Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Obscene, Indecent, and Vulgar Language

The Brush Resolution was adopted by the National League and American Association early in the spring of 1898. The resolution was the brain child of Cincinnati club president John T. Brush, and was a response to "villainously filthy language" that was part of the lexicon of "a very limited number of players," but apparently occurred enough to cause concern among the press and the fans (p.198 "Address to Players"). Brush asked league umpires to send him examples of obscene language they had heard the previous season. He was appalled by what he received.

Certainly, the fact that crowds were closer to the action played a role in making language a thorny issue. Complicating the matter further was the relatively weak position of authority held by umpires of the era. Still, President Brush criticized umpires for not punishing players swiftly enough at the onset of vulgarity and bad behavior. He argued that it was imperative that umpires take charge on this issue and enforce existing rules, because owners fining players after the fact was not a satisfactory deterrent.

Locally, it is quite likely that some choice words were exchanged on the baseball fields of the Red River Valley in 1897, many directed at a game's umpire ("Fined and Released"). A quick search on Google for Brush resolution baseball produces a sampling of some of the language that the league hoped to stop (specific examples being too objectionable to post here).

The seventh section of the resolution provides a quick look at the nature of the problem and the punishments that would be possible depending on the severity of the offense: "The penalty for using obscene, indecent, and vulgar language, within the meaning and intent of this measure, is entirely within the discretion of the tribunal, and may be suspension for days, for months, for the unexpired season, for a year, or for life, according to the conditions, circumstances and nature of the offence (sic), it being the sentiment of the League that creates this law that an unwarranted, unprovoked, and brutal use of vulgarity to a spectator, or within the presence of spectators and within the hearing of ladies, should debar the offender forever from service with his club, or any other club, member of this League or subject to its jurisdiction" (p.196 "The Brush Resolution"). Based on the feedback Brush received in letters from league umpires, the Cincinnati president said that blacklisting players would not be an unreasonable punishment for some of the language and behavior cited in accounts that he received.

1898 Spalding Guide to Baseball
The Sporting Life "Brush is Bullish" Feb 19, 1898 p.11
(Post updated 8-19-12)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Little Change in the Rules

To my amazement, very little has changed from the official baseball rules from 1897 and those of today. Granted, today's version is more fine-tuned and addresses specific situations that have occurred over the last 125 years, but the fundamental rules of the game have remained very static. In examining the 1898 Spalding Guide to baseball, I found just a couple of rules listed that vary from those of Major League Baseball today. 
Most are relatively minor differences.

Rule 14.2 levied a $5 fine for purposefully dirtying the ball, if the opposing team's captain protested the matter.

Rule 15 concerning the baseball bat said that the bat could be no bigger than 2 3/4 inches in diameter. Today, the specification is 2.61 inches.

Rule 19.2 said that a catcher's or first baseman's mitt could be of any size, shape, or weight! The infielder's gloves needed to weigh no more than 10 ounces and have a maximum circumference of 14 inches around the palm.
Today's limits, if you are curious:
Catcher's mitt: Limit of 38 inches diameter and 15 1/2 inches long.
First baseman's mitt: Limit of 12 inches long and 8 inches wide.
Infielders: Limit of 12 inches long and 7 3/4 inches wide (no weight limit, unlike 1897)

Forty years before night baseball, Rule 21 stated that all championship games must start no later than two hours before sunset. (With the lack of mound visits, pitcher and batter substitutions, in-game promotions, TV commercials, and the like, major league games rarely took more than two hours in 1897.)

Rule 27.3 from the 1898 edition said that any substitution for a base-runner must be approved by the captains of both teams.

Rule 35 said that a fair ball touched by a spectator would only be considered a dead ball if the spectator retained possession of the ball. Today, any fair ball touched by a spectator becomes a dead ball.

Rule 45 said that a strike would be considered any fairly delivered ball. This was defined as a ball that went over the plate, and was no higher than the batter's shoulders and no lower than his knees. Today's rule officially defines the top of the strike zone as the midpoint between a players shoulders and his belt, and the bottom of the strike zone remains the knees.

Rule 69 said that no betting was allowed on a club's field or on any property owned or occupied by the club. This rule is not explicit in today's code, but betting on baseball games by participants is widely known to be prohibited.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Former Major Leaguer Released and Blacklisted

If nothing else, William Henry "Josh" Reilly's 1897 season was an eventful one. He brought his brash personality and erratic play to at least three different Midwest cities during the summer, including a month long stop in Fargo to play second base for the Divorcees.

Reilly had appeared in nine games the previous season in the National League for the Chicago Colts (later the Cubs). It would be his only major league stint. He began the 1897 season with the Kansas City Blues of the Western League, but was released at the beginning of June after not playing up to Manager Jimmie Manning's expectations. In a June 12 Sporting News report on the Blues, Reilly was grouped with several other Kansas City players who were belittled as "a set of 'cattle drivers' who could not play ball as well as a ten-year-old 'kid' nine" (p.7).

By June 2nd, Reilly had signed with the Indianapolis Indians, also of the Western League. He was signed to fill a need that arose due to other players' injuries. After two weeks, Reilly, who had "showed while with Kansas City that he was not fast enough for (the) league," was released (July 19, 1897 TSN p.5). He likely then traveled to southern Minnesota to play with a team in the city of Kenyon that disbanded shortly after his arrival.

On June 30th, the Forum reported that Josh Reilly arrived in Fargo and would be given a tryout. Described as a great coach of players, Reilly made his debut for Fargo playing at second base on July 1st against the Barmaids and went 1 for 3. His strong character was evident in Fargo, and he even became an object of affection for some of Fargo's female fans. Over the next month, Josh would hit .307 for the team, but had a fielding percentage of just .882 (fielding had been a problem earlier in the season for Reilly). On August 3rd, after the RRVL had officially disbanded, Fargo was playing Moorhead as part of a revised schedule. The team's 4-2 loss in 16 innings to the Barmaids would be Reilly's last game with Fargo.

Angry at Manager George Challis for not advancing him a paycheck, Reilly responded with purposefully erratic play. According to the game summary from the Forum, he "carelessly muffed" an easy throw from a teammate in the first inning. In the second inning, Reilly moved non-nonchalantly toward a slow roller hit up the middle by former Fargo player Charles Jahnke. The last straw for Manager Challis was in the third inning, when Reilly half-heartedly handled a line drive, dropped it, and slowly pursued the ball, allowing Jack Page of the Barmaids to score. Challis took him out of the game and Reilly was released and blacklisted the same day.

The Fargo management should not have been surprised at Reilly's actions, however. They had played a part in helping Reilly come to Fargo despite a warrant for his arrest in southern Minnesota (likely from the town of Kenyon). Apparently, Reilly had been wanted for not paying a boarding bill while staying in the city (Forum Aug 3, 1897 p.4).

The Springfield Governors of the Interstate League picked up Josh Reilly for the remainder of the 1897 season. Interestingly, The Sporting Life reported on July 31st, while Reilly was still with Fargo, that Springfield "expected (him) to report this week..." (*p. 17). This raises the question of whether he intended to leave Fargo anyway around the time of his release. After all, the RRVL's future for 1897 was murky at best, with the league officially disbanding July 31st. Reilly may have simply been trying to squeeze some money out of Fargo's management before heading east for Illinois.

Before the 1898 season began, it was reported that Reilly wanted too much money from Springfield, and had begun playing baseball back home in California. In reality, Josh Reilly had burned many of his bridges in the Midwest. He would spend the next decade playing minor league baseball on the west coast, mainly for teams in his native San Francisco and in San Jose. 

(*There is some ambiguity concerning Josh's 1897 season. Box scores in late July that appeared in The Sporting Life indicated that a player with the last name of Reilly had been playing with Springfield while Josh was still playing for Fargo. There are also reports of a Reilly playing for Indianapolis after Josh was released June 19th. Neither of the accounts referred to the player's first name, however. Based on various newspaper reports, I believe that a different man with the last name of Reilly was playing for Indianapolis in July, and a different Reilly was playing for Springfield before Josh arrived there in early August.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Equipment from Spalding

The 1898 Spalding Baseball Guide listed prices for many different products, along with great illustrations and descriptions (a few illustrations are linked below). A sampling of what the men in 1897 would have used to play the game is summarized below. The high-end item and the low-end item are listed together for each product.

Boys could buy a kid's ball or a bat for just 5 cents, a catcher's mitt for 10 cents, and a first baseman's mitt or infielder glove for 50 cents.

*A rough adjustment for inflation says a product that could be purchased for $1.00 in 1897 would cost about $25 today. See:

Spalding Official League Ball
“Warranted to last a full game without ripping or losing its elasticity or shape.”
Regulation size “Victor” ball

Spalding League Model Bat
“Made of finest selected timber, oil finish”
32, 33, 34, 35, or 36 inches
Spalding Black End “Antique” Finish Bat

Black Enameled Sun Protecting Mask
With patented “sunshade”
“Highly endorsed by the leading catchers.”
Spalding Men’s Mask
“Heavy wire, well padded”
Spalding Catcher’s “Mit”
“The PERFECTION of Catchers’ Mits”
Spalding’s Amateur Mit
“Made of extra quality asbestos buck”
“Adapts itself nicely to the conformation of the hand without undue straining”
Spalding’s Basemen’s and Infielders’ Mit

“Made throughout of specially tanned buckskin, lined and correctly padded with finest felt.”
Spalding Men’s Infielders’ Glove
“All leather”
$.40 - $1.00
Chicago, College, Boston, and University Styles
Spalding’s Baseball Shoes
“Hand-made throughout, and of specially selected Kangaroo leather”
Metal plates on the heel and sole
Amateur Special Shoes
“Made of good quality calfskin, machine sewed.”
Official Uniform
Shirt, belt, pants, socks, and cap included
Amateur Special Uniform
Shirt, belt, pants, socks, and cap included

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Not Surprisingly, a Spring Flood

In 2009, the Red River at Fargo crested at over 40 feet. A massive effort was coordinated to save the city, most of which was threatened with such a high water level. Of course floods are nothing new to the Red River Valley. In 2009, comparisons were often made to the flood of 1997. A century earlier, in the spring of 1897, comparisons were made to the 1882 flood in Fargo.

The script in 1897 should sound familiar. The April 1 Sunday Argus called the situation "extremely serious" with the Red River at over 26 feet. The area around the Great Northern bridge featured a significant ice jam. The city tried to blast it with dynamite, but the ice quickly reformed. The river was rising at a rate of two inches per hour in Fargo, flooding the basements of businesses near the Red on Front Street (now Main Avenue). Some of the "shantytown" dwellings downtown were hit hard, and the Argus noted that chief among the victims of the flood were "those who can ill afford it." The Great Northern railroad crews worked hard to address areas along the track that were washed out, and as of April 1, their trains were running on time. The Milwaukee railroad, however, would be stalled for several days. The massive flood produced a crest that occurred on April 7th at over 39 feet.

Baseball in Fargo would not begin for another six weeks, so the season was not directly impacted, though Manager Lee Roberts was likely keeping a close eye on the Red from his downtown Fargo home.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What in tarnation is WHIP!!??

Baseball statistics are more in-depth than ever before. Everything is measured: a player's batting average against left handed pitching after the 7th inning in night games on the road with runners in scoring position and an 0-2 count (seriously, I bet you could find it), something called offensive win percentage, and then the acronyms: WAR, VORP, PETOCA, NERD, BABIP, DIPS, OPS, WPA, REW, and of course, WHIP (Yes these are all real - and there are many more!). If you are really curious about what these mean, I suggest an internet search. I could stumble my way through explaining some of them, but it would be rough.

I thought it would be interesting to put myself in the mind of an official scorer in 1897. At the time, the list of what was recorded was fairly basic (and not analyzed to death). At-bats, hits, runs, errors, assists, put outs, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, stolen bases, strikeouts, and hit-by-pitcher, and time of game. Honestly, when I first saw some box scores from the 1890s, I was impressed with the amount of detail I found.

Without further ado, an attempt at humor using some current "sabermetrics" and other statistics, as seen from the eyes of an 1897 official scorer:

BAA - Baseballers Arrested Annually
BS - Well...
ERA - Well, I think they call this the "Golden Age" or something like that.
GIDP - Guaranteed Instances of Dirty Players
IBB - Intentionally Bringing Booze (a player stat)
NERD - Those folks that waste time debating the gold standard
OBP - Other Booze-influenced Plays
RBI - Reasons Betting is Increasing
SV - Splendid Victory
WAR - I think it's about time. Spain has had it coming.
WHIP - That's what we do to the umpire when he gives us a bad call!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Terminology - Part 2!

A few more terminology items that I have been tracking while looking through old stories:

Cleverest (adv) = best
Cracker jack (adj) = excellent
Garrison finish (n) = coming from behind to win; named after Edward "Snapper" Garrison, a successful jockey of the late 19th Century
"Gave much satisfaction" = did a good job; often used when referring to umpires
Slab (n) = pitcher's mound
"Snowed under" = defeated
Stick work (n) = hitting

Monday, May 21, 2012

5 umpires, 3 managers, and 2 captains - Fargo's Volatility in 1897

There was plenty of change for the Fargo team throughout the summer of 1897. I have commented earlier on the fact that the team had at least 33 different men play for them during the season ("Nomads and Vagabonds"). Recall, also, that the season was only about ten weeks long. Some other changes in this short time span:

In the Fargo area, George Challis began the season as the main umpire. When Challis became Fargo's manager (see below), Jimmy Banning became the lead umpire. Not everyone was impressed with Banning's umpiring - in fact, his performance in one game was deemed "awful" by the Forum. After a time, Umpire O'Donnell was featured in many Fargo games. An umpire named Tupper was tried as well, but he was essentially run out of town after an outrageously bad call in June ("It Was Larceny"). Arthur "Tige" Lyons officiated some of Fargo's games later in the season. This is interesting considering his unpleasant departure from the team as a player earlier in the summer ("Fined and Released"). A final umpire Emlay was present at a game in early August. His performance was considered "horrible". Really the only umpire who escaped sharp criticism at any point in the season was Challis. He even took over as umpire in the middle of a Fargo game while he was Fargo's manager! He was universally well-respected.

A note on umpires: they were not rotated between cities and games in the same way they are today. One umpire was at each game, and it was generally preferred to keep the same man umpiring in the same area. 
The managerial post was similarly in flux for Fargo during the summer of 1897. When the team got off to a slow start, Lee Roberts stepped down as Fargo's manager and opted not to stay with the team as a position player. Adam Leech took over for Roberts on an interim basis, and later, George Challis finished the remainder of the season as manager.

Finally, it is notable that Charles "Peaceful Valley" Brown began the season as the team's captain. He also stepped down in favor of fellow Iowan George Keas in the middle of the season.

It is no wonder that Fargo spent most of the year in last place!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Glad They Weren't In Cleveland!

Baseball and other forms of recreation on Sundays were by no means universally accepted norms in 1897. The Fargo team played on six different Sundays during the 1897 season, and there really wasn't much of a backlash. One notable mention of the subject occurred on June 15 in the Forum. A Wahpeton Baptist pastor, L. V. Schermerhorn, had spoken on the Sunday question to a "very large and appreciative audience" in Wahpeton on June 14. Baseball, racing, and gaming were cited by Schermerhorn as contrary to both civil and religious statutes. Certainly, a fairly sizable segment of the population still frowned upon Sunday baseball, and other diversions that were deemed frivolous, unnecessary, or disrespectful on the Sabbath.

Sunday baseball would remain popular in large cities in particular, due to the fact that many workers were unable to attend weekday games. Working late hours, it was difficult to attend since games began in the afternoon, and night baseball was still a few decades away. A fair amount of working men also worked on Saturdays. This left Sunday as the best day for baseball in the minds of many.

Though the Red River Valley did not feature significant opposition to Sunday baseball in 1897, the same could not be said of Cleveland. After the first inning of a Sunday, May 17th game between the Cleveland Spiders and Washington Senators of the National League, players on both teams along with the umpire were arrested by Cleveland policemen for violating the city's ban on Sunday baseball. Cleveland's owner had to post bail to get the men released. The city did allow the Spiders to host Sunday games later in the 1897 season.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Player Profile: Big Bill Zink

The Tuesday, June 15th Forum brought news that Fargo had signed three players, including a second baseman. A Grand Forks observer touted the second baseman as "one of the best ever seen in the northwest." He compared the young player favorably to Willie Murphy, who played for Fargo in 1887. Murphy spent part of the 1887 season in Minneapolis, hitting .313 for the Millers, and batted .254 in 189 at-bats in one major league season (1884).

William Henry Zink, better known as Bill Zink, debuted at second base that Tuesday afternoon, playing second for Fargo as they faced Wahpeton-Breckenridge. The Iowa native did not disappoint, going 2 for 5 with a home run, two runs scored, and no errors in five chances in the field. If it weren't for a nice play by the W-B shortstop, Zink would have debuted with three hits. The performance of Fargo's second baseman proved to be no fluke. Over the next two months, the then 23-year-old Zink would hit .300 for the Fargo team. Including his time in Fargo, Zink went on the play over 1,000 games in 15 minor league seasons.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On This Date: Itching for Baseball

In 1897, today's first week of April usually occurred around mid-May. Before you accuse me of using some version of the Mayan calendar, allow me to explain. Today, the first week of baseball is a treasured time for the baseball fan, with the completion of spring training and opening day happening around April 1st. In the Red River Valley, the middle of May featured this same show of great anticipation among baseball fans for the coming season.

The May 17, 1897 front page of the Forum featured an account of one of the first games of the season, an exhibition between Wahpeton-Breckenridge and a team from Morris, MN. Not including season ticket holders, the attendance was 486, an impressive total (though the article does not specify whether the game was at W-B or at Morris). The W-B team won the game 24-4, but the "cranks" were likely still pleased, itching to enjoy the national pastime after a long winter and a spring flood.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Highlights and Lowlights

In digging into Fargo's place in the standings a couple of days ago, I realized I could use the game by game chronicle I put together of the team's season and give you some highlights (and low lights). Exhibition games are included (see previous post for my reasoning in doing that).

Longest Win Streak: 4 games
Longest Losing Streak: 5 games
Most Runs Scored in a Game: 22 (defeated Wahpeton-Breckenridge 22-5 on July 25th, 1897)
Most Runs Surrendered in a Game: 27 (May 31, in a 27-6 exhibition loss to Moorhead)
Fewest Runs Scored in a Game: 0 (Five times - 3 times vs. Grand Forks, 2 times vs. Moorhead)
Fewest Runs Allowed in a Game: 0 (Three times - one vs. GF, one vs. Moorhead, and one vs. W-B)

Win/Loss record against opponents:
vs Moorhead: 7-13 (one game, a loss by Fargo, was protested and not replayed)
vs. Grand Forks: 7-9 (one tie)
vs. Wahpeton-Breckenridge: 9-7 (one tie)
vs. Detroit Lakes: 1-0

Monday, May 14, 2012

Moorhead's Aces

The Moorhead team finished the 1897 RRVL season with a record of 32-12, including a 6-2 record after the official season ended prematurely. Behind their star pitchers, the Moorhead club left no doubt regarding who was the superior team in the league. Pitcher "Pike" Mullaney went 14-3 for the club, including a 2-hit shutout against Fargo on June 24th and a 4-hit shutout against Fargo on July 3rd. Bob Brush was also impressive for the Barmaids with a record of 11-4 on the season..

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Moorhead Wins the Pennant

Somewhat anticlimactically, Moorhead was awarded the 1897 RRVL pennant after the league disbanded. Final standings printed in the Forum on July 31st show how the "Barmaids" truly dominated the truncated season:

                                          W          L        PCT
Moorhead                           26       10        .722
Grand Forks                       18        21       .463
Wahpeton-Breckenridge     16        21       .433
Fargo                                 15        23        .395

These standings are somewhat questionable, however. Clearly Moorhead was the best team in the league, but Fargo played better than the published standings show. The sticking point is exhibition games. Occasionally, the papers would explicitly state which games were exhibitions, but not always. Fargo's record, including exhibition games and games played after the league officially disbanded, was 24-30. All of Fargo's exhibitions in 1897 were against other RRVL teams, except for a 8-6 win on June 22nd against Detroit Lakes, a team in the running for membership in the RRVL before the season began.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Research Challenges

For as much as I enjoy this project, and I really do, there are some challenges and frustrations. I'll share a few:

1) No first names - baseball recaps in the late 1900s usually omitted the first name of the player, and not just in the box scores (which still remains common practice today). Typically, a player was referred to by his position and his last name. My most frustrating example of this is "Catcher Hartman". Hartman played for Fargo for the entire 1897 season, yet not one account in either the Forum or Sunday Argus mentioned his first name. This is especially frustrating because I suspect he was from the area. Finding out a player's first name becomes an exciting discovery. Sometimes, even just getting the first and middle initials (as I have found with A. J. Hessler), is a nice accomplishment. First names help greatly in finding different paths for research.

2) No comprehensive index of the Forum - somewhat surprisingly, no useful searchable index of the Fargo paper exists. The Grand Forks Herald does have a searchable index, which is nice. Though the search mechanisms for older versions of newspapers are not always fully reliable, having something would be nice. Instead, I need to go through each individual newspaper edition that may provide some information. This is fun at times, but tedious, too. As it stands, these are the publications I have searched, page by page:

Fargo Forum - daily editions from April 1 - September 21, 1897, along with some of the mid-June to mid- July of 1896 and some of the summer of 1898
Fargo Sunday Argus - weekly editions May - October 1896, April - August 1897
Grand Forks Herald - daily editions May 19 - June 6, 1897 (still in progress...)
The Sporting News - weekly editions March - October 1897
The Sporting Life - several editions from the summer of 1897
The Spectrum - North Dakota Agricultural College's monthly newspaper 1897-1898
St. Paul Globe - just the daily sports page from May 22 - June 15 1897 (still in progress...)
That's over 300 editions of papers. Wow. If I only could get paid for this. (At least the Forum daily was usually just 4 pages!)

There are many more papers I am interested in searching. More to come.

3) My last complaint is similar to #1 and concerns Fargo's baseball park. I have no idea where it was. Well, I have some idea, but the Forum and Argus do not specify its location. Not even reference to nearby landmarks that would help my cause. The papers do call it a "park" and sometimes the "baseball grounds". Based on some vague clues like these and my moderate knowledge of Fargo's history, I do have a theory. I really do think they played at Island Park. However, they also could have played at Oak Grove Park, and possibly could have had a makeshift baseball park somewhere else in the city. I hope it's Island Park - I have always loved that place.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why 1897?

Why did I choose 1897? It is a question I have been asked several times in the course of my research. There were a few reasons. I have always been interested in the pre-1920 "Deadball" era of baseball. This era was characterized by dominant pitching, strategic batting and base-running, and few home runs. The players of this era were often boisterous and entertaining figures - rough and tumble types, drinkers, and gamblers. This time in baseball is filled with some really interesting stories. Also, the nicknames were great, the ballparks were shaped funny, and the equipment was primitive. I find it a fascinating time in baseball history.

I have never known much about U.S. history from the end of the Civil War to 1900. I always intended to learn more about this era, and studying Fargo, baseball, and culture at the end of the 19th century was intriguing.

I thought it would be a challenge. Very little has been written or documented about Fargo's early baseball teams. I wanted to uncover things that were truly new to the known historical record. I considered looking at the Fargo-Moorhead Twins for a time, but new my heart wouldn't be in it - even if the resources would be more plentiful.

The Red River Valley League in 1897 was an officially organized league recognized by the National League (the only major league at the time). In 1896, teams in Fargo, Grand Forks, Moorhead, and other area towns played games, but not within the structure of a league and not with the same frequency as 1897. And 1898 was a relatively quiet year for baseball in the area. I felt that the RRVL provided a real link to the "national game".

But, ultimately, I love baseball and I love history. If the 1897 season had not proved so captivating, I would probably be hunting down information on the Fargo teams from 1902-1917. From the little I have seen, this was an equally interesting era.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Billy Sunday visits Fargo

An outfielder with a .248 career batting average, William Ashley "Billy" Sunday was known for his speed and base running, playing most of his career for the Chicago White Stockings of the National League. In 1891, Sunday, an eight year major league veteran, turned down a $3,000 contract to begin work for the YMCA. His motivation was his desire to devote his life to spreading the message of Christianity. A convert to the faith, Sunday became a prolific Christian evangelist, traveling throughout the United States and speaking to crowds about the faith and the value of clean living for over 20 years. Ironically, Sunday's teammates with the White Stockings were quite notorious for their drinking, gambling, and generally reckless behavior. Sunday, however, even before his conversion, was not among the rowdy of the group.

In August 1897, Billy Sunday visited Fargo on one of his speaking tours. On a Sunday afternoon, the 22nd, Sunday spoke at the YMCA, and that evening, addressed a crowd at the Fargo opera house. In the days leading up to Sunday's visit, Fargo player A. J. Hessler urged residents to go see the fiery evangelist speak. With the RRVL's break up two weeks earlier, Hessler was spending some time playing for a team from Foster County in North Dakota. Hessler made a special trip from Grand Forks to Fargo to see Sunday, whom he touted as "one of the finest fellows I have met" (Sunday Argus Aug 22).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fined and Released

Fargo was excited to have Arthur "Tige" Lyons back for the 1897 RRVL season. Lyons had played in Fargo in 1896, when the team was not in an organized league, but played exhibition games during that summer. In the May 10, 1897 issue of Fargo's paper, the Forum touted Lyons as always being "in splendid shape". The same account, however, hinted that Lyons had some problems with drinking in the past, but that "(Lyons) is sure the flowing bowl no longer has any attraction for him and promises to put up the game of his life."

The optimism about "Tige" did not last long. In Fargo's fourth game of the season on May 29th at Grand Forks, Lyons was fined early in the game for arguing with the well-respected umpire George Challis. Interestingly, his behavior was bad enough to also move the Grand Forks Chief of Police to remove Lyons from the premises (Sunday Argus May 30, 1897). After the Grand Forks game, Lyons stayed with the Fargo team, and played in their embarrassing 27-6 loss in an exhibition game against Moorhead on May 31st. By June 2nd, however, Lyons had been released by the team. The Forum hinted that his level of play during the exhibition game was suspect, even causing "a large number" of people to criticize him for his "indifferent" play. Though Lyons apparently had some supporters as well, his reckless behavior was enough for the Fargo team to show him the door.

Interestingly, Lyons later umpired several RRVL games in 1897, and continued to umpire games in the region for several years.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Things to come...

I thought I would take today's post to give you an idea of some ongoing research that will eventually appear in later posts:

1) I hope to get a glimpse of the rules of baseball in 1897 - Once I get my hands on a copy of the 1898 Spalding Guide to Baseball, this will go forward very quickly.
2) You will find out about an assault case involving two Fargo players against one of their teammates.
3) Fines and ejections in 1897 RRVL games 
4) Access to more pictures and links - I currently have individual pictures of five of the Fargo players. My dream is to find the gem of my research - a team picture of the 1897 Fargo team (if one exists at all).
5) I will put together a comprehensive list of other teams that the Fargo players played for in 1897. Several traveled to nearby small towns on off days. Others played in the Western League during the course of the summer.
6) I will examine a questionable member of the Fargo team who, based on his erratic play, may have been involved with gambling on games.
7) More terminology from the era

Monday, May 7, 2012

1897 Statistics - Fargo Divorcees

The Forum published the following statistics for the Fargo team after the end of the 1897 season. Statistics were published for players who spent the most time with the team. Obviously, there isn't quite the detail of today's sabermetrics, but it's nice to have what was recorded. 


At Bats

Oscar Peterson

J. Hopkins

Josh Reilly


Bill Zink


George Keas


Charles Brown



Fred Steele

Gus Muenche


Put Outs
Charles Brown
J. Hopkins
Josh Reilly
George Keas
Bill Zink
Oscar Peterson
Gus Munch
Fred Steele

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Level of Play

It's hard to definitively describe the level of play in the Red River Valley League in 1897, but an educated guess can be made. A few facts to make up our formula:

First, consider that Fargo's team had two former major league players (Jimmy Banning and Josh Reilly) and one future major league player (Deacon Phillippe). Grand Forks and Moorhead each had one future major league player on its 1897 team. Wahpeton-Breckenridge featured no past or future major league players. There were a few stars on each team that also enjoyed long minor league careers, often with higher-level leagues.

With the promising young stars and baseball veterans, however, were a mixture of local players whose baseball resumes were not impressive.

Also consider that the Red River Valley League was considered an informal "farm" league of the 1897 Western League. The Minneapolis Millers, St. Paul Saints, and other Western League teams sent players to the RRVL for parts of the 1897 season. The Western League could fairly be called what we would consider a AAA level league today.

With these facts taken into consideration, it would probably be fair to describe the 1897 RRVL as a A or AA level league - probably something in between these two modern designations. In fact, most of Fargo's minor league teams over the last 125 years would be described similarly in terms of level of play.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rivalries and Trash Talking

Arguments and insults between fans of rival teams are normally confined to blogs, online forums, and talk radio. This was not the case in 1897. Newspapers carried the load of hyping (or criticizing) the home team and tearing down the opponents. In particular, Fargo's Sunday Argus took special liberty to publish antagonistic jabs at opposing cities and their teams - both openly and with subtlety.

A sampling of some interesting criticisms:
May 30th - The Argus says the Wahpeton-Breckenridge team, in losing to Moorhead, was "feeling around as aimlessly as pedestrians trying to escape the Fargo street sweeper..." The same article refers to the Moorhead team as the "Barmaids", a moniker that in no way could be considered complimentary. Fargo was an dry city, so Moorhead was the place to drink in 1897. And, apparently, referring to the other team as a bunch of girls is not a new phenomenon in competitive sports - today, though, it is typically reserved as the insult of elementary-aged children.

June 6th - After a win for Fargo against Grand Forks, the Argus simultaneously insulted both the home team for their slow start, and jabbed at the visitors, proclaiming: "Strange! Fargo has won a game! And it was easy at that!"

June 13th - Umpires rarely escaped the wrath of the papers. The Argus claimed in a game between Grand Forks and Moorhead, that "Umpire O'Donnnel's (sic) work was rank, and he received a great deal of roast from the crowd."

July 11th - Speaking of Moorhead's Frank Kulp: "When Kulp can't hit the ball he blames the umpire... Anyhow, it's a case of Kulp-able carelessness."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Player Profile: Lee "Reddy" Roberts

Fargo's 1897 team began the season with Lee "Reddy" Roberts as manager. Roberts was very involved in Fargo baseball in the 1890s, but in 1897, he left the Fargo team in early June after being dismissed as manager of the team. The Forum blamed the end of his managerial duties on the team's slow start. Roberts agreed to pitch a game for Fargo after his release as manager, but left the team about a week later. He signed on with the Sheldon, ND team, and also appeared with the Mandan, ND club at the end of June, according to a report in the Bismarck Tribune (Jun. 28, 1897 edition).

Lee Roberts was truly a native son of Fargo. Born Sept. 2, 1871, Roberts was the first child born in the city of Fargo, known as Centralia at the time of his birth. Roberts grew up in Fargo, and as a child enjoyed reading and playing baseball. Married in 1894, he made his home in Fargo, working as a building contractor and fathering two sons, Dana and Vernon. (*Information from WPA conducted interviews 1936-1940.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Player Profile: Jimmy Banning's Journeys through Fargo

James M. "Jimmy" Banning stood 5'6" and weighed 150 pounds, batting left-handed and throwing right-handed in a major league career that spanned three games. Yes, three - one game in 1888 and two in 1889 as a catcher for the Washington Nationals of the National League. He had five chances in the field with no errors, and just one at-bat and no hits.

The year before his major league debut, Banning played for the Fargo club in the 1887 Red River Valley League that also featured teams from Fergus Falls, Wahpeton, and Grand Forks.

Fast forward to July 18, 1891, after his major league "cup of coffee" and time spent with Detroit and Hamilton, Ontario of the International League. Banning appeared in a contest between Fargo and Grand Forks that was played at Devils Lake, ND. The game was notable for lasting a remarkable 25 innings. Even more noteworthy is the fact that after 25 innings, the score was Fargo 0, Grand Forks 0. The game was called so that the teams could catch the trains home. Darkness, too, may have been a factor in a time before stadium lights. Banning had 0 hits in 11 at bats in that game. (Obviously, none of the hitters had very much success, though.) Another unique note is the fact that three baseballs were used in the game. Normally, one baseball sufficed for an entire game! (Impressive considering that at the major league level today, any ball that hits the dirt when pitched is immediately exchanged for a fresh one.)

In 1897, Banning again appeared for Fargo in the new Red River Valley League. Although only 31-years-old at the time, the Forum reported that Banning wasn't as swift as he was in the past. Banning appeared in just a few games as a player for the Fargo team in 1897, and spent part of the season umpiring other league games.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The League Collapses

As I alluded to in earlier posts, the Red River Valley League folded before it completed the 1897 season. When the season began, Crookston and Detroit Lakes were interested in entering the league, which would have made six teams in all. Both cities failed to get organized in time and pay the "guarantee" or "forfeit" money to the league. The forfeit money was a deposit that would be kept by the league if the team folded before it finished the season.

So, with Crookston and Detroit Lakes out of the picture, the league went on with four teams: Fargo, Moorhead, Grand Forks, and Wahpeton-Breckenridge. Fargo, Moorhead, and Grand Forks drew fairly well in terms of attendance throughout the season. It appears, however, that late in July, Wahpeton-Breckenridge was having difficulty staying financially solvent. When it looked like W-B was ready to fold, two different plans were proposed. The first would have allowed W-B to use their forfeit money deposit to help them complete the season. The second idea was to have the W-B players transfer to Crookston and be sponsored by that city, as Crookston was still enthusiastic about the possibility of having a team for the remainder of 1897.

In the end, the Crookston contingent of financial backers proved too slow in accepting the plan to adopt the W-B players and form a team. The league was anxious to continue playing and organize a revamped schedule. In addition, some of the W-B players were becoming restless. The uncertainty of the situation put their short term pay in jeopardy, and they began to look for other opportunities. By the time Crookston finally got their act together, the Wahpeton-Breckenridge team had disbanded, and the now three team league was forced to fold.