Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On This Date: Four Pitchers and No Luck

July 9, 1897 

True to form, the Divorcees returned to their familiar offensive funk in game three of their series against Grand Forks. The club managed just four singles against the Senators starter Hoar. With that performance, Gus Munch’s chances were doomed from the start, but the Fargo lefty was not sharp anyway and asked to be removed after surrendering four runs in the third inning. Fargo would use three more men to pitch before the game was done, including position players John Murphy and Bill Zink. The GFPD observed “Four of Fargo’s pitchers were killed and over the grisly corpses Grand Forks piled eleven runs and hits innumerable…” (July 10) The use of four pitchers in a nine inning game was exceptionally rare during this era of baseball and shows just how disastrous the outing was for the Divorcees. As a result of the ever-changing lineup, Deacon Phillippe found himself called upon to play left field later in the game. The Fargo defense did not help matters by committing seven errors, but homeruns from Joe Marshall and catcher Jake Bouchert were more than enough to lift Grand Forks to an 11-0 victory. All things considered, the final score could have been much worse.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Exciting Game in a Different Era

After another exhibition win on July 5 and a rainout of a league game on the 6th, Fargo returned to regular action against Grand Forks, visiting the Senators’ park for a four game series. Playing some of their best ball of the season, hopes were high for the Divorcees. A fine matchup was in store for the cranks that day, as Deacon Phillippe faced Senator ace Charlie Hutton. A collision in the previous series with Wahpeton gave Hutton a stiff arm, but it did not seem to bother Grand Forks’ young talent. The crafty lefty struck out the side in the third inning on his way to seven punch outs against just one walk. Each team scored once in the fifth inning, but in the sixth Grand Forks scored twice and the Divorcees just once to claim a 3-2 lead. Neither team put a run across the plate in the seventh or eighth inning. Entering the ninth, Fargo needed one run to tie and two runs to win. Unlike modern day games, the home team did not always bat last in the Red River Valley League of 1897. On that day, the Divorcees came to bat last with a chance for a walk-off win. Two men were out when Josh Reilly strode confidently to the plate and knocked a single into center field.* Following the Fargo second sacker was the pitcher Phillippe, who came to the plate batting 0 for 9 for the season. The Deacon picked a fine time for his first hit. Hutton put one over the center of the plate, and Phillippe clobbered it over the right field fence for a game-ending two-run homerun. The Grand Forks fans were stunned. Phillippe’s clutch hit, his quality pitching, and a fine defensive performance led the Fargo club to a win in the opener. (Forum July 8).  

*(Reilly, before his at bat, rubbed the head of Fargo’s mascot Oscey Gordon for good luck. To understand Reilly’s action, it is first helpful to be aware that the conception of a mascot in that era was far different from what it is today. Frank Fitzpatrick explains it this way: “The (mascot) custom grew out of a patronizing society's ignorant belief that the more socially outcast one was, the greater his worth as a good-luck charm. Humpbacks; dwarfs; those with crossed eyes; the mentally ill; and, of course, blacks and Indians were widely seen as talismans. It wasn't long until superstitious sports teams were cruelly using them for that purpose.” This description surely fit Fargo’s mascot Oscey Gordon, who was black, probably a child, with a full head of hair. Reilly’s action of rubbing the black boy’s head was commonly believed to bring good luck and was a tactic even employed by the great hitter and notorious racist Ty Cobb.)

“The disturbing history of baseball's mascots” Philadelphia Enquirer online – June 22, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pandemonium in Enderlin! - An excerpt from the upcoming book

As I continue progress toward completing the chronicle of the 1897 Red River Valley League, I thought I would share a fascinating aside to the story. Here's a sampling:

Despite a late 6 pm start, the fans in Enderlin were itching for more baseball and savored the championship game to be played between the rival towns, the winners going away with a cash prize. As the teams took the field, “pandemonium reigned”, and a group of especially passionate Enderlin fans in the grandstand roared with insane fervor, amplified by dog whistles and six foot long tin horns, among other noisemakers. Sheldon’s club was up to the challenge and rose above the intimidation, taking a 2-0 lead after two innings to quiet the crowd somewhat. At that point, it was time for the estimated 1,500 Sheldon supporters to show their enthusiasm, as they “filled the air with hats, coats, fans, yells and parasols” and their team held off a late Enderlin rally to win 11-7. Lee Roberts was reported to have “pitched the game of his life”, and the Sheldon club returned to their town heroes, greeted by the “blaze of trumpets and the boom of cannon”.  The Red River Valley League clubs should have envied the display of enthusiasm, particularly those teams struggling to draw even a fraction of the fans seen in Enderlin that weekend. (Forum June 21, 1897)