Monday, April 30, 2012

Ban football?

Baseball, cycling, and tennis were the most popular sports in Fargo in 1897. Baseball coverage in the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican was significant. In addition to their Red River Valley League team, Fargo featured cycling clubs and tennis tournaments throughout the summer. Basketball was in its infancy, and was just a blip on the radar. Today's most popular American sport, football, was also relatively new and rarely mentioned in the Forum. Debate still occurred regarding football's proper place in the world of sport. Many thought it was overly barbaric and violent. In fact, the April 1, 1897 Sunday Argus mentioned a bill introduced in the North Dakota state legislature that would have made it a misdemeanor to even participate in a game of football. Fines could be levied from $10-$50, fairly significant sums for the time.

Nothing ever came of the bill. According to The Spectrum, the North Dakota Agricultural College's student newspaper, the bill failed about as soon as it was introduced. The controversy over football, however, speaks to the prominence baseball held in the national mind versus a sport that is so wildly popular today. However, it should be noted that even in 1897, football was clearly the most popular sport at the NDAC (later North Dakota State University). Much of the the athletics section of The Spectrum at the time was devoted to football summaries.

*Bill discussed in The Spectrum February 1, 1897 p. 8

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nomads and Vagabonds

No fewer than 33 different men played for the Fargo team in 1897.

Major league rosters today are made up of 25 men.
Between injuries and call ups from the minors, 33 is probably close to the number of different men who play for any one team in the modern 162 game major league season. (Incidentally, the National League played a 130-132 game season in 1897.)

So what makes Fargo's number 33 notable? Consider this:
1) In 1897, most games featured no substitutions. Pitchers completing their games was expected. It was an anomaly to see 11 or 12 men used on a team in a given game. More than one relief pitcher being used was unheard of.
2) Fargo only played 55 games! Well less than half of the National League at the time, and about a third of what major leaguers play today.
3) The Red River Valley League season was only a little over 2 months long (late May to the beginning of August).

So why so many different players? A few reasons.
The unstable nature of the minor leagues in the late 19th century produced many team changes. A team or league might fold and a player would go to the next city to play for another team. A player might be picked up by another team for a couple of games when his main team had off days. This happened relatively often with Fargo's players, who traveled to small towns on off days to play with local "town" teams. For Fargo, it wasn't uncommon to pick up a local man for a game or two to fill a need - the man did not necessarily need to be a baseball pro in any sense.

Also, contracts in the minor leagues really didn't exist the way they do today. To be paid well, and be paid reliably, players were very dependent on the gate receipts from the day's game. A player might leave his current club if he found a team nearby that drew well in terms of attendance. Their salaries were far from guaranteed.

And finally, with no real scouting system, a manager might bring a player to town to try him out. If the player wasn't a "fast fielder" or a "comer", he might be let go after a very short stint with the team.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"It Was Larceny"

The game between Fargo and Moorhead on the afternoon of June 26, 1897 featured a great pitching match up and promised to be a compelling game. Indeed, the game was compelling, but for unusual reasons.

Deacon Phillippe (spelled Phillippi by the papers) and Pike Mullaney squared off in a contest between first place Moorhead and last place Fargo. In the first inning, Phillippe gave up four runs, but settled down and shut out the "Barmaids" for the remainder of the game. The first inning featured a controversial call by the umpire Tupper. The Forum said Page from Moorhead was out by at least five feet on a play at home, but was called safe. Fargo's Sunday Argus claimed the runner was ten feet short of home when tagged out. Whether Tupper just had a bad view of the play or was grossly incompetent or unethical is unclear. He may have been obscured, but even though he was the only umpire for the game (as was customary at the time), he should have been near home plate. The Forum claimed that Tupper made several other bad calls throughout the game, "two against Fargo, and two against Moorhead", but these missteps paled in comparison to the events of the ninth inning.

For Moorhead, Mullaney was solid as usual, but got into some trouble in the ninth inning with the game 4-2 in favor of Moorhead. Mullaney walked the first two batters, Phillippe and Hopkins. One of Fargo's fan favorites, the utility man Hartman, followed with a fly ball out to right field. Phillippe tagged up on the play and advanced to third. Moorhead appealed the play, however, and Phillippe was called out by Tupper for leaving second too early. The Fargo team and their fans were incensed by this call. Tupper had his back turned to second - he never saw the play. Fargo failed to score in the ninth, and lost 4-2. The Moorhead team, along with Fargo's manager, local travel agent George Challis, ushered Tupper to safety after the game, protecting him from the rage of some of the Fargo fans. Fargo launched a formal protest of the contest. The story of the awful umpiring in the Red River Valley League even made the pages of the Sporting News on July 10th. The Sunday Argus proclaimed, "It Was Larceny."

The protest was eventually addressed by National League President Nick Young. The National League was the only "major league" at the time, and wielded much power over the baseball establishment. In the meantime, Tupper had admitted that he did not see the Phillippe leave second base in the decisive ninth inning blown call. Young ruled that the game should be replayed. However, the Red River Valley League folded for 1897 in early August, so Moorhead declined to replay the game. (More on the league's collapse later.)

Friday, April 27, 2012


Baseball was the most popular sport among Fargo children in 1897. It was popular enough for the May 22, 1897 Fargo Forum and Daily Republican to print this: "Baseball kids are prohibited from operating in the Northern Pacific Park - too many plate glass fronts endangered by foul balls." I hope those downtown business owners were forgiving (of course, several of them bankrolled the 1897 team).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Old Timey Terminology

One of the great things about researching 19th Century baseball is the rich, detailed, and nuanced language used in the newspapers of the time. So I thought it would be good to put together a little guide for interpreting those old stories and box scores (some more obvious than others):

33rd degree fan = probably a reference to Mason who was a fan of a team (since the 33rd degree is the highest degree of the Masons); possibly just a die-hard fan
Aggregation, Club, Baseball nine = Baseball team
"At the points" = players playing pitcher and catcher
Battery = pitcher and catcher for a particular game (still used today, but sparingly) 
Behind the wind pad = playing catcher
Comer = a promising player
Crank = fan
Fast = doing well
Fettle = Condition (ex: The club was in good fettle to begin the season.)
"In the box" - pitcher (ex: Peterson was in the box for Fargo)
Kick = to become upset/argue
"Manipulator of the indicator" = umpire
Sphere = baseball
Three-bagger = triple
Twirler = pitcher
Two-bagger = double
Willow = bat

More to come later...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Player Profile: Charles "Peaceful Valley" Brown

Charles J. "Peaceful Valley" Brown was one of Fargo's fan favorites. From Dubuque, Iowa, Brown first appeared for the Fargo team in 1896, his debut coming in a 13-3 loss to Moorhead. In that game, Brown started at catcher and immediately endeared himself to the local fans with his impressive play. In the Red River Valley League season of 1897, Brown hit .251 for the Fargo team and had a remarkably impressive .983 fielding percentage at first base, which was best on the team. The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican described him as a "gentlemanly" player, in an era when there were plenty of rough and tumble types in baseball, including a few on the Fargo club.

Updated 8-26-12
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican July 25, 1896 p. 1, "Moorhead Wins"

Monday, April 23, 2012

Opening Day - 1897

Opening Day, May 26, 1897

Grand Forks 6, Fargo 2
WP: Hutton
LP: Roberts

Moorhead 16, Wahpeton-Breckenridge 7
WP: Mullaney
LP: Berg

From the Sporting News:
June 5, 1897 p.4

Personnel of the Teams and the Umpire Corps.
Fargo, North Dakota. May 26. Editor "Sporting Life:" The River Valley League has at last started. The League is made up as follows: Fargo, Moorhead, Grand Forks and Breckenridge and Wahpeton, Breckenridge and Wahpeton being represented by one team. The various teams will line up as follows: Signed with Fargo are Jack Banning, Arthur Hill, Chas. Janke, Jack McDonald, Chas. Brown, Ed, Martin, Arthur, better known as Tiger, Lyons; Gus Munch, Tad Roberts, Hartman, Oscar Peterson and Lee Roberts, as manager.

Moorhead lines up with Jack Page, captain; Pike Mullaney, Anderson, O'Reagan. Flannery,
Harry Howe, Burke, Keefe, Dea, Clayton and Murphy.

Grand Forks will consist of Sid Adams, Chas. Hutton, Riddell, McNeal, Rudge, Hanrahan,
Jack Turner, Walker, Boblitz and Marshall.

Breckenridge and Wahpeton will be represented by the following players: Ted Corbett. manager
and captain; Swartz, Berg, L. Conrad, A. Conrad, Jim Hart, Fitch, Wm. Ploof, Red O'Donnell,
Pete Quinn and Jack O'Donnell.

The League umpires will be George Challis and Robert Irons, the first-named, a well-known
man; but the latter, being a new man. he is still an unknown quantity. The championship
season opens to-day and closes September 4."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Player Profile: Charles "Deacon" Phillippe

The most well-known player of the 1897 Fargo team was future major leaguer Charles "Deacon" Phillippe. In 13 major league seasons, Phillippe went 189-109 with a 2.59 ERA. He pitched a record five complete games in the 1903 World Series (a best of 9 series), winning 3 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the series. The Pirates lost to the Boston Americans in this inaugural World Series, five games to three.

In the summer of 1897, while on loan from the Minneapolis Millers baseball team, the 25 year old posted a 3-4 record for Fargo before finishing the season with the Millers. The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican regularly praised his level of play and his promise as a young talent. During his time in Fargo, Phillippe pitching style was "of the 84 vintage, when the under-handed ball was in its prime."* He would later switch to a more conventional overhand delivery, which he used while pitching in the major leagues.

Interestingly, a teammate of Phillippe's on the 1903 Pirates team was Joe Marshall, who played for Grand Forks in 1897.

*The Moorhead Independent June 25, 1897 "First Game at Fargo" Front Page

Saturday, April 21, 2012


The end of the 19th century was a captivating time for the sport of baseball and the city of Fargo, North Dakota. I hope to explore the 1897 minor league team from Fargo, known to some as the "Divorcees", a reference to the liberal divorce laws in the city. This team, along with teams in Grand Forks, ND, Wahpeton(ND)-Breckenridge(MN), and Moorhead, MN, slugged it out in the Red River Valley League in 1897. The league featured future major league players, local heroes, interesting characters, and spirited rivalries. 

I also plan to post interesting tidbits from before and after the 1897 season of the Red River Valley League. My research seems to produce something exciting every time I dig into the resources available.