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.

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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.

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”.

Ball Playing Banned in New Bedford… in 1821

New Bedford Mecury, July 13, 1821

One hundred eighty seven years ago the New Bedford Mercury publish the recently passed by-laws for New Bedford including a ban on ball playing:

Voted, That the following Rules and Regulations be established the By-Laws of this town, viz: —

First, Any person, who shall, after the 1st day of July next play at ball, or fly a kite or run down hill upon a sled, or play any other sport which may incommode peacable citizens and passengers in any street of that part of this town commonly called the Village of Bedford, shall for every such offence, upon convicition of the same forfeit and pay the penalty of fifty cents, with costs of prosecution; the said penality to be applied to the use of the poor of this town.

 

 

 

 

 

This does not mean that it was baseball being played on the streets of New Bedford. It could have been any number of ball games such as football, cricket, trap ball or any of the “old cat” games. It could be baseball but the by-law writters chose not to be specific about the types of ball games banned as Pittsfield did 30 years prior to the New Bedford by-law. Various laws have been passed banning the playing of ball in New England since at least 1762 when the town of Salem ordered that no one would be allowed to play “Foot-Ball, or the Exercise of Bat-and-Ball, or Cricket, within any of the Publick Places, Streets, or Lanes” in town. Closer to home, Providence passed a ban on ball playing in 1823.

I will also point out that in those same 1821 New Bedford by-laws there was already a problem with graffiti:

Fifth. And whereas some evil minded persons are in the habit of disfiguring fences and buildings, by wantonly painting on them, and by writing and drawing obscene words and pictures on them, to the disgrace of this town in the eyes of strangers, and to the disgust of well-disposed citizens: — Therefore, Voted, That any person who shall after the first day of July next, be convicted as aforesaid of any such offence, shall forfeit and pay a penalty of not less than one dollar, nor more than five dollars, for every such offence, with the costs of prosecution; said penalty to be applied as aforesaid.

 

 

 

No doubt that neighborohoods such as Hard Dig were targeted with this law. But did the placement of the by-laws indicate the severity of each problem? Ball playing, kite flying and sledding were listed in the first by-law while graffiti was addressed in the fifth by-law. Number two on the list was blocking the streets with lumber and rubbish. Number three was a speed limit on horses (6 miles per hour) and the fourth delt with carriages blocking the streets. There were a total of 12 by laws altogether. The graffiti penalty had the highest penalty of five dollars along with storing more than 25 lbs. of gun powder in one place and stacking fish for the purporse of making manure. Take a look at the by laws here.

Baseball in Mattapoisett or Heaven?

This must be the inspiration for Field of Dreams. To be fair it was the book Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella first published in 1982 that inspired the film. This is one of those rare cases where the movie was still good having read the book first. Unfortunatley people seem to know of the movie more than the book.

New York Times; Aug. 8, 1910

A HEAVEN WITH BASEBALL.

Preacher Believes It Will Be Found in a Spiritual Form.

Mattapoisett, Mass., Aug. 7 – “Baseball in Heaven,” was the subject of a sermon preached to-day by the Rev. C. Julian Tuthill, pastor of the Congregational Church. He said in part: “Heaven is but an evolution of this world. A Christian may love a ball game and loving it remain a Christian. Why, then, is it not safe to prophesy that even the game of baseball will have its place in some spiritual form in Heaven.”

Would this group have been opposed to the mixing of baseball and religion?

Boston Investigator; March 7, 1894

Ho For Mattapoisett, Boston Investigator; 3/7/1894

Childhood Ball Playing Clippings

Boy & Girl with dog and batHere are a couple of news clippings that mention ball playing. The first is children’s poetry from the New Bedford Mecury 200 years ago this month. The second (not local but fun anyway) is commentary from the Cleveland Daily Herald in 1841 on the fun of playing ball.

 

New Bedford Mercury

 

May 13,1808

 

SELECTED POETRY.

 

CHILDHOOD.

 

CHILDHOOD! happiest stage of life,

Free from care and free from strife,

Free from memory’s ruthless reign,

Fraught with scenes of former pain;

Free from fancy’s cruel skill,

Fabricating future ill;

Time, when all that meets the view,

All can charm, for all is new;

How thy long-lost hours I mourn,

Never, never to return!

 

Then to toss the circling ball,

Caught rebounding from the wall;

Then the mimic ship to guide

Down the kennel’s dirty tide;

Then the hoop’s revolving pace

Through the dusty street to chase;

O what joy! – it once was mine,

Childhood, matchless boon of thine!

How thy long-lost hours I mourn,

Never, never to return!

 

Childhood Poetry, 1808

 

Cleveland Daily Herald

 

April 15, 1841

 

Playing Ball, is among the very first of the ’sports’ of our early years. Who has not teased his grandmother for a ball, until the ‘old stockings’ have been transformed into one that would bound well? Who has not played ‘barn ball’ in his boyhood, ‘base’ in his youth, and ‘wicket’ in this manhood? – There is fun, and sport, and healthy exercise, in a game of ‘ball.’ We like it; for with it is associated recollections of our earlier days. And we trust we shall never be too old to feel and to ‘take delight’ in the amusements which interested us in our boyhood.

            If ‘Edith’ wishes to see ‘a great strike’ and ‘lots of fun,’ let her walk down Water Street some pleasant afternoon towards ‘set of sun’ and see the ‘Bachelors’ make the ball fly.

 

100730. New York Public Library

Thanksgiving Baseball

The Standard Times recently did a story about Thanksgiving traditions. One of those traditions began 22 years ago when SouthCoast football officials met for breakfast before the Thanksgiving Day games. It seems that football has become part of the Thanksgiving ritual for many people. For the record, I am not one of them and I do not know much about the history of football with Thanksgiving.

According to the Detroit Lions website they have been playing Thanksgiving football since 1934. In 1890 Harvard proposed to Yale that football be played between the two schools on Thanksgiving. In 1855, William Sumner of Milton, Massachusetts had to withdraw from a game of football on Thanksgiving due to injuries he received from an assault the week before. Football was known on the south coast in the nineteenth century. Thomas Rodman, son of abolitionist Samuel Rodman of New Bedford, learned to play football at Friends Academy in the 1830s. In early December 1859 the staff of two newspapers, the Republican Standard and the Mercury played a best of five series. According to James D’Wolf Lovett, football at this time was a much different game. Play was continuous (unless the ball went out of bounds) until one team got the ball over their opponent’s boundary line. One goal ended the game. With the series tied at two games apiece both teams decided not to play the deciding game because as the Republican Standard noted, “the best of feeling prevailed”.

It was baseball, not football that was the traditional Thanksgiving Day sport of choice as long as 150 years ago. On Thanksgiving Day 1858 the Union and Bristol County baseball clubs of New Bedford met on the City Common for a game. The Evening Standard began their report of the game “From time immemorial Thanksgiving and Fast days have been set apart for ball playing…” suggesting that perhaps baseball had long been established as a tradition on Thanksgiving in New Bedford. The report noted that “The regular Ball season is considered to close with Thanksgiving”.

On Thanksgiving Day 1859 and 1860 the Franklin Base Ball Club played an inter-squad game at a location on the southern end of County Street. Both teams celebrated after the games with dinners of turkey and oysters.The Civil War most likely interrupted this ball playing tradition (or at least the local newspapers understandably decided it wasn’t important enough to report). By 1866 baseball was once again played in New Bedford in November and in 1867 Thanksgiving Day baseball games featured the New Bedford Boot and Shoe Manufactory, the Annawan Base Ball Club, the National Base Ball Club and the Wamsutta Base Ball Club.

I am not sure when the tradition of football replaced baseball as the Thanksgiving Day sport. Perhaps it gradually made the transformation as the ball became harder and wintry weather made play difficult as the rules evolved. Softball made its introduction in the 1880s in Chicago as in indoor sport at Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day 1887 a game of baseball was played on the Polo Grounds, presumably by these softball rules. Most likely people wanted a sporting diversion on Thanksgiving that could be played in rain or snow and football offered that diversion.