Tag Archives: Al Reach

“Boys of ’76”

5 Jan

On February, 2, 1925, The National League magnates “paused in (their) schedule deliberations” to honor the league’s past, and kick-off the diamond Jubilee celebration.

Thomas Stevens Rice, of The Brooklyn Eagle said:

“In the very same rooms in which it was organized on Feb. 2, 1876, the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs met again yesterday.  These rooms are in what is now called the Broadway Central Hotel, then called the Grand Central Hotel.”

The Associated Press said:

“In the same room in which Morgan G. Bulkeley, of Hartford, Conn., was elected the first president of the National League, the baseball men, paid tribute to the character and courage of those pioneers a half century ago.”

Dozens of dignitaries were on hand, including, John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, John Montgomery Ward, and Governor John Tener

But, the stars that day were six of the surviving players who appeared during the league’s inaugural season:

George Washington Bradley, 72, who won 45 games for the St. Louis Brown Stockings; John “Jack” Manning, 71, who hit .264 and won 18 games as an outfielder and pitcher for the Boston Red Stockings; Alonzo “Lon” Knight, 71, an outfielder and pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1876 and hit .250 and won 10 games, and three members of the Hartford Dark Blues, Tommy Bond, 68, a 31-game winner; Tom York, 74, who played leftfield and hit .259, and John “Jack” Burdock, 72, an infielder who hit. 259. Also present was the only surviving umpire from the 1876 season–Calvin J. Stambaugh.

Calvin Stambaugh, right, the last surviving umpire from 1876 and Frank Wilson, a national League umpire from 1923 until his death in 1928.

Calvin Stambaugh, right, the last surviving umpire from 1876 and Frank Wilson, a national League umpire from 1923 until his death in 1928.

Other surviving 1876 players, including George Wright and and Al Reach cited “advancing age” for their inability to attend.

feb21925pix

Seated from left: York, Bradley, and Manning. Standing: Bond.

 Bozeman Bulger of The New York World said, in relating a conversation between too of the attendees, the event was notable for another reason as well:

“(S)everal of us younger men, moving over closer, discovered a contradiction of a tradition long cherished, that old-timers never could admit any improvement in the game or in the quality of the players.

“‘Have you seen this young fellow, Babe Ruth?’ Bradley asked of Manning.

“‘Yes, indeed,’ admitted Mr. Manning, ‘and don’t let anybody tell you that we ever had a man who could hit a ball as hard as that boy.  I doubt if there will ever be another one.'”

Bulger said the “Boys of ’76” also talked about how they “fought crookedness when a salary of $1,800 a year was considered big pay for a star.”  Bradley, who after baseball became a Philadelphia police officer, said:

“‘Oh, we had crooked fellows following us around back in ’76.  They pretended to make heroes out of us and would hang around the hotels.’

“‘One day Mr. (Chicago White Stockings President, William) Hulbert, a very learned man, advised me to keep away from these men.  He explained how they could ruin a boy and lead others into temptation . I was often approached, but thanks to that wise counsel, I kept myself straight, and I thank God for it today.  It’s worth a lot to me to look you younger men in the eye and feel that in turning the game over to you, we gave you something that was honorable.  It’s up to the players to keep it honorable.”

Tom York summed up his feelings about the game in 1876:

“‘Say, do you remember how proud we used to be after winning a game, when we walked home still wearing our uniform and carrying a bat–and the kids following us?  Ball players–all except Babe Ruth–miss that nowadays.”

 

bondmanning

Bond and Manning talk pitching at the Golden Jubilee kickoff event in 1925.

 

 

 

“We didn’t have any High-Faluting Baseball Paraphernalia”

15 Oct

The Seattle Star said of Dan Dugdale:

“No man in the Northwest can rival the experiences in baseball that Daniel E. Dugdale has had in the national game.”

In his 1934 obituary, The United Press called Dugdale “the father of organized baseball in Seattle.”

Dan Dugdale

Dan Dugdale

Primarily a catcher, Dugdale played professional ball for more than a decade; including two stints in the National League with the Kansas City Cowboys in 1886 and the Washington Senators in 1894.  He retired after the 1897 season and made what was intended to be a brief stop in Seattle on the way to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush.  He never made it to Alaska, and in Seattle, he organized most of the city’s early professional teams and built two ballparks.

Dan Dugdale 1894

Dan Dugdale 1894

Forty years after he began playing he shared his reminiscences about in the early 1880s in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois with Seattle reporter Leo Lassen:

“We didn’t have any high-faluting baseball paraphernalia for the deciding game of the Peoria, Illinois city championship in the summer of 1883.  I can remember that we used a piece of the curbstone for home plate.  Nobody except the catcher used glove, and he only had a fingerless glove of thin leather over both hands.

“Oh yes!  Of course my team, the Double Browns, won, or it wouldn’t start this story out right.  It was in that game that I got my start as a catcher.

“I had been playing shortstop, but the regular receiver split a finger and there wasn’t anyone else to catch, so I tried it.

“We stood back for the pitches except on the third strike, and except with men on bases, catching the ball on the first bounce when standing back.

Ted Kennedy, who later helped pitch one of Pop Anson’s Chicago teams into the championship, was hurling for our side that day, and baby but he could throw that ball with plenty of swift.

“’Don’t catch if you want to keep your health,’ Ted warned me before taking up my receiving duties…Kennedy was right.  The first time I stood up close to catch, the ball hit that curbstone plate and crashed into my mouth, knocking out teeth by the wholesale and putting me on queer street.

“But in those days no one considered quitting as long as it was possible to stand up and catch the ball.

“I finished the game and we won the championship, and I felt well repaid for it.

“That game started me on my baseball career as a catcher, after which I was to serve for 15 years as a receiver for clubs throughout the country.”

Kennedy wasn’t the only major leaguer Dugdale played with while in Peoria.  In 1885, he played with one of the claimants to the title of invention of the catcher’s mitt—Harry Decker—and Dugdale talked about some of the attempts his teammate made to protect his hands four years before Decker was awarded the patent for the Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt:

“(Catchers) had no shin guards, masks or big gloves in those days, and a fellow had to be almost a martyr to go behind the plate with fellows like John Clarkson, Amos Rusie and those old stars doing the pitching.

“The big catcher’s pad now in use in baseball, is the same glove that Harry Decker, a teammate of mine on the Peoria team in 1885, invented.

“Harry had been troubled with split fingers and he kept tinkering around with leather trying to figure out how to protect his left hand, which does the big work for all catchers.

“He had a thin, fingerless glove to start with and one day he slipped a piece of raw beefsteak between the glove and his hand and that glove gave him his first idea.  He used this protection for almost a season, using a fresh piece of meat each day.

“Then he tried shot in the pocket of the glove and put a piece of leather on top of the shot, leaving it between the two pieces of leather.

“This gave him the idea of building the mitt up bigger and lacing fingers on the back of the glove.

“One day he hit upon the idea of stuffing the glove with rags in the mitt for protection, and finally got some good felt and used that.  It has been in use ever since.”

Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt

Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt

Dugdale remained the most prominent figure in Seattle baseball until he was hit by a truck and killed in 1934.

Accounts vary over how much Decker received from the sale of the mitt patent to A.G. Spalding.   He  is one of the enigmatic 19th Century players for whom there is no information on the date or location of his death.

After his career ended in 1891 he was convicted of numerous crimes—most involving forgery, but also including larceny and bigamy; several of his crimes involved other ballplayers.

Throughout his career Decker had a reputation as a womanizer; The Philadelphia Inquirer called him “The Don Juan of the Diamond,” but by 1890, perhaps exacerbated by his being hit in the head by a pitch, he went from lovable rogue to serial offender.  He racked up arrests and convictions in at least six states and an involuntary commitment to the Elgin State Hospital in Illinois over the next 25 years.

Victims of his crimes included Dugdale, and Al Reach, both of whose names appeared on forged checks in separate cases, and Jack Horner and Pat Pettee, teammates of Decker’s in 1891 during his brief stay with the New Haven Nutmegs in the Eastern Association.  Decker was convicted of stealing property worth $150 from Horner and $55 from Pettee after the two had allowed him to stay in the apartment they shared.

Decker’s trail goes cold after he was released from California’s San Quentin Prison in 1915.

Leo Lassen, the reporter Dugdale spoke to, went on to become the radio voice of the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League from 1931 through the 1961 season.  Some surviving audio can be found here.

Origin Stories

9 Apr

Timothy Paul “Ted” Sullivan was a player, manager, executive, and the lifelong friend and confidant of Charles Comiskey.

Al Spink, in his 1911 book “The National Game,” said Sullivan was “the best judge of a ball player in America, the man of widest vision in the baseball world, who predicted much for the National game years ago, and whose predictions have all come true.”

Comiskey said of his friend:

“Ted Sullivan’s standing in the profession of baseball cannot be measured by modern standards.   He is in a class all by himself.  He is ever and always ahead of his time, with a knowledge of the game and a versatility that no other baseball man of my acquaintance has ever possessed.”

Ted Sullivan

Ted Sullivan

Sullivan, given his reputation, was a favorite among reporters who sought his opinion about everything related to baseball.

In December of 1904, months before the Mills Commission was organized to determine baseball’s origin, Sullivan was asked by The Cincinnati Enquirer to weigh-in on the subject.  A month earlier Albert Spalding had given a speech at the YMCA training school in Springfield, Massachusetts claiming that baseball “is distinctively an American sport.”  The commission was formed in reaction to Henry Chadwick’s 1903 essay which said baseball was derived from British game rounders—after Spalding’s response, the two agreed to appoint the commission to settle the question.

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

The Enquirer said;

 “Of all the old-timers in harness Ted Sullivan is as good as the best, or a trifle better, when it comes to reviewing the history of diamond doings of the hoary past.  His memory goes back to year one of baseball and his story of the origin of the game makes a good bit of fan literature for the off season.

“’The origin of baseball may be the evolution of townball, barnball, two-old-cat or yet it may be the suggestion of the three named,’ says Ted.  ‘At any rate, the game is the product of American genius and temperament, and not an offshoot of English rounders, as our English cousins would have us believe.  Of the many times I have been in England and the subject of baseball came up, one Englishman would say to the other: ‘Why, that blooming American game of baseball is nothing but our old game of rounders, you know.’ I have nothing but the highest regard for an Englishman’s love of sport—for it is inherent in a Briton from the present King down, and should an Englishman have only his last sixpence, and should the alternative arise whether he should eat or see a field sport—he would undoubtedly decide in favor of the latter.  I must totally disagree, however, with my British cousins that their primitive and plebian game of rounders is the mother of our national game.  Oh, no dear cousins; chase that idea out of your heads.

“’To say rounders is baseball would be the same as claiming that a palace was a hut because it had a door, or a wheelbarrow a carriage because it had a wheel…From the time that the game was regularly played by the knickerbockers of New York until it became a profession, change after change has been made in the rules, to make the game as perfect as possible in its machinery.  The game is about fifty-five years of age, that is to say, before it became national, as it was played in New York and New England up to 1861, but did not reach the limits of our country until 1865 and 1866.  The most important changes in the rules after the structure of the game was put up was first eliminating a put out on the first bound by an outfielder.”

Like Spalding, Sullivan didn’t provide any specific evidence, and instead made a case that baseball must be an American invention because of “the originality of the American in the line of invention,” and by his logic, baseball was just one in a great line of American innovations:

“America to-day is the inventive torch of the world, and has been for the last fifty years.  The first seed of America’s inventive genius took root in Robert Fulton’s brain when he advocated steam as a motive power.  The next in line was Prof. Morse’s advocacy of the use of telegraph wire as a transmitter of sound.  This invention was followed by the sewing machine that relieved the weary housemaid of her burden.  On its heels came Cyrus McCormick with his farming implements that taught the world how to reap their harvest in one-tenth the time and with a fraction of the labor of former days.  The last of the greatest of America’s inventive thinkers is Tom Edison, the Wizard of Electricity, who has electrified ad illuminated the world by his inventions.”

Sullivan said this demonstrated “the originality of the American in the line of invention—whether it be a pastime or a beneficiary to the commercial world.”

There was no doubt Sullivan was influenced by Spalding’s speech.  Both claimed the game was “natural evolution” of earlier American games, and Sullivan refers to baseball as “the product of American genius and temperament; Spalding said baseball was “peculiarly adapted to the temperament and character of the American people.”

A.G. Spalding

Albert Spalding

Spalding’s speech was reprinted in many newspapers as well as the 1905 edition of “Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide.”

When the formation of the Mills Commission was announced in the spring of 1905 The Washington Post said:

“Inquiries are to be made throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and other English-speaking communities, with a view of ascertaining whether baseball is an evolution of the old English game of rounders, or of the classic American game of one-old-cat.”

The Post ridiculed the effort:

“Those ‘youngsters,’ Father Chadwick and A.G. Spalding, are playing extra innings to decide the origin of baseball.  The general public doesn’t seem to care when or how the game originated.”

The seven-member commission was composed of members sympathetic to the American origin version of Spalding and Sullivan.  Commission members Abraham Mills, Morgan Bulkeley, Arthur Gorman, Nick Young, Al Reach, George Wright and John Edward Sullivan accepted the story of a mining engineer from Denver named Abner Graves, and thus was born the Doubleday myth.  Spalding and Sullivan started with a conclusion and Spalding put together a commission that made it so.

The full text of the Graves’ first  letter to the commission as reprinted in The Sporting Life in august of 1905:

“The American game of base ball was invented by Abner Doubleday, of Cooperstown, N. Y., either the spring prior or following the ‘Log Cabin and Hard Cider’ campaign of General William H. Harrison for the presidency.  Doubleday was then a boy pupil of Green’s Select School in Cooperstown, and the same, who as General Doubleday, won honor at the battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War: The pupils of Otsego Academy and of Green’s Select School were then playing the old game of Town Ball in the following manner:

“A tosser stood close to the home goal and tossed the ball straight upward about six feet for the batsman to strike at on its fall, the latter using a four-inch flat-board bat. All others wanting to play were scattered about the Held, far and near, to catch the ball when hit. The lucky catcher took his innings at the bat. When a batsman struck the ball he ran for a goal fifty feet distant and returned.   If the ball was not caught or if he was not plunked by a thrown ball, while running, he retained his innings, as in Old Cat.

“Doubleday then improved Town Ball, to limit the number of players, as many were hurt in collisions. From twenty to fifty boys took part in the game I have described. He also designed the game to be played by definite teams or sides. Doubleday called the game Base Ball, for there were four bases in it.  Three were places where the runner could rest free from being put out, provided he kept his feet on the 1 flat stone base. The pitcher stood in a six-foot ring. There were eleven players on a side. The ball had a rubber center overwound with yarn to a size somewhat larger than the present day sphere and was covered with leather or buckskin. Anyone getting the ball was entitled to throw it at a runner between the bases and put him out by hitting him with it.

“I well remember some of the best players of sixty years ago. They were Abner Doubleday, Elilin Phinney, Nels C. Brewer. John. C. Graves. Joseph Chaffee. John Starkweather, John Doubleday, Tom Bingham and others who played on the Otsego Academy campus; although a favorite place was o the Phinney farm, on the west shore of Otsego Lake.”

Graves’ recollection would place the first game in 1839 when he was five, and “boy pupil” Doubleday was 20.

 

Al Reach

12 Dec

Alfred James “Al” Reach opened his first sporting goods store in Philadelphia in 1874 while playing for the Athletics in the National Association.  Within a decade he had built a hugely successfully business, began publishing “Reach’s Official Baseball Guide,” and established a National league franchise in Philadelphia.

In May of 1886 Reach talked to The Philadelphia Times about “one of the great industries of Philadelphia in the sporting line.”

“Men, women and children are employed in making base balls.  The cheaper ones are made by a press with leather shavings on the inside.  The body is wrapped with cotton and covered with leather.  The covering is done by hand.  The best balls—the ones in use by the American Base Ball Association—are a solid piece of Para rubber on the inside, covered with worsted yarn and then with an outside covering of horse-hide.  Men do this covering.  They are mostly harness-makers, yet they have to broken into the work, for even a good harness-maker may be a poor hand at covering and sewing a ball properly.”

Al Reach

Al Reach

Reach said the company had orders for “five hundred dozen, or six million, balls already for this season,” and the company was “two hundred thousand dozen behind” filling the orders:

“We have had the factory running until ten o’clock at night all winter.  Base balls sell from 5 cents to $1.25 apiece…Three-fifths of all the balls used in the country are made in Philadelphia.”

—–

“Base ball bats are made of willow, spruce and first and second-growth ash.  The latter wood makes the best bet.  They are sold at fifty, sixty and seventy-five cents each.  There are about sixty thousand bats used every season.  Our orders already indicate that we will dispose of at least fifteen thousand of the best quality.”

Reach said the company employed “upwards of five hundred persons.”

Reach's main factory in 1886 at Frankford Avenue and Wildey Street in Philadelphia---The Martin Landenberger Hosiery Mill Complex/Morse Elevator Works Building

Reach’s main factory in 1886 at Frankford Avenue and Wildey Street in Philadelphia–The Martin Landenberger Hosiery Mill Complex/Morse Elevator Works Building

By the end of the decade Reach’s company was purchased by A.G. Spalding, with Reach staying on as an executive and the company continued to produce equipment with the Reach name, including the official American League baseball, which was used through the 1976 season.

Reach maintained controlling interest in the Phillies until 1899 and died in 1928.  He left an estate worth more than $1 million.

Reach Official American League ball 1920s

Reach Official American League ball 1920s