On Monday, February 20, 1905, The Boston Journal commenced a three-part story on the introduction of the “National Game”—i.e, the New York version—to Massachusetts in the late 1850s. The author, identified only as Tri-Mountain but perhaps James D’Wolfe Lovett, was, in the words of the newspaper’s editor, “a member of Boston’s first baseball club and a player who in the ’50s and ’60s had a reputation more than local.” As I related in my previous post, “The Game That Got Away,” the triumph of the Gotham Game meant the rapid disappearance of the many vibrant versions of baseball that had flourished not only in New England but also in Pennsylvania and the Western Territory—Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and other (then) frontier outposts. Baseball was played in the South, too before the Civil War, but afterwards its several regional variants were likewise vanquished by the “National Game.”
As in its 1905 appearance, this article will run in three segments. Of particular interest below, perhaps is the fate of the celebrated silver ball over which Boston’s clubs contested fiercely in the 1860s. Note that the New York Game is treated first though clearly it arose second. As “Tri-Mountain” notes in the following segment: “Although the old Massachusetts game had many interesting facts in connection with it, the story of the national game seemed to call for the most attention, and that is why it was presented first.” Now, on to Part 1!
A pleasing story might be told about baseball in Boston if one could be found who was clever at it, but the only merit the writer claims is that he remembers it for more than half a century and participated in it from the early ’50s up to the entrance of professional clubs into the sport.
In the spring of 1856 Edward G. Saltzman of the Gotham club of New York came to Boston. [ Saltzman was something of a Johnny Appleseed, next bringing the New York Game to Savannah in 1867.] Associated with him were Augustus P. Margot and Richard Busteed of Brooklyn. These three gentlemen with two or three more began to play a game, which with the implements used seemed very strange to us. Mr. Saltzman was the prime mover in this game, and was afterward called the father of the game in New England. Mr. Margot laid out the first baseball diamond on the Common. The Tri-Mountain club was organized June 16, 1857, with Mr. Saltzman as president; vice president, J. Busteed; secretary, J. Edward Burtt; treasurer, B. Frank Guild [this was Benjamin Franklin Guild of the Boston Society’s Golden Ball, which prompted the previous entry in this space]; game keeper, J. G. Donaldson; judge, Charles Taylor. The game was not popular at that time, but the newcomers continued to play it.
In 1858 the Portland club challenged the Tri-Mountain and three games followed: the first on Boston Common, September 9, was won by the visitors: Portland 47, Tri-Mountain 42. Mr. Saltzman, who was change pitcher and catcher with Mr. Guild for the Tri-Mountains, did not play in this game. The time occupied was three hours and each side scored one home run. Capt. Crowell of Portland sent a ball into the sky (there were no clouds) and it seemed as if it would not return to earth. The captain fainted, but it was later in the game, and it was said to be from the heat. Everything went off charmingly. The Boston people, although obliged to accept defeat, were pleased with the new game. The evening was spent in jollification around the board at the Cummings House.
Slid for His Base.
On June 28, 1859, these two clubs were together again on Bramhall hill, in Portland before a large assemblage of people to witness a game that they had not seen before. The result was in Boston’s favor—Tri-Mountains, 21; Portlands 11. Mr. Saltzman was catcher for the Boston Club. It was in this game that Mr. Chandler introduced his original feature of diving at a base, which produced an uproar of laughter, and won for him a cane. The cane is a Malacca joint, with an octagon head made from a large Mexican coin and is engraved as follows: “Presented to M. E. Chandler from R. A. Nicholas of the Tri-Mountain Baseball Club, June 28, 1859, Runs, 5; H.L. 1” (H.L. means hands lost or outs). [This cane turned up in Maine in 1996 and was put up for auction, along with the trophy bat with engraved silver banding that read "First Prize Tournament of New England Association, 1867, Won by Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club of Boston." More on this tomorrow!]
The Boston club was handsomely entertained at Cape Cottage the next day.
On November 8, 1859, the third game was played on the Common in the presence of an immense gathering of interested ones, to see whether victory should perch on the pole of the parent club or go to Portland. The home club won—Tri-Mountains 33; Portland, 20. The ball of the first game was gilded and lettered and sent to the Portland club. The balls used in the other two games are in the hands of the boy who made them and who also made balls for the Boston clubs, some of which were used in the later New York games.
In the year 1858, by the efforts and enterprise of Mr. John A. Lowell, the Bowdoin Square Base Ball Club was formed from young men located at the Bachi House on the square, the name being afterward changed by leaving out the word square; they played mixed games with the Tri-Mountains before breakfast and on afternoons. On May 25, 1859, in a match game, the Tri-Mountains won 23 to 11, but on October 15 the Bowdoins were victors over their teachers, 32 to 26.
In the early sixties Mr. Lowell formed a club from the High and Latin school boys, who adopted the name of the founder. A few years later, this club defeated the Tri-Mountains 37 to 1, but it must be clear that the conditions were very much strained, a little more so than when Harvard took a game from the Lowells, 21 to 4. The Bowdoin and Lowell clubs were later merged into one under the name of the latter.
The Harvard Crimson says: “It is said that baseball was introduced in Harvard in 1862 by two enthusiastic freshmen, Frank Wright and George A. Flagg of the ’66 class; in the autumn of 1863 the incoming freshmen pressed the sophomores so closely that on October 12, 1864, the University club was formed, and in the spring of 1865 the University nine was determined upon.” Harvard’s first match game was with Brown University at Providence on June 17, 1863, Harvard winning 29 to 17. The first match game of Harvard University nine was in June, 1865, defeating Tri-Mountain 59 to 32.
A Silver Ball.
In 1864 Mr. Lowell presented to the New England Baseball Association a silver ball as a trophy to arouse more interest in the game, and the first contest for it was on September 27, when the Tri-Mountains won it from the Osceola Club of Portland, 53 to 18. The Lowell club then won it from the Tri-Mountains, 33 to 18. Three country clubs failed to take it from the Lowells. The Harvard club won four silver ball games from the Lowells and Lowell won three from Harvard. On August 24, 1867, Harvard surrendered the silver ball to the Lowell club and forfeited a game of ball on account of the challenge coming in vacation time, when they could not call their fellows together. It was an unjust rule of amateur times that permitted a forfeited ball to be marked with a score of 9 to 0.
It had now come Tri-Mountain’s turn again, and the statement was made in meeting. “We can take the silver ball and we ought to challenge for it”; the challenge was sent and a series of three games played, the first at Riverside Park in Cambridge on September 24, 1867, resulting in Lowell’s favor, 20 to 16. The second game was on the Common September 23, and the Tri-Mountains were the victors, 40 to 35, in eight innings. At the close of the fourth the score stood 18 to 9 in Lowell’s favor, but in the fifth the old fellows started off in a rattling way, 8 to 1, 7 to 3, 7 to 9, 9 to 4. On September 28, 1867, the fifteenth silver ball contest and the last game for that beautiful trophy, was played on the Common before an immense crowd. The Tri-Mountains took a lead of 5 to 1 in the first and the nine innings finished Tri-Mountains, 42; Lowells, 22; the only failure to count [register a run] being by the Lowells in the ninth. The time of the game was 3 hours, 15 minutes. Home runs—Tri-Mountains, 2. Passed balls—Tri-Mountain, 12; Lowell, 25. Umpire—Mr. N. S. Smith of the Harvard Club.
The national game was now at its height among amateurs and up to this time the Tri-Mountains had not taken a game from Harvard, and as the college players had not lost the silver ball in competition a great game was looked for, but at the opening of the last series a request had been made that the silver ball should be retired; it had been knocked about in thought and feeling as much as the game ball had been over the field. The Tri-Mountains reluctantly surrendered it to the committee of the association, who decided to melt it and put the proceeds into the association funds. The committee therefore met at Mr. Margot’s office, and there Mr. Saltzman swung the sledge hammer that forever retired the silver ball.
Mr. Margot then and there put it into a crucible and melted it and it sold for about $16. The metal was then bought again and small balls were made of it and presented to members of the different clubs. It was about regulation size, hollow and about an eighth of an inch in thickness. The names of the different clubs which contested for it, with the scores of the games, were engraved upon it.
To be continued tomorrow.
Long before the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry, an early variant of baseball known as the “Massachusetts Game” was edged out by the so-called New York rules. What happened? That was the editor’s tease that ran above my story when it ran in the Boston Globe in 2005. I remain convinced that this long vanished game of baseball was as good, if not better than, the one that vanquished it.
Rainey Tisdale, Collections Manager of the Bostonian Society, was perplexed. In the days before the reigning champion Red Sox were to open their 2005 season, her riffle through the archives had revealed an ancient baseball painted gold and mysteriously inscribed:
Won, Oct. 29, 1858.
H.L. 1, Runs 13.
The ball had been preserved in an 1855-patent-model cylindrical presentation box topped with a handwritten label bearing the scrawled initials “B.F.G.” and “Prize Ball 1858.” The Society’s records indicated that a Miss Helen Guild had donated the ball in 1953, and that it had been connected somehow with Boston’s Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club.
These were the facts, too loosely strung to form a story, let alone to understand why this relic had been saved. Seeking more information about the Tri-Mountains, the cryptic “B.F.G.”, and the meaning of the golden globe, Ms. Tisdale contacted a research librarian at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, who referred her to me. I had recently won fleeting fame for the discovery of a bylaw residing in the city records of Pittsfield that gave unequivocal proof that baseball had been played there in 1791, long before Abner Doubleday’s supposed invention of the game in Cooperstown in 1839.
Not many study baseball as if it held the secret to the universe, and nearly all of us who do so belong to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR, some 6,000 members worldwide) and, as a subset of SABR, the nineteenth-century research committee (about 750 members). We take pleasure and occasionally pride in knowing things that all baseball fans knew more than a century ago but few know today.
For instance, I knew the Tri-Mountain was important historically because in 1857 it became the first club in New England to abandon “round ball,” also known as the Massachusetts Game—the region’s traditional version of baseball played since the 18th century—in favor of the New York variant pioneered by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. By this act of perspicacity (or treachery), the Tri-Mounts helped to ensure that by the end of the Civil War teams everywhere played the New York Game which, despite constant tinkering with the rules into the first decade of the next century, is essentially the game we play today.
Some of the details on the ball were obvious to one who elects to live among ghosts, while others required a bit of digging.
“H.L.” was an abbreviation for “hands lost,” what we today call outs. As for “B.F.G,” in a fat folder in my file cabinet labeled “Massachusetts Game,” I quickly came upon an account of a September 9, 1858 Tri-Mount game, the first ever played by two distinct clubs employing the New York rules, that gave the name of the catcher as B.F. Guild. Further research revealed this to be one Benjamin Franklin Guild, who would go on to become a successful editor and columnist. (Guild’s brother Curtis became the Bostonian Society’s first president while his nephew—also named Curtis—was governor of the Commonwealth from 1906 to 1909.) Helen Guild, the ball’s donor, was B.F. Guild’s daughter.
And as for the game commemorated on the trophy, Joanne Hulbert, a baseball expert from Holliston, provided me with a Boston Herald account from October 30, 1858 relating that the contest of the previous day had been an intramural one, between the first and second nines, played under New York rules but requiring that balls be caught on the fly rather than on one bound, as the overly cautious New Yorkers allowed. With no need to list teams on the ball, all else that need be mentioned was Guild’s game-best performance of 13 runs scored.
Those answers satisfied Ms. Tisdale well enough. All the same, the improbable survival of this golden ball, marking the incursion of the New York Game into New England, gaudily summoned up other, larger mysteries, unsolved to this day. Why had Guild and his Tri-Mountains rebelled against the Massachusetts Game? Why had the pride of New England been vanquished so swiftly and utterly by its New York rival? What further secrets might lie along this road not taken as to how baseball developed?
* * *
Until a flurry of debate on SABR’s nineteenth-century listserv, baseball experts had been content to accept traditional notions that the Massachusetts Game had vanished owing to its curious rules (especially “soaking,” the practice of retiring a runner by throwing the ball at him when he was between bases) or simply its echoes of boyish fun.
Yet, Larry McCray of Lexington—at that time in the early stages of his Protoball database of ancient baseball findings—wrote: “One fact that impresses me is that the Boston crowd seemed to defer to the new game without that much of a fight. Still, it is ironic that [New York’s] palpably less manly’ game took over. No plugging, no fly rule, no overhand pitching.”
Meanwhile, David Ball of Cincinnati suggested the game disappeared as a result of “some combination of the cultural dominance of New York; local differences in attitudes toward leisure activities in general and the playing of ball games by grown men; and what I think is probably a relatively small but quite possibly crucial head start in formal organization of the New York game.”
I agreed with both views, adding that there is no overestimating Americans’ love and fear of organization, then as now. And finally—had the obvious eluded us all this time?—New York may have won out because of a skillful publicity campaign in which its game of baseball, held up as a paragon of manliness, was in fact easier for un-athletic clerks to play. For men who would be gentlemen, it was more important to comport themselves well than to play well. In sport as in war, perhaps, the first casualty is truth.
So, just what was the Massachusetts Game of baseball at its evolutionary pinnacle of 1858? In this version of baseball, played on a square with 60-foot basepaths, the striker stood at a point equidistant between the first and fourth bases. He would attempt to hit a ball thrown overhand from the midpoint of the square, a distance of 30 feet. However, because there was no foul territory, he might deliberately tick the ball behind him or employ backhanded or slide batting techniques to deflect the ball away from the stationed defenders.
A side might number 10 to 14, though 11 was the most common contingent, and several fielders would be stationed in what modern eyes would view as “foul ground,” including at least two “scouts” behind the striker. Three misses and the batsman was out, but if he struck the ball he would fly around the bases (four-foot-tall stakes, actually) until he himself was struck by a fielder’s throw or halted his homeward course by holding to his base. The ball was small and light and there is no record of anyone suffering injury (except to pride) from being “soaked.” A catch for an out had to be made on the fly, not on the first bound, a practice those New York sissies continued to permit until 1864. One man out, side out.
Victory required the scoring of 100 runs, or sometimes by agreement a lesser number. This—not the circular field of play (thus the old name of “round ball”), not the indignity of soaking—has most often been identified as the asteroid that extinguished the dinosaur. In October 1858, the same month as our golden-globe game, the Bay State club of Boston met the Bunker Hill club of Charlestown and after some hours of play adjourned with the score 77–56. A report of the game, writes Joanne Hulbert, stated that the teams “did not think the game would be finished until 1859 … which kinda gives a different perspective to ‘wait until next year.’ A similar problem [would arise] at the 1860 championship game at Worcester. The teams never reached a score of 100 tallies and the game went on for days, until their lease ran out on the Agricultural Grounds.”
In truth, when 10 baseball clubs convened at Dedham on May 13, 1858 to standardize the Massachusetts Game playing rules, they were daubing rouge on a corpse. The New York rules had been standardized at a convention the previous year, and a hopefully titled ‘‘National Association of Base Ball Players” had been formed to play what was still a provincial game, scarcely played outside the metropolitan area. At the Dedham conclave, B.F. Guild stood up and declared that the Tri-Mountain “would be obliged to withdraw from the Association,” as reported in the Boston Journal, “as the Rules and Regulations submitted by the Committee, and favorable to a majority of the Association, could not be accepted by their club, as they preferred to play the New York Game.”
It was not long before the rest of the country did too. By 1865 Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, the nation’s leading sporting journal, declared:
The National Association or ‘New-York game’ is now almost universally adopted by the Clubs all over the country; and the Massachusetts, and still more ancient style of playing familiar to any school-boy, called ‘town ball,’ will soon become obsolete. No lover of the pastime can regret this, as the New-York mode is superior and more attractive in every way; and better calculated to perpetuate and render our national game ‘an institution’ with both young and old America.
* * *
The game that was left behind, however, was in many ways the superior version, for both players and spectators. Because first base was so easy to reach (one had only to hit the ball and then run 30 feet without being “soaked”), the real action came between the other bases. Smart fielding and relays of long hits turned seeming extra-base hits into astonishingly easy outs. Because the rules contained no provision that a runner must stay within the baselines, he might run into the outfield to elude a fielder attempting to plunk the ball between his ribs. A striker might turn 180 degrees as the pitch was coming to him and whack the ball as far behind him as he might have hit it ahead. There were so many tricks that skilled players might employ that I soon came to believe—through personal experience as a frock-coated, stovepipe-hatted arbiter at vintage-Massachusetts-style contests in the 1980s and ‘90s—that New England’s Game had suffered a cruel fate indeed.
Sadly, even today’s Vintage Base Ball Association has gone over entirely to the New York Game, with most games played by late 1860s rules and a goodly number played by the rules and equipment of the 1880s. Déjà vû all over again, and I think it has disappeared this time for the very same reasons as in the 1860s: the New York game is easier to play and does not so readily expose spindly or puffy young men to ridicule.
Why did the Massachusetts adherents give up without a whimper? We know more about how the dinosaurs became extinct than we know about this.
In the end it was almost certainly no single rule of the Massachusetts Game that did it in, for impractical provisions may always be changed. Its failure to retain market share may be chalked up to the game’s unabashedly rural quality at a time of increasing urbanization, and in some measure may reflect the increasing dominance of New York among American cities.
All that the Massachusetts Game had going for it was joy. The New York Game, on the other hand, gave promise of utility, of somehow becoming ‘‘our cricket,” affording Young Americans suffering from England Envy a national game all their own. The New York propagandists artfully blurred the line between the playful and the useful, convincing the credulous in New England that their venerable game was less gentlemanly and seemly—less manly, in its day a richly layered word that had more to do with decorum and bearing than with plebeian notions of bravery, such as being soaked and not whimpering.
With victory in the 2004 League Championship Series, capped by a World Series crown, Boston at last gave New York a good soaking. Maybe the years the Red Sox spent in the wilderness had been not so much the Curse of the Bambino as the Curse of the Bamboozled. New England gave up on a damned fine game.
The earliest contract for professional ball play I have come across is from 1870. In that year the Chicago White Stockings formed as a professional club along the model of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, an “eclectic nine”–by which was meant that the city would welcome strangers from all over the country, and pay them, if they could play first-rate ball. Civic pride and local origin, two old-fashioned virtues, were suddenly rendered flexible. This of course is the Steinbrennerian model of free agency, only a century earlier.
At the Baseball Hall of Fame exists a contract between the new Chicagos and Levi Meyerle, formerly of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia. The two parties agreed that for one year, from February 15, 1870 through February 14, 1871, the player would receive $125 per month, for a total of $1500. I stress this seemingly obvious calculation only because in most player contracts that were to come, the player would be paid by the month only for the duration of the playing season.
I located one of the three surviving contracts from the National Association of 1871 at Cooperstown as well. Sam Jackson signed up for the 1871 season with the Boston Red Stockings for six months, March 15 through November 15, 1871. His salary was $93.75 per month ($750 total). The other two I located at the Illinois Historical Society. Both of these agreements were made by the Rockford club–one with catcher Scott Hastings, the other with 19-year-old third baseman Cap Anson. Hastings was paid $100 per month for five and a half months (total $550) running from May 1, through October 15, 1871. Anson’s tenure was a full six months, from April 15 through October 15, 1871, but he was paid only $66 and two-third dollars per month (total $400). Actually, this contract has so many interesting nonfinancial terms that I will offer it verbatim below.
CAP ANSON’S 1871 CONTRACT [spelling, styling, and punctuation rendered precisely]
Memorandum of Agreement: made and entered into this 31st day of March A.D. 1871, by and between John P. Manny, John C. Barbour, Henry W. Price, Hosmer P. Holland and Jerome C. Roberts of the City of Rockford, Illinois, prty of the first part; and Adrian C. Anson of Marshalltown Iowa, party of the second part:
Whereas divers residents of said city of Rockford have associated themselves and contributed a common fund for the organization and maintenance of a first class base ball club, to be known and called “The Forest City Base Ball Club of Rockford Illinois”;
And whereas the said party of the second part, being desirous of playing in said club; has represented to the party of the first part that he is a first class base ball player and possessed of the skill, and physically competent, to play said game as a member of a first class club;
Now therefore, this Agreement Witnesseth: That the said party of the second part, in consideration of the premises and of the promises and agreements of the party of the first part, hereinafter expressed, has, and does, covenant and agree, to and with said party of the first part, to play the game of base ball with said Forest City Base Ball Club, and in any position, he may be therein assigned by the Directors of said Club, for and during the season of A.D. 1871, to wit: from April 15th A.D. 1871 , to and including October 15th A.D. 1871.
And in further consideration of the premises said party of the second part promises and agrees to keep and observe the following rules of conduct and discipline, viz:
To use his best efforts to advance the interests of said Club, by cheerfull, prompt and respectfull obedience of the Directions and requirements of the Directors thereof, or of any person by said Directors placed in authority over him, as well as the by laws of said Club;
To abstain from the use of Alcoholic Liquors: unless medically prescribed, and to conduct himself, both off and on the Ball Ground, in all things like a gentleman;
To report promptly for duty at the grounds of the Club for all games, and for practice at the hours designated there for by the officers of the Club, and upon the grounds, to abstain from profane language, scuffling and light conduct, and to discourage the same in others.
To practise at least two and a half hours per day. On each and every practice day of the Club, and at all times both in games and at practice, to use his best endeavours to perfect himself in play. Always bearing in mind that the Object in view in every game is to win.
And in further consideration of the premises said party of the second part promises and agrees that he will not make, or procure to be made for him, or in any [way] be concerned or interested in, any bet or wager upon the result of any game, or upon the playing of any member of the club, or upon anything connected with any game, in which said Forest City Club, may engage during the time of his engagement hereunder.
And in consideration of the premises, said party of the first part promise and agree to pay said party of the second part the sum of Sixty six and two third ($66 2/3) Dollars per month for each and every month of the time he may play with said Forest City Club, payable as follows; to wit: Sixty Six and two third ($66 2/3) Dollars on the 1st day of June A.D. 1871, and sixty six and two third ($66 2/3) Dollars on the first day of each and every month thereafter of the term of his employment, as aforesaid, the balance due to be fully paid on the 1st day of November A.D. 1871.
A.C. Anson [signed]
J.C. Barbour [signed]
Hosmer P. Holland [signed]
I have been thinking about these two literary giants of late and thought I’d share with you their slim but interesting connections with baseball. Walt Whitman’s words on the hurrah game are better known, so let’s begin with him. “In our sun-down perambulations of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn,” he declared in the Brooklyn Eagle of July 3, 1846, “we have observed several parties of youngsters playing ‘base,’ a certain game of ball…. Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms…. The game of ball is glorious.” This obscure editorial became famous as the opening words, recited by Garrison Keillor, to Ken Burns’s Baseball, the PBS film in which I played a part.
He followed baseball offhandedly in the following years, mentioning the game in Leaves of Grass in 1855 (“upon the race-course, or enjoying picnics or jigs, or a good game of base-ball”). He even reported on at least one contest for the Brooklyn Daily Times, when he was its editor, on June 18, 1858. “The game played yesterday afternoon between the Atlantic and Putnam Clubs,” the Good Gray Poet began rather prosaically, “on the grounds of the latter club, was one of the finest and most exciting games we ever witnessed.” He lost interest as the professional leagues formed in the 1870s. By the next decade, however, his “certain game of ball” had become for Whitman the lone institution that could assure the great American democratic experiment. In 1888 he became caught up in the baseball fervor of the impending overseas tour (whose 125th anniversary next year will also be marked by the World Baseball Classic).
In his last years, living in Camden, New Jersey, Whitman had a devoted admirer at his side, Horace Traubel, who invaluably recorded their conversations. Upon reading in the newspaper of April 7, 1889, that Spalding’s world tourists had returned home, Whitman said to Traubel:
“Did you see the baseball boys are home from their tour around the world? How I’d like to meet them—talk with them: maybe ask them some questions.” Traubel replied,“Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic!” [Whitman] was hilarious: “That’s beautiful: the hurrah game! well—it’s our game: that’s the chief fact in connection with it: America’s game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere—belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”
For Whitman, the grand tour affirmed America’s prophetic role among the world’s nations, bringing immigrants together in a “transcendental Union” of manifest destiny’s children. “Long ere the second centennial arrives,” Whitman declared, “there will be some forty to fifty great States, among them Canada and Cuba.” This prediction was indeed borne out, not in the USA’s constituent parts, but in its professional baseball leagues.
Now to Herman Melville, heretofore unknown to have cared much for sport. I am indebted for a new (to me) literary reference to ball play to Melville scholar Jeanne C. Howes, author of a monograph entitled Poet of a Morning: Herman Melville and the “Redburn Poem” : Redburn: Or the Schoolmaster of a Morning. This poem, published pseudonymously as the work of “William M. Christy” in 1845, is in her view Melville’s first published book. (It is different from the novel Redburn: His First Voyage, Being the Sailor-boy Confessions and Reminiscences of the Son-of-a-Gentleman, in the Merchant Service, published by Harper in 1849.)
The ball game, with its soaking and one-out-all-out features, is described in Canto III:
And now hurrah! for the speeding ball
Is flung in viewless air,
And where it will strike in its rapid fall
The boys are hastening there–
And the parted lip and the eager eye
Are following its descent,
Whilst the baffl’d stumbler’s falling cry
With th’exulting shout is blent.
The leader now of either band
Picks cautiously his men,
And the quickest foot and the roughest hand
Are what he chooses then.
And see!the ball with swift rebound,
Flies from the swinging bat,
While the player spurns the beaten ground,
Nor heeds his wind-caught hat.
But the ball is stopp’d in its quick career,
And is sent with a well-aim’d fling,
And he dodges to feel it whistling near,
Or leaps at its sudden sting,
Whilst the shot is hail’d with a hearty shout,
As the wounded one stops short,
For his ‘side’ by the luckless blow is out–
And the others wait their sport.
The year of composition is 1844. The young Melville attended Albany Academy, but Ms. Howes speculates that the game referenced above may have been played in Pittsfield, by the schoolboys attending Sykes District School, where the 18-year-old Melville taught. Pittsfield later became Melville’s home, from 1850 to 1863. At the 1780 home preserved as Arrowhead he wrote Moby-Dick and other major works. Pittsfield, until recently unconnected with the early history of baseball, now may contemplate a linkage between its most famous resident and the game famously banned there in 1791.
I delivered this keynote speech yesterday morning at the 24th annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. I am honored to address such a passionate and learned gathering. The title of this keynote speech—Baseball’s Unchanging Past: A Necessary Illusion—evokes not only our oddly hallowed location, this lovely place where baseball was not invented, but also America’s enduring fascination with its national game, always changing in ways so minute that it seems to remain, comfortingly, the same.
Kierkegaard has written that life may only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. For the duration of this conference at least, we will do our best to reverse that dictum. Hoping to grasp what happened in baseball and the larger culture—and why—we will plant our feet in the sands of the past and wiggle our toes a bit, just to see what it felt like to be alive then. The overlay of modern analytic constructs will not be worth much until we do that.
Baseball’s popularity is primarily about the present, but its charm, its essential appeal, is about the past. A proud and vibrant anachronism, baseball is determinedly out of fashion—slow to move with the times, yet always in fashion, always our game. A museum of America’s original democratic values and ideals about the player and the team, baseball serves as a monument to who we once were … and might be again. It is our Eden, our Garden, its gates long since closed yet to which we might enter once again.
Baseball’s Eden is located, of course, not here in Cooperstown, or New York City, or Hoboken, or Pittsfield—or England or Egypt. It is no place—the literal meaning of utopia—but between our ears, where it has always has been, from the game’s very beginning.
In preparing this speech it occurred to me, truly for the first time, that thirty years ago, when I commenced the research for my most recent book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, I was also completing the manuscript, with Pete Palmer, of The Hidden Game of Baseball. I wondered back then why so many people had expended so much energy in trying to shape and control the creation myth of baseball; to return to an Edenic past, real or imagined; to create the legend of a fall from grace, instigated by gamblers and drunkards, baseball’s stand-ins for the Serpent. I was also wondering at that time what role baseball metrics played in supporting that vision of Paradise, an age when giants walked the earth, or at least routinely hit .400 and won 30 games. So, to prepare for today’s address, I have had cause to revisit the germinal thoughts that precipitated those two books.
As individuals,we embrace the notion of a historical Baseball Eden because we sense that we catch a glimpse of it during any particular baseball game. Played or watched, our national pastime moves us past time itself, recalling youth and deferring death. It is a fine trick we play upon ourselves, and no other American institution makes for as artful a magician’s assistant.
As we grow older, we bear less and less outward resemblance to the child left behind at adulthood’s door, yet that child lives on within us, remaining an essential part of our identity, if not the essential part. Life’s cares make it more and more difficult to touch base with the child within, which needs a regular dose of attention if it is to sustain us. Thinking about baseball—steady, comfortable, unchanging baseball—brings us into a unifying relationship with the child, the part of us that loves the game, even if it is the adult that comes to understand it. Because the game is so evocative, on the deepest level, of our childhood, it is not surprising that the impressions of the game sharply formed during that period are the ones that stay with us for all time, forming a personal, if not overly factual, Eden.
The game moves along slowly, seamlessly, from inning to inning, game to game, season to season, giving a special poignancy to the passage of time when change becomes all too visible. The heroes of our youth grow old—“the boys of summer in their ruin,” emphasizing the key part of Dylan Thomas’s verse—yet to ourselves we seem the same … forever young. That’s why such occasions as Old Timers’ Day or the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are so sadly sweet; better, we may think for a moment, to preserve these heroes in our memories as they were, frozen in a baseball-card pose, undiminished.
If historic America survives anywhere as more than a roadside marker, it is in baseball, that strangely pastoral game in no matter what setting—domed stadium, open-air ballpark, or Little League diamond. Even those whose entire lives have been spent in big cities feel the call of the grass, the undertow of the past.
Hindsight improves upon reality—we might call that phenomenon, more simply, illusion—so that the endless monotony and grinding physical labor of agrarian life before the Revolution were soon thought quite romantic and morally superior. This strange longing only accelerated as young bachelors fled the countryside for employment in the burgeoning cities. For all its pull toward the good old days, for all its statistical illusions of an Olympian era when titans strode the base paths, for all its seeming permanence in a world aswirl with change, baseball has in fact moved with America, and improved with it.
Although the contestants of today are very different in their abilities, physiologies, attitudes, and training, in a quick glance the game on the field looks the same as that of 1896 or 1956: the rules are pretty much the same; game scores are about the same; and individual performances are about the same. The seamless web of baseball is an illusion, the seams smoothed over by statistics. In the Olympics of 1896, the winning time in the 1500–meter run was 4:33.2; in 2008 it was 3:33.9, a clear statement that in this event, the top runner of today is capable of performances 20 percent better than his counterpart of 1896.
Baseball in 1896, however, saw four men hit over .390, a level of performance seemingly unattainable today. If Jesse Burkett hit .410 to lead the National League in that year—he was one of four men to hit over .390—why does no one today bat 20 percent higher, approaching .500? Or if Burkett was a superman, look at the league average of .290: Why would today’s league averages be lower rather than higher? Was the average player better a century ago? In unmediated sporting competitions, times improve with each generation. In baseball, we move the finish line ever so slightly, with a predictable stabilizing effect on statistics.
Take a football fan of today to a gridiron contest played by the rules of 1896 and he might fairly say that the game and its equipment were so different from the one he knew that it might not be the same game at all. From the size of the players to the nearly spherical shape of the leather-covered pigskin bladder, from the ban on passing to the restrictions on substitution to the scoring values accorded to field goals and touchdowns, football reinvented itself, from a low-scoring game of mass momentum and dangerous formations to one of quick strikes and long gains. The same might be said of basketball at the turn of the century—that with the center jump, lumpy ball, and brutal play at the rim, the low-scoring fracas seemed like nothing so much as football without the padding.
Yet baseball was always baseball. The early game, however you define or demarcate it, was indeed different from the one we see on the field today. Yet players in big-league parks at the turn of the century, packed with thousands of paying spectators, knew that they were taking part in the very same game that had been staged for free at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken only fifty years before. As Bruce Catton noted in American Heritage in 1959:
“The neat green field looks greener and cleaner under the lights, the moving players are silhouetted more sharply, and the enduring visual fascination of the game—the immobile pattern of nine men, grouped according to ancient formula and then, suddenly, to the sound of a wooden bat whacking a round ball, breaking into swift ritualized movement, movement so standardized that even the tyro in the bleachers can tell when someone goes off in the wrong direction—this is as it was in the old days. A gaffer from the era of William McKinley, abruptly brought back to the second half of the twentieth century, would find very little in modern life that would not seem new, strange, and rather bewildering, but put in a good grandstand seat back of first base he would see nothing that was not completely familiar.”
Baseball permits its revelers to defy not only time but also reason. One of the first lessons a fan learns is that in baseball anything, absolutely anything, can happen. Every year something happens that never happened in baseball before. I could point you to David Freese and the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of last year’s World Series. But I prefer to cite a lesser known, relatively recent singularity: In the deciding game of the 2004 Northern League championship series, the St. Paul Saints, trailing 6–3 with two outs and one on in the bottom of the ninth and twice down to their last strike, proceeded to score seven runs, climaxed by a walk-off grand slam, to defeat the Schaumberg Flyers 10–6. In 160 years of recorded baseball history, no team had ever won a championship this way.
Through baseball we sublimate our martial instincts; we emulate our heroes, whom we appoint as champions or surrogates for our hopes and fears; we experience thrills and agonies vicariously, and, in a magical act of transference, we become more truly ourselves—more primal, less inhibited … more like, say, Adam, or Eve. At the ballpark or even in front of the television, fans are, for the interlude of a few hours, different from whom they are in everyday life—masquerading no less than people do at Mardi Gras or Carnivale to revel in life and taunt death. In the drama that is a baseball game the fan imagines himself not a spectator but a participant, as if the fervor of his rooting will have a bearing on the outcome. Like Walter Mitty, he becomes in his mind a player.
When did this illusion of transference and time travel begin? Certainly before the Knickerbockers, Gothams, and Eagles of New York City relocated their home grounds to Hoboken, New Jersey in the 1840s. It was at this time that newly arrived urbanites first began to imbue rural life with a romanticized nostalgia—a Greek compound that literally means “the ache of not being able, ever, to go home again” [nostos, homecoming + algia, pain].
Idyllic America had not disappeared, for in fact it had never existed. The young men who now streamed into the cities ached for their backwoods Paradise Lost, and regained it, however briefly, through play at the Elysian Fields. In the park within the city, they could go home again.
For two decades before baseball games began to be played there, the Elysian Fields had been New York’s favorite “place of general resort for citizens, as well as strangers, for health and recreation,” wrote its proprietor, John Stevens, in 1824. “So easily accessible, and where in a few minutes the dust, noise, and bad smells of the city may be exchanged for the pure air, delightful shades, and completely rural scenery. . . .”
The urban malaise to which Stevens contrasted his sylvan settings was not mere rhetoric. Thousands of New Yorkers had died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1822. Ten summers later, cholera would kill another 3,500, representing one death for every 65 inhabitants at a time when the city’s population was 230,000 (of whom fully a third fled the city that summer). An equivalent mortality in today’s New York of 8 million would be more than 123,000. Because the folk wisdom was that pestilential vapors returned every twelve years, one might well imagine the dread overhanging New York in the mid-1840s.
In these years there were many testaments to baseball’s hygienic properties (“Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms . . . the game of ball is glorious,” Walt Whitman wrote in the Brooklyn Eagle of July 3, 1846). Might the generalized fear of disease, and cholera in particular with its cycle of return—rather than the march of industry upon the former playgrounds of Manhattan—have been the impetus to ballplayers’ flight to the Elysian Fields in the mid–’40s? It is pleasing to think that baseball, as a safe-haven game, would have come to the fore at this perilous time.
Late in life, Henry Chadwick—pioneer writer, consummate moralist, and architect of baseball as a national game—wrote in a letter to the editor of the New York Tribune, “I am thankful to say of the great National field games of England and America, the grand old game of cricket and the comparatively new game of baseball, there is not a brutal feature connected with either of them, and yet both develop the highest qualities of true manhood, courage, endurance, pluck, nerve, honorable competition, and”—here I emphasize his last itemized attribute—“the chivalry of sport.” Yet it had been in some measure the very brutality of early baseball, when brave men donned neither glove nor mask and wore their bruises, shiners, and shinplasters as badges of honor, which attracted devotees and left the lemonade drinkers aghast. And, as I have argued in Baseball in the Garden of Eden, gambling was a necessary prime mover in the progress of baseball toward becoming “America’s cricket.”
As baseball had drawn a newly urban America back to its pseudo-Edenic past, it now helped to carry forward, into a new and increasingly corrupt body politic, the hypothetical democratic values of a bygone age. The newly organized and systematized game, built upon baseball prototypes that had been played in America long before the Revolution, now took on the purity that came with posterity. As more and more baseball clubs organized in the 1850s, the idea of a distant Eden—set not in Revolutionary America but in Medieval England—was in full flower. Courtly rites ripped from the pages of Ivanhoe rendered Walter Scott, even more than Henry Chadwick, the architect of the gentlemanly game favored by the Knickerbockers of New York and the Putnams and Excelsiors of Brooklyn. Early on, the new game of baseball resembled not the raucous old one, of stinging throws and side bets, but the game of England’s stately mansions, cricket.
It was as if, having turned our backs on the Mother Country, we might have been feeling a bit lonely and having second thoughts. In our land of immigrants, united not by class or creed or culture, the ties that bind were those of family, ethnic heritage, faith, and community—all of them local rather than national. Baseball gave promise, early on, of serving as America’s de facto religion, connecting us across all divides of time and space, while rejuvenating the national heritage. “It’s our game,” wrote Whitman, “America’s game . . . it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our Constitution’s laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”
In today’s technological, impersonal, and brittle age, baseball is, in Daniel Boorstin’s phrase, “an oasis of the uncontrived.” It is also our national theater, but with unscripted outcomes. New records are added every day, stretching limitlessly to the horizon line, yet it is the game’s past, appearing to extend equally far in reverse, that binds. Early on, records transformed a boyhood game into a sport, thus “modernizing” it. Yet records also link each present achievement to a prior, sometimes unapproachable, standard. (Think, for example, of Cy Young’s 511 wins, or Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.) Indeed, the early years of major league play provide records that, to one not familiar with the prevailing rules and conditions, are unfathomable: pitchers Jim Devlin of Louisville, Bobby Mathews of New York, and George Bradley of St. Louis each accounting for all his team’s victories in 1876; Will White completing all 75 of his starts in 1879 while pitching 680 innings; Hoss Radbourn winning 59 games in 1884; Tip O’Neill batting .485 in 1887. Were these men of iron, compared to the namby-pambies of today? Of course not.
We cannot come to this conclusion by using conventional statistics and simple comparisons, for the rules tinkerers have flattened out the differences that otherwise would have shown in the averages. We may employ relativist approaches, such as the now classic one first offered in The Hidden Game that equates Carl Yastrzemski’s league-leading .301 of 1968 with Bill Terry’s .401 of 1930—both were some 32 percent beyond league average. Even after this illumination, however, we are still left with the conundrum of assessing the meaning of the league averages themselves.
But these gremlins in the baseball engine have done nothing to inhibit fielding, which has enjoyed a steady ascent since 1876, as measured by the ratio of earned runs to total runs. Anyone who has been watching the game for 30 or 40 years and is of an unbiased cast of mind will tell you that the best fielders of all time, at almost any position you can think of, entered the game after World War II. Old-timers will tell you stories about Hal Chase or George Sisler, but were they better than Wes Parker or Keith Hernandez? Did Rabbit Maranville range farther and wider than Ozzie Guillen? Did Tris Speaker cover more ground than Willie Mays?
In 1952 Ty Cobb wrote an article for Life magazine in which he declared that the only ballplayers of the modem era that could be compared with those of his day were Stan Musial and Phil Rizzuto. Where today is a man like Cobb, who won twelve batting titles in thirteen years? Where is a Rogers Hornsby, who averaged over .400 for a five-year period? A Babe Ruth, who in 1920 hit more homers than fourteen of the fifteen other big-league teams? A Jack Taylor, who over five years completed 187 consecutive starts? Why were so many all-time pitching records set between 1900 and 1919 and so many batting records over the next two decades? These heroes of yore were great players, certainly … yet men of the same ability, or greater, are among us today, their feats camouflaged by the heightened expertise of those around them.
In football, no one imagines that Red Grange would star in today’s NFL. In basketball, who thinks that George Mikan, the greatest player of the 1940s, would even start for an NBA team in 2012? Yet nearly everyone believes that Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson, if teleported to the present day, would dominate the game as they did in the days of yore. Why do so many of us continue to buy this notion?
In the hands of nearly all its practitioners today, baseball history, like history in general, is a moated activity, in which “what happened” is what matters. Permit me to make a perhaps old-fashioned distinction between History and The Past, the former being rooted in what happened, the latter best described as “what binds and sustains,” or what is useful.
In The Death of the Past, J. H. Plumb described this earlier model for history as the establishment of “a psychological reality, used for a social purpose: to stress the virtues of courage, endurance, strength, loyalty and indifference to death.” Baseball provides us with such a mythology, replete with unmatchable feats, admirable heroes, and awe-inspiring legends. By presenting us with an age of wonders, an Edenic past, baseball equips us to have dreams, to take risks, and to be good Americans.
As the response to George Wright’s “lost” interview from 1888 about baseball uniforms was highly complimentary, I give this space over to him once again. The time is again June 1888, the subject is baseball bats—including a number of variants that recall the corked bats of recent times—and the authority is impeccable. In the undefeated 1869 campaign of the Cincinnati Reds, in 57 contests that came against National Association clubs, George Wright’s bat produced an average of five hits and ten total bases per game, collecting 49 home runs among his 304 hits and batting .629. To the argument that the opposition was frequently soft: In the club’s19 games against fellow professionals (the Reds won all, of course), he hit 13 home runs and batted .587. I am indebted to my friend and estimable historian Bob Schaefer for the woodcut illustrations below. Now, to quote the nonpareil player of the age.
There is one curious thing in connection with base ball bats and their use by both professional and amateurs throughout the country which I think has not as yet been noticed, or at least received due attention.
I refer to the very marked changes which have taken place within my own recollection in the size and shape of base ball bats. It is queer whit an effect experience, change in playing rules, and especially the science of curving the ball have had upon them. Formerly long bats were all the rage, and players, both professional and amateur, held up legs of wood, some of them 3-1/2 feet in length, and fanned the air in a way that would seem perfectly ridiculous to the average player to-day.
Henry Chadwick of Brooklyn, the veteran among base ball reporters, was the first to introduce what was known as the square bat. It was forty-two inches in length, and was truly an immense affair. That was about the year 1860, away back in the days of the Knickerbocker, Eagle and Gotham clubs. Chadwick was always present at the games, sitting on the benches, invariably carrying an umbrella under his arm. The square bat, however, proved a fizzle, as the claim that more force was gained in the strike with less labor to the batsman proved untenable when put to the actual test.
At about the same time a hollow ash bat, loaded with a movable ball of lignum vitae, was used as an experiment by some players. A hole was bored some distance into the larger end of the bat, the lignum vitae ball inserted and the hole stopped up, This ball played freely back and forth in the hollow, and whenever the batsman brought forward the bat for the strike the ball rolled toward the end away from the handle, and the ball sent in by the pitcher struck the bat at a point opposite the lignum vitae ball. There was little advantage gained by this, however, as the rolling and snapping of the ball inside the bat often sounded like the tick of a foul ball and occasioned considerable trouble.
About the year 1873-4, in the [Boston] Red Stocking nine, a couple of bats made of willow, with cane handles, like those of cricket bats, were introduced. They had a certain spring end snap to them, but cost about $5 apiece, and as one would last on an average only one game, it was rather expensive. The bail went off with a snap and a spring, but the handles proved weak and were constantly breaking.
One of the most curious bats ever gotten up was one that was put into my hands to test. From the larger end, on the outer surface of the bat, a number of grooves were run up toward the handle for about six inches perhaps. This artful contrivance was to do away, if possible, with any such things as fouls or “ticks,” the claim being that the ball on striking the bat would catch upon the grooves and always be hit “fair.”
This, however, was soon abandoned. A laughable thing happened in connection with another crank “bat” once while I was testing it, which is perhaps worthy of mention. Some person had taken a bat, bored a hole in the larger end for about six inches, inserted several small rubber balls about two inches in diameter, and plugged up the end with cork so as to give to the bat no additional weight. The idea was to have a springy bat that would not crack.
I was striking, and neither the pitcher nor the catcher knew anything at the time about the “crank” bat. A ball was pitched and I struck at it, but unfortunately the stopper in the end of the bat came out and three or four of the rubber balls flew out in all directions, some at the pitcher, some at basemen, and some at the shortstop. There was a pretty lively scrimmage for those balls, I can tell you. I was put out on a “foul,” one “liner,” one “pop fly” and two “sky scrapers” all at once. This was certainly discouraging for a batsman, and I need hardly say that this unfortunate episode brought its career to a timely close.
The real reason for the substitution of the short for the long bat is its lighter weight, and the sharp, quick blow which one can give with it. In an “in-curve,” for instance, the long bat would have to be brought in near the body to hit the ball at all, although the striker generally allows the “in” and “out” curves to pass him, and strikes at the “drops” and “risers.” If any one would invent a base ball bat that would last a season without breaking, a player would willingly give $5 for it. But bats made of the very best stuff are constantly breaking.
“Base ball players are the hardest men in the world to suit in matters relating to their own outfitting when the choice is left to themselves,” said a well known sportinq goods dealer. “Take the matter of bats, for instance, and there are only two men in the Allegheny club who are good judges of the article. These are [Abner] Dalrymple and [Cliff] Carroll, who practically pick out the sticks for the whole team. Carroll brought back with him from Chicago a round dozen good sticks, and probably as many more have been selected since the boys gathered in at the beginning of the season. The Allegheny boys use a good sized bat, weighing: all the way from thirty-eight to forty-five ounces and averaging from thirty-five to thirty-seven inches in length. Another thing that 1 have noticed as peculiar about some of the boys is their superstition regarding a certain stick, which they call their lucky stick and will allow no one else to use. I have seen them stand about open lots watching with deep interest a lot of urchins play until one of them made a good hit. They would then move up, examine the bat, and in all probability buy it for ten times what it cost, though it might be a piece of the commonest kind of ash.”
For a story that would run in the Boston Herald on Monday, June 18, 1888, a reporter engaged George Wright, the sporting-goods magnate (Wright & Ditson) and one-time idol of the baseball world, to offer his thoughts on a subject seldom addressed: the evolution of the baseball uniform. “THE LADIES USED TO BLUSH,” was the headline writer’s master stroke. “When Harry Wright First Wore the Red Stockings,” the heading continued, descending to “Evolution of the Modern Base Ball Costume.”
George Wright had retired as an active player after the 1882 season but was still involved in the game. In 1884 he had been an owner of the Boston franchise in the Union Association, a rival major league that lasted only one season, 1884. And by the end of this year in which he granted the interview, he would join his old teammate and rival Albert G. Spalding on a round the world tour, playing both baseball and cricket, which he had commenced to play with the St. George Club juniors at age nine. At this point I give my column over to George Wright, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937, four months after his death at age ninety, and one of my all-time favorite figures in baseball history. His words have not appeared in print or on the web in all the nearly 125 years since he uttered them.
Thirty years ago, when I first began to play ball [i.e., 1858], there were no professional clubs in existence, and the regularly organized clubs of the time wore uniforms which would seem exceedingly strange and grotesque at the present day. In those days players wore long pants of various colors, either of grey, white, dark blue, or of a mixed check material. Extending down the side of the leg on the seam was sewed a broad white or red stripe, which gave, as you may imagine, a decidedly military air to the garment, in marked contrast to that worn today. At the ankle the pant leg on the outer side was split up a distance of perhaps six inches, and two buttons sewed on, so that by this means the pants could be securely fastened. At a little later period some players made use of a wide skate strap, binding it tightly about the pant leg, instead of the two-button arrangement before alluded to. Both of these contrivances were to aid the player if possible in stooping to pick up a hot grounder, to prevent catching the fingers in the loose cloth and spoiling the play, and also to guard against dirt and small stones flying at the leg while running the bases. There were no sliding pads used in the pants in those days, and I do not remember ever seeing a player try to slide a base.
The shirts worn by the old-time players wore generally made of white, blue or red flannel. Some clubs also had blue and white or black and white checked shirts, made very much in the style of those of the present day [i.e, 1888], but it was seldom that the club name appeared on the shirt front. The caps worn by players were invariably of bright colors, made of merino or flannel, with eight pieces to the crown, plenty large enough, with old-fashioned “peaks” or visors of leather. Well can I remember the caps worn by the Harvard College nine in, I think, the year 1866, while the team was on a tour to New York. They were of a jockey pattern, and fitted close to the head, with very long peaks or visors. I umpired one of the games they played with the Active club. The nine seemed pretty well used up, especially the catcher, who had a very black eye, which he had received in a game the day before, and he was forced to play in another position. Of course, the mask was not in use in those days. The base ball belts of the olden time were made of webbing of various colors, and on the back of one of them would be inscribed in many cases the word “captain.”
In regard to the matter of base ball shoes, the lapse of time has also caused a very marked change. The very first shoes worn by base ball players were made of white canvas, laced high up on the ankle. Now and then, perhaps, some player would have a calf or black leather shoe made to suit his own peculiar fancy, but the high laced canvas shoe was really the first shoe worn. A little later the French calf shoe was found to be more serviceable, in that it would wear much better and longer than canvas, and formed a more satisfactory protection against wet weather, more surely guarding the feet from the damp ground. The shoe of the present day in use to the majority of players is what is known as the “Kangaroo,” a shoe much lighter and stronger than those formerly in use, laced well down to the toe, similar to a running shoe. Some time ago Wright & Ditson made a pair of these kangaroos for Capt. John Morrill, and to this fact I attribute a large measure Capt. John’s good playing this season. This shoe was first introduced by a Philadelphia shoemaker.
In the matter of spikes for baseball shoes the first ones used were the same as those now placed upon cricket shoes. There were four spikes on each shoe, three at the sole and one at the heel. Later on Peck & Snyder of New York introduced spikes screwed into plates set into the sole and heel of the shoe, which could be removed at the player’s will by the use of a key especially prepared for the purpose. But the principal objection to them was that the hole from which the spike was removed would very quickly fill with dirt, after the manner of the heel plates in the old fashioned club skate, which all boys in times past have spent so much time over in digging out. There was also great danger to a player, while fielding or running bases, of being spiked. For this reason a malleable iron plate was invented by some one, with three wide points placed at the centre of the sole of the foot. After this the iron plate, on account of its malleability, would get dull and would not catch on the ground, hence the final introduction of the steel tempered plate now in use. The spine of today is riveted securely to the sole of the shoe, in place of being screwed on as of old, and a well-tempered plate will last a season.
In former times the pitcher, by the constant rubbing and chaffing of the right foot upon the ground, would very soon wear a hole completely through the toe of his shoe. To obviate this an extra piece of leather was put on at this point; but this in turn proving inadequate, the present cup-shaped piece of brass, extending half-way round the inner edge of the toe, was introduced. This contrivance will last a season, and is used now pretty generally. But there is another matter which I feel sure the public will feel more interest in than anything of which I have yet spoken. I refer to the introduction and adoption of knickerbocker short pants among base bail players.
My brother Harry first brought about this important change, and it was somewhat in this manner: The Young America Cricket Club of Philadelphia used often to come to New York, where my brother then was, to play games, and on one of its trips, in the year 1865, the captain of the cricket club presented my brother with a pair of long red stockings. In the succeeding year, 1866, when my brother went on his western trip, he took these stockings with him, and also had made for him a pair of knickerbocker pants to go with them. An extract taken from a Cincinnati paper in regard to this very matter will, perhaps, be of peculiar interest:
Now, be it known that knickerbockers, today so common—the showing of the manly leg in varied colored hose—was unheard of, and when Harry Wright occasionally appeared with the scarlet stockings, young ladies’ faces blushed as red as its hue, and many high-toned members of the club denounced the innovation as immoral and indecent. There were, however, strenuous supporters of the new idea—strong-headed radicals—and at a meeting on Third street they got possession, ‘by strategy, my boy,’ and adopted the uniform, afterward to be a byword, a nickname, a term of ridicule and finally of glory—that is ‘base ball history.’ Later, in 1868, the Cincinnati club, which had up to that time been composed of gentlemen playing ball simply for pleasure, was convened into a professional organization, and in the fall of the same year took its famous trip through the eastern cities, appearing for the first time in red stockings, thus introducing in a general way knee breeches and long stockings into base ball.
All of these historical facts In regard to base ball occurred, you must remember, in and around New York city, where the game of base bail really had its origin. The game was played, of course, in New England, but it was really the old English game of rounders, where there were no bases used, but the players ran to a stake or post placed in the ground. This was, then, in 1858 the New England style of playing our present national game. In New York, at this time, were the Knickerbocker, Gotham, Eagle and Mutual clubs, having their club ground at Hoboken, N. J., at a place called the Elysian Fields. This ground was surrounded by a long line of oak and maple trees, running alongside the Hudson river, and it often happened that some player hit the ball high over the tops of the trees, whence it would sail into the waters of the river far below. Then the game would be stopped for perhaps 15 or 20 minutes to prevail upon some youth to strip and swim for it. If the swimmer was successful in his search, the players would give him 25 to 50 cents, for it was a costly matter in those days to lose a ball, costing, as they did, $2 each. Consequently, this proffered reward kept the small boys in the neighborhood constantly on the alert for long hits over the tree tops, and much rivalry existed as to who should be the chosen swimmer
As 1 have before said, the rows of trees were the only enclosure to the grounds, and hence no admission fee was charged to the crowds of business men, clerks, etc., who, just as at the present time, daily came from the busy city after a hard day’s toil to enjoy the pleasure of seeing a good game of ball and who had only to walk or pay their fare to the grounds to witness their favorite sport. There was also at the Elysian Fields a large hotel called Perry’s, where the clubs had their headquarters. There were, of course, other base ball dubs in existence in Brooklyn, notably the old Atlantics, Stars, Excelsiors, Enterprise, etc., but the real centre of base ball was at Hoboken. Here there were located three grounds, where from six to eight clubs would play practice games on various afternoons of the week, and it was here, while a member of the Gotham club, that I first learned to play ball.
This interview with an unnamed “old pioneer” appeared on page 14 of the San Francisco Examiner on November 27, 1887. It lay buried in the microfilm archives until 2004, when Randall Brown published extensive excerpts from it in his landmark article, “How Baseball Began,” in SABR’s National Pastime. Brown wrote:
The Giants played their first games in San Francisco on Thanksgiving, 1887. The arrival of the New York club (with added attraction Mike Kelly) was big news, especially in the Examiner. True to his pledge “to keep the public fully acquainted with all the phases and variations of the national game, wherever played,” editor and publisher W. R. Hearst [who in the next year would be first to publish "Casey at the Bat"] provided many columns on baseball that week. There were inning-by-inning accounts, interviews with stars like Tim Keefe and John Ward, a feature on the superstitions of ballplayers, and on Sunday, November 27, an “interesting history” entitled “How Baseball Began–A Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It.”
Because the entirety of this recollection, undoubtedly that of William Rufus Wheaton, has not yet been presented on the web, I offer it here in precise transcription, with variant spellings and styles intact.
HOW BASEBALL BEGAN
A Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It.
PLAYED FOR FUN THEN.
The Game Was the Outgrowth of Three-Cornered Cat, Which Had Become Too Tame.
Baseball to-day is not by any means the game from which it sprang. Old men can recollect the time when the only characteristic American ball sport was three-cornered cat, played with a yarn ball and flat paddles.
The game had an humble beginning. An old pioneer, formerly a well-known lawyer and politician, now living in Oakland, related the following interesting history of how it originated to an EXAMINER reporter:
“In the thirties I lived at the corner of Rutgers street and East Broadway in New York. I was admitted to the bar in ’36, and was very fond of physical exercise. In fact we all were in those days, and we sought it wherever it could be found. There were at that time two cricket clubs in New York city, the St. George and the New York, and one in Brooklyn called the ‘Star,’ of which Alexander Campbell, who afterwards became well known as a criminal lawyer in ‘Frisco, was a member. There was a racket club in Allen street with an inclosed court. [A note in the Clipper on October 23, 1880 evokes the period: "In olden times Chatham square used to be an open meadow or common, and was the play-ground of the boys of this city. Baseball was the favorite game played on the square, but it was then a simple pastime, with flat sticks or axe-handles for bats, and yarn balls. Occasionally a boy, more lucky than the rest, would bring on the ground a ball made of a sturgeon’s nose, procured from the racket court in Allen street, where it had been driven over the wall by a rash blow."]
Myself and intimates, young merchants, lawyers and physicians, found cricket to[o] slow and lazy a game. We couldn’t get enough exercise out of it. Only the bowler and the batter had anything to do, and the rest of the players might stand around all the afternoon without getting a chance to stretch their legs. Racket was lively enough, but it was expensive and not in an open field where we could have full swing and plenty of fresh air with a chance to roll on the grass. Three-cornered cat was a boy’s game, and did well enough for slight youngsters, but it was a dangerous game for powerful men, because the ball was thrown to put out a man between bases, and it had to hit the runner to put him out. The ball was made of a hard rubber center, tightly wrapped with yarn, and in the hands of a strong-armed man it was a terrible missile, and sometimes had fatal results when it came in contact with a delicate part of the player’s anatomy.
THE GOTHAM BASEBALL CLUB.
[“]We had to have a good outdoor game, and as the games then in vogue didn’t suit us we decided to remodel three-cornered cat and make a new game. We first organized what we called the Gotham Baseball Club. This was the first ball organization in the United States, and it was completed in 1837. Among the members were Dr. John Miller, a popular physician of that day; John Murphy, a well-known hotel-keeper; and James Lee, President of the New York Chamber of Commerce. To show the difference between times then and now, it is enough to say that you would as soon expect to find a Bishop or Chief Justice playing ball as the present President of the Chamber of Commerce. Yet in old times everybody was fond of outdoor exercise, and sober merchants and practitioners played ball till their joints got so stiff with age they couldn’t run. It is to the oft-repeated and vigorous open-air exercise of my early manhood that I owe my vigor at the age of 73.
[“]The first step we took in making baseball was to abolish the rule of throwing the ball at the runner and order that it should be thrown to the baseman instead, who had to touch the runner with it before he reached the base. During the regime of three-cornered cat there were no regular bases, but only such permanent objects as a bedded boulder or an old stump, and often the diamond looked strangely like an irregular polygon. We laid out the ground at Madisonsquare in the form of an accurate diamond, with home-plate and sand-bags for bases. You must remember that what is now called Madison square, opposite the Fifth Avenue Hotel, in the thirties was out in the country, far from the city limits. We had no short-stop, and often played with only six or seven men on a side. The scorer kept the game in a book we had made for that purpose, and it was he who decided all disputed points. The modern umpire and his tribulations were unknown to us.
HOW THEY PLAYED THEN.
[“]We played for fun and health, and won every time. The pitcher really pitched the ball and underhand throwing was forbidden. Moreover he pitched the ball so the batsman could strike it and give some work to the fielders. The men outside the diamond always placed themselves where they could do the most good and take part in the game. Nowadays the game seems to be played almost entirely by the pitcher and catcher. The pitcher sends his ball purposely in a baffling way, so that the batsman half the time can’t get a strike [meaning "a hit"] or reach a base. After the Gotham club had been in existence a few months it was found necessary to reduce the rules of the new game to writing. This work fell to my hands, and the code I then formulated is substantially that in use to-day. We abandoned the old rule of putting out on the first bound and confined it to fly catching. The Gothams played a game of ball with the Star Cricket Club of Brooklyn and beat the Englishmen out of sight, of course. That game and the return were the only two matches [i.e., games with other clubs] ever played by the first baseball club. [NOTE: These undoubtedly refer to the contests of October 1845, amply reported in the press and the subject of my previous post at Our Game.]
[“]The new game quickly became very popular with New Yorkers, and the numbers of the club soon swelled beyond the fastidious notions of some of us, and we decided to withdraw and found a new organization, which we called the Knickerbocker. For a playground we chose the Elysian fields of Hoboken, just across the Hudson river. And those fields were truly Elysian to us in those days. There was a broad, firm, greensward, fringed with fine shady trees, where we could recline during intervals, when waiting for a strike [i.e., a turn at bat],and take a refreshing rest.
LOTS OF EXERCISE AND FUN.
[“]We played no exhibition or match games, but often our families would come over and look on with much enjoyment. Then we used to have dinner in the middle of the day, and twice a week we would spend the whole afternoon in ball play. We were all mature men and in business, but we didn’t have too much of it as they do nowadays. There was none of that hurry and worry so characteristic of the present New York. We enjoyed life and didn’t wear out so fast. In the old game when a man struck out[,] those of his side who happened to be on the bases had to come in and lose that chance of making a run. We changed that and made the rule which holds good now. The difference between cricket and baseball illustrates the difference between our lively people and the phlegmatic English. Before the new game was made we all played cricket, and I was so proficient as to win the prize bat and ball with a score of 60 in a match cricket game in New York of 1848, the year before I came to this Coast. But I never liked cricket as well as our game. When I saw the game between the Unions and the Bohemians the other day, I said to myself if some of my old playmates who have been dead forty years could arise and see this game they would declare it was the same old game we used to play in the Elysian Fields, with the exception of the short-stop, the umpire, and such slight variations as the swift underhand throw, the masked catcher and the uniforms of the players. We started out to make a game simply for safe and healthy recreation. Now, it seems, baseball is played for money and has become a regular business, and, doubtless, the hope of beholding a head or limb broken is no small part of the attraction to many onlookers.”
Three games between rival clubs were played in October 1845. Any one of these might suffice to refute the longstanding claim that the contest of June 19, 1846 between the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and the New York Baseball Club was the “first match game.” The last named may still be considered the first that was certainly played by the Knickerbocker rules that were adopted on September 23, 1845, but even this assertion begs several larger questions: (a) were the Knickerbockers the first club to play by written rules; (b) were they truly the pioneer club; (c) were the Knickerbocker and New York clubs distinct, or were they blended, playing on June 19, 1846 what amounted to an intramural match like the many that the Knickerbockers had played earlier?
This is a big topic, upon which I have written previously and will again. For now, let’s focus on October 1845.
The Knickerbockers, recently organized under that name after several years play at New York’s Madison Square and Murray Hill, played their first recorded game on October 6. Although they commenced formal play in brisk weather, the Knickerbockers managed to squeeze in fourteen games before shutting down to await April 1846 and the opening of a new season. The scoring for these contests survives in their Game Book, held by the New York Public Library and, gloriously, readily available to researchers.
In the first intrasquad game, seven Knickerbockers won by a count of 11–8 over seven of their fellows in three innings. The rules calling for the victor to accumulate 21 runs over as many innings as that might take was, clearly, observed in the breach. Not for a dozen additional years would the rules of baseball require a set number of innings or players to the side, and these were at first settled upon as seven, not nine!
The umpire of this practice game was William Rufus Wheaton, who by his own account had reduced the rules of the Gotham Base Ball Club to writing in 1837. A skilled cricket player, Wheaton came to prefer baseball in the 1830s; his Gothams also went by the name Washingtons, signifying either their primacy among baseball clubs or their possible origin among the butchers and produce vendors of the Washington Market. As the years went by, the Gothams spawned offshoots, including both the New Yorks and the Knickerbockers. In 1887 Wheaton said to a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, in a piece titled “How Baseball Began: A Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It”:
The new game quickly became very popular with New Yorkers, and the numbers of the club soon swelled beyond the fastidious notions of some of us, and we decided to withdraw and found a new organization, which we called the Knickerbocker. For a playground we chose the Elysian fields of Hoboken, just across the Hudson river…. We played no exhibition or match games [emphasis mine], but often our families would come over and look on with much enjoyment. Then we used to have dinner in the middle of the day, and twice a week we would spend the whole afternoon in ball play.
I will post the entirety of this interview, discovered by Randall Brown in 2004, as my next entry at Our Game. To now it has appeared on the web only in excerpted form.
William H. Tucker, who in some unknown measure assisted Wheaton in laying down the Knickerbocker rules, played in ten of the fourteen contests, including the one on October 6, in which he scored three of the losing squad’s eight runs. Like Wheaton and other Knickerbockers, he had been a player with the New York Ball Club and maintained a tie to them, indeed playing in two formal matches of the New Yorks with the Brooklyn Club on October 21 and 24 of 1845, a month after he had helped to form the Knicks. In his 1998 history of American cricket, Tom Melville pointed to an even earlier contest between these two clubs, on October 11 (actually October 10), reported in the New York Morning News. Research more than a decade later has revealed a somewhat fuller account in the obscure and short-lived newspaper the True Sun:
The Base Ball match between eight Brooklyn players, and eight players of New York, came off on Friday on the grounds of the Union Star Cricket Club. The Yorkers were singularly unfortunate in scoring but one run in their three innings. Brooklyn scored 22 and of course came off winners.
Wheaton also umpired the game of October 24, 1845 between New York and Brooklyn, and played in the game of November 10 to mark the second anniversary of the New York Club, which, like the recently discovered Magnolia Ball Club, had commenced play at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields in 1843—two years before the Knickerbockers.
Many of the early New York baseballists had cut their teeth on cricket, and this was true of the Brooklyn players as well. In the game of October 21, conducted at the Elysian Fields, the Brooklyn Club (possibly not the same men who had played in the game of October 10, as no box score survives) were originally reported to be the victors once again, but this report proved an error. As was reported the next day, the eight players of the New York club won handily, and did so again in the game of October 24, played at the grounds of the Union Star Cricket Club, opposite Sharp’s Hotel, at the corner of Myrtle and Portland Avenues, near Fort Greene. The scores were, respectively, 24–4 and 37–19. On both these occasions the Brooklyn club included established cricketers John Hines, William Gilmore, John Hardy, William H. Sharp, and Theodore Forman. Their lineup appears to have been identical for the two games, as the Ayers of October 21 and the Meyers of October 24 may be the same individual, while the other seven men match up.
There is more work to be done with all this, certainly, but to me the NYBBC anniversary match of November 10, 1845, seems to me to have much in common with the purported “first match game” of June 19, 1846, while the games of October 1845, particularly the latter two, seem to be true match games between wholly differentiated clubs. (It could be argued–I certainly would–that the Knickerbockers played NO match games until they met the Gotham (a.k.a. Washington) club on June 11, 1851, a game the Knicks won by a count of 21-11.)
In the New York Herald of November 11, 1845 appeared the following squib, a trailing part of a larger article on trotting at the Centreville Track on Long Island.
NEW YORK BASE BALL CLUB:–The second Anniversary of this Club came off yesterday, on the ground in the Elysian fields. The game was as follows:
Murphy 4 Winslow 4
Johnson 4 Case 4
Lyon 3 Granger 1
Wheaton 3 Lalor 3
Sweet 3 Cone 1
Seaman 1 Sweet 4
Venn 2 Harold 3
Gilmore 1 Clair 2
Tucker 3 Wilson 1
– - – -
J.M. Marsh, Esq., Umpire and Scorer
After the match, the parties took dinner at Mr. McCarty’s, Hoboken, as a wind up for the season. The Club were honored by the presence of representatives from the Union Star Cricket Club, the Knickerbocker Clubs, senior and junior, and other gentlemen of note.
Several interesting things emerge from this notice of the game played on November 10.
Prominent Knickerbocker names are present—Wheaton, Tucker, Cone, Clair (Clare). So too are Gotham players of earlier prominence—Lalor, Ransom, Murphy, Johnson, Winslow, Case. The Davis who plays here and in the game of June 19, 1846 is not James Whyte Davis, who was elected a member in 1850 and marked his 25th anniversary with the club in 1875. Venn is Harry Venn, proprietor of the Gotham Cottage (a billiard and bowling saloon) at 298 Bowery, longtime clubhouse to the Gotham BBC. Gilmore is one of the cricketers who played baseball with the Brooklyns on October 21 and 24.
The game was played nine to the side, clearly to 21 runs or more in equal innings. The two sides were unnamed, and the game was an intramural one despite the presence of Knickerbockers. While the New Yorks and their invited friends were celebrating their second year as an organized club, on another field in Hoboken that day, the Knickerbockers were playing an intramural match all their own.
Playing with eight to the side, including a first appearance for Charles S. Debost, the squads lined up this way:
Charles A. Peverelly wrote this in 1866, clearly fed his lines by a member of the Knickerbockers:
On June 5, 1846, the first honorary members were elected, viz. James Lee and Abraham Tucker. At the same meeting Curry, Adams and Tucker were appointed a committee to arrange the preliminaries, and conclude a match with the New York Base Ball Club. From all the information the writer has been able to gather, it appears that this was not an organized club, but merely a party of gentlemen who played together frequently, and styled themselves the New York Club. However, the match was played at Hoboken on June 19, 1846, it being the first the Club engaged in, and the particulars are certainly not creditable as far as runs are concerned. But four innings were played, as it will be remembered the game was won by the parties making twenty-one aces, or over, on even innings.
The scoresheet from that game, depicted at the head of this post, was written over in later years, probably by James Whyte Davis, to give the game the appearance of a match between two distinct clubs. But was it viewed that way by the men who had played in it?
On September 25 last year, Major League Baseball marked a contest between the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park as its 200,000th game. As I noted on this blog, the counting commenced with the first game played in the National League, on April 22, 1876, between the Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics. Because of its erratic scheduling and ephemeral franchises, games of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (1871-75) were not included in the computation. All the same, the NAABP, generally abbreviated today simply as NA, presented a fascinating history, and nearly all of the men who played in the NL’s first season had come from its ranks.
On the rainy evening of March 17, 1871, delegates from ten professional baseball clubs met at Collier’s Rooms in New York City, an upstairs saloon run by thirty-two-year-old character actor James W. Collier at the corner of Broadway and 13th Street, just across from Wallack’s Theatre, where he frequently trod the boards. The clubs had come together at the invitation of the Mutuals to establish a new professional National Association, based largely upon the rules and regulations of the amateur National Association of Base Ball Players from which they had just departed.
Of the ten clubs present that evening, eight plunked down the mandatory ten dollars to join: the already established Athletics (Philadelphia), Mutuals (New York), Olympics (Washington), Haymakers (Troy), White Stockings (Chicago), two Forest City clubs (Rockford and Cleveland), plus Harry Wright’s newly founded Red Stockings of Boston. The Eckfords of Brooklyn and Nationals of Washington sent delegates to the meeting, but held tight to their wallets and did not join the new National Association for play in 1871. The Atlantics of Brooklyn, who might have been expected to join, did not send a delegate, deciding to retain so-called amateur status.
In the days that followed, a surprising ninth club came across with the dues: the Kekionga of Fort Wayne, Indiana, named for the Miami Indian settlement around which Fort Wayne grew. In the Miami language, Kekionga meant “blackberry patch.” Woefully uncompetitive against the big clubs in previous seasons, the Kekiongas had lost two games to the unbeaten Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 by scores of 86–8, and 41–7, then took a 70–1 pasting in the following year. Yet now the Fort Wayne hayseeds declared themselves a fully professional nine, based on their having picked up, in August 1870, several stranded players from the Maryland Club of Baltimore, which had run out of funds while playing in Chicago. The star of the Marylands had been diminutive pitcher Bobby Mathews, who would now pitch for the Kekiongas. Eleven days after the meeting at Collier’s Rooms, the Kekionga directors dispatched George J. E. Mayer—the club’s secretary, catcher, and captain in 1870—to New York to acquire additional professional players, which he did.
The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players launched its inaugural season with a single game on May 4, 1871. The Forest City of Cleveland, a strong club led by Jim “Deacon” White, came to Fort Wayne to play the revamped Kekionga, none of whose players had yet cut much of a figure in the baseball world except Mathews, who was only nineteen. Mayer had given up his position in the nine to Billy Lennon, a stronger catcher he recruited from the Mohawks of New York.
In what the Fort Wayne correspondent to the Chicago Tribune called “the finest game on record in this country,” Mathews shut out the visiting Forest Citys by 2–0 in a game in which there were no errors by Cleveland and only three by Fort Wayne, a marvel in those days of bare hands and rutted fields. Moreover, the low score was unprecedented among top-level clubs, the previous “model game” being the victory of the Cincinnati Red Stockings over the Mutuals by a score of 4–2 on June 15, 1869.
The outcome was also a great upset. The Cleveland Herald had written of their darlings beforehand: “The Forest Citys left yesterday for a brief Western tour. The first club that they are expected to slaughter is the Kekiongas, of Fort Wayne, which little job is to be performed this afternoon. If the Kekiongas play half as bad as their name sounds, they will be awful tired tonight. Kekionga! Ugh! Big Injun!”
The day after the game, the same newspaper felt compelled to report:
There were ten very badly surprised young men at Fort Wayne last evening, not to speak of some others who remained in Cleveland. The ten went out to Indiana to begin the slaughtering for 1871, but what little slaughtering there was happened to be on the other side.
Because of threatening weather, only 200 spectators witnessed this historic game at Fort Wayne’s Grand Dutchess ballpark. Play was finally stopped by rain after the top of the ninth inning had been concluded, depriving the Kekiongas of their completed final at bat, although some box scores indicted that each side had recorded 27 outs. (It was not yet the custom for the home club, leading after eight and a half frames, to dispense with its final turn; this practice was a vestige of baseball’s original purpose, field exercise.)
After a scoreless first inning, the Kekionga broke through for a run in the bottom of the second. Lennon led off with a double. Tom Carey lifted a fly to center, where Cleveland’s Art Allison made a running one-hand grab, “the finest fly catch ever made, he falling and rolling over two or three times.” Ed Mincher also was retired, but Joe McDermott singled to bring Lennon home. The Kekionga added a run in the fifth, needless as it turned out. Each club registered only four hits.
“The Cleveland boys were well satisfied with the result,” reported the Cincinnati Gazette, “and that they are recorded as playing the finest game in the country.” For the citizens of Fort Wayne, however, this glorious victory turned out to be very nearly the club’s high water mark. After winning three of its next four contests, the Kekionga went 1–11; despite winning two games at home in late August, it chose to disband on that relative high note.