The hidden-ball trick is defined as “a time- honored legal ruse in which a baseman conceals the ball and hopes that the base runner believes it has been returned to the pitcher. When the runner steps off the base, he is summarily tagged out with the hidden ball.” The dying art dates back to the early days of pro baseball. With the invaluable help of many others, author Bill Deane has spent decades compiling a list of 264 successful executions of the trick in the major leagues. This puts the rarity of the play roughly in the class of the no- hitter.
My old friend Bill and his publisher graciously permitted the use of the story below, which focuses on hidden-ball tricks up to 1920, in last year’s number of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game. It is extracted from Finding the Hidden-Ball Trick: The Colorful History of Baseball’s Oldest Ruse, by Bill Deane, recently published by Rowman & Littlefield (http://goo.gl/1B3lQV). Upon reading it in manuscript, I commented: “Bill Deane is a magician. Spinning out the story of baseball’s most ancient sleight of hand, he draws your attention to a game, a date, a perpetrator, and a victim. Yet all the while he is weaving his way—and yours—to a unique view of the game’s whole history. Devilishly ingenious, this is a gem of a book.”
Bill served as Senior Research Associate at the Baseball Hall of Fame from 1986–1994. He has authored hundreds of articles and seven books, including Baseball Myths (Scarecrow, 2012). He served as managing editor of Total Baseball, and has done consulting work for the likes of Roger Kahn, Bill James, and Topps Baseball Cards. In 1989, Deane won the SABR– Macmillan Baseball Research Award for his book, Award Voting. In 2003, Deane won the Utica-Cooperstown SABR chapter’s “Cliff Kachline Award.” Most recently, SABR named him as a 2015 recipient of its prestigious Henry Chadwick Award.
I first started “collecting” hidden-ball tricks in the 1980s. Employed as Senior Research Associate for the National Baseball Library from 1986–1994 and working on my own projects after hours, I spent hundreds of hours a year doing research for myself and others. Inevitably, I stumbled across interesting tidbits which had little or nothing to do with what I was working on, and I kept various lists based on these findings. Many of these feats, like three-pitch innings, and scoring from first base on a single, turned out to be not as uncommon as I thought. But the hidden-ball trick held up as a rare and remarkable event, roughly as uncommon as a no-hitter.
My project blossomed thanks to the internet and considerable help from others. To date, I have documented 264 successful executions of the HBT in the major leagues.
The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary defines the hidden-ball trick as “a time-honored legal ruse in which a baseman [I’d say “infielder”] conceals the ball and hopes that the baserunner believes it has been returned to the pitcher. When the runner steps off the base, he is summarily tagged out with the hidden ball.” SABR member Eric Sallee gives a good explanation of what is required for the play to be successful, saying “the sun, the moon, and the stars all have to be in alignment in order for it to work:
1. Play cannot be ‘dead,’ i.e., time is not ‘out’;
2. The pitcher cannot be touching or straddling the pitching rubber;
3. The umpire has to be alerted or paying attention;
4. A bonehead runner must be willing to take a lead off a bag before the pitcher toes the slab; and
5. The bonehead runner’s teammates and base coaches all have to be asleep, as well.”
The hidden-ball trick is almost as old as baseball itself. It has been said to date back to Harry and George Wright of the 1869 Red Stockings, but 19th century baseball expert Peter Morris scoffs at the notion of that team resorting to such deceptive ruses. Another source credits National Association utilityman Tom Barlow with the innovation. The earliest HBT I have documented occurred on May 20, 1872, in a Philadelphia–Baltimore NA game; it was described as an “old trick” as early as 1876. In any case, it dates back more than 140 years, and has happened to end games and to complete triple plays. It once resulted in two arrests, another time cost a Hall of Famer a managing job, and it even happened in a World Series. With TV monitors in the clubhouses and professional coaches at the bases, the play was still pulled off twice in 2013.
Following are accounts of 10 successful pre-1920 executions of the hidden-ball trick:
Date: June 17, 1884
Teams: Buffalo Bisons vs. Chicago White Stockings (NL)
Perpetrator: Buffalo first baseman Dan Brouthers
Victim: Billy Sunday, Chicago
According to The Sporting Life, “Brouthers, in one of the games with Chicago last week, worked a very old trick on Sunday. The latter had made a good base hit and was safe on first. The guileless Daniel had thrown the ball back to [pitcher Billy] Serad (in his mind), when Sunday slipped off the bag. Dan jerked the ball from under his arm and touched him out before the Chicago right fielder knew what happened. Any player stupid enough to be caught in that manner deserves a fine.” Buffalo won the game, 8–7 in 10 innings. Brouthers was on his way to the Hall of Fame; Sunday was on his way to a long career as an evangelist.
Date: September 28, 1893
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Giants (NL)
Perpetrator: Pittsburgh first baseman Jake Beckley
Victim: John Montgomery Ward, New York
According to the New York Sun, “It was in the ninth inning and Ward had made a single. Of course John was tickled to death and did not observe that the ball was passed to Beckley. [Mike “King”] Kelly was coaching at first and he, of course, did not see the renowned [pitcher Ad] Gumbert make an effort to get in a position to pitch, and Ward stepped from the bag. The instant he did so Beckley touched him out, and there were roars of laughter all around. John kicked, but he was out, and the umpire told him so. It was somewhat humiliating for the little manager, but it had to go.” For Ward, considered the most intelligent man in baseball in the nineteenth century, it was the second time in four months he had been caught on the trick. Kelly—like Ward and Beckley, a future Hall of Famer—was in the closing days of his colorful career; a year later, he would be dead.
Date: October 9, 1907
Teams: Detroit Tigers (AL) vs. Chicago Cubs (NL)
Perpetrators: Tigers second baseman Germany Schaefer and third baseman Bill Coughlin
Victim: Jimmy Slagle, Cubs
The hidden-ball trick has even been executed in the World Series, though most sources don’t account for it (The World Series has it as a pickoff, Tigers pitcher George Mullin to Coughlin). In the first inning of Game 2 of the 1907 Fall Classic, according to The Sporting Life, “Slagle was passed, stole second and got to third on [catcher Freddie] Payne’s wild throw, but was caught napping on the ‘hide-the-ball’ trick, Schaefer to Coughlin.” The 1908 edition of Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide said “Coughlin working that ancient and decrepit trick of the ‘hidden ball’ got ‘Rabbit’ Slagle as he stepped off the third sack.” According to author Stephen D. Boren, Schaefer caught a pop fly, then joined Coughlin in a conference with Mullin, during which Coughlin secreted the ball under his arm. After the tag, umpire Hank O’Day yelled, “You’re out. Where did the ball come from?”
Date: May 13, 1908
Teams: Detroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox (AL)
Perpetrator: Tigers third baseman Bill Coughlin
Victim: Amby McConnell, Red Sox
In the third inning, rookie McConnell hit a bases-clearing triple. As player-turned-sportwriter Tim Murnane wrote in the Boston Globe, “About the meanest thing known to baseball occurred at this point. With Cy Young coaching, the ball was fielded to Coughlin, who tucked it away under his arm, and McConnell, supposing the pitcher had it, moved off the base and was touched out. This is one trick as old as the game that should never be allowed to go in baseball…. Hiding the ball is an ancient trick, and long since barred from the game by custom. No Boston player has been allowed to attempt the trick since Harry Wright declared it was unsportsmanlike and an insult to the spectators.” The Detroit Times replied, “News of the barring of the play is fresh out this way. It has always been understood heretofore that the baserunner was supposed, with the assistance of his coacher, to take reasonable care of himself and not be caught napping against any such transparent stratagem.” It’s interesting that Murnane would take such umbrage at the play: back on September 20, 1875, he pulled it on Cincinnati’s Emmanuel Snyder to end a National Association exhibition game.
Coughlin is the all-time leader, with nine documented tricks (at three positions) in the majors. According to his 1943 obituary, “When only 3 years old, he picked up a revolver and pulled the trigger, the discharge tearing off the finger next to the thumb on his left hand. He attributed that accident to making it possible for him to execute the hidden ball trick, as he had a special mitt made for his hand.”
Date: September 22, 1910 (first game)
Teams: New York Giants vs. Chicago Cubs (NL)
Perpetrator: Giants first baseman Fred Merkle
Victim: Johnny Evers, Cubs
The Giants’ Fred Merkle is forever remembered for his September 23, 1908 “boner,” when he failed to advance to second base on an apparent game-winning hit, and was called out when Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers retrieved a ball and touched the base, forcing Merkle for the third out and nullifying the run. The game wound up a tie, replayed at the end of the season, and resulting in a Cubs victory to win the pennant by one game over the Giants.
Merkle could never live down that humiliation, but he did gain a measure of revenge. It happened in New York in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cubs. According to I.E. Sanborn of the Chicago Tribune, “A feature of the day not indicated in the tabulated summary occurred in the first game when J. Evers was made the victim of a mothball scented trick by none other than Fred Bone Merkle…Evers was on first with none out in the fifth inning, having just accepted his third straight pass from [Louis] Drucke. The hurler pegged across to first to drive him back. Merkle went through the time worn motion of bluffing to return the throw, but holding the ball. Evers yanked his foot off the bag. Merkle stabbed him and the umpire saw it. There was great joy among the bugs who dearly love the Trojan, we don’t think so. What made it all the more noteworthy is that tomorrow is the anniversary of ‘Merkle day’ at the Polo grounds. Just two years ago tomorrow Merkle gave Chicago it’s [sic] third pennant by forgetting to touch second.”
Date: July 14, 1912 (first game)
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Giants (NL)
Perpetrator: Cardinals third baseman Wally Smith
Victim: Fred Snodgrass, Giants
According to the New York Times, “Wally Smith pulled ‘the hidden ball trick’ at the expense of Fred Snodgrass in the sixth inning, and it probably saved the game for [pitcher] Bob Harmon…[Beals] Becker hit with Snodgrass on the ‘hit and run,’ whacking a single to right field, Snodgrass taking third base…. However Snodgrass forgot to follow the ball, Smith hiding it in his glove, and when Fred stepped off the bag, Wally tagged him. Umpire Bob Emslie, who was making base decisions, said that he did not see the play, but Umpire [Mal] Eason, who was working behind the bat, saw it and waved Snodgrass out.” It was a critical play, as the Cards won, 3–2. Interestingly, Snodgrass—who would become infamous for a fatal World Series error later this year—had been similarly tricked by the Cardinals two years before, with Emslie calling him out, but Cy Rigler overruling his fellow arbiter, nullifying the play.
Date: June 9, 1914
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies (NL)
Perpetrator: Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner
Victim: Beals Becker, Phillies
In the eighth inning, Wagner pulled the ruse on Becker, who had singled and been sacrificed to second. Wagner also pulled a decoy earlier in the same game, but it doesn’t quite qualify as an HBT. After Hans Lobert stole second in the first inning, according to the Pittsburgh Gazette Times, “Wagner tricked him into starting for third. Wagner then picked up the ball behind the bag and tagged Lobert trying to get back.” Despite Wagner’s theatrics—including his 3,000th career hit—the Phillies won, 3–1.
Date: May 1, 1915
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds (NL)
Perpetrator: Cardinals second baseman/manager Miller Huggins
Victim: Tommy Leach, Reds
In a play involving two stars near the end of their playing careers, Huggins nailed Leach, precipitating a fistfight between Reds manager Buck Herzog and umpire Cy Rigler that landed both of them in jail. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The fracas which eventuated in the arrest of the umpire and manager was imposed suddenly upon some 6000 fans in the seventh inning of a game which the Cardinals won from the Reds, 9–5…. Manager Herzog exploded when Tommy Leach, his veteran outfielder, was victimized on the hidden ball trick, a moth-eaten affair, by Manager Huggins. This play took place at second base. Hug held the ball until Leach wandered off second and then dove for his prey and landed him. Umpire [Bill] Hart, officiating on the bases, didn’t see the play. He appealed to Rigler, who was behind the plate. Rigler called Leach out. Then Herzog rushed at the umpire. Rigler promptly ordered Herzog out of the game. The Cincinnati manager went to the bench but returned and renewed his argument with Rigler. He tapped Rigler on the chest with his index finger…Rigler hit Herzog with his mask and then followed with blows from his fist. The pair clinched and fists were flying freely.” After the game, both men were arrested on peace disturbance charges, and each was fined $5.
Date: July 4, 1918 (second game)
Teams: Detroit Tigers vs. Chicago White Sox (AL)
Perpetrator: Tigers first baseman Ty Cobb
Victim: Joe Benz, White Sox
In the second game of a holiday doubleheader, Cobb (in one of his 14 career games at first base) was inspired by Bob Fisher’s trick the day before. According to the Detroit Free Press, “Cobb, having read in the papers of the old hidden ball trick used on Dode Paskert in St. Louis Wednesday, thought he’d try it and he made good, too. In the sixth inning [the White Sox’ Fred] McMullin was on third and [Otto] Jacobs on first with one out when Benz tapped to the pitcher. McMullin was run down and the ball was thrown to second later for a play on Jacobs. It got away from [Pep] Young and was recovered by Cobb, who tucked it under his arm, walked back to first base…and when Benz stepped off the bag, Ty stung him with the ball.”
Date: September 2, 1918 (second game)
Teams: Chicago White Sox vs. Detroit Tigers (AL)
Perpetrator: White Sox third baseman Babe Pinelli
Victim: George Harper, Tigers
According to the Toledo Blade, rookie Pinelli caught Harper with manager Hughie Jennings coaching. It was during the second game of this season-ending doubleheader at Detroit, and there was a feeling that this could be the last regular-season baseball game of the foreseeable future. The campaign was being cut short by World War I, and the game featured a squad of military airplanes exhibiting maneuvers above the field. According to the Detroit Free Press, “George Harper helped to make this game historic, by allowing Pinelli, the Sox recruit third sacker, to pull the hidden ball trick on him. It made Harper look bad…. In the inning in which Harper was nailed it looked like the Tigers must have a bat on their opponents, a double, two singles and a long fly that enabled two runners to advance a base, being bunched without a run resulting, and with only one man left.” The Detroit News wrote, “George also fell victim to the hidden ball trick in the second game. Harper watched the airplanes, after getting as far as third base, and Pinelli shoved the ball into his ribs.” Detroit still won, 7–3, but Harper announced afterward that he was thinking of enlisting in the Navy.
1. Dickson, P. 1999. The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary (pp. 244–245).
2. The Sporting Life, June 25, 1884.
3. New York Sun, Sept. 29, 1893.
4. Neft, D., and R. Cohen. 1990. The World Series (p. 20).
5. Boren, S. 1991. “Blunders on the Base Paths Part of World Series Lore,” Baseball Digest, October.
6. Detroit Times, May 16, 1908.
7. Chicago Tribune, Sept. 23, 1910.
8. New York Times, July 15, 1912.
9. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2, 1915, sports p. 1.
10. Detroit Free Press, July 5, 1918.
11. Toledo Blade, April 20, 1925.
12. Detroit News, Sept. 3, 1918.
Baseball is a comforting game, echoing the rhythms and events of games gone by and recalling the past, one’s own and the nation’s. Yet even for those who have witnessed thousands of games, baseball holds out the prospect on any given day of seeing something that’s never been seen before. This past week provided such a privilege, as the Padres’ Andrew Cashner, facing the Mets, became the first pitcher to give up ten or more hits while also striking out ten or more batters in fewer than five innings. On the very next day, in the very same ballpark, Mets rookie Noah Syndergaard did the same thing.
1875: In St. Louis‚ the Boston Red Stockings suffer their first defeat of the season after 26 victories and one draw. After the Browns’ pitcher George Bradley records the last out, the crowd rushes onto the field and lifts him to their shoulders. Boston will go 34–8 on the road and will win all 37 its home games, a level of success that spelled doom for the five-year-old National Association.
1890: Rookie Billy Rhines pitches Cincinnati to a 9-1 win over Pittsburgh. Rhines invented the “raise curve” or upshoot, made famous by Joe McGinnity, an underhand pitcher, or submariner, whose knuckles would almost scrape the ground. He described his specialty, the raise curve, as “the heritage of the old days of pitching—when no curves were known—combined with the outcurve of the present day.” In 1896, Sporting News reported, “the underhanded movement of Billy Rhynes [Rhines] … though an old swing, is new to the majority of major league batsmen, and therein lies its effectiveness.”
1914: Opelika (Georgia-Alabama League) pitcher John Cantley slugs three grand slams and a single for 15 RBIs in a game against Talladega‚ winning the contest 19-1. He won 17 games that year, too.
1892: President Benjamin Harrison watches Washington go down to a 7-4 defeat to Cincinnati in 11 innings. It marks the first visit to a ML game by a seated President. Ulysses S. Grant had attended the opening game of the new National League club in New York in 1883, but he had finished his second term in office some years earlier. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/02/26/our-baseball-presidents/
1934: Myril Hoag‚ subbing for Babe Ruth‚ records six singles in six at bats in the first game of a doubleheader with the Red Sox. The Yanks rout Lefty Grove and roll to a 15-3 win. For more, see: http://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/hoag_myril.htm
1972: Sadaharu Oh of the Yomiuri Giants hits home runs 499 and 500. At the end of his 22-year career, his home run total was 868.
1884: Charlie Sweeney of Providence strikes out 19 Boston Red Stockings to establish a major-league record for a nine-inning game. It will be tied a month later by Hugh “One Arm” Daily (whose 20th strikeout was not counted, by the rules of the day, because the batter reached first base), but not broken until Roger Clemens fans 20 on April 29‚ 1986. Sweeney would resign from the Providence club in July, compelling Hoss Radbourn to pitch nearly all of the club’s remaining games. For more, see: http://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/june-7-1884-sweeney-strikes-out-nineteen
1911: After two years on the vaudeville circuit with his wife Mabel Hite‚ “Turkey Mike” Donlin is reinstated by the National Commission. He rejoins the Giants‚ but after 12 games the .333 lifetime hitter is traded to the last-place NL Boston Rustlers.
1966: The New York Mets‚ picking first in the June free-agent draft‚ pass up Arizona State’s Reggie Jackson to select catcher Steve Chilcott. The A’s take Jackson with the 2nd pick. After six years in the minors Chilcott will retire as the only number-one pick never to play in the major leagues.
1876: The Chicago Tribune reports the following: “One of the stupidest ideas that ever entered into the head of base-ball managers is the new arrangement on the Hartford grounds‚ by which they refuse to permit the transmission of any report of the game by innings. As the ‘Courant’ well says‚ those who have been visitors to the bulletins are those who have an interest in the game‚ which is kept alive by their opportunity of watching the board‚ and the increased interest they have had has made them visitors to the games when a game of special interest has been played‚ or when they could get away from their business to attend. Not to continue the score by innings is to remove a very excellent and cheap feature of advertising‚ and‚ in a money way‚ to cause a loss to the ball manager.”
1921: Babe Ruth is arrested for speeding in New York‚ fined $100‚ and held in jail until 4:00 P.M. Game time is 3:15‚ so a uniform is taken to him. He changes in jail and follows a police escort to the ballpark where he enters with the Yankees trailing 3-2. They rally for a 4-3 win. This wild ride to the ballpark is echoed in 1928—although the destination is Yankee Stadium, not the Polo Grounds—in Harold Lloyd’s Speedy, in which Ruth plays himself. For more, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpZiYOKQihg
1955: The Dodgers option P Tommy Lasorda to Montreal to make room on the roster for Sandy Koufax‚ who has been on the injury list. At this time, rules called for any “bonus baby”—an amateur signed for more than $4,000—to spend two years on a big-league roster.
1887: New York Metropolitans right fielder Jack “Candy” Nelson starts three double plays‚ two on throws to home and one to start an infield rundown. Only two other outfielders have tied this record: Jack McCarthy in 1905 (4/26/05) and Ira Flagstead in 1926.
1907: Throwing the only perfect game of his career‚ Weiser (Idaho) pitcher Walter Johnson beats Emmett‚ 11-0. He strikes out 14. The Washington Senators sign him in July of this year and he starts his first big-league game the following month.
1963: The Colt .45s beat the Giants 3-0 in the major leagues’ first Sunday night game. Today Sunday Night Baseball is an institution on national television. But on this date it is decidedly an exception to the rules, on account of Houston’s oppressive daytime heat. A Sunday night game had been scheduled in St. Louis for this very date in 1950, but Commissioner Happy Chandler ordered the Cardinals to cancel it.
1892: Wilbert Robinson‚ Baltimore Orioles catcher‚ goes 7-for-7 in a nine-inning game and, it is later accounted, drives in 11 runs‚ a record that stands until Jim Bottomley topped it in 1924. Pittsburgh’s Rennie Stennett tied the mark in 1975. In extra inning games, Detroit’s Cesar Gutierrez went 7-for-7 in 1970 and, in 1932, Cleveland’s Johnny Burnett collected nine hits in eleven at bats.
1944: Joe Nuxhall‚ only 15 years‚ 10 months old‚ pitches two-thirds of an inning in the Cincinnati Reds’ 18-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He allows five walks and two hits before manager Bill McKechnie pulls him. Nuxhall would return to the majors eight years later and become a successful starting pitcher. For many years it was thought only Fred Chapman‚ age 14‚ had been the youngest player in major-league history. However, later research revealed that the Chapman who pitched in the game of July 22‚ 1887‚ was actually Frank Chapman, age 25, whom the A’s had picked up from the Reading club in the Pennsylvania State Association. The youngest player to hit the big leagues and stick was 16-year-old Willie McGill, a little lefthander who pitched for Cleveland in the Players League of 1890.
1959: Rocky Colavito hits four consecutive home runs in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium to lead the Indians to an 11-8 win. For more, see: http://sabr.org/research/four-homers-one-game
1902: Connie Mack signs Rube Waddell to a contract with the Philadelphia A’s. The Rube, a former big-leaguer, was pitching in the Pacific Coast League, where he had already won 12 games with Los Angeles. He did not pitch his first game for the A’s until June 26, then proceeded to win 10 games in July, a feat unmatched by any hurler in any month since. His 24 wins for the A’s came over a period of only 87 games the club played. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/06/29/rube-waddell-baseballs-peter-pan/
1947: Mel Ott, who broke in with the Giants at age 17, in 1926, makes his last appearance as a player. Pinch hitting for pitcher Ken Trinkle in New York’s 8-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the player-manager pops to short.
1995: Oakland’s Mark McGwire hits three consecutive home runs in an 8-1 win over the Red Sox. McGwire hit two homers yesterday‚ giving him a record-tying five in two consecutive games. He is the 15th player to do so (the first was Cap Anson), and with Ralph Kiner the only to do so twice. Bryce Harper did it last month. For more, see: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/rb_hr5.shtml
George Wright (1847-1937), the first hero of the professional era in baseball, presented this little essay in person at the Columbia Historical Society in Washington, D.C. on May 20, 1919. It was published by the Society in the following year. Much of what Wright relates predates his earliest experience of playing the game, at age 14 in 1861, and is a bit of an undigested hash. But baseball was surely discussed in his household when he was a tyke, for his brother Harry had joined the Knickerbocker Baseball Club in 1857, and his father, Sam, had been the professional of the St. George’s Cricket Club before that, and must have been present for early baseball matches. Some material may also reflect the received wisdom of Henry Chadwick and Albert Spalding, especially as gleaned from the latter’s America’s National Game (1911). Caveats aside, this is an interesting recollection by septuagenarian George Wright, a full half century after he wore the Old English “C” of the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings and became the idol of the age.
It was in the thirties or earlier, that a Bat and Ball were used in introducing the game called “Town Ball” or “Round Ball,”which was generally played throughout New York, the New England States, and Philadelphia. Later the game worked westward.
In those days it was the custom to throw the ball at the base runner in place of touching him with it, as is done in the game of today. The bases were laid out differently; in place of a canvas bag for a base, a wooden stake three to four feet high was driven in the ground. The game was won by the side first making either twenty-one or fifty runs, as agreed upon. The balls used were of different sizes; the inside was made of rubber strips cut from old rubber shoes and covered with leather. There were no set rules.
It was from these early days that the foundation of the game of the present day was taken. Abner Doubleday about 1839, subsequently graduated from West Point, entered the regular army, and is credited with drawing the first diamond-shaped baseball field, which was introduced later on.
In 1843 a number of gentlemen fond of the game, assembled and played on a plot of ground at 27th Street and Fourth Avenue, now occupied by the Madison Square Garden, New York City.
The march of improvement made a change of base necessary, and the following year they met at the next most convenient place, the north slope of Murray Hill, between 40th and 21st Streets, Fourth Avenue.
In the spring of 1845, those who had become enthusiastic over the game, one day on the field proposed a regular organization, and at a meeting held shortly afterwards, a board of recruiting officers was appointed, and as it was apparent to them that they would soon be driven from Murray Hill, it was suggested that some suitable place should be obtained in New Jersey, where their stay could be permanent; accordingly a day was selected, and enough men to make a game, assembled at Barclay Street Ferry, crossed over to Hoboken, marched up the road, prospecting for ground on each side, until they reached the Elysian Fields, where they “settled.” Thus it occurred that a party of gentlemen formed an organization, combining health, recreation, and social enjoyment. In the fall of the same year the first baseball club was organized–the “Knickerbocker,” which made the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, the club’s headquarters, where, it is thought, the first diamond-shaped baseball field was laid out.
Between this time and 1856 many clubs were formed throughout New York City and Brooklyn. A meeting was held in New York on the 6th of December, 1856, the object being the calling of a general baseball convention. A committee was appointed which decided on the 22d day of January, 1857, as the day of the meeting when playing rules were to be adopted adopted. This
was the first step in the organization of an association of baseball clubs. A new rule was brought up before the meeting, which was to catch the ball on the fly, in place of the bound, but nothing was done about it. The fly game was originated by a Mr. [James Whyte] Davis, who worked hard to induce his club, the Knickerbockers, to adopt it, and finally succeeded.
On June 30, 1858, Mr. Davis arranged a match between the Knickerbockers of New York and the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn, two first-class clubs in those days, to test the fly game and give up the boy’s play of catching the ball on a bound. Both nines as well as those present, pronounced it a success, and it proved the shortest game on record. It was thought that it would result in being made a rule at the next convention, but it failed. After repeated attempts in later years, the “fly” game rule was adopted at a meeting in 1865, after being bitterly opposed, but it did more to improve the game than any other change in the rules.
In 1858 the ball used was improved upon; it was made smaller and lighter. From being 5-1/2 ounces in weight it, was made 5-1/4. In size, from 9-1/2 or 9-3/4 in circumference, it was reduced to 9 or not more than 9-1/4. The inside contained an ounce of moulded rubber wound tightly with woolen yarn and covered with horsehide, causing it to be a very lively ball.
The game was now becoming very popular throughout the country; clubs were organized in all directions, which continued until the breaking out of the Civil War in 1861, when there was but little baseball played until the war was over. It again started up with new life in 1865, particularly at Washington, D. C, where clubs were organized in the departments of the Government by the clerks, playing on grounds laid out on the White Lot, in the rear of the White House.
Outside of the departmental clubs, the National, Olympic, and Jefferson clubs were organized about the same time and played on enclosed grounds located on 15th Street.
During the year 1867 Col. Frank Jones, a great admirer of the game and president of the National Club took that Club on a trip west, playing at Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago, winning eight out of nine games and losing one at Chicago to the Forest City Club of Rockford, Ill.
The nine on the trip were, [Harry] Berthrong, Catcher; [Billy “Swift”] Williams, Pitcher; [George Horace Elliot] Fletcher, First Base; [George] Fox, Third Base; George Wright, Short Stop; [Val] Robinson, Left Field; [Sy] Studley, Center Field; and [Harry] McLean, Right Field; with [FRank Prescott] Norton, [Eben] Smith and [Billy] Hodges as extra players. The trip caused much interest at Washington among the club supporters and admirers of the game. The National was the first club to visit the western cities.
About this time, 1868, curved pitching was introduced by Arthur Cummings, pitcher of the Star Club of Brooklyn N. Y.
In 1869 the Cincinnati got together a strong nine (the best players obtainable) known as the “Red Stockings “–the first club to wear short trousers and long stockings, and the first club to have contracts with their players to play for a stated salary for the season. The nine went into regular training, the advantage of which was that a record was made which has not been equalled to the present day, playing fifty-seven games, not losing a game during the season, playing all clubs of prominence from the Atlantic to the Pacific, causing quite a commotion in baseball throughout the country, and resulting in most of the large cities which had clubs, placing players under contract for the playing season. This was really the start of professional baseball. Before this, players in such clubs as the Atlantics, Mutual Union and Athletics (which clubs had enclosed grounds) received a percentage of the gate receipts.
In the fall of 1870 the Red Stockings disbanded, part of the nine going to Boston where they introduced professional baseball for the first time, and the remainder joining the Olympic Club of Washington.
During the season of 1874 the Boston and Athletic Clubs made a trip abroad, playing in the larger cities of England, Ireland and Scotland. The idea was to introduce our American game of baseball. The games were played on enclosed Cricket Grounds. Many well-contested matches were played between the two teams, but the game did not seem to impress the clubs or athletic public enough to have them take up the game. Fourteen games were played during the trip, Boston winning eight and the Athletics six.
In 1873 the double covered ball was adopted as the official ball. The catcher’s mask was introduced in the year 1876, and very shortly afterwards, the chest protector and gloves.
During the years between 1873 and 1876, neither the clubs nor players were under the proper control. The game was getting into the hands of gamblers, mostly due to the weakness of the Baseball Association in not controlling and stopping it. Seeing that something had to be done, in the fall of 1876, the National League of Professional Baseball was organized by men of integrity and ability, led by the president of the Chicago Baseball Club [William A. Hulbert], who made a thorough investigation of the existing conditions, which resulted in the expulsion of four leading players of the Louisville Club for selling games. These players were never allowed to return. This destroyed the gambling element in connection with baseball and proved a warning to all future professional players. The game ran along smoothly until 1890 when the players of the country organized a Brotherhood or Player’s League, composed of the best players, which placed clubs in the large cities. The league lasted only two years as it was poorly managed.
Again the game continued without anything important happening until 1900, when the American League Baseball Association came into existence, well equipped in the way of executive officers of ability, well backed financially, and with many of the best players of the country. Teams were placed in New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Washington, and proved a success from the start. The coming of this new association placed the game on a solid foundation. The old league had been careless in many ways and recognized the fact. The two leagues now worked together harmoniously. The new league brought many improvements, one of which was the umpire system, making the umpire absolute master of the field during a game. This has greatly helped to make the game what it is today–the popular sport with the American public and the national game of the country.
This week we leave May behind and enter June, having completed about 30 percent of the 2015 regular-season campaign. The newsboy depicted at left is probably shouting, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” … or some variation on that theme. News is omnipresent now, with updates and tweets keeping us up to the minute, let alone the hour–or, as when baseball began, the past couple of days. But speed on the field and in the receipt of information have always been of the essence in baseball.
The nineteenth century version of the internet was, of course, the telegraph. In the early years of the National League, a Chicago swindler presented a concrete example of how the wire worked in poolrooms. His company paid three dollars for three wire reports, one each three innings, on games in progress. It then sold the information, one inning at a time, to twelve subscribers, usually poolrooms or saloons, for forty cents an inning (plus the cost of the messenger boys), the proprietor thus receiving a total of $43.20. The men in these establishments then bet furiously on each coming inning. The aggregator himself, a fellow named Lauderbeck, was accused of betting on each of the succeeding two innings in his wire report, being for a while in sole possession of the outcome. More tidbits below, tied to the week upcoming:
1915: Babe Ruth, not yet recognized as the Home Run King allows one hit through 8 innings but he and his Red Sox lose‚ 2-1‚ when the A’s A’s Harry Davis hits a 2-run pinch single. Davis had been known as “Home Run” Davis for leading the American League in home runs in four straight seasons (1904-07). Davis later relinquished the nickname to teammate Frank Baker, who also led AL in homers four straight times (1911-14). For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/61ebb0fe
1922: The U.S. Supreme Court rules baseball is not interstate commerce‚ and the Baltimore Feds lose their case. The request for a rehearing will be denied. Despite repeated challenges in the decades to come, the ruling stands to this day.
1952: Willie Mays enters the army and will miss the rest of this season and all of the next. Meanwhile‚ the Giants lose another young Birmingham player as Boston Braves scout Dewey Griggs signs Henry Aaron to a contract. The Indianapolis Clowns receive telegram offers from both clubs‚ but Aaron prefers his chances to make the Braves.
1876: Chicago‚ with four Boston stars of 1875 in their lineup‚ play their first NL game in Boston. When word had leaked in the summer of ’75 that Chicago had stripped Boston of its stars for the following season, a columnist for the Worcester Spy wrote of Boston’s loss: “Like Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted because the famous baseball nine, the perennial champion, the city’s most cherished possession, has been captured by Chicago.” The White Stockings, who had also raided the Philadelphia Athletics to obtain Adrian Anson, indeed went on to win the pennant.
1894: Boston second baseman Bobby Lowe homers in four consecutive at bats‚ becoming the first major leaguer to do so. Here he is pictured with Lou Gehrig, who in this week in 1932 would do it too. For more, see: http://sabr.org/research/four-homers-one-game
1935: Babe Ruth calls it quits, playing only the first inning of the opener of a doubleheader between Boston and Philadelphia at Baker Bowl‚ going 0-for-1. Five days earlier, at Pittsburgh on May 25, he had hit his final three home runs.
1927: Detroit first sacker Johnny Neun pulls off the second unassisted triple play in two days. Only the seventh in MLB history, it came a day after Jimmy Cooney of the Cubs had worked the trick. For more, see: http://sabr.org/tripleplays
1944: Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma “Buster” McLish‚ 18 years old‚ picks up his first big-league win for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Fifteen years later he would win 19 and become an all-star with the Cleveland Indians.
1950: With their record 8-25 and in last place‚ the St. Louis Browns fire Dr. David F. Tracy. Tracy‚ a New York psychologist‚ had been hired to help the players overcome their feelings of inadequacy.
1895: Today’s issue of the weekly Sporting Life reports that “The Minneapolis team now on its uniforms advertises a brand of flour made in Minneapolis. The other clubs should follow suit-Kansas City advertising canned beef‚ Milwaukee [advertising] beer‚ and St. Paul‚ ice wagons.”
1975: The Angels’ Nolan Ryan pitches his fourth career no-hitter‚ winning 1-0 over the Orioles‚ to tie the record set by Sandy Koufax. Today’s win is his 100th.
2001: In a rarity at Yankee Stadium, Cleveland starter C.C. Sabathia earns a win, in accordance with the rules, despite pitching only four innings. The game is called because of rain after five innings with the Tribe ahead‚ 7-2.
1887: George W. “Watch” Burnham is fired as manager of the last-place Indianapolis club. Four years earlier he had won his nickname thus: As an umpire he was viewed with scorn by both Chicago and Cleveland players. Before the next day’s game at Cleveland, Burnham was presented with a gold watch at the home plate, inscribed: “Presented to George W. Burnham by his Cleveland friends, July 25, 1883.” It was later learned that Burnham bought the watch himself, had it inscribed and arranged for the presentation. Forever after he was known as “Watch.”
1932: Buzz Arlett is another (see Lowe and Gehrig, above) who hits four home runs in a game, though for Baltimore in an International League game. Arlett played in the big leagues the previous year, hitting .313 with 18 homers for Philadelphia. But it was in the minors where he was a terror, including 54 homers in 1932. For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/4419031b
1954: How great were the Cleveland Indians of ’54, a team that finished 111-43? At Yankee Stadium on this day‚ the Yanks tag Early Wynn and reliever Don Mossi for seven runs in the first inning. Beginning in the next inning, however, Mossi and four other relievers hold New York hitless for nine innings and the Indians win in the tenth, 8-7.
1888: The poem “Casey at the Bat” is published in William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. Though credited only to “Phin,” the immortal ballad was the creation of Hearst’s Harvard classmate Ernest Lawrence Thayer. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/01/14/casey-doubleheader-game-two/
1898: Jack Clements of St. Louis becomes the first man to catch 1‚000 games. He drives in the winning run in a 5-4 victory over Baltimore. He is a lefty thrower.
1932: In Philadelphia‚ Lou Gehrig hits four consecutive home runs yet takes second billing, as usual—this time not to Babe Ruth but to Giants’ manager John McGraw‚ who on this day announced his resignation after 30 years with the club.
1912: On Napoleon Lajoie Day in Cleveland‚ the player-manager receives a horseshoe of flowers filled with 1‚000 silver dollars‚ a gift from the fans. His teammates chip in with $125 in gold.
1947: In the fifth inning at Ebbets Field‚ Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser crashes into the fence and is knocked unconscious. He still manages to hold onto the long fly to help the Dodgers win over Pittsburgh. In the clubhouse a priest administers the last rites of the Catholic Church to Reiser‚ who will be hospitalized for ten days.
1986: Pirates outfielder Barry Bonds goes 4-for-5 with his first big-league home run (off Craig McMurtry) as Pittsburgh whips Atlanta 12-3.
I spotted this in the Brownstown, Indiana Banner of July 8, 1887, but it originates with the Boston Globe, for which Tim Murnane long served as sporting editor and columnist. I wrote elsewhere at Our Game: “In 1886 Murnane was engaged, together with John J. Drohan, to do baseball work as a staffer for the Globe. When Drohan soon left, Murnane was given full charge, rising to head the entire sports department for a generation….When he died at age 65 he was not only the voice of baseball in Boston; his opinionated style had become a national institution.” Much more about “The Silver King” here: http://goo.gl/MsZFJd
Clever and Scientific Curving, Shoots, Raises and Drops from the Box.
It was by slow stages, writes T. H. Murnane, that the present high standing of the pitcher’s art was attained. Arthur [“Candy”] Cummings, a Brooklyn youth, was the first to bring into use the out-curve. H e was known as the boy wonder, back in 1869, with the Stars, of Brooklyn. I have heard him tell how he first discovered the curve. He was pitching against a picked nine one day and noticed the ball curving. He had no difficulty in striking the batsman out, and went home that night and tried to study out the phenomenon. The next day he invited some gentlemen friends out to see him work. They laughed at him, and when he tried to convince them that he could accomplish what he claimed he failed, as no doubt in his anxiety he sent the ball too fast, and very little curve can be got on a speedy-pitched ball. He was not discouraged, however, but went out with his catcher the next day and learned that the curve came from a certain twist he gave his wrist. He worked hard until he go good control of the new move and then astonished the scientific world. Cummings was of slight build, his pitching was very graceful, and his curve was of the sailing kind, much like Caruthers’ of the St. Louis Browns.
Matthews [Bobby Mathews] was undoubtedly the first pitcher to work the raise ball, as far back as 1869. I never saw him pitch an out-curve until 1878, and I faced his pitching for several years before that. In 1878 Matthews was with the Worcester and pitched against the Bostons, defeating them. He had changed his style altogether from previous years and adopted one-arm Daily’s style, that is, making a double motion by drawing back before delivering the ball. With his headwork and the addition of the curve he jumped into the front ranks once more.
In 1872 Avery, the famous Yale pitcher, discovered the “in-shoot.” I don’t think he could curve a ball, at least I never saw him do it, and I hit against his pitching several times. His effectiveness was handicapped by the inability of his catcher to hold him, as without doubt the “in-shoot” is the most difficult ball to handle, for in those days the catchers were not protected with gloves or masks.
Fred Nichols, better known as “Tricky Nick,” was the first to make good use of the drop ball. He was a great puzzle to the heavy hitters in 1875-6. At Bridgeport and New Haven, Conn., Nichols got a great drop on the ball, when pitchers had to keep their hand below the belt, which would puzzle any of our twirlers of the present day to accomplish.
The next ball that seemed to bother the batters was introduced by [Henry] McCormick, of the Stars, of Syracuse [winner of 59 games in 1877]. This young pitcher had Mike Dorgan, now of the New Yorks, for catcher. They shut out about all the crack clubs of the country that paid them a visit. The ball he deceived the batsmen with was a raise curve, now used by Radbourn, of the Bostons. He gave his field easy chances; the out-field had most of the work to do off his pitching. I never saw him pitch a ball below a man’s belt. He had perfect control of the ball and a cool head.
All these different curves, raises, shoots and drops were discovered by different people. It is now no unusual thing to find a pitcher with all these points and many more wrinkles that they keep working up. Change of pace was most beautifully illustrated by Al. Spalding in the old Boston champions. Tim Keefe, of the New Yorks, is now the most successful in that line, while Clarkson, of the Chicagos, is also working the change of pace to good advantage. Will White and John Ward were about the first to work the sharp curve and “in-shoot” as far back as 1878. One of the greatest pitchers, if not the greatest that ever twirled a ball, was Charley Sweeney, who was with the Providence club in 1883-4. He was the first and only man that I ever saw who could curve an out-ball to a left hand batsman. Several of the pitchers can get a shoot, but his was a clean curve. He has the unequaled record, up to the present day, of nineteen strike-outs in one game.—Boston Globe.
This is getting to be a habit—one darn week after another—and there is so much great baseball history to share with you. “Old News” is chugging along, with this fourth entry featuring events of May 22-28. To this point we have steered clear of the generally dreary litany of birthdates and deathdates (although this may become impossible if we extend into the offseason). Old News could mean anything from last night’s box score to Abner Doubleday’s brainstorm (if he had actually had one). But most of the entries here will be from twenty years back to a century and more. “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” So wrote L.P. Hartley in The Go-Between, a 1953 novel. And because it is different, even in “the unchanging game,” one needs a guide, or a newsboy, to understand it.
1880: Jim Galvin makes his first appearance of the season for Buffalo‚ beating Cincinnati 2-1. Galvin had difficulty leaving California‚ where he had been playing for the San Francisco Athletics. He was forced to walk 36 miles at one point to avoid local detectives who were trying to hold him to his California League contract. In a little-known fact, Galvin, on May 17, 1876, had thrown the first perfect game in professional baseball history. For more, see: http://thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/2009/01/first-perfect-game.html
1935: After a ruling by Commissioner Landis in which he states that Alabama Pitts has paid his debt to society‚ the Albany Senators (IL) sign the parolee from Sing Sing prison. Pitts will have two hits in his first game but soon Albany will release him. He’ll sign with York (New York-Penn) and move on to the Charlotte Hornets (Carolina) on July 28‚ 1936. On June 7‚ 1941‚ Pitts will die after getting knifed in a barroom brawl. For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/d7db6951
1959: Baltimore’s Hoyt Wilhelm continues his dominance over the Yankees. On this day he one-hits the Yankees 5-0‚ with Jerry Lumpe’s single in the 8th the spoiler. On May 28‚ he will beat the Yankees again‚ 5-0. On September 29 of the previous year, in a game I watched on television, Wilhelm no-hit the Yanks, 1-0, as the only run came on a home run by batterymate Gus Triandos.
1901: At Cleveland’s League Park‚ the Blues score nine runs after two outs in the ninth inning to defeat the Washington Nationals 14-13. Down to its last strike‚ Cleveland put the next ten men on base‚ winning the game on an error. Winning pitcher Bill Hoffer‚ who had given up the 13 runs‚ is carried off the field by the delirious crowd. This sort of thing has becomes a hallmark of the new American League in its first season as a major circuit: On Opening Day, April 25, the Tigers defeated Milwaukee by this same score of 14-13, scoring ten runs in the bottom of the ninth.
1906: In Oakland‚ the San Francisco Seals play the first Pacific Coast League game in the Bay Area since the earthquake‚ beating the Fresno Raisin Pickers‚ 4-3. Nearly a month earlier, on April 29, 1906, in a symbolic display of national unity, New York City’s ban on Sunday ball had been lifted so the Highlanders could play game against the Philadelphia Athletics to benefit victims of the San Francisco earthquake.
2002: At Miller Park in Milwaukee‚ the Dodgers’ Shawn Green sets an all-time record. He goes six-for-six, scoring six and driving in seven. Included among his six hits are four home runs, a double, and a single. His 19 total bases top Joe Adcock’s former mark of 18 set in 1954. Before today’s power display‚ Green had gone 0-for-15.
1880: Troy rookie Roger Connor hits his first ML home run‚ off Boston’s Tommy Bond in the bottom of the second inning with two men on. He adds a triple and two singles as the Trojans beat the Red Stockings‚ 8-1. When Connor retires in 1897 he will have 138 homers‚ a record that will stand until Babe Ruth breaks it on July 18, 1921. For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/4ef2cfff
1935: The Cincinnati Reds host the Philadelphia Phillies in MLB’s first night game‚ winning 2-1 before a crowd of 24‚422. President Roosevelt throws the switch at the White House to turn on the lights. For more, see: http://research.sabr.org/journals/under-the-lights
1936: Yankees second baseman Tony Lazzeri sets several slugging marks with two grand slams‚ another homer, and a triple for 15 total bases in a 25-2 slaughter of the Athletics at Shibe Park. He also sets a new American League mark, still standing, of 11 RBIs in one game.
1871: The heavily favored Mutuals of New York are soundly defeated by the Haymakers of Troy‚ at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn‚ 25-10. Lipman Pike of Troy collects six hits.
1922: The U.S. Supreme Court‚ in a resounding 9-0 decision‚ rules that baseball is not an interstate business. The suit had been brought by the Federal League’s Baltimore franchise, disbanded after the 1915 season. For more, see Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s account of the case: http://sabr.org/research/alito-origin-baseball-antitrust-exemption
1935: Babe Ruth has a last hurrah‚ hitting 3 home runs at Pittsburgh. The first shot is hit off Red Lucas‚ while the last two homers come off Guy Bush. The final one‚ the last of his 714 career HRs‚ is the first to clear the RF grandstand at Forbes Field and is measured at 600 feet. Bush said‚ ‘I never saw a ball hit so hard before or since. He was fat and old‚ but he still had that great swing. Even when he missed‚ you could hear the bat go swish. I can’t remember anything about the first home run he hit off me that day. I guess it was just another homer. But I can’t forget that last one. It’s probably still going.”
1940: The Reds receive their 1939 World Series rings from Commissioner Landis and then beat the Cardinals 1-0 on Paul Derringer’s one-hitter. In the stands are 21 fans who saw the 1869 champion Red Stockings in action.
1955: Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe hits a triple and then steals home in the ninth inning in Pittsburgh. Newk was no speedster; he was running toward the plate on an attempted squeeze play by Jim Gilliam. On a pitchout to foil the squeeze, the ball got away from Bucs’ catcher Jack Shepard.
1959: Harvey Haddix of the Pirates pitches a perfect game against Milwaukee for 12 innings‚ only to lose in the 13th. Felix Mantilla opens the bottom of the 13th inning by reaching base on an error by third baseman Don Hoak. A sacrifice and an intentional walk to Hank Aaron brings up Joe Adcock‚ who hits one out of the park in right-center for an apparent 3-0 victory. Aaron pulls a “Merkle‚” leaving the field‚ and Adcock passes him on the basepaths. Both are called out as Mantilla scores. Initially the score is 2-0 as Aaron returns and scores; it is later called a 1-0 game. Lew Burdette goes all 13 innings for the win‚ scattering a dozen hits.
1897: In a 16-7 loss to Boston‚ the Reds player-manager Buck Ewing plays the last game in his 18-season career. Many at the time called him the greatest ballplayer of the century, exceeding even Cap Anson and King Kelly.
1959: National League President Warren Giles rules that the final score of the Harvey Haddix perfect game should be amended to 1-0. Adcock is credited with a double and not a home run.
1991: In a game against the Portland Beavers at Civic Stadium‚ Portland‚ Vancouver OF Rodney McCray runs through a plywood fence in right field while trying to catch a ball hit by Chip Hale. McCray was not hurt seriously‚ but becomes an instant celebrity. For more, see: http://m.mlb.com/video/v13110567/rodney-mccray-crashes-through-the-outfield-fence
1883: At New York’s first Polo Grounds‚ at Fifth Avenue between 110th and 112th Streets, heavyweight boxing champ John L. Sullivan pitches his team to a 20-15 victory in an exhibition of semipro teams. More than 4‚000 fans are on hand to watch Sullivan play. He collects three hits, commits four errors, and pockets half of the game proceeds: $1‚595. He will continue tplay in and umpire baseball games into the late 1890s.
1903: At Boston‚ the Pirates edge the home club‚ 7-6. Debuting for Pittsburgh is outfielder Reddy Grey. He goes 1-for-3 in his only big-league appearance. While with Rochester, he had formed one-third of the “Red Headed Outfield,” later made famous as a story by his brother, Zane Grey. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/13/old-well-well/
2005: In Phoenix‚ the Dodgers’ Luis Terrero‚ batting against reliever Duaner Sanchez‚ hits a bouncer up the middle that goes high over Sanchez’s head. Sanchez throws his glove at the ball and hits it‚ knocking it down. His throw to first is late but Terrero is awarded a nearly unique infield triple. We must say “nearly” because the “ground-rule triple” was awarded at least once before: on July 27, 1947, with the culprit being St. Louis Browns pitcher Fred Sanford.
Who was Edward Sylvester Nolan? Look at his stats page at baseball-reference.com and one is hardly impressed: a lifetime pitching record of 23-52 in five seasons in the big leagues, spanning eight years with five clubs, and an ERA well below league average. His rookie year with Indianapolis in 1878, at the age 20, was notable principally for two separate suspensions—the first when he was accused of game-fixing (he was cleared); the second for lying about a sick brother so he could get time off to visit a prostitute. Nolan’s 13 wins were hardly enough to keep the new Indianapolis franchise afloat in the National League beyond its first season.
So why did fans sing his praises for generations to come, and award him the nickname “The Only”? And what the heck did it mean, anyhow? Nolan is one of my favorites; let me tell you why.
Nolan was born in Canada in 1857, but grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, where he played cricket and baseball. At the age of 16 he began to play baseball for the Paterson Keystones, along with Jim McCormick and King Kelly. He moved on to the Columbus Buckeyes in mid-1875, and starred for them in 1876. When Nolan signed with Indianapolis for 1877, McCormick replaced him as pitcher for the Buckeyes, with Kelly following on a few weeks later, as his catcher.
As to the sobriquet “The Only,” many have had theories. Wikipedia offers this:
A range of possible origins of the nickname “The Only” have been claimed over the years; one states that the reason for the name derives from the fact that no other Nolans, either first or last name had played or was playing in the majors at that time, therefore he was the only Nolan. The other is slightly more elaborate. In the period following the Civil War, a wildly successful minstrel performer of the day, named Francis Leon, rose to prominence performing a burlesque act while simultaneously in both blackface and drag. His popularity prompted many imitators. In response, Leon began billing himself and his act as “The Only Leon.” The theory follows then that Ed Nolan somehow reminded an observer of Leon, thus sparking the similar nickname.
The first explanation is patently absurd, the other is surprisingly near the truth. It appears that The Only Leon went so far as to copyright/trademark his nickname. But Nolan did not remind anyone of Leon. The nickname was common in circus and theatrical settings, as in the manner of “The One, The Only” Madame Fifi, for example.
The Bullpen section of baseball-reference.com offers this: “‘The Only’ was a common term during Nolan’s time, applied to anyone who excelled at something, although it must be noted that ‘The Only’ Nolan compiled a lifetime record of 23 wins and 52 losses.” But to look only at his MLB-recognized record misses the whole point.
Robert Smith, who really knew his baseball oldtimers, almost certainly got his info about Nolan from sportswriter Guy McI. Smith, who was born in Indianapolis in 1870 but lived in Danville, IL until his death in 1950. In 1952, Smith published Heroes of Baseball, which may have been the book that the two Smiths had planned to publish together before the elder one died in 1950. In that book there is a chapter on Nolan–right after the one on King Kelly, another “husky kid from Paterson,” as was Nolan. In February 1877 Nolan, fresh off a dazzling season with Columbus, accepted an offer of $2500 from club owner W.B. Pettit to pitch for Indianapolis. Now to quote Smith directly:
… Eddie went south in February, on what was probably the first spring training jaunt any organized club ever took [this is not so–jt]. The Indianapolis club, starting in New Orleans, won eleven straight games down south, six of them shutouts, and Eddie Nolan pitched them all. After that he became not Edward J. Nolan [the record books, in which his date and place of birth are in some disarray, have him as Edward S. Nolan] but simply “The Only Nolan,” and that was the name for the rest of his career.
We have no encyclopedic record for Nolan’s heroics with Indianapolis of the 1877 League Alliance at baseball-reference.com but Smith offers some astonishing marks that would tend to support the nickname:
In 1877 Nolan won more games by shutouts than most top-flight pitchers, in a single season nowadays, win by hook and crook. He pitched seventy-six complete games, won sixty-four, and tied eight. And he set the record that still stands: thirty shut outs in one season. In thirty-three games, just to rest up, he played right field.
One of the thirty shutouts was a no-hit no run job against Columbus. And two of them came on the same day, April 26, 1877, when he blanked Syracuse in both ends of a doubleheader, the first pitcher ever to accomplish such a feat.
No pitcher has ever equaled The Only’s earned run average which he set that year. He pitched to 3589 batters, and allowed 632 hits and 87 walks, with only 38 of the 131 runs against him being earned. For 76 games then, his earned run average was just 0.50.
Nor has anyone ever equaled his seasonal pitching percentage of .941 [64-4, with 8 ties].
These stats of Smith’s are pretty detailed, and yet we have nothing to speak of at baseball-reference.com, which leases its minor-league data from SABR. http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/league.cgi?id=a9132541
Ed Nolan was, in sum, the ultimate phenom, the Sidd Finch of his day. No man at any level of professional baseball, before or since, has won 64 games. It was during this year that he won the name “The Only,” which was also applied to his batterymate, Silver Flint, later famous with Anson’s White Stockings. In the major leagues, Hoss Radbourn won 59 for Providence in 1884; John Clarkson and Guy Hecker also topped 50 wins. In the National Association, Al Spalding went 54-5 in 1875 and 52-16 the year before. Harry McCormick was 59-39-2 for Syracuse, also in the League Alliance of 1877.
Maybe now is a good time to tell what the League Alliance was, before we talk a bit more about Nolan. The League Alliance was not a minor league at all but, like the International Association, an alternative league of somewhat loosely organized professional clubs. The National League contained only eight clubs in 1876 and six the year after, but the League Alliance contained thirteen clubs and the International Association another sixteen. The survival of the National League was by no means assured. The six NL clubs in 1877 suffered 73 defeats to nonleague clubs—especially the clubs from Syracuse, Lowell, Indianapolis, and Allegheny. Henry Chadwick, in the De Witt Guide, described these four clubs as being, with the six of the NL, the “ten most prominent” of the country.
After the game-fixing scandal involving four members of the Louisville club in 1877, the NL was reduced to four clubs (St. Louis dropped out in addition to Louisvile, as they had intended to field a club headed by Louisville conspirator Jim Devlin). So Indianapolis and Milwaukee were hurriedly admitted into the National League for 1878, maintaining its roster at six clubs.
Let Al Spink, founder of The Sporting News, pick up the story:
At the commencement of the 1878 year the directors of the Indianapolis non-league team, thinking they had a bonanza in Nolan, christened him “The Only Nolan,” joined the National League and set out to win the pennant of that organization. The attempt, however, was a wonderful failure, the club not only failing to win the league flag, but to make good for its directors. At a meeting of the club directors at the close of the 1878 season they found to their dismay that the playing year had closed with the club some $2,500 in debt and no money in the treasury to pay the salaries still due the players. Just before this meeting was held a club for the following season, 1879, had been talked of, and Clapp, McCormick, Warner and McKelvey had signed to play in it, but the sorrowful discovery made knocked this programme into a “cocked hat,” and the players who had signed were released…. In this Fall of 1878 soon after the discovery of the shortage this special dispatch was sent out from Indianapolis: “The Homeless Nine membership are still hanging about town awaiting payment by the stockholders in the busted baseball organization. The individual indebtedness to the players will average $250, on which $50 each has been paid. It is the understanding that will have to content, as they will get no more. The total indebtedness is said to exceed $5,000. Warner and Schaffer are threatening to place their claims in an attorney’s hands, and the rest will probably join them…. Not even a semiprofessional club will be maintained in this city next year, from the present outlook.” … The people of Indianapolis were so disappointed at the work of the team that had represented them so splendidly the year before that they repudiated it and wearing uniforms like that previously worn by the members of the St. Louis League team the nine went barn storming through the country and wherever they went they were called the … Homeless Browns.”
Nolan played the next two seasons in San Francisco–in 1879 with the Knickerbocker club, in 1880 with the Unions and then the Bay Citys. He resurfaced in the majors with Cleveland in 1881, where he went 8-14. One of ten players blacklisted by the league on September 29 for “confirmed dissipation and general insubordination,” he returned after a year’s suspension for a partial season in 1883 with Pittsburgh of the American Association, for whom he posted a record of 0-7. In this year a burlesque called “Thoughts about Potters” circulated in newspapers across the nation, featuring the quip that a potter “is a base ball star, and makes a better pitcher than the ‘only Nolan.'”
In 1884 he was 18-5 with Wilmington of the Eastern League when that club joined the Union Association. In the UA Wilmington went 2-16, with Nolan accounting for one of its victories. The next year he returned to the NL with Philadelphia, where his major league career ended after seven games. He pitched a few games for Savannah and Jersey City in 1886, but then he was done.
Nolan became a policeman in his home town of Paterson, New Jersey. He rose in the ranks, becoming a sergeant. On May 18, 1913, at the age of 55, he died suddenly from illness brought on by strenuous activity during the famous Paterson Silk Strike.
Like the proverbial bad penny, “Old News” is back, this time focusing on events from the week of May 15-21. The weather is heating up prematurely (at least back East, where I hammer out this column) and so are formerly chronic tail-end clubs, so maybe this will be a pennant race to remember—like, say, 1967, when it seemed, as in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, that all the clubs were above average. As before, I’ll relate what happened, why I think it’s interesting, and where you might find out a bit more if you’re so inclined. I limit myself to three or four entries per day, but I make no claim that these are the all-time keepers. They simply struck my fancy this week, and I hope they will have a like effect upon you.
1894: In the midst of a fight between Baltimore’s John McGraw and Boston’s Tommy Tucker in the third inning‚ a fires starts in the right-field stands at Boston’s South End Grounds, only six years old. The fire destroys $70‚000 worth of equipment as well as the park‚ perhaps the most beautiful baseball has ever produced. The fire spreads to adjacent blocks and eventually destroys 170 buildings and leaves 1900 homeless. The team moves to the Congress Street ballpark for several months before returning to a rebuilt but diminished Walpole Street Park.
1922: In a 4-1 win at New York‚ Ty Cobb beats out a grounder that shortstop Everett Scott bobbles. Fred Lieb scores it a hit in the box score he files with the Associated Press. But official scorer John Kieran of the New York Times gives an error to Scott. At season’s end‚ American League official records‚ based on AP box scores‚ list Cobb at .401. New York writers complain unsuccessfully‚ claiming it should be .399‚ based on the official scorer’s stats. Ban Johnson goes with the hit call that gave Cobb his third and final .400 season. For more, see: http://goo.gl/NqxZyH
1935: Lou Gehrig steals home in a 4-0 Yankee win over the Tigers. It is his 15th and last steal of home‚ all of them the front end of double steals. A lumbering runner, Lou nonetheless stands 18th all-time in steals of home, a category topped by Ty Cobb’s 54. The only postwar stars who stole more than Lou are Jackie Robinson (19) and Rod Carew (17). For more, see: http://research.sabr.org/journals/lou-who-stole-home-15-times
1889: At Baltimore’s American Park‚ the Orioles elect to bat first. Their leadoff hitter Mike Griffin hits a homer and is matched in the bottom of the first by Cincinnati Reds leadoff batter Bug Holliday. Holliday‚ a rookie‚ will tie for the National League lead in homers with 19. In an oddity permitted in those days, Holliday had actually made his major-league debut in Game 4 of the World Series of 1885, playing for the Chicago White Stockings against against the St. Louis Browns of the American Asociation. That game, played on October 17, took place in St. Louis, where Holliday was an amateur up-and-comer. Chicago’s catcher, Silver Flint, was unable to play, so King Kelly moved from right field to behind the plate. Billy Sunday moved from center field to right, and Holliday played center field for the whole game, going hitless in four at-bats, recording a putout, and making an error. I suspect that, to save money, the Chicago club did not take its full complement of players on the road—to St. Louis for Games 2, 3, and 4; to Pittsburgh for Game 5; and to Cincinnati for Games 6 and 7.
1921: During the 7-4 Giants win over the Reds at the Polo Grounds‚ Giants’ fan Reuben Berman refuses to return a foul ball. He is “detained” under the stands, given the return of his ticket price‚ and ejected from the park. Berman sues for $20‚000 and wins a $100 claim in court. The Giants henceforth allow fans to keep foul balls. The Cubs had been the first to institute the policy‚ in 1916.
1965: Oriole teenager Jim Palmer picks up his first major league win‚ topping the Yankees‚ 7-5. He also hits his first major league homer‚ a two-run drive off Jim Bouton‚ to supply the margin of victory.
1939: The first baseball game ever televised‚ Princeton against Columbia at Baker Field‚ Columbia’s home field‚ is seen by a handful of viewers via W2XBS in New York City. Reviewing the game the next day‚ the New York Times opines‚ “it is difficult to see how this sort of thing can catch the public fancy.”
1942: Pitching his first of eight consecutive Sunday doubleheader first games‚ Ted Lyons, 41 years old and in his twentieth year with the Chicago White Sox, beats the visiting Senators‚ 7-1. Thirteen of his 20 starts this year will be on Sunday. Combining his week-long rests with almost perfect control of the knuckleball, Lyons became known as “The Sunday Pitcher.” For more, see: http://research.sabr.org/journals/ted-lyons
1979: With the wind blowing out at Wrigley, the Cubs (6) and the Phillies (5) combine for 11 homers and 97 total bases during a 10-inning slugfest won 23-22 by the Phils. Dave Kingman has three homers HRs six RBIs for the Cubs‚ while teammate Bill Buckner has a grand slam and seven RBIs. Mike Schmidt’s two home runs include the game-winner in the 10th off Cub relief ace Bruce Sutter.
1884: Hugh “One Arm” Daily of Chicago in the Union Association—a major league in this, its only year of existence—throws his second consecutive one-hitter against the Nationals of Washington, fanning 15. Later this year (July 7) he will establish a major league record by striking out 19 batters in a game, not counting another who reached first base when the catcher could not handle his delivery.
1912: Detroit Tiger players protest Ty Cobb’s suspension and vote to strike. Faced with a $5‚000 fine for failing to field a team—and possible default of his franchise to the AL—club owner Frank Navin orders manager Hughie Jennings to sign up local amateurs. Two Detroit coaches‚ Joe Sugden‚ 41‚ and Jim McGuire‚ 48‚ complete the lineup‚ and score the only two runs for Detroit. The Athletics set a club scoring record in winning‚ 24-2‚ as Aloysius Travers goes all the way‚ giving up 26 hits and 24 runs. The A’s also set an AL-home record of most runs without a homer. The only recruit to hit for Detroit is Irvin‚ who hit two triples in three at bats, closing the books on his big-league career with a 2.000 slugging average. Starter Al Travers returns to his studies at St. Joseph’s College and later became a Catholic priest. For more, see: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/8b444434
2004: Randy Johnson becomes the oldest pitcher ever to hurl a perfect game.
1891: Chairman Nick Young of the Board of Control, the governing body of the National League and American Association, rescinds the new scoring rule requiring scorers to compile “runs batted in.” This rule‚ which was adopted last winter‚ will still be used by the AA‚ however, in what would be its last season before folding. Introduced by a Buffalo newspaper in 1879, the stat was picked up the following year by the Chicago Tribune which, in the words of Preston D. Orem, “proudly presented the ‘Runs Batted In’ record of the Chicago players for the season, showing Anson and Kelly in the lead. Readers were unimpressed. Objections were that the men who led off, Dalrymple and Gore, did not have the same opportunities to knock in runs. The paper actually wound up almost apologizing for the computation.” RBIs were not computed officially by the NL and AL until 1920, but records from prior years have been reconstructed from box scores. For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/03/07/stats-and-history/
1953: At Milwaukee‚ the Dodgers down the Braves‚ 4-1‚ before a crowd of 36‚439‚ the largest paid attendance for any sports event in Milwaukee history. The Braves have drawn 279‚227 for 12 home dates‚ nearly surpassing attendance in Boston for all of the previous year (281,278).
1998: The Cardinals’ Mark McGwire hits three home runs in a game for the second time this season‚ leading St. Louis to a 10-8 victory over the Phils. He reaches the 20 HR mark faster than any other player in history, and will the end season with 70, shattering the single-season mark set by Roger Maris in 1961.
1887: Nearly two weeks after defeating the Falls Citys in the opener of their season of the new National Colored Base Ball League at Louisville‚ the Boston Resolutes finally leave for home after earning enough money for train fare by working as waiters. The league will fold five days later. The seven-team league had consisted of the Keystones of Pittsburgh, Browns of Cincinnati, Capitol Citys of Washington, Resolutes of Boston, Falls City of Louisville, Lord Baltimores of Baltimore, Gorhams of New York, and Pythians of Philadelphia. Players’ salaries would range from $10 to $75 per month. In recognition of its questionable financial position, the league set up an “experimental” season, with a short schedule and many open dates. “Experimental” or not, the Colored League received the protection of the National Agreement, which was the structure of Organized Baseball law that divided up markets and gave teams the exclusive right to players’ contracts. Sporting Life doubted that the league would benefit from this protection “as there is little probability of a wholesale raid upon its ranks even should it live the season out—a highly improbable contingency.” For more, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2014/08/19/out-at-home-part-2/
1945: In St. Louis‚ one-armed outfielder Pete Gray stars‚ as the Browns sweep the Yankees 10-1 and 5-2. Gray has two RBIs on three hits in the opener‚ and in the nightcap he scores the winning run and hauls in seven fly balls‚ three on spectacular catches. His employment at the big-league level is the last straw for able-bodied stars in the Negro League.
1997: In a 10-1 win over Boston‚ Chicago’s Frank Thomas reaches base his first three times up before flying out against Rich Garces. He had reached base 15 straight times‚ one short of Ted Williams’ AL record, set in 1957. In the NL the record is 17, set by Frank “Piggy” Ward in 1893.
1878: Ed “The Only” Nolan of Indianapolis sets Milwaukee down with just two hits‚ but he barely wins a 6-5 game because of eleven errors and passed balls by his team. In the previous year, when Indianapolis was in the League Alliance, Nolan won 64 games—more than anyone else at any level of professional ball, ever. Robert Smith wrote: “In 1877 Nolan won more games by shut outs than most top-flight pitchers, in a single season nowadays, win by hook and crook. He pitched seventy-six complete games, won sixty-four, and tied eight. And he set the record that still stands: thirty shutouts in one season.… “No pitcher has ever equaled The Only’s earned run average which he set that year. He pitched to 3589 batters, and allowed 632 hits and 87 walks, with only 38 of the 131 runs against him being earned. For 76 games then, his earned run average was just 0.50. Nor has anyone ever equaled his seasonal pitching percentage of .941 [64-4, with 8 ties].”
1880: In Albany’s Riverside Park Lipman Pike hits a ball over the wall and into the river. Worcester right fielder Lon Knight begins to go after the ball in a boat but gives up. Few parks have ground rules about giving the batter an automatic home run on a hit over the fence.
1981: In the first round of the NCAA tourney Yale’s Ron Darling and St. John’s Frank Viola match zeroes through 11 innings. Darling allows no hits while striking out 16. In the 12th‚ St. John’s Steve Scafa hits an opposite field scratch single‚ then steals 2B and 3B. The next batter reaches on an error and‚ when he tries to steal 2B‚ Scafa breaks for home scoring the only run. St. John’s wins‚ 1-0. Sitting in the stands are Smoky Joe Wood, hero of the 1912 World Series, and Roger Angell, who memorializes the day in a great story, “The Web of the Game.” For more, see: https://goo.gl/11bvLD
Completing our three-post week dedicated to the late lamented Worcester National League club, here is a fine article by John Richmond Husman, a friend ever since he published this article 30 years ago in The National Pastime, which I had created for SABR three years earlier and for which I was still, at that time, its editor. John R. Husman is author of the 2003 book, Baseball in Toledo, and co-author of Mud Hens Memories. For the journal Base Ball he wrote, in 2008, “Ohio’s First Baseball Game: Played by Confederates and Taught to Yankees.” He is Historian for the Toledo Mud Hens and has been a member of SABR for 33 years, as well as a former chair of its 19th Century Baseball Research Committee. John resides in Sylvania, Ohio. This article is reprinted with the kind permission of the Society for American Baseball Research.
J. Lee Richmond played four full seasons and parts of two others in baseball’s major leagues. Not a long career. Today, more than 100 years later, a check of his statistical record reveals little that would seem to be worthy of recognition. The record does not, however, tell of the spirit he brought to the game and how he changed it. Nor does this record show that he was the first to accomplish the rarest of all single game pitching feats: a perfect game.
Richmond burst upon the baseball world in 1879, leading Brown University to the college championship early in that season. He then revived the struggling Worcester, Massachusetts entry in the National Baseball Association so successfully that they were admitted to the National League in 1880. Along the way he played for several teams, as both an amateur and a professional. He ended the season as he began it, playing as an amateur at his alma mater during the fall season. His composite record for the 1879 season may be unparalleled in all of baseball history: a lofty claim, but lending credence are his season total of 47 pitching wins and his official number two ranking among the hitters in the National Baseball Association with a batting average of .368.
Richmond had paid his dues, playing at Oberlin College in his home state of Ohio, for the Rhode Islands of Providence, and two full years at Brown before embarking on this remarkable season. His career in baseball had been lackluster to this point, but the experience he had attained would be the basis for the total baseball player that was about to emerge. Added to this experience was a variety of left-handed curve pitches that he had developed and perfected during the 1878-79 winter in Brown’s gymnasium. In addition, Richmond was named captain of his university’s nine.
The attainment of college baseball’s championship would be the crown on a successful season for most, but it was only the beginning for Richmond. Even before the college season was completed, manager Frank Bancroft of the Worcesters attempted, on more than one occasion, to lure Richmond to his professional team. He sent the young pitcher a barrage of telegrams asking for his services.
Walter F. Angell, Richmond’s classmate and lifelong friend, wrote years later of how Richmond came to play his first game for Worcester. The occasion was an exhibition game with the Chicago White Stockings on June 2.
Richmond received a telegram from F.C. Bancroft, then the manager of the Worcesters, asking him to come to Worcester to pitch the game. The telegram is before me as I dictate this letter. I happened to be with Richmond when he opened it, and he handed it to me with the comment that of course he could not go, but his college catcher Winslow came along and persuaded him to take chances and change his mind, Winslow agreeing to go along with him and play as catcher.
Richmond and Winslow had each been offered $10 plus expenses to play the game. Richmond resisted jeopardizing his standing at Brown and his reputation on the mound. Chicago was one of the country’s greatest teams, and was hot, having just beaten Boston three in a row. But in the end the arguments of his friend Winslow prevailed. It seems that Winslow was in need of a new pair of trousers, and thus was launched J. Lee Richmond’s professional baseball career!
Anson brought his team to Worcester on June 2 as the leaders of the National League. The Chicagos left Worcester having been shut out 11-0 without having made a single base hit. Richmond had thrown a no-hitter in his first game as a professional! Only three others — Bumpus Jones, Ted Breitenstein, and Bobo Holloman — have done the same in their first start against a major league nine. This was the first of three exceptional pitching performances he would complete within a nine-day period.
Arthur A. Irwin also made his professional debut that day playing third base for Worcester. He went on to play thirteen major league campaigns and to manage eight more. Some twenty years later he recounted the story of that historic game:
I signed a Worcester contract on June 2, 1879, coming to Worcester from my home in Boston, where I had been playing on amateur teams. Although I afterward played shortstop I was sent in to cover third base in that first game. Lee Richmond, the greatest left-handed pitcher this country has ever seen, did the pitching for us, and the game that followed became famous the country over. We had as opponents the Chicago club, and we shut them out by the score of 11-0. Richmond pitched the greatest ball that day I have ever seen in all of my experience. The first Chicago man up reached first on a base on balls, and he was the only one of Anson’s men to see first base during the entire nine innings [author’s note: actually seven innings were played]. Before the game was over the Chicago players were betting cigars against dollars that they would hit the ball, not that they would hit safely, but only hit it.
Richmond had marvelous support by his teammates, not an error being committed–a highly unusual occurrence in that era. His domination was so complete that in addition to eight strikeouts in the seven-inning game not a single ball was hit out of the infield. Both teams wished immediately to get Richmond’s signature on a contract. Worcester was successful, and some twenty-five years later Bancroft recalled how he had accomplished the signing.
We had struck one of those ruts that comes to every team every once in so often and had lost 18 straight games. The directors were for firing me and getting a new manager. But the stockholders stepped into the breech and saved my life by giving me 30 days in which to either “make good” or lose my job. The next day we were scheduled to play an exhibition with “Pop” Anson’s White Stockings. I had heard of a young fellow with the beautiful name of J. Lee Richmond, with the accent on the Lee, who was doing good work for the Brown University team. I ran down to Providence that night and got the boy to come up to pitch the game against the Chicagos. J. Lee was a slightly built chap, who weighed not much over 135 pounds, and certainly didn’t look the part of a pitcher.
I also got Arthur Irwin–the famous Arthur Irwin–then but a boy playing on the lots around Boston, to come down and go in at short for me [author’s note: Irwin actually played third base). When I told the fans what I had done they gave me the laugh. “What, come out and see those kids play the famous White Stockings?” was their chanted response to my invitation for their money. “Not on your life.”
Those who refused to come out missed one of the prettiest games that was ever played on any diamond. J. Lee Richmond shut out Anson and his heavy hitters without a hit. Anson asked me if had signed Richmond, and I–for once in my life–told a lie. But I “coppered” my fabrication in what I think was a clever fashion. The dressing room for the players was under the grandstand, and it wasn’t much shucks. So I hired a carriage, and when the game was over got young Richmond by the arm and whispered in his ear:
“Now Mr. Richmond–I used the Mr. because I wished to be diplomatic–there isn’t much of a place for you to dress down here, so I’ve taken the liberty of putting your street clothes in a hack. If you would like I’ll drive you down to a hotel, where I have reserved a room and a bath for you. You can dress there.”
He fell into the trap and I hustled him off to the tavern. There I had no trouble signing him to a contract which called for $100 a month. He was the goods too.
Irwin recalled that Chicago wanted to sign Richmond as well:
Old man Anson was as much struck with Richmond’s playing as President Pratt (of Worcester), and when the young pitcher reached Union Station he found Captain Anson there in uniform. Anson had hustled from the grounds, without stopping to change his uniform, in the hopes of getting Richmond to sign with Chicago before Worcester could have a chance to sign him. Anson’s ruse did not work, however, and Richmond remained with Worcester.
BACK TO COLLEGE
Richmond’s second major win of this fantastic nine day period was the College Championship contest played at Providence on June 9, 1879. Brown beat Yale 3-2 that day with Richmond hurling as he always did for the Bruins. This was the second meeting of the season between these rivals, Yale having won the first contest 2-0 on Richmond’s throwing error. This, then, was a “must win” game for the Brunonians.
Brown lost the toss and was sent to bat first, leaving Yale with the advantage of batting last on Brown’s home field. Both teams scored a run in the first inning. Brown scored one more in the sixth and what proved to be the deciding run in the seventh. Richmond himself doubled and scored on two consecutive errors. He then held on for the win. Yale scored again in the eighth on a wild pitch but the tying run was cut down at the plate by second baseman Ladd on a ground ball with only one out.
Richmond “took to the points” to pitch the bottom of the ninth inning leading 3-2 with the College Championship hanging on his ability to retire the side. Yale’s leadoff hitter, first sacker Hopkins, singled and moved to second as Richmond threw out Camp. Clark, the Yale center fielder, flied out to White at first. However, Smith was safe on Waterman’s throwing error and Hopkins moved to third. Smith then stole second and the game, which had looked to be in hand before Waterman’s error, was now very much in doubt. Runners at second and third, two out, bottom of the ninth, one-run game–a classic finish for a championship contest and season. To add further to the drama, Richmond got wild. He ran the count to eight balls and one strike (nine balls then constituting a walk) to Ripley. Reaching back for something extra, he got two more strikes to strike out Ripley and end it–a storybook finish that is recalled at Brown University to this day. Richmond himself is remembered as the first of Brown’s athletes to be inducted into her Hall of Fame.
The game remained vivid in Richmond’s memory as he wrote about it in Memories of Brown years later.
This final game with Yale that gave possession of the championship was the most exciting game I ever saw. When Yale went to bat in the ninth inning, the score stood 3-2 against them. By the time two men were out they had the bases full. [author’s note: actually there were runners at second and third]. The game literally turned on one ball pitched, for the next batter waited till he had two strikes and eight balls. The grandstand was as still as death. Numbers of fellows had gone behind the grandstand unable to watch the game. When the last ball was struck at and caught by the catcher—well—I can’t tell you my feelings. I remember having Professor Lincoln shake my hand, and wondering if the other fellows found it as uncomfortable to be hoisted up on shoulders as I did.
Just two days later, Richmond pitched his third gem in this fantastic nine day stretch. On June 11, 1879 he faced the Nationals of Washington, D.C. at the Driving Park, Worcester. The Nationals were leading the National Baseball Association at the time. It was Richmond’s first professional championship contest (one that counted in league standings). He bested the league frontrunners 4-1 with a neat two-hitter. Richmond had pitched only two games for Worcester, but he had arrived. His presence would provide the spark that would see Worcester roll through the remainder of the season.
The local press was much impressed. From the Worcester Gazette:
The ball game at the Driving Park, yesterday afternoon, was the neatest game of the day, and the spectators, nearly 1000 in number, cheered themselves hoarse over the numerous fine features of the contest…. Richmond’s wonderful work against the Chicagos, last week, had raised high hopes, and his pitching yesterday was all that could have been expected, only two safe hits being made off his puzzling delivery.
And now, as pitcher for the Worcester club his every effort would be noted by the national press. The game account as it appeared in the New York Clipper:
Richmond’s wonderful pitching enabled the Worcesters to defeat the Nationals at Worcester on June 11 in the presence of over 1200 people. The Nationals could not get the hang of Richmond’s left-handed delivery and made but two single basers off him in the entire nine innings. The Worcesters batted very well, Bennett taking a decided lead in that respect. The game was one of the most exciting ever played at Worcester, and the home nine’s victory was a most credible one.
So ended Richmond’s “fantastic nine days.” He had won the College Championship with his Brown University team, pitched a no-hitter against the National League leader, and beaten the National Association leader with a two-hitter. He was on his way to a remarkable season that would be marked by fine composite totals and the instant reversal of form by the Worcester club. He was a control pitcher, giving up few walks and striking out more batters than did most pitchers of his time. His defenses recorded unusually high numbers of ground outs. He also helped his cause with the bat, and he took his turn in the heart of the order. On July 28, he no-hit Springfield while knocking out four hits himself-including two doubles-and scoring four runs.
In championship contests through the rest of the 1879 season, Richmond was 18-10 with a league leading earned run average of 1.06. He batted .368 and had a slugging average of .569, leading his team in both categories.
However, there was still much baseball to play. Worcester was scheduled for a slate of exhibition games that would last until mid-October. Featured were contests with the strongest teams of the National League.
Richmond melded participation in these games with attending classes during Brown’s fall term. He played for Worcester in especially prestigious games, the schedule and the game site being the determining factors in whether he would appear. This regimen of pursuing his education and furthering his ballplaying career would continue through 1883, when he would receive his medical degree and play his last full season for the Providence Grays.
The highlights of this postseason exhibition schedule were those contests with Providence, Boston, and Chicago of the National League. Providence would take the pennant by five games over Boston. Chicago, after a fast start, would finish fourth, one-half game behind third place Buffalo.
Worcester knocked off Boston 4-3 at Worcester on September 11 to set the stage for a very successful exhibition series. The next league team into Worcester was Chicago, on September 18, for a rematch of Richmond’s first professional encounter in June. The White Stockings did not fare much better this trip. Richmond shut them out on four singles.
Mingled among these games with the teams of the “Big League” were almost daily games with other teams, many from the National Baseball Association. Albany, their league’s champion, came to Worcester on September 25. The occasion was the first of a five game series arranged for the championship of their respective cities. Richmond sent them packing 10-3, recording the then unheard of total of fifteen strikeouts.
Richmond capped off a season of firsts and debuts by playing in his first major league game on September 27.
Manager Harry Wright of Boston secured Richmond to hurl against Providence in his team’s final league game. The regular Boston pitcher was ill and the change pitcher was also unavailable for this wrap-up game with Providence, which had already clinched the flag. Pitching for Providence was John Montgomery Ward, who had recorded a league high 47 wins in leading the Grays to the pennant.
After a shaky first inning by Richmond and his defense, he pitched a solid 12-6 win, allowing but a single base hit over the last eight innings. He recorded a league record five consecutive strikeouts in his debut in the senior circuit. The New York Clipper felt that the Bostons were a better team with Richmond on the mound:
The Bostons, strengthened by Richmond, the famous left-handed pitcher of the Worcesters, defeated the Providence nine on Sept. 27 at Boston, Mass. The contest was a remarkable one, the visitors being badly beaten, although they started off with a lead of 5 to 0. Singles by Wright and Start and Gross’ three baser earned two runs for Providence, and they made three more runs on errors in the first inning. Richmond then settled down to his work, and the visitors in the next eight innings made but one base hit on him, and that a lucky one to short right field, and scored but one more run, the result of errors by Burdock and Snyder. Eleven of the visitors struck out, five in succession, and we are safe in saying that the chief credit of the victory belongs to Richmond.
Richmond and Worcester went on to split four more games with Boston and Providence. The final game was something of a homecoming for Richmond as Worcester visited Providence, the home of Brown University. J. Lee prevailed again, 3-2, on October 7 in what was both a home and road game for him. This win made him 7-2 against National League clubs for the season, a prodigious record.
Richmond was a busy man. Keeping up with both his studies and his Worcesters was too much for him on one occasion. He mistakenly took the train from Providence to New Haven rather than Worcester for a game with Providence. Failure to meet his team cost him yet another crack at the Grays.
Richmond then rejoined the Brown U. nine for their fall season. Their first scheduled game was with his own Worcester club. Rain interfered, however, and the game was not played. This must have been a great disappointment to Richmond and to the many fans who came to witness another interesting matchup. Brown played four more games, ending their season on October 22. Richmond ended his season as he began it, playing as an amateur. And what a lot of baseball he had played in between!
Richmond’s 1879 exploits paid rich dividends for both him and the Worcester team the next season. Because of Worcester’s resurgence under his leadership the team was admitted to the National League for the 1880 season. The league fathers were so much in favor of admitting the Worcesters that qualifying rules concerning the population of candidate cities were “modified” to allow the Brown Stockings entry. As what may have been sports’ first “franchise player,” J. Lee Richmond was paid a then record $2000 salary for his services for the 1880 season. In my view, the admittance of this team from a tiny New England town to the National League was Richmond’s greatest baseball achievement.
The 1880 season was the scene of what others consider as Richmond’s greatest accomplishment on the field, his perfect game against Cleveland at Worcester on June 12, 1880. The perfect game is the milestone event of Richmond’s baseball career, the game that sets him apart from all other pitchers. He was the first of only ten, from the purist’s point of view (discounting the efforts of Ernie Shore and Harvey Haddix), to pitch a perfect game in the entire 110-year history of major league baseball.
The story of the perfect game is an amazing one. Taken in context with other events that surrounded it, the feat becomes even more formidable. On the Thursday before this Saturday contest, Richmond had shut out the Cleveland team 5-0, also at Worcester. He was in the midst of a streak of at least 42 consecutive innings during which he would not allow an earned run. In addition, the perfect game would be his third shutout within nine days. He returned to Brown for graduation festivities and parties, passing up Worcester’s Friday exhibition game with the Yale nine.
Graduation events included a class baseball game played at 4:50 on Saturday morning. Richmond had been up all night following the class supper at Music Hall. He took part in the ballgame and went to bed at 6:30 a.m. He rose in time to catch the 11:30 a.m. train to Worcester to pitch the afternoon contest against Cleveland. The train on which he rode was delayed and he was forced to go to the field without his dinner. One would not think that proper preparation for a ballgame would include foregoing sleep and food and playing another game earlier in the day.
This train ride has become almost legendary. As the story goes, Frank Bancroft had hired a special train to stand by and rush Richmond to Worcester upon completion of Brown’s graduation ceremonies. The story continues with Richmond proceeding to pitch his perfect game. Great story, but not true. Richmond’s graduation day was four days later, on June 16. On that day Bancroft did, in fact, have a special train waiting. Richmond took this train to Worcester and was beaten by Chicago 7-6 in ten innings.
The Worcester team of 1880 was very young, the players averaging twenty-three years of age. The team included several rookies, playing the team’s initial season in the National League. They were enjoying some success, with a 14-9 record early in the season. This series with Cleveland may have offered an extra incentive for Richmond: Cleveland was essentially his hometown team and this was the first time he had ever faced them.
Richmond and big Jim McCormick locked up in a super duel. Richmond himself got the first hit of the game in the fourth, but was erased on a double play. Worcester would get but two more hits the entire day, both by shortstop Art Irwin. The only run of the day scored in the fifth on a double error by Cleveland second sacker Fred “Sure-Shot” Dunlap.
Like so many games that became classic, the game featured a game-saving play. In this case the “saver” may have been the first of its kind. In the fifth inning Cleveland’s Bill Phillips hit a ball through the right side for an apparent basehit. Lon Knight, captain, right fielder, and old man of the team at twenty-six, charged, scooped up the ball, and fired to first. Umpire Foghorn Bradley called the runner out, the no-hitter being preserved. This seems to have been a turning point in the game. Richmond had not struck out a batter. He took complete command, striking out five the rest of the way. His domination was so complete that only three balls were hit out of the infield all day.
An effort was made by Mother Nature to disturb Richmond’s concentration and perhaps halt the string of batters being set down in order. A cloudburst halted the game in the eighth inning for seven minutes. Undaunted, Richmond returned to the box and, using a heap of sawdust to dry the ball, completed the game.
Richmond always kept his achievement in perspective. He once remarked in a newspaper interview that catcher Charlie “Bennett and the boys behind me gave me perfect support.” On another occasion he said, “I couldn’t have pitched it if the fielders had not been so expert in handling the ball.” Richmond knew that an errorless game played by barehanded fielders was a rare achievement in itself.
Just five days later John Ward of the Grays turned in a second perfect effort against Buffalo in Providence. Two perfect games within a five day period defies all odds. Ward had equaled Richmond’s standard of perfection, a level of play that was not even thought of as being attainable only a week before. The third perfect game did not occur until May 5, 1904, when the legendary Cy Young threw one for Boston CAL). Young’s effort kept the perfect game as an exclusive New England institution. The third perfect game in the National League did not occur for eighty-four years, when Jim Bunning turned the trick in 1964.
During his remarkable 1879 season, J. Lee Richmond established himself as one of the game’s fine all round players and foremost pitchers. He did this at a time when baseball was undergoing rapid evolutionary change. He. was a major contributor to changes in pitching strategies and philosophies. He was not the first breaking-ball pitcher. Nor was he the first left-hander (“heartside heaver”) to hurl in the National League. He was, however, the first to combine these two then unusual attributes. The results were devastating, especially on a hitter’s first encounter with his unique delivery and pitch. Richmond employed a change of pace and a sharply breaking curve, which broke down rather than out as did the curves of other pitchers. Slight of stature at 140 pounds, he did not overpower hitters. He studied hitters and kept a book on them. His allies were cunning, deception, and strategy. His remarkable 1879 season set off a search for left-handed pitching talent that continues to this day.
Worcester’s three-year franchise in the National League (1880-82), largely unknown to the current generation of fans, leapt from obscurity with the recent civic unrest in Baltimore and the unprecedented staging, on April 29, of a game between the Orioles and White Sox before no paying customers. Had there ever been such an event in the whole history of the game, inquiring minds wanted to know. Not really, I stated, but there had been a game played before a paid attendance of six in Worcester on September 28, 1882; the home team lost to Troy, 4-1. As reported in the Worcester Evening Gazette, only three dollars had been taken in at the gate, with the price of admission being 50 cents. The game on the following day, Worcester’s last in the National League, drew only 18 fans. The late-season cold and damp formed only part of the reason for the stunningly small crowds; both Troy and Worcester had learned in the previous week that their NL franchises would not be renewed. Both teams finished at the bottom of the standings, losing money for their managements and, with chronically poor attendance, providing no meaningful receipts to visiting clubs. The two clubs would be replaced, in 1883, by new clubs in New York (today’s Giants) and Philadelphia (today’s Phillies).
But in 1880, when the franchise was born, things looked rosy for Worcester. Here, as promised yesterday, is a page-by-page view of Ups and Downs of the Worcester Base Ball Club: League Season 1880, reproduced with the gracious permission of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. This is handheld camerawork; the original was too fragile to contemplate scanning. Created by engraver Frederick E. Pollard in 1880, it survives in only this copy. Although no place of publication is listed we may presume that artist and engraver Pollard was also the publisher, in the city of Worcester.