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.

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.

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?

Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary

Dickson Baseball Dictionary 3rd Ed.

New Bedford will make an appearance in the next edition of the Dickson Baseball Dictionary and be noted with a first. The Dictionary is an amazing piece of work that any baseball fan would love. It contains over 7,000 entries of baseball definitions along with cross references, illustrations, etymology, notes and first usages.

The first that New Bedford is associated with is the earliest known print use of the phrases “New York Game” and “Massachusetts Game”.

On September 2 the New Bedford Republican Standard noted:

The Base Ball Club recently formed in this city, is progressing finely. Its members met on the City Common at 5 o’clock Monday morning, and had a very spirited game. They have assigned Monday and Wednesday mornings, at the hour mentioned, and Friday afternoons at half-past 4 o’clock, as the time for practice. The manner of playing is the New York mode, and not the one usually adopted in Massachusetts.

Then on September 13 the New Bedford Evening Standard reported:

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.

I was surprised to learn that I had discovered the first known use of the phrases. I’m sure the phrases were not invented in New Bedford. But where did New Bedford hear of them? Where and when were they first used? The early usage of the phrases may help explain how the New York game spread.

For the record, according to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the previous noted first usage of the phrases was in the 1859 publication of the Base Ball Player’s Pocket Companion which was published in Boston.

Incidentally, New Bedford is mentioned in the current (3rd) edition of Dickson’s. Under the entry for “season” on pages 753-754 the November 26, 1858 Evening Standard is quoted as an example.

For all of you that are eager to get a look at this volume it looks like only one library in the area will be getting a copy of it. According to the library catalog the New Bedford Free Public Library has a copy on order.

Less Than Nine

Fig 7: Eight boys with a ball ... Digital ID: 56145. New York Public Library

According to many baseball historians baseball didn’t always have nine players on a team. Depending on which version of baseball you are talking about it sometimes had as many as 20 or 30 participants per team. The version you know today may have been played with 8-11 players at one time. The codified rules of 1857 was the first time the rules mandated nine players per team. A team was often referred to as a “club nine”. In the 1870s there was talk of adding an extra shortstop putting 10 players on the playing field. The 10th player was experimented with, but never caught on.

Modern day vintage base ball teams often find themselves short of players at the last minute. I have played in a couple of games in which we were short a player for each team, limiting us to 8 players each. We managed to get by with the batting team supplying the catcher. Modern vintage players are an honest and trusting bunch.

It appears that 19th baseball teams sometimes had problems fielding a full nine for games. In 1869 the Red Rover Base Ball Club of Fairhaven played the Union Base Ball Club also of Fairhaven. The Red Rover, using only eight players, beat the Union club by a score of 35 to 28. The box score for the game suggests that the Red Rover club went without a left fielder.  They most likely shifted their fielders around when necessary.

Probably one of the more unique games with less than nine involved the Riverside Base Ball Club of Acushnet and an “unattached nine” of New Bedford.  Both clubs took the field with only seven players. The unattached went without a right and left fielder while the Riverside club went with out a shortstop and center fielder.

It would seem that the Riverside club made the better choice in using two outfielders instead of one. But the unattached players beat them 45-22 in 5 innings. Unfortunately, the newspaper at the time didn’t give any information about how the game was played with so few players other than the box score and line score:

Runs in each Inning.

Riverside,                  0          0          8          10        4

Unattached,               9          14        12        3          7

A couple of weeks before this game the same two teams played. It is not noted in the papers of the time if both teams had all nine players for the game but these unattached fellows beat the Riverside club in that game 70-34. Not bad for “9” guys without a team.

Muffin Baseball

Six cards in color, from Ropes... Digital ID: 56337. New York Public Library

A ‘muffin’ is a term that was applied to a new or inexperience ball player in the early 1860s. In the collections of the
Umass Dartmouth Archives and Special Collections is a booklet containing humorous illustrations of the type of play you may expect to see of a mid-19th century muffin. The booklet, Base Ball as Viewed By a Muffin, was published in 1867 and illustrated by Savillion Van Campen. Van Campen was the president of the Ironsides Base Ball Club based in New Bedford in 1858. At the time of publication he was secretary and a member of the Wamsutta Base Ball Clubs first nine. The previous year he had been a member of the Wamsutta Club’s muffin nine. For a guy who had been playing the New York game since at least 1858, it is not clear why he was on the muffin nine. Perhaps it was just for fun.

By the late 1860s muffin baseball had become popular in response to the professionalism of baseball. According to Peter Morris’ book, But Didn’t We Have Fun? muffin baseball spread rapidly during the late 1860s showing that baseball was meant to be played for fun. Rules were not taken seriously and in some cases old rules were reverted to such as the bound rule in which a player could be put out when his batted ball was caught on one bounce as opposed to catching it on the fly. In fact some muffin games forbid players from catching fly balls. They could only be caught on the bound. Muffin games often matched up teams based on appearance or marital status such as in games of fat vs. skinny players or married vs. single players. Other muffin games didn’t limit the number of players on the field. More than nine players could be on a side with two or more fielding one position.

On July 4, 1866 the Wamsutta Base Ball Club played in once such muffin game in which the club’s single men defeated the club’s married men 56-46. Shortstop and each of the outfield positions were manned by two players each and the box score listed a position called the Catcher’s Stop in addition to the catcher. This was most likely a second catcher or a back up to the catcher.

Moonlight Graham

archibald_graham

You may remember the film Field of Dreams and the mysterious scene at Fenway Park where Ray Kinsella hears a voice say “Go the distance” while the life time stats of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham of Minnesota is flashed on the score board. One game in 1922;  no at bats.

Well, that is not entirely true. The part about hearing voices at Fenway is most likely true. We have all experienced that, right? The untrue part is Moonlight playing one game in 1922. He actually did not play in any games in 1922. By then he was 45 years old and presumably practicing medicine in Minnesota. Archie Graham did make one appearance with the New York Giants but it was much earlier . He played in 1905.

As the story goes, Moonlight Graham made one appearance in right field for New York in 1905. He was actually out there for two innings. In the bottom of the 9th inning he was on deck when the final out of the game was made. After that game, he went back to the minors without having any at bats in the major leagues. The Giants that year would go on the beat the Philadelphia Athletics four games to one in the World Series.

The film, which was released in 1989, probably made the adjustment to fit the time line of the movie. The book, Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella, got the date right. Incidentally, I think this is one of the rare cases of the movie being just as good as the book. If you haven’t read the book, please pick it up at your local library. It is a good read and I think you will find the building of the field and the description of the ghost ball players interesting.

What does this have to do with local baseball history? There is a connection. A year before Moonlight made his debut in the National League he roamed the outfield in a New Bedford baseball park when his team from Manchester of the New England League paid a visit to the city. According to SABR researchers Dick Thompson and Tom Simon, the young Moonlight took part in a triple play against New Bedford in August of 1904. All nine members of the Manchester club took part in to record the outs (As soon as I find a box score or clipping of this game I will post it).

When Moonlight wasn’t taking part in triple plays in New Bedford he could also be found playing in triple headers. In September of that year Graham and his Manchester club played 3 games against Nashua in one day. Manchester was swept but Graham went 6 for 13 with a double and two stolen bases.

(click to enlarge)

Boston Journal Sept. 6, 1904 New England League