4th of July Baseball, 1866

John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail in July of 1776 that future Americans would celebrate America’s independence “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports…”

The city of New Bedford did just that eighty years later. On July 4, 1866 bands played, the New Bedford Light Artillery fired their guns in salute, songs were sung by the Choir of Misses, the Declaration of Independence was read and the cornerstone of a monument was dedicated. James Bunker Congdon gave a speech that day in which he called the ground on which the monument would stand, “holy ground”.

The monument was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument located in present day Clasky Common Park. In 1866, it was refereed to simply as the Common. The monument was designed by architect George Frederick Meacham, who is known for his design of Boston’s Public Garden and many other works including the Soldiers and Sailors Monument he would build in Fairhaven two years later.

Locating quality granite and the time it took to inscribe the stone, including such phrases as “struggle with Slavery and Treason…” delayed the full monument from being ready for the festivities on that July 4th. Someone was thoughtful enough to place a copper box that was filled with a written history of the monument, a roll of the names of the New Bedford men that died in the Civil War, poems, newspapers, photographs and other items, under the cornerstone. After the cornerstone was placed upon the slate and mortar that protected the box, the mayor gave a speech in which he talked about the fallen in the late Civil War that now “sleep a sweet, an eternal peace.”

“They are dead,” he clarified and then stated that he hoped “peace, independence and liberty” would last forever.

Memorial Day excercises, the Common, New Bedford MA [undated]. Courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum

Memorial Day Exercises, the Common, New Bedford, MA [undated]. Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

In the afternoon, the mood lightened and just as John Adams predicted, games were played. Earlier that year the Wamsutta Base Ball Club was organized. The club included members such as Charles W. Clifford who had played for the Bay State Base Ball Club and Otis Pierce who had played for the Ironsides Base Ball Club, just two of the many baseball clubs that played in New Bedford before the Civil War.

In the summer of 1866, competition from other teams was scarce. Though there had been several clubs playing in and around New Bedford before the war, it is likely that the war brought ball playing to a stop as many young men went off to war. So the newly formed Wamsutta club played a game between members of its own club. A common practice at the time, clubs would typically play informal games among themselves and more serious “match games” against other clubs.

Since this game was purely for fun and amusement, the Wamsutta club divided itself in to two teams, single men vs. married men and it would seem that everyone on the club would get to play… at the same time since the usual baseball rules would not apply. Both teams seemed to have fielded 18 players per side with multiple players playing each of the outfield corner positions. The single men had three right fielders and four left fielders as Preserved Bullock and Thomas Knowles split time as the third left fielder, playing 6 and 3 innings respectively.

The married men did the same with William A. Church and W. C. Taber, Jr. splitting time as the third right fielder. The team captains, Otis Pierce for the single men and Savillion Van Campen for the married men apparently didn’t play in the field but batted lead off for their teams. A sort of early use of a designated hitter; batting but not fielding.

This may not have been the first time the Wamsutta club played. The Republican Standard noted that based on “previous play” it was thought that the single men would win by 25 runs. The single men did win the game by a score of 56 to 46.

Rachel Howland. Courtesy the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Rachel Howland. Courtesy the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Among the attendees of the festivities that day on the common were 122 grammar boys who were there to inaugurate the organization they had started, the Howland Grammar School Association named after their strongest supporter, Rachel Howland. The purpose of forming the society was for “the prevention of profanity and vulgarity”. Several weeks later they would start their own baseball club called the Acushnet Base Ball Club, most likely because they were inspired by the game they had watched that day.

Unfortunately, news accounts did not give many details about that 4th of July game but apparently it had made an impact on more than just the grammar school boys. Two weeks later the Republican Standard noted the establishment of a number of clubs; the Star Club who would play on a open field on Hawthorne Street and the Young America Club and New England Club who would play on the common. Many more clubs would be formed that year and the years to come beginning a golden age of baseball in New Bedford.

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Metacomet vs. Acushnet, 1869

I’m going to give local baseball history research another go after a few years hiatus. I had been working on local history stories for a time at southcoasthistory.wordpress.com but that got pushed aside as more important life events presented themselves as they do.

I had let the url scvbb.org go and then had second thoughts about it. It was too late to renew it as someone took it apparently to sell it. Since this is just a hobby I figured I could wait it out. Who else would want scvbb.org? Chances are, nobody. Out of curiosity the other day I checked and found it available.

I have a closet full of research I’ve been hanging on to, considering now and then to get rid of it to make room in a constantly shrinking house. I could never bring myself to do it.

So, I thought I would dig out some articles from the closet to see what I could find.

I came across an article from the New Bedford Republican Standard on July 15, 1869. I found a report of a game between the Acushnet Base Ball Club and the Metacomet Base Ball Club, both of New Bedford. They played the game on the ball grounds of the Wamsutta Base Ball Club with the Metacomet club beating Acushent 21-18.

The box score looks familiar to a modern club at first. There is the last name of each team member in the order they hit followed by the position they played. However, instead of AB, R, H, RBI… etc, we see O and R; Outs and Runs. Pretty typical box score of the time.

Box score Acushent vs. Metacomet. Republican Standard, July 15, 1869

Box score Acushent vs. Metacomet. Republican Standard, July 15, 1869

Bowman, the first baseman of the Acushnet club had a bad day. He made seven outs and didn’t score any runs. On the Metacomet club, Caswell the first baseman and Edgerton the shortstop scored four runs each and only made two outs apiece. Just below the line score fly catches are recorded with Edgerton leading both teams with four.

If you think today’s games are long, this game was played in 3 hours, 20 minutes. By comparison, the recent game between the Red Sox and Blue Jays on June 13, 2015 was played in 3 hours and 26 minutes. To be fair, the Acushent and Metacomet teams didn’t wear gloves.

The Metacomet club was a tough club to beat in 1869 as the Republican Standard notes that they had played nine match games at that point, winning all the games. On July 5th, they had beaten the Shamrock club of Fall River scoring 30 runs.

The game against Acushnet seemed to be another win in the books for Metacomet, but on July 22 the Republican Standard reported that the Acushnet club “denies the truth of the report of the game…” The Acushnet club claimed that the “9th innings” was not completed due to darkness. The game was a draw at 18 runs each.

Unfortunately, there was no follow up to this charge published and regular win loss records or standings were not published either. The two clubs were mentioned playing each other again on July 21, with that game resulting in a tie with 19 runs for each club. If they couldn’t be beat at least they could be tied.

On September 6, the two clubs met again and this time it was a close game with Metacomet beating Acushnet 25 to 24. The Republican Standard reported that with the win, the Metacomet Base Ball Club “is entitled to the championship of the junior clubs of they city”.

Frederick Ivor-Campbell (1935-2009)

Frederick_and_Alma Ivor Campbell

The baseball history world is shocked to learn of the death of one of its notable historians, Frederick Ivor-Campbell, who was killed in the tragic and senseless automobile accident on I-195 this past Friday. Mr. Ivor-Campbell was a supporter of my efforts to establish a vintage base ball club in the area. He came to Mattapoisett in August of 2007 to see the vintage ball game as part of Mattapoisett’s 150th anniversary celebration. I was surprised and delighted when he approached me just before the game and introduced himself along with his wife Alma. He vaguely remembered Mattapoisett’s 100th anniversary and fondly recalled the difficulties of visiting his wife in Marion before they married due to lack of transportation. I jokingly offered to put him in the game at third base which with good humor he refused.

I have had the pleasure of corresponding with Mr. Ivor-Campbell over the past few years from time to time, sharing information about the early game of baseball. He has been a source of inspiration for me in my research and encouraging me in my pursuit of my various research projects.

He was a member of the Society of American Baseball Research and was awarded SABR’s highest honor, the Bob Davids Award in 2003. While research in to the early game of baseball appeared to have been a passion of his, he once admitted to being distracted by good weather and new books at the public library. That is something I can related to and appreciate.

His wife Alma was injured in the accident and I understand she is in good spirits despite the circumstances. I hope for the best for her and their family.

Letter to the Editor

I have a letter to the editor that ran in the Standard Times today; Holiday sport was tough, even before football. It is pretty much a very condensed post I wrote about Thanksgiving baseball last year. I am hoping to get a new post up soon once I get a chance to review my research notes. Things have been a little busy in these parts dealing with a home break in and the holiday. I’ll have a little time off this winter so I want to make a trip to the library for more research.

Vintage ball at Tabor

Yesterday morning, Joe the star second baseman of the Mattapoisett 150th game and I made a trip to Tabor Academy to give a demonstration on how to play 19th century base ball. The Tabor students have the luck to be offered an elective English course during their senior year called “Baseball in American Society”. The students learn about the role of baseball in society and history with an emphasis on reading and writing about baseball. How cool is that? Among the readings for the course are Shadow Ball, The Natural and Shoeless Joe. There are colleges and universities that teach baseball and culture themed classes. I seem to remember at one time there was a class taught at Umass Dartmouth relating to the 1919 Chicago White Sox as a labor history course.

Joe Sheridan (left), Kyle DeCicco-Carey (right) Tabor Academy, Marion, Mass. 04/21/2008

The Tabor teacher, Tom Jaillet, tries to get the students to experience playing 19th century baseball including the Massachusetts Game. This year he invited Joe and me out to demonstrate vintage base ball to the students. We met at the softball diamond and I quickly went over some of the basic, quirky rules of the New York game circa 1860. But the best way to learn is to do. The students took the field while Joe pitched and I caught. Overall the fielding displayed by the Tabor 10 or 11 students was excellent. Playing ball with out gloves did not deter them one bit. Barehanded fly balls were caught with ease and after one or two one-hop infield hits the students remembered that those were indeed outs. I would place this bunch a step above a muffin nine and with some work they could be one of the best crack clubs on the south coast of Massachusetts since 1877.

Vintage base ball talk at Tabor Academy, 4.21.2008. Image by Tom Jailett

New Bedford Baseball ca. 1858 Update

I have an update about baseball in New Bedford in 1858. It appears that all of the clubs in New Bedford made the jump to the Massachusetts Game before the end of the year. In late November the Republican Standard reported:

Ironsides Club at a special meeting held Tuesday evening, voted to be governed by the Massachusetts rules of play, instead of the New York rules which have hithertogoverned them. By this change all the Clubs in the city now play that game.

I haven’t found any evidence that notes when the other clubs formally became Massachusetts rules clubs. I am not really sure why they all made the switch. It is not that the New York rules clubs were with out competition. There were three clubs playing by those rules. It may have been the reluctance of the Massachusetts rules clubs to play any games by New York rules that drove the clubs to conformity. By making the switch, the clubs would have more options for competition. It appears that by the end of November, after losing competing clubs that made the switch to the Massachusetts rules and having been denied the opportunity to participate in the Thanksgiving Day game, the Ironsides gave up and joined the other clubs by abandoning the New York rules.

The reasons for the demise of the Massachusetts Game have long been debated among baseball historians and fans. Those reasons, what ever they may be, may explain why a city such as New Bedford completely abandoned that form after the Civil War and after establishing those rules as the ones to be played on “Massachusetts soil”. In 1867, a year after the formation of the Wamsutta Base Ball Club, there were at least 47 different clubs that formed in New Bedford throughout the season. None appear to be Massachusetts rules clubs.

Some members of the Ironsides Base Ball Club names show up on the Wamsutta Club’s roster in 1866 including Stephen Delano, H. Wilder Emerson, Otis N. Pierce and Savillion Van Campen who had been president of the Ironsides Club. In the end the Ironsides’ preferred method of rules prevailed.