd at the game in Chicago to be about 15,000, which it characterized as “enormous,” and the Quincy (Ill.) Daily Whig estimated it at 16,000. This range is far more plausible than what Wood reports. The 15-20K range is what is reported in the biggest Athletic-Atlantic games of the 1860s. Given the limited tiered seating typical of that era, the sorts of numbers Wood reports would be physically impossible. Ballpark seating grew more elaborate in the 1870s, allowing for larger crowds. My guess is that Wood exaggerated partly from faded memory, and partly because the more plausible numbers wouldn’t seem all that impressive in 1916

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