Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Random Fact of the Day (3) - Post #100!

The Red River Valley League's 1897 season was scheduled to end September 4. By the end of the first week of August, however, the league had folded. 

THIS IS POST #100! (Some of better quality than others!)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Random Fact of the Day (2)

According to the Bismarck Tribune, the baseball park in Fargo was completed in June 1896, with a seating capacity of 900.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Random Fact of the Day (1st in a Series)

Men from various occupations gathered to play friendly baseball games near the turn of the century. Newspapers in the valley occasionally reported on match-ups featuring teams of doctors, lawyers, printers, plumbers, hotel workers, railroad men, and cigar-makers, among others. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

That Really Annoying Fan: Not a New Phenomenon

When I read a description appearing in an 1887 edition of Fargo's Sunday Argus, I felt like it could have been written yesterday. The subject: the obnoxious fan. The Philadelphia Press originally published the story, which also covers a distinctive sound known as the "baseball yell". The picture painted by the writer's explanation of the baseball yell isn't particularly clear or applicable to today's game, but the portrait of the unreasonable fan strikes a chord:

"The genuine base-ball yeller yells because he can't help it. But there is a cousin of his who makes other noises with a pertinacity that is evidently wilful (sic). There is a man with a shrill tenor voice who has a season ticket and who sits in one of the upper boxes overlooking the grounds. He is the self-constituted critic of the umpire. He knows more about base ball, in his own mind, than all the experts in the country boiled down and rolled into one. He is always, too, a violent partisan of the home club... He is there every season. His name may vary, but the type is never absent. The regular attendants, the constant devotees of the game, soon grow used to his rantings, and they pass without notice. Even the umpire is too sadly accustomed to the exhortations of the crank even to permit himself a smile."

I guess there is some consolation in knowing that this guy has been around for 125 years. Or maybe not.

Sunday Argus July 17, 1887 "Lovers of Base-Ball" citing the Philadelphia Press.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Problem of Salaries

In major league baseball today, fans of small-market teams worry about the ever growing disparity in the payroll of their team versus the big-market big spenders. While the New Yorks and Bostons of the world address their weaknesses with high priced free agents, the San Diegos and Oaklands must squeeze every penny in their efforts to keep their teams competitive. Though not always the case, big spending means more wins. Interestingly, the Red River Valley League of 1897 faced a similar concern that contributed to its failed season.

The problem of salaries was not lost on the league's organizers. In fact, the league rules specified a $40 per player per month salary limit. Only the captain of each team could earn more. Additionally, the league established a $400 monthly limit on a team's total salaries. The Forum remarked that these measures were necessary to avoid "the experience of the old '87 league." The paper also chastised unnamed teams who had already violated the new salary limits, predicting that if the practice continued, it would "cause the downfall of the league."

Indeed, the salary issue ended up being one of the nails in the coffin of the 1897 league. The Moorhead club, particularly, shares a good deal of blame for overpaying players. Decades later, when W. P. Davies of Grand Forks reflected on the old RRVL, he placed the blame on the Moorhead saloon-keepers who excitedly pumped money into their hometown team. In calling the bar owners the "worst offenders" though, Davies implied that there were other teams breaching the salary limit. Davies explained in one of his later columns that the excitement of having a pennant winner caused enthusiastic local businessmen to pony up extra money "for the honor of the town."  As a result of the free spending, the Moorhead club took an early commanding lead in the standings, which may have caused fans to lose interest in the league. The resulting lack of gate receipts as the summer of 1897 went on impacted other teams' financial stability, particularly the Wahpeton-Breckenridge club. When the W-B club couldn't come up with a solution to its money woes, the team was forced to fold, and the league collapsed with them.

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican May 20, 1897, "Baseball"
"That Reminds Me: Today and Yesterday" by W. P. Davies, April 1932 and May 10, 1939.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Message to Horses and Other Spectators: Beware Flying Objects

Automobile parking was not a concern for fans of the national game in the late 19th century. The danger of broken windshields and body dents caused by stray baseballs was non-existent. Often, fans in the Red River Valley were within walking distance of the local baseball grounds, and if they weren't, a horse and buggy sufficed for the journey. Interestingly, the opening of a new baseball field for Fargo in 1896 presented problems for those attempting to access the park in their buggies. Officials quickly solved the traffic problem by opening a second entrance to the park.

The presence of horses near the playing field was certainly part of the flavor of minor league baseball in this era. One local fan, Jerry Bacon, had one of his horses present for a game between Brainerd and the Grand Forks Company F team in 1895. Unfortunately, Bacon soon learned that his equine attendee was not exempt from the danger of wayward baseballs. The Grand Forks Herald reported that during the 14-5 Brainerd victory, a foul ball struck Bacon's horse in the head. The result: one of the horse's eyes was knocked out of its socket!

Grand Forks Herald September 19, 1895 p. 5 "A Double Header", "City News"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Baptism by Curveball?

When the state of Iowa banned Sunday baseball in April 1897, special consideration was given to the members of the Seventh Day Adventist church. The new law provided that the members of the church, because of their celebration of the Sabbath on Saturday, were exempt from the Sunday ban. With the exemption, the Des Moines baseball club saw opportunity. The St. Paul Globe reported on May 1 that the team's members planned to be baptized as Seventh Day Adventists. Quite the act of dedication.

St. Paul Globe May 1, 1897 p.5 "Must Join a Church to Play Ball"

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Terminology: Part 5

I have continued to find interesting terminology from the summer of 1897. Some of the references are a little difficult to figure out, but the context usually provides the answer.

"Assaulted the ozone instead of the sphere" - Swung and missed
"Comer" - player with potential; like an "up and comer"
"Cracker" - like a "crack" team; skilled
"Do the leg wrapping" - pitch
"Doughnuts to cookies" - like "dollars to donuts" (I'm not sure what this says about the relative value of doughnuts vs. cookies)
"Flowing bowl" - alcohol
"Garden" - field (i.e. Center garden = Center field)
"Hoodoo" - trickery, deception
"Horse collars" - zeroes (relating to their appearance on the scoreboard)
"Hospital list" - like the disabled list
"Hummest" - best
"Inshoot" - Curveball that breaks toward the right-handed batter
"In the swim" - similar to "in the mix"
the "McGinnity Act" - pitching both games of a doubleheader 
"On the toboggan" - injured
"Pan" - the plate
"Pets" - players
"Pink of condition" - in the best shape
taking a "Reef in his sails" - likely meaning the action of settling down, or reassessing a situation
"Stuff is off" - event is not going to happen
"Up in the air" - going up in the air is used to refer to a pitcher losing control of his pitches
"Weary Willies" - hobos

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, Grand Forks Herald, Moorhead Independent", Sunday Argus; April - August 1897.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No photos? No problem.

I've commented regularly on the descriptiveness and creativity found in newspaper accounts of baseball games in the late 19th century. Today a game can be summarized by a few nice snapshots, or even video highlights. Writers in the Red River Valley certainly didn't have these luxuries, however, and actual photographs of any baseball games in the era are quite rare. In the summer of 1897, the Fargo Forum, Sunday Argus, Grand Forks Herald, and Moorhead Independent never featured a single photograph relating to baseball. Fortunately, written accounts of the games were usually quite good, being both descriptive, and at times, even entertaining. A few days ago, I posted a cartoon drawn in the Grand Forks Herald satirizing the 1897 league and the plight of the umpires. This is the only drawing that appeared in the Herald during the 1897 season concerning the Red River Valley League, but illustrations from the cartoonist Straub were fairly common in chronicling the 1896 season. The following is one of my favorites. It captures the spirit of a strong rivalry between Crookston and the Company F team of Grand Forks, with a good dose of humor injected as well. The Grand Forks squad won the game 15-9. Several members of the 1897 Grand Forks Senators appeared in the game, including Charles Hutton, Harry Walker, and Jack Turner.

Grand Forks Herald July 17, 1896 "Fixed 'Em Plenty"