“The ‘Original’ up-behind-the-bat Man”

17 Apr

Douglas L. Allison was largely forgotten by 1907.

He caught for Harry Wright’s Cincinnati Red Stockings from 1868-1870, joined the newly formed National Association as a member of Nick Young’s Washington Olympics in 1871, and was an inaugural member of the Hartford Dark Blues during the National League’s first season in 1876; in total he played for parts of 10 seasons in the American Association, National League, and National Association.

Doug Allison, standing third from left, with the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings

Doug Allison, standing middle, with the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings

It was the death of a contemporary that brought him back into the public eye.

On April 21, 1907, Nathan Woodhull “Nat” Hicks died in Hoboken, NJ.  Hicks had also been a catcher, having played for the New York Mutuals, Philadelphia Whites and Cincinnati Reds in the National Association and National League from 1872-1877.

Hicks’ obituary, including the one in The New York Times, gave him credit for being the first catcher to stand directly behind the batter:

“To catch behind the bat without the elaborate protection of mask, protector, great glove, and shin guards, as Nat Hicks was the first to do, required a grit and endurance that few of the high-priced artists of the diamond today would care to emulate.  Hicks created a sensation by catching behind the bat with his naked hands and body unprotected.”

Doug Allison couldn’t let that stand, and he contacted a reporter from The Associated Press to set the record straight:

“Nat Hicks was a great catcher for the short period that he stood in the limelight of public opinion, but the press of the country is away off in giving him credit as the ‘original’ up-behind-the-bat man.”

While coming forward to claim the distinction, Allison insisted it wasn’t important to him:

“Not that I wish to claim any such record, for after all it does not carry any great weight or glory, but just the same I think figures will prove that I was among the first, if not the first, of any of the backstops  to attempt that trick that was the mystery of the game.”

Allison said that while catching for a team in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia he developed a “theory,” and “began to believe it possible to get close up to the bat,” in order to prevent runners from stealing:

“I put my theory in action, and that was way back in 1866…My success in this style of play was remarkable, and naturally the talk of the place, until our game began to draw crowds simply because ‘Allison was behind the bat.’  This is not egotism, but the fact, and my method soon had lots of imitators.”

Allison said the following season while playing with the “Gearys, the leading amateur team of Philadelphia,” he was discovered by “that greatest of all baseball generals—Harry Wright.” And while with the Red Stockings he “continued up under the bat with plenty of success.”

As for “my friend Nat Hicks,” Allison said:

“(He) did not break into the game until 1870 and could not have started that play for which so many newspapers have been giving him credit, and while disliking to cloud their stories, it seems right to correct the popular impression of this important epoch in the history of baseball.”

A print from the 1870s depicting "Nat" Hicks "behind the bat" with the New York Mutuals.

A print from the 1870s depicting “Nat” Hicks “behind the bat” with the New York Mutuals.

Having set the record straight, Allison returned to his job in the dead letter office of the United States Post Office in Washington D.C.  He died in 1916 at age 70.

Advertisements

One Response to ““The ‘Original’ up-behind-the-bat Man””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “My Forte is Base-Ball, and not Speaking” | Baseball History Daily - May 28, 2014

    […] were made for Mr. (Aaron Burt) Champion, President of the club, (Harry) Wright, (Charlie) Gould and (Doug) Allison, and, in fact, every member of the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s