Talking Baseball at the Dighton Public Library

Dighton Public Library. Courtesy Dighton Public Library

Courtesy Dighton Public Library

Tommorow evening (November 5) at 6:30 I will be giving a presentation at the Dighton Public Library. I plan to talk a little bit about baseball history, vintage baseball and show some vintage baseball pics. Please come out to listen and find out more about playing vintage ball.

The library is located at 395 Main Street, off Route 138 in Dighton.

From Somerset:
Follow Rt. 138 through Somerset past the Dighton Town Line. Look for the Library sign at the corner of Main St. (blinking light). Take a left onto Main St. The library is half a mile on the left.

From the north:
Take Route 24 south to Exit 11 (Berkley/Dighton). Take a right off the exit ramp. Follow this road to Berkley Commons (first stop sign). Keep following to a second stop sign. At the fork in the road, stay right. Continue to the Berkley/Dighton Bridge (a one-lane bridge) and cross the bridge. You will pass Bristol County Agricultural School. Follow to the light at the intersection of Rt. 138. Take a left onto Rt. 138, pass the police station, and take a right at the blinking light onto Main St. The library is half a mile on the left.

From the south:
Take Route 24 north to Exit 10 (Assonet/Dighton). Take a right off the exit ramp. Continue straight until the road ends. Take a left at the stop sign. Continue to the Berkley/Dighton bridge (a one-lane bridge) and cross the bridge. You will pass Bristol County Agricultural School. Follow to the light at the intersection of Rt. 138. Take a left onto Rt. 138, pass the police station, and take a right at the blinking light onto Main St. The library is half a mile on the left.

Trap Ball

                  The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house All that cold, cold, wet day.           – from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

Unfortunately because of this lousy weather brought on by the storm I share a name with, I can not try out the new game I just got. Well, actually it is quite an old game. Trap Ball, I am told through various readings, was played as far back as the 14th century and into the 19th century. Mainly played in England, there is some evidence that it was played in colonial America but it may not have been as popular as it was in England. However, it does show up in some American publications as late as the 1890s. I have not seen evidence to suggest that it was played on the Southcoast of Massachusetts but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be played now, right?

Many publications note that it was a children’s game played by boys. From time to time it is suggested that it was played by adults such as in Games and Sports; Being an Appendix to “Manly Exercises” and “Exercises for Ladies” by Donald Walker published in London in 1837. In the dedication of the book, Walker states

In many of these Games, ladies may participate: most of them, they may witness and patronize. As not inconsistent, therefore, with female taste, I beg leave to inscibe them to you – in homage at once to Beauty and Intellect.

Walker does not say if Trap Ball was played by ladies. In Games For All Seasons by James Blackwood (London, 1858) which includes an entry for Trap Ball he states in the preface “In the present volume will be found descriptions of the principal games played by boys as well as girls…”

According to A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs, From the Fourteenth Century, Volume II (London, 1881) the game is defined as:

A game played with a trap, a ball, and a small bat. The trap is of wood, made like a slipper, with a hollow at the heel end for the ball, and kind of wooden spoon, moving on a pivot, in the bowl of which the ball is placed. By striking the end or handle of the spoon, the ball of course rises into the air, and the art of the game is to strike it as far as possible with the bat before it reaches the ground. The adversaries on the look-out, either by catching the ball, or by bowling it from the place where it falls, to hit the trap, take possession of the trap, bat, and ball, to try their own dexterity.

The next entry of the dictionary defines the bat in Trap Ball as a Trap-Bittle. The rules of the game seem to vary. Another version of the rules is similar to the above except that the batter calls out an estimate of bat lengths the ball will reach the trap after the fielder has thrown the ball at it. If the batter is correct in the guess the batter adds to the score that number of bat lengths (each batter gets a point for each safe hit). If the number of bat lengths estimated by the batter is more than the actual number, the batter is out. Many other versions of the game suggest that there is a foul territory on either side of the batter. If the ball is stuck in to foul territory, the batter is out. It also seems common that if the batter swings and misses while trying to hit the ball after striking the trap 3 times… the batter is out.

There is no base running in this game and it seems that a minimum of two people are need to play. Many players can be divided up in to teams, with the teams switching sides once everyone on one side has been put out. Or no teams are selected and instead a batting order is selected and individual tallies are kept.

Below is the Trap Ball set that I purchased minus the ball. The ball pictured came from Lemon Ball which is made to the specifications of the Massachusetts game of baseball. The Trap Ball set came with a smaller (about 2″) ball made of dark leather sewed in the figure 8 style. I’ll have to check my notes for descriptions of the actual ball used in Trap Ball. I am afraid that the ball that came with the set may get lost easliy due to its size. The Massachusetts ball may still be small enough to strike from the trap and not be easliy lost. Anything bigger would probably be difficult to elevate high enough from the trap to strike it.

Lowell vs. Wamsutta

John Lowell, ca. 1861

John Lowell, ca. 1861

One hundred forty years ago this week the Wamsutta Base Ball Club took on the mighty Lowell Club of Boston. The Lowell Club was one of the more talented baseball clubs in the area during that time. It was formed in 1861 by students of various Boston secondary schools at the suggestion of John A. Lowell and the Bowdoin Base Ball Club to play the New York game. The New York game was played in New England but it was facing competition from the Massachusetts game. In honor of Mr. Lowell, the club was named after him.

The Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club is widely considered to be the first club in New England formed to play the New York game. Formed in 1857, they didn’t play their first match against another club until early September of 1858 when they beat a club from Portland Maine. It remains a mystery as to why the Tri-Mountain club did not play the Ironsides Club of New Bedford which had been formed to play the New York game at that time.

The Lowell club quickly established their talent by winning their first game against Medford 17-10. Lowell played its second match in May of 1863 against the established Tri-Mountain club. Lowell won 37-1. In 1866 the Lowell club’s first nine would win every match they played.

In 1868 the Lowell Base Ball Club set out on tour of New England cities in an effort to reach out and be “neighborly”. While the tour lasted only during the month of June the Lowell club made a trip to New Bedford in August where they faced the Wamsutta club. The game lasted 3 hours and 25 minutes. It was painful 3 hours in 25 minutes for the Wamsuttas losing to the Lowells 62-6 in 7 innings.

New Bedford Republican Standard
August 20, 1868

Base Ball. – The game between the Lowell and Wamsutta clubs at Myrick’s on Friday was concluded at the end of the 7th inning, with the following score:

Lowell. Wamsutta.

O.  R.                                      O.  R.

Lovett, p.,            1    9   N. E. Howland, 2. b.,    3    0
Alline, 3. b.,         3    7   J. H. Tallman, r. f..,      3    0
Dennison, 1. b.,   0    8   O. N. Pierce, p.,           1    1
Sumner, 2. b.,      6    4   Walter Clifford, s. s.,   3    0
Bradbury, c.,         1   8   G. D. Gifford, c.,          2    1
Rogers, c. f.,         1   8   C. Almy, Jr., c. f.,         3    0
Newton, l. f.,        4   6   M. M. Howland, l. f.     2    2
Hawes, r. f.,          3   6   F. W. Knowlton, 1. b.,  2    1
Dillingham, s. s.,  2   6   W. C. Gooding, 3. b.,   2    1

62                                            6

Runs in each Inning.

1st.   2d.   3d.   4th.   5th.   6th.   7th.
Lowell,       5        9      1      10     6     11     20
Wamsutta, 1         0     2         1     1      0        1

Ball Playing Banned in New Bedford… in 1821

New Bedford Mecury, July 13, 1821

One hundred eighty seven years ago the New Bedford Mercury publish the recently passed by-laws for New Bedford including a ban on ball playing:

Voted, That the following Rules and Regulations be established the By-Laws of this town, viz: —

First, Any person, who shall, after the 1st day of July next play at ball, or fly a kite or run down hill upon a sled, or play any other sport which may incommode peacable citizens and passengers in any street of that part of this town commonly called the Village of Bedford, shall for every such offence, upon convicition of the same forfeit and pay the penalty of fifty cents, with costs of prosecution; the said penality to be applied to the use of the poor of this town.

 

 

 

 

 

This does not mean that it was baseball being played on the streets of New Bedford. It could have been any number of ball games such as football, cricket, trap ball or any of the “old cat” games. It could be baseball but the by-law writters chose not to be specific about the types of ball games banned as Pittsfield did 30 years prior to the New Bedford by-law. Various laws have been passed banning the playing of ball in New England since at least 1762 when the town of Salem ordered that no one would be allowed to play “Foot-Ball, or the Exercise of Bat-and-Ball, or Cricket, within any of the Publick Places, Streets, or Lanes” in town. Closer to home, Providence passed a ban on ball playing in 1823.

I will also point out that in those same 1821 New Bedford by-laws there was already a problem with graffiti:

Fifth. And whereas some evil minded persons are in the habit of disfiguring fences and buildings, by wantonly painting on them, and by writing and drawing obscene words and pictures on them, to the disgrace of this town in the eyes of strangers, and to the disgust of well-disposed citizens: — Therefore, Voted, That any person who shall after the first day of July next, be convicted as aforesaid of any such offence, shall forfeit and pay a penalty of not less than one dollar, nor more than five dollars, for every such offence, with the costs of prosecution; said penalty to be applied as aforesaid.

 

 

 

No doubt that neighborohoods such as Hard Dig were targeted with this law. But did the placement of the by-laws indicate the severity of each problem? Ball playing, kite flying and sledding were listed in the first by-law while graffiti was addressed in the fifth by-law. Number two on the list was blocking the streets with lumber and rubbish. Number three was a speed limit on horses (6 miles per hour) and the fourth delt with carriages blocking the streets. There were a total of 12 by laws altogether. The graffiti penalty had the highest penalty of five dollars along with storing more than 25 lbs. of gun powder in one place and stacking fish for the purporse of making manure. Take a look at the by laws here.

Say it ain’t so; No Cape League ball for New Bedford?

New Bedford American Legion team, ca. 1955With the Cape Cod League set to play a game on Monday in New Bedford, the Standard Times published a story yesterday about the unlikely possibility of New Bedford getting a Cape league team:

City’s hopes for Cape league franchise beginning to fade

NEW BEDFORD – Mayor Scott W. Lang has made no secret that he wants the Cape Cod Baseball League to expand to the city, but the storied amateur collegiate league seems to have an it’s-not-you-it’s-me attitude about the courtship.

“The likelihood is really not all that great,” Wareham Gatemen general manager Tom Gay said of the city’s chances. “It has nothing to do with New Bedford, but with expansion at all.”

This is discouraging considering that New Bedford has history of playing Cape Cod teams going back to at least 1867 when a club from Barnstable played the Wamsutta Club in New Bedford:

The New Bedford Republican Standard

September 12, 1867

The game between the Wamsutta Base Ball Club, of this city, and the Cummaquid, of Barnstable, on Saturday, was won by the former, by 25 runs, in seven innings. The eighth inning was played by the Cummaquid, scoring one run, but the game was called when the Wamsutta on the eighth inning had made six runs, with two men out, the Barnstable boys having barely time to get to the cars.

New Bedford last had an organized, high level team in 1934. That year the New Bedford Whalers played in the Northeastern League. They finished with a 46 win 60 loss season. 1934 was the only year of the Northeastern League. It folded at the end of the season and the Whalers folded with them. The New Bedford Whalers had played in the New England League the year before finishing the season with a 58-33 record in a split season format. New Bedford, with the best record in the league, finished in first place during the second half (Worcester won the first half). A round robin playoff system was decided upon for the end of the season consiting of New Bedford, Worcester and Lowell. But New Bedford withdrew from the playoffs when they learned that they would not face first half winner Worcester in a single series to determine the champion. The New England League folded after that season prompting New Bedford to join the ill fated Northeastern League. The New England League was revived in 1941 as a semi-pro league with New Bedford as a club member.

Organized amature baseball still exists in the New Bedford area in the form of American Legion ball and adult leagues with players trying to extend their playing days or relive their glory days (and even non glory days). The Southeastern Massachusetts Baseball Association existed about 10 years ago based in New Bedford and included teams such as the Fairhaven Lumber Red Sox, Mattapoisett Marlins and Fall River Indians. That league folded and was eventually replaced by the Southcoast Baseball League which is currently operating. Fall River has the Fall River Independent Baseball League (formally the Southeastern Massachusetts Baseball League) and the Cape has the Baseball Clubs of Cape Cod for its has been but still- wants-to-play competitive ball players.

As far as competitive spectator sports entertainment, there maybe other alternatives such as the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

Invite the NECBL here to play a game or two and see what sort of interest is out there for this league. Although it is not as well known as the Cape league, it is quality baseball. Just remember to remind people of the long history of baseball in New Bedford and on the south coast. Baseball loves its traditions and history and so does the south coast. Baseball is part of south coast’s history and it is a tradition that needs to be revived.

 

Hingham Historical Society Baseball

Mike \'King\' Kelly, ca. 1891

Here is an event I thought I would pass on. It is not too local, just about an hour away. Maybe there is a local historical society that would like to make vintage base ball part of their program. Read on…

 

Lace up your sneakers!!  It’s time for Vintage Baseball with the Hingham Historical Society.

 

Come  to the opening bash of the Hingham Vintage Baseball season at the home of Mike “King” Kelly, Hingham’s 1880’s Hall of Famer at 507 Main Street, Saturday, May 31, 2008  6:00 to 10:00 P.M.  Who was King Kelly? At the height of his career in the 1880s, hitter and base-stealer extraordinaire Mike “King” Kelly was hired by the Boston Bean Eaters for the unheard of sum of $10,000. Kelly was then presented Kelly with a home on Main Street in Hingham, followed later that year by a carriage and two horses. To the bitter disappointment of Boston and Hingham fans, Kelly only stayed for a year before he left town to join the Cincinnati Reds. Even so, it was long enough for Kelly to make a colorful impression locally. He was known to promenade through town accompanied by his valet and a little pet monkey on his shoulder.

 

Historical Society members, and current owners of the “King” Kelly House, Moira and Cameron Congdon, will host this grand event. Originally built in the 1850s, the Kelly house contains many of the original fine details of its fine Neo-classical construction, in addition to Victorian-style furnishings that evoke “King” Kelly’s world. And no doubt keeping with the spirit of “King” Kelly, Moira confirms that the house “is a perfect place to have a party.”

 

And a party it will be. Revelers will enjoy live music, beer, barbecue, and a chance to meet sports writer and King Kelly biographer, Marty Appel, who will be on hand to sign copies of his book Slide, Kelly, Slide. Other attractions include raffles of sought-after prizes, including, Red Sox tickets, fresh lobsters, baseball artwork, hand-made bats and more.  “King” Kelly himself will be on hand to give baseball tips to the Historical Society’s vintage players, the Coopers and the Derbys. Tickets are $35 each, $40 the day of the event. Tickets will be sold at the Hingham Historical Society office at 30 North street, 11-3pm Tuesdays – Saturdays, Dot Gallery, 112 North Street, Mondays through Saturdays, Henneseys (aka Hingham Liquors) 118 North Street, and The Sub Galley, 39 Station Street. Check the Hingham Historical Society website for other sale locations, www.hinghamhistorical.org.

 

Mike “King” Kelly, one of 19th century Hingham’s most colorful residents, was known as the “king” of baseball at the height of his career in the 1880s and 1890s. He was a superstar of the Victorian era:  his picture was seen on billboards, cigarette packs, posters, and baseball cards across America. At his acquisition by the Boston Beaneaters in 1887, he was given a house on Main Street.

 

 Although the press release does not mention it, there will be vintage base ball representatives there from the Boston Beaneaters. There may be a vintage game as well.

New Bedford High School Baseball, 150 Years Ago

Not only is this year the 150th anniversary of the first known baseball team in New Bedford (predating the Wamsutta Club’s claim by 8 years), it is also an anniversary year for the New Bedford high school team. In 1858 the New Bedford High School fielded a team making them the first high school or secondary school in the country to do so.

To verify this I have been searching for published works about the history of high school baseball but I haven’t had much luck. The only references to early high school baseball teams that I have found have been in the Illinois High School Association’s website which states “Worcester High School in Massachusetts has been traditionally recognized as the first secondary institution to form a team that competed against teams outside of the school.” It notes that their first game was against a club called the Eaglets which Worcester beat on October 12, 1859. Harold Seymour’s brilliant work Baseball: The People’s Game also notes Worcester High School as having the first high school baseball club. My source of New Bedford superseding the Worcester club comes from one line in the October 18, 1858 New Bedford Evening Standard:

The Old Hickory Base Ball Club have challenged the High School Base Ball Club to play the Massachusetts game.

The Massachusetts game was a competing form of baseball in Massachusetts with the New York game. It is important to note that the Massachusetts game is considered to be baseball and not a different bat and ball game such as rounders. Some differences in the games were:

   Massachusetts Game                                              New York Game

First club to score 100 wins                                   Club ahead after 9 innings wins

Square shaped field, bases at 4 corners            Diamond shaped field

Pitcher threw overhand                                         Pitcher pitched underhand

Fielder can strike runner with ball for out       Fielder must tag runner or base

Ball must be caught in air for an out                  Ball can be caught on a bound

A look back New Bedford’s history of public education in the early 1800s shows hostility to funding public schools even though state law required localities to fund public education. Instead of public education for all of its citizens, New Bedford voted to fund their public school “to school the poor children in this town”. Presumably the rich hired private tutors or sent their children off to private schools. In 1827 a state law went in to effect requiring all towns in the Commonwealth with at least 500 families to open a high school. But in 1829 the town voted to close its high school. They were able to do this because the law was changed to give the towns the option to operate a high school. Although children under six years old could still attend the public school, the high school remained closed until 1837 when it reopened on a permanent basis. By 1858 the high school was operating as a four year course of study, preparing students admitted at age 12, for college.

Although sports teams may not have become the norm for high schools and colleges until later in the 19th century it is safe to say that school aged kids were playing ball in New Bedford in the first half of the century. An 1822 bylaw levied a fine to anyone who would “play at ball, fly a kite or run down hill upon a sled… in any street of that part of the town commonly called the Village of New-Bedford”. Thomas Rodman wrote about being “initiated into the mysteries of Foot-ball, Base and every game boys pursue” when he was a student at Friends Academy in the mid-1830s. When it became fashionable to form social clubs based on sports in the mid 1800s, young adults formed their own clubs as well.

But let’s get back to the high school club. The New Bedford game appears not to have taken place until the following month when the New Bedford Republican Standard reported that the High School club beat Charles Clifford’s Old Hickory club 100-73:

The New Bedford Republican Standard

November 18, 1858

Base Ball. – The match game we noticed a few days ago, took place on Saturday afternoon between the High School and Old Hickory Clubs. After playing about two hours and a half, the High School boys, the challenged party, were declared the victors, having scored 100. The Old Hickory Club scored 73. During the first half of the game the latter Club took the lead. Considerable interest was manifested by a large number of spectators. At the close the vanquished gave three cheers and the victors responded.

Those appear to be the only references to high school baseball in the 1858 New Bedford newspapers.  It is not clear if this club was sanctioned by the high school as an extracurricular activity or if it was made up of high school students calling themselves the High School Base Ball Club. Harold Seymour notes that the Worcester club in 1859 was formed by students on their own. School officials at first protested calling the club a high school club before warming up to the idea of a high school baseball club and supporting it. If New Bedford high school officials had issues with the High School Base Ball Club it wasn’t reported on in the papers. It is hard to judge how long the 1858 edition of the high school team lasted. There were just a few mentions of baseball in the 1859 and 1860 New Bedford papers but nothing on the high school club. In fact there is no mention of baseball in the newspapers again until 1866. In that year, in addition to the Wamsutta and other clubs, the Howland Grammar School Association formed the Acushnet Base Ball Club. This association was formed by a Middle Street Grammar School student for the “prevention of profanity and vulgarity”.

High school baseball appears again in the New Bedford papers in 1867 when the High School club beat Friend’s Academy 33-17, presumably playing the New York rules which the Ironsides Base Ball Club may have first introduced to New Bedford in 1858.

Here is to another 150 years of baseball in New Bedford and throughout the south coast of Massachusetts (and maybe high schools will go back to wood bats).