Sol White wasn’t just a sure-handed, line-drive-hitting infielder in black baseball of the nineteenth century; he was one of its founding fathers, and its historian. White and Philadelphia sportswriter Walter Schlichter founded the Philadelphia Giants in 1902, and this was the most powerful black club of the time. According to the records, they played 680 games from 1902 through 1906 and won 507 of them. In 1903 they played the “Cuban X-Giants” in the first-ever “Colored Championship of the World.” A young pitcher named Rube Foster won four games for the Cuban X-Giants to upset White’s team. The next year Foster came over to pitch on White’s side, and they won. Although there was no formal league structure, in 1905 the Philadelphia Giants won 134 games and lost just 21. They challenged what they thought was the second best black team to a World Series; the opponents never showed. After going 108-31 in 1906 they issued a challenge to play the winner of the white World Series to see who was truly best. No one answered then, either.
White’s 1907 book The History of Colored Baseball (with a rare 1908 supplement) is both a work of history and advocacy; in it White cautions black players that their skills are more valuable than showboating or clowning. He looks forward to the day when black and white players will be able to play together. “An honest effort of his great ability will open the avenue in the near future wherein [the black player] may walk hand in hand with the opposite race in the greatest of all American games—baseball.” Born just three years after the Civil War, White lived to see his dream come true. After his active involvement with baseball ceased in 1926, he continued to write about the game for The New York Amsterdam News. This article/interview is from The Pittsburgh Courier, March 12, 1927:
Sol White Recalls Baseball’s Greatest Days
Early Struggles of Those Who Made Game Possible Is Reviewed
By Floyd J. Calvin
NEW YORK, March 10—If you were asked to name who you considered the greatest figures in colored baseball history, could you give an intelligent answer? I put this question to Sol White, organizer and manager of the Philadelphia Giants from 1902 to 1908, and this is his answer:
Cos Govern, Cuban Giants
J.M. Bright, Cuban Giants
Walter Schlichter, Phila. Giants
Ambrose Davis, N. Y. Gorhams
Nat Strong, Promoter
J.W. Connors, Brooklyn Royal Giants.
Rube Foster, American Giants
C. I. Taylor, Indianapolis A. B. C.’s
Jess & Eddie McMahon, Lincoln Giants
Jim Keenan, Lincoln Giants
Ed Bolden, Hillsdale.
That’s Sol White’s list. Sol, once famous figure on the diamond and veteran manager, is now retired, living at 207 W. 140th street. He has been close to the game since its beginnings in 1885 and he hardly talks about anything else. The Courier representative was glad to find somebody who really knew the history of the game and was willing to talk. Sol has even written a history of the game. His “Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball” appeared so long ago that there are ads in the back reading like this: “For A Bottle of Good 50c Whiskey Go to McGettigan’s, 700 South 11th street, Philadelphia, Pa., Golden Age Whiskey a Specialty.” That “50c” sounds like ancient history in these parts.
Sol White (King Solomon White) was born at Bellaire, Ohio, June 27, 1868. His professional baseball career began in 1887 when he went with the Keystones of Pittsburgh, then In the Colored National League. Other clubs in the league at that time were the Resolutes of Boston, Lord Baltimore of Baltimore, Gorhams of New York, Washingtonians of Washington, Pythians of Philadelphia and the Louisvilles of Louisville.This was the first colored league in the United States and Walter Brown of Pittsburgh was president and secretary.
After a season with the Pittsburgh Keystones Sol joined the white Keystones of Wheeling, W. Va., as left field and later played second base. Next he went with the Wheelings, another white club of the Ohio League, then the Tri-State League, as third baseman. At the end of the season they drew the color line and that was the end of his career on big league white teams.
Bellaire, Ohio, where Sol was born, had three white teams, the Lilies, the Browns, and the Globes. As a boy Sol hung around the Globes and there came the time when the Globes had an engagement with the Marietta team. One of the Globe players got his finger smashed and since they all knew Sol, the captain pushed him into the game. Sol will always remember that game for the captain and second baseman of the Marietta team was none other than Ban B. Johnson, in later years president of the American League and a leading sportsman of the West. Sol takes pride in having played against Ban when he was an obscure captain of a hick town club.
In 1888 the rule barring colored players in the Tri-State League was rescinded and Sol was sent to Lima to Join the Wheeling team, then on the road, but the manager refused to use him. He then went back to the Pittsburgh Keystones and came to New York for the first time to compete for the silver ball offered by J. M. Bright, owner of the Cuban Giants. The teams competing were Hoboken, Long Island City, Norfolk Red Stockings, Gorhams and Cuban Giants of New York as well as the Keystones.
Now we may begin a chronological story of So! white’s baseball career.
1889—With New York Gorhams as catcher, first and second base. Salary $10 per week and expenses.
1890—With J. M. Bright’s Cuban Giants as left fielder part of season, then went with J. Monroe Kreider’s York, Pa., team as second basemen.
1891—Back with Cuban Giants, behind in salary. Went with Big Gorhams of New York, owned by Ambrose Davidson (also owner of regular Gorhams), both Gorhams that year managed by Cos Govern.
1892—Started with revived Pittsburgh Keystones awhile—dull year. Went to Hotel Champlain at Bluff Point, N. Y., under same headwaiter who started Cuban Giants (Frank P. Thompson) and played on Hotel Team.
1893—From first of season to June with Boston Monarchs, A1 Jupiter, manager, then back with Cuban Giants, New York.
1894—With Cuban Giants.
1895—With Fort Wayne, Ind., Western Inter-State League team (white) as second baseman, $80 per month. League disbanded in June; joined Paige [sic; should be Page] Fence Giants, Adrian, Mich., $75 per month and expenses (a colored team) as second baseman. The name “Paige Fence” was from man who invented wire fences for farms.
1896—With Cuban Giants.
1897—With Cuban X Giants. These players broke away from J. M. Bright’s Cuban Giants because they didn’t like his methods. They got a Frenchman, E. B. LeMar, to act as manager. LeMar was not a sportsman, but merely a follower. His job was principally that of bookkeeping. The men were guaranteed $80 per month on the cooperative plan. Sol played second base. The “Co” plan (as the cooperative plan was popularly known) was a system whereby all expenses were deducted from the gross receipts and the balance evenly distributed between the players.
1898, 1899, with Cuban XGiants.
1900—Short stop with Columbia Giants, Chicago, John Patterson, manager.
1901—Back to New York with Cuban X Giants.
1902—Organized the Philadelphia Giants and was captain and manager. Was associated in this venture with Walter Schlichter (white) sports editor of the Philadelphia Item, a daily paper, who was booker. First year on cooperative plan. Cuban X Giants main rivals. Played in Pennsylvania and New York. Uneventful season.
1903—Reorganized Giants and put men on salary; used big league plan and paid from $60 to $90 per month. Brought in Harry Buckner, Chicago, William Binga, John Patterson, Bob Foot. Branched out and got into Atlantic City for games where Cuban X Giants had kept them out season before. Got in Independent League composed of Harrisburg, Williamsport, Altoona, Lancaster (all white clubs) and Cuban X Giants. Made good and paid well. Sol played shortstop first year and second base second year. In 1903 Rube Foster was on rivals, Cuban X Giants.
1904—Changed personnel. Got Andrew Rube Foster and paid $90 per month as pitcher. Played white teams at 136th street and Fifth avenue, New York, brought by McMahon brothers (Eddie and Jesse). Also played Ridg[e]wood and Long Island clubs at Brighten oval.
1905—Changed line-up to strongest organization of the time. Kept Robe Foster and brought in “Home Run” Johnson as shortstop. White clubs of the Indpendent joined organized baseball. This year the Philadelphia Giants played several games in New England against the New England League (white) and never lost a game. Also played the Newark International League Team, then under the management of Ed. Barrow, now secretary of the New York Yankees. Beat the International Leaguers four games straight.
1906—Changes. “Home Run” left to manage Brooklyn Royal Giants for John W. Connors. Jesse McMahon started Philadelphia Quaker Giants and raided Philadelphia Giants and got Will Monroe and Chappy Johnson. Nat Harris of Chicago took “Home Run’s” place as shortstop and Bill Francis took Monroe’s place on third base.
1907—Got John Henry Lloyd, Willie James, Bruce Petway, Geo. Washington (pitcher), G. A. Rabbit and Ashby Dunbar to replace old men who left.
1908—Got Duncan, fielder, Fisher, pitcher, Hayman, pitcher. This was the last season of the club under Sol. Schlichter took club over.
1909—Philadelphia Quaker Giants under McMahon disbanded. Sol strung along with his old team.
1910—Managed Connor’s Brooklyn Royal Giants.
1911—Organized Lincoln Giants for McMahon brothers, and took job as manager. Left early in season.
1912—Organized Boston Giants in New York. Went thru season, but business was dull. Went home to Bellaire, O., late in season and retired from same until 1920.
1920—Got Rube Foster to put team in Columbus, O., in Western League. Was secretary of the “Buckeyes” of Columbus to 1924.
1924—Managed Cleveland Browns in Western League. Disbanded same season.
1926—Assisted Andrew Harris coach Newark team.
Although the game in many respects treated him rough, Sol has only the best of wishes for it. He admits that in the heydey of his glory, in 1905, 06, and 07 (the latter year the one in which he published his history) he was high strung, still he is a calm, quiet man now who likes to go to the library and read good books when he is not at work. His object in telling his story is to let some of the younger fellows know something of what is behind them—something of the struggles that have made possible the improved conditions of the present. He is one man who has given his life, unselfishly, to the game purely for the love of it. He can tell of many times when his men were on the “co” plan how he gave up all of his money in order to keep his players together. Some others went into the game to make money, and made it, but Sol takes greater pride in having watched the game develop to where it is today, although he has no money to show for it. He has a new book he would like to publish, a kind of second edition to his old one, bringing the game from 1907 down to date, and if there is anybody anywhere in sports circles who thinks enough of what has gone before to help Sol print his record, he will be glad; to hear from them. Without a doubt this record will prove valuable in years to come. Sol’s personal copy of his own book is the only one he knows about and it would be a historical tragedy if this should be lost.
White died penniless on Long Island in 1955, and he is buried in an unmarked grave in Frederick Douglass Cemetery in the Oakwood neighborhood of Staten Island, NY. A surviving copy of “History of Colored Baseball” sold in the September, 1997 Christie’s auction for $18,400.
Sol White was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
As promised in my previous post, “Did African American Slaves Play Baseball?” (http://goo.gl/W8lFq), I learned a lot about the long-gone holiday of Pinkster (mourned by oldtimers of the 1840s), and particularly ball play at this time among the slave population, North and South. Caveat lector: if you care only for history as it relates to baseball, you might be well advised to proceed no further.
Robert Henderson opened his classic Ball, Bat and Bishop with these words: “It is the purpose of this book to show that all modern games played with bat and ball descend from one common source: an ancient fertility rite observed by Priest–Kings in the Egypt of the Pyramids.” Moving forward some three millennia, he added:
The testimony of Beleth and Durandus, both eminently qualified witnesses, clearly indicates that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the ball had found a place for itself in the Easter celebrations of the Church.” In fact, Beleth and Durandus had both opposed the practice, seeing it as the intrusion of pagan rites into church rites. “There are some Churches in which it is customary for the Bishops and Archbishops to play in the monasteries with those under them, even to stoop to the game of ball” [Beleth, 1165]. “In certain places in our country, prelates play games with their own clerics on Easter in the cloisters, or in the Episcopal Palaces, even so far as to descend to the game of ball” [Durandus, 1286].
What does this have to with bat and ball and the fertility rites of spring, you ask? Not to put too fine a point on it, but the bat and ball are symbolic male and female forms. Like the dance (ballet) and the ballad, the game of ball (all derived from ballare, the Greek for ball), was regarded as sublimated sex. The Oxford English Dictionary records usages of the word “game” to mean amorous sport or lechery as early as 1230; to illustrate a perhaps more familiar instance, Shakespeare wrote, in Troilus and Cressida in 1606, “Set them downe For sluttish spoyles of opportunitie; and daughters of the game.” In recent memory, a television advertiser touted its hair coloring product as a way for graying men to “get back in the game.” Early prohibitions, especially against games involving bats or balls, tended to the extreme: in England ca. 1635, Richard Allen’s preaching at Ditcheat convinced a parishioner that “a maypole was an idol, and setting up of him [!] was idolatrie” and that ‘it was a greater sin for a man to play at Bowles on the Sabboath daie, then [sic] to lie with another mans wiffe on a weeke daie.” In this context, I invite you to think of ball play–even baseball–at Pinkster as a longing for freedom.
The Pentecostal Dutch holiday of Pinkster (Pinksterfeest or Pinxter, a sort of azalea flower) was celebrated on the day after Whitsunday (seven weeks after Easter, and thus the gateway to summer). In New York City Pinkster Monday was celebrated in City Hall Park and at Chatham Square, but in Albany it was a week-long Saturnalian revel for slaves of the prominent old Dutch households. In 1800 Gorham A. Worth wrote: “Albany was indeed Dutch, in all its moods and tenses; thoroughly and inveterately Dutch. The buildings were Dutch – Dutch in style, in position, attitude and aspect. The people were Dutch, the horses were Dutch, and even the dogs were Dutch.” This, from “A Glimpse of an Old Dutch Town,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1881:
New-Year’s Day was devoted to the universal interchange of visits. Every door was thrown wide open, and a warm welcome extended to friend and stranger. It was a breach of etiquette to omit any acquaintance in these annual calls, when old friendships were renewed, and family differences amicably settled. And here came the famous New-Year cake. The Paas eggs were the feature of Easter. The Pinkster festivities commenced on the Monday after Whitsunday, and now began the fun for the negroes, for Pinkster was the carnival of the African race. The venerable “King of the Blacks” was “Charley of Pinkster Hill,” so called because he was the principal actor in the festivities. [Pinkster Hill was another name for Albany's Capitol Hill.] Charles originally came from Africa, having in his infancy been brought from Angolo, in the Guinea Gulf; and when but a boy he became the purchased slave of one of the most ancient and respectable merchant princes of the olden time, Volckert P. Douw, of Wolvenhoeck. Charles’s costume as king was that of a British brigadier—ample broadcloth scarlet coat, with wide flaps, almost reaching to his heels, and gayly ornamented everywhere with broad tracings of bright gold-lace. His small-clothes were of yellow buckskin, fresh and new, with stockings blue, and burnished silver buckles to his well-blacked shoe. And when we add the three-cornered cocked hat, trimmed also with gold-lace, and which so gracefully sat upon his noble globular pate, we complete this rude sketch of the Pinkster king.
Both he and his followers were covered with Pinkster blummies—the wild azalea, or swamp-apple. The procession started from “young massa’s house” (82 State Street; where now stands the large seedstore of Knickerbocker and Price), and went up State Street to Bleecker Hill, on the crown of which was the Bleecker Burying-ground. In front of the king always marched Dick Simpson and Pete Halenbeck, the latter the Beau Brummel of his time. The last parade was in 1822. The king died two years later. During Pinkster–day the negroes made merry with games and feasting, all paying homage to the king, who was held in awe and reverence as an African prince. In the evening there was a grand dance, led by Charles and some sable beauty, to the music of Pete Halenbeck’s fiddle.
On the day following Pinkster (Pentecost or Whitmanday) the Negroes of Albany held revels on Pinkster Hill, the approximate site of the present State Capitol. Gradually the celebration extended far into the week until in April of 1811, the Common Council of Albany passed rules aimed at “boisterous rioting and drunkenness”—rules which were the knell of the Pinkster holidays with their African folk dances and beating on the Guinea Drum, as it was called in the Albany Centinel of June 17, 1803:
a log of about four feet in length, and twelve or fourteen feet in diameter, burnt out at one end … and covered with a sheep skin. On this one thumps with his fists a kind of barbarous ill composed, or uncomposed, air, which is accompanied with a harsh sort of grunting , a bawling and mumbling, which on any other occasion than Pinkster, would disgrace a savage.
While clucking about the savagery of the slave celebrations to come, the writer attests to a poignant truth. “This reminds the citizens,” the Centinel continued, “of the approaching anniversary, wakes into anxious expectation juvenile curiosity, and kindles the latent spark of love for his native country and native dance, in the bosom of the African. In the mean time, preparations are going forward on the [Pinkster] hill, which the ensuing week is to become the theatre of action.”
Also from 1803, an Albany pamphlet offered an ode “Most Respectfully Dedicated To CAROLUS AFRICANUS, REX: Thus Rendered in English: KING CHARLES, Capital-General and Commander in Chief of the
A Pinkster Song
When leave the fig tree putteth out,
When calves and lambs for mothers cry,
When toads begin to hop about,
We know of truth that summer’s nigh.
So after Pos [Pas, or Easter] when hens do cluck,
When gawky goblins peep and feed,
And boys get fewer eggs to suck,
We know that Pinkster comes indeed. [...]
Rise then, each son of Pinkster, rise,
Snatch fleeting pleasure as it flies.
See Nature spreads her carpet gay,
For you to dance your care away.
“Care! what have we with care to do?
“Masters! Care was made for you.
“Behold rich free-men-see dull care
“Oft make their bodies lean and spare. [...]
Ill-omen’d stars! malignant shone,
When Demons dragg’d thee from thy throne!
Afric with all her gold was poor,
When thou vast wafted from her shore.
Ah! when will Heaven, in justice drest,
Avenge the wrongs of the opprest!
Or will Heaven’s Lord in vengeance swear,
Tyrants shall never enter there!
But-hush-now Charles the King harangues,
A hundred fiddles cease their twangs.
“Harken, ye sons of Ham, to me;
“This day our Bosses make us free;
“Now all the common on the hill,
“Is ours, to do what e’er we will.
“And let us by our conduct show,
“We thank them as we ought to do.
“While Demo hot and fiery Fed,
“Boast who for freedom most have bled;
“Let us, each woman, man and boy,
“Strive, who call freedom most enjoy;
“While on hot politics they sup,
“And mostly drink a bitter cup;
“Let us with grateful hearts agree
“Not to abuse our liberty.
“Tho’ lordlings proud may domineer,
“And at our humble revelsjeer,
“Tho’ torn from friends beyond the waves,
“Tho’ fate has doom’d us to be slaves,
“Yet on this day, let’s taste and see
“How sweet a thing is Liberty,
“What tho’ for freedom we may sigh
“Many long years until we die,
“Yet nobly let us still endure
“The ills and wrongs we cannot cure.
“Tho’ hard and humble be our lot,
“The rich man’s spleen we envy not.
“While we have health, whence pleasure springs,
“And peace to purchase fiddle-strings,
“Let’s with united voice agree
“To hail this happy jubilee.
“Behold for as green lawns are spread
“O’er graves of British heroes dead.
“Behold for us the vernal field,
“A thousand blooming pleasures yield.
“Zephyrs which play on bosoms fair,
“Will wonton on our woolly hair;
“While every bird on every tree,
“Proclaims our happy jubilee:
“Let us be jovial be as they,
“All on this holy holiday.”
Thus spake King Charles, when all the crowd,
Roused full strong, long and loud,
And thank’d kind Heaven on bended knee,
For this, their short-lived liberty. [...]
As we near the date of issuance of Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee report, capping nearly two years of digging and gathering, we have, it appears, come a bit closer to answering the question posed in the title of this post. Master sleuths of early ball play have provided us with references to ball play by African Americans in bondage, but without clear evidence as to whether baseball was one of the games they played. Randall Brown and Dale Somers offered instances of antebellum baseball play by freedmen; Tom Altherr uncovered early citations for slave ball play. But only recently has a report emerged, at last, of slaves playing baseball—and it was not in the South, but in New York State in about 1820.
First, some background. In the most recent issue of the journal Base Ball, Bruce Allardice published a fine article on the prevalence of baseball in the South prior to the Civil War, supplying a nice corrective to the hoary myth that Northern soldiers introduced their Confederate counterparts to the game. As to African Americans in the South, Allardice offered:
According to Dale Somers [in The Rise of Sports in New Orleans, 1850–1900, citing the New Orleans Picayune of Dec. 21, 1869], black employees of the elite Pickwick and Boston Clubs of New Orleans formed baseball teams in the late 1860s, and took as team names the names of the social clubs they worked for. The Pickwick played the (white) Lone Star club in late 1869, perhaps the first interracial game in Southern baseball history. These and other teams played regularly throughout the 1870s and 1880s, often against white teams. Blacks in Atlanta had already formed a club in 1867. A newspaper reported that the “negroes of Atlanta” had formed a club “dressed in red pants and sky-blue jackets.” In Houston, Texas, in 1868 a “colored” team, the oddly named Six Shooter Jims, challenged other “colored” teams in Texas to match games.
Thanks largely to Tom Altherr, the Early Baseball Milestones section of MLB’s Memory Lab site (http://mlb.mlb.com/memorylab/chronology/index.jsp?sub_section=africanamericans) contains citations of African American ballplay as early as 1773: “We present as a growing Evil, the frequent assembling of Negroes in the Town [Beaufort, SC] on Sundays, and playing games of Trap-ball and Fives, which is not taken proper notice of by Magistrates, Constables, and other Parish Officers.” Tom Gilbert and Altherr noted that in the North-Carolina Minerva of March 11, 1797, a punishment of 15 lashes was specified for “negroes, that shall make a noise or assemble in a riotous manner in any of the streets [of Fayetteville] on the Sabbath day; or that may be seen playing ball on that day.”
In the 1850s schoolteacher Emily Burke observed, in Pleasure and Pain: Reminiscences of Georgia in the 1840s:
The slaves had finished the tasks that had been assigned to them in the morning and were now enjoying holiday recreations. Some were trundling the hoop, some were playing ball, some were dancing at the sound of the fiddle . . . In this manner the Sabbath is usually spent on a Southern plantation.
We have this, from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (Boston, 1845):
My term of actual service to Mr. Edward Covey ended on Christmas Day, 1833. The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day are allowed as holidays, and accordingly we were not required to perform any labor more than to feed and take care of the stock. This time we regarded as our own, by the grace of our masters, and we therefore used or abused it nearly as we pleased. Those of us who had families at a distance were generally allowed to spend the whole six days in their society. This time, however, was spent in various ways. The sober, staid, thinking, and industrious of our number would employ themselves in making corn brooms, mats, horse collars, and baskets; and another class of us would spend the time in hunting opossums, hares, and coons. But by far the larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as ball playing, wrestling, running foot races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whiskey: and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters. A slave who would work during the holidays was considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them. It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas.
Randall Brown, in Blood and Base Ball (http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/29/blood-and-base-ball-part-2/), provided proof of freedmen in Brooklyn forming baseball clubs as early as 1858, with the pioneer “Unknown Base Ball Club” contesting with the Henson Club of Jamaica in the following year.
Despite these wonderful finds, however, we still had nothing connecting slaves with a game that they—or we, as students of the early game—could term baseball. By this we mean, simply, a game of bat and ball played with bases that must be traversed in the round to score a run. The existence of foul territory, the number of outs to the inning, the number of men to the side—these are all niceties of the evolving game but they do not define it. Baseball was played at Princeton College in 1786, at Pittsfield, MA in 1791, in New York City in 1823, in Philadelphia in 1831—no matter that the playing rules associated with each of these dates are largely unknown and are certain to have differed.
Last year Randall Brown shared with me a fantastic bit of news that I might have been expected to have found first, inasmuch as the source was the Daily Freeman, an extant paper of Kingston, NY, my residence until just two years ago. Not only did the Freeman, in its issue of August 19, 1881, reference early African American baseball (New York was, in 1827, one of the last of the Northern states to abolish slavery), but at a site just a stone’s throw from my offices. The headline read:
A Colored Resident. Henry Rosecranse Columbus, Jr. Some Incidents in the Life of an Old Resident of Kingston. Born a Slave, He Lives to Become Wealthy and an Example to His Race.
This fellow was born in 1804, according to the Freeman; or 1801, according to the Federal Census. While I will offer up, in my next post, a bit more about African Americans’ ball play and their largely vanished Spring holiday of Pinkster (the Monday after Whitsunday), here is the startling interview:
Few men perhaps in their station of life have been more widely known in this county than Henry Rosecranse Columbus Jr., the colored barber of John street. Mr. Rosecranse was born a slave in the year 1804, in the Kingston Hotel building on Crown street, then known as the “Coffee House,” the proprietor of which was Levi Johnston, and he has proved himself during his life to be one of the best examples to the colored men who have lived during the present century, and he has a record for honesty and uprightness in dealing that few men can boast of. He has shown that a man even of a humble station of life can win his way by steady application to his trade and attending to his own business, and become the owner of lands and money in “goodly quantity.”
His barber shop on John street is little changed from what it was nearly half a century ago, and the furniture and pictures smack of times long gone by. Ancient portraits of battles of the Mexican war and the revolution hang upon the wall; quaint pictures of New York city are seen, and General Scott stands with soldierly bearing by the side of his horse in a big frame, while John Morrissey hangs over the doorway as he appeared when he was a young man and fought with Sullivan. An engraving of Samsonville as it appeared when owned by General Samson in his prosperous days, with High Point in close proximity, can also be seen. In one part of the room is an old advertisement of charges, made undoubtedly when the shop was in its palmy days.
Mr. Rosecranse only keeps his shop open nowadays in order to have something to occupy his time so he will not get rusty. A few old customers still visit him and talk over old days, while he is taking off an itching beard or trimming down a shaggy coat of hair, but there are men in prosperous condition living in other counties, and some in the far West, who, whenever they visit the city always call on Mr. Rosecranse to shake hands with him and bring again to recollection circumstances that transpired forty or fifty years ago, and find out how this man or that woman is, whether dead or living, and in what circumstances they might have been, for Mr. Rosecranse carries a sort of statistical record in his head of half the families of the county, and in genealogy, he is considered equal to the big family Bible.
Mr. Rosecranse’s father was Thomas Rosecranse, and he was named after him, while the “Columbus” was added as a sort of affix to denote that he was once a servant of the Tappen family, one of whom bore that name. The mother of Mr. Rosecranse was a slave of the mother of Peter Masten, and was afterwards bought by George Tappen. She lived for years with one of the most aristocratic families in Kingston, and in her day waited upon many great men, among them being “Matty” Van Buren, as he was familiarly called, who often came here visiting.
When a boy Mr. Rosecranse worked for Levi Johnson, who then kept the hotel on Crown street, and went with him to New York city when he moved there. Returning in a couple of years, he worked for Jonathan Ostrander, father of James E. Ostrander, who lived in the old stone house on Green street, now known as the Industrial Home.
Soon after this Mr. Rosecranse started to learn his trade of barbering with Thomas Harley, a colored man, a famous barber in his day, father of Hanson G. Harley, who now runs the barber shop on Fair street. Thomas Harley at that time had a shop in the hotel known as the Folter place, afterward called the Ulster County House, and which stood on the site of the present Argus building. In two years he had learned the trade sufficiently to accept a position as barber and waiter with Pardee, then proprietor of the present Kingston Hotel on Crown street.
Reporter—“When did you take your position at Pardee’s?
Mr. Rosecranse—“Well, it was at the time of the big snow storm, you remember that, don’t you?” The reporter said, “O, no, I guess not; I have no recollection of that time.” Mr. Rosecranse continued, saying, “It was over forty years ago. It was a big snow storm, the biggest we ever had. The streets were blocked with snow so the men had to be called out to break the way, and I remember helping shovel the snow away from the house of the lady who afterwards married William H. Romeyn, Esq.
Mr. Rosecranse inquired of the reporter if he remembered the accident that happened while firing cannon on the death of Governor Clinton [in 1812].
Reporter—“Yes, I have heard of it, but give us the circumstances.”
“There was several of them firing the cannon; one held his finger over the vent, and while Henry Ray was ramming in the charge and Gilbert Dillon and Jesse Hamilton were near to him, the man who held the vent must have taken his finger off, for it went off, and it blew Ray all to pieces, so we had to look around and pick his bones up. Gilbert Dillon was lamed for life, and Jesse Hamilton was cut across the face and carries the scar to this day.” The accident occurred on Wall street opposite the Young property.
Mr. Rosecranse evidently believes in the good times of a half a century ago. He said, “We used to have a great deal better time than that you do now. We didn’t have a big city with lamps and curb stones and paved walks, and had to go round through the mud, but we had more holidays. There was the Pinkster holiday, the Great Holiday for the colored men. They used to meet at Black Horse Tavern (the building still stands on the lower end of Wall street) and shoot for turkeys. Then the colored men raced horses on Peter Sharpe’s lane. They used to come a great many of them with horses of their bosses, and run them. (This lane was where Albany avenue now runs, and the race ground was from Kiefer’s to the lane that runs in to the house of William M. Hayes). The bosses used to come and bet on the horses, and they had a great deal of fun. After the races they used to play ball for egg nog.”
Reporter—“Was it base ball as now played?”
Mr. Rosecranse—“Something like it, only the ball wasn’t near so hard, and we used to have much more fun playing.” He further said a great game of those days was wicket.
He remembered general training days, and was full of anecdotes of the officers and others who were prominent on such occasions. He said they used to train sometimes in one place and sometimes another, and the different regiments wore different uniforms, each having its own particular colored uniform.
Mr. Rosecranse during his life has worked steadily at his trade, and has amassed quite a fortune, owning a number of buildings on John street, besides other evidences of wealth. He is hale and hearty, carrying his three score and seventeen years so lightly that another twenty years seemingly would hardly make him appear older than other men at sixty.
Let me tell you how this wonderful reminiscence by a seemingly nondescript Red Sox pitcher came to light. When I created The National Pastime (TNP) as an annual publication for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) back in 1982, I was new to the organization, having joined only a few months earlier. I wanted to present a bang-up list of contributors, all SABR members, in order to showcase the society to those on the outside looking in. Here is a partial contributor list from that debut issue: Bob Broeg; G.H. Fleming; John Holway; Pete Palmer; Mark Rucker; Harold Seymour, Ph.D.; David Voigt; Frank J. Willliams–and Lawrence S. Ritter.
I asked Larry, the last named–and, like most of the contributors, a personal friend–to contribute one of the several interviews he had conducted for The Glory of Their Times (1966) that had not been transcribed in time for inclusion in that great, great book. (Red Barber and Stephen Jay Gould called it the greatest of all baseball books; I agree.) Larry said that each of the interviews had represented a great deal of work for him beyond mere transcription–that the rambling recall of men in their seventies had to be scrambled and then spliced … and he did not, in 1982, have the time to tackle the raw tapes of George Gibson or Specs Toporcer or Hank Greenberg, or Marty McHale, all of which I knew to reside, away from public knowledge, at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library.
All but one of these excluded interviews made it into the revised edition of The Glory of Their Times that appeared in 1992. But Larry never included the Marty McHale interview–conducted November 4, 1963, right after his session with Smoky Joe Wood–because he had not been the one who edited it into final shape. Now it can be revealed: I was.
Larry wanted to help SABR by taking part in the launch of TNP and he knew that I was, at that time, an editor by trade. So with plenty of caveats about how tough it would be to rearrange the several tapes into a more or less linear narrative, he invited me to take a whack at the job. Creating the transcription, marking it up, then taking scissors to create congruent parts and laying the sections out on the floor, Marty McHale sprang to life. My appreciation–call it awe–for Larry’s skill in presenting Harry Hooper, Sam Crawford, and more was magnified tenfold. Here is Larry’s interview, the one that remains missing from The Glory of Their Times.
Damon Runyon once wrote a story about me, saying this fellow McHale, who is not the greatest ballplayer that ever lived, is probably the most versatile man who ever took up the game. This was in the 1920s, after I had left baseball. So Johnny Kieran of the New York Times asked Babe Ruth about it, knowing he and I had been on the Red Sox together. Johnny said, “Marty played in the big leagues, he played football in college, he was on the track team, he was on the stage, he wrote for the Wheeler Syndicate and the Sun, he was in the Air Service”–and so forth. He went on listing my accomplishments until the Babe interrupted to say, “Well, I don’t know about all those things, but he was the best goddamn singer I ever heard!”
You see, I sang in vaudeville for 12 years, a high baritone tenor–an “Irish Thrush,” they called it then, and Variety called me “The Baseball Caruso.” But even before vaudeville, before baseball even, I used to work in a lot of shows around Boston and made trips down to Wakefield, Winchester–minstrel shows, usually–and sometimes these little two-act sketches.
So when I joined the Boston club, a bunch of us–Buck O’Brien, Hughie Bradley, Larry Gardner, and myself–formed the Red Sox Quartette. After a while Gardner gave it up and a fellow named Bill Lyons stepped in. This Lyons was no ballplayer, but Boston signed him to a contract anyway, just to make the name of the act look proper. We were together three years, and when we broke up I was just as well satisfied because it was quite an ordeal keeping the boys on schedule. They just couldn’t get used to that buzzer that tells you you’re on next. They’d be a couple of minutes late and think nothing of it, but you can’t do that in vaudeville, you know–you’re on.
I did a single for about another three years, which was not very good–just good enough so that they paid for it–and then Mike Donlin and I got together. Now, you may not remember Mike, but he was–well, he was the Babe Ruth of his day. “Turkey Mike,” they called him, because when he’d make a terrific catch or something he’d do a kind of turkey step and take his cap off and throw it up like a ham, a real ham; but he was a great one, he could live up to that stuff in the field or at the bat. His widow gave me some of his souvenirs: a gold bat and ball that were given to him as the most valuable player in 1905, some cufflinks, and a couple of gold cups, one from the Giants and the other from the Reds. He hit over .350 for both of them.
Mike and I were together for five years, doing a double-entendre act called “Right Off the Bat”–not too much singing, Mike would only go through the motions–and we played the Keith-Orpheum circuit: twice in one year we were booked into the Palace in New York and that was when it was the Palace, not the way it is now! They had nothing but the big headliners. When Mike left for Hollywood, I went back to doing a single. He made a bunch of pictures out there, and that’s where he died.
Which did I like better, baseball or vaudeville? Well, I’d call it about 50-50. The vaudeville was more difficult, the traveling. Sure, you had to travel a lot in baseball, but you had somebody taking care of your trunk and your tickets and everything; all you had to do was get your slip, hop onto the train, and go to bed. When you got to the hotel your trunk was there. In vaudeville you had to watch your own stuff. I used to say to Mike, you’re the best valet I know, because he was always on time with the tickets and had our baggage checks and everything all taken care of, right on the button all the time.
Of course, Mike and I wouldn’t have been such an attraction if it hadn’t been for baseball, so maybe I ought to tell you how I came to sign with the Red Sox in 1910. First of all, Boston was almost my home town–I grew up in Stoneham, that’s nine miles out and if you took a trolley car and changed two or three times, you could get to the ballpark. Which I’d done only once–I only saw one big-league game before I played in one, and Cy Young pitched it; I wasn’t really a Red Sox fan. But here comes the second reason for my signing: they gave me a big bonus. How big? Two thousand dollars, and back then that was money!
You see, that year for Maine University I had thrown three consecutive no-hitters, and the scouts were all over. I had a bid from Detroit, one from Pittsburgh, one from the Giants, and another from the Braves. And there was sort of a veiled offer from Cincinnati, which is an interesting story.
This Cincinnati situation, Clark Griffith was down there managing and when I reported to the Red Sox, which was in June, following the end of the college term, his club was playing the Braves, over at Braves Field across the tracks from the Huntington Avenue park. Now, the Red Sox were on the road when I and some other college boys reported. We had signed, but the Red Sox didn’t want us with them right away: they had to make room for us, they could only have so many players. So I remember that Griffith came over to the Red Sox park one morning to watch the boys work out. The clubhouse man told us we were all being watched–like you’d watch horses, you know, working out each morning, and he said if we wanted to stay with the club, better take it easy and not put too much on the ball and so on. See, the club usually asks waivers on the newcomers immediately upon reporting to see if anybody else is interested in them, and if so they can withdraw the waivers after a certain time.
I remember very definitely–I went out there and I was pitching to the hitters and I put everything I had on the ball, because after looking over that bunch of Red Sox pitchers I could see there was not much chance for a young collegian to crack that lineup.
At any rate, Griffith must have put in some claim, you see, because two days later I was on my way to Chicago to join the Red Sox. They had withdrawn the waivers. I joined them in Chicago and we went from there to Cleveland. I remember my pal Tris Speaker hurt his finger in Chicago and he was out for a few days, and Fordham’s Chris Mahoney, who was an outfielder, a pitcher, and a good hitter, took his place.
He and I weren’t the only college boys on that team, you know: Bill Carrigan, Jake Stahl, Larry Gardner, Duffy Lewis, Harry Hooper . . . even Speaker went to–not the University of Texas, but Texas Polyclinic, Polytechnic or something of that kind out there; only went for two years, but he went. And Ray Collins and Hughie Bradley, too. Buck O’Brien, he came the next year, he said, “I got a degree, I got a B.S. from Brockton.” He said B.S. stood for boots and shoes, meaning that he worked in a factory.
Now on this day in Cleveland, we had Chris Mahoney playing right field, Harry Hooper moved over to center, and Duffy Lewis stayed in left, and Patsy Donovan put me in to pitch my first game in the big leagues against Joe Jackson and those Cleveland boys. I wasn’t what you’d call sloppily relaxed, but I wasn’t particularly nervous, either. You see, I was one ofthe most egotistical guys that God ever put on this earth: I felt that I could beat anybody. I struck out ten of those Naps, including Jackson. The first time he was up, I had Joe two strikes, no balls, and I did something that the average big-league pitcher would never do. Instead of trying to fool him with a pitch, I stuck the next one right through there and caught him flat-footed. He never dreamed I’d do that.
So the next time up there the same thing happened. He hit a foul, then took a strike, and then Red Kleinow, an old head who was catching me, came out for a conference. He said, “What do you want to pitch him, a curve ball?” And I said, “No, I’m going to stick another fast one right through there.”
He said, “He’ll murder it.” Well–he did! Joe hit a ball that was like a shot out of a rifle against the right-field wall. Harry Hooper retrieved it in left center!
Yes, I had ten strikeouts, but I lost the ball game. It was one of those sun-field things: a fellow named Hohnhurst was playing first base for Cleveland and, with a man on first, he hit a long fly to left-center field. Harry Hooper, who was in center this day, was dead certain on fly balls, but when Speaker was out there, as Harry said afterwards, he used to let Speaker take everything within range. Harry said he and Duffy Lewis didn’t exactly get signals crossed, but they were not sure as to who was gqing to take the ball.
Finally Duffy went for it, and just as he made his pitch for the ball the sun hit him right between the eyes and he didn’t get his hands on the thing and the run, of course, scored, and Hohnhurst, the fellow who hit the ball–he got himself to second base. Ted Easterly got a single on top of that, and anyway, the score ended up 4-3. That was it.
I was supposed to be a spitball pitcher, but I had a better overhand curve, what they called a drop curve–you’d get that overspin on it and that ball would break much better than a spitter. I had what they call a medium-good fastball, not overpowering but good enough, and if you took something off your curve and your spitter, your fastball looked a lot better. For my slow one, the changeup as they call it now, I tried a knuckler but never could get any results with it, so I stole Eddie Karger’s slow-breaking downer. He and I used to take two fingers off the ball and throw it with the same motion as we used for the fastball.
They still have those fellows today that throw spitters, but it doesn’t make much difference–because even when the spitter was legal in my day, in both leagues you couldn’t pick six good spitball pitchers. You’d take a fellow like Ed Walsh with the White Sox, the two Coveleskis, Burleigh Grimes, and the lefthanded spitter in the National League, who has since lost both legs, Clarence Mitchell.
Now, Clarence was a good spitball pitcher, but Walsh was the best. He worked harder at it, had a better break, had better control of it , and he pitched in more ballgames than any pitcher in either league over a period of years.
Eddie Cicotte, he was with us in Boston, you know, he was going with a spitter for a while. He used to throw that emery ball, too, and then he developed what we call the ”shine” ball. He used to have paraffin on different parts of his trousers, which was not legal, and he would just go over all the stitches with that paraffin, making the other part of the ball rougher. It was just like the emery situation, but in reverse, and an emery ball is one of the most dangerous, not like the spitter, which can be controlled. But Cicotte’s main pitch was the knuckleball, and he used that to such an extent that we called him Knuckles.
Joe Wood was with the Red Sox when I joined them, too. Now there was a fellow who could do nearly everything well. He was a great ballplayer, not just a pitcher, he was a good outfielder, he was a good hitter, he was a good baseman, he would run like blazes, he used to work real hard before a ballgame, he was just a good all-around ballplayer and a great pitcher. And he was a fine pool player, too, and billiards. He could play any kind of a card game and well; also he was a good golfer. I think that he could have done nearly everything. If he were playing football he’d be a good quarterback.
Joey was a natural–and talking about egotistical people, there’s a guy who had terrific confidence, terrific. Without being too fresh, he was very cocky, you know. He just had “the old confidence.”
I wasn’t with Boston the year they won the World’s Championship and Joey won those 34 games and then three more against the Giants, but I was at the Series and wrote a story about that final game. I saw the Snodgrass muff–he was careless, and that happens. But right after that he made a gorgeous running catch.
Earlier in that game Harry Hooper made the best catch I ever saw. I hear from Harry twice a year or so; he lives in California, and he’s got plenty of the world’s goods. Harry made this catch–he had his back to the ball–and from the bench it looked like he caught it backhanded, over his shoulder. After I sent my story to him, he wrote to me. “I thought it was a very good catch, too,” he said, “but you were wrong in your perspective. When I ran for that ball, I ran with my back toward it and you guys with your craning necks were so excited about it, when I ran into the low fence”–you see the bleachers came up from a low fence in Fenway–”the fence turned me around halfway to the right and I caught the ball in my bare right hand.” Imagine!
In 1913 I joined the Yankees–they weren’t called the Highlanders any more–and then three years later I went back to the Red Sox. Bill Carrigan, who was the Boston manager then, said, “Now that you’re seasoned enough you can come back and pitch for a big-league team.” The Yankees in those days were a terrible ballclub. In 1914 I lost 16 games and won only 7, with an earned-run average under three. I got no runs. I would be beaten one to nothing, two to nothing, three to one, scores like that. You were never ahead of anybody. You can’t win without runs. Take this fellow who’s pitching for the Mets, Roger Craig, what did he lose–22, something like that? What did he win–5? One to nothing, two to nothing, terrible.
When I got to New York Frank Chance was the manager, a great guy. He had a reputation as a really tough egg, but if you went out there and worked and hustled and showed him that you were interested in what you were doing he would certainly be in your corner, to the extent that he would try and get you more money come contract time.
I have a watch, one of these little “wafer” watches, that Chance gave me in 1914 after I guess about the first month. I had won a couple of games for him, one of them was the opening game against the World Champion A’s, and one day, just as a gesture, he said, he gave me this watch.
Frank and I were such good friends that late in 1914, when we were playing a series in Washington, after dinner, one evening he said, let’s take a little walk. So we went out to a park across from the hotel and sat down. “I’m going to quit,” he said. “I can’t stand this being manager, can’t stand being the manager of this ballclub.”
He said, “We’re not going to get anyplace. I’ve got a good pitching staff–and he did have a good pitching staff–”but you fellows are just batting your heads against the wall every time you go out there, no runs.” The owners wouldn’t get him any players, see, and he said, “I just can’t take it–I’m going to quit.”
He had already talked it over with the front office in New York and one of the reasons he took me out to the park was that he had told them which men he thought they should keep, and I happened to be one of three pitchers along with Slim Caldwell and Ray Fisher, and he said I know that you’ll be working in vaudeville next winter and I would advise you to get yourself a two- or three-year contract, if you can, before you leave New York on your tour, which was very good advice–which advice I didn’t take. I was too smart–you know how it is, very smart–so Mike Donlin and I went out on the Orpheum circuit that winter after opening at the Palace.
So Mike, before we left New York, he said, you better go over to the Yankee office and get yourself signed in before we leave for Chicago. He said, you never can tell what’s going to happen. I, being very, very smart, I said, “No, I’ll be worth more money to them in the spring than I am now after the publicity we will get in vaudeville this winter.”
But I was wrong, because during the winter, while we were in Minneapolis at the Orpheum theatre, Devery and Farrell sold the team to Ruppert and Huston. I’m quite sure I could have made a deal with Frank Farrell for a two- or three-year contract before leaving, but as I say I wasn’t very smart.
When we got back east Bill Donovan (that’s Bill, not Patsy) had been appointed manager of the Yankees, and he was not in favor of anybody having a long-term contract. I didn’t even last out the year with him.
It seemed every time I pitched against Washington I had Walter Johnson as an opponent, or Jim Shaw, either one. Griffith, he used to … I don’t know … I had an idea he didn’t pitch them against Caldwell. It seemed that every time Slim pitched, the team would get him three or four runs–though he didn’t need them, he was a great pitcher.
Was Johnson as great a pitcher as they say? Let me tell you, he was greater than they say. He was with one of the worst ballclubs imaginable, not quite as bad as the old Yankees but almost as bad.
When I got out of the Air Service, after the War–you see, I quit baseball on the 4th of July, I think, in 1917 and went into the Air Service–when I came out I went to work for the New York Evening Sun. I wrote articles, and the Sun used to run them every Saturday. The Wheeler Syndicate used to sell them to–wherever they could sell them, Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, anywhere they could, you know, and I used to get five, two, four, eight dollars apiece for them, and one of the stories that I wrote was about Walter Johnson.
I wrote one about Joey, too, and about Cicotte, and Mathewson, oh, so many of them. In the story about Johnson, I wondered what would have happened if he had been pitching for the Giants, who could get him five or six runs nearly every time he started, and I’m wondering if he’d ever lose a ballgame. I found out from Joe Vila, who was the sports editor for the Sun, that Matty didn’t care very much for that.
Matty was a very good friend of Mike’s , and so was McGraw, who was my sponsor into the Lambs Club. He was a Jekyll and Hyde character. Off the field he was very affable, but the minute he’d get in uniform, he was one of the toughest guys you’d ever want to know. Mike used to tell me a lot of inside information which of course helped me when I was writing these stories.
Do you know about the movie Speaker and I made? In 1917, just before I went into the Service, we produced a motion picture of the big stars in both major leagues. We had $80,000 worth of bookings for the picture, and then they declared baseball during the War not essential, so all the bookings were cancelled. We sold the rights to the YMCA to use it in the camps all over Europe, in the ships going over and back, and in the camps here.
After the War was over I showed the film to my friend Roxy, God rest him, and he took the thing over and showed it at the Rivoli and the Rialto and down to Fifth Avenue, and then I happened to come into Wall Street to work as a stockbroker–in 1920 I started my own firm, which I still run today–and I forgot all about the film.
It was put in the morgue some place up at the Rialto or the Rivoli, and the YMCA lost their prints somewhere over in France, but I had left in the tins some cuts and out-takes of the shots of–well, Speaker, Hooper, Ruth, Wood, Matty, and Johnson and all, and I still have them. I showed the clips only about two years ago at the Pathé projection room one day and they still look pretty good.
The game’s a lot different today from what it was when I played. The biggest change–and the worst one, in my opinion–is the home run. Now, let’s first talk of the fellow going up to the plate. Seventy-five percent of the time he goes up there with the thought of hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and it’s not too difficult to do, because they have moved the ballpark in on him. Now in right field and center field and left field, you’ve got stands. They used to have a bleacher, way out, in the old days, but the only home run you’d get would be if you hit it between the fielders. ”In grounds,” they’d call it, a home run in grounds: if a ball got in between those fielders and if you had any speed, they wouldn’t be able to throw you out. Today, if you hit a good long fly it’s in one of these short stands.
In the old days they juiced up the ball some, but when they talk about the dead ball–there never was any dead ball that I can remember. I’ve got a couple of scars on my chin to prove it. I saw Joe Jackson hit a ball over the top of the Polo Grounds in right field–over the top of it–off one of our pitchers, and I have never seen or heard of anyone hitting it over since, and that was around 1914-15, in there.
Today’s ball is livelier, no doubt of that. They are using an Australian wool now in winding the core ofthe ball. In the old days they used wool but not one that is as elastic as this wool. The bats are whippier, too. But the principal reason for all these homers is the concentration of the hitter on trying to hit the ball out of the park.
The fielding today? Well, any of these boys in the big leagues today could field in any league at any time. I think the better equipment has more to do with the spectacular play. You take this here third baseman up with the Yankees–Clete Boyer–he’s terrific, just terrific. Larry Gardner, who played third on the Boston team with me, he was a great third baseman, and he had that “trolleywire throw” to first, but Larry was not as agile as Boyer. I think Boyer is a little quicker. But, if you want a fellow to compare with Boyer, take Buck Weaver of that Black Sox team. He would field with Boyer any day, and throw with him, and he was a better hitter. He would be my all-time third baseman.
Players of my day, give them the good equipment, and they would be just as good or better. Now, you take a fellow like Wagner–I don’t mean the Wagner we had with the Red Sox, but the Pirates’ Wagner, Honus Wagner, who came to see us in Pittsburgh at the theatre, and he took up the whole dressing room with that big can of his. There was one of the most awkward-looking humans you ever saw, but he made the plays, without the shovel glove.
And Speaker–could a big glove have made him any better? As an outfielder, Speaker was in a class by himself: He would play so close to the infield that he’d get in on rundown plays! Then the next man perhaps would hit a long fly into center field and he would be on his bicycle with his back to the ball–not backing away, he’d turn and run–and you’d think he had a radar or a magnet or something because just at the proper time he’d turn hishead and catch the ball over his shoulder.
Those fellows, Speaker, Lewis, and Hooper, they used to practice throwing, something that you don’t see anymore. Those fellows would have a cap down near the catcher and they’d see who would come closest to the cap when they’d throw from the outfield. They all had marvelous arms. Nobody would run on them and I think that most of the people who ever saw them play would say there was no trio that could compare with them.
Mike and I, in our act, we used to do a number called, ”When You’re a Long, Long Way From Home.” In it I used to do a recitation, and the last two lines were, “When you’re on third base alone, you’re still a long, long way from home.” It was serious, about life being like a game of baseball. Times have changed–a boy can’t peek through a knothole in a concrete fence–but that’s still true.
As Joe Wayman noted in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal #24 (1995): “The New York Times lead headline for Alexander’s August 10, 1929, second game victory at Philadelphia was, ‘Alexander Wins 373rd Game, Sets Record.’ Ten days later, Grover Cleveland Alexander was sent home for ‘breaking training.’ He never won another big league game, though he lost three the following year for the Phillies. At the time, he–and everyone else–was secure in the knowledge that he was the all-time NL win leader.” However, in 1940 The Sporting News credited Christy Mathewson, who had been dead for 15 years, with an additional win in 1902, giving him 14 instead of the 13 for which he had previously been credited. This pulled Matty into a tie with Alexander the Great. All the same, Alexander always felt that his greatest game was none of his 373 wins, but what today would be termed a save. “Lazzeri swung where that curve started but not where it finished,” he said to Chicago Daily News reporter John Carmichael.
My greatest day in baseball has to have been the seventh game of the 1926 World Series between the Cards and Yankees. If I picked any other game, the fans would think I was crazy. I guess just about everyone knows the story of that game; it’s been told often enough. I came in as a relief pitcher in the seventh inning, with two out and the bases filled with Yankees, and I fanned Tony Lazzeri to protect the Cards’ 3-2 lead. And even if it wasn’t my greatest game, I’m stuck with it like George Washington with the hatchet.
There must be a hundred versions of what happened in Yankee Stadium that dark, chilly afternoon. It used to be that everywhere I went, I’d hear a new one, and some were pretty far- fetched. So much so that two, three years ago I ran across Lazzeri in San Francisco and said, “Tony, I’m getting tired of fanning you.” And Tony answered, “Maybe you think I’m not.” So I’d like to tell you my story of what took place in that game and the day before.
Some people say I celebrated the night before and had a hangover when manager Rogers Hornsby called me from the bullpen to pitch to Lazzeri. That isn’t the truth. On Saturday I’d beaten the Yankees 10-2 to make the Series all even. To refresh your memory on the Series, the Yankees won the opener and we took the next two. Then the Yanks won two straight and needed only one more for the world championship, and I beat ‘em in the sixth.
In the clubhouse after that game, Hornsby came over to me and said, ”Alex, if you want to celebrate tonight, I wouldn’t blame you. But go easy for I may need you tomorrow.”
I said, “Okay, Rog. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll ride back to the hotel with you and I’ll meet you tomorrow morning and ride out to the park with you.” Hell–I wanted to win that series and get the big end of the money as much as anyone.
Jesse Haines started the seventh game for us, pitching against Waite Hoyt. We figured Jesse would give the Yanks all they could handle. He was a knuckleballer and had shut ‘em out in the third game. Early in the game Hornsby said to me, “Alex, go down to the bullpen and keep your eye on [Willie] Sherdel and [Herman] Bell. Keep ‘em warmed up, and if I need help I’ll depend on you to tell me which one looks best.”
The bullpen in Yankee Stadium is under the bleachers, and when you’re down there you can’t tell what’s going on out on the field except for the yells of the fans overhead. When the bench wants to get in touch with the bullpen, there’s a telephone. It’s the only real fancy, modern bullpen in baseball. Well, I was sitting around down there, not doing much throwing, when the phone rang and an excited voice said, “Send in Alexander.”
I didn’t find out what had happened until the game was over. Turns out Haines was breezing along with a 3-2 lead when he developed a blister on the knuckle of the first finger of his right hand. The blister broke and the finger was so sore he couldn’t hold the ball. Before Rog knew it, the Yanks had the bases filled.
I took a few hurried throws and then started for the box. There’s been a lot of stories about how long it took me to walk from the bullpen to the mound–how I looked and all that. Well, as I said, I didn’t know what had happened when I was called.
So when I came out from under the bleachers I saw the bases were filled and Lazzeri was standing in the box. Tony was up there all alone, with everyone in that Sunday crowd watching him. So I just said to myself, “Take your time. Lazzeri isn’t feeling any too good up there. Let him stew.” But I don’t remember picking any four-leaf clovers, as some of the stories said.
I got to the box and Bob O’Farrell, our catcher, came out to meet me. ”Let’s start right where we left off yesterday,” Bob said. The day before [Saturday] Lazzeri had been up four times against me without getting anything that so much as looked like a hit. He’d gotten one off me in the second game of the Series, but with one out of seven I wasn’t much worried about him, although I knew that if he got all of a pitch he’d hit it a long piece.
I said okay to O’Farrell. We’ll curve him. My first pitch was a curve and Tony missed it. Holding the ball in his hand, O’Farrell came out to the box again. “Look, Alex,” he began. “This guy will be looking for that curve next time. We curved him all the time yesterday. Let’s give him a fast one.” I agreed and poured one in, right under his chin. There was a crack, and I knew the ball was hit hard. A pitcher can usually tell pretty well from the sound. I spun around to watch the ball, and all the Yankees on the bases were on their way. But the drive had a tail-end fade and landed foul by eight, ten feet in the left field bleachers.
So I said to myself, “No more of that for you, my lad.” Bob gave me the sign for another curve and I gave him one. Lazzeri swung where that curve started but not where it finished. The ball got a hunk of the corner and then finished outside. Well, we were out of that jam, but there still were two innings to go.
I set the Yanks down in order in the eighth and got the first two in the ninth. And then Ruth came up. The Babe had scored the Yanks’ first run of the game with a tremendous homer. He was dynamite to any pitcher. I didn’t take any chances on him but worked the count to three and two, pitching for the corners all the time. Then Babe walked and I wasn’t very sorry either when I saw him perched on first. Of course Bob Meusel was the next hitter. He’d hit over forty homers that season [actually Meisel attained his career high of 33 the previous season] and would mean trouble.
If Meusel got hold of one, it could mean two runs and the Series, so I forgot all about Ruth and got ready to work on Meusel. I’ll never know why the guy did it, but on my first pitch to Meusel, the Babe broke for second.He (or Miller Huggins) probably figured that it would catch us by surprise. I caught the blur of Ruth starting for second as I pitched, and then came the whistle of the ball as O’Farrell rifled it to second. I wheeled around, and there was one of the grandest sights of my life. Hornsby, his foot anchored on the bag and his gloved hand outstretched, was waiting for Ruth to come in. There was the Series and my second big thrill of the day. The third came when Judge Landis mailed out the winners’ checks for $5,584.51.
I guess I had every thrill that could come to a pitcher except one. I never pitched a no-hit game. I pitched sixteen one-hitters during my time in the National League and that’s coming pretty close, pretty often.
You know, you think of a lot of funny things that happened in baseball, sittin’ around gabbing like this. I remember when I was with the Cubs, and I was with them longer than any other club, we were playing the Reds in a morning game on Decoration Day. The game was in the eleventh when I went up to bat and I said, “If they give me a curveball, I’ll hit it in the bleachers. My wife’s got fried chicken at home for me.” They gave me a curve and I hit ‘er in the bleachers.
Did he or didn’t he? That is, point to center field in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series after taking two strikes, then wallop a home run to the deepest part of Wrigley Field. Thde called shot has been one of baseball’s great enduring mysteries, in part because the Babe loved a tall tale and wasn’t about to throw water on this one. Here is what he told Chicago Daily News reporter John Carmichael.
Nobody but a blankety-blank fool would-a done what I did that day. When I think of what a idiot I’d a been if I’d struck out and I could-a, too, just as well as not, because I was mad and I’d made up my mind to swing at the next pitch if I could reach it with a bat. Boy, when I think of the good breaks in my life … that was one of ‘em!
Aw, everybody knows that game—the day I hit the homer off ol’ Charlie Root there in Wrigley Field—October 1, the third game of the 1932 World Series. But right now I want to settle all arguments: I didn’t exactly point to any one spot, like the flagpole. Anyway, I didn’t mean to. I just sorta waved at the whole fence, but that was foolish enough. All I wanted to do was give that thing a ride … outta the park … anywhere.
I used to pop off a lot about hittin’ homers, but mostly among us Yankees. Earle Combs and Art Fletcher and Frank Crosetti and all of ’em used to holler at me when I’d pick up a bat in a close game: “Come on, Babe, hit one.” ‘Member Herb Pennock? He was a great pitcher, believe me. He told me once, “Babe, I get the biggest thrill of my life whenever I see you hit a home run. It’s just like watchin’ a circus act.” So I’d often kid ’em back and say, “Okay, you bums…I’ll hit one.” Sometimes I did; sometimes I didn’t…but what the heck, it was fun.
One day we were playin’ in Chicago against the White Sox, and Mark Roth, our secretary, was worryin’ about holdin’ the train because we were in extra innings. He was fidgetin’ around behind the dugout, lookin’ at his watch, and I saw him when I went up to hit in the fifteenth. “All right, quit worrying,” I told him. “I’ll get this over with right now.” Mike Cvengros was pitchin’ and I hit one outta the park. We made the train easy. It was fun.
I’d had a lot of trouble in ’32, and we weren’t any cinches to win that pennant, either, ’cause old Lefty Grove was tryin’ to keep the Athletics up there for their fourth straight flag, and sometime in June I pulled a muscle in my right leg chasin’ a fly ball. I was on the bench about three weeks, and when I started to play again, I had to wear a rubber bandage from my hip to my knee. You know, the ol’ Babe wasn’t getting any younger and Jimmie Foxx was ahead of me in homers. I was eleven behind him early in September and never did catch up. I wouldn’t get one good ball a series to swing at. I remember one whole week when I’ll bet I was walked four times in every game.
I always had three ambitions: I wanted to play twenty years in the big leagues. I wanted to play in ten World Series, and I wanted to hit 700 home runs. Well, 1932 was one away from my twentieth year and that series with the Cubs was number ten and I finally wound up with 729 home runs, countin’ 15 World Series games, so I can’t kick. But then along in September I had to quit the club and go home because my stomach was kickin’ up and the docs found out my appendix was inflamed and maybe I’d have to have it out. No, sir, I wouldn’t let ‘em…not till after the season anyway.
The World Series didn’t last long, but it was a honey. That Pat Malone and that Burleigh Grimes didn’t talk like any Sunday school guys, and their trainer … yeah, Andy Lotshaw … he got smart in the first game at New York, too. That’s what started me off. I popped up once in that one, and he was on their bench wavin’ a towel at me and hollerin’ “If I had you, I’d hitch you to a wagon, you pot-belly.” I didn’t mind no ballplayers yellin’ at me, but the trainer cuttin’ in … that made me sore. As long as they started in on me, we let ’em have it. We went after ‘em, and maybe we gave ’em more than they could take, they looked beat before they went off the field.
We didn’t have to do much the first game at home. Guy Bush walked everybody around the bases. I’ll betcha ten bases on balls scored for us. Anyway, we got into Chicago for the third game—that’s where those Cubs decided to really get on us. They were in front of their home folks, and I guess they’d thought they better act tough.
We were givin’ them [the Cubs] hell about how cheap they were to [former Yankee] Mark Koenig, only votin’ him a half-share in the Series and they were callin’ me big belly and balloon-head, but I think we had ’em madder by givin’ them that ol’ lump-in-the-throat sign … you know, the thumb and finger at the windpipe. That’s like callin’ a guy yellow. Then in the very first inning I got a hold of one with two on and parked it in the stands for a three-run lead and that shut ’em up pretty well. But they came back with some runs and we were tied 4-4 going into the fifth frame. You know another thing I think of in that game was the play [Billy] Jurges made on Joe Sewell in the fifth … just ahead of me. I was out there waitin’ to hit, so I could see it good, and he made a helluva pickup, way back on the grass, and “shot” Joe out by a halfstep. I didn’t know whether they were gonna get on me anymore or not when I got to the box, but I saw a lemon rolling out to the plate, and I looked over and there was Malone and Grimes with their thumbs in their ears wiggling their fingers at me.
I told Hartnett, “If that bum [Root] throws me in here, I’ll hit it over the fence again,” and I’ll say it for Gabby, he didn’t answer, but those other guys were standing up in the dugout, cocky because they’d got four runs back and everybody hollerin’. So I just changed my mind. I took two strikes and after each one I held up my finger and said, “That’s one” and “that’s two.” Ask Gabby … he could hear me. Then’s when I waved to the fence!
No, I didn’t point to any spot, but as long as I’d called the first two strikes on myself, I hadda go through with it. It was damned foolishness, sure, but I just felt like doing it, and I felt pretty sure Root would put one close enough for me to cut at, because I was showin’ him up. What the hell, he hadda take a chance as well as I did, or walk me.
Gosh, that was a great feelin’ … gettin’ a hold of that ball and I knew it was going someplace … yessir, you can feel it in your hands when you’ve laid wood on one. How that mob howled. Me? I just laughed … laughed to myself going around the bases and thinking, “You lucky bum … lucky, lucky,” and I looked at poor Charlie [Root] watchin’ me, and then I saw Art Fletcher [the Yankee coach] at third wavin’ his cap, and behind him I could see the Cubs, and I just stopped on third and laughed out loud and slapped my knees and yelled, “Squeeze-the-Eagle Club” so they’d know I was referrin’ to Koenig and for special to Malone I called him “meathead” and asked when he was gonna pitch.
Yeah, it was silly. I was a blankety-blank fool. But I got away with it and after Gehrig homered, behind me, their backs were broken. That was a day to talk about.
Here is something of a cheat sheet to learning about baseball’s beginnings. The linked selections below are those of Larry McCray, a member of Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee and the founder of the invaluable Protoball project. Larry was also the editor of the special origins number of the journal Base Ball, source of most of the articles linked below.
With this last of the articles by scholars of baseball’s earliest period that appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball., a picture will begin to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. The article below, by yours truly, is a truncated version of a story told in my 2011 book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden.
This and the other articles from Base Ball appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones; for example, the article below, indexed as 1843.6, reflects that it is the sixth entry for the year 1853.
Item 1843.6, Magnolia Ball Club Predates Knickerbocker
NEW YORK MAGNOLIA BALL CLUB – Vive la Knickerbocker. – A meeting of the members of the above club will take place this (Thursday) afternoon, 2nd instant, at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken [N.J.]. It is earnestly requested that every member will be present, willing and eager to do his duty. Play will commence precisely as one o’clock. Chowder at 4 o’clock.
Among the organized groups that played baseball before the Knickerbockers were the Gotham, New York, Eagle, Brooklyn, Olympic, and Magnolia clubs. The last named came into view only recently, as a ball club composed not of white-collar sorts with shorter workdays and gentlemanly airs but sporting-life characters, from ward heelers to billiard-room operators and bigamists. Why did the game’s earliest writers forget to include this club in its histories? One might venture to guess that the Magnolias were too unseemly a bunch to have been covered by a fig leaf, so they were simply written out of the Genesis story.
In 2007, rummaging through the classified advertisement section of the New York Herald of November 2, 1843, looking for who knows what, I was astonished to find a notice for a baseball club unrecorded in the annals of the game. Moreover, the notice made clear that this city-based club played its games across the North River at the Elysian Fields, almost two full years before the formation of the “pioneer” Knickerbockers and their lease of playing grounds at Hoboken. That diminutive ad, which also ran in the New York Sun, read in full:
NEW YORK MAGNOLIA BALL CLUB – Vive la Knickerbocker. – A meeting of the members of the above club will take place this (Thursday) afternoon, 2nd instant, at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken. It is earnestly requested that every member will be present, willing and eager to do his duty. Play will commence precisely at one o’clock. Chowder at 4 o’clock.
JOHN McKIBBIN, Jr., President.
JOSEPH CARLISLE, Vice President
ANDREW LESTER, Sec.
The coding at the bottom signaled that the ad was to appear one time only (1t), with that occasion being game day, November 2 (n2). While this may strike modern eyes as a late month for a baseball game, the baseball season of this era typically ran to the very end of November, in part because August, with its fevers and contagions, was regarded as unsuitable for exertion. The mention of chowder signaled the almost sacramental union of those assembled, their like minds symbolized by their partaking of food from a single pot. The chowder was a fixture of political rallies, too; the city’s first target company (archery or rifle), arising from the butcher stalls at the west-side Washington Market, was the Washington Market Chowder Club of 1818. “Chowder was the national soup,” wrote Herbert Asbury, “and in those times chowder was to be more eaten than drunk, for it was not the anaemic liquid which now sloshes so despairingly in restaurant bowls, but a thick and substantial mixture, compounded of eels, fish, clams, lobster, chicken, duck, and all kinds of tempting ingredients. No social function was complete without a great dish of chowder….”
Of the officers named in the ad, the Irish-born president, 29-year-old John McKibbin Jr., was a U.S. inspector—a patronage position perhaps obtained through the good offices of his father, who in an aldermanic stroke of fortune in 1835 had been named the city’s first Superintendent of Pavements. Seven years after calling the Magnolia Ball Club to muster and chowder, the younger McKibbin found himself a resident of Sing Sing, convicted of bigamy.
The vice president and actual leader of the club, Joseph Carlisle, was the 26-year-old proprietor of the Magnolia Lunch and Saloon at 74 Chambers Street, corner of Broadway, offering “the best of Wines, Liquors, Segars, and every other requisite.” Why was this northern eatery named for a flower symbolic of the South? Perhaps to signal to the sporting crowd that this was a “full-service” house of the sort pleasing to Southerners in New York on business, and to the gamblers who left New Orleans after it banned gambling in 1835. The Magnolia Lunch advertised in New Orleans as well as in New York.
In the rampant sporting culture of the day, Carlisle was an up-and-comer who went on to run, in addition to the Magnolia Lunch, the Fountain at 167 Walker Street near the Bowery, the Ivy Green in Hoboken, and an unnamed sporting house at 89 Centre Street opposite the Tombs, the city’s Egyptianate prison, where all the while he double-dipped as a jailer. The Magnolia Ball Club secretary, Andrew Lester, was a 27-year-old billiard-room proprietor and Tammany Democrat, linked with Isaiah Rynders’ Empire Club, the pugilistic arm of the party (which gave its name to the Empire Base Ball Club in 1854), enforcing discipline on the rank and file and striking fear into undecided voters.
All three Magnolia officers had impeccable working-class, sporting, ruffian, and political associations of the sort that historians have until now presumed to emerge only with the unruly Brooklyn clubs of the mid-1850s, notably the Atlantics. Indeed, the Magnolia Ball Club was precisely the sort of poison for which the gentlemanly Knickerbocker Base Ball Club was created as an antidote…two years later.
As soon as I saw the Magnolia Ball Club ad in the Herald I recalled that some months earlier, historian David Block had pointed me to a puzzling image, one he thought might be suitable to illustrate a scholarly journal article on town ball. Offered as Lot 1600 in a Leland’s auction of December 2002, the item was described as a
signed copper plate engraving of the quality of paper money. The card itself is a heavy stock with a silver mirror finish. This invitation to the “1st Annual Ball of the Magnolia Ball Club” measures 5 x 3.25 [inches]. The image is magnificent. It shows the plantation like Magnolia Club with its main building and a yacht flying the “M” flag. …Magnolia is an area in southern New Jersey and the site of many stately plantations not unlike the one graphically illustrated we see pictured here.
In a Eureka moment, I realized that I knew for certain what that plantation-like building was. It was the Colonnade, at the Elysian Fields, also known as the Colonnade Hotel or McCarty’s Hotel, whose proprietor provided the Knickerbockers and other clubs of the 1840s with many a lavish dinner, either after their exertions on the ball field or in a season-ending banquet.
Engraver William Fairthorne may have been a member of the Magnolia Ball Club; we are unlikely ever to know. The verisimilitude of his art might make one think so; he was, as far as may be claimed at this writing, the first man ever to have depicted men playing ball; and if we may judge by the textual record of the early game, he appears to have gotten things largely right. (Of course the vignette could not display all the features of the game, and thus does not address plugging, or the existence of foul ground.)
The auction-house description erred in calling the Magnolia card an invitation. It was in fact, as further digging in the Herald revealed, a ticket—providing admission to a ball that would be held on February 8, 1844. It cost a dollar and, given its enamel-coated card stock and its commissioned rather than stock imagery, was intended to be saved as a memento of the event. The baseball scene on the card reveals three bases with stakes, eight men in the field, a pitcher with an underarm delivery, possibly base-stealing, and a top-hatted waiter bearing a tray of refreshments from the Colonnade. Some of the members of the “in” side are arrayed behind a long table; others are seated upon it. The pitcher delivers the ball. A runner heads from first to second base. This is, from all appearances, the original Knickerbocker game, and that of the New York Base Ball Club, and that of the Gothams of the 1830s (shortstop was a position not manned until 1849–1850).
This ticket is the first depiction of men playing baseball in America, and it may also be, depending upon one’s taxonomic convictions, the first baseball card. It is also the earliest visual artifact of the New York Game of baseball. But the greater significance of the card is the new understanding that its underlying story affords of how baseball really began in New York, what spin the workingman’s culture of that day may have imparted to baseball’s growth, and why the story may have been kept under wraps all these years.
1. Associated with this ball club is an engraved invitation to its first annual ball, which has the first depiction of men playing baseball, and shows underhand pitching and stakes for bases. New York Herald (classified ads section): Nov. 2, 1843. For much more on the find and its implications: thornpricks.blogspot.com/2007/11/really-good-find-more-magnolia-blossoms.html.
2. Asbury, H. 1930. Ye Olde Fire Laddies (p. 103).Thornton, R. 1912. An American Glossary: Being an Attempt to Illustrate Certain Americanisms, Etc. (Vol. 1) (p. 173). As to the Washington Market Chowder Club, see “The Military Spirit in New York—The Target Companies on Thanksgiving Day,” New York Weekly Herald: Dec. 14, 1850, p. 397; also, The Subterranean: Oct. 25, 1845, p. 2 (“Three different parties of whole-souled fellows are going to express their gratitude to Heaven for its manifold blessings, to-morrow, by playing ball and eating chowder.”).
3. 1850 Federal census and Subterranean: Dec. 20, 1845; classified ad for 1845 Holiday Ball of the “Original Empire Club,” at Tammany Hall, Tuesday, Dec. 30.
4. When Carlisle and partner Silas Chickering purchased the saloon in 1842 they advertised this fact, suggestively, in the New Orleans Daily Picayune of July 16: “New York Advertisement. MAGNOLIA LUNCH. CHICKERING & CARLISLE beg leave to inform their New Orleans and other friends that they have purchased that old and favorite resort of Southerners, The Magnolia Lunch, on the corner of Chambers street and Broadway, where they will be always ready to furnish them with every delicacy which the New York market affords. N.B. handsomely furnished private rooms for parties.”
6. Classified advertisement, Feb. 6–8, 1844, New York Herald. The addescribes the actual event for which the Magnolia card provided admission. It read: “THE FIRST ANNUAL BALLof the New York Magnolia Ball Club will take place at National Hall, Canal st. on Friday evening, Feb. 9th, inst. The Club pledge themselves that no expense or exertions shall be spared to render this (their first) Ball worthy the patronage of their friends. The Ball Room will be splendidly decorated with the insignia of the Club. Brown’s celebrated Band is engaged for the occasion. Tickets $1, to be had of the undersigned, and at the bar of National Hall. JOSEPH CARLISLE, Chairman. PETER H. GRAHAM, Secretary. f6 4t*cc.” That Carlisle would be the ball’s chairman comes as no surprise, but the new name appearing above, that of Peter H. Graham, may point to a fresh area of inquiry. Speeding eight years forward, we come across three notices in the Herald about the reorganization of the Unionist Whigs, no longer known as the Knickerbockers. Silas Chickering, Carlisle’s partner in the Magnolia Lunch, is cited as a former president of the group and the two secretaries are Peter H. Graham and…Louis F. Wadsworth, the formidable first baseman and mysterious outcast from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.
I’m in Nashville this week for Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, but wanted to toss at least one post up before my return home and the resumption of a regular schedule. Seeing so many fresh faces at the job fair I thought about their high hopes upon their recent graduations from college.
A baseball match between Amherst and Williams, at a neutral site in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on July 1, 1859, is the first collegiate baseball game. It was played on a lot in front of the Young Ladies Institute by Massachusetts Game rules, which is by no means a disqualifier, as that game was indeed baseball. The first collegiate ball game under New York rules occurred several months later on November 3, when the Rose Hill Baseball Club of Fordham, which was then called St. John’s College, defeated St. Francis Xavier College 33-11.
A surviving broadside, an “extra edition” of the “Amherst Express,” gave more or less equal treatment to the game of baseball on July and chess on the following day: “Muscle and Mind.” The Pittsfield Sun of July 7, 1859 reported:
THE BALL AND CHESS GAMES BETWEEN THE STUDENTS OF AMHERST AND WILLIAMS COLLEGES–The match games of Ball and Chess between Amherst and Williams Colleges, which had been talked about for some time, came off in this town last week–the Ball game on Friday and the Chess game on Saturday. The weather on Friday being delightful, a large number of ladies and gentlemen were gathered on the grounds, east of the Maplewood Institute, to witness the exciting affair. From Amherst there were present but few students except the players and chess champions, the authorities of the College not having granted a holiday to the students generally, but from Williams, where the Faculty were more liberal, nearly all the students were in attendance, and some of them were accompanied by ladies from Williamstown. The field when the friendly contest took place, reminded us of what “General Training” was in vogue. The game commenced at about 11 A.M., and was not concluded until past 3 P.M.
The players were as follows:–On the part of Williams–H.S. Anderson, Captain; Players, H.F.C. Nichols, R.E. Beecher, John E. Bush, J.H. Knox, S.W. Pratt, 2d., A.J. Quick, B.F. Hastings, J.L. Mitchell, C.E. Simmons, G.P. Blagden, H.B. Fitch, G.A. Parker; Umpire, C.R. Taft.
On the part of Amherst–J.F. Claflin, Captain; Players, E.W. Pierce, S.J. Storrs, F.E. Tower, M.B. Cushman, J.A. Evans, E.M. Fenn, H.D. Hyde (thrower–one of the best we have ever seen), J.A. Leach, II., H.C. Roome, H. Gridley, J.L. Pratt, P. Thompson; Umpire, L.R. Smith; Recorder of Score, A. Maddock.
William R. Plunkett, Esq., President of the Pittsfield Club, was chosen arbiter or referee, and it is somewhat remarkable, that his services were required to decide every point, the Umpires not being able to agree upon any question proposed for their decision.
It is due to the students of Williams to say, that previous to the reception of the challenge from Amherst, there was no organized Ball club at that institution, while at Amherst there has long been a famous Club.
Amherst had the first innings, and 25 rounds were played and recorded. The results of each player and each club appear in the following table; the Amherst players winning a victory with a score twice that of their rivals [73 to 32]….
At the close of the contest the Pittsfield Base Ball Club gave a dinner to the two College Clubs at the U.S. Hotel, Mr. Henton having provided an excellent Dinner for the occasion. Toasts and speeches followed the repast, and all who participated had “a glorious time,” as we are assured.
The match game of Chess was played on Saturday, and occupied from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M., resulting in the triumph of Amherst. At the 49th move Williams resigned, and Amherst was pronounced the winner. A large number of amateurs were present in an adjoining room.
The names of the Amherst players were–Messrs. J.F. Claflin, A. Maddock and A.G. Biscoe; Umpire, F.A. Williams. Williams–Messrs. E.E.K. Royce, E.S. Bowsterr, Henry Anstice; Umpire, E.B. Parsons. Referee, Geo. B. Hunt of Canaan, Ct.
A centennial reenactment of this game took place in May 1959, and a sesquicentennial game was played in May 2009. Here is a detailed account of the contest by Lauriston Bullard in Baseball Magazine from 1915:
THE score was: Amherst, 73, and Williams, 32. The game was played at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, July 1, 1859. There were 26 innings. When the winning team got back to their college town they found that their fellow-students had tired of waiting and gone to bed without learning the result of the contest. But they speedily climbed out of bed again; they rang bells and built bonfires, and spent a good part of the night cheering the victorious players. The next day when the team came home they were driven through the streets and made the target of congratulatory speeches on the campus by the members of the faculty. A large banner was borne before them with the score and the balls which had been used in the game.
Those balls are now hanging in the Amherst College trophy room, with this inscription: ”The veritable balls used in the first game of intercollegiate baseball ever played, July 1, 1859. Amherst vs. Williams, won by Amherst.”
But why is not the score included in the inscription? Is it possible that a total of 105 runs in four hours of ball playing is not held to be quite creditable these days? Such a score would not look well, surely, in a Harvard-Yale or a Williams-Amherst game to-day, nor in a game between two teams of knickerbockered youngsters from the primary schools.
Baseball was an infant game 50 years ago, if these players were not infants. Queer balls they were that figured in that game. Each team furnished one. The Williams ball was about seven inches in circumference; it weighed about two ounces, and it was covered with leather of a light color, so that the batters might have no difficulty in seeing it. The Amherst ball was a little heavier, but a trifle smaller; it was made by a North Brookfield man, and was considered a work of art.
There were 13 men on a side, also, in that game. The challenge was sent by Amherst some weeks in advance of the date finally adopted for the match. The rules were adopted after rather prolonged negotiations between representatives of the two colleges. These delegates met for conference, and at last adjusted their debatable questions by mail. It was settled that each party should use its own ball, that the ball must always be caught on the fly, and that the limit of the game should be understood to be 65 runs by one party or the other. It seems to have been a contest whose limit was to be the time required for one college to get that large number of runs, not a stipulated number of innings.
But neither college had a regular ball team in those days. The men who did the playing were “chosen by ballot from the students at large.” Nothing was known of the present trying-out system, by which a team is selected by a coach and a baseball committee, nor was there any daily practice in the colleges half a century ago. One strange fact is that all Williams College, including the faculty, was present at Pittsfield to see the game, while Amherst sent only the players and substitutes—17 men in all. Pittsfield had a baseball club at that time and a baseball ground and when the hour for the game, which was 11 o’clock in the morning, arrived all Williamstown seemed to be there, old men and young, girls and their mothers and grandmothers, the proprietors of female schools and their
pupils, and they stood five and six deep all around the big field. There was no such thing as rooting in that primitive era, but there was as much enthusiasm to the square inch as ever gets loose at a big game in this advanced age.
The teams are said to have presented what would be an amusing spectacle today. There was a little attempt at likeness of dress. The Williams men were dressed in a sort of uniform and wore belts with the college name. But the Amherst fellows were distinguished only
by a blue ribbon worn on the breast.
This is the order in which the teams batted that day[at left, below]. Amherst’s “thrower”—so they called the pitcher—was Hyde, and there were stories afloat on the field that he “was a professional blacksmith who had been hired for the occasion.” One bystander is reported to have said that he must have been a strong-armed blacksmith, for “nobody else could possibly throw for three and a half hours as this man did.”
Amherst went to bat first. At the end of the second round the score stood 9 to 1 in favor of Williams. The Williams spectators yelled and clapped and cheered somewhat after the style of the present-day concerted college yell. Amherst fought desperately and evened things up at the end of the third round. When the fourth was finished Amherst was ahead and stayed in the lead throughout the remainder of that long game. How long a game it must have been one can understand when he figures out the number of hair-raising innings a first-class club might reel off in almost four hours of steady playing nowadays. The spectators were keyed to high tension through the whole of that time, although it is said that Amherst was the better in all departments of the game. Every man played as if the reputation of the college rested on his work. There was no kicking, every decision of the umpires being accepted without protest.
There were some queer rules and terms in that historic game. A man could be put out between bases by spotting him with the ball. The batter could knock the ball in any direction, so there were “side strikes” and “back knocks.” No gloves were worn and, of course, there were no masks or chest protectors.
The great thing that counted for Amherst is said to have been the perfect discipline of the team. It seems that every Amherst player had bound himself to obey every command of the captain, whatever the result might be. It is stated that the Amherst captain governed his men with great skill and that his team made only six errors. The Amherst catching was good, for no balls “were allowed to pass the catcher which were within reach and very few were allowed to drop which he touched. He missed but one ticked ball in the whole game, which was a remarkable feat when the striking was as quick and strong as that of Williams.”
Of the Amherst men who had part in that game there are now living but two besides their umpire. Marshal Cushman is in Washington in the Patent Office. F. E. Tower is a clergyman in Poughkeepsie, N. Y. The umpire, L. R. Smith, was at one time an Alabama judge and
later a United States senator. Amherst’s pitcher was for a long time a Boston lawyer and became an influential benefactor and trustee of his college. The captain, J. T. Claflin, was once president of Tougaloo University.
Thoreau’s Diary Entry, and Other Tiny Clues as to Who Played Early Ball, and on What Occasions (Especially Holidays)
The article below, by Larry McCray, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball for which Larry served as guest editor. He is the founder of the invaluable Protoball Project, a website where many of the early game’s top scholars have shared their finds. He is also a panelist on Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee, which I chair.
His article, like others from the special Protoball issue, appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones at mlb.com. For example, the article below, indexed as 1830c.2, reflects that it is the first entry for the approximate year 1830. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
Item 1830c.2, Thoreau’s Diary Entry, and Other Tiny Clues as to Who Played Early Ball, and on What Occasions (Especially Holidays)
April 10. Thursday. Fast Day. . . . I associate this day, when I can remember it, with games of base-ball played over beyond the hills in the russet fields toward Sleepy Hollow, where the snow was just melted and dried up.
Henry David Thoreau’s 1856 journal entry is typical of the quality of evidence that is available to those of us who want to understand the evolution of American ballplaying. It is clear enough that the Bard of Walden remembers seeing ballgames played in the past, and that he linked such games with Fast Day, a religious observance in New England from the late 17th century to the late 19th century. The specific years he is recollecting (our guess is c. 1830, when Thoreau was in his teens), the age range of the players, and the rules of the games he saw, are wide open to speculation. It is a dim but tantalizing glimpse of the full story of ballplaying in eastern Massachusetts six generations ago.
But such skimpy anecdotes are all we have, and if we wish to form, or to verify, general notions about baseball’s early evolution, they will have to do, for now. Among the interesting scholarly generalizations that one may encounter are these two:
1. Prior to the Knickerbockers, American ballplaying was largely confined to children.
2. Because of the lack of leisure time, a lot of the ballplaying occurred either in schoolyards, on holidays, or at social occasions, like barn-raisings.
This essay entails an attempt to test these two conjectures against the evidence for the period 1770–1830 as compiled in version 11 of the Protoball Chronology.
The Protoball Chronology now contains over 200 fairly specific references to ballplaying from 1770–1830, including the Thoreau journal entry. Most of these appear to refer to games included in the “baseball family,” but about one-quarter of them describe cricket and wicket play. Well over half of these “baseball” accountsdo not specify the name of the actual game played, but employ terms like “playing at ball” and “a game of ball,” and we need to remember that such terms may possibly have denoted ballgames that are outside the baseball family.
For about 150 of the references to baseball-type games, it is possible to form an educated opinion as to whether the games’ players were juveniles (preteens), youths (early/mid-teens), or adults.
We find that while over one-third of these accounts involved adult play, and about one-third involved youths, far fewer than one-third involved younger children. For the first half of this period (1770–1800) adult ballplaying actually accounts for about one-half the total of US ballplaying references, owing to the frequency of accounts of military play during the Revolutionary War.
While there will be interesting region-to-region variation that readers may wish to investigate further, the body of evidence that researchers have contributed to Protoball, inexact as it might be, seems hard to square with the traditional idea that adult play was rare before 1845 and the rise of the New York game.
The settings for early US ballplaying
Thoreau’s account is clearly an instance of holiday play. Many other Protoball entries refer to play in schools and colleges. Some appear to refer to what we might today call ordinary local pickup games, where the venue might be a street, open area, or town common.
For about one-half of the collected references, neither the occasion nor the venue for play is indicated. However, that leaves about 100 of the 1770–1830 references to baseball-type games for which one can determine the game’s setting, as tabulated below:
US Ballplaying References, 1770–1830, for Which the Setting Can Be Inferred
|Age Group||Local Play
Source: Version 11, Protoball Chronology
Caveat: For many references, the setting is inferred from context, but is not explicit in available text.
Reminding the reader that this exercise is nothing like an exact science, and merely uses the available heap of anecdotal accounts collected through 2010, we can see some possible patterns that may be worth further consideration:
- Adult play in US towns, and in military settings, was not rare.
- Holiday play is found, but is not particularly frequent.
- Special social events were not common ballplaying venues.
- Ballplaying at colleges was fairly common before 1830.
Holiday play to 1830 and beyond
About one reference in ten was to holiday play—but which holidays were closely associated with baseball in the pre-professional era? The full Chronology, which extends through 1862, includes more than thirty entries that, like Thoreau’s, mention holiday play.
The holiday that appears to have the strongest association with ballplaying is Fast Day, the New England tradition. The earliest of the 14 references to Fast Day play appears in an autobiography covering the 1820s, which slyly reports that although Fast Day ballplaying was then unlawful under Connecticut code, certain “wicked boys” would find a secluded place to play anyway. An 1883 history of Phillips Exeter Academy observes that “old residents will readily recall with what regularity Fast Day used to be devoted to the base ball of the period.” In one Massachusetts town, separate games were traditionally organized for boys and for men. In 1862, two Civil War regiments from Massachusetts made a point on Fast Day of playing ball in their Maryland and Virginia camps. As reflected in Thoreau’s observation that snow had recently covered the playing area, multiple accounts state that Fast Day, an April observance, was really a celebration of “opening day” for local ballplayers, as it marked the first time that year that the local Common was open to ballplaying.
July Fourth and political holidays account for 10 ballplaying references. In 1861, The Clipper reported that all the local clubs were active to mark the national birthday, “that day, like Thanksgiving, being a ball playing day.” Thirty-five years earlier, celebrants in little Troy, Michigan had marked the county’s 50th birthday with “A fusillade, patriotic readings, a dinner of pork and beans . . . and a game of base-ball.”Election Day was associated with “the old annual ball game” in Barre, Massachusetts in the 1840s, and even earlier, communities in Western Massachusetts would arrange town vs. town matches of wicket.
In some areas, Thanksgiving seems to have marked the end of the playing season. In 1855, “every vacant field on the out skirts [of New York] was filled with Base Ball clubs on that ‘raw and cold’ Thanksgiving Day, and the Continental and Putnam clubs pledged to play a special day-long match to 63 aces (“let’s play three?”). In New Bedford, it was reported that 1,000 spectators watched the season-closing game, and ceremonies, on Thanksgiving Day of 1858.
But in at least five years we know of, November still wasn’t the end of ballplaying. In Plymouth, Mass., in 1621, in New Hampshire in 1771, in Mystic, Conn., in 1816, in New York in 1851, and in South Carolina in 1862, balls were flying on Christmas Day.
4. While American use of the term “baste-ball” dates back to 1786, and “base-ball” to the Pittsfield prohibition of 1791, through the year 1830 we have only five confirmed contemporary uses of such labels in our knowledge base. That is why we must rely on accounts that use other, more general, phrasings for the type of ballplaying that is described.
5. In general, these references are consistent with what we would consider ordinary pickup games, but it is of course possible that their actual setting (e.g., college, holiday celebration) was simply omitted from the account. Five of the accounts in this category indicate that such games were regular local occurrences.
6. Holidays that were occasions for ballplaying in these 11 Protoball entries were Sundays, Fast Day, July 4, Christmas, Election Day, and the celebration of a new session of the Connecticut Legislature. A compilation of 33 entries though 1862 citing holiday play is found at: retrosheet.org/Protoball/Sub.Holidays.htm
7. The two cases of social settings were a church-raising get-together (Protoball 1820.24) and play at “base” as advertised by a New York tavern (Protoball 1821.5; see also Hershberger essay 1821.5 in this journal).
11. See Protoball 1840s.30.
12. See Protoball 1862.14 and 1862.19.
13. See Protoball 1861.6.
14. See Protoball 1826.2.
15. See Protoball 1845.22 and 1820s.25.
16. See Protoball 1855.28. They only made it through 12 innings, and to a 36–31 score.
17. See Protoball 1858.45.