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.