“The Farce of the Season”

26 Nov

In November of 1885 Topeka, Kansas was scandalized by a baseball game.

The Daily Capital said:

“A social game of baseball, whether the contestants are skilled professionals of ambitious amateurs, is always a matter of some interest and pleasure both to the participants and the spectators; but a sensational exhibition, such as was witnessed at the fairgrounds yesterday afternoon, is another and quite a different thing.  The fact that it attracted a crowd of several hundred men and boys does not divest the spectacle of its questionable character, and it is surprising that an outfit of this kind should receive such substantial encouragement in a city like Topeka, where a claim to ordinary civilization is advanced and where the spires of nearly a hundred churches cast their shadows upon an enlightened and progressive people.”

The Daily Commonwealth was more succinct:

“The farce of the season was the game of baseball played yesterday afternoon.”

The cause of the outrage was “The Fairies of the Field,” a traveling female team.

The Daily Commonwealth noted that the team arrived in Topeka on a “Sante Fe train, traveling in a special car, painted red, perhaps because their advent into a town causes the town to assume that color.”

Neither of the Topeka papers were impressed with the ball-playing ability of the visitors, who faced a “picked nine” of local male amateurs and semi-pro players.

The Daily Capital:

“The nine females who formed the principal attraction were awkward and scrawny and had no knowledge whatever of the national game they were abusing.”

The Daily Commonwealth:

“The ‘belles’ can’t throw any better than any other woman can, and can hit a ball with about as much force as a ten year old boy.”

The Daily Capital didn’t bother to disclose the final score, “The details of the game are not worthy of extended notice.” The Daily Commonwealth gave the final score, but attributed the Fairies’ 19 to 7 victory in the four-inning game to “assistance” from the umpire, and the generousness of “The home nine (who) gave them every opportunity to make runs.”

Despite the reception in Topeka, the team was popular and performed to large crowds the previous year at the World’s Fair in New Orleans, then spent the summer and early fall of 1895 barnstorming across the Midwest.  The Fairies were generally received with more respect and enthusiasm than what they faced in Topeka, but the reviews of their skills varied.

The Minneapolis Tribune gave the team a glowing notice after a game in August of 1885 “attended by 700 men and eight women,” and said:

“The Fairies of the Field were in fine form and flitted coyly over the luxuriant sward as blithe and chipper as a Mayday butterfly.”

The paper said one of the Fairies—Genevieve McAllister—“wields the willow after the style of Jim O’Rourke,” and Clara Corcoran, who played third base was said to be the niece of Chicago White Stockings pitcher Larry Corcoran.”  The Tribune said of the team’s pitcher:

“Miss Royalston—“the expert and lady-like pitcher of the visitors…formerly lived at Detroit, and learned the art from the study of (Frederick “Dupee”) Shaw, the wizard.  She takes a graceful three-lap pirouette on the left toe, and while the batsman is dazzled by the rapidity with which the stripes on her polonaise fly by, the ball comes out from somewhere and the umpire calls a strike.”

The St. Paul Globe's rendering of one of the 'Fairies.'

The St. Paul Globe’s rendering of one of the ‘Fairies.’

The Fairies defeated the Minneapolis men 8 to 7.

The St. Paul Globe said after a loss at Stillwater, Minnesota “witnessed by a crowd of 1,200 or 1,300 persons,” composed of “Every profession in Stillwater, excepting the clergy, from street urchin to the capitalist, was represented.”

The Globe said of the visitors:

“The girls, seven brunettes and two blondes, were attired in red hose, plaid dresses reaching to the knee, red caps and slippers.  All wore belts, and two or three black jerseys, and were powdered and panted like ballet fairies.”

But the St. Paul paper was not as impressed with the Fairies as their counterparts in Minneapolis, summing up their performance in Stillwell:

“They can’t play ball a little bit.”

When 1,500 turned out for a game in St. Paul, The Globe was equally unimpressed:

“Four innings were played, the score being 14 to 4 in favor of the picked nine, who could have made it 44 to 4 if they chose.  At the close of the fourth inning the manager called, ‘Game! Grab your bases,’ which each basewoman did and the fairies vanished, leaving behind the most disgusted audience that ever went to see a game of baseball.”

Handbills that promoted the team’s appearances read “Have never been here before, may never come again.”

True to the advertisements the Fairies of the Field disbanded shortly after their ‘farce’ in Topeka, and never came again.

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