Stealing Bats, 1889

26 May

In 1889, The Cincinnati Enquirer said of the quest the average ballplayer made to secure a bat to his liking:

“The average ball-player has trouble in securing a bat of the size and weight to suit his fancy.  He will run over the stock of bats in sporting goods stores, buy pieces of wood and have them turned, and go miles to secure the article, but the season may be half over before he will find one that suits him exactly.  When he does find one to his fancy he will have trouble in keeping it, as opposing players will try to steal it.”

The paper said theft was so common:

“A bat is looked at as common property, and there is no crime in base-ball to swipe a bat providing you do it without getting caught.”

The Enquirer said John Reilly of the Red Stockings was a “Bat crank,” and “(H)as a mania for hunting good sticks.’”   Reilly was asked if he ever had a bat stolen:

“’I should say I did,’ was John’s reply.  ‘There are ball-players who make a business of stealing good bats.  I never knew Pete Browning to ‘swipe’ a bat, but you can get a trade out of the Gladiator at any stage of the game.  He has always got a stick or two to trade, and about the first thing he does when he strikes a lot is to size up the opposing club’s pile of bats and tries to drive a bargain.”

 

reilly

John Reilly

 

Reilly said there was a problem with Browning’s trades:

“Some of the Louisville players complain that Pete never trades his own bats, but grabs the first one he runs across in the Louisville pile.”

As for Browning’s use of heavy bats, Reilly said:

“Pete uses the heaviest bat of any man in the business…he had one here once that must have weighed twelve pounds.  It felt like it had an iron sash weight in the end of it.  Once, when I was in Louisville, I saw a bat floating around in a bath tub in the clubhouse.  ‘Whose bat is that? I inquired.  ‘it belongs to me,’ replied Pete:  ‘I put it in there so it will get heavy.”

petebrowning

Pete Browning

Reilly also told the story of “a splendid stick,” that had been stolen from his team in 1888.  Hick Carpenter had acquired the bat in a trade with John Sneed of the New Orleans Pelicans:

“(N)early all the players were using it.  We had it until sometime in May when it disappeared.  That was the last we saw of it until the Clevelands came around late in the summer.  One of our players saw the bat in the Cleveland club’s pile, and at once claimed It.  The Clevelands stopped the game and would not play until the bat was returned.  (Charles “Pop”) Snyder said it might belong to us, but he didn’t know anything about it.  He claimed that Tip O’Neill, of the St. Louis Browns brought it to Cleveland and forgot it, and that (Ed) McKean took it.  We had to give it up”

Reilly said another bat had been stolen from him in 1888:

“I cut the letter ‘R’ in the knob of the handle…I did not run across it again until late in the season in Brooklyn.  The bat had been painted and the knob sawed half in two to get rid of the little ‘R.’ I claimed the bat but did not get it”

Reilly said the New York Metropolitans, the American Association franchise that folded in 1887, were:

“(T)he best bat swipers in the business. They would leave New York on a trip with an empty bat bag and after they had played on a few lots they would have bats to sell.”

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