“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic
Initially published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Number 8, 2000, this article–here published in three parts–helped lay the foundation for the golden age of early baseball research that was to follow. Tom Altherr is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. He has continued to make valuable contributions all along the way. “Basepaths and Baselines” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. The present article won that same award in 2001.
In his second footnote below, Tom offers: “For a fuller sampling of documentary evidence, see Thomas L. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America: A Documentary History, Volume I, Parts I and II, Early American Sports to 1820 (Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press, 1997). The research for that encyclopedia provided the impetus for this article, with the sincere hopes that other baseball historians and scholars will locate additional pre-1839 evidence of baseball and baseball-type games.” Tom has not only applauded the efforts of others, but has continued to blaze his own bright path. His other articles reprinted at Our Game are linked below.
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic
Thomas L. Altherr
In the spring of 1779, Henry Dearborn, a New Hampshire officer, was a member of the American expedition in north centralPennsylvania, heading northwards to attack the Iroquois tribal peoples. In his journal for April 3rd,Dearborn jotted down something quite different than the typical notations of military activities: “all the Officers of the Brigade turn’d out & Play’d a game at ball the first we have had this yeare.–” Two weeks later he entered something equally eye-catching. On April 17th, he wrote: “we are oblige’d to walk 4 miles to day to find a place leavel enough to play ball.” On the face of it, the two journal entries might not seem all that startling, but to baseball historians they should be sort of front-page news. For Henry Dearborn was one of several, if not more, soldiers who played baseball, or an early variant of it, during the Revolutionary War, a good sixty years before another military man, one Abner Doubleday allegedly invented the game in the sleepy east central New York village of Cooperstown.
Dearborn’s two notations, meager as they were, suggest that the game of ball they played was more than whimsical recreation. Tom Heitz, the longtime historian and librarian at the National Baseball Library at the Hall of Fame, has speculated that baseball-type games at this stage were like pulling a hacky-sack out of a backpack and kicking it around or playing frisbee on the college quad. But what if the game was more serious, more important than that? Indeed Dearborn’s writings warrant a second look. First, the earlier one reveals that the men were familiar with the game, having played it before, at least during some previous year. Moreover the remark hints that they were eager to play again, that the weather or other circumstances had delayed their “opening day,” if you will. The second entry also reflects on the place of the game in their lives. Any historian of the Revolution knows that average soldiers, and even some of the officers, despite their well-known heroism, grumbled about carrying out daily duties. In this case, however, the prospect of playing ball was so important that they hoofed it four miles, during a time when a good day’s march might have been fifteen miles, to locate a spot flat enough to get in the game. Clearly this game meant something more to Henry Dearborn and his assemblage.
Although most current Americans probably still believe in the “immaculate conception” theory of baseball’s origins, that one June day in 1839 in Elihu Phinney’s farm field in Cooperstown, Abner Doubleday drew up the rules, laid out the diamond, and taught the villagers his new game, Americans had been playing baseball and its variants long before then. In fact, bat and ball games are actually quite ancient and in spite of Albert Spalding’s fervid wishes, not even particularly American. In his 1947 book, Ball, Bat, and Bishop, Robert Henderson demolished the Cooperstown origins story by pointing to numerous examples of bat and ball-type games in medieval Europe and Great Britain before and during colonization of the Americas. Soon Denver historian Phil Goodstein will place another nail in the coffin with more evidence about the unreliability of the Mills Commission’s “star witness,” Abner Graves, whose unsavory connections in the West were many. Folklorist Erwin Mehl pushed the antiquity of baseball back even further than Henderson would. In a 1948 article, “Baseball in the Stone Age,” Mehl located evidence of ancient bat and ball games not only in western Europe, but also in North Africa, Asia Minor, India, Afghanistan, and northern Scandinavia. “The spectators at an American baseball game, cheering a Ty Cobb or a Babe Ruth, may have had counterparts in the Stone Age,” he surmised. The terminology for baseball may also be quite more ancient than expected. English vicar Robert Crowley, in his 1550s poem “The Scholar’s Lesson,” may have referred to baseball in his advice to pupils on the advantages of healthful recreation:
To shote, to bowle, or caste the barre,
To play tenise, or tosse the ball,
Or to rene base, like men of war,
Shal hurt thy study nought at al.
English professor Robert Moynihan has suggested other examples of the antic linguistic derivations of baseball terms dating to ancient, medieval, and Shakespearean times. Along with other fragmentary evidence such as a hieroglyphic scene of a bat and ball game in ancient Egypt, a 1344 French illustration of nuns and monks lined up for a ball game, a 1400s Flemish painting showing women playing a bat and ball game, eighteenth-century English diary writers’ references to the game, and mention of “baseball” in Jane Austen’s novel, Northanger Abbey, Henderson and Mehl’s writings make it clear that baseball existed long before and outside an American context. So, then, why not the probability of the existence of the game and its variants within the American context?
Problems of definition arise. As O. Paul Mockton pointed out in Pastimes in Time Past, “The very fact that so many early pastimes were all played with balls, causes great confusion, in attempting to investigate the history of these old games. Old historians were very loose in their descriptions of the way the different games were played in mediæval times.” Some of the “ball games” may have been actually soccer or a combination of foot-and-hand ball sports, but in the absence of firm proof, it is just as reasonable to assume that “ball play” among Euroamericans involved a stick and a ball. Indeed, in my research for an encyclopedia of pre-1820 North American primary source sports documents, I found that the sources made distinct references to football, cricket, bandy (a type of field hockey), and fives (a forerunner of modern handball) when they meant those sports. In a couple of instances they referred to “base,” “baste ball,” or “baseball,” leaving the possibility that the term “ball” or “to play ball” referred fairly regularly to baseball-type games.
Certainly Europeans, perhaps mostly the children, but probably even adult men and women, took a swing at a variety of pre-baseball folk games: stool ball, trap ball, catapult ball, which became one o’cat (and two o’cat, three o’cat, etc.), kit-cat, munchets, tip cat, round ball, sting ball, soak ball, burn ball, barn ball, rounders, town ball, and base, or baste, ball, and possibly others called whirl and chermany. Balls were easy to make out of rags and leather and wood and feathers, and bats were paddles or tree branches. Farm fields or the cozier confines of streets and alleys sufficed for the playing field. Bases were trees, chairs (hence “stool ball”), stones, and stakes. Rules were immensely flexible. For example, sources described trap ball as a “simple batting game,” in which a batter hit a ball resting on a stake, much like in modern T-ball, and fielders attempted to catch the ball in order to come to bat themselves, much as in the modern game of work-up. Yet other sources, namely children’s books in the 1810s, depicted trap ball as a much more elaborate game in which batters tried to outhit their opponents over a series of consecutive hits, guess the lengths of their opponent’s hits, or hit or pitch the ball into a special trap. The games then were mostly spontaneous. There were no long, grueling playing seasons nor extended tournaments. But the quality of spontaneity and irregularity did not signify whimsicality. The games held importance for the players and the community. These folk games fit into the interstices of work patterns, ceremonial days, and longer leisure stretches.
The first recorded instance of a baseball-type game in Anglo-America took place in 1621, in, of all places, Plymouth, Massachusetts, on, of all days, Christmas Day. Plymouth may have a spurious claim to being the starting place of “American” history, but it may have a solid claim on the start of baseball in the English colonies. The Separatists, as with many other English Reformation dissenters, did not celebrate Christmas, but rather saw it as just another day. Thus the governor, William Bradford, took a work crew out that morning. The non-Separatist English in the group begged off and Bradford relented, only to find them hard at play, playing stool ball among other sports. Bradford scolded them and recalled the episode in his journal:
One the day called Chrismasday, the Governor caled them out to worke, (as was used,) but the most of this new-company excused them selves and said it wente against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor tould them that if they made it a mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away the rest and left them; but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found them in the streete at play, openly; some pitching the barr, & some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports. So he went to them, and took away their implements, and tould them that if they made the keeping a mater of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in the streets. Since which time nothing has been atempted that way, at least openly.
Bradford and his successors may have had some success in curtailing ball games, but probably never totally suppressed them. The Dutch also played, according to Esther Singleton, in her book, Dutch New York, “all varieties of ball games” in New Netherlands. After the turn of the century, Boston magistrate Samuel Sewall reported games of “wicket” and made one tantalizing reference to trap ball in 1713: “The Rain-water grievously runs into my son Joseph’s Chamber from the N. Window above. As went out to the Barber’s I observ’d the water to run trickling down a great pace from the Coving. I went on the Roof, and found the Spout next Salter’s stop’d, but could not free it with my Stick. Boston went up, and found his pole too big, which I warn’d him of before; came down a Spit, and clear’d the Leaden-throat, by thrusting out a Trap-Ball that stuck there.” Caesar Rodeney, an East Dover, Delaware resident, mentioned playing trap ball, indeed quite well, twice in his journal for August, 1728. On August 24, he scribbled, “Hart and I & James Gordon went to a Trabbal [trap ball} Match In John Willsons old feild I out Plaid them all" and, a week later, he noted, "To Tim Harons: Where James Gordon & I Plaid at Trabbal against John Horon and Th Horon for an anker of Syder We woun We drunk our Syder." Clearly the British were familiar with these games, as evidenced in Irish doctor John Brickell’s comment about a bat and ball game that indigenous people in North Carolina were playing about 1737: “They [indigenous peoples] have another Game which is managed with a Battoon, and very much resembles our Trap-Ball; . . . “ It is tempting to wonder if this was a pre-contact game or the tribal people adapted it from early European Carolinians. Farther north, in Scarborough, Maine, and in later decades, indigenous people played against Euroamericans, according to town historian William Southgate: “The game of ‘base’ was a peculiar favorite with our young townsmen, and the friendly Indians, and the hard beach of ‘Garrison Cove’ afforded a fine ground for it.”
About midcentury, however, the frequency of references to baseball and baseball-type games increased. Three groups in particular, children’s book writers, soldiers, and students, seem to have made the most major contributions to spreading the game. In his study of sport in colonial and Revolutionary era New England, Bruce Daniels contended that ball sports gained less acceptance than other sports such as horseracing, but that due to “soldiers in the militia, mischievous adolescents, and the students at Harvard and Yale,” the games “were on the verge of legitimacy.” Daniels did not refer specifically to baseball and its variants, but mentioned wicket, bowling, shinny, fives, and football. Baseball-type games were definitely in the mix. Future Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush played so much that it caused him to lament all the time spent: “I have been ashemed likewise, in recollecting how much time I wasted when a boy in playing cat and fives….”
Indeed it was a children’s book that gave Americans their first American visual expression of the games of stool ball, baseball, and trap ball. A 1767 revised edition of a 1744 book, A Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly, featured engravings of scenes of boys playing each of the three games and appended the following moral verses below them:
THE Ball once struck with Art and Care,
And drove impetuous through the Air,
Swift round his Course the Gamester flies,
Or his Stool’s taken by Surprise.
RULE of LIFE
Bestow your Alms whene’er you see
An Object in Necessity.
THE Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin’d Post,
And then Home with Joy.
Thus Britons for Lucre
Fly over the Main;
But, with Pleasure transported,
Return back again.
TOUCH lightly the Trap,
And strike low the Ball;
Let none catch you out,
And you’ll beat them all.
Learn hence, my dear Boy,
To avoid ev’ry Snare,
Contriv’d to involve you
In Sorrow and Care.
It is impossible to gauge just what effect a children’s book had on the growth of baseball-type games, but by 1771 the province of New Hampshire felt compelled to prohibit boys and adolescents playing ball in the streets on Christmas Day for fear of damage to windows. The law, as opposed to William Bradford’s 1621 remonstrances in Plymouth, did not outlaw the game, but rather asked the players to remove to a safer location. Ball playing had apparently become an accepted Christmastide recreation. The New Hampshire law read as follows:
An Act to prevent and punish Disorders usually committed on the twenty-fifth Day of December, commonly called Christmas- Day, the Evening preceding and following said Day, and to prevent other Irregularities committed at other Times. WHEREAS as it often happens that many disorders are occasioned within the town of Portsmouth, . . . by boys and fellows playing with balls in the public streets: . . . And any boys playing with balls in any streets, whereby there is danger of breaking the windows of any building, public or private, may be ordered to remove to any place where there shall be no such danger.
Yet it would be inaccurate to assume that only children, lazy adults, and indigenous people played baseball-type games. Revolutionary War troops were apparently enthusiasts for ball, even walking for miles to find a place level enough to play, as did Henry Dearborn and his compatriots. The Revolutionary War contained, as do most, long stretches of boredom and busywork, camp duty and drill for the troops. They sought out recreation to alleviate this tedium. As long as a game did not involve gambling, which George Washington prohibited and prosecuted, or trample on public safety, soldiers could resort to such exercises. Presumably, as their diaries and memoirs show, baseball was in that category. The level of formality to the games was probably low.
Certainly there were no organized teams nor leagues, but the embryonic pattern for such may have lain behind what soldiers saw played and played themselves at Valley Forge, in the Wyoming valley of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.
The notations were often simple, as in the case of Sharon, Connecticut soldier Simeon Lyman, who recorded his ball playing in New London on September 6, 1775 quite tersely: “Wednesday the 6. We played ball all day.” Even a quick entry, however, is revealing in its information that they played all day. Similarly, Joseph Joslin, Jr., a South Killingly, Connecticut teamster, observed ball playing, on April 21, 1778, while carrying out his duties for the army: “I took care of my oxen & then I went to Capt grinnels after oats and for a load of goods and then S W Some cloudy and I See them play ball . . . “ In like manner, Samuel Shute, a New Jersey lieutenant, jotted down his reference to playing ball in central Pennsylvania sometime between July 9 and 22, 1779: ” . . ., until the 22nd, the time was spent in playing Shinny and Ball.” Incidentally Shute distinguished among various sports, referring elsewhere in his journal to “Bandy Wicket.” He did not confuse baseball with types of field hockey and cricket that the soldiers also played.
Other soldiers made several references to playing. For example, Lieutenant Ebenezer Elmer, a New Jersey officer, chronicled ball playing in New York state, in September, 1776 and in New Jersey, in May, 1777. On September 18, 1776, he wrote: ” . . . The Regiment exercised ‘fore and afternoon, and in the afternoon the Colonel, Parsons, and a number of us played whirl . . . ” Two days later the troops played again and Elmer suffered a jaw injury: “At 9 o’clock, A. M., the Regiment was paraded, and grounded their arms to clear the parade; after which we had a game or two more at whirl; at which Dr. Dunham gave me a severe blow on my mouth which cut my lip, and came near to dislocating my under jaw. . . . ” “In the afternoon again had exercise, . . . Played ball again.” A week later Elmer returned to the theme in his September 28 entry: “We had after exercise a considerable ball play–Colonel, Parsons and all. Parade again at 2 o’clock, but soon dismissed.” Two days later, the ball play resulted in a rhubarb: “The day was so bad and so much labor going on, that we had no exercise, but some ball play–at which some dispute arose among the officers, but was quelled without rising high.” The next spring, Elmer was playing ball again. His diary citation for May 14, 1777 noted: “Played ball, &c., till some time in the afternoon, when I walked up to Mr. DeCamp’s, where I tarried all night.”
Benjamin Gilbert played ball with about the same frequency. Gilbert, a Brookfield, Massachusetts sergeant who ironically settled later near Cooperstown, recounted ball playing in the lower Hudson River valley in the Aprils of 1778 and 1779. On April 28, 1778, he entered in his journal: “In the fore noon the Serjt went Down the hill and plaid Ball.” Two days later, duty hindered his desire to play: “In the Morning I went Down the Hill to play Ball and was Called up immediately to Gather watch coats.” The next April, however, found him hard at play. On April 5, 1779, he wrote: “Our Regt Mustered at 3 oClock after noon. After Muster went to the store and plaid Ball with serjt. Wheeler.” And the next day: “In the after noon the serjt. of our Regt. Went to the Comsy. store to play Ball.” A week later, on the 14th, Gilbert wrote about ball again: “Fair and Clear. In the afternoon we went to the Comissary Store and Plaid Ball.” Three years later, on April 7, 1782, Gilbert noted once again: plaid at Ball severely.” Whatever “severely” meant is anyone’s guess; it may have been a misspelling for “severally.”
Indeed baseball is associated with the heights of patriotism in the war. In 1778, at Valley Forge, after that terrible winter of deprivation, George Ewing, a New Jersey ensign, recorded that the troops played baseball. In what might have been the first written use of the term “base” in North America, Ewing wrote that April: “Attested to my Muster Rolls and delivered them to the Muster Master excersisd in the afternoon in the intervals playd at base . . . “ Even the commander of the whole Continental Army apparently had a penchant for throwing the old horsehide around. Commenting on George Washington’s character while observing him at camp at Fishkill in September, 1779, the newly-arrived secretary to the French legation, François, Comte de Barbé-Marbois, wrote, “To-day he sometimes throws and catches a ball for whole hours with his aides-de-camp.”
The patriots, however, did not have a monopoly on baseball; even loyalists played. Enos Stevens, a Charlestown, New Hampshire loyalist lieutenant serving near New Utrecht on Long Island, mentioned baseball several times in his journal. On May 2, 1778 he penned: “at hom all day play ball sum.” On May 31: “Lords dy. I omit puting down every dy when their is nothing meteriel happens good weather for ball Play.” Apparently Stevens saw ball play, even when the Sabbath prevented it, as more important than “nothing meteriel.” On June 2: “fine plesent weather play ball.” On June 5th: “play ball” And on June 8: “play ball in afternoon.” The next May 3, he recorded “in the after noon [illegible words] play ball.” And in 1781, he returned to the game. On March 22, the entry read: “in the after noon played Wickett.” And a week later, Stevens wrote “playd ball.”
Some of the soldiers and officers observed ball playing while they were prisoners-of-war. Lieutenant Jabez Fitch, a Connecticut officer, witnessed ball playing during his imprisonment in the New York city area in March and April, 1777. On March 14, he wrote: “In the Morning Lt: Blackleach made us a short Visit; this forenoon I went with Capt: Bissell down to Capt: Wells’s Quarters where I procured some paper &c; on our way we lit of a number of our Offrs: who were Zealously Engaged at playing Ball, with whom we staid some time; We came home to our Quarters at about one.” The next day the scene was much the same: “This Forenoon Col. Hart & Majr: Wells came to our Quarters, & we went with them down Street as far as Johanes Lotts, where there was a large number of our Offrs: collected, & spent some Time at playing Ball.” About a month later, on April 12th, Fitch again saw the officers at play: “Toward Night I took a walk with Lt: Brewster down as far as Capt: Johnsons Quarters, where there was a number of our Offrs: Assembled for playing Ball; I came home a little after Sunset.” Some Americans watched or played the game while imprisoned in England. Charles Herbert, a Newburyport, Massachusetts sailor, thus referred to ball playing as a prisoner-of-war in Plymouth, England on April 2, 1777: “Warm, and something pleasant, and the yard begins to be dry again, so that we can return to our former sports; these are ball and quoits, which exercise we make use of to circulate our blood and keep us from things that are worse.” Jonathan Haskins, a Connecticut surgeon who was also in an English prison, witnessed one of the odder occurrences of a baseball-type game. On May 23, 1778, a game of ball took an odd and potentially deadly twist. Haskins wrote in his journal for that day: “23rd. This forenoon as some of the prisoners was playing ball, it by chance happened to lodge in the eave spout. One climbed up to take the ball out, and a sentry without the wall seeing him, fired at him, but did no harm.” Note that it was the prisoners, that is, the Americans who were playing the ball game, not their colonial overlords.
Perhaps the most intriguing evidence about soldiers playing during the Revolution came from the memoirs of Samuel Dewees, a Pennsylvania captain, who in 1781 and 1782 was a teenager guarding the British prisoners-of-war at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Dewees recalled that the Convention Army officers had a passion for ball playing:
These officers were full of cash, and frolicked and gamed much. One amusement in which they indulged much, was playing at ball. A Ball-Alley was fitted up at the Court-House, where some of them were to be seen at almost all hours of the day. When I could beg or buy a couple of old stockings, or two or three old stocking-feet, I would set to work and make a ball. After winding the yarn into a ball, I went to a skin-dressers and got a piece of white leather, with which I covered it. When finished, I carried it to the British officers, who would ‘jump at it’ at a quarter of a dollar. Whilst they remained at Lancaster, I made many balls in this way, and sold them to the British officers, and always received a quarter a-piece.
Dewees’s passage is remarkable for a number of reasons. It suggested that ball playing was quite common and an activity that players could invest with a passionate intensity. Second, skill in making balls was also apparently commonplace, as a fifteen-year-old boy easily knew how to fashion them. And it is astonishing to find out that players were playing with white leather balls as early as 1781 or 1782! Dewees also recorded a brouhaha among the officers during a ball game: “Whilst the game of ball was coming off one day at the Court House, an American officer and a British officer, who were among the spectators, became embroiled in a dispute.”
Part Two, tomorrow.
1. Lloyd A. Brown and Howard H. Peckham, eds., Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn 1775-1783, (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1969 ), 149-150.
2. Baseball historians have generally neglected or glossed over the pre-1845 period of baseball history, giving great emphasis to the developments of the New York Knickerbockers. Dean A. Sullivan, in Early Innings, did provide a few examples of pre-1845 baseball activities, but even that barely suggests the older lineage and frequency of baseball and baseball-type games. See Sullivan, comp. and ed., Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995). For a fuller sampling of documentary evidence, see Thomas L. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America: A Documentary History, Volume I, Parts I and II, Early American Sports to 1820 (Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press, 1997). The research for that encyclopedia provided the impetus for this article, with the sincere hopes that other baseball historians and scholars will locate additional pre-1839 evidence of baseball and baseball-type games.
3. Tom Heitz, conversations with the author, June and August, 1996.
4. Robert W. Henderson, Ball, Bat, and Bishop (New York: Rockport Press, 1947).
5. Goodstein, a Denver historian who is not particularly a baseball scholar, has uncovered evidence of Graves’ involvement in financial misdealings and shooting a spouse, as well as committals for mental illness, in years prior to his testimony for the Mills Commission. The Mills Commission also ignored testimony that baseball existed before 1839, especially a letter from a man who had played the game in Portsmouth, New Hampshire as a school child in 1830. See also “Origins of Baseball” in Jonathan Fraser Light, ed., The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1997), 530; Harold Seymour, “How Baseball Began,” New York Historical Society Quarterly, v. 40, n. 1 (October 1956), 369-385; and Uriel Simri’s little-known dissertation, “The Religious and Magical Function of Ball Games in Various Cultures,” West Virginia University, 1966.
6. Erwin Mehl, “Baseball in the Stone Age,” Western Folklore, v. 7, n. 2 (April 1948), 145-161 (quotation is from page 161), and Mehl, “Notes on ‘Baseball in the Stone Age’,” Western Folklore, v. 8, n. 2 (April 1949), 152-156.
7. Robert Crowley, “The Scholars Lesson,” in J. M. Cowper, ed., The Select Works of Robert Crowley (London: N. Trubner and Company, 1872), 73.
8. Robert Moynihan, “Shakespeare at Bat, Euclid on the Field,” in Alvin L. Hall, ed., Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and the American Culture (1989) (Westport, Connecticut: Meckler Publishing Company, 1991), 319-323.
9. See Mark Alvarez, The Old Ball Game (Alexandria, Virginia: Redefiniton, 1992), 10-12. See also “Origins of Baseball,” in Light, ed., The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, 528-531.
10. O. Paul Monckton, Pastimes in Times Past (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1913), 52.
11. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America.
12. Ron MCulloch, How Baseball Began (Los Angeles: Warwick Publishing Company, 1995), 4 and 6; and Per Maigaard, “Battingball Games,” Genus, v. 5, n 1-2 (December 1941), 67. An 1866 book on outdoor games also refers to a game called “ball-stock,” which is German in origin and resembles town ball. There is no way of ascertaining, however, from the book, if the game existed before 1839. The Play Ground; or, Out-Door Games for Boys (New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1866), 112-113.
13. McCulloch, How Baseball Began, 3. Ann McGovern, in a book targeted for adolescents, If You Lived in Colonial Times (New York: Scholastic Incorporated, 1992 ), stated on page 52, without documentation, “Most of all, boys liked to play ball. They played with a leather ball filled with feathers.”
14. Mehl, “Baseball in the Stone Age,” 147.
15. For an excellent discussion of the place and role of folk games and sports in pre-colonial and colonial English culture, see Nancy Struna, People of Prowess: Sport, Leisure, and Labor in Early Anglo-America (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1996), passim, but especially chapter 1.
16. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harvey Wish, ed. (New York: Capricorn Books, 1962), 82-83.
17. Esther Singleton, Dutch New York (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1909), 290.
18. M. Halsey Thomas, ed., The Diary of Samuel Sewall 1674-1729, Volume II: 1709-1729 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973), 718.
19. Harold B. Hancock, ed., “‘Fare Weather and Good Helth’: The Journal of Caesar Rodeney, 1727-1729,” Delaware History, v. 10. n. 1 (April 1962), 64.
20. John Brickell, The Natural History of North-Carolina (Dublin: James Carson, 1737), 336.
21. William S. Southgate, “The History of Scarborough, from 1633 to 1783,” Collections of the Maine Historical Society, v. 3 (Portland, Maine: Maine Historical Society, 1853), 148-149.
22. Bruce C. Daniels, Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 174.
23. Benjamin Rush to Benjamin Rush Floyd, April 21, 1812, in Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., “Further Letters of Benjamin Rush,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, v. 78, n. 1 (January 1954), 43.
24. A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Amusement and Instruction of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly (London: J. Newbery, 1767), 88, 90, and 91.
25. “An Act to prevent and punish Disorders usually committed on the twenty-fifth Day of December,….,” 23 December 1771, New Hampshire (Colony) Temporary Laws, 1773 (Portsmouth, New Hampshire, [1773-1774]), 53.
26. [Simeon Lyman], “Journal of Simeon Lyman of Sharon Aug. 10 to Dec. 28, 1775,” in ”Orderly Book and Journals Kept by Connecticut Men While Taking Part in the American Revolution 1775-1778,” Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, v. 7 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1899), 117.
27. [Joseph Joslin, Jr.], “Journal of Joseph Joslin Jr. of South Killingly A Teamster in the Continental Service March 1777–August 1778,” in “Orderly Book and Journals Kept by Connecticut Men While Taking part in the American Revolution 1775-1778,” Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, v. 7 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1899), 353-354.
28. [Samuel Shute], “Journal of Lt. Samuel Shute,” in Frederick Cook, ed., Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, reprint of 1885 ed.), 268.
29. [Ebenezer Elmer], “Journal of Lieutenant Ebenezer Elmer, of the Third Regiment of New Jersey Troops in the Continental Service,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, v. 1, n. 1 (1848), 26, 27, 30, and 31, and v. 3, n. 2 (1848), 98.
30. Rebecca D. Symmes, ed., A Citizen-Soldier in the American Revolution: The Diary of Benjamin Gilbert in Massachusetts and New York, (Cooperstown, New York: New York State Historical Association, 1980), 30 and 49; and “Benjamin Gilbert Diaries 1782-1786,” G372, New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, New York.
31. [George Ewing], The Military Journal of George Ewing (1754-1824) a Soldier of Valley Forge (Yonkers, New York: Thomas Ewing, 1928), 35.
32. Eugene Parker Chase, ed., Our Revolutionary Forefathers: The Letters of François, Marquis de Barbé-Marbois during His Residence in the United States as Secretary of the French Legation 1779-1785 (New York: Duffield and Company, 1929), 114.
33. Charles Knowlton Bolton, ed., “A Fragment of the Diary of Lieutenant Enos Stevens, Tory, 1777-1778,” New England Quarterly, v. 11, n. 2 (June 1938), 384-385, but the original, more accurate journal, from which the above notations come, is at the Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier, Vermont.
34. William H. W. Sabine, ed., The New-York Diary of Lieutenant Jabez Fitch of the 17th (Connecticut) Regiment from August 22, 1776 to December 15,1777 (New York: pvt. ptg., 1954), 126, 127, and 162.
35. [Charles Herbert], A Relic of the Revolution, Containing a Full and Particular Account of the Sufferings and Privations of All the American Prisoners Captured on the High Seas, and Carried into Plymouth, England, During the Revolution of 1776 (Boston: Charles H. Peirce, 1847), 109.
36. Marion S. Coan, ed., “A Revolutionary Prison Diary[:] The Journal of Dr. Jonathan Haskins,” New England Quarterly, v. 17, n. 2 (June 1944), 308.
37. John Smith Hanna, ed., A History of the Life and Services of Captain Samuel Dewees, A Native of Pennsylvania, and Soldier of the Revolutionary and Last Wars, (Baltimore: Robert Neilson, 1844), 265 and 266.
I wrote this article last winter, following the 2012 season, so the national-origin counts published at that time have been updated to reflect the current demography.
Except among old fogies, it is commonplace wisdom that baseball and its players improve with each generation.
Drawing from ever wider pools of talent, our game has seen an advance in the average level of skill that is undeniable, even if it may be hard to pinpoint without the use of advanced statistics. Here is not the place for that, so consider this old-timer’s contention that fielding plays were visible every day last year that were not made at any time in the 1950s. Today’s game is better because its players are better, and much of the reason for that will be found in the Dominican Republic.
The numbers are simply astonishing, telling a story all by themselves. Since 1956, when Ossie Virgil broke in with the New York Giants, 563 Dominicans have played Major League Baseball; of these, 128 played last year (California, with a population four times as large, supplied not twice the players).
Roughly a quarter of the 7,000 Minor League players in the U.S. are Dominican, too–so this trend shows no sign of slowing.
In only 57 years, this half-island nation–sharing the former Hispaniola with Haiti, which has yet to send one player to the big leagues–has delivered more of its young men to MLB than any other nation or territory ever has. Venezuela is a distant second, with 286, followed by Canada (239), Puerto Rico (234), Cuba (173), and Mexico (114). Only seven states in the union can top, in the years since 1876, the DR’s success since 1956.
Baseball is everywhere in the DR now, as it was in the U.S. in 1956, when Virgil cracked the Giants’ roster. Other sports are played, but baseball is the national pastime and passion. “It’s more than a game,” Dominican Winter League general manager Winston Llenas once remarked. “It’s a national fever. It’s almost our way of life.”
There are six clubs in the Dominican Winter League: Tigres del Licey and Leones de Escogido, both in Santo Domingo; Estrellas Orientales in San Pedro de Macorís; Aguilas del Cibao in Santiago; Gigantes del Cibao in San Francisco de Macorís; and Azucareros del Este in La Romana. Each represents not merely a different constituency, but also a different culture.
The most intense rivalry is Licey-Aguilas. Licey, the winningest franchise, is also the nation’s oldest, dating to 1907. Aguilas was established in 1936. Their competition for respect and bragging rights makes the old wars between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants seem as polite as cricket matches.
Cubans, who had been the first in the region to play the game, back in the 1860s, brought it to the Dominican Republic in the 1890s as they did to other parts of Latin America. An American occupation in 1916-24 spurred interest in the game, as Licey became so dominant that an All-Star rival had to be crafted from the other clubs (Leones de Escogido, or “the chosen Lions”). The fervent baseball interest and boundless ego of dictator Rafael Trujillo culminated in 1937 with the recruitment of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell to his Ciudad Trujillo club, making it for a brief moment perhaps the best baseball club anywhere. Unfortunately, the aftermath of their hasty retreat to home ground was a 14-year gap in Dominican professional baseball, leaving native-born baseball stars such as Tetelo Vargas and Horacio Martinez to find their employment elsewhere.
The banana region along the northwest border with Haiti had produced the first contingent of Dominican professionals. There the Grenada Company, a United Fruit subsidiary, began two teams for its workers and their sons in the 1940s. Pitcher Juan Marichal, the nation’s only Hall of Famer to date–there will be more–took this route to the big leagues in 1960, as did the ageless wonder, 41-year-old rookie Dimodes Olivo.
In the southeast, during the six-month tiempo muerto, or dead season, when nothing could be done about the sugarcane and workers found themselves with time on their hands, ball play entered the picture — at first cricket and then baseball. In the milltowns of the San Pedro de Macorís municipality, the descendants of the original cricket-playing migrants from the British West Indies demonstrated a special aptitude for playing baseball.
San Pedro, despite its small size, became the world’s great baseball incubator, having to date sent 86 of its sons to MLB. The capital city of Santo Domingo, ten times the size of San Pedro, has provided only 44 more. Amado Samuel and Manny Jiminez were the first from San Pedro to hit the Majors, both in 1962.
After the Cuban Revolution of 1959 the International League moved the Havana Sugar Kings club to Jersey City. Baseball in Cuba was left to continue independently and, even though it went on to dominate international competition, stopped producing new Major Leaguers. The DR was poised to fill the void. After sending only Ossie Virgil and Felipe Alou to MLB in the 1950s, it has sent more with each succeeding decade.
Today every Major League club maintains a full-time base of operations in the DR, including a 32-team Dominican Summer League (DSL) with 35 players on each roster, as well as an infrastructure of baseball academies. These instruments of progress and promise — the social, educational, and financial elevators from poverty — embrace the hopes and dreams of countless young men in the DR, even if, as they know, only a handful will step onto a Major League field.
In 1964, Felipe Alou had called for a “Latin-American Ballplayers’ Bill of Rights.” Like Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente, he understood the unique problems faced by Latin ballplayers in the United States: the language barrier, xenophobia, racism, the fear of “not making it” and being returned to poverty at home. Both the U.S. and the DR have come a long way since then, and Dominican players today are heroes to fans of both countries, regardless of national or ethnic origin.
Progress comes with problems. As a promised land of fame and fortune, MLB has enriched the Dominican Republic, but it has not entirely supplanted the Dominican Winter League, still a dreamed destination for native sons and a proving ground for young North American players.
But to think only of MLB influence on the DR is to miss the exciting reciprocal: the Dominican influence on MLB. Since 1956 there has been a steady stream of first-rank players, so many that by naming some, one must unfairly neglect others: Felipe Alou; Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Jose Rijo, Vladimir Guerrero, Tony Fernandez, Julio Franco, Cesar Cedeno, Rico Carty, Adrian Beltre, Joaquin Andujar, David Ortiz … we could go on. Just for the fun of argument, we’ll offer up an all-time Dominican team.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ALL-TIME TEAM
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Robinson Cano
SS: Tony Fernandez
3B: Adrian Beltre
OF: Sammy Sosa
OF: Manny Ramirez
OF: Vladimir Guerrero
C: Tony Pena
DH: David Ortiz
UT: Julio Franco
P: Juan Marichal
P: Pedro Martinez
P: Bartolo Colon
RP: Armando Benitez
MGR: Felipe Alou
The Dominican influence on MLB extends beyond the quality of its players to an invigorating style of play–a new infusion of speed and power and grace and joy–that has changed the face of the game as well as the way it is played. This new alloy of cultures points the way to baseball becoming truly the international pastime–the game that defines national heritage and aspirations around the globe, even when local cultures seem radically different.
When it comes time to consider the greatest catchers of all time, few today summon up the name of Charles Leo “Gabby” Hartnett, though he played 20 years in the big leagues and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. There were great catchers before him–Buck Ewing, King Kelly, Roger Bresnahan–and he was roughly contemporary with Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane. Yet when he retired, Gabby was the first catcher to have reached the 200-homer and 1,000-RBI marks. Hartnett was also behind the plate for the NL in the first All-Star Game in 1933, and for the next four All-Star teams as well. He was a formidable defensive catcher, too, with a feared throwing arm. In eight of the ten years between 1926 and 1935 he led the league in caught-stealing percentage. Even today, only Campy has a higher slugging percentage than Hartnett among Hall of Fame catchers.
During the 1938 season Cubs management ousted “Jolly Cholly” Grimm as the team’s manager when they were in third place. The 37-year-old Hartnett was given the job. Under the new manager, the Cubs went on a tear to challenge the league-leading Pirates. The Cub pitching staff was wearing thin by September 18, with the Pirates holding onto a 3½-game lead. But a hurricane struck the East Coast, and three Chicago games were rained out.
The rested hurlers were able to narrow the gap to 1½ games by September 27, when the Pirates came to Chicago for a three 3-game set. Stuck for a starter, Hartnett pulled one out of his hat. The sore-armed DizzyDean, who had been used fewer than a dozen times since being obtained from the Cards in April, started and held the Bucs in check for a vital 2-1 Cubs win. The next day would provide Hartnett’s biggest thrill in baseball, as he told Hal Totten in 1939.
Do you know how you feel when you’re real scared, or when something big is going to happen? Well, that’s the way I felt for one terrific minute of my biggest day in baseball–and I don’t believe you’ll have to guess very much as to just which day that was.
It was in 1938, September 28, the day of “the home run in the dark.” But as a matter of fact, that day–that one big moment–was the climax of a series of things that had gone on for a week or more. And every one of those incidents helped to make it the biggest day in all my years in the major leagues.
The week before–on Sunday–we had played a doubleheader in Brooklyn. We lost the first game 4-3, and we were leading the second game by two runs along about the fifth inning. It was muddy and raining and was getting dark fast. Then big Fred Sington came up with a man on base and hit a home run to tie the score.
It was too dark to play anymore, so they called the game and it ended in a tie. Now every game meant a lot to us just then. We were three and a half games behind. Winning was the only way we could hope to catch the Pirates. We were scheduled to play in Philadelphia the next day, so we couldn’t complete the game then.
But Larry MacPhail wanted to play it. We had an open date for travel at the end of the series in Philly, and he wanted us to go back to Brooklyn and play off the tie. The boys wanted to play it, too. They figured we could win it and gain on the Pirates.
Well, I couldn’t make up my mind right away, so I asked MacPhail to give me twenty-four hours to decide. He said he would. But I’d been figuring–you see, we had to win all three games in the series with Pittsburgh if we were to win the pennant. And I had to think of my pitchers. I had to argue with the whole ballclub–they wanted to play.
But I stuck my neck out and turned it down. I’ll admit that I didn’t feel any too easy about it. But I had to make the decision. And I felt that we might lose that game just as easy as we could win it. So I took that chance.
Well, we sat for three days in Philly and watched it rain. Of course, Pittsburgh wasn’t able to play in Brooklyn, either, and they were three and a half games in front of us. On Thursday we played the Phils twice and beat ’em both times, 4-0 and 2-1. Big Bill Lee won his twentieth game of the season in that first one–and his fourth straight shutout. Clay Bryant was the pitcher in the second. But Pittsburgh beat Brooklyn twice, so we were still three and a half back.
The next day we won two again–and we had to come from behind to do it. Rip Collins put the second one on ice by doubling in the ninth with the bases full to drive in three runs just as they posted the score showing that Cincinnati had beaten the Pirates. That put us within two games of the leaders. We were really rollin’.
Then we came home and on Saturday we played the Cardinals–and beat ‘em 9-3. But the Pirates won, too. On Sunday it was the same thing–we both won. Monday Pittsburgh wasn’t scheduled, so the Pirates were in the stands at Wrigley Field as we played the finale of the series with St. Louis. Bill Lee was scored on for the first time in five games, but he won 6-3. Then came the big series–with the lead cut to a game and a half.
I stuck my neck out in the very first game of the series. Several times, in fact. I started Dizzy Dean on the mound. He hadn’t pitched since September 13 and hadn’t started a game since August 13. But how he pitched! Just a slow ball, control, and a world of heart.
We got him out in front in the third when Collins tripled and Billy Jurges drove him in with a single. For five innings Dean was great. Then he seemed to tire. Lloyd Waner grounded out in that inning, and Paul Waner fouled out. Johnny Rizzo singled, but Arky Vaughan popped to Billy Herman. Still, I noticed that Diz didn’t have as much on the ball.
Probably I was the only one to notice it–except maybe Diz himself. I began to worry a bit, and I made up my mind right then and there that no matter how anything else was going, the minute Dean got in trouble, I was going to get him out of there. We got another run the last half of that inning. And Diz got through the seventh and eighth, although it took a great play by Dean himself to cut down a run at the plate in the eighth.
When the ninth came around I decided to play safe and started Lee warming up in the bullpen. Bill wasn’t usually a good relief pitcher, but he was the best pitcher in the league, and that was a spot for the best we had.
Dean hit Vaughan to start the ninth and I was plenty uneasy. But Gus Suhr popped out, and Woody Jensen batted for Young and forced Arky at second. Then came little “Jeep” Handley, and he hit one clear to the wall in left-center for a double. That put the tying runs on second and third, and that was my cue.
Al Todd was up. He always hit Dean pretty good, even when Diz had his stuff–and Diz didn’t have a thing then. Not only that, but Todd didn’t hit Lee very well. So even though Lee hadn’t been a steady relief pitcher, I called him in. My neck was out again. What if Todd hit one? What if Lee had trouble getting started–after all, he’d been working day after day. But when it gets to the place where it means a ballgame, you’ve got to make a change,even if the hitter socks one into the bleachers.
I’ll say this for Dean–he never complained about that. He walked right in the dugout and said I’d done the right thing–that he’d lost his stuff and his arm didn’t feel so good. So Lee came in. The first pitch was a strike. Todd fouled the next one off. Then Lee cut loose with as wild a pitch as I ever saw and Jensen scored. Handley went to third with the tying run. My hunch didn’t look so good. But Lee wound up again; he pitched; and Todd swung and struck out. We’d won the game and were only a half game out of first place.
That brings us up to the big day. We scored in the second inning on a couple of errors. But Pittsburgh went ahead with three in the sixth. We tied it up in our half. But the Pirates got two in the eighth and led, 5-3. In our half Collins opened with a single and Jurges walked.
Tony Lazzeri batted for Lee, who had gone in again that day, and doubled, scoring Rip. They walked Stan Hack. Then Herman drove in Jurges to tie it up again, but Joe Marty–who had run for Tony–was thrown out at the plate by Paul Waner. A double play ended that round.
It was very dark by then. But the umpires decided to let us go one more. Charlie Root got through the first half of the ninth all right. In our half Phil Cavarretta hit one a country mile to center, but Lloyd Waner pulled it down. Carl Reynolds grounded out. And it was my turn.
Well, I swung once–and missed; I swung again and got a piece of it, but that was all. A foul and strike two. I had one more chance. Mace Brown wound up and let fly; I swung with everything I had, and then I got that feeling I was talking about–the kind of feeling you get when the blood rushes out of your head and you get dizzy.
A lot of people have told me they didn’t know the ball was in the bleachers. Well, I did–maybe I was the only one in the park who did. I knew it the minute I hit it. When I got to second base I couldn’t see third for the players and fans there. I don’t think I walked a step to the plate–I was carried in. But when I got there, I saw umpire George Barr taking a good look–he was going to make sure I touched that platter.
Clark Griffith broke into baseball in 1887 with Bloomington, Illinois, of the Central-Interstate League. In the following year, at age 18, he joined Milwaukee of the Western Association. Griffith began his big-league career with the St Louis Browns and Boston Reds in 1891, the final year of the American Association.He spent the better part of the next two seasons out west, landing finally with Pop Anson’s Chicago Nationals near the end of the 1893 campaign. There he won twenty or more games six successive times. Griffith’s arsenal of pitches featured a sneaky and effective quick pitch and six different deliveries in which he mixed in spitters and outshoots. The Old Fox also took credit for the scuffball, proudly hacking the ball with his spikes.
In 1901 he helped to organize the American League as a major circuit, managing Charles Comiskey’s White Sox while continuing to toe the slab, as they said back in the day. He later managed the new York entry of 1903, today known as the Yankees, and the Cincinnati Reds of the National League. Griffith returned to the AL in 1912 as manager of the Washington Senators. He led the club to second-place finishes in 1912 and 1913 while purchasing 10 percent of the team’s stock for $27,000.
When Griffith’s managerial tenure ended in 1920, he bought out Washington’s old ownership. He and Philadelphia grain exporter William Richardson purchased 80 percent of the bedraggled team–in Charles Dryden’s immortal phrase, “first in war, first in peace, and last in the Ameican League”– for $290,000. Three times during Griffith’s long tenure as owner, the Senators went to the World Series. Once they won it, and that occasion is the subject of this reminiscence by the ”Old Fox,” as told to Shirley Povich in 1944.
The day, bless it, was October 10, 1924. Of all the 10,000 afternoons I have spent in a ballpark during sixty-seven years as a player, manager, and club owner, that afternoon is my pet.
Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States, and incidentally, he was setting a new record for White House attendance at a World Series. Only a mild baseball fan up to that point, Mr. Coolidge was in a Griffith Stadium box seat for the third time during the Series. He was caught up in the excitement that swept on the heels of Bucky Harris’s pennant victory with my Senators, the first pennant ever won by Washington.
It was the day the Senators were battling John McGraw’s Giants in the seventh game of the World Series. Bucky Harris, a great manager, had pulled the sixth game out of the fire by singling in the tying and winning runs.
The baseball writers had called it “Griffith’s Folly” when I named the 27-year-old Harris manager of my club before the start of the 1924 season. He had only been a minor league manager for two years and he was rated as only an ordinary second baseman. But I liked his fight. He had showed ‘em a lot of fire. I liked Harris from the day I first saw him at Buffalo, where I scouted him personally. He knew I was in the stands watching him and he made eight hits in a doubleheader that afternoon, although he wasn’t supposed to be much of a hitter. But he was aching to get a chance in the big leagues.
I knew Bucky could take care of himself in the Series, even when he had to match wits with John McGraw. I liked his cockiness. He told me he thought he knew as much baseball “as that old buzzard McGraw,” even if it was his first year as a manager. Bucky didn’t ask his team to go out and win for him. He showed ‘em how.
Here’s the kind of a competitor Harris was: He had hit only one home run all season, because he wasn’t a home run hitter. Yet in the World Series he clouted two homers that won ballgames for us. He had hit only .268 in the summer and batted in only 58 runs in 544 times at bat, yet in 33 times at bat in the Series he hit .333 and drove in 7 runs.
Despite the fact that we had tied up the Series with the Giants in that sixth game, there was sadness in Washington because Walter Johnson, finally getting his chance in a World Series, had been beaten in two starts.
The afternoon before the final game, Johnson came to my office to pick up some seventh-game tickets. He was depressed. I tried to cheer him up by telling him we were counting on him to pull us through in the seventh game if we needed a relief pitcher. I made him promise to go home to his farm and rest overnight, to get away from the handshaking he always had to do when he stayed downtown. Walter said he would swap his World Series share for one more crack at the Giants.
Incidentally I never knew until after the Series that it had cost Walter Johnson $500 to get into the park for the Series game. Before the Series “friends” from all over the country had asked Johnson to buy Series tickets for them. He bought about $2,000 worth to accommodate them. A lot of those persons didn’t show up to claim the tickets Walter bought. When he went out to the mound to pitch the opening game, he had $500 worth of tickets to the games in his locker. He was so kindhearted, he had kept them right up to game time and was stuck with ‘em despite the fact they would have brought him five times what he had paid.
Well, to get up to the seventh game with the Giants, Bucky Harris had come to my house the night before with the plan that made baseball history.
“Tell me, if you think I’m crazy,” Bucky said, “but I’ve got an idea of how we can get a big edge on the Giants tomorrow.” And then he explained his idea. “That Bill Terry is murdering us,” said Bucky, “and McGraw is sure-pop to have him in there at first base if we start a right-hander. Terry loves righthanded pitching. He’s got 6 hits in 12 times at bat so far against our righthanders. Against lefthanded pitching McGraw will play George Kelly at first base.
“Here’s my idea,” recited Harris. “George Mogridge is the fellow who figures to beat the Giants tomorrow, but if we start him and have to shift to a righthander, McGraw will switch on us and bench Kelly and put Terry in there. I’m going to start Curly Ogden, a righthander, and that will get Terry in their line-up, and then I’m going to lift Ogden after he pitches to one batter and put in Mogridge. McGraw won’t leave Terry in there against Mogridge, and we ought to be rid of him for the day.”
That strategy sounded logical enough to me, even if it was a bit radical at first glance. I told Bucky I liked the idea. If he had nerve enough to try it, I was going along with him.
The trick worked. McGraw did let Terry stay in there and take two turns at bat against the lefthanded Mogridge, but in the sixth inning, after he failed to get a hit, McGraw put in Bob Meusel to pinch hit for Terry, despite the fact that Terry at the time was the leading hitter of the series with a .429 average. That got Terry out of the way, and Kelly was at first base for the rest of the game.
For three innings it was 0-0, and then Bucky Harris homered. The 31,667 fans went hysterical, but in the sixth the Giants got three runs off Mogridge and Fred Marberry. Going into the eighth, we were still behind 3 to 1. Jess Barnes, the Giants’ big right-hander, was doing a job on us, holding us to four hits, and the two runs we needed looked impossible.
I left my box seat to be ready to escort President Coolidge from the park and had just reached the steps near the Washington dugout when things began to happen. With one gone, Nemo Leibold, pinch-hitting for Tommy Taylor, doubled. I watched the rest of the inning from the steps, too superstitious to move. Muddy Ruel, who up to that point in the Series hadn’t made a hit, singled down his pet third-base alley to put the tying run on base, Leibold holding up at third. Bennie Tate, hitting for Marberry, walked. Earl McNeely flied out and Harris was next up.
If any World Series ever belonged to one man, this one belonged to Harris. He banged Barnes’s first pitch for a clean single to left and tied up the ballgame at 3-3. Those fans wanted to tear my stadium down.
The ovation for Harris, though, was nothing compared to what happened a few minutes later after the Giants finally got us out. As the Giants went to bat in the ninth, the park was in a fearful uproar because Walter Johnson was walking to the mound. Utter strangers were hugging each other in the stands because Walter was getting one more chance in the Series. It was his ballgame now, with the score tied at 3-3 going into the ninth.
I never saw such a grim face as Johnson’s when Harris gave him the ball and patted him on the back. Walter couldn’t talk. I actually saw him gritting his teeth. He grabbed that ball so hard the white showed through his knuckles. I was still watching the game from the dugout steps, still too superstitious to move. For four innings I stood there as Johnson, always in trouble, pulled out by fanning Giants in the clutch–he struck out five in four innings. Up to the twelfth we couldn’t score either. What happened then is the high spot of all my years in baseball.
Muddy Ruel, batting .050 with 1 hit in 20 times at bat, popped a high foul in back of the plate. As Hank Gowdy, the Giants catcher, reached for it, he stepped on his mask and went down in a heap, dropping the ball. Muddy expressed his gratitude by immediately doubling to left.
Bucky let Johnson hit for himself, and Travis Jackson fumbled Walter’s grounder, putting Johnson on first. But Ruel was held at second. Then along came Earl McNeely, for whom I had paid Sacramento $50,000 earlier in the season. McNeely then contributed the famous “pebble hit.” I can still see third baseman Freddie Lindstrom poised to take McNeely’s grounder on a nice big hop for the second out. And I can still see the
panic on Lindstrom’s face when the ball took a devilish hop high over his head for a freak single.
That was the hit that won the World Series, with Muddy Ruel scoring from second after what seemed an eternity of running the 180 feet from second base to the plate. Muddy was no speed demon.
“I’ll always think of the 1912 season as one of the greatest in major league history,” Tris Speaker said some seventy years ago. And he is still right. We just celebrated the centennial of perhaps the greatest World Series ever, and who better to tell you about it than the man at the center of its climactic moment. Elected to Hall of Fame in 1937, the Grey Eagle compiled a batting average of .345 for 2,789 games. Not a home-run hitter (in the deadball era hardly anyone was), Speaker nonetheless led the American League in 1912 by walloping 10. And he was a power hitter by any standard: his 792 doubles are first all-time, and his 222 triples place him sixth.
Spoke, as he was nicknamed, was the first whose glove was termed, “The place where triples go to die.” Among outfielders he ranks first in lifetime outfield assists, second in putouts. He took part in 139 double plays, a record–and six of these were unassisted ( no one else has had even three). In 1909 and 1912 he set the American League record with 35 assists in a season. Even in his later years, when the lively ball came in, he still played a shallow center field. Joe Sewell, who patrolled shortstop for Speaker’s Cleveland Indians starting in 1920, said, “I played seven years with him right behind me in shallow center field. You know how an infielder gets down for the pitch? Well, you’d get down and the ball would be hit—a shot. You’d turn, and in all that time I never did see him turn. He’d be turned and gone with his back to the plate, the ball, the infield, and when he’d turn around again, there would be the ball.”
Here is Tris Speaker’s recollection of his greatest day in baseball, as told to Francis J. Powers in 1944.
I’ll always think of the 1912 season as one of the greatest in major league history. That’s natural for it was in 1912 that I first played with a pennant winner and world’s championship team, and there are no greater thrills for a young player. Our Boston Red Sox, managed by Jake Stahl, a former University of Illinois star, won the American League pennant while the New York Giants were the winners on the National League side.
There were a couple of great teams. The Red Sox won 105 games that season for a league record that stood until the Yankees won 110 in 1926. And the Giants came home with 103 victories and no other National League winner since touched that total until the Cardinals won 106 in 1942. Joe Wood won 34 games for us, almost one-third of our total, and 10 of them were shutouts.
Many a time I have heard “Smoke” say in our clubhouse meetings, “get me two runs today and we’ll win this one.” Woody won 16 in a row and beat Walter Johnson after the Big Train had won a similar string and no one has beaten those marks [in the American League] although they have been tied. We had Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper in the outfield and there never were any better, Larry Gardner at third, Heinie Wagner at short and Buck O’Brien and Hugh Bedient on the pitching staff, just to mention some of our stars.
While Wood (and Johnson) made pitching history in the American League that summer Rube Marquard was writing an unequaled chapter in the National. The gangling, wry-necked left-hander won 19 straight and no one has come along to wipe out that performance. Those Giants were a hard hitting, fast running team with the likes of Josh Devore, Red Murray, Buck Herzog, Chief Meyers and Fred Merkle and had great pitchers in Christy Mathewson, Marquard, Jeff Tesreau and Red Ames.
In the opening game of the World Series Woody beat Tesreau, 4 to 3. I guess maybe John McGraw figured “Smoke” would beat any of his pitchers so he held Marquard and Mathewson back; although Tesreau was a great pitcher. The second game went 11 innings to a six-all tie with Matty pitching for the Giants and Bedient, Ray Collins and Charlie Hall, who died a few weeks ago, working for Boston. In the third game the Giants made it all even with Marquard getting a 2-1 decision over O’Brien. Then Wood and Bedient beat Tesreau and Mathewson in terrific 3-1 and 2-1 duels and we were ahead three games to one and it looked as if the series was about finished.
But the Giants weren’t through by any means. In the sixth game, Marquard beat O’Brien and Collins and in the seventh, the Giants took a toe hold and pounded Wood out of the box and kept on hammering O’Brien and Collins to win 11-4. So the series went into its eighth game on October 16 and that’s where I had my biggest day.
McGraw called on Christie Mathewson with the chips down and that was natural for Matty still was in his prime; his fadeaway was tough to hit and he knew every angle of the pitching business. Since Wood already had worked three games, and had been beaten the day before Stahl couldn’t send him back, so he started Bedient.
The game quickly took the form of a magnificent pitcher’s battle and I don’t think Matty ever was much better than that autumn afternoon. He turned us back with machine-like precision for six innings and by that time the one run the Giants had scored in the third began to look awful big. I got a double into right field in the first inning but through six innings that was about our only scoring chance. The Giants got their run when Devore walked, advanced on two outs and scored when “Red” Murray hit a long double. That the Giants weren’t another run to the good in the fifth was due to one of the greatest catches I ever saw. Larry Doyle hit a terrific drive to right that appeared headed for a home run but Harry Hooper cut it off with a running, leaping catch that was easily the outstanding play of the series.
Boston tied the score in the seventh due to confusion among the Giants. Stahl hit a Texas leaguer toward left and it fell safe when Murray, Fred Snodgrass and Art Fletcher couldn’t agree on who was to make the catch. Wagner walked and then Stahl sent Olaf Hendrickson up to bat for Bedient. Now Hendrickson was one of the greatest pinch hitters ever in the game; like Moose McCormick of the Giants. He was one of those rare fellows who could go up cold and hit any sort of pitching.
Matty worked hard on Hendrickson but the Swede belted a long double that scored Stahl. Then Joe Wood came in to pitch for us.
The score still was one-one going into the 10th and the Giants tried their best to put the game away in their half. Murray doubled again and he was the tough man for us all through the series and raced home on Merkle’s single. So there we were behind again with the last chance coming up.
Once more the breaks and big breaks went our way. Clyde Engle batted for Woody and reached second when Snodgrass muffed his fly in center field. Hooper flied out and Yerkes worked Matty for a pass. And I was the next batter.
It looked as if I was out when I cut one of Matty’s fadeaways and lifted a high foul between the plate and first base. The ball was drifting toward first and would have been an easy catch for Merkle. I was going to yell for Meyers to make the catch for I didn’t think he could, but before I could open my mouth I heard Matty calling: “Meyers, Meyers.”
Meyers chased the ball but it was going away from him and finally Merkle charged in but he was too late and couldn’t hold the ball. Fred was blamed for not making the catch and the term “bonehead” was thrown at him again, recalling his failure to touch second base in 1908. I never thought Merkle deserved any blame at all. It was Matty who made the blunder in calling for Meyers to try for the catch.
That gave me a reprieve and I didn’t miss the second chance. I got a good hold of a pitch for a single to right that scored Engle and the game was tied again. Then Matty walked Lewis, purposely, for Duffy always was a
money hitter, filling the bases. With Gardner at bat the Giant infield played in close on the chance of cutting Yerkes off at the plate. But Gardner was another who did his best when the chips were on the table and crashed a long fly that sent Yerkes home with the deciding run.
Yes, I am on a bit of a jag here, presenting deadball-era stars’ memories of their greatest day in baseball. The sources for these interviews are John Carmichael’s columns in the Chicago Daily News, plus a handful of other reminiscences added to his book collection, My Greatest Day in Baseball (Barnes, 1945). Below is one of these additions. George Sisler was an undeniably great ballplayer, starring for the St. Louis Browns from 1915 to 1927 and finishing with the Boston Braves in 1930. His lifetime batting average was .340, and his .420 mark in 1922 is still tops for American League batters since Nap Lajoie’s mark in the circuit’s first season; in that 1920 campaign he struck out only 14 times in 655 plate appearances. Sisler also hit .407 in 1920, the year he set a record with 257 hits, which survived until Ichiro Suzuki collected 262 hits (in 70 more plate appearances) in 2004.
In my youth there was still a debate among oldtimers whether he or Lou Gehrig deserved the accolade of best first baseman all-time. Yet in the sabermetric era, with its emphasis on slugging and on base percentage, Sisler’s star dimmed. In 1999, when MLB created its all-century team, the fans voted in two first basemen, Gehrig and Mark McGwire. Here is the unfairly neglected George Sisler, as interviewed by Lyall Smith.
Every American kid has a baseball idol. Mine was Walter Johnson, the “Big Train.” Come to think about it, Walter still is my idea of the real baseball player. He was graceful. He had rhythm and when he heaved that ball in to the plate he threw with his whole body just so easy-like that you’d think the ball was flowing off his arm and hand.
I was just a husky kid in Akron (Ohio) High School back around 1910-11 when Johnson began making a name for himself with the Senators and I was so crazy about the man that I’d read every line and kept every picture of him I could get my hands on.
Naturally, admiring Johnson as I did, I decided to be a pitcher and even though I wound up as a first baseman my biggest day in baseball was a hot muggy afternoon in St. Louis when I pitched against him and beat him. Never knew that, did you? Most fans don’t. But it’s right. Me, a kid just out of the University of Michigan beat the great Walter Johnson. It was on August 29, 1915, my first year as a baseball player, the first time I ever was in a game against the man who I thought was the greatest pitcher in the world.
I guess I was a pretty fair pitcher myself at Central High in Akron. I had a strong left arm and I could throw them in there all day long and never have an ache or pain. Anyway, I got a lot of publicity in my last year in high school and when I was still a student I signed up one day to play with Akron.
I didn’t know at the time I signed that contract I was stepping into a rumpus that went on and on until it finally involved the National Baseball Commission, the owners of two big league clubs and Judge Landis.
I was only 17 years old when I wrote my name on the slip of paper that made me property of Akron, a club in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League and a farm club of Columbus in the Association. After I signed it I got scared and didn’t even tell my dad or anybody ’cause I knew my folks wanted me to go on to college and I figured they’d be sore if they knew I wanted to be a ballplayer.
In a way, that’s what saved me, I guess. For by not telling my dad he never had a chance to okay my signature and in that way the contract didn’t hold. The way it worked out Akron sold me to Columbus and Columbus sold me to Pittsburgh and all the time I was still in high school and hadn’t even reported to the team I signed with! Wasn’t even legally signed the way it turned out.
They wanted me to join the club when I graduated from high school but I was all set to go to Michigan so I said “no” and went up to Ann Arbor. Well, to make a long story short the story came out in the open there and when the whole thing was over I had been made a free agent by the old National Commission and signed up with Branch Rickey who at that time was manager of the St. Louis Browns.
I pitched three years of varsity ball up at Michigan and when I graduated on June 10, 1915, Rickey wired me to join the Browns in Chicago. Now, all this time I was up at school I still had my sights set on Walter Johnson. When he pitched his 56 consecutive scoreless innings in 1912 I was as proud as though I’d done it myself. After all, I felt as though I had adopted him. He was my hero. He won 36 games and lost only seven in 1913 and he came back the next season to win 28 more and lose 18. He was really getting the headlines in those days and I was keeping all of them in my scrapbook.
Well, then I left Michigan in 1915 and came down to Chicago where I officially became a professional ballplayer. I hit town one morning and that same day we were getting beat pretty bad so Rickey called me over to the dugout.
“George,” he said, “I know you just got in town and that you don’t know any of the players and you’re probably tired and nervous. But I want to see what you have in that left arm of yours. Let’s see what you can do in these last three innings.”
I gulped hard a couple of times, muttered something that sounded like ”thanks” and went out and pitched those last three innings. Did pretty good, too. I gave up one hit but the Sox didn’t get any runs so I figured that I was all right.
Next day, though, I was out warming up and meeting more of the Browns when Rickey came over to me. He was carrying a first baseman’s glove. “Here,” he said. “Put this on and get over there on first base.”
Well, nothing much happened between the time I joined the club in June until long about the last part of August. Rickey would pitch me one day, stick me in the outfield the next and then put me over on first the next three or four. I was hitting pretty good and by the time we got back to St. Louis the sports writers were saying some nice things about me.
They were saying it chiefly because of my hitting. I’d only won two-three games up to then. I still remember the first one. I beat Cleveland and struck out nine men. Some clothing store gave me a pair of white flannels for winning and I was right proud of them. Didn’t even wear them for a long time, figured they were too fancy.
As I was saying, we got back to St. Louis late in August. Early one week I picked up a paper and saw that a St. Louis writer, Billy Murphy, had written a story about Washington coming to town the following Sunday and that Walter Johnson was going to pitch.
I was still a Johnson fan and I guess Murphy knew it, for when I got about halfway through the story I found out that he had me pitching against Johnson on the big day, Sunday, August 29.
That was the first I knew about it and I figured it was the first Manager Rickey knew about it, for here it was only Tuesday and Murphy had the pitchers all lined up for the following Sunday.
Well, he knew what he was talking about, because after the Saturday game Rickey stuck his head in the locker room and told me I was going to pitch against Johnson the next day. I went back to my hotel that night but I couldn’t eat. I was really nervous. I went to bed but I couldn’t sleep. At 4:00 A.M. I was tossing and rolling around and finally got up and just sat there, waiting for daylight and the big game.
I managed to stick it out, got some breakfast in me and was out at Sportsman’s Park before the gates opened. It was one of those typical August days in St. Louis and when game time finally rolled around it was so hot that the sweat ran down your face even when you were standing in the shadow of the stands.
All the time I was warming up I’d steal a look over at Johnson in the Washington bull pen. When he’d stretch ‘way out and throw in a fast ball I’d try to do the same thing. Even when I went over to the dugout just before the game started I was still watching him as he signed autographs and laughed with the photographers and writers.
Well, the game finally started and I tried to be calm. First man to face me was Moeller, Washington’s left fielder. I didn’t waste any time and stuck three fast ones in there to strike him out. Eddie Foster was up next and he singled to right field. Charley [sic; actual name Clyde] Milan singled to right center and I was really scared. I could see Mr. Rickey leaning out of the dugout watching me real close so I kept them high to Shanks and got him to fly out to Walker in center field. He hit it back pretty far though and Foster, a fast man, started out for third base. Walker made a perfect peg into the infield but Johnny Lavan, our shortstop, fumbled the relay and Foster kept right on going to score. That was all they got in that inning, but I wasn’t feeling too sure when I came in to the bench. I figured we weren’t going to get many runs off Johnson and I knew I couldn’t be giving up many runs myself.
Then Johnson went out to face us and I really got a thrill out of watching him pitch. He struck out the first two Brownies and made Del Pratt fly to short center. Then I had to go out again and I got by all right. In the second inning, Walker led off with a single to center field and Baby Doll Jacobson dumped a bunt in front of the plate. Otto Williams, Washington catcher, scooped it up and threw it 10 feet over the first baseman’s head. Walker already was around second and he came in and scored while the Baby Doll reached third.
I think I actually felt sorry for Johnson. I knew just how he felt because after all, the same thing had happened to me in the first inning. Del Howard was next up for us and he singled Jacobson home to give us two runs and give me a 2-1 lead.
Well, that was all the scoring for the day, although I gave up five more hits over the route. Johnson got one in the first of the fifth, a blooper over second. I was up in the last of the same inning and I’ll be darned if I didn’t get the same kind. So he and I were even up anyway. We each hit one man, too.
There wasn’t much more to the game. Only one man reached third on me after the first inning and only two got that far on Johnson.
When I got the last man out in the first of the ninth and went off the field I looked down at the Washington bench hoping to get another look at Johnson. But he already had ducked down to the locker room.
I don’t know what I expected to do if I had seen him. For a minute I thought maybe I’d go over and shake his hand and tell him that I was sorry I beat him but I guess that was just the silly idea of a young kid who had just come face to face with his idol and beaten him.
This may be my favorite ballgame of all. It is not baseball’s greatest (think Game 3 of the 1951 NL playoff, or June 14, 1870, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings finally lost a game), but it is the one I wish I had attended in person. I included it in my book Baseball’s Ten Greatest Games, more than thirty years ago. But instead of my reprising that piece for you now, why not let Ty Cobb tell you all about it? He was there, on that 30th day of September in 1907.
If I were asked to reassess my ten greatest games today, some of those games I chose for that book would drop off the list–how else to work in Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris and David Freese?
But not this one. Come along with me now: the Tigers of Crawford and Cobb are about to do battle with the Athletics of Plank and Waddell, and the lines at the ticket booths are long.
Ty Cobb, as told to Francis J. Powers
There was little brotherly love toward the Detroit Tigers when our club arrived in Philadelphia on the morning of September 27, 1907. That old city was baseball mad; it was mad at the Tigers and, judging from my mail, very mad at me. The wildest race the six-year-old American League had then produced was nearing an end, and the Athletics were leading the Tigers by a half game. It had been a four-way race all summer, with the defending White Sox, Athletics, Tigers, and Cleveland jumping in and out of first place. Now the chase had boiled down to a fight between the Tigers and Athletics, and it would be settled, practically, in the three-game series which was to open the next afternoon. There were only two series remaining for each club.
The Tigers had come on fast that year to be pennant contenders. Hughie Jennings, the famous shortstop of the old National League Baltimore Orioles, had been brought up to manage the team and his “E-yah!” cry and grass-picking had made him a popular figure. I was on my way to winning my first batting championship and was running the bases well. We had tremendous power, with Claude Rossman on first and Sam Crawford in center field, and I think those Tigers really were the first of the great slugging teams that later made the American League synonymous with power. We had some great pitchers, particularly Wild Bill Donovan, one of the finest men ever in the game, who won 25 games and lost only 4 that season. Ours was a fighting, snarling team that neither asked nor gave quarter–patterned after the old Orioles of Jennings and John McGraw.
Philadelphia resented us as upstarts, for Connie Mack still had much of the same team that had won the 1905 championship and then had lost to the Giants in that famous World Series where every game was a shutout. The Mackmen had sensational pitchers in Chief Bender, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, and Jack Coombs, and were a solid defensive team. They were hot to reclaim the championship they had lost to the White Sox the previous season.
We won the first game of the series on September 28, when George Mullin outpitched Chief Bender, and went into first place by a half game. Then it rained and a doubleheader was scheduled for September 30. There was the pennant. If we won, we had only Washington and St. Louis ahead, while the Mackmen had a series with Cleveland, which stayed in the race until September 27, before getting to the Senators. The “Naps,” as Cleveland was called in those days, were certain to give Philadelphia trouble.
When we went on the field to start play there were 30,000 fans looking on. There were 25,000 packed into old Columbia Park, which supposedly had a capacity of only 18,000, and the rest were crowded into windows and on the roofs of houses overlooking the field. There were fans, several rows deep, around the outfield, restrained by ropes and mounted police, and they weren’t the least bit friendly. Before that afternoon was finished and we left the park in the autumn dusk with streetlights aglow, I had experienced about every thrill that can come in baseball . . . or so it seemed to a 19-year-old boy.
Jennings picked Donovan to pitch for the Tigers, leading with our ace, while Mr. Mack started Jimmy Dygert, a spitballer. Mack had Eddie Plank, the southpaw who always was tough to beat, ready but decided to save him for the second game. You never saw and maybe never heard of another game like this one. It went seventeen innings and took three hours and fifty minutes to play. It produced great pitching and poor pitching, long crashing hits, and some of the most unusual incidents to be found outside the realm of fiction.
At the end of five innings, Philadelphia led us 7-1. The Athletics wasted no time in pounding Donovan. Topsy Hartsel opened with a single and stole second. Socks Seybold walked and Kid Nicholls sacrificed. Harry Davis’s hit bounced off Charlie O’Leary’s leg and into “Germany” Schaefer’s hands, but Seybold was safe at second and Hartsel scored. Danny Murphy beat out an infield hit, and then Seybold scored on Jimmy Collins’s fly and Rube Oldring sent Davis home with a double into the crowd.
Jennings would have had any pitcher other than Donovan out of the game before that inning finished, but Philadelphia was Bill’s hometown and his dad and relatives always came out to see him work, so Hughie never took him out there. It looked like foolish sentiment at that moment, but proved to be a good policy three hours later.
For a few minutes in the second inning it seemed as if we would get them all back. Rossman singled and was safe at second when Dygert threw wild, after fielding Bill Coughlin’s smash. Charlie Schmidt sacrificed and then O’Leary hit to the box. Dygert chased Rossman almost to the plate before throwing to Ossie Schreck, and then Claude hit the Athletics’ catcher so hard he dropped the ball. Dygert walked Donovan but then Rube Waddell came in and, with a pitch that broke from your waist to the ground, fanned the next two batters.
The Athletics got two more in the third, Davis hit a home run in the fifth and Collins and Oldring hit into the crowd for another score. So there we were, behind six runs. But as I said before, this Tiger team was a fighting team and we moved back into the game with four runs in the seventh. Two walks and an error filled the bases, and then Crawford drove one into the left field crowd for two bases. Another run scored on my infield out, and Crawford raced home while Murphy was making a great play on Rossman. Then we were only two runs behind. The Athletics scored one in their half, but we scored in the eighth and went into the ninth still two runs behind.
That ninth is one inning that always will remain bright in my memory. Crawford was on first when I came to bat, and I hit a home run over the right fence to tie the score. Right then and there Mr. Mack forgot about saving Plank for the second game and Eddie rushed to the box and retired the next three batters. We went out in front in the eleventh when I hit into the crowd after Rossman’s single, but we couldn’t hold the lead and the Athletics tied it, largely because of a wild pitch, at 9-all.
Then the game settled down to a brilliant duel between Donovan and Plank but at the same time produced some of the greatest confusion ever seen on any field. In the fourteenth inning, Harry Davis hit a long fly to center field which Sam Crawford muffed; it was good for two bases. Our team claimed interference, because a policeman had stepped in front of Crawford as he was following the ball along the ropes. “Silk” O’Loughlin was umpiring behind the plate (there were only two umpires in a game at that time), and it was his play. Both teams gathered around O’Loughlin, arguing and snarling. Finally O’Loughlin called to Tommy Connolly, umpiring at first base, “Was there interference?” Without hesitation Tommy called, “There was.” So Davis was out and that was lucky for us, since Murphy followed with a single after a would-be two-bagger had gone foul by inches.
During the argument with the umpires, Rossman and Monte Cross, one of the Athletics’ reserve infielders, threw some punches, and soon there were players and policemen all over the field. Rossman was tossed out of the game, and that started a new argument. Ed Killian, a lefthanded pitcher, finished the inning at first base and later Sam Crawford came in from the outfield to play the bag. After the game Connie Mack was bitter in his denunciation of O’Loughlin. It was one of the few times when he really roasted an umpire.
There was no further scoring, although I got as far as third in our half of the seventeenth, and at the end of that inning the game was called with the score still 9-all. There was no second game that day; it never was played, and the tie meant the championship for us. We left Philadelphia a half game in front and swept through Washington. The Athletics lost one to Cleveland and another to the Senators, and we clinched the pennant in St. Louis . . . Detroit’s first since 1887, when it was in the old National League.
Although I had the thrill of hitting the homer that finally tied the score and making two runs, the star of that game was Bill Donovan. I don’t recall a similar exhibition of pitching in my twenty-five years in the American League. Bill allowed eight runs in seven innings and only one in the next ten and he fanned eleven. The modern generation doesn’t remember Donovan, but there was a pitcher with great speed, a great curve, and a great heart. I’d like to have been half as good a hurler myself. I used to practice pitching and imagine myself out there in a tight spot.
The Athletics made twenty hits that day to our fifteen and we had seventeen runners left on base to their thirteen. They made six errors, so during that one long afternoon there was just about everything to be found in baseball.
Some men’s characters are summed up in their physical presence. As a young 6’1”, 150-pound catcher born in 1862, Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy (“Slats” Mack to all but the census takers) presented so odd a specter that when he teamed with the equally bony pitcher Frank “Shadow” Gilmore in Washington in the 1880s, they were called “The Grasshopper Battery.” Writer Wilfrid Sheed said that as a manager of the Philadelphia Athletics in his later years Mack, with his angular body and patrician bearing, looked “like a tree from the Garden of Eden.”
We paint a mind’s-eye picture of him as upright (in both the physical and moral senses of that word) as he sat in the dugout in a business suit and positioned his players with a wave of the scorecard. Yet the real Mr. Mack (it seems almost blasphemy to call him by his first name) was, like his old rival Clark Griffith, a very sly fox indeed. As a catcher his fine defensive skills were, shall we say, augmented by his ingenuity. In those days any caught foul was an out–even a tip with no strikes or only one–so Connie liked to make a noise that resembled a ball hitting a bat on a swinging strike. He was also good at impeding a batter’s swing with the brush of his glove, invariably offering apology for his clumsiness. When he became a manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1890s, it is said he put the baseballs on ice the night before the game to deaden them.
Mack’s earliest days as a player were with his hometown nine of East Brookfield, Massachusetts, a village of barely 1,000 but so in love with baseball that it raised $100 to bring Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings to town one day in 1883. Mack joined the professional ranks the following season with Meriden, at the “stupendous” salary of $90 per month, then moved up to Hartford, and, at season’s end, his contract was purchased by the New York Mets of the American Association, a big league at the time. But he never played for the Mets, who sold him along with four other players to Washington for $3,500. He became a solid player with the Solons, and enjoyed his best year at the bat with Buffalo in the lone year of the Players League, 1890. He concluded his eleven-year career as a player with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who also gave Mack his first managing post, but he left in 1896 in a dispute with a meddling owner.
He moved on to manage the Milwaukee entry in Ban Johnson’s Western League, which in 1900 became the American League. When the American League challenged the National League by putting a team in Philadelphia, Mack got the chance to manage there. He also bought 25 percent of the club’s stock. Connie, who had salted away some of his salary, retained the job of manager through 1950, a prodigious run of fifty-one years.
John McGraw, no fan of the new American League or Ban Johnson, its president, who had virtually banned him for his umpire-baiting as manager of the 1901-1902 Orioles, said the Philadelphia operation was doomed to be a “white elephant”–a sure money-loser. The canny Mack wore the insult as a badge of pride and adopted a logo that survives to this day, mystifying the fans in Oakland. The A’s topped the American League in 1904, but McGraw extended the feud by refusing to match his Giants against them in the World Series, inaugurated the year before between Boston and Pittsburgh. When the Giants defeated the A’s in five games in the all-shutout Series of 1905, Mack vowed to gain revenge. His white elephants stomped McGraw’s men handily in 1911 and 1913, by which time they were cavorting in the new concrete-and-steel palace that would one day be named for Mack, but which had been christened Shibe Park after the A’s majority owner, baseball equipment magnate Ben Shibe.
Mr. Mack was beloved by his players and known for his ability to build a pitching staff around young talent. But when his highly favored A’s were toppled in the 1914 World Series by the “Miracle Braves” of Boston, he dismantled his franchise. He suspected that gamblers had reached some of his players, he later wrote to Red Smith. His team fell to last place in 1915 and stayed there for seven years. Mack felt his operation could be more financially successful with a first-half contender that settled into third or fourth place than with a pennant winner, which would certainly inspire the players to demand higher salaries. Gradually he built another powerhouse, featuring such future Hall of Famers as Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, and Al Simmons. The A’s of 1929-1931 won three pennants and two World Series, right when Ruth and Gehrig were at their peaks. But the stock market crash and ensuing Depression brought the team to its knees, and once again Mack sold off his stars, this time from dire necessity. From 1934 through 1950 his team finished in the first division only once, but even though he was past the age of seventy, Mack didn’t fear for his job; since 1937 he had been the A’s sole owner.
Here the Tall Tactician tells John Carmichael of the Chicago Daily News about his greatest day in baseball.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen some great baseball in my days. It is wonderful to remember pitchers like Matty and Walsh and Waddell and Johnson and Dean and Grove for more than 40 years. But to me the most thrilling World Series ever played was between the Cubs and Athletics in 1929 and I’ll never forget the performance of Howard Ehmke. You see, Howard and I sort of put a fast one over on everybody and an old man likes to enjoy a chuckle at the expense of a younger generation. Only the two of us knew, two weeks ahead of time, that he was going to pitch the opening game, October 8.
We were leaving on the final western trip of the regular season when I called Howard up to my office in Philadelphia. We had the pennant pretty well in hand by then and so did the Cubs, so we could make plans. Ehmke came in and sat down and I watched him for a few minutes while we just chatted and finally I said: “Howard, there comes a time in everybody’s life when he has to make a change. It looks like you and I finally must part.”
Well, he didn’t say a word for the longest time, it seemed, just twiddled his hat and then he looked right at me and said: “All right, Mr. Mack, if that’s the way it has to be. You’ve been fine to me and I haven’t been much help to you this year. Lucky you haven’t needed me. But I’ve been up a long time and I’ve always had an ambition to pitch in a World Series . . . anywhere, even for only an inning. Honestly, I believe there’s one more good game left in this arm . . .” and he held it up to me like a prize fighter showing his muscle.
I couldn’t help smiling. Howard of course, had no way of knowing what I thought of him. Really he was one of the most artistic pitchers of all time. He was bothered with a sore arm most of his major league career, but he had a great head on him and studied hitters. He might have been a fine pitcher. So I asked him: “You mean you think you could work a World Series game?” He told me: “Yes, Mr. Mack. I feel it.” Then I explained what I had in mind. “So do I,” I said. “I only wanted to see how you felt about it. Now you stay home this trip. The Cubs are coming in. Sit up in the stands and watch them. Make your own notes on how they hit. You’re pitching the first game but don’t tell anybody. I don’t want it known.”
After he’d gone I sat thinking about Howard. Maybe he never realized how close he came to not pitching at all. If he hadn’t talked the way he did . . . if he’d said, for instance: “I realize I’m all through . . . my arm is gone” and accepted what he thought was dismissal, I wouldn’t have worked him even though I had no intention of letting him go anyway.
Finally the big day came around in Wrigley Field. Funny part of it was that none of my players nor even the newspapermen, bothered to ask me who’d start. They all took it for granted it would be Grove, or maybe Earnshaw. Since then people have asked me why I didn’t start Grove, but that’s a secret. I can’t tell, but there was a reason. Anyway we were in the clubhouse before the game and somebody asked Grove if he was working and I heard him say: “The old man didn’t say nothin’ to me.” Mose probably figured it was Earnshaw. When we got outside, they all threw the ball around. Ehmke must have had a sudden doubt that his dream was coming true because he came up to me on the bench and whispered. “Is it still me, Mr. Mack?” I said. “It’s still you . . .” and he was smiling as he walked away.
When it came time for the rival pitcher to warm up, Ehmke, naturally, took off his jacket and started to throw. I made sure I was where I could look along our bench and you could see mouths pop open. Grove was looking at Earnshaw and George was looking at Mose. Al Simmons was sitting next to me and he couldn’t stop himself in time. “Are you gonna pitch him?” he asked in disbelief. I kept a straight face and looked very severely at him and said: “Yes, I am Al. Is that all right with you?” You could sense him pulling himself out of his surprised state and he replied quickly. “If you say so, it’s all right with me, Mr. Mack.”
Voices were muttering down the dugout. Phrases like “the old man must be nuts” and “hell, the guy’s only finished two games all year” trailed off for fear I’d hear ‘em. But I heard. I’ve often wondered what they’d thought of me if we’d been beaten with Grove and Earnshaw and Walberg on the bench. Bob Quinn, who was president of the Red Sox then, was in a box behind our dugout and he said he almost swooned when he saw Ehmke peel off his coat. I suppose the fans and the gentlemen of the press thought old Connie was in his dotage at last. But I was certain about Howard, although if he’d had any trouble early I would have had Grove in the bull pen. We didn’t want to lose.
It was beautiful to watch. I don’t suppose these old eyes ever strained themselves over any game as much as that one. Ehmke was smart. He was just fast enough to be sneaky, just slow enough to get hitters like Wilson and Hornsby and Cuyler, who like to take their cuts, off stride. If you recall, he pitched off his right hip, real close to his shirt. He kept the ball hidden until just before he let it go. The Cubs never got a good look at it and, when they did, it was coming out of those shirts in the old bleachers. Charley Root was fast himself and by the end of the sixth inning neither team had scored. Then Jimmy Foxx hit over Wilson’s head, into the stands, and we led 1-0.
Jimmy touched home plate and came back to the bench and Ehmke said: “Thanks, Jim” and I knew he’d made up his mind maybe that was all the runs he’d get and it would have to do. Only in the third had Howard been in a jam when McMillan singled and English doubled with one out and Hornsby and Wilson were up. Some of my players looked at me as if to say: “Better get somebody warmed up . . . here’s where Ehmke goes,” but he stood there calm and unhurried and struck out the two men on seven pitches. You could tell the crowd had caught the melodrama of what was going on; I don’t believe I ever felt as happy in my life as when he fanned Hornsby and Wilson. Very few pitchers would have done as well in such a tense situation. He justified my faith in him right there.
In the seventh, after Foxx’s hit, Cuyler and Stephenson each singled and Grimm sacrificed. Joe McCarthy decided on pinch hitters. He had Cliff Heathcote hit for Zach Taylor and Simmons took care of a short fly for the second out. Then Gabby Hartnett batted for Root and I was tempted to have Howard put him on and take a chance on the next man, but I said to myself:
“No. This is his game. He asked for it and I gave it to him.”
He struck out Hartnett and we got two runs in the ninth on fumbles by English. I relaxed a little then, but we weren’t quite out of the woods. The Cubs got the tying runs on bases in the ninth, with two out and Charlie Tolson up to pinch-hit. If Ehmke fanned him, he’d break the strikeout record for world series play set by Ed Walsh against the Cubs in 1906 when he fanned 12. Howard already had struck out Hornsby, Wilson, Cuyler and Root twice each. It happened. Tolson went down swinging, too, for Howard’s 13th strikeout and the battle was over. He has lived on that game ever since. So have I.
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. [...]