South Coast Vintage Base Ball

Discovering baseball history on the southcoast of Massachusetts

Letter From Fort Monroe

Fortress Monroe, Old Point Comfort, & Hygeia Hotel, Va. in 1861 & 1862, Library of Congress

I found this letter below published on May 5, 1861 in the Boston Daily Advertiser. As it notes, it was originally published in the New Bedford Standard. Unfortunately, the author of the letter as well as the recipient was not published. The letter writer describes passing time at the fort and in the last paragraph he talks about the playing of baseball. It is clear that he is familiar with the game, most likely having played himself or had seen the Ironsides or one of the many other clubs playing in New Bedford before the war.

[Correspondence of the New Bedford Standard.]

Fort Monroe, Tuesday Eve., April 30. [1861]

Friend N–  : I am now resting from the labors of the day smoking my pipe, and having an opportunity to directly mail a letter, I address to you. Today I have been very busy in taking account of Massachusetts stores sent to our Regiment from Philadelphia, and I have just now finished making out the invoices and receipts for the stores. Everything is kept by double entry here, inasmuch as we have to make two invoices and tow receipts for every item that passes through our hands. It stands me in hand to do it correctly for am personally responsible for everything I handle.

Not much is going on here since Sunday, except Sunday night, when an alarm was given from the “Cumberland,” and the Regulars were aroused and stationed at the guns. The Volunteers were not called up. Last evening, about 10 o’clock, a brass field piece, stationed at the gate, was discharged, which was a signal for every one to be at his post. A grand rush was made. The Guards were the first company in line – beating the Regulars. At an alarm like this, our Regiment take a position to command the north gate of the fort, while the Fourth Regiment are stationed at the south gate, and the regulars man the guns on the parapet. The excitement was high for a few moments, but soon subsided, and the men returned to quarters. Every man jumped to his equipments and gun, and there were no laggards I assure you. It was a good liking to try the spirit of the men, and it afforded additional proof of the desire to stand by the glorious Stars and Stripes. I almost forgot to say that the alarm was caused by the appearance in the offing of a large steamer, which acted rater queer for a while and then sailed away.

The men are employed in rather queer business sometimes, when not on guard, for instance this afternoon while I was on the wharf with my gang of men, George Sears came down driving a donkey cart, carting ammunition, and fresh beef. T. C. Allen, jr., was employed the same way, while A. Upjohn was bore teamer. Sometimes they roll beef and port, and then you will see them attached under some shade tree, devouring an Evening Standard two weeks old, or washing their clothes and drying them in the sun, of which we have a plenty, and we are all turning as black as Creoles. Mornings a portion of the Braintree company, Fourth Regiment, may be seen playing base ball, and a mighty smart game they play, it would do you good to see them. The band here is some – 25 members with any quantity of drummers. Every morning they come out at the parade of the guard for the day. This morning they made the air ring with the well known notes of Dixie.

Fort Monroe is located in Hampton Virginia and during the Civil War was still controlled by the Union despite Virginia’s succession from the U.S. I believe I have been able to identify the men he describes carting the ammunition and fresh beef. They were all enlisted in Company L, Massachusetts 3rd Infantry Regiment.

On April 13, 1861, two days after the battle at Fort Sumtner, the 3rd regiment was summoned to Boston. The regiment left Boston on April 18 and arrived at Fort Monroe on the 20th. The regiment returned to Boston on July 19. Company L may not have joined the regiment until after April 23 as that is the date the three men noted in the account above enlisted in the company.

George Sears was listed as being employed as a clerk at the time of his enlistment and a druggist in the 1860 federal census. He reenlisted in Company E of the 3rd Regiment in September of 1862. He was married to a woman named Caroline and had a daughter about three years old named Carrie at the time of his enlistment with Company L.

T. C. Allen, Jr. was most likely Thomas C. Allen, Jr. employed as a merchant/trader. He was living at home at the time of his enlistment. He mustered out on July 22, 1861. I’m not sure what his fate is after that. I did find a Thomas Allen about the same age that died of Brights disease in 1880.

A. Upjohn may have been Aaron Upjohn, Jr. He was a clerk with Buckminster &Macy, a dry goods business on Pleasant Street. Upjohn enlisted in the navy twice after his time with Company L. Mr. Upjohn has a baseball connection as well. He played on the Bristol County Base Ball Club in 1858 and played right field as a member of the Wamsutta Base Ball Club in 1866.

The Standard Ball Player

On a recent cloudy day I wandered in to one of the amazing antique malls in New Bedford.  Looking for nothing in particular I stumbled across this:

My first thought was that it was baseball related. “Ball player” usually means a baseball player. Right?  But why would it be on a sign? The tag on the sign said it was a 19th century sign. Perhaps the phrase stood for something else. Was it the name of a store that player pianos in New Bedford?

The sign is in very good shape. It is clearly hand painted and the pencil lines can still be seen that the artist used to stencil in the lettering evenly.

My gut (or my hope) told me that it is a baseball related sign. So I snapped the pic and headed home to do a little research. My gut was right. While I wasn’t able to find out a whole lot I did discover that the Standard Ball Player referred to a 6’ x 10’ mechanical scoreboard that hung on the side of a building just before to World War I. These were in the days before baseball fans could follow a game on the radio (and obviously television). But this wasn’t just a scoreboard. The board displayed a layout of a ball field. It was an actual recreation of a game in which an operator would receive the latest action of a game via ticker tape and then used a magnet to move a small iron ball from the pitcher’s mound to a bat at home plate. The operator would then move the ball to the area of the field where the ball was hit. This happened for each pitch of the game, including balls and strikes. The operation of this scoreboard was usually reserved for the World Series. The blog, Old Picture of the Day features one of these scoreboards in use in Washington D.C during the 1917 World Series:

The inventor of this contraption was William Ashley, an electrician for the New Bedford Standard newspaper. The board was first used for the 1915 World Series between the Red Sox and Phillies. The sign hung on Market Street on the Standard building. Mr. Ashley went on to produce other boards for football and horse racing and in 1917 he incorporated the Standard Ball Player Corporation.

Now the sign for Mr. Ashley’s business of his unique scoreboards sits in a local antique mall. While the sign is not as old as the price tag indicates it certainly is a fascinating piece of local history. And for $400 you can own it.

Near tragedy in Mattapoisett, 1875

Research has been rather slow lately.  I have been thinking about the possibility of expanding the scope of this blog to include writings about baseball history in general. I have many research findings set aside for possible future projects. It is taking over what little storage I have at home. Perhaps a new blog would be in order.  One that I have enough material to update on a regular basis. Perhaps.

In the meantime, I have discovered this disastrous account of a baseball accident reported in the Lowell Daily Citizen on June 21, 1875:

In 1875, baseball was played with very little protective gear. Fielder’s gloves did not come in to use until a decade later and head protection was certainly unheard of. Most ball fields were open fields and probably did not have much in the way of fencing surrounding the playing field that would have protected fans from foul balls and in this case, the occasional run away bat.

I have been unable to locate a follow up story reporting the fate of young Willis Burbank. I did a little research to see what I could find about him. He was born about 1862  to Joseph and Sarah (Price) Burbank. Joseph was a ship carpenter and most likely employed by one of the ship yards in Mattapoisett.

Willis had three siblings; George, Mary and William. William died on December 31, 1850 of neurosyphilis at the age of 5. George was born about 1854. Records for him are scarce but it appears he died sometime before 1870.

Mary seems to have escaped the dangers of childhood. In 1878 she would marry William Branch Nelson of Mattapoisett.  I wasn’t able to locate Mary’s fate but her husband died of septicemia in 1893. By 1900 she was living with her 13 year old daughter, Sarah. In November of 1912, Sarah married George Hiller in Mattapoisett. They would go on to have five children, Nelson, Mary, Richard and Emerson. I’ll stop here with the genealogy on Mary (genealogy is an addiction for me). Let’s get back to to injured Willis.

Evidently Willis’ injury was not as bad as his physician feared. While I wasn’t able to identify any additional details about his injury I found that by 1880 he was working as a sailor out of Mattapoisett. He gave up a career on the seas, married Cora Haskell in 1898, and pursued a retail career in woolen goods and umbrellas. Willis and Cora do not appear to have had children. Wills lived well beyond what his doctor feared on that near tragic day in 1875. While I have not been able to determine Willis’ fate, I found that by 1930 he was living in Roxbury with his wife and a nurse while still actively engaged in business.

Speaking of Rabbit…

The Whaling Museum is opening up a new exhibit in July. The photo exhibit, “Standard Times Collection, 1895-1925″,  is from a collection of dry-plate glass negatives which were used by photographers of the paper’s forerunner, the New Bedford Standard.

The Whaling Museum is asking for votes on your favorite images (read their blog for more details) at the their Flickr page. There are 44 images displayed of which they are looking to use around 30. Among those images happens to be one of Rabbit Maranville (pictured above)! Choosing to cut any one of these fantastic images is going to be a very difficult decision. But if you vote for any of them be sure to include Rabbit Maranville.

Rabbit

The South Coast has had its share of well known ball players grace its soil over the years from Moonlight Graham to Mo Vaughn. There also have been the occasional Hall of Famer to pass through these parts.

Walter “Rabbit” Maranville was one of those players. His major league career began in 1912 and lasted 23 seasons in which he batted .258 with 28 home runs. Okay, so he played about half of his career during the dead ball era. Still not exactly Hall of Fame numbers. His highest average was .295 in 1922 for Pittsburgh.

His Hall of Fame selection in 1954 was the result of his glove work. Primarily a short stop, his fielding average was .956. He committed 711 errors in 15,380 chances. Which I believe comes out to only about a 5% chance that he would make an error when the ball has hit to him.

Maranville spent the 1911 and 1912 seasons with the New Bedford Whalers of the New England League. He was hitting .283 when the Boston Braves purchased his contract for $1,000 sending him on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Incidentally, it was while he was in New Beford that he acquired his nickname “Rabbit”. As he tells the story that he was having dinner with a local family. One of the daughters, Margaret Harrington, asked if he could get tickets for her and her younger sister so that they could see him play. He obliged by leaving the tickets at the ball park for them. After the game he returned to the Harrington house for dinner and was greeted by Margaret who apparently saw him play:

‘Hello Rabbit.’

‘Where do you get that Rabbit stuff?’ Maranville responded.

‘My little seven-year-old sister (Skeeter) named you that because you hop and bound around like one.'”

However, it has been suggested that he had other features that gave him the nickname:

For an interesting story related to Rabbit and the 1914 Boston Braves caps pictured below, check out the Baseball Reasearch blog.

For more information about Rabbit Maranville check out his bio on the SABR Baseball Biography Project and check out his stats at on Base Ball Reference and the Baseball Almanac. You can also read about him in the book Run, Rabbit Run: The Hilarious and Mostly True Tales of Rabbit Maranville by Harold Seymour. Get it at your local library!

Thomas Robbins

I am currently reading a published diary of a minister named Thomas Robbins who lived from 1777-1856. Insight into people’s lives and how they lived can be readily gained through diaries and journals. And I really like to pry in to people’s personal lives!  But to be fair, I wait at least a century or so after they die before opening their diaries. I also like to read them because, as a member of the Society of American Baseball Research,  I am associated with the origins committee of SABR. The Origins people are studying the early history of the game and looking at  pre-baseball type gamesfor clues as to where our current game originates. Through journals and archival material , I look for references to bat and ball games such as trap ball or phrases such as “played at ball” or “game of ball”.

But back to Robbins. He began his diary in 1796 and more or less kept it day in and out until 1854. He began the diary the year he graduated from Yale College and spent the next few years after college teaching, preaching and studying theology. In 1803 he went to Ohio which had just entered in to statehood to organize churches for the Connecticut Missionary Society. A few years after that he preached in a few towns in his home state of Connecticut before coming to the South Coast to replace his uncle as Congregational minister in Mattapoisett in 1831.

What does Robbins have to do with baseball? He wasn’t a ball player, at least I haven’t read any diary entries about his engaging in ball playing activities. But he does provide some evidence that people were playing ball prior to the mid-nineteenth century popularization of baseball playing. Though Robbins does not say what type of ball game was being played, he does note such activity in Mattapoisett:

  • December 21, 1826: “The boys play ball in the streets… Warm and languid weather…”
  • April 4, 1833: “Fast. Meetings well attended… A part of the people were off playing ball, according to their usual practice here.”
  • March 28, 1839: “Fast… Some playing ball… Thermometer rose to 70″.

Fast is referring to Fast Day. It was a public holiday consisting of fasting and prayer. In Massachusetts it was replaced by Patriots Day in 1894.

In 1858 there were several baseball clubs that had formed in New Bedford. Some had played games on Thanksgiving Day that was reported on by the local press. The Evening Standard began their report on the game “From time Immemorial Thanksgiving and Fast days have been set apart for ball playing…”  Not only does Robbins’ diary support the Evening Standard’s statement about ball playing having long been part of fast day activities, it suggests that it could have been baseball the people were playing in Mattapoisett. Then again it could have been Wicket which was popular in Robbins’ home state or some other ball game.

For fun here are some random non-ball playing entries from the diary while he was in Mattapoisett:

  • 9/28/1831: “Rode to Fairhaven… That town is much improving.”
  • 6/1/1832: “Walked to Dr. Robbins… His two sons are theological students, and I fear will be Unitarians.”
  • 9/27/1832: “Dined out. Attended the funeral of a young colored child.”
  • 10/1/1832: “My ill health continues. Have a bad diarrhea.”
  • 12/12/1832: “I hope God will save the country from civil war.”
  • 2/26/1833: “… attended the annual meeting of the Bristol County Temperance Society. I became a member.”
  • 3/6/1833: “My wine in a chamber without fire, is frozen.”
  • 5/14/1833: “Attended the Bible class… My people are very stupid.”

Photographs – New Bedford Post One

I haven’t had much time to hit the research trails the past several months so I thought I would share some photographs I have collected over the years in hopes of finding more information about them.

The two below are images of New Bedford Post 1 American Legion baseball team. I am guessing the photographs were taken circa 1950.

Cursory searches online did not identify much about the history of New Bedford Post 1. The American Legion baseball program was founded in 1925 in South Dakota. In 1926, the first season began with teams in 15 states taking the field. It isn’t clear how many teams there were in that inaugural season or which states fielded teams according to the American Legion website. But it does indicate that currently there are over 5,400 teams covering all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Among the many alumni of American Legion ball are Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.

Any suggestions as to the identification of the individuals in the photos or the year they were taken?

“Lefty” Duval

If you haven’t yet, check out the article on local legend Lefty Duval by Buddy Thomas in today’s Standard Times.

Area loses a legend in “Lefty” Duval | SouthCoastToday.com

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Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary

Dickson Baseball Dictionary 3rd Ed.

New Bedford will make an appearance in the next edition of the Dickson Baseball Dictionary and be noted with a first. The Dictionary is an amazing piece of work that any baseball fan would love. It contains over 7,000 entries of baseball definitions along with cross references, illustrations, etymology, notes and first usages.

The first that New Bedford is associated with is the earliest known print use of the phrases “New York Game” and “Massachusetts Game”.

On September 2 the New Bedford Republican Standard noted:

The Base Ball Club recently formed in this city, is progressing finely. Its members met on the City Common at 5 o’clock Monday morning, and had a very spirited game. They have assigned Monday and Wednesday mornings, at the hour mentioned, and Friday afternoons at half-past 4 o’clock, as the time for practice. The manner of playing is the New York mode, and not the one usually adopted in Massachusetts.

Then on September 13 the New Bedford Evening Standard reported:

A number of seamen, now in port, have formed a Club entitled the “Sons of the Ocean Base Ball Club.” They play on the City common, on Thursdays, and we are requested to state that the members challenge any of the other clubs in the city to a trial either of the New York or Massachusetts game.

I was surprised to learn that I had discovered the first known use of the phrases. I’m sure the phrases were not invented in New Bedford. But where did New Bedford hear of them? Where and when were they first used? The early usage of the phrases may help explain how the New York game spread.

For the record, according to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the previous noted first usage of the phrases was in the 1859 publication of the Base Ball Player’s Pocket Companion which was published in Boston.

Incidentally, New Bedford is mentioned in the current (3rd) edition of Dickson’s. Under the entry for “season” on pages 753-754 the November 26, 1858 Evening Standard is quoted as an example.

For all of you that are eager to get a look at this volume it looks like only one library in the area will be getting a copy of it. According to the library catalog the New Bedford Free Public Library has a copy on order.

Less Than Nine

Fig 7: Eight boys with a ball ... Digital ID: 56145. New York Public Library

According to many baseball historians baseball didn’t always have nine players on a team. Depending on which version of baseball you are talking about it sometimes had as many as 20 or 30 participants per team. The version you know today may have been played with 8-11 players at one time. The codified rules of 1857 was the first time the rules mandated nine players per team. A team was often referred to as a “club nine”. In the 1870s there was talk of adding an extra shortstop putting 10 players on the playing field. The 10th player was experimented with, but never caught on.

Modern day vintage base ball teams often find themselves short of players at the last minute. I have played in a couple of games in which we were short a player for each team, limiting us to 8 players each. We managed to get by with the batting team supplying the catcher. Modern vintage players are an honest and trusting bunch.

It appears that 19th baseball teams sometimes had problems fielding a full nine for games. In 1869 the Red Rover Base Ball Club of Fairhaven played the Union Base Ball Club also of Fairhaven. The Red Rover, using only eight players, beat the Union club by a score of 35 to 28. The box score for the game suggests that the Red Rover club went without a left fielder.  They most likely shifted their fielders around when necessary.

Probably one of the more unique games with less than nine involved the Riverside Base Ball Club of Acushnet and an “unattached nine” of New Bedford.  Both clubs took the field with only seven players. The unattached went without a right and left fielder while the Riverside club went with out a shortstop and center fielder.

It would seem that the Riverside club made the better choice in using two outfielders instead of one. But the unattached players beat them 45-22 in 5 innings. Unfortunately, the newspaper at the time didn’t give any information about how the game was played with so few players other than the box score and line score:

Runs in each Inning.

Riverside,                  0          0          8          10        4

Unattached,               9          14        12        3          7

A couple of weeks before this game the same two teams played. It is not noted in the papers of the time if both teams had all nine players for the game but these unattached fellows beat the Riverside club in that game 70-34. Not bad for “9” guys without a team.

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