Who Was George Wright? Part Two

George Wright with Union of Morrisania, 1866

George Wright with Union of Morrisania, 1866

My biographical profile of George Wright, continued from yesterday: https://goo.gl/B2fxp3.

In 1866 George returned to New York City and assumed his first (covertly) paid baseball position as shortstop and sometime third baseman of the Union Club of Morrisania. This was a celebrated early team, of interest for such other professionals as Dave Birdsall, who went on to play with George for Boston in the National Association, and Charlie Pabor, longtime pitcher and outfielder with the most inexplicable of all baseball nicknames: “The Old Woman with the Red Cap.”

But peripatetic George left the champion Unions after the 1866 campaign to join the subsidized Washington Nationals as they planned their tour of the West (what is today termed the Midwest). George was supposedly earning his living as a government clerk, but the address of his “employer” as listed in the City Directory was a public park. Below are the Nationals and their nominal occupations and places of employ. No one seemed to mind their extended absence from their desks during the tour.[9]

W.F. Williams, law student

F.P. Norton, clerk in Treasury.

G.H.E. Fletcher, clerk in Third Auditor’s Office.

E.A. Parker, clerk in Internal Revenue Department.

E.G. Smith, clerk in Fourth Auditor’s Office.

Geo. H. Fox, graduate (July 3), Georgetown College.

S.L. Studley, clerk in Treasury.

H.W. Berthrong, clerk for Comptroller of the Currency.

George Wright, clerk, 238 Pennsylvania Avenue.

H.C. McLean, clerk in Third Auditor’s Office.

A.N. Robinson, clerk, Washington D.C.

The Nationals traveled as far as Illinois, where they were upset—in their only loss of the tour—by the Forest City of Rockford and their boy pitcher, Albert Spalding. George “played short, and his style of meeting a ground ball with his heels, brought together as the ball came within handling distance, and meeting it well in front to deaden it by giving with it, was something new, and, as described in 1897, “has never been improved on to this day.”[10]

Cincinnati Red Stockings, 1868

Cincinnati Red Stockings, 1868; Harry Wright seated at left

In a game against the Cincinnati Red Stockings, Harry’s expected pleasure in playing against his brother’s club soon was dashed: After initially holding their own against the Nationals, tied at 6–6 into the fourth inning, the Reds ultimately were humiliated by a count of 53–10. Although this would be their only loss of the year, it came against their lone opponent from outside the tristate area, and so a lesson was there to be drawn. At the end of the season, the Red Stocking club directors instructed Harry to follow the Nationals’ model and begin recruiting professionals from distant places.

Wright Bros. Sporting Goods; Clipper, April 18, 1868

Wright Brothers Sporting Goods; Clipper, April 18, 1868

Returning to New York in 1868, George was welcomed back by the Unions of Morrisania. In a little noted sidelight, the return to New York enabled George, with the distant participation of brother Harry, to establish a “base ball and cricket depot.”[11] In the 1869 New York city directory, George Wright is listed as being in the business of “balls,” at 615 Broadway, residing at 300 Willow in Hoboken. Harry is listed in the same place of business, though with an unlisted residence; we of course know he resided in Cincinnati.[12] The venture lasted only this one year, but would be resumed in Boston in 1871 as [George] Wright & [Charles] Gould at 18 Boylston Street and, later on, as the long-lived [George] Wright & [Henry A.] Ditson firm. In between, George had a solo operation, selling “cigars and base ball goods,” at, first, 18 Boylston; then, 591 Washington Street; and, next, 39 Eliot Street. Harry Wright’s later partners in Boston-based sporting goods would be George Howland and Louis Mahn.

We have seen that Harry felt the need to improve his Red Stockings after their thrashing by the Nationals. The arrival in 1868 of pitcher Asa Brainard from the 1867 Nationals—he had been the successor to Jim Creighton with the Excelsior of Brooklyn—and local first baseman Charlie Gould strengthened the club. He also signed New Yorkers John Van Buskirk Hatfield and Fred Waterman, and brought in catcher Doug Allison from Philadelphia. For 1869, he embraced the Nationals’ model of total professionalism. In short order Harry turned away all the club’s local lads except for Gould; relinquished the revolver Hatfield back to the Mutuals, his former club; and signed Cal McVey from Indianapolis. He also reached terms with Charlie Sweasy, Andy Leonard, and Dick Hurley from the local Buckeyes, the first two having come to Cincinnati by way of their former club, the Irvingtons of New Jersey, the last named by way of Columbia College in New York.

First Nine of the Cincinnati Red Stockings

First Nine of the Red Stockings

But Harry’s great coup was to secure the perpetually available services brother George, unbound by long-term contract or a not yet dreamed reserve clause. Thus were the 1869 Red Stockings set to become the most accomplished club in the land and, at $9,300 in salaries alone, the most profligate. George was paid $1,400, even more than Harry, whose $1,200 salary was second highest. The money made the team powerful, but no one could have imagined that they would be literally unbeatable. George Wright became baseball’s first nationwide hero.

The Red Stockings took on all comers, from Maine to California, in 1869, and never tasted defeat. They won 84 consecutive games in 1869–1870 before getting their comeuppance from the venerable Atlantics of Brooklyn, the champions of several earlier 1860s campaigns.

On June 14, 1870, at the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn, the Reds jumped off to a 2–0 lead in the first, but the Atlantics held a lead of 4–3 after six frames. The Reds regained the lead with two tallies in the seventh, but the Atlantics knotted the contest at 5–5 in the eighth, and there things stood at the conclusion of nine innings. Captain Bob Ferguson of the Atlantics agreed to a draw, as was the custom, but Harry Wright of the Reds insisted that the game be played to a conclusion, “if it took all summer.”[13] Backed up by Reds president Aaron B. Champion, he ordered his men back on the field. Ferguson then did the same for his Atlantics.

After a scoreless 10th, the Reds appeared to settle the issue with two runs in the top of the 11th. But Brainard’s nerve was wearing thin, according to the New York Clipper report.[14] He allowed a leadoff single to Charlie Smith, then followed with a wild pitch that sent Smith all the way to third. “Old Reliable,” first baseman Joe Start, drove a long fly to right field, where Cal McVey had difficulty extricating the ball from the standing-room-only crowd. Smith scored, and now Start was on third. At this point Ferguson came to the plate and, seeing how his men had been foiled by George Wright’s brilliant plays time and again, the right-handed hitter turned around to bat from the left side, simply to keep the ball away from the Reds’ shortstop—thus becoming the game’s first documented switch hitter.

June 14, 1870, Reds vs Atlantics; Harper's Weekly

June 14, 1870, Reds vs Atlantics; Harper’s Weekly

Ferguson drove the ball past the second baseman to tie the score. When George Zettlein drove a liner toward first base, Charlie Gould blocked it, but threw hurriedly and wildly to second base in an attempt to force Ferguson. The ball skittered into left field, and Ferguson scampered home with the winning run. Additional batters came to the plate, for the rules did not yet call for the game to end until three outs were registered in the final half inning, but no further scoring ensued. After the contest, Champion telegraphed the following message back to Cincinnati: “Atlantics 8, Cincinnatis 7. The finest game ever played. Our boys did nobly, but fortune was against us. Eleven innings played. Though beaten, not disgraced.”[15]

Interest in the Red Stockings waned in the second half of the 1870 season as they had the temerity to lose six of that season’s 74 contests. Cincinnati fans, their passions stoked by the club’s directors, accused the players—the Wrights in particular—of sabotage.[16]

During the various tours our club made through the country the past season, these players [the Wrights], it is said, convened councils of the best and most prominent members of opposing nines. In these councils they took pains to impress upon the minds of their fellow professionals the great value of their services, and the limited compensation they were receiving…. The result of all this maneuvering has been that the players whose services are desirable hold themselves at such enormous figures as to preclude the possibility of engaging them with any hope of meeting expenses with the receipts of games…. The officers of the Cincinnati club are, of course, highly indignant at this procedure upon the part of the Wrights, and with characteristic independence, will not submit to be dictated to…. The members of the late first nine, with their inflated ideas of their market value, will be permitted to drift wherever chance or self-interest may lead them.[17] 

Has it not been ever thus? The Cincinnati directors withdrew their support, the club disbanded, and the ballpark was razed, with the lumber and the Red Stocking trophy bats and balls hammered down at auction.

Boston 1871

Boston 1871

Harry “drifted on” on to form the Boston Red Stockings as a charter member of the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, bringing along fellow Cincinnati alumni McVey, Gould, Sweasy, and brother George. To this nucleus he added Rockford stars Al Spalding and Ross Barnes and Cleveland’s Deacon White. The rest of the 1870 Reds—Brainard, Leonard, Waterman, and Allison—went to Washington to play with the Olympics.

Despite its imposing lineup, Boston fell short of the winning the flag in 1871 as George suffered a leg injury in an outfield collision that kept him out of all but 16 of the club’s 31 games. Second baseman Barnes was compelled to play shortstop, with the light-hitting Sam Jackson taking over at the keystone sack.

The league provided no mandated slate of games, but instead left it to the clubs to schedule five games with each competitor with three victories ending the series—so the teams played varying numbers of games. Winning percentage did not determine the champion. But the major innovation of the National Association, besides its very existence, was the establishment of a pennant race. The Philadelphia Athletics captured the flag in that inaugural season, by virtue of a defeat on October 30 of the demoralized Chicago White Stockings, playing in borrowed uniforms of various hues and styles because their equipment (and their ballpark) had been destroyed in the Great Fire three weeks earlier.

The Wrights and Boston, however, rolled over the competition in the next four years, winning by increasingly grotesque margins, thus hastening the demise of the National Association. George, who hit .413 in his curtailed season of 1871, went on to hit .337, .387, .329, and .333 while fielding his position brilliantly.

Part Three, in conclusion, tomorrow!


[9] Ball Players’ Chronicle, August 8, 1867, 2, in letter from Frank Jones, club president.

[10]  George V. Tuohey, A History of the Boston Base Ball Club (Boston: M.F. Quinn, 1897), 198.

[11] Ball Players’ Chronicle, March 3, 1868, 77.

[12] New York City Directory, 1869 directory listing.

[13] Harry Ellard, Base Ball in Cincinnati: A History (Cincinnati: Privately published, 1907), 188.

[14] New York Clipper, June 25, 1870.

[15] Ellard, 189.

[16] Cincinnati Daily Gazette, November 23, 1870.

[17] Ibid.

Who Was George Wright?

George Wright, by Graig Kreindler

George Wright, by Graig Kreindler

I wrote this profile of George Wright, one of my handful of favorite players, as part of SABR’s effort to tell the story of the first great team in baseball’s first professional league. The book in which this essay appears is Boston’s First Nine: The 1871-75 Boston Red Stockings, edited by Bob LeMoine, Bill Nowlin, and Len Levin. The ebook and paperbound versions may be ordered (https://goo.gl/xLOdI1). But I heartily recommend that you get it, along with so many other splendid books, for free by joining SABR (http://sabr.org). Finally in this prefatory line, I’d like to thank artist Graig Kreindler for his permission to reproduce his fine portrait of Our Hero, and for his many kindnesses in support of baseball history. Now, here’s George, whose long and fabulous career commands a full-length biography.

“Whenever he would pull off one of those grand, unexpected plays that were so dazzlingly surprising as to dumbfound his opponents, his prominent teeth would gleam and glisten in an array of white molars that would put our own Teddy Roosevelt and his famed dentistry establishment far in the shadow.”––Sam Crane[1]

Who was George Wright? That fans should ask such a question today is unfathomable, but fame can be fleeting, even when memorialized in a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Wright was elected in 1937, did not live to see his plaque installed, and after all these years has been the subject of no book-length biography. Yet he was honored in his generation, and was the glory of his times.

As the greatest player of the period before professional league play, he was the game’s first revolving free agent, selling his services to the highest bidder in each of five successive seasons following the Civil War. In 1869 he was the shortstop and batting star of the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings, who took on all comers coast to coast. In 57 contests that the Red Stockings played against National Association clubs—established amateur and professional teams—George Wright’s bat produced an average of five hits and 10 total bases per game, with 49 home runs among his 304 hits and a batting average of .629. (To the argument that the opposition was frequently soft: in the club’s 19 games against fellow professionals—the Reds won all, of course—he hit 13 home runs and batted .587.)

From Seymour Church, Base Ball: George Wright and the Golden Gate

From Seymour Church, Base Ball: George Wright and the Golden Gate

Wright revolutionized the style of playing shortstop, taking advantage of his magnificent arm to play beyond the baselines, an innovation. He led the Boston Red Stockings to six championships in the 1870s, then moseyed down the road to Providence at decade’s end and won another. He began a sporting-goods empire that involved him his whole life long; championed the new sports of golf and tennis in this country; played top-rank cricket in baseball’s two first international tours (1874 and 1888–1889) and remained active in that sport well into his fifties. He was an enthusiastic golfer in his twilight years and remained a lifelong proponent of exercise and competition.

There’s the summary, for he who must run as he reads. But the details of George Wright’s epic life are certainly not as well-known as those of Babe Ruth, and he may fairly be called the Babe Ruth of his time. Chronology is God’s way of telling a story, so let’s begin at the beginning.

As with Ruth, who believed that he was born in 1894 until it was revealed to him, 40 years later, that he was one year younger, George Wright has had his debut botched to this very day. Most sources (including the Hall of Fame) assert that he was born in the Westchester County city of Yonkers, New York on January 28, 1847.

But in fact George was born in the northern region of New York City known as Yorkville or Harlem.[2] More specifically, he was born into a cricket family whose home was at Third Avenue and 110th Street, easy walking distance to the Red House Grounds, where his father Samuel was the resident professional for the St. George Cricket Club (SGCC), which welcomed British expatriates but not players of American birth.

Cricket at Red House, grounds, Harlem, 1851

Cricket at Red House Grounds, Harlem, 1851

Samuel had been born in Sheffield, Yorkshire in 1812 and with his wife Ann (Tone) Wright and young son Harry (born in 1835), he came to the United States via Liverpool in 1836, lured by an offer from the Dragon Slayers. The other Wright children were all born in New York, including George’s older brother Daniel and younger brothers William and Samuel Jr. Harry trained as a silversmith (and George as an engraver) but, like his brothers in turn took to cricket under their father’s tutelage and, in the case of Harry and George, went on to become assistant professionals with the SGCC.

Samuel Wright

Samuel Wright

In 1854 the St. George Cricket Club—which had begun life in the 1830s with grounds at Manhattan’s Bloomingdale Road (today’s Broadway) and 30th Street before relocating to the Red House Grounds—accepted the invitation of the New York Cricket Club, whose players were all American-born, to share their space at the Elysian Fields across the Hudson River.[3] The Wright household relocated to Hoboken and Sam Sr. continued as instructor, groundskeeper, and principal bowler. Harry became a formidable cricketer, playing his first contest with the SGCC in 1850.[4]

Little Georgie, “when scarcely taller than a wicket,” also displayed a great aptitude for the game, and by his own account began play with the junior club in 1857, at the age of 10. By the time he turned thirteen, in 1860, he began to play alongside the men of St. George.[5] When he was 16 years old, in 1863, he played in first-eleven matches with men twice his own age. Let George tell his own cricket story:

I first commenced playing cricket when about ten years of age in the rear of the house where I lived at Hoboken, N.J. Under a long grape arbor my father first placed a cricket bat in my hands and taught me the way to handle it, as well as the way to bowl. The first match I played in was at the age of thirteen, as one of the St. George’s junior eleven against the Newark Juniors, at Newark (I then being not much higher than the wickets). I bowled well in this match, taking five wickets, for which the president of the St. George Club gave me a silver quarter dollar for each wicket captured. During that season I also played in several second eleven matches, after which I commenced to play on the first eleven at different times, and when sixteen years old I became a regular first eleven man. I visited Boston with the club, and no doubt many of the old cricket members of the Boston Club will remember me as little Georgie, as I was then called. In this match, against the Boston Club, I made double figures and bowled well, for which I was presented with a silver mug. After the match I threw a cricket ball one hundred and fifteen yards, which was considered a very long throw in those days. The Boston cricketers took my cap and placed in it many silver dollars…. During the two seasons I was with the Cincinnati Reds, I played one cricket match, that was when the club visited California, we playing a picked eleven of San Francisco, defeating the cricketers easily. I made 50 runs in this match. During the time I was a member of the Boston Baseball Club, the team played three or four matches a season, generally defeating all comers, owing to the good fielding of our ball players, and the bowling of my brother, Harry, and myself. In 1872 I was selected as one of the Massachusetts Twenty-two to play against Grace’s Eleven, which game was played on the baseball grounds…. After retiring from baseball in 1880, I became a regular member of the Longwood Club, of Boston, playing with them ever since. Cricket was my first game, and I always enjoyed playing it, and I look forward to continue playing it for a number of years to come.[6]

St. George Cricket Club, 1861, with George Wright at 14

St. George Cricket Club, 1861, with George Wright at 14

The Wright brothers had become infatuated with baseball, too. Both had been exposed to the American game and played with verve on fields adjoining the cricket grounds at the Elysian Fields. “There were, of course,” George recalled in 1888, “other base ball dubs in existence in Brooklyn, notably the old Atlantics, Stars, Excelsiors, Enterprise, etc., but the real center 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.”[7]

Harry Wright, cricketer, 1863

Harry Wright, cricketer, 1863

Harry had become a member of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in 1858 and was instantly deemed so proficient that he was named to play in the first of the summer’s Fashion Race Course all-star games, a three-game series pitting the best of New York clubs against their counterparts from Brooklyn. Continuing to divide his attentions with cricket, Harry remained with the Knickerbocker club until 1863, when he joined the equally venerable but by that time more competitive Gotham club. Sixteen-year-old George played catcher and outfield for the Gotham Juniors but by midseason he also played with the first-class club. On September 11, against the Star of Brooklyn, both played in a match game for the Gothams: according to the published box score, Harry at catcher and George in left field but it is possible that their positions were in fact reversed.[8]

For 1864 the Wrights returned to the Gotham club but by the following year both were on the move. George accepted a position as the professional of the Philadelphia Cricket Club. He took part in baseball games, too, with the Olympic Club, which had been founded as a town-ball club in 1833 but recently converted to the new game of baseball. Harry, too, left the Gothams for a job as a cricket pro—fatefully, as events would unfold—with the Union Cricket Club of Cincinnati; he had seen no way to earn a living in baseball. But the cricket post he would soon exchange for an opportunity to manage and captain, at the same salary, the Cincinnati Base Ball Club. Oddly, Philadelphia and Cincinnati had been the two enduring hotbeds of town ball and had taken to baseball with a near frenzy.

Felix on the Bat

Felix on the Bat

A book in the Hall of Fame’s collection, Felix on the Bat, supplies a fine memento of the Wright family’s cricket heritage. Beautifully illustrated, the book was a classic instructional written and illustrated by the great Kent and All–England batsman of the 1840s, Nicholas Wanostrocht, whose pen name was “N. Felix.” Sam gave the book to George when the boy was 18, but George had long studied it at his father’s knee. In later years he wrote on the flyleaf: “This book I prize very highly as it was given to me by my Father in the year 1865. Often I have viewed its contents when a boy looking forward to some day to play the game of cricket well. G.W.”

Though employed in Philadelphia in 1865, George returned to the Elysian Fields of Hoboken for a benefit game staged for his father on September 20. Advanced in years, Sam Sr. nonetheless would continue to play cricket even after his departure to Boston in the 1870s, where Harry and George would make their fortunes.

Part 2 tomorrow!


[1] Undated clip, part of a series on “The Fifty Greatest Ball Players in History” by Sam Crane that ran in the New York Evening Journal in 1911-12.

[2] Wright’s marriage record and passport, available on Ancestry.com, say he was born in New York City. See also Bill King, Lewiston Daily Sun, January 27, 1937.

[3] “NYCC lets St. George Come to Hoboken,” classified advertisement in New York Herald, May 9, 1854.

[4] Lindsey Flewelling, “The Wright Family, Cricket in America, and the First Professional Baseball Team,” https://britishandirishhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/THE-WRIGHT-FAMILY-CRICKET-IN-AMERICA-AND-THE-FIRST-PROFESSIONAL-BASEBALL-TEAM/

[5] George Wright, Record of the Boston Base Ball Club, Since Its Organization: With a Sketch of All Its Players For 1871, ’72, ’73, and ’74 and other items of interest (Boston: B.B.B.C., Rockwell & Churchill, 1874).

[6] New York Clipper, April 25, 1891.

[7] Boston Herald, June 18, 1888.

[8] New York Clipper, September 19, 1863.



Oddities of Bleacher “Bugs”

Ring Lardner

Ring Lardner

Earlier this week I posted an “In the Wake of the News” column by Ring Lardner from the Chicago Tribune. Here’s another by the master, from the Boston American of July 23, 1911.

Listen to Some of the Funny Mistakes the “Fans” Make

If reporters of baseball didn’t have to sit up in the press box they would probably like their jobs better. Not that said box is such a dull place, with all the repartee of the scribes, operators and “critics.” But it would be much more fun to listen to, and take part in, the conver­sations in the bleachers, where the real “bugs” sit.

Time was when we liked nothing better than to pay our two bits, rush for a point of vantage back of first or third base or out in the neighborhood of right of left field, invest a nickel in a sack of peanuts, another nickel in a score card, and then settle down to try to prove, by our comments and shouts, that we knew more about baseball than anyone around us.

That was when we spoke of “inshoots” and “outs” and “drops” and “outdrops”; wondered who that was hitting in place of So-and-So and thought ball players were just a little bit better than other people, because they wouldn’t pay any attention to us if we drummed up nerve enough to speak to them outside the park.

It was before we knew that there’s no such thing as an inshoot, that “outs,” “drops” and “outdrops” are merely “curve balls”; before we could identify a substitute batter or a new pitcher by just glancing for an instant at his left ear, or his walk, or noting the way his hair was brushed in the back; before we were absolutely positive that the players are just common human beings and that some of them are really no better than ourselves.

But it was lots more joy in those days. There may be a certain kind of pleasure in brushing majestically past the pass-gate man, strutting along the rear aisle of the stand in the hope that someone will know you are a baseball writer, speaking to a player or two and getting answered, finding your own particular seat in the press box and proceeding to enlighten the absent public regarding the important events on the field, in your own, bright, breezy style. But what fun was that compared with scraping up the necessary quarter, or half dollar, and knowing you are going to SEE a game, not report it?

The man who is on intimate terms with the ball players, who calls at their hotel and takes them out in his machine, goes to the station with them to see them off, gets letters from them occasionally, and knows they are just people, isn’t the real “fan” or “bug,” even if he does have to pay to get into the park.

The Fan, from Ade's Fables in Slang

From Ade’s Fables in Slang

The real article is the man who knows most of the players by sight, as they appear on the field, but wouldn’t know more than one or two of them if he saw them on the street, struggles hard to keep an accurate score and makes a mistake on every other play, or doesn’t attempt to score at all, disputes every statement made by his neigh­bors in the bleachers whether he knows anything about said statement or not, heaps imprecations on the umpire and the manager, thinks something is a bonehead play when it really is good, clever baseball, talks fluently about Mathewson’s “inshoot,” believes that Hank O’Day has it in for the home team and is purposely making bad decisions, and says, “Bransfield is going to bat for Moore” when “Walsh is sent in to hit for Chalmers.”

He doesn’t know it all, but he’s happy. He is perfectly satisfied when the folks around him believe what he says, and sometimes he almost gets to believing it himself. He’s having a thoroughly enjoy­able afternoon, if his team wins. If it doesn’t, he knows just why and can tell his wife, his brother or his pal, that evening, how the tables could have been turned if only Manager Tenney had used a little judgment.

His imagination is a wonderful thing. Without it he would be unable to make any sort of an impression on his fellows. He must talk unhesitantly, as if he had all the facts, and never stammer or back up when his assertions are questioned.

Pat Moran

Pat Moran

Pat Moran is catching for the Phillies. Everybody knows Pat. He is getting a chance to work because President Lynch has set down Charley Dooin for a “bad ride.” A tall foul is hit. Pat gets under it but makes a square muff.

“He’s a rotten catcher,” says a nearby fan.

“He’s a mighty good catcher when he’s right,” replies our friend.

“Why isn’t he right?” queries the nearby one, sarcastically. “He’s had time enough to get in shape, hasn’t he?”

“No ball player can keep in shape and drink the way Pat does,” is the come-back. “I was downtown last night and I saw the whole Philadelphia bunch. Pat was certainly pouring in the strong stuff. He’s a regular reservoir.”

This remark is greeted with silence because no one has nerve enough to come out with a positive denial of the tale. As a matter of fact, Pat never touches the “strong stuff,” and if he bunched all his annual drinking into one night, he’d still be thirsty. But that doesn’t make any difference with our friend. He has scored a point by seeming to know why Pat dropped the foul ball.

Charley Herzog is on first base. He starts for second with the pitch. Kaiser, at bat, takes a healthy swing and fouls one over the third base seats. Charley crosses second, but is called back.

Our friend is in a rage.

“He had it stole,” he roars, “and that bonehead Kaiser went and spoiled it by fouling off that ball. It was a bad ball, too. They must have chloroformed Tenney when they handed him that guy.”

If you’d tell the angered one that Kaiser and Herzog were trying to work the hit and run, and that Kaiser would have been “called” if he hadn’t swung, you would be laughed at or treated with con­temptuous silence. It never happens, on a hit-and-run play, where the pitch is fouled, that some one doesn’t say “He had it stole,” and storm at the batter.

Fans, Charles Dana Gibson

Fans, Charles Dana Gibson

The Rustlers are at bat in the last half of the ninth. The score is 5 to 3 against them. Jones singles, and Spratt, batting for Mattern, sends a double to right. “Buster” Brown, coaching at third, makes Jones stop there. There is a pretty good chance for him to beat Schulte’s throw to the plate. There is also a small chance that Schulte’s throw will beat him. Coacher Brown’s act raises a storm of protest.

“You BONEHEAD. He could have walked in. Get somebody out there that knows something.”

And just because Brown DOES know something, he has held Jones at third. What he knows is that a 5 to 4 defeat is just as bad as a 5 to 3 beating, that Jones’s run isn’t worth six cents if Spratt doesn’t score, too, and that Jones’s run is almost sure to be scored if Spratt’s, the needed one, is.

Sweeney fans, Tenney fouls out and Hoffman takes Herzog’s long fly. The fan goes home convinced that “Buster” Brown has an ivory dome. If he stopped to think, he would realize that Jones’s record of runs scored was the only thing that possibly could be affected by the act of Mr. Brown, and that there was just a chance that Schulte’s throw would have hastened the end.

The argument that Schulte might have thrown wild and thus allowed Spratt also to score doesn’t hold water, for good outfielders aren’t taking any chances of overthrowing in cases like that. They are just getting the ball back into the diamond, so that some one can prevent liberties on the bases.

Here’s one that actually did happen. It was at the Detroit game on the Huntington Avenue grounds on the twelfth day of June. With one out, Nunamaker singled through Bush. Hall sent a grounder to O’Leary, who tried to nail the catcher at second, but was too late. Hooper popped a fly which Bush gathered in.

Gardner hit a slow one over second. O’Leary picked up the ball, but saw that he had no chance to throw out Gardner. He bluffed to peg to Delehanty, who was playing first, and then uncorked a throw to Moriarty. Nunamaker had reached third and wandered a few feet toward home. He tried desperately to get back, but it was too late, and Moriarty tagged him for the third out.

Almost simultaneously the following storms broke from two real fans:

“Well, what do you think of that stone-covered, blankety-blank Irish Donovan letting him get caught like that?”

“Well, that fat-headed bum of a Dutch Engle. Who told him he could coach?”

Gibson, There Were Fans in Those DaysBill Carrigan was the coacher, and Bill has no strings attached to Mr. Nunamaker’s feet. Nor had he done anything to deserve being called a stone-covered Irish Donovan or a bum of a Dutch Engle.

However, Bill and “Buster” Brown and Pat Moran and all of them are still alive and happy, and the fans are even happier. They go out there to have a good time and they have it. Things are often done which don’t please them at all—things that would be done differently if they were in charge. But, believe us, they wouldn’t have half as much fun if they were in charge, or if they got in through the pass gate.


In the Wake of the News, France

Ring Lardner

Ring Lardner

Note that Ring Lardner wrote this hilarious column the day after the Reds’ Fred Toney and the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn combined to pitch the only double no-hit game in baseball history. For background, see: http://goo.gl/F9qx5O.


Ring Lardner, Chicago Tribune

M. Joffre une Balle Eventail

Aboard the French Special, May 3, 1917—A Wake correspondent had a pleasant chat today with M. Joffre in the observation car of the special which is bearing the French commissioners to Chicago. As the correspondent’s French is extremely limited and the great gen­eral’s English almost as much so, the conversation must have sounded queer to chance listeners.

“I see by one of the Chicago après-midi newspapers,” said the correspondent, “that you are coming out here for the purpose of see­ing a ball game.”

“En partie,” replied M. Joffre. “Of course, we are in les États-Unis for le plaisir, and with so much temps to kill, I thought it would be bon to visit la belle Chicago, shake hands with my old camarade, Maire Guillaume Robuste Thompson, et see the boys jouer à la balle. I have always been dérangé to see Les Cincinnati Rouges jouer à la balle.”

“Cincinnati is your favori neuf?”

“Certainement,” said M. Joffre. “But I like the Petits de l’Ours also. That must have been une grand jeu journée. It was tough luck for Jacques Vaughn, though.”

“What happened?” inquired the correspondent.

“Why M. Vaughn et M. Toney each pitched une non frapper jeu for neuf innings. Then les Rouges got two hits in le dixième and copped. Are the Petits l’Ours a bon team?”

“Bien,” replied the correspondent. “But they have too many artists who frapper gaucher.”

“I read that M. Saier broke un jambe,” said the visitor.

“Oui. M. Merkle is now le premier basehomme.”

“M. Roland Zeider has been doing pretty damne bien at le court-arrêter,” said M. Joffre. “How have M. Rigler et M. Orth been getting along?”

“Not very bien,” the correspondent answered.

“All empires are putride,” said the Frenchman.

“Did you ever jouer à la balle yourself?”

“Oui. I was l’attrapeur for a semi-pro club in Paris. Also I played awhile in le cham gauche.”

“Well, I won’t bother you any more,” said the correspondent. I’ll see you at the ball park tomorrow.”

“Oui. And I hope they faire bien la partie,” said M. Joffre.


The Birth of the American League

Botticelli's Birth of Venus

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

We tend to think of the American League as having emerged from the sea like Botticelli’s Venus, fully formed on Opening Day, 1901. Yet when Ban Johnson, the league’s founder, retired in mid-1927 he declared to AL officials that his service would bring to a close “34 years as your president.” To him the name change from Western League in 1894 to American League in 1900 was mostly a semantic one. From a historian’s perspective, that was true of the decision for the 1900 playing season, for the American League continued as a minor-league member of the National Association, despite “invading” National League territories, some of them abandoned in the NL consolidation of that year from twelve teams to eight. However, by relocating Charles Comiskey’s St. Paul franchise to Chicago, and the Grand Rapids club to Cleveland, the AL was signaling its intent soon to declare itself a major league, which it did in 1901. Here is an unsigned Chicago Tribune account of the new White Stockings’  Opening Day in the newly named American League.


April 21, 1900—Out on a brand new baseball field yesterday a new Chicago baseball club opened a new baseball season. The association to which the rival ball nines belong is new to Chicago, the grandstand was new, the man who leaned against the fence the men were painting says the paint was new, and many of the players were so new that as they walked out one by one to take their turn at bat the bleachers on the east side would pathetically echo: “Who’s de guy?”

The St. Paul club of the 1899 Western League became the Chicago White Stockings of the 1900 American League

St. Paul of the 1899 Western League moved to Chicago for the 1900 American League

There was only one old thing about the whole business. Just one old touch that made the fans feel at home and that they had watching a Chicago club making a start to win the banner or whatever it is they call a pennant. That was the score. The score was the same old story. It was 4 to 5, with Chicago possessing the smaller number.

Milwaukee did it, although Mr. Comiskey’s white stockinged young men gave the Brewers a hard fight, and it was only in the last half of the tenth inning that Smith from “up by Milwaukee oudt” swatted the ball a swat that landed it over in the prairie five points off the weather bow of the Chicago man that was trying to catch it. That made it easy for Mr. Clarke, another prominent citizen of Milwaukee, to walk in from second base and, after finding the broom and deftly sweeping the sawdust off of the home plate, to reach down and gently touch the plate with the little finger of his left hand. This made the score 5 to 4 in favor of the parties from Wisconsin, and they therefore got into their bus and drove away seemingly happy.

Milwaukee 1900 Scorecard

Milwaukee 1900 Scorecard

In spite of a cold, sad sort of day and the prospects of rain almost every few minutes, over five thousand people saw the opening of the baseball season and the first game in Chicago of the American League. It was a great day for the league. Almost since it was organized six or seven years ago and was known as the Western League, it has been trying to break into Chicago. Yesterday it broke in.

The first game of the American League in Chicago was played at its new grounds at Thirty-ninth Street and Wentworth Avenue. Here is where the old Wanderers used to play cricket, and where college teams have played football, and where of late years small boys have played rounders, and disconsolate-looking goats have grazed from the thin herbage and gaudily colored wrappers from ex-tomato cans.

Yesterday all was changed. A brand new grandstand, as yet innocent of paint, stood in the southwest corner of the grounds and, on either side, long rows of bleachers reached out to touch the brand new fence. Two painters were just beginning work on the fence, and why they did not twist their necks off every time somebody hit the ball is impossible to say. No one who has not tried to paint a fence with a new baseball club opening a new game behind his back can appreciate what those painter men went through. While twisting their heads around to see whether “Dummy” Hoy would make third or die on second, they still tried to do their duty and daubed away with their paint brushes at the fence, and sometimes they painted the boards and sometimes they daubed the air and sometimes they streaked each other.

And when the hit was made that brought Chicago one ahead and made it look as though the White Stockings were going to win, the glad painters dipped their cans against their brushes and merrily painted the fence with the cans.

South Side Park, used by Chicago AL 1900 through June 1910

South Side Park, used by Chicago AL 1900 through June 1910

It is a high, sturdy fence that has been drawn around the new grounds, but the people who like to see a baseball game without paying the general price of admission at the gate saw the game yester­day. At one place a weak board had been pried off, and four eager faces peered through. The faces continually changed, suggesting that a variety of opinion prevailed outside as to who was entitled to look through the hole. There must have been a fight outside of that hole every five minutes, but the tide of battle never prevented at least four faces from being glued firmly in the place of the missing board. A big flat-topped building east of the ground had over twenty on the roof. A ladder leaned against the front of the building, and dark objects sat on the rungs and on the window ledges and on the chimney tops and looked like cliff dwellers in a Zuni village.

The rich black soil that had been turned up to make the new grounds had been rolled and rolled to squeeze the water out. In spite of all these efforts it still retained its peculiar adhesive qualities, and when one of Mr. Comiskey’s white stockinged young men tried to slide to a base his stockings were no longer white. Sawdust had been sowed where the players’ feet ploughed the deepest furrows, and the sawdust was all nicely turned under so that it ought to take root under such thorough cultivation.

Chicago won the AL flag in 1900 and in 1901

Chicago won the AL flag in 1900 and in 1901

A man with a hoe went around once in a while and hoed the base bags out into the light where they could be recognized or they, too, might have been ploughed under and harrowed and cultivated, and then there would have been a nice crop of base bags. As it was, the pernicious activity of the man with the hoe prevented the bags from taking root, and another man with a broom continually excavated for the home plate.

The mud did not prevent the players from winning laurels. The fans would say: “Great Scott, if he can do that well in the mud what couldn’t he do on dry land!”

The steel netting, that is always tacked in front of the grand­stand to prevent foul balls from coming through and giving the rela­tives of somebody a chance to sue for damages, was put up, but the edges of the strips were not tacked together, and sometimes a ball came through and caused alarm and commotion. Isbell sent one ball flying through the bombproof, and it lit right at the feet of a crowd of fans, but it did not explode and so no one was injured.

It was a pleasant occasion all the way through. The rain did not come and the air was not cold. The buttered popcorn man lifted up his voice in a triumphant song that seemed to express the satisfaction of the fans.

The umpire, too, seemed to catch the ecstasy of the motion, and his voice had the melody of song. Instead of howling out his decisions in coarse, harsh accents, his voice was like an organ with a tremolo stop pulled out and tied down. He would say “b-a-a-a-a-all,” and “o-n-n-n-n-e st-r-r-r-ike” until the pealing notes were echoed back from the high board fence and the painters, catching the inspiration, would paint each other’s vests.

Chicago White Sox, 1901: Frank Isbell is No. 2, Dummy Hoy No. 17

Chicago White Sox, 1901: Frank Isbell is No. 2, Dummy Hoy No. 17

This is the way the Brewers proceeded to take the White Stock­ings into camp. The score had been tied in the eighth inning by Mil­waukee. Neither team could score in the ninth, and when the tenth came on Chicago started promisingly but could not quite reach it. Then Mr. Clarke sent himself half way around the bases with a long hit out into the swamps in center field, and after Mr. Conroy had struck out, Mr. Smith sent another two-bagger out over Hoy’s head and sent him the rest of the way. That the score was tied was partly attributable to Isbell, who in the third inning dropped a little fly over first base which enabled Milwaukee to score one run, and this one run, as it afterward proved, contributed to the downfall of the White Stockings.

Chicago, in its half of the tenth, failed, although it started well, Isbell being presented with a walk to first and was advanced by a neat hit to center by Sugden. Katoll, however, fanned out. Hoy died from the effects of a foul which Smith captured, and McFarland, who was then the last chance, struck out in an effort to knock the cover off the ball.

Anderson came up for Milwaukee and flied out to McFarland. Then Mr. Clarke sent himself half way around with a hit, which Hoy either misjudged or stuck in the mud trying for it. Conroy struck out, and Mr. Smith finished the job by sending another long fly over Hoy’s territory.

President James A. Hart [of Chicago’s NL club] sat in a box and watched to see if all that has been said about the American League is true.


Snodgrass Muffs One

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

This World Series finale of 1912–featuring the veteran Christy Mathewson, the kid Smoky Joe Wood, and the ill-fated Fred Snodgrass–remains, more than a century later, one of baseball’s greatest games.  The wire services of October 18, 1912 reported, in a story headed “Faints When Son Muffs Fly”: “Los Angeles, Oct. 17–Overcome by emotion when the electrical scoreboard at a local theater yesterday showed Fred Snodgrass’s muff of the fly which cost the New York Giants the world’s championship title, Mrs. Snodgrass, mother of the New York outfielder, fainted.” Sixty-one years later, upon his death on April 5, 1974, a New York Times obituary bore this headline: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly” (http://goo.gl/KFSJbd).  

Modern readers may take special note of the diminished attendance for this eighth and final game (one game had ended in a draw, controversially called on account of darkness): “half the people” in Boston believed the Series had been fixed. Here’s the great Hugh Fullerton, writing for the Chicago Tribune

Boston, Mass., Oct. 16, 1912—Boston tonight is tearing down the statues of Bull Franklin, and Jack and Lefty Adams. In their places are now those of Tris Speaker, Hugh Bedient, Buck Henriksen, and Jake Stahl. Never since that memorable night when “Kid” Revere rode to Lexington and started a tenth-inning rally has Boston been so worked up, for the Red Sox are champions of the world by virtue of a 3 to 2 victory, due more to sheer luck than anything else. The Giants are crushed, having been beaten in the toughest luck finish that ever was known in a series of this sort.

With the championship in their hands, whether deserved or not, the Giants exploded in the tenth inning. A muffed fly on an easy foul that was permitted to fall safe, a little panic in the ranks, a final rush by the Red Sox, and it was over, and again the American League won the championship.

There is a bitter taste remaining in the greatest series of games ever played, for today Boston boycotted its ball club and the rumor that the series was fixed and all prearranged ran through the town. Half the people believed it, and in addition to that a great part of the people are boycotting the club because of the trouble between the management and the Royal Rooters yesterday, resulting in the mayor publicly denouncing Secretary McRoy.

The twin troubles which will make this World Series the most costly ever won, reduced the attendance to a little over half of what it has been, and those loyal seventeen thousand who refused to believe the ridiculous stories saw the most thrilling game of the entire series.

It was a battle between youth and experience and during most of the journey it seemed as if the skill and cunning of the veteran Mathewson would stop the Red Sox. It did until, with the count 1 to 0, with the Red Sox outguessed and outgeneraled at every point, Olaf Henriksen, with two strikes called and another nearly called, caught a curve and drove it over third, tying the score. From then on Boston went wild.

Joe Wood

Joe Wood

“Smoky Joe” Wood, summoned to redeem himself for yesterday’s frightful exhibition, responded nobly, but the Giants were full of fight and they battled him royally, expecting to rush the assault and win again, but when the ninth came with the teams still on even terms, with both pitchers almost unhittable, it looked like the finish would be delayed another day. Mathewson, matching his brain and his experience against the driving power of the Red Sox, was out there pitching, lobbing his slow one around the comers, shooting his fast one across at unexpected angles, while Wood was burning holes in the air.

In the first of the tenth, Murray caught hold of a fast one and ripped a line double into the left-field seats with what seemed the $1,500-per-man run when Merkle whaled a single past second with what seemed to be the $1,500-per-man hit. The victory was within grasp. Already New York was the world champion city, Broadway the world champion street, Harry Stevens the world champion score-card seller, Gyp the Blood the world champion gunman, and the greatness of New York was demonstrated. Then all the dope upset.

It had been demonstrated that the chosen people had it all over the pilgrims at any style of going until Clyde Engle came to bat and cracked a fly to center. Snodgrass muffed it and let Engle land on second. The luck that had pursued the Giants through the year and through the series suddenly deserted them. Snodgrass made a des­perate effort to redeem himself by jerking down Hooper’s line smash.

Snodgrass Details Events of Final Game

Snodgrass Details Events of Final Game

Mathewson, the greatest pitcher of all time, faces the crisis of his career. He had responded nobly with sore and worn-out arm, and he had outwitted, outguessed, and outgeneraled the Red Sox. In the pinch he wavered and passed Yerkes, and the Boston rooter who does not believe games are bought and sold raised a wild yell, for Tris Speaker was coming to bat—Speaker, the hero of the year. Mathew­son poised and dropped a slow curve inside the plate. Speaker, the man who, according to American League pitchers, is unfoolable, swung with the bad ball and lofted an easy foul fly toward first base.

Christy Mathewson, 1912

Christy Mathewson, 1912

Anyone could have caught it. I could have jumped out of the press box and caught it behind my back—but Merkle quit. Yes, Merkle quit cold. He didn’t start for the ball. He seemed to be suffer­ing from financial paralysis. Perhaps he was calculating the differ­ence between the winner’s and loser’s end. He didn’t start. Mathew­son saw the ball going down. Meyers saw that it would fall safe, and they raced toward it, too late, and the ball dented the turf a few feet from first.

On the next try Speaker lashed a vicious single to right—the score was tied, men on second and third, and after Lewis had walked and filled the bases, Gardner drove a long fly to Devore, out over his head. He caught it and made a despairing heave to the plate, but before the ball came to Meyers, Yerkes had crossed the plate, the greatest series of ball games ever played was over, and the Boston Red Sox were world champions.

While I still believe Boston ought to have won the championship because it is slightly a better team than New York, the Red Sox never should have won today’s game. Giving them all due credit, they had all the luck and all the breaks. The luck has been following the Giants all through the series, but today it turned upon them utterly. It re­quired a marvelous catch by Hooper, a catch I regard as the greatest of the entire series, to prevent them from beating Bedient by a clear margin.

They were outpitched by Mathewson all the way, for the foxy veteran, after announcing Saturday that he was done forever, to the doleful music singing his swan song, came back and pitched like a two-year-old. He wanted the money and he put $1,500 worth of thought into everything he pitched until the tenth.

Bedient, too, was good. He pitched a clever game of ball all the way, and used his speed well. The run that New York got off him was the result of a pass and a hit that just grazed Speaker’s fingers. American Leaguers will understand how close that was, for he seldom loses anything that touches a finger tip. After Bedient was taken out to permit Henriksen to slam a double over third and tie up the score and almost win the game, Joe Wood came back, and although he permitted the Giants to get ahead again in the tenth by plastering two hard hits, he may consider himself well redeemed.

Collier’s Rooms, and Other Finds

Collier's Rooms, at right

Collier’s Rooms, at right

I sent a fevered missive to my colleagues on SABR’s 19th Century Baseball listserv on November 5, 2002, and followed up with additional finds. This was nearly nine years before publication of Baseball in the Garden of Eden, my book for which research had commenced twenty years earlier. I am grateful to have lived long enough for that book to be completed, and I am frankly tickled to remain an enthusiastic tiller in those fields. Until this post, no one had spotted an image of “Collier’s Rooms,” the upstairs saloon owned by 32-year-old character actor James Walter Collier where, on the rainy evening of March 17, 1871, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. Delegates from 10 professional baseball clubs met at the saloon at the corner of Broadway and 13th Street, just across from Wallack’s Theatre, where Collier 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 organization from which they had just departed.

Friends, I shouted out loud when I found this image on the web one Sunday night, in total serendipity. I was looking for a longshot—an image of Gilmore’s Garden, the successor to P.T. Barnum’s (original) Hippodrome on the northeast corner of Madison Square in New York. Maybe a photo of Collier’s Rooms—the saloon where the National Association was founded on St. Patrick’s Day, 1871–is not the Holy Grail of pictorial research, but it’s an image I never expected to see. The image is one of 70,000 in the “Robert Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views, Photography Collection, Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints & Photographs, The New York Public Library.” Here is more precise bibliographic info:

Stereoscopic views of theaters and other entertainments, New York City. MFY Dennis Coll 91-F214. View catalog record Image ID: NYPG91-F214 026F.

James W. Collier, ca. 1871

James W. Collier, ca. 1871

Looking at the web page of thumbnail views, I saw a big Romanesque building that was unfamiliar to me. The information on the back of the stereocard, which is viewable online, indicates that the view is of Wallack’s Theatre. When I enlarged the view on screen–as you may do by clicking on the image above, twice to yield the enlargement–I spotted Collier’s in the foreground and gave out with my Eureka!

Being a New York City buff with a respectable collection of older books on the subject, I confirmed the street address of Wallack’s Theatre as Broadway and 13th Street, the known address for Collier’s. The mount of the stereocard provided a clue as to its date, which initially I regarded as ca. 1870. Then I found an alternate mount from the same studio series as the Collier’s stereo; it was labeled “New Series” and 1873–thus the Collier’s photo is certainly 1872 or earlier, dead-on for the National Association’s founding date.

The name affixed to Wallack’s Theatre became The Germania in 1881, and The Star in 1883. Saloonkeeper Collier himself was an actor who presumably had only to cross the street to ply one trade or the other.

I could never have located this image by searching for Collier’s Rooms, as it is not cited in the web page’s text or in its underlying metadata.

Gilmore's Garden

Gilmore’s Garden

Oh, and I found Gilmore’s Garden, too, ca. 1875. Leased to Patrick Gilmore, the composer of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” by its owner, P.T. Barnum, in unchanged form it became, in 1889, the first Madison Square Garden. Of particular interest to us is its address: the corner of 26th Street and Madison Avenue, notable as the proximate playing grounds of the men who would become the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club–ca. 1842, before they were thus named. If you look at woodcuts of the old New York & Harlem Railroad terminal on this site ca. 1838 it’s clear that the same structure, with its Tuscan tower, evolved into the Hippodrome and then Gilmore’s Garden.

Mutual_BBC_Clubhouse_cropIn a final burst of good fortune, while humming “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah,” I enlarged a view of Mitchell’s Olympic Theatre, again ca. 1870. On the second floor is a sign for the “Mutual Club House.” The address of the theater proved to be 442 Broadway.

I don’t expect any of you to be as transported by all of this as I was, but I just couldn’t keep it to myself.

Finally, who was actor/barkeep James Walter Collier? This from the New York Times of July 7, 1877: “Thomas Woods, alias Gus Fowler, of No. 152 Macdougal-street, was arrested yesterday on a charge of attempting to stab Benjamin A. Whiteman, the bartender in James J. [an error, middle initial was W.] Collier’s saloon, at Broadway and Thirteenth-street, on Sunday morning last.” He continued to act after opening his saloon, taking the lead role in a play in 1879, entitled “Coney Island,” at the Union Square Theatre. And he was present at Madison Square Garden on September 12, 1892 to fete James J. Corbett.

The 1869 and 1870 New York City Directories had listed him as “Collier James W. actor, h[ome] 101 Charles.” That he is not listed as proprietor of a business indicates his saloon was not yet established. In the 1871 directory, however, he is listed at the same residence but now with a liquor business at 840 Broadway. “Our” James Collier is not, in any event, the one born in 1839–that James Collier was living in Herkimer, NY in 1870 (age 30). Our gent is the James W. (erroneously listed on ancestry.com as “James H”) who was 34 years old and living with his mother and siblings in 1870, with no listed occupation. In the 1880 census James W is still single, living in a boarding house on East 14th Street, and lists his occupation as “actor.” After a benefit staged in his honor in 1897, he died on May 13 of the following year, at age 62.


Con Daily

Con Daily

Peter Morris asked some years back: “Who on earth is Con Yannigan? I have long been seeking the exact origins of the term ‘yannigan,’ used to describe a player on an inexperienced side (usually during spring training). I have narrowed down the period of its origin and have found some interesting accounts about it, but nothing on the exact etymology. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary goes so far as to say ‘there is no clear link between this word and a word in another language or an earlier form of English or an English dialect.’ This seems promising; can you elucidate?”

Peter had spotted what stands as a first usage to date: Sporting News, July 22, 1893, “Baltimore’s Yannigan Treadway with the hoarse laugh and the round tanned face made a hit in Chicago.” (By this was meant merely that Treadway was, in 1893, a newcomer to the big leagues.) Today I found an earlier citation, a suggestive one that tends to support a story I have been telling for three decades. On May 23, 1893, the New York Herald‘s O.P. Caylor reported on a National League game played between Washington and Brooklyn:

Pfingst Monday [a.k.a Whit Monday or Pentecost Monday, observed by many Christians in Germany] was appropriately celebrated at Eastern Park yesterday afternoon. In honor of the occasion George Schoch, David Foutz, Karl Farrell, Teddy Larkin, Jim O’Rourke, Connie Yannigan Daily, and the other Germans on the two teams each wore a small Prussian flag pinned to the bosom of his shirt front.

Mets' Steve Brady made ginger beer in Hartford

Mets’ Steve Brady made ginger beer in Hartford

Some thirty-five years ago I found an undated news clip from the 1898 New York World titled “Armless, Legless Pitchers,” in the Cy Seymour Scrapbooks in the National Baseball Library. After a preamble on Charlie Bennett (famous catcher who lost his legs in a rail-station accident), Hugh Daily (the one-armed star of Baltimore and Buffalo), and Tom Deasley, who wound up in an insane asylum, the story focused on Herbert Van Cleef –a remarkable legless pitcher from Trenton, NJ who in the following year managed a basketball team of one-legged players. I included the piece in my second Armchair Book of Baseball (1987), and one day may publish it here at Our Game, too.

In my introductory remarks to the 1898 tale I wrote that the clip was “replete with unexpected pleasures” that included “the stunningly offhand solution to one of game’s most perplexing mysteries–the origin of the epithet ‘yannigan,’ reserved for scrub or second-rate players.” Here, from the World:

Steve Brady, Police Gazette 1882

Steve Brady, Police Gazette 1882

Another cripple who was famous as a ballpayer was “Con” Yannigan, who made a big reputation around Hartford, Connecticut, several years ago. He was a first baseman and had a cork leg. Yannigan was brought out by “Steve” Brady, of the “Old Mets.” “Steve'” considered him one of the best first basemen he ever saw. A great play of his was to block off base runners with his game leg. Opposing players could sharpen their spikes to a razor edge, but “Con” didn’t scare for a cent.

Is this a Davy Crockett sort of yarn? Maybe. But there it is, a legend in 1898 but rooted in September 1880, when Brady played for the original Metropolitan club–along with Daily and Deasley–years before they joined the American Association and “before he made a big reputation.” How was Cornelius “Con” Daily, a veteran big-league catcher connected with Con Yannigan? Perhaps only in the nickname of Con, shared by so many named Cornelius who have played baseball. Caylor may have recalled a real player who went by the name of Con Yannigan, or made sly reference to an emergingly legendary one.

This may not be the final answer as to how yannigans came to be called yannigans, but it moves us in that direction.


Old Days in Baseball

Clarence Deming

This outstanding article–a personal favorite, I will say–is from the June 1902 number of Outing, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation. Its author is Clarence Deming (1848-1913), celebrated captain of Yale’s baseball and football teams in his youth. Moving on to editorial positions with the New Haven Palladium and the New York Evening Post, he penned for the latter an article entitled “An Old Yankee Ball Game: Wicket,” recalling his days of playing that now forgotten sport when he was a lad in Litchfield, Connecticut [I had long searched in vain to locate this, following the bum steer of a 1903 citation; see Comments section below]. His fanciful reconstruction of how rounders and base merged is not to be credited, but all in all this is a splendid memoir of someone who played ball before professional league play. A phrase that may well jump out to the modern reader is this: “The short­stop for many years shifted ground to a point between first and second bases if a left-handed striker was at bat….” Another stunner: “a shrewd, up-country team of Connecticut in the early sixties did not miss the mark when it bored out a set of huge bass-wood bats and filled them with corks.” Read on.

There was in Old England a game of bat, ball, and base-runnings called “rounders.” There was in New England a contemporaneous and sim­ilar game called “base.” At about the middle fifties a genius lost to renown com­pounded the two games and gave us the basic lines of modern baseball. The new sport, with its variety and grace, caught the American taste. By the year 1857 it had risen to the dignity of an association of clubs and official rules. It eclipsed the scientific but torpid English cricket and the more vigorous but less refined “wicket” of Yankeeland. The Civil War hardly gave it pause, and up to 1868, when pro­fessionalism and gate money were first officially allowed, the game was sovereign, if not despot, of the American sports of the sward.

The game is still national and popu­lar; it draws in the cities and around academic diamonds its thronging hosts, and is an institutional sport; but the youngsters of to-day should have seen it as it was in 1866 and 1867, when it reached its climacteric and a frenzy for the game swept the land. Each little village and hamlet boasted its nine, and in the larger towns of the eastern states the clubs were enumerated by the score. There were national championships, state champion­ships, and county championships, fierce, even, vindictive in their rivalries, and in narrower fields with smaller prizes of vic­tory the passions were not less tense. Across the long reach of years two inci­dents come back to mind as tokens of the acute quality of the sport in those days. One was the edict of the factory owners in a large New England town imposing special pains and penalties on absentees at ball games during working hours. The other is the vision of weeping women turn­ing homeward as the umpire’s last “out” signalled defeat for their pet nine in an inter-town match.

It was on those rural fields in the hey­day of baseball that the sport, if less refined, was more picturesque. That the game was vocal goes with the saying. In our present baseball day there is the familiar trick of organizing the nine as a kind of “claque” to chattel away the nerves of opponents at the bat. But a generation ago the claque was both spon­taneous and noisy, and included spectator as well as player. Not far away from the truth was the country captain who described his team as “men who can’t bat much, or field much, but first-rate talkers.” To dispute the umpire on every close deci­sion was orthodox duty—a fashion not yet outlived—and it made the rural ball game forensic as well as spectacular.

The country umpire, who was usually selected by the home team, merits his spe­cific picture. In the earlier days of the sport he was chosen for knowledge of the rules simply because the opposing bucolic nines had so little knowledge themselves. Later, technical lore became somewhat secondary as a credential, and in the ideal rural umpire was sought a kind of Boan­erges—a Son of Thunder, bellowing out his decisions until the welkin echoed, and able on the one hand either to placate the crowd by good temper or to daunt it with strong speech. That is to say, the umpire of the time and place had to own no middle terms of personal temperament, but be either extremely crisp or superlatively good-natured and tactful.

The Umpire, 1870s trade card

The Umpire, 1870s trade card

The umpire’s place was usually a point even with the home plate and about twenty feet away. There on armchair was set for him and, on sunny days, he was entitled to an umbrella, either self-provided or a special one of vast circumference, fastened to the chair and with it constituting one of the fixtures of the game. He had free­dom of movement, but the prerogative was rarely used. In his pocket was a copy of “Beadle’s Dime Baseball Book,” then the hornbook of the game, and often in requisi­tion. In his airy perch, shielded by his mighty canopy, the umpire of those days made an imposing figure, bearing his honors with Oriental dignity, though hardly with Oriental ease.

A pressing thorn at the umpire’s sat of judgment was the right of an offended team to demand a “change of umpire,” and such transitions in old rural baseball were not rare. In that connection a typi­cal incident comes to mind. It was at an inter-town match, when for some reason, not now recalled, the visiting team sup­plied the umpire. He gave three succes­sive decisions which angered the home players. On their demand the umpire was changed; then the captain of the home team asked from the new umpire a reversal of the last decision, and, as it seemed, by the very audacity of the demand obtained it. Such an ex post facto ruling illustrates the wide range of umpiring in old baseball.

There were few uniforms in the rural nine and such as they were they were not uniform. The country player rose to quite a peak of dignity if he could “sport” the old-fashioned baseball cap with its huge visor, or a belt in place of the more useful than ornate “galluses.” Baseball shoes, for such as had them, were of the home­spun pattern, with spikes made by the village blacksmith and set in the soles of ordinary shoes by the local cobbler, who also not seldom tried his hand at cover­ing with calfskin the balls used for prac­tise games, the orthodox “white” ball being used only for match games—often the same ball for two or three matches.

Beadle 1865-66

Beadle Guide, 1865-66

If a country club could secure a fairly level meadow for its play it was in high luck, and the local vagaries of the soil were no small factor in the result of match games. Thus a team wonted to the hard-packed dirt of the village green, and, by ground hits vanquishing visiting teams easily, found grief and rustic Waterloos when, visitors in turn, it faced foes on soft and irregular turf, with grass so lush that it is of record that the ball was sometimes lost inside the diamond, and a home run scored on the equivalent of the modern bunt. If the home field was bounded by a near fence, thicket, or stream, all the better for the home nine after it had learned the local hazards. These varia­tions of the field made the game fantastic in its changes. Nor was the country editor in a New England town, which boasted for those days a good field, with­out genuine if  caustic wit, when after an acrimonious victory won on the home grounds he closed his account of the match with the words: “The visiting club labored under the difficulty of playing on a level field and in the presence of gentlemen.”

A dinner after the game, usually con­tributed by the friends of the home nine, was for a number of years conventional, and salved many wounds of temper in the actual play. This hospitality was possible when the matches of a season were few, but as games multiplied it was dropped on the ground of expense. Now and then the country teams played for a dinner as the stake of the match—a suggestion from the earlier “wicket.”

Yale 1870 with Deming

Yale 1870 with Deming

On college and urban fields the early game in its amateur epoch was played with more system, better temper, more deference to the umpire, and higher skill. But its technique was of the crudest qual­ity, even among teams of the championship class. Team play, as now interpre­ted, was almost unknown. The heavy hitter, rather than the good fielder, was the Nestor of the game. The catcher, in the few emergencies when he dared throw to second base to catch the runner, stood per­haps ten feet behind the batsman, and if he actually nipped the runner, the fact was red-lettered in a match. The short­stop for many years shifted ground to a point between first and second bases if a left-handed striker was at bat; basemen throughout a game hugged their bases far more closely than now; the outfielders played much farther afield; “backing up” infielders, save in most moderate degree, was still a dream; and with gloves, pads, and masks unknown the aroma of arnica was rich, and the old game unto this day registers its honorable lesions in the finger joints of the graybeards.

Yale vs Lowell scorecard, 1870

Yale vs Lowell scorecard, 1870

Scores of course ran up in ratio as skill was down. In the middle sixties clubs reckoned strong piled against each other scores of fifty runs or more in a game, and when a hard-hitting nine faced relative weaklings, three figures for runs were not uncommon. So late as 1867, when a nine of one of the large colleges scored thirteen runs to eight against a strong state club, the figures were deemed almost phenomenal. Certain special causes of these huge scores will be referred to hereafter.

Between the “big” clubs of the Atlan­tic, Athletic, and Eckford type—doubtless masking some professionalism—and the higher class of college players there was much the same disparity as now—not so much in the strength as in the regularity of the batting, and more in the fielding than in the batting as a whole.

The later professionals in their amateur period, and before the days of gate money, included some heroic figures. There was Harry Wright, who as captain of the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings was the pioneer in team play; his brother George, for years recognized as the best all-round professional and the first baseball man who dared at shortstop to play well behind the base line; Charley Mills, of the New York Mutuals, with a novel trick of throwing to bases by the same motion with which he returned the ball to pitcher; Pete O’Brien, of the champion Atlantics, who could knock a sky ball until it looked like an aerial marble; John Hatfield, of the Mutuals, whoso throw of 133 yards, 1 foot, and 7-1/2 inches, stood for twelve years as the record; Joe Start, of the Atlantics, who survived as a professional first base­man for a decade or more after his old colleagues had passed into the dusk of the baseball gods; and finally Arthur Cummings, pitcher of the Star Club of Brook­lyn, first of his race under the restraints of straight-arm pitching to “toss” a curved ball. If from personal observation the opinion may be stated here, Cummings’ famous curve was a mild out curve for right-handed batsmen, accomplished by a cleverly disguised underhand throw.

Joe Start

Joe Start

The “lively” ball used in those archaic days would amaze the player who handles the “dead” ball of to-day. When betimes in the modernized and super-scientific game we see the ball strike an infield obstruction and leap high over the head of shortstop or third baseman, we get a dim inkling of the old lively ball’s chronic habit, but hardly of its persistency of bound and roll, and of its bullet-like far-fetchedness in sky and line hits. In a game on the hard soil of Boston Common, between the Harvard and Lowell clubs, dat­ing back to the days when the first bound was “out” on both fair and foul balls [note: before 1865–jt] , it is related that a batted ball striking inside the diamond was caught on the first bound by the left fielder standing in his normal place. This eternal briskness of the ball was secured by hard wound yarn and a plentiful admixture of very elastic rubber, blended with a small “centre ball” of the same resilient quality. Externally and by the eye it would be hard to tell the old and the modern ball apart. For a year or two in the later sixties there came into vogue a “red dead” ball, maroon in hue, less resilient than its forebears, but animated enough in contrast with the ball used now.

Couple the lively ball leaping by the dazed fielder with the old-fashioned slow pitching, in its most liberal phase a kind of swinging toss—albeit the pitcher stood only forty-five feet from the home plate— and the big scores of old baseball days become clear, without emphasis on the earlier defaults in skill. Wide latitude in the form, size, and material of the bat also favored hard hitting as against slow pitching and lively balls. A hard wood bat was rarely or never seen. The regulation stick was long, thick, and of the ” pudding-stirrer” shape, made of spruce, bass, chestnut, and the lighter woods; and a shrewd, up-country team of Connecticut in the early sixties did not miss the mark when it bored out a set of huge bass-wood bats and filled them with corks.

Baseball Silks, 1860s

Baseball Silks, 1860s

One or two of the customs of the old game were unique. Such for instance was the habit of the better class of clubs of exchanging, just before each match, silk badges imprinted with the club name. The players wore these accumulated trophies pinned upon the breast, sometimes with startling color effects; and the base­ball man was proud, indeed, who could pin on the outside of his deep strata of badges a ribbon from the mighty Atlan­tics, Mutuals, or Eckfords, attesting his worth for meeting giants, if not mastering them. A custom lasting some years, of presenting the ball won in a match to the player making the best score on the win­ning side, had the odd feature of fixing the “best” score, not by base hits or lack of errors, but by the gross number of indi­vidual runs. But those were days when even the official scores of big games recorded only outs, runs, left on bases, fly catches, outs on fouls, outs on bases, home runs, and time of game—sometimes even less, scoring being the subject of personal opinion rather than of formal rule.

The ardent devotee of the baseball of to-day, with its precisions, curved pitch­ing, and close play behind the bat, may smile at the oddities and crudities of the old game. Yet may the laudator temporis acti claim for the older sport certain vantages. It had speed, range, breeziness, and a hori­zon; it made fun while not lacking inten­sity; nine men played it, and the battery did not focalize the match game; on the larger scale of runs and fielding the better team more often won than in the sport of to-day, where the timely base hit or un­timely error wins victory or loses it, and, paradoxically, has made the game more uncertain in proportion as it is more sci­entific; and the term “professional” had not then entered the baseball vocabulary. Yet, were the virtues of the old days in baseball purely legendary, the gray-headed ball player would still love them. Again with memory’s eye he would mark the rough diamonds of the shaggy country land, the outgoings in the sunlight and the homecomings under the moon; hear the cheers for victory, and see the forms of the old players against so many of whom in college triennials the Great Umpire has set his final “out” and marked his sad asterisk of death.


Anson U.

Cap Anson in 1895

Cap Anson in 1895

Here is a scheme with echoes reaching to the present day, involving Cap Anson and Albert G. Spalding. As Anson described the prospectus in later years, “The fellow who invented that was certainly a crackerjack at his trade, and it wasn’t very difficult to discover what his trade was.” From Anson’s 1900 memoir, A Ball Player’s Career:

Just at this stage of affairs [1898] my plans for the future were apparently a matter of great interest to both press and public, and if the statements made by the former were to be believed, I had more schemes on hand than did a professional promoter, and every one of them with “millions in it.” I was to manage this club and manage that club; I was to play here and play there, and, in fact, there was scarcely anything that I was not going to do if the reporters’ statements could be depended upon. One of the most senseless of these was the starting of the A. C. Anson Base-Ball College, the prospectus for which was typewritten in the sporting-goods store of A. G. Spalding, and read as follows:

Location.—The school will be located on what is known as the A. G. Spalding Tract, covering the blocks bounded by Lincoln, Robey, 143d and 144th streets, upon which Mr. A. G. Spalding will erect suitable structures, fences, stands, dressing-rooms, etc. The site is in the celebrated Calumet region and is easy of access.

Membership.—All accepted applicants for membership will be required to submit to a thorough physical examination and go through a regular and systematic course of training, calculated to prepare them for actual participation in base-ball games. Upon entering they will subscribe to the rules and regulations of the institution, which will demand obedience and provide for discipline, abstemious habits, regular hours, proper diet, in fact everything which tends to improve the health and physical condition will be required. They must also pass an examination made by Captain Anson as to their natural aptitude for becoming proficient in the game of base-ball.

Instruction.—The course of instruction will consist of physical training by the latest and most approved methods, with the special intention of developing the body and mind, so that the best possible results may be obtained looking to perfection of base-ball playing. Daily instruction will be had in the theory and practice of the game.

Engagements.—As soon as students are sufficiently developed and display skill to justify, efforts will be made by the college management to secure lucrative engagements for those who desire to enter the professional field. Arrangements will be made with the various professional and semi-professional clubs throughout the country by which students of the college will come into contact with managers and be enabled to make known their merits.

Albert G. Spalding cigar box label

Albert G. Spalding cigar box label

Application for Admittance.—Persons who desire to become students of the college will be required to fill out and sign the regular application blank provided by the college, which must give information regarding the applicant, such as name, place of residence, height, weight, various measurements, past vocation, habits, state of health, etc., etc.

Charges.—Accepted students will be required to pay a tuition of $2 per week, at least five weeks tuition to be paid in advance, and must supply their practice uniform. The college will provide all team uniforms for use in games and all materials and utensils necessary for practice.

Then followed a showing of financial possibilities that would have done credit to the brains of a Colonel Sellers [http://www.twainquotes.com/ColonelSellers.html].

It is unnecessary for me to say that this scheme never emanated from me, or that it never received any serious consideration at my hands, the real plan being to create a real-estate boom and enable Mr. Spalding to dispose of some of his holdings, using me as a catspaw with which to pull the chestnuts out of the fire.