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).

 

Ironsides play ball! Ironsides on YouTube!

Due to a last minute cancellation by the Cornish Game Hens of Providence, the Ironsides Base Ball Club was asked to fill in for a match game against the Bristol Blues in picturesque South Dartmouth on Saturday. Unfortunately for many members of the Ironsides BBC the announcement to join the game was too short of a notice to attend the games. However, representing the Ironsides along with me were Judy Wallace and Dave Gries along with newcomers Rick Crosby and Steve Rezendes.

Game one started at approximately 1:00 and was played in the style played in the year 1886. Seven balls was all that was needed for a batter to receive a free pass to first base and a hit batters only reward was to stand at home plate and take another shot at hitting. Only one batter was hit during the game (and lived to tell about it) and no one received a free pass via a called 7th ball. Batters were able to call for the pitcher to throw a high or low pitch. On the field the players, with the exception of the catcher, played with out the aid of a gloved hand.

The Ironsides were split up for the first game with the members of the club playing on opposing sides. Steve Rezendes played short stop on a team consisting of three players from the Game Hens, employees from Concordia Company and a Bristol Blue or two. Rick Crosby and I played on the team that was made up mostly of the Bristol Blues. Rick played left field and I had the misfortune of being stuck in right field were I saw no action.

A close seven inning game was played with the scored was tied at 1-1 going in to the 7th. The Bristol Blues scored a run in the 7th to pull off a 2-1 victory.

The second game was started after a lengthy break due to good food, drink and magic bars. The rules of 1861 were played for the second game. Again, the Ironsides were split up for the game. Rick and I played with the Game Hens and some Blues. Rick was stationed at third and I was at second. Judy and Dave played in the second game at left field and second base respectively.

Steve had to leave after the first game and I had to leave during the progress of the second game. The report is that the club with the majority of Blues lost the match in 8 innings of play by a score of 8-4. Everyone played well and the addition of Steve and Rick is a hopeful sign that the Ironsides can come together with a full squad to play on a regular basis for next season.

A record of hits and runs made by the players was not kept for the game. The innings and score was kept by the Bristol Blues’ faithful umpire. The games greatly contributed to the moral improvement of the Ironsides who have had to find other forms of entertainment to keep them occupied while not playing.

Thanks to Stuart MacGregor and John Simmons for inviting us out and a thanks to Concordia for providing the play ground and refreshments.

Ironsides ballist Judy Wallace reported a video is circulating on YouTube. It is a short (2 minute) video of the Mattapoisett 150th game with the Bristol Blues and Essex Base Ball Club. The video says the game was a circa 1855 game. It was actually 1861 rules we played. And the Bristol Breakers is actually the Blues misidentified. Check it out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9WfolZYpgU  (Click on the link. The embedded video does not work).

Early Days of Baseball in New Bedford, ca. 1858

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball in New Bedford seems to have a longer past than once believed. According to a May 2006 Standard Times article, the Wamsutta Base Ball Club was the first baseball club in the city in 1866. The source of that information may have come from the obituary of Charles W. Clifford which appeared in the September 13, 1923 New Bedford Evening Standard:

The part that recreation plays in wholesome physical and mental life apparently always appealed to him; for in 1865 he introduced the new New York game of baseball into this city… He was a Harvard student when he saw and became enthusiastic over the “New Yorkgame” of baseball. In the summer and fall of 1865, he took the initiative in playing ball according to the new rules, forming a team and playing scrub games; and the following winter the Wamsutta Baseball Club was organized, with Charles W. Clifford at third base.

By 1865-1866 the New York game was not new. The New York rules were standardized in 1857 by sixteen New York baseball clubs when they formed the National Association of Base Ball Players. The New York game is the direct ancestor of modern baseball. In 1858 several clubs in Massachusetts formed the Massachusetts Association of Base Ball Players and standardized the Massachusetts game rules. The rules included 10-14 players per side on a field that was square shaped, “soaking” or throwing the ball at the runner to record an out and a 100 run requirement to win the ball game. The batter, or striker as he was known stood half way between the first and fourth base. Bases were 4-foot wooden stakes set 60 feet apart. The pitcher was known as the thrower and threw to the striker overhand at a distance of 35 feet away.

It may seem that Mr. Clifford introduced the New York game to New Bedford in 1866 due to a lack of baseball activity during the Civil War. However, the New York game was in existence in New England by 1857. On June 16thof that year the Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club was formed in Boston and there is a possibility that the Aurora Base Ball Club was playing the New York game in Providence in the spring of 1857.In 1858 the New York game had spread to New Bedford. The New Bedford Evening Standard first made a specific mention of the New York game on September 13:

Yet Another. – A number of seamen, now in port, have formed a Club entitled the “Sons of the Ocean Base Ball Club.” They play on the City common, on Thursdays, and we are requested to state that the members challenge any of the other clubs in the city to a trial either of the New York or Massachusetts game. The officers of the Club are Albert Brown, President, D. Davids, Vice President, Harvey Hudson, Secretary, S.M. Thompson, Treasurer.

The Evening Standard mentions six baseball clubs in existence in the city during the 1858 season. The Ironsides Base Ball Club may have been the first in the city to play by the New York rules. The Ironsides formed on August 10. However, it was not until October 18 that the Evening Standard noted while reporting on a game between the Ironsides and the Bristol County Base Ball Club that the Ironsides was a New York rules club:

The game played was that known as the “Massachusetts,” which is the one usually played by the Bristol County Club, while the Ironsides play the one known as the “New York,” which differs from the Massachusetts game in several particulars. These Clubs will probably play the New York game at their next trial, which may take place on Friday next.

The Ironsides soon issued a challenge to the Bristol County Club to play a game on Thanksgiving Day by the New York rules. The Bristol County Club declined to play the Ironsides by the New York rules saying that to do so would be unpatriotic:

We would say that having, as a Club, chosen the Massachusetts game as the proper one to be played on Massachusetts soil, we deem it inconsistent in a Match Game to play any other than the one governed by the rules and regulations adopted by the duly organized association of Base Ball players, established in Dedham, May 13th, 1858… we are prepared to accept any Challenge from the Ironsides Club which may be presented between now and the Thank giving of 1858, to play a Match Game of Base Ball, in accordance with the fashion of the Old Bay State.

Several of the clubs in New Bedford including the Ironsides, Sons of the Ocean and the Union Base Ball Club were reported to be New York Clubs or at least willing to play the New York game. But by the time of the Ironsides/Bristol County match the other clubs may have switched to the Massachusetts game. The Bristol County Club went on to suggest in their reply to the Ironsides that the New York game was not a popular game to be played in New Bedford:

Fearing however that the public may draw a wrong inference from the reading of the Challenge as it appeared in your columns, and suppose that the arrangements were in through perfected for a trial of skill, permit on to state that nay manner of playing which has been adopted has met the approval of but one Club, and that the one which sends the Challenge, seeming to us rather unusual proceedings, considering us as the challenged party.

I haven’t found any evidence to suggest that the New York game was played between two different clubs in New Bedford during the 1858 season. I have found that the Ironsides played an inter-club match of what appears to have been the New York game. Some members of the BristolCounty club played in this game as reported by the Daily Mercury on October 25:

Base Ball – The Ironsides Club met on the Common on Friday afternoon, and engaged in one of the most exciting games of the season. Andrew Hayes, jr. and James D. Allen were appointed leaders. The two sides were equally divided. A few members of the Bristol County Club joined in the game, which resulted in Hayes’ side scoring 33 runs, and Allen’s 29. Two of the players had their fingers dislocated by the ball striking them. – The challenge that the Ironsides Club sent the Bristol County Club has been declined.

The New York game was in New Bedford seven years before Charles Clifford returned from Harvard and began playing the game in his home town. According to the H Book of Harvard Athletics, 1852-1922 the New York game was brought to Harvard from incoming students that had attended PhillipsExeterAcademy in New Hampshire. In December of 1862 they formed the ’66 Base Ball Club. A club known as the “Cricket and Base Ball Club” had been formed by the class of 1864 in 1860 but it did not last long. Before Clifford left Harvard he most likely would have been exposed to ball playing at Harvard. He notes that he was the secretary of the Harvard Cricket Club but he makes no mention of being affiliated with the baseball club. It is interesting to note that Clifford does not appear to have taken part in baseball while a student at Harvard. He may have been aware of baseball activity while a student and may have even learned the New York rules while attending Harvard but it is most likely that he became aware of the New York game and may have even seen in played in New Bedford before leaving to study in Cambridge. It is not surprising that Clifford wanted to organize a baseball club in New Bedford after returning from Harvard in 1865. Baseball after the Civil War saw a growth in popularity in the New York version of the game as it spread around the country. It is likely Clifford was swept up in this baseball fever. After all he had been president of a New Bedford baseball club in 1858 as reported by the Evening Standard in September of that year:

“Old Hickory.” – A correspondent informs us that the name of the Bay State Base Ball Club has been changed to Old Hickory Base Ball Club. The members are all young men under 18 years of age… The President of the club is Charles Clifford, son of Hon. J.H. Clifford. They meet for practice for the first time to-morrow morning at 5 o’clock, on the corner of Hawthorn and Cottage streets.

At a latter date the Evening Standard noted that the Old Hickory Club played the Massachusetts game. The Ironsides were still playing in 1859 although it is not clear if they were still playing the New York game. Not much is known about why the Massachusetts game died out in favor of the New York game. In New Bedford, baseball playing seemed to have come to a stop during the Civil War. A search of the Evening Standard did not note any ball playing during the war years and very few references to ball playing in 1859 and 1860.By 1866 baseball was back in business in New Bedford. On July 4 the Wamsutta Club played a game of baseball matching the club’s married men against its single men. A couple of weeks later the New Bedford Republican Standard noted:

The organization of the Wamsutta Base Ball Club seems to have remarkably aroused the spirit of ball playing in the city and three more clubs are now under way.

Soon baseball clubs spread throughout the city with names like the North Star Club, the New England Club, the Young America Club, the Massasoit Base Ball Club and the O.K. Base Ball Club.

Baseball would continue to grow in New Bedford thanks to the re-introduction of the game by the Wamsutta Base Ball Club. The city would host professional franchises in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Wamsutta Club still exist today strictly as a social club. The club has recently opened a baseball themed club known as the 1866 Rounders Club. A recent Standard Times article notes that the Wamsutta Club formed the club as a way to generate more interest in the Wamsutta Club by focusing on its rich baseball history. It is odd that the club is named after an entirely different bat and ball game known as rounders. A one time hypothesis considered that baseball evolved from the English game of rounders which no doubt the Wamsutta Club is referring to. David Block explains the baseball from rounders myth in his book Baseball Before We Knew It.

Clearly baseball in New Bedford existed before the founding of the Wamsutta Club in 1866. It is not clear how the New York game came to be in New Bedford. Since the city had a major whaling port, it is possible that the game entered in to the city before 1858. The willingness of the Sons of the Ocean Base Ball Club to play the New York game suggests that one possibility is seamen could have learned the game while in New York or near by ports and brought the game to New Bedford.