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Remembering the 1850's and 1860's

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  • SWCBaseball
    started a topic Remembering the 1850's and 1860's

    Remembering the 1850's and 1860's

    I want to show some articles concerning observations of people who played or witness baseball in the 1850's and 1860's.

    The following is an interesting article I found in a publication I found while researching the players and teams of the 1850's. It comes from a book titled "Base Ball - the history, statistics, and romance from its inception until the present time Vol 1." by Seymour R. Church. The book was copyrighted 1902 in San Francisco, California. It was dedicated to Calvin A. McVey.

    The following article is by William Shepard and is titled "Reminiscences of an Old-Time Ball Player".
    Reminiscences of an Old-Time Ball Player
    By William Shepard

    Almost a half century ago my brother and I, boys of fifteen or sixteen, jealously claimed every available holiday and hurried across the Hoboken Ferry to Elysian Fields, the rendezvous of New York base ball players. The beauty of those fields still linger with me, although I have not seen them for nearly a lifetime. A walk of about a mile and a half from the ferry, up the Jersey shore of the Hudson River, along a road that skirted the river bank on one side and was hugged by trees and thicket on the other, brought one suddenly to an opening in the “forest primeval.” This open spot was a level, grass covered plain, some two hundred yards across, and as deep, surrounded upon three sides by the typical eastern undergrowth and woods and on the east by the Hudson River. It was a perfect greensward almost the year around. Nature must of foreseen the needs of base ball, and designed the place especially for that purpose.

    A few years later we arose to the dignity of playing on that field, with or against such men as George Wright, Harry Wright, John Oliver and Creighton.

    In 1861, we crossed the plains to California, and to San Francisco. But one club existed in San Francisco at that time, which we joined soon after our arrival, and, as we were direct from the center of the base ball universe, and brought with us the newest ideas upon the game, we were regarded as quite a valuable acquisition to the local organization.

    The original club was known as the Eagles. We had been members but a short time, when another club was organized, or rather grew out of the Eagles, the new club being called the Pacifics, and my brother and I cast our lot with the younger club. The entry of the new club into the field gave impetus to the game and created a rivalry and competition that grew to remarkable proportions. The gambling element, of course, carried their sport into everything about which there might be the slightest element of chance, and upon the games between the Eagles and Pacifics some heavy bets were laid. I well remember a habit the gamblers among the spectators used to have, that surely savored of the wild and wooly west. Just as a fly ball was dropping into a fielder’s hands, every gambler who had bet on the nine at the bat would discharge a fusillade from his six-shooter, in an endeavor to confuse the fielder and make him miss the ball.
    Among the old Pacific nine were: Catcher, William H. Harrison, now a coal broker; pitcher, William Hale, now and attorney and tax expert; First Base, my brother James Shepard; Second Base, S. H. Wade, at present superintendent printing department of H. S. Crocker Company; Third Base, the writer (William Shepard); Short Stop, John Kerrigan; fielders, William Bellengall, now a custom house broker; T. (Thomas) J. Welsh, now an architect; and Frank Williams who was the best thrower on the coast. Hale was the swiftest pitcher we had. The Pacifics had, for years, the best infield on the coast.

    Among other old-time players of the Pacific Coast, on one nine or another, I recall James Wetmore, at that time paymaster of the Navy; John M. Fisher; John L. Durkee; W. J. Dutton, now president Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company of San Francisco; Hon. John Hunt, at present one of the Judges of the Superior Court in San Francisco; Eldridge Durbrow, now of the Anglo-Californian Bank; and Col. F. E. Beck, formerly of the same bank, but more recently connected with the new branch of the International Banking Company; and S. (Seymour) R. Church, now a dealer in pig iron and fire brick. As a good a catcher as there was on the coast was John R. Glasscock, now an attorney of Oakland. Then there was Stroud, J. J. Deane, Hugh Deane, formerly of Murphy, Grant & Co., and who played against the Cincinnati Red Stockings; John Markey, one of the best fielders I ever saw, and Rand, a famous local pitcher. “Live” Taylor was one of the best fielders of that day. Dave Allison, now a commission merchant here, was the only single handed batter I ever saw. He always batted with one hand, using a little short club, and when he struck the ball it was as good as the regulation two-handed hit.

    As for eastern ball players, I think Creighton, the pitcher for the old New York Excelsiors, fielded that position the best. He inaugurated the underhand throw, - a way of swiftly throwing the ball with the same motion as in tossing, thus deceiving both umpire and batter. George Wright was undoubtedly the greatest short stop the game has ever known. As a second baseman, (John) Oliver of Brooklyn Atlantics has never been improved on.

    In fact, it is my opinion that, so far as individual players are concerned, we had as good in those days as we have now. The improvement has been in team playing. Good players were, of course, not as numerous as now, and it was therefore more difficult to get a nine together, and to hold them together after organizing them, for as soon as a player became an expert he at once wanted to organize all his own. The batting average was higher then, because the batsman could wait until he got the ball he wanted; home runs were more frequent, because the balls were livelier, the fielders wore no gloves, and had not the smooth grounds of today to field over. I am sure, however, had as much excitement from the game as is to be had from it now, and I know that we received more real pleasure – had more genuine fun – than any of the younger generation of base ball players or fans get from the game to-day.

  • bluesky5
    replied
    Yea I know scores dropped substantially when playing better clubs. I figured the ball was dead-er because they would have been getting them in mass quantities from places that probably weren't used to mass producing balls and put them together quick or without a typical interior material for the time.

    Leave a comment:


  • SWCBaseball
    replied
    Originally posted by bluesky5 View Post

    Oh my bad. I see.

    "The batting average was higher then, because the batsman could wait until he got the ball he wanted; home runs were more frequent, because the balls were livelier."

    This is an interesting statement. Particularly the highlighted part. I wonder why and when the ball became dead. My guess would be at the formation of the N.A. in 1871.
    It is a very interesting statement but I have seen that stated by others as well.... When the National Association of Professional Baseball Players organized in 1871, keep in mind that the statistics compiled are only against the teams within the NA itself which were not only all professional but most were the very best players in the country playing at that time. In the previous years, there was no "League format" and everyone played everyone else regardless of their status. In other words, the statistics compiled were against many amateur teams that normally could not compete with the professional or more skilled teams. The stats of the NA appear to have taken a big decline but I believe it was not only because the ball may have been less lively but more because it only includes games played against members of the NAPBBP. The Philadelphia Athletics in 1871 played 28 games (21- 7) scoring 376 runs and allowing 266. vs Amateur or non-NAPBBP teams, the Athletics played 38 games, (34- 4) scoring 806 runs and allowing 309 runs. vs NAPBBP avg Runs/Game 13.4 and allows 9.5.... vs others 21.2 and allows 8.1. Again, these are 1871 numbers...

    I don't know if the ball was changed to be more dead in 1871 or not but just keep in mind that the compilation of stats before and after 1871 are more apple and oranges than peaches and pears....
    I am sure there are several reasons the numbers dropped including a change in the ball.


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  • bluesky5
    replied
    Originally posted by SWCBaseball View Post

    No, W. R. Wheaton is referenced only once in the book in a section called "Early History".

    The story looks like it was written by William Shepard...
    Oh my bad. I see.

    "The batting average was higher then, because the batsman could wait until he got the ball he wanted; home runs were more frequent, because the balls were livelier."

    This is an interesting statement. Particularly the highlighted part. I wonder why and when the ball became dead. My guess would be at the formation of the N.A. in 1871.

    Leave a comment:


  • SWCBaseball
    replied
    Originally posted by bluesky5 View Post
    The interviewee was William Rufus Wheaton correct?
    No, W. R. Wheaton is referenced only once in the book in a section called "Early History".

    The story looks like it was written by William Shepard...

    Leave a comment:


  • bluesky5
    replied
    The interviewee was William Rufus Wheaton correct?

    Leave a comment:


  • Sycamore Flynn
    replied
    Great post. Look forward to reading more of these articles. Thanks.

    Leave a comment:

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