Oscar Tinkham

Mattapoisett ball club circa 1903

Mattapoisett Ball Club, circa 1903. Oscar Tinkham far left.

By the mid-1890s many towns along the south coast had local teams as well as professional baseball when New Bedford fielded a team in the New England League. Town teams thrived in the early 1900s and could often be the source of local entertainment for those who couldn’t make it to New Bedford to see future major league players pass through such as Napoleon Lajoie, Rabbit Maranville, Christy Matthewson and Archibald “Moonlight” Graham.

There were also local players that were well known. Once such player was Oscar Tinkham of Mattapoisett. Tinkham, a farmer by trade, was born in 1875 and most likely began playing ball at an early age. Not much is known about his early days playing baseball but by 1903 he was an established pitcher setting local records. Playing in the Buzzards Bay League for Mattapoisett he struck out 47 batters over three consecutive games.

Because Tinkham mostly played for local town teams and semi-professional leagues not many records of his playing career have survived. Most of what is know about him comes from scattered news clippings giving accounts of his performances.

On opening day in 1906, 700 people came out to watch him pitch at the Church Street Grounds in Fairhaven. Pitching for Fairhaven he struck out eight and allowed one run against his hometown team from Mattapoisett.

Many teams sought his services and it seems he played for several different teams including Mattapoisett, Fairhaven, Carver, and Taunton. In 1907, Fairhaven couldn’t come to terms with him and Middleboro made him an offer.

In addition to playing on local teams, Tinkham was sought out by at least one professional ball clubs. Tinkham pitched in at least a couple of games for the minor league New Bedford Whalers of the New England League in 1906.

The first game he pitched in was on August 24 with Tinkham facing the last place Lowell Tigers. One newspaper referring to him as “the farmer twirler”, noted he was “naturally nervous” at the outset of the game suggesting that this may have been his first professional game. However, Tinkham settled down pitching a complete game scattering eight hits and two runs while striking out eight batters and showed “coolness with men on bases.” New Bedford won 6-2 in a game that lasted an hour and forty minutes.

Tinkham pitched again on August 28 in the second game of a double header against the first place and eventual league champions, the Worcester Busters. He didn’t last long in that game pitching only two innings giving up one hit, walking two, allowing two run and committed one of New Bedford’s 3 errors that game. It isn’t clear why he was pulled after the second inning. His relief, a pitcher named Droham, was hit hard giving up nine hits and seven runs over seven innings. Needless to say New Bedford lost 9-3.

Oscar Tinkham, 1906

Oscar Tinkham, 1906

It isn’t known why he pitched in those games. It could have been because Tinkham was a well known local player that had set strikeout records and New Bedford, stuck in fourth place in an eight team league at the time, was looking to boost their pitching staff to become more of a contender.

It was noted that there were “worse pitchers” in the New England League than Tinkham “drawing good salaries”.  But it isn’t clear if Tinkham pursued a professional career or if he even tried. He may have felt he needed to stay close to home. Just a week before his win against Lowell, Tinkham married Amy Queripel in Acushnet. The couple would have a daughter born the following March. Knowing a little one was on the way, he now had a family to provide for. With road travel and the possibility of being traded to another team or league in a city further away he may have felt an obligation to stay close now that he had a family. In addition to having a daughter he would later have two sons. Also, one news report said that Tinkham “would rather play ball than eat” but it seemed that farming was more steady work than ball playing. While playing ball wasn’t always guaranteed, Tinkam could always find work farming.

At some point as Tinkham became older he retired as a ball player and by 1923 he was living in New Bedford as a fruit dealer. Around 1923 or 1924 Tinkham was seriously ill with tuberculosis and was sent to the Bristol County Hospital in Attleboro. On the night of October 12, 1925 at 8:30 PM tuberculosis took his life. He was 50 years old.

Letter From Fort Monroe

Fortress Monroe, Old Point Comfort, & Hygeia Hotel, Va. in 1861 & 1862, Library of Congress

I found this letter below published on May 5, 1861 in the Boston Daily Advertiser. As it notes, it was originally published in the New Bedford Standard. Unfortunately, the author of the letter as well as the recipient was not published. The letter writer describes passing time at the fort and in the last paragraph he talks about the playing of baseball. It is clear that he is familiar with the game, most likely having played himself or had seen the Ironsides or one of the many other clubs playing in New Bedford before the war.

[Correspondence of the New Bedford Standard.]

Fort Monroe, Tuesday Eve., April 30. [1861]

Friend N–  : I am now resting from the labors of the day smoking my pipe, and having an opportunity to directly mail a letter, I address to you. Today I have been very busy in taking account of Massachusetts stores sent to our Regiment from Philadelphia, and I have just now finished making out the invoices and receipts for the stores. Everything is kept by double entry here, inasmuch as we have to make two invoices and tow receipts for every item that passes through our hands. It stands me in hand to do it correctly for am personally responsible for everything I handle.

Not much is going on here since Sunday, except Sunday night, when an alarm was given from the “Cumberland,” and the Regulars were aroused and stationed at the guns. The Volunteers were not called up. Last evening, about 10 o’clock, a brass field piece, stationed at the gate, was discharged, which was a signal for every one to be at his post. A grand rush was made. The Guards were the first company in line – beating the Regulars. At an alarm like this, our Regiment take a position to command the north gate of the fort, while the Fourth Regiment are stationed at the south gate, and the regulars man the guns on the parapet. The excitement was high for a few moments, but soon subsided, and the men returned to quarters. Every man jumped to his equipments and gun, and there were no laggards I assure you. It was a good liking to try the spirit of the men, and it afforded additional proof of the desire to stand by the glorious Stars and Stripes. I almost forgot to say that the alarm was caused by the appearance in the offing of a large steamer, which acted rater queer for a while and then sailed away.

The men are employed in rather queer business sometimes, when not on guard, for instance this afternoon while I was on the wharf with my gang of men, George Sears came down driving a donkey cart, carting ammunition, and fresh beef. T. C. Allen, jr., was employed the same way, while A. Upjohn was bore teamer. Sometimes they roll beef and port, and then you will see them attached under some shade tree, devouring an Evening Standard two weeks old, or washing their clothes and drying them in the sun, of which we have a plenty, and we are all turning as black as Creoles. Mornings a portion of the Braintree company, Fourth Regiment, may be seen playing base ball, and a mighty smart game they play, it would do you good to see them. The band here is some – 25 members with any quantity of drummers. Every morning they come out at the parade of the guard for the day. This morning they made the air ring with the well known notes of Dixie.

Fort Monroe is located in Hampton Virginia and during the Civil War was still controlled by the Union despite Virginia’s succession from the U.S. I believe I have been able to identify the men he describes carting the ammunition and fresh beef. They were all enlisted in Company L, Massachusetts 3rd Infantry Regiment.

On April 13, 1861, two days after the battle at Fort Sumtner, the 3rd regiment was summoned to Boston. The regiment left Boston on April 18 and arrived at Fort Monroe on the 20th. The regiment returned to Boston on July 19. Company L may not have joined the regiment until after April 23 as that is the date the three men noted in the account above enlisted in the company.

George Sears was listed as being employed as a clerk at the time of his enlistment and a druggist in the 1860 federal census. He reenlisted in Company E of the 3rd Regiment in September of 1862. He was married to a woman named Caroline and had a daughter about three years old named Carrie at the time of his enlistment with Company L.

T. C. Allen, Jr. was most likely Thomas C. Allen, Jr. employed as a merchant/trader. He was living at home at the time of his enlistment. He mustered out on July 22, 1861. I’m not sure what his fate is after that. I did find a Thomas Allen about the same age that died of Brights disease in 1880.

A. Upjohn may have been Aaron Upjohn, Jr. He was a clerk with Buckminster & Macy, a dry goods business on Pleasant Street. Upjohn reenlisted in the navy twice after his time with Company L. Mr. Upjohn has a baseball connection as well. He played on the Bristol County Base Ball Club in 1858 and played right field as a member of the Wamsutta Base Ball Club in 1866.

The Standard Ball Player

On a recent cloudy day I wandered in to one of the amazing antique malls in New Bedford.  Looking for nothing in particular I stumbled across this:

My first thought was that it was baseball related. “Ball player” usually means a baseball player. Right?  But why would it be on a sign? The tag on the sign said it was a 19th century sign. Perhaps the phrase stood for something else. Was it the name of a store that player pianos in New Bedford?

The sign is in very good shape. It is clearly hand painted and the pencil lines can still be seen that the artist used to stencil in the lettering evenly.

My gut (or my hope) told me that it is a baseball related sign. So I snapped the pic and headed home to do a little research. My gut was right. While I wasn’t able to find out a whole lot I did discover that the Standard Ball Player referred to a 6’ x 10’ mechanical scoreboard that hung on the side of a building just before to World War I. These were in the days before baseball fans could follow a game on the radio (and obviously television). But this wasn’t just a scoreboard. The board displayed a layout of a ball field. It was an actual recreation of a game in which an operator would receive the latest action of a game via ticker tape and then used a magnet to move a small iron ball from the pitcher’s mound to a bat at home plate. The operator would then move the ball to the area of the field where the ball was hit. This happened for each pitch of the game, including balls and strikes. The operation of this scoreboard was usually reserved for the World Series. The blog, Old Picture of the Day features one of these scoreboards in use in Washington D.C during the 1917 World Series:

The inventor of this contraption was William Ashley, an electrician for the New Bedford Standard newspaper. The board was first used for the 1915 World Series between the Red Sox and Phillies. The sign hung on Market Street on the Standard building. Mr. Ashley went on to produce other boards for football and horse racing and in 1917 he incorporated the Standard Ball Player Corporation.

Now the sign for Mr. Ashley’s business of his unique scoreboards sits in a local antique mall. While the sign is not as old as the price tag indicates it certainly is a fascinating piece of local history. And for $400 you can own it.

Near tragedy in Mattapoisett, 1875

Research has been rather slow lately.  I have been thinking about the possibility of expanding the scope of this blog to include writings about baseball history in general. I have many research findings set aside for possible future projects. It is taking over what little storage I have at home. Perhaps a new blog would be in order.  One that I have enough material to update on a regular basis. Perhaps.

In the meantime, I have discovered this disastrous account of a baseball accident reported in the Lowell Daily Citizen on June 21, 1875:

In 1875, baseball was played with very little protective gear. Fielder’s gloves did not come in to use until a decade later and head protection was certainly unheard of. Most ball fields were open fields and probably did not have much in the way of fencing surrounding the playing field that would have protected fans from foul balls and in this case, the occasional run away bat.

I have been unable to locate a follow up story reporting the fate of young Willis Burbank. I did a little research to see what I could find about him. He was born about 1862  to Joseph and Sarah (Price) Burbank. Joseph was a ship carpenter and most likely employed by one of the ship yards in Mattapoisett.

Willis had three siblings; George, Mary and William. William died on December 31, 1850 of neurosyphilis at the age of 5. George was born about 1854. Records for him are scarce but it appears he died sometime before 1870.

Mary seems to have escaped the dangers of childhood. In 1878 she would marry William Branch Nelson of Mattapoisett.  I wasn’t able to locate Mary’s fate but her husband died of septicemia in 1893. By 1900 she was living with her 13 year old daughter, Sarah. In November of 1912, Sarah married George Hiller in Mattapoisett. They would go on to have five children, Nelson, Mary, Richard and Emerson. I’ll stop here with the genealogy on Mary (genealogy is an addiction for me). Let’s get back to to injured Willis.

Evidently Willis’ injury was not as bad as his physician feared. While I wasn’t able to identify any additional details about his injury I found that by 1880 he was working as a sailor out of Mattapoisett. He gave up a career on the seas, married Cora Haskell in 1898, and pursued a retail career in woolen goods and umbrellas. Willis and Cora do not appear to have had children. Wills lived well beyond what his doctor feared on that near tragic day in 1875. While I have not been able to determine Willis’ fate, I found that by 1930 he was living in Roxbury with his wife and a nurse while still actively engaged in business.

Speaking of Rabbit…

The Whaling Museum is opening up a new exhibit in July. The photo exhibit, “Standard Times Collection, 1895-1925″,  is from a collection of dry-plate glass negatives which were used by photographers of the paper’s forerunner, the New Bedford Standard.

The Whaling Museum is asking for votes on your favorite images (read their blog for more details) at the their Flickr page. There are 44 images displayed of which they are looking to use around 30. Among those images happens to be one of Rabbit Maranville (pictured above)! Choosing to cut any one of these fantastic images is going to be a very difficult decision. But if you vote for any of them be sure to include Rabbit Maranville.

Rabbit

The South Coast has had its share of well known ball players grace its soil over the years from Moonlight Graham to Mo Vaughn. There also have been the occasional Hall of Famer to pass through these parts.

Walter “Rabbit” Maranville was one of those players. His major league career began in 1912 and lasted 23 seasons in which he batted .258 with 28 home runs. Okay, so he played about half of his career during the dead ball era. Still not exactly Hall of Fame numbers. His highest average was .295 in 1922 for Pittsburgh.

His Hall of Fame selection in 1954 was the result of his glove work. Primarily a short stop, his fielding average was .956. He committed 711 errors in 15,380 chances. Which I believe comes out to only about a 5% chance that he would make an error when the ball has hit to him.

Maranville spent the 1911 and 1912 seasons with the New Bedford Whalers of the New England League. He was hitting .283 when the Boston Braves purchased his contract for $1,000 sending him on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Incidentally, it was while he was in New Beford that he acquired his nickname “Rabbit”. As he tells the story that he was having dinner with a local family. One of the daughters, Margaret Harrington, asked if he could get tickets for her and her younger sister so that they could see him play. He obliged by leaving the tickets at the ball park for them. After the game he returned to the Harrington house for dinner and was greeted by Margaret who apparently saw him play:

‘Hello Rabbit.’

‘Where do you get that Rabbit stuff?’ Maranville responded.

‘My little seven-year-old sister (Skeeter) named you that because you hop and bound around like one.'”

However, it has been suggested that he had other features that gave him the nickname:

For an interesting story related to Rabbit and the 1914 Boston Braves caps pictured below, check out the Baseball Reasearch blog.

For more information about Rabbit Maranville check out his bio on the SABR Baseball Biography Project and check out his stats at on Base Ball Reference and the Baseball Almanac. You can also read about him in the book Run, Rabbit Run: The Hilarious and Mostly True Tales of Rabbit Maranville by Harold Seymour. Get it at your local library!

Photographs – New Bedford Post One

I haven’t had much time to hit the research trails the past several months so I thought I would share some photographs I have collected over the years in hopes of finding more information about them.

The two below are images of New Bedford Post 1 American Legion baseball team. I am guessing the photographs were taken circa 1950.

Cursory searches online did not identify much about the history of New Bedford Post 1. The American Legion baseball program was founded in 1925 in South Dakota. In 1926, the first season began with teams in 15 states taking the field. It isn’t clear how many teams there were in that inaugural season or which states fielded teams according to the American Legion website. But it does indicate that currently there are over 5,400 teams covering all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Among the many alumni of American Legion ball are Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.

Any suggestions as to the identification of the individuals in the photos or the year they were taken?