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.)

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