Thomas Robbins

I am currently reading a published diary of a minister named Thomas Robbins who lived from 1777-1856. Insight into people’s lives and how they lived can be readily gained through diaries and journals. And I really like to pry in to people’s personal lives!  But to be fair, I wait at least a century or so after they die before opening their diaries. I also like to read them because, as a member of the Society of American Baseball Research,  I am associated with the origins committee of SABR. The Origins people are studying the early history of the game and looking at  pre-baseball type gamesfor clues as to where our current game originates. Through journals and archival material , I look for references to bat and ball games such as trap ball or phrases such as “played at ball” or “game of ball”.

But back to Robbins. He began his diary in 1796 and more or less kept it day in and out until 1854. He began the diary the year he graduated from Yale College and spent the next few years after college teaching, preaching and studying theology. In 1803 he went to Ohio which had just entered in to statehood to organize churches for the Connecticut Missionary Society. A few years after that he preached in a few towns in his home state of Connecticut before coming to the South Coast to replace his uncle as Congregational minister in Mattapoisett in 1831.

What does Robbins have to do with baseball? He wasn’t a ball player, at least I haven’t read any diary entries about his engaging in ball playing activities. But he does provide some evidence that people were playing ball prior to the mid-nineteenth century popularization of baseball playing. Though Robbins does not say what type of ball game was being played, he does note such activity in Mattapoisett:

  • December 21, 1826: “The boys play ball in the streets… Warm and languid weather…”
  • April 4, 1833: “Fast. Meetings well attended… A part of the people were off playing ball, according to their usual practice here.”
  • March 28, 1839: “Fast… Some playing ball… Thermometer rose to 70”.

Fast is referring to Fast Day. It was a public holiday consisting of fasting and prayer. In Massachusetts it was replaced by Patriots Day in 1894.

In 1858 there were several baseball clubs that had formed in New Bedford. Some had played games on Thanksgiving Day that was reported on by the local press. The Evening Standard began their report on the game “From time Immemorial Thanksgiving and Fast days have been set apart for ball playing…”  Not only does Robbins’ diary support the Evening Standard’s statement about ball playing having long been part of fast day activities, it suggests that it could have been baseball the people were playing in Mattapoisett. Then again it could have been Wicket which was popular in Robbins’ home state or some other ball game.

For fun here are some random non-ball playing entries from the diary while he was in Mattapoisett:

  • 9/28/1831: “Rode to Fairhaven… That town is much improving.”
  • 6/1/1832: “Walked to Dr. Robbins… His two sons are theological students, and I fear will be Unitarians.”
  • 9/27/1832: “Dined out. Attended the funeral of a young colored child.”
  • 10/1/1832: “My ill health continues. Have a bad diarrhea.”
  • 12/12/1832: “I hope God will save the country from civil war.”
  • 2/26/1833: “… attended the annual meeting of the Bristol County Temperance Society. I became a member.”
  • 3/6/1833: “My wine in a chamber without fire, is frozen.”
  • 5/14/1833: “Attended the Bible class… My people are very stupid.”

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.

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.

New Web Site for Vintage Ball

A vintage ball practice was held on Sunday and it was pretty successful. We had a very nice turn out and we will go at it again this Sunday. I have created a new site for the club at http://www.ironsidesbbc.org  http://ironsidesbbc.wordpress.com.

I thought I should keep the ball club and the historical research separate from each other. I still plan to maintain this site as I do research. Things have been slow lately as I haven’t been able to break away to dig in to research. So check out the new site for updates on the club’s progress. It is named the Ironsides Base Ball Club after the original club of the same name that played in New Bedford in 1858.