Wednesday, January 2, 2008

When Baseball Was A Passion

Above is the famous battery of the Pottsville Anthracites 1883-84 Barney Mclaughlin and Hugh Breslin.

Schuylkill County
Base Ball Players and Teams

The date is June 19, 1866. A few people are milling about the open field at the Schuylkill Haven fair grounds waiting for the beginning of a game of base ball. For the trained eye, it is strange to see the nine men on the field throwing around the ball. Most of the people know these men as the Pottsville Cricket Club players, but today they are enjoying a new game. As the onlookers watch, nine men take to the field and another nine men stand off to the side. James Garrett of the newly formed Tremont Base Ball Club approaches the rectangular plate lying on the ground in front of Mr. Joseph Dengler, the umpire for this game. Taking a few swipes at the air with his bat, Garret stares out into the field and eyes the Pottsville Base Ball club. On first base is Joseph Stichter. On second base is J. Olsen. The short stop is J.E. Waters and Frank Kaercher is on third base. Looking to the outfield he sees T. Russel in left field, his brother Harry Russel in center field and John Lewis in right field. Standing 45 feet in front of him is the pitcher for Pottsville, A.J. Smith. Also standing back a few feet is the catcher, E.D. Davis. Davis throws the ball, made out of India rubber and yarn covered in leather and weighing five and three quarters of a pound, to Smith.
On receiving the ball, Smith raises it in both hands until it is level with his left eye. Striking an attitude, he gazes at it for two or three minutes in a contemplative way, and then turns it around once or twice to be sure that it is not an orange or a coconut. Assured that he has the genuine article, he winks once at the first baseman Sticther, twice at the second baseman Osler, and three times at Kaercher on third base. He turns and scowls at the short stop, John Waters, and gives a quick glance at the home plate. Finally he delivers the ball underhanded, with the precision and rapidity of a cannon shot. Garret takes a mighty swing at the ball and with that pitch and swing a little after 10 o’clock in the morning, the first match game of Base ball was played in Schuylkill County. Pottsville won this game in eight innings by the amazing score of 115 to 15.
It has been over 132 years since that first game of Base ball was played in Schuylkill County, and since that time many great teams were organized and played on fields throughout the county. The county has had many great base ball teams and players too numerous to discuss. It would take volumes to write about every great team and player. This article shares information about the first thirty five years of organized base ball in Schuylkill County and some of the interesting players that played ball, when times were not as complicated as today and base ball was the most popular sport in America.
There is a great amount of debate among the base ball purists as to how base ball had its origins. Some claim that Abner Doubleday invented the game, others claim the first game played was invented by Alexander Cartwright on June 19. 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey and played by the teams known as the New York Nine and the Knickerbockers. The actual score of the game was 23-1 and won by the New York Nine. While the actual first game of base ball played will never be known, here in Schuylkill County, we know that the first game was played on June 19, 1866.
The first game of organized base ball was played in Schuylkill Haven in 1866 by a picked nine from Pottsville and Tremont. The players from the Pottsville team were all expert cricket players. Cricket was the popular English game that was played up and through the turn of the century. Waters, Lewis, Sticther, and Harry Russel were all members of the U.E. Cricket Club of Pottsville. The Tremont nine were J. Garrett, pitcher; Eckel, catcher; Moore, first base; Singluff second base; Busby, third base; D. Garrett, short stop; Sanders, right field; Gaskine, Left field; and Detrick, center field.
The 1866 season didn’t last very long. Only a few games were played among the newly formed teams from Pottsville, St. Clair, Schuylkill Haven, and Pine Grove. 1867 saw a team from Minersville called the Experts, play Pottsville for the championship in August of that year. From 1866 through 1870 many teams organized in the area and the game was played with an up and coming interest. 1868 had over 65 different clubs playing in the county with many exciting contests between such teams as the Colorado B.B.C. composed of miners from the Colorado colliery near Shenandoah, the Hiberernian B.B.C. from Valley Furnace made up of some hard playing Irish men and some oddly named teams such as the Clumsy Foot B.B.C. of Pottsville.
In August of 1869 the well known Philadelphia Athletic base ball club came to Pottsville and played the Mountain City B.B.C of Pottsville. The local ball players were no match for the powerful Athletics and were soundly defeated by a score of 107 to 2. The Miners Journal reported that the game lacked the excitement which would have attended it had the clubs been more evenly matched. It seems the Athletics had everything their own way. The Philadelphia club had some famous ball players on their roster who were household names at that time period. Al Reach who would become famous for athletic equipment in the near future, Dick McBride, the pitcher, John Radcliff, the catcher, Jim Foran, McMullen, Ned Cuthbert, Count Sensenderfer and Berry. Most of these players were members of the first major league pennant team in 1871.
By the mid 1870’s base ball had numerous rule changes and the local clubs followed right along with the professional teams. As the years went on, the local newspapers started reporting the games with more and more highlights. Sometimes the games took on a lighter side, such as the game played between the Coal Crackers and the Deer Foot B.B.Clubs of Silver Creek in late July 1870. The Deer Foots won this hard fought battle by a score of 45 to 23, and the newspaper noted that the Coal Crackers would here after be called the Careless Coons.
Other local teams in the 1870’s had some splendid matches as evidenced by the game played between the Fat Nine B.B.C and the Lean Nine B.B.C. One can only imagine the sight that these players made on the ball field, large fat men and small skinny men in outlandish uniforms. On July 22, 1870 a game was played in Schuylkill Haven by the Suspension Nine of St. Clair and the Past Times of Minersville. The game was broken up by foul pitching of the Minersville club and an unfair decision by the umpire. The score at the time stood Past Times 2 and Suspension 1 and one man out. The Suspensions offered to replay them on any ground in the county but an umpire from Philadelphia must officiate. The terms of the game were that the losers pay the umpire’s expenses.
One of the most unusual items noted in the Pottsville Evening Chronicle, June 2, 1875 included a challenge from the One Legged B.B.C. of Shenandoah that had a one legged baseball ball nine and they were open to all challenges from any one-legged or one-armed club in the county. The Club consisted of J. Monaghan, Catcher; P. Toole, pitcher; F. Manghem, S.S.; P. Grant, 1st B; M. Lacey, 2B; J.H. Williams, 3dB; H. Whalen, LF; E. Mackentee, CF; Doctor Davis, RF.
Another item that was getting much newspaper coverage was the amount of betting accompanying local base ball. Once again the Miners Journal reported this ongoing problem in their June 24, 1875 issue. “We noticed to-day that quite a large number of persons were on the street making and soliciting bets on the result of the base ball game played this afternoon ( Fern Leaf vs. Pottsville B.B.C.) we were informed that even some of the members of the contesting clubs had bet on the game and as we had been under the impression that neither club allowed such action, we were greatly astonished. I t is a species of gambling and ought to be discountenanced or it will bring the ball players and there clubs into disrepute. It is immoral and pernicious, and for these reasons should be stopped, but if clubs by the actions of any of the members assist in or sanction such proceeding, they may expect to be discountenanced by all good citizens and people.”
As the 1870’s came to a close and the 1880’s arrived, the people of Schuylkill County were wild with enthusiasm for the game. They wanted more than just the local teams playing on and off games. They wanted something of which to be proud. The Miners Journal reported that “ People that visit O’Conners field for the purpose of witnessing a match game of base ball are becoming disgusted. Too many games are broken up by wrangles.”
In early 1880 the Pottsville B.B.C. was still playing outstanding base ball. Most of their games were played at the old Tilt Silk Mill playing field at 12th and Laurel St. in Pottsville. The club was lead by two men, Doctor James S. Carpenter and Attorney Louis B. Walker who brought some playing skills from their universities . These two men were instrumental in bringing to Schuylkill County some of the finest and most exciting base ball ever witnessed. Along with Carpenter and Walker were Lewis Grant, “Mooks” Marburger, Johnny Kane, George Graeff, and Arthur Davis.
The 1881 season saw the Pottsville club play some exciting base ball with teams such as the Shenandoah Grays, and the Ivy Leaf club of Mechanicsville. But the big times would come on June 20, 1882 when a group of base ball enthusiasts met at the office of Attorney James M. Healy and organized the Anthracite Base Ball Club. The Anthracites took the place of the Pottsville B.B.C. The playing field was the new ball field at Agricultural Park in Pottsville. During the formation of the Anthracites, base ball was still being played by some local teams , such as the two games played by the Merchants Hotel Nine and the Dividend B.B.C. better known as the “Divys”. The Miners Journal of June 17, 1882 reported the game and called it a scientific game of base ball. “A game of base ball the like of which was probably never witnessed before was played at Agricultural Park yesterday. The statements regarding the players are not made for the benefit of those who saw the game but for that portion of the public who missed a good thing through absence.” The “Divys” won 23 to 19 in a hilarious exhibition of how not to play base ball.
The Anthracites played their first game on June 24, 1882 against a well seasoned Shenandoah team. Tom Poorman, a well known pitcher who previously played on the 1880 Buffalo and Chicago clubs, played for the Shenandoah team. The Anthracites played mediocre ball during the early part of 1882 and it occurred to management that the local boys playing on the club were not of the caliber needed to have a championship ball club. Management went out in search of new talent, and acquired two excellent players from the Shenandoah Grays, Bill Hughes and Abner Powell. Hugh Breslin a great catcher from Shamokin, T. Heenan from the East Mines Phoenix B.B.C. , Chris Fulmer from Tamaqua who later became a great ball player for the Baltimore Orioles and a fellow named Griffin were also obtained.
Another famous base ball club, the Brooklyn Atlantic’s, came to Pottsville and played the Anthracites. The local club actually beat the Atlantics by a score of 7 to 4. The Journal stated that it was the finest game of base ball witnessed here in a long time.
It was soon learned that Dr. Carpenter, the Anthracites pitcher, would have to leave the team for a new job in a hospital in Philadelphia. This necessitated getting another pitcher for the club and an arrangement was made with a young man named Barney McLaughlin from Lowell, Mass. He was the brother of the Brooklyn Atlantic short stop, Frank Mclaughlin. On July 29, 1882 Barney Mclaughlin arrived in Pottsville. The Miners Journal July 30, 1882 reported the event. “Barney McLaughlin, the new pitcher for the Anthracite club arrived on Saturday night. He is said to be what is known in base ball circles as a “ Daisy”.
Barney’s first game was against the Minersville Actives on July 31, 1882. During the summer many good base ball clubs played the Anthracites. However an especially great rivalry developed between Pottsville and the Reading club. In October of 1882 a series of four games was played between Reading and Pottsville. They were intense games with fans getting into fights with each other and with the players fighting opposing team members. It was base ball at its finest. One game in particular had an unusual situation develop. The Reading pitcher, by the name of Pyle, was bringing his arm over his shoulder when he was delivering his pitch. This movement was illegal according to the rules, all pitches must be delivered underhand. He was warned several times, but Pyle ignored the umpire. The umpire finally told him that if this illegal action continued he would forfeit the game to Pottsville. The loud mouthed Reading pitcher didn’t listen and the game was given to the Anthracites. The Reading team swarmed around the umpire in protest. Spectators came out of the stands and gathered around the Reading players. Finally, calmer heads prevailed and the Reading team was escorted to their bus amongst the hoots and cheers of the Anthracite’s fans. The Reading papers wanted the final game of the series canceled, but the game went off in spite of their request with a final score of the Anthracites 16 Reading Actives 7. The Anthracites finished the regular season with 26 victories, 15 defeats and 1 draw.
In 1883 a short lived league developed consisting of the Brooklyn Atlantics, Wilmington Quicksteps, Camden Merritts, Pottsville Anthracites, Harrisburg Alerts and The Reading Actives. The Anthracites moved their games from Agricultural Park to 12th and Laurel street ball field . The new Anthracite club consisted of McLaughlin , Dad Reynolds, Grady, Knowles and Snapper Lang, with new members being Annis, Yarnell, Alcott, Milligan and Holland. Barney McLaughlin, the idol of all the 1882, fans was praised one minute in the newspaper and dammed in the next. It seems Barney had a little problem with the bottle and his playing was inconsistent. Playing mediocre base ball, the Anthracites lasted only the 1883 season when they finally folded up. Some of the players made good playing in big league base ball. Jim Knowles played for Brooklyn of the American Association. Harry “ Snapper “ Lang played for the Jersey City club of the Eastern League, and Jack Milligan was a catcher for the Athletics and the St. Louis Browns and finally with the New York Giants.
Unfortunately after the Anthracite club folded, base ball suffered a major decline in Schuylkill County. Local amateur clubs kept some interest in the game. Clubs such as the A.J. Reach, A.G. Spaulding, the Ivy Leaf of Mechanicsville, The Reliance club from Mt. Carmel, The Harrowgate B.B.C., The Mahanoy City B.B.C., and the Minersville clubs still played some very fine base ball. These clubs played from 1884 up till 1893.
Then in the spring of 1894, base ball would once again hit a high mark. Pottsville entered a team in the Pennsylvania State League. The team was called the Pottsville Colts and they played their games at Dolans Park in Yorkville. The club was managed by the famous ball player, manager John “Phenomenal” Smith from Philadelphia. ‘Phenomenal” had played ball for eight years and on eight different major league teams . The Colts won the championship in 1894. The team consisted of; Paddy Fox, Red Hughes, Speedy Wilson, Willie Klare, and Mark Baldwins as pitchers. Kid Diggins the catcher, Andy Fuller on first base, Jack Tighe on second base, and Ben Ellis on third base. Charley Nice was the short stop, Mox Hill, Doc Potts and Tom Golden were the outfielders. Many big time players came to Pottsville to play against them. The famous “ King “ Kelly was a player manager on the Allentown team which was composed of many big league players. Ed Derr, a writer for the Pottsville Journal, who as a young man watched and routed for the Anthracite base Ball club and was an avid baseball fan, wrote an interesting article about a letter received by the manager of the Colts. ” Sometime during the season there came to Charley McGinnes, like a loose leaf from a long shelved and half forgotten volume, a letter from Barney McLaughlin, in which he solicited a berth on the Pottsville team, declaring that he was still capable of playing good ball. Many fans of a dozen years before, reverting in fond retrospection to the delirious summer of 82, when the national game attained the status of a cult and Barney was a demi god. These would have welcomed him back for Auld Lang Syne; but the management was not to be influenced by merely sentimental considerations, and no action was taken on the matter. This was the last heard of him until a brief item in the newspaper announced that he passed away in his native Lowell, Mass. February 5, 1921, May God rest his soul.”
Schuylkill County also had quite a few native sons play big league base ball. Jack Stivetts who in 1894 compiled 26 wins, 80 hits accumulated a .533 slugging average. No other performer since 1893, not even Babe Ruth, has been both a 20 game winner and so potent a hitter in the same season. Jack was born and raised in Ashland. Chris Fulmer, from Tamaqua played on the 86 Baltimore team. Charles “ Abner “ Powell from Shenandoah played two years in the Major leagues on Baltimore in 1886 and Washington in 1884. Harry Stine, also from Shenandoah, played on the 1890 Philadelphia team. Thomas “Red” Owens, Pottsville, played on the 1899 Philadelphia team. Patrick “ Pat” Wright from Pottsville, played on the 1890 Chicago team of the national league. And one can never forget the colorful umpire and manager, Tim Hurst, a native of Ashland who was known as “ Last Word “ Hurst. He was banished from both the American and National leagues in later years. And don’t forget the only female base ball player to play on a men’s base ball team, Miss Lily Arlington, or better known as Lizzy Stride from Mahanoy City. Miss Stride played in 1898, and was taught her skills by non other than the famous Jack Stivetts.
Yes, Schuylkill County can be proud of its many famous players and teams and of its long history of participating in Americas favorite past time-Baseball.

The Pottsville Miners Journal 1865-1899
The Pottsville Evening Chronicle 1875-1886
The Shenandoah Herald 1875-1876
Tales of Old Pottsville, The Pottsville Journal, Jan, 17, 1941
Pottsville had a State League Baseball Team. Percy Knowlton, Zerby History of Pottsville and Schuylkill County.
The Great Encyclopedia of 19th century Baseball, David Nemec
Robert Rinda.. Orwigsburg.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My g grandfather's name was Hugh Charles Breslin. He was born in the 1850's and played baseball with the Reliance Collery and I am thinking that this may be him. He was born in Minersville PA. His obituary in 1923 noted his talent at baseball.