Tag Archives: Tom Foley

“When Baseball was in Swaddling Clothes”

4 Jan

William “Billy” McMahon was a member—and for a time captain—of the Mutual Club of New York from 1859 to 1870, he later became a successful businessman, owning a “Concert saloon” called the Haymarket in at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Streets in Manhattan’s Tenderloin District. McMahon’s establishment was so popular that his obituary estimated his net worth at $500,000.

1864 Mutuals–McMahon is fours from the right.

McMahon was also a volunteer firefighter, and in that capacity, in 1887, joined the New York Veteran Fireman’s Association on a cross country trip, which stopped in Chicago in September–a reporter for The Chicago Daily News, hearing of McMahon’s baseball past, sought him out.

“’What’s that? Baseball! Bless me, I’ve almost forgotten the game. Who told you I knew anything about baseball? Listen to this young fellow, boys.”

The reporter had been tipped off about McMahon by Tom Foley; Foley played with the 1871 Chicago White Stockings and lived in the Chicago suburbs:

“Tom Foley told you! Where in the name of all that’s sacred is Tom? Tom Foley! Why great thunder! I thought he had gone under.”

Foley

McMahon was 58 years old and described as “a smooth-faced, gray-haired, pleasant, jovial old gentleman.”

He said:

“Well, well, who’d a thought it! To come way out here to Chicago to be asked about baseball! But I can tell you something about the old days and the players, that’s a fact. Let’s see—it was in ’52 when I first got to be some pumpkins as a ballplayer. That was the time when baseball was in swaddling clothes and needed a nurse.

“The only two clubs then in existence were the Knickerbockers and New Yorks, afterward called Gothams. You know—but of course you don’t know, young man—but I’ll tell you. There were no (set number of) innings in those days. No, sir…Twenty-one aces counted a game, and the club which made them first won.”

McMahon said when he began playing in 1852 for the Gothams, he was working as a “butcher boy, stout, strong and active, and oh, how I could run and chase a ball, and the old man rubbed his legs most tenderly as a spell of deep thought came over him and the old days passed in review before his fancy.”

He said he played shortstop in one of the 1852 games against the Knickerbocker’s at Red House Grounds—the teams played two games that year at the Harlem location which also was the sight of a racetrack. His recollection of the result differs from the available information about the game(s).

“Well, the Knickerbockers won the toss, and, unlike the practice now-a-days, took the bat. They made five runs and we followed with three. The next time we skunked ‘em, and in two more ties at bat we made 21 aces and won the game.”

McMahon claimed after that single game in 1852, until he joined the Mutuals in 1857.

He recalled coming to Chicago with the team in 1870 to play the White Stockings on July 23; by that year, according to The Chicago Tribune McMahon was “business manager, and substitute in case of need.”

He did not play in the game but recalled “(we) made the great and first record of scoring 9 to 0, and from this game came the expression “Chicagoed,” which I understand, is used to this day when a whitewash is affected.”

And McMahon, like so many to come, decried the decline in the quality of the game from his time:

“(B)ut the baseball today ain’t a marker of that of twenty-five years ago. Why, what catcher could have stood behind Johnny Hartfield [sic, Hatfield]…whose throwing record at Hartford has never been beaten,”

Hatfield threw a ball 382 feet six inches on July 10, 1868—but it happened in Cincinnati, not Hartford as McMahon recalled.

The current pitchers, he said:

“(F)ire in the ball overhand as though they meant to commit murder. No, no; gimme the good old underhand throw, lots of hitting and lots of pretty fielding. That’s your game for fun. I stand now ready now to gamble $500 to $1000 that the clubs of today, using the same lively, half rubber ball we used, cannot excel the good score we made in the old days.”

McMahon sent his “regards to the white Stockings,” then the “fireman moved away with his comrades.”

McMahon continued to operate the Haymarket until selling it in 1890, The New York Journal said, “He never interfered with the crooks, but it was distinctly understood that there must be no crookedness carried on within his walls.” The New York Times was less charitable and said, “some of the worst characters in police annuls had the run of the place.”

“He died in 1898.

“Eighteen Thousand Dollars Squandered by Chicago”

22 Aug

Almost 50 years after he helped to organize the Chicago White Stockings Jimmy Wood told the story of the team’s founding to Hearst Newspapers sports writer Frank G. Menke in a series of articles.

Wood said he read an ad in a New York newspaper in late 1869, seeking to “form a team to represent Chicago and to defeat the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”  Wood said:

“Chicago wasn’t such a wonderfully large city then and it was doing everything possible to boom the town.  And it was jealous of Cincinnati because of the great publicity Cincinnati had gained through the medium of its 1869 ball team which had won 56 out of its 57 games.”

Wood, along with Tom Foley, who had placed the ad, (not to be confused with Thomas James “Tom” Foley, who played outfield for the White Stockings in 1871) set out together to build a team.

Wood called it the most difficult task of his life, attempting to sign players for “a team that had as its ultimate purpose the beating of the Reds in a three-game series.”

The press was ready to call the entire operation a failure in January—a point never referred to in Wood and Menke’s “historical” account.  The Chicago Tribune declared:

“We are not to have a first-class base ball club.  That is the long and short of it.  The thing has fizzled.”

The Tribune cited Wood and Foley’s “bungling inefficiency” as the reason Chicago should not expect much from the undertaking.

The 1870 article was at odds with wood’s nearly 50-year-old recollection that the problem of securing players was because of fear of taking on the Red Stockings:

“Scores of desirable players throughout the country applied for engagement, but delay after delay ensued…in short, everything was done precisely as it should not have been done, and the result is a total failure.  A base-ball club may, and probably will, be selected and announced within the next few weeks; but it will not be a nine capable of worsting all other clubs.”

Even Wood acknowledged that he might not have handled the process of securing players particularly well; he gave more than $1200 out of his pocket to players only to find out “some of those players had squandered their first advance money in drinking or gambling, they came for more, threatening to jump their contracts if we didn’t ‘come through.’”

Despite the slow the start, and doubts about whether or not it would be possible to put together a competitive team, Wood and Foley completed the roster that spring when they signed Bill Craver and William “Cherokee” Fisher away from the Troy Haymakers—although Fisher never played for the team.

Even The Tribune was on board; lauding Chicago’s newly formed “$18,000 team.”   The $18,000 White Stockings roster in addition to Wood and Craver, consisted of Ned Cuthbert, Charlie Hodes, Michael (Bub) McAtee, Levi Meyerle, Ed PinkhamFred Treacey, Marshall King, and William “Clipper” Flynn—a number of Chicago amateurs also filled in with the team throughout the 1870 season.

The 1870 White Stockings: Ned Cuthbert, Fred Treacey, Charlie Hodes, Bill Craver, Charlie Hodes, Levi Meyerle,Bob McAtee, , Marshall King, and William “Clipper” Flynn

The 1870 White Stockings: Ned Cuthbert, Fred Treacey, Charlie Hodes, Levi Meyerle, Ed Pinkham, Jimmy Wood, Bub McAtee, Bill Craver, Marshall King, and William “Clipper” Flynn

In May, the White Stockings arrived in New Orleans for a training trip.  Many books and articles credit Wood with being “the father” of spring training as a result of this trip; most cite Al Spink of The Sporting News as the source.  Most fail to mention that the Red Stockings trained in New Orleans at the same time that season, and even Wood didn’t take credit for being first.  Wood said in 1916 that his was “the second Southern trip ever undertaken by a ball club.”  The Atlantics of Brooklyn had made a similar trip in 1868, which included stops in New Orleans, Mobile, and Savannah.

Wood said the team won all of their games against New Orleans opponents—the Lone Stars, Pelicans, Robert E. Lee’s, and Southerns—“by overwhelming scores.”  He also claimed they defeated “the Memphis team, champions of Tennessee 157-1—and Foley was very angry because we had permitted the southerners to score their lone tally!”

The team played what Wood called their “first real game,” against Al Spalding and the Forest Citys in Rockford, Illinois and despite the Rockford fans backing “their team heavily in the betting…we swamped them.”

According to Wood, he and Foley shut the team down due to injuries “along about June 4th when I found that my ailing quartet was not convalescing very rapidly, I canceled all our remaining June and July games and stayed in Chicago.”

His 1916 recollection seems to be faulty here as well, as records indicate that the White Stockings played several games in June and July against amateur and professional clubs, including the season’s biggest disappointment for the team.

On July 6 the overconfident White Stockings lost 13-4 to the New York Mutuals, who had recently lost several games.  The New York Herald headline taunted:

Eighteen Thousand Dollars Squandered by Chicago

“With ‘hearts as light as the wind blows’ and feeling as happy as ‘big sunflowers’ the White Stockings crossed over to Williamsburg yesterday, there to teach the Mutuals of New York what a six months residence in Chicago could do in the art of base ball playing.  Never did a more confident party enter a ball field than the ‘nine’ created by Chicago…On the other hand, the Mutuals crossed over alarmed somewhat at the confidence of their opponents, and reflecting over their many defeats of late, denied not a syllable uttered.  They were quiet, reticent, in fact, and dressed for the fray as one might roll himself in a shroud preparatory to decapitation.  Underneath all of this, however, there was a determined will.”

On July 26, the Mutuals would beat Chicago again, this time on their home field, at the Dexter Park Racetrack at 47th and Halsted.  The Herald again taunted Chicago, calling the 9 to 0 victory “The Worst Whipping on Record.”

Despite the records indicating a fairly complete schedule during June and July, Wood, speaking in 1916 said “About August 4 we resumed our schedule and played out the season, winning all of our games from the resumption in August until the end.  And then came the grand climax of the year—the task for which we had been preparing ourselves; the battle with the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”

Wood’s memory was again at odds with the facts.  The White Stockings lost, at least, one August game at home, a 14 to 7 defeat at the hands of Spalding’s Forest Citys.

The story of Wood’s “grand climax of the year;” the Red Stockings series, coming up on Monday.