Tag Archives: Washington Olympics

“Ballplayers were Some Sort of Cattle”

8 Feb

The Chicago Tribune printed Bill Lennon’s rebuttal to his expulsion by the Fort Wayne Kekiongas—he was one of four players expelled from the team, and by extension, the National Association, in July of 1871.

kekies.jpeg

Lennon, lower center and the Kekiongas

The Tribune followed Lennon’s letter with it’s take on the Fort Wayne club’s actions:

“It was well known in the club and city that (Lennon) intended to leave, and several citizens have, all along since his return from the Eastern trip, taken it upon themselves to remonstrate with him, and request him to stay the year out, at least.”

The paper claimed that if the first three charges “had any real weight in them,” Fort Wayne should have acted on them much sooner.  He also took the team to task for failing to allow Lennon to be present “at his ‘trial’” and said:

“(T)he fact that no prosecution was attempted until after he had left the city, shows clearly enough that the first three charges were merely put in to fill up the real gist of the matter…Mr. Lennon has too good a record as a ballplayer and a gentleman to allow him to lay himself liable to such persecution as he has had from Fort Wayne people without some good cause.”

Then the gloves came off—with the claim that “a little investigation into the way matters are carried on by the Kekionga management may serve to show why neither Mr. Lennon nor any other self-respecting man will stay long with the Fort Wayne pets.”

The paper said:

“The officers of the club are: C.M. Dawson, President, Max Nirdlinger, Vice President; George Myers [sic Mayer], Secretary.  The first of these is a gentleman; the other two are like each other, not like Dawson.”

It was claimed that Nirdlinger and Mayer “the active” members of the team’s management, felt “ballplayers were some sort of cattle, having some of the characteristics of men, but not enough to entitle them to human or humane treatment.”

The salaries paid to Fort Wayne players, were “not as much as a deck hand on a raft would get.”

In addition to the low salaries, the paper claimed that most players were not paid what was owed them which was “the main cause of the difficulty.”

They also accused Mayer of operating the team payroll in much the same way a company town operated:

“Money for services rendered was an impossibility, but the players could get some things if the seller would accept script on the Kekionga Ball Club.  A player could not buy clothes because no money was given him, but he might now and then get a garment if the tailor would take an ‘order on (Mayer).’ The matter had reached a pretty fine point when, instead of giving the men money to pay their board, they were compelled to give their respective landladies an ‘order on (Mayer).”

Players were said to have to go to Mayer for money for something as simple “as a shave,” and based on the level of pay “no one could get under the influence of liquor,” while playing for the team.

Of the treatment of the Fort Wayne players on the East Coast trip, The Tribune said it “was almost inhumane, in two cases at least the men were kept without food from early in the morning to 9 or 10 at night.”

Two players, it was claimed, were forced to sleep in chairs on the hotel porch because the team refused to pay for rooms.

Lennon and Sellman were said to be “put off the train” on the team’s return to Fort Wayne after they were unable to pay their own fare:

“This was accompanied by such language to the men themselves as only Mayer could use.”

The turnover on the club, made the case as strongly as all their other claims; the paper said Bill McDermott, who played two games with Fort Wayne became “sick and disillusioned with the whole affair,” and left the team.  A  player named Riley “formerly of the Railway Unions, of Cleveland,” appeared in “a few” of the non-Association games on the East Coast trip before being “discharged” and given just $1.15 to get home.

Charles Bierman, who appeared in one game on the East Coast trip (he committed two errors in the outfield) was let go, and according to The Tribune, “Of course, he got no pay.”

Ed Mincher and Pete Donnelly  received their expulsions because they were so fed up with their treatment that they skipped the team in Baltimore, and Philadelphia respectively.  Frank Sellman, expelled along with Lennon, had been so broke he had to borrow money to skip the team, with the “club owing him between $100 and $200.”

The Tribune also said Lennon was still owed at least $75 and that the paper would provide “proof of any assertion contained herein” to the Fort Wayne management.

Fort Wayne would have none of it. Despite the fact that none of the papers in the city had printed a negative word about Lennon before his expulsion, they were all in with the club’s management.

The Sentinel ran two letters, one purported to be from the ten remaining members of the Kekiongas which read in part:

“(W)e, the undersigned, have always received all moneys due us and further have been paid in advance our forfeits, besides receiving many valuable gifts from the citizens…When a fault was committed it was over-looked, and that is the reason Lennon was not expelled sooner, as he truly deserved.  We were never kept without food as claimed by the Tribune liar.”

And another from the team’s officers, which attempted to discredit Lennon’s version of evets.  Lennon, the letter said, was “very much under the influence of liquor” at the Hotel Earle in New York, he “did threaten to assault” a team official on the East Coast trip, and he was guilty of “deserting the club” on June 23.

As for the other players The Tribune claimed were treated poorly by Fort Wayne, the management had no problem airing their dirty laundry to defend themselves. Of McDermott, who spent two games with the Kekiongas:

“Mr. McDermott was properly and promptly paid, but instead of paying his board with the money betook himself to a gambling hall, lost his money, and when excused for this offense a short time after, appeared in the company of a lewd woman.”

Of Sellman, who was expelled along with Lennon:

“He had become, as his own companion and friend (Wally) Goldsmith, our 3rd baseman, had said, ‘Selly has become an inveterate toper, he has killed himself for baseball.’ What more be said?”

In regard to other players who had been dismissed quickly by the team, the letter said those players were “accepted on trial, and not proving satisfactory to us, we paid all expenses and money due.”

The Gazette claimed The Tribune engaged in “Slander” of “the character of Fort Wayne’s young men.” The paper said the response was indicative of the attitude of the Chicago press towards the Indiana town:

“(The Gazette) expected that The Chicago Tribune would plant itself in the middle of some cesspool and throw mud much to the discomfiture of all decent people.  This is its style, especially when the victim of its attack resides in Fort Wayne.  We have therefore not been disappointed in our expectations.”

Engaging in an argument with The Tribune writer, the paper claimed, was not worth their time:

“His ability to throw dirt and cast villainous slurs upon the character of our young men, has been too well developed to allow it.”

As for Lennon:

“A baseball player whose conduct in this city has been most infamous and would be regarded as such in every city.  If it is not in Chicago it is because he has the advantage of training there in a crowd more corrupt than himself.”

The Tribune responded with a breezy dismissal of everything thrown its way by the Fort Wayne management and papers, and specifically scoffed at the letter “signed” by the remaining members of the team:

“Don’t they know that the only possible way chance they ever will have of getting their pay depended on signing the card? Suppose for a moment one of them had refused to append his name.  ‘Expelled, club owing him $–’ would be his epitaph.”

Lennon finished the season catching for the Olympic Club of Baltimore—not to be confused the National Association Olympic Club of Washington.

The Gazette took one last swipe at Lennon and The Chicago Tribune at the end of August.  The paper claimed that “Mr. W. W. Rambo, of this city, lost last October a very valuable breast pin under circumstances that led him to believe that William Lennon, the catcher of the Kekiongas, had taken it.”

It was unthinkable at the time, said the paper that Lennon, “at the height of his popularity” in Fort Wayne would be responsible.  But The Gazette claimed after two letters sent by the Fort Wayne club to Lennon in Baltimore, he “saved (himself) some trouble” and returned the pin:

“Mr. Lennon is, however, and honorable gentleman, for proof of which we refer to The Chicago Tribune, which will please copy.  Mr. Rambo is now in Chicago, and will be pleased to furnish The Tribune reporter any information he may desire on the subject.”

Lennon returned to the National Association in 1872, playing 11 games with the Washington Nationals and in 1873 he appeared in five games for the Baltimore Marylands—Lennon never participated in a winning game in his final two seasons.  The National lost all 11 Association games they played in 1872; the Marylands lost all six of their Association games in 1873.

Fort Wayne did not fare much better.  The team finished 7-12 in 1871, and despite promises by the team directors in July and August of 1871 that they had formed a stock company and were raising $10,000 to field a team the following year, Fort Wayne’s time as a major league city was over after 1871.

 

“Lennon Violated all Rules of Decency”

6 Feb

Bill Lennon is a footnote. Best known for appearing in the first official major league game–the May 4, 1871 National Association opener between the Cleveland Forest Cities and the Fort Wayne Kekiongas–and for being the first catcher credited with throwing out someone trying to steal a base—in the same game.

When he is mentioned at all, it is said he “deserted the Kekiongas” in mid-June; actually, he was with the club through most of July and was expelled by the team. His expulsion led to charges and counter charges between the parties, and a war of words between the Fort Wayne papers and The Chicago Tribune.

lennon2

Bill Lennon

Lennon, like all 19th Century catchers, took a beating. When the club went to the East Coast in June the Fort Wayne papers reported that he was playing with injuries and the road trip got off to a rocky start on the 19th. Fort Wayne was leading the Troy Haymakers 6 to 3 heading into the seventh inning, The Fort Wayne Gazette said:

“The game was called in favor of the Haymakers by George Leroy, umpire…because the Kekiongas refused to substitute a ball for the one which had been in use, and which had become ripped.”

The Fort Wayne Sentinel said the ripped ball was a ruse by Troy catcher and captain Bill Craver, who the paper called “a noted fault finder” and was intended as a “trick gotten up to dupe the Kekies into accepting a ‘lively ball’ instead of the dead one they were at the time playing with.”

Lennon caught a game the next day in Boston against a team from Lowell, Massachusetts. Lennon caught again the following day when the Boston Red Stockings beat Fort Wayne 21 to 0.

A report of the game in The Gazette noted that Lennon, as well as outfielder Ed Mincher and pitcher Bobby Mathews played with injuries.

The Kekiongas traveled to New York the next day and Lennon umpired that day’s game between the New York Mutuals and the Washington Olympics.

On June 23 and 24 the team played two non-Association games versus the Atlantics and the Eckfords in New York. Lennon did not appear in either game.

He was back in the lineup on June 26, when Fort Wayne beat the New York Mutuals 5 to 3. The New York Herald noted that Lennon played “with a lame hand.” The New York Sun said, “Lennon did not allow a single ball to pass him,” despite the fact that his hands “are in a very bad state.”

The New York World said of Lennon’s performance:

“Lennon as catcher did splendid service; not a single passed ball could be charged to him.”

The Fort Wayne Gazette said:

“The pitching of (Bobby) Mathews was simply immense, while the catching of Lennon was wonderful, not a ball or point of the game escaping either of them.”

In early July The Chicago Tribune noted Lennon’s “Crippled condition.”

Lennon remained injured throughout the rest of June and into July, but the Fort Wayne papers never suggested his injuries were not real. The Gazette chided the rival Sentinel on July 15 after the latter paper reported a rumor that Lennon had left the club. Both papers reported that he traveled to Cleveland to umpire a game between the Forest Cities and the Philadelphia Athletics on July 23.

While Lennon was in Cleveland the Kekiongas’ expelled outfielder Ed Mincher and utility man Pete Donnelly. The team claimed the two “violated their contracts…by leaving without warning or permission, and the same Mincher and Donnelly being in arrearages to the Kekionga club.”

Both players denied the charges and claimed the team owed them money.

With Lennon still in Cleveland on July 25, it was his turn. The Gazette said: “At a meeting of the Directors of the Kekionga Base Ball Club…William Lennon was charged and found guilty,” of four accusations.

The club said Lennon deserted the team on June 23 during the game with the Atlantics and “did not return to said game.”

The second charge was that on June 24 at New York’s Hotel Earle, Lennon “violated all rules of decency,” although the charge was not specific as to the violation and that he “refused to obey orders” from the club’s directors.

The third charge was that on four occasions during July, Lennon “wholly violated all obligations and rules of said club,” and refused to practice while he also appeared “in public under the influence of intoxicating liquors.”

The final charge was that Lennon left Fort Wayne without notifying the team, when he went to Cleveland.

In addition to Lennon, The Gazette said third baseman Frank Sellman was expelled as well, having been “found guilty of the last three charges,” although the specifics of his alleged infractions were not reported.

Lennon would not go down quietly. He had previously played in Chicago for the Excelsior Club, and presented a letter rebutting the claims, to the baseball writer at The Chicago Tribune.

The expelled captain of the Fort Wayne club addressed the charges:

“On the night preceding the (June 23) game, I was informed by the manager of the club that on account of the state of my hand, I would not be required to play…Nevertheless, I went to the Capitoline Grounds with the nine and saw the game begin, Sellman acting as catcher. I then went over to the Union Grounds and saw part of the game there. On returning to the hotel I learned for the first time of the result of the game, and the management then found fault with me for not directing the movements of the nine. Any ball-player will see the absurdity of asking me to Captain a nine in which I was not playing. Neither the rules nor the opposing club would allow such a proceeding.”

For the second charge, Lennon did not address the part about violating “all rules of decency,” but claimed the entire charge amounted to misunderstanding when one of the club’s directors had told him the night before he would not play in the June 24 game against the Eckfords “on account of my hand, which was in a very bad state,” but then “An hour or two before the game,” the same club executive asked Lennon if he intended to play. “I told him I was not in condition on account of my hand. This was all the conversation; there was no order to play given,” therefore said Lennon, he had not disobeyed an order.

Lennon called the third charge “totally false. I never was under the influence of intoxicating liquor at any time in Fort Wayne, or in any other place while I was a member of the Kekionga Club. Furthermore, I never refused to practice when notified to do so.”

On the fourth charge, Lennon said it was Fort Wayne club and not him who had violated his contract.

“(My) contract stipulated that that I should receive $70 per month, $7 to be paid each Saturday, and the remainder at the end of each and every month. The Kekionga Club have entirely ignored this clause, and so far from making monthly settlements have never given me my full pay.”

Lennon claimed he had not once received the entire balance owed to him since joining the team.

His letter concluded:

“I have been known for some years to the ballplayers of this country, and I desire as a favor that all papers which have published the ‘expulsion’ will do me the justice to give my reasons for leaving the club.”

The Tribune then took up Lennon’s case.

The rest of the story, Friday.

Note:  The original version of this post was an early draft that names Lewis E. Meacham as the sports editor of The Chicago Tribune.  While Meacham was with the paper in 1871 and later served as the sports editor, he was likely not the author of the article in defense of Lennon, as he was primarily a general assignment reporter covering local news in 1871.  It has been corrected to reflect that.

“My Forte is Base-Ball, and not Speaking”

28 May

The Red Stockings arrived in Wheeling, West Virginia on June 29, 1869; the final stop on their 21-game tour, which began in Mansfield, Ohio on June 1.  They had won the previous 20 games on the trip and The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“The only real sensation which our city has enjoyed of late has been that created by our victorious Red Stockings on their Eastern tour.”

The Wheeling Intelligencer said of their arrival:

“These celebrated base ballists reached our city last evening, over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  They were met at Benwood by a committee of reception, on behalf of the Baltics…Quite a crowd gathered at the depot to greet them, and when the train reached here (Wheeling) they entered a special omnibus and were driven at once to the McClure House.  After brushing off the dust of travel and refreshing the inner man, they were taken in charge by the committee and spent the remainder of the evening in sightseeing.  They are courteous in their manners and jubilant at the prospect that the arduous labors of the month’s campaign are so nearly ended.  A more splendid tour has never been made by any club.  They (will) return to the Queen City with a record of unexampled brilliancy.”

The paper said admission to the game at the Wheeling Fair Grounds was 25 cents for adults and fifteen cents for children, and told their readers:

“We would advise all who wish to witness the finest playing ever seen in this region, to be present.”

Advertisement for the Wheeling game.

Advertisement for the Wheeling game.

The game was played the following day (some sources incorrectly list the date of the game as July 1).  The Intelligencer said:

 “At one o’clock yesterday afternoon, the long anticipated game of baseball between the Red Stockings, of Cincinnati, and the Baltics, of our city, was opened.

“The Red Stockings were first at the bat and succeeded in making almost a score of runs (the Red Stockings scored 11).  The Baltics came to the bat and were whitewashed.  The same ill luck happened them during the three innings played (4 ½ innings were played).  At four o’clock the game closed—the Red Stockings being compelled to leave at that hour so as to make an evening train to Cincinnati…They went off in the best possible spirits—feeling conscious that they were the champion base ballists in the country.  In their recent tour they did not sustain a single defeat. “The game yesterday was witnessed by about fifteen hundred persons , among them a large number of ladies, and although the Red Stockings almost annihilated one of our home clubs, the fine playing of the strangers elicited the heartiest and warmest applause.  As the play progressed the excitement amounted almost to enthusiasm.  Good order was preserved throughout the game. “We neglected to mention in the proper place that the score stood at the close: Red Stockings, 52; Baltics, 0. Time occupied, three hours.”

While the Wheeling paper didn’t mention rain, The Cincinnati Enquirer said rain caused the early ending:

“The Cincinnatis went to bat for the fifth inning and scored eight runs, making the total score of fifty-two.  It now commenced to rain and game was called, the Baltics not being given the opportunity to be white-washed gain.”

The official score was 44-0, and the Red Stockings had completed a 21-0 month-long road trip on their way to a perfect 65-0 record. The Enquirer said of their return:

“Our victorious Red Stockings, the first nine of which met and conquered all the first-class base-ball clubs of the country, after a tour of one month, arrived at home at ten o’clock yesterday morning via the Little Miami Railroad.  The day when our boys should arrive home, has during the past week been eagerly looked for, and arrangements to give them a hearty welcome were completed.”

Four thousand people turned for the return:

“The train arrived at the depot promptly on time, when the boys, amid the enthusiastic cheers of the spectators, were escorted to carriages provided for the occasion and taken over the line of march prescribed to the Gibson House.  At the head of the procession was the Zouave band in an open transfer wagon, gaily decorated with flags and banners.”

After the team arrived at the Gibson House, they appeared on a hotel balcony:

“Loud calls 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 nine.”

Doug Allison

Doug Allison

After the team members were “shown to private apartments where they had an opportunity of resting.”  Later, they appeared again:

“(T)he nine dressed in their neat white uniforms, with the well-known red stockings, were seated in carriages and driven to the Union Grounds where fully 3,000 people persons has assembled to again welcome them and witness the game with a picked nine.”

Before the game the team was presented with a 27 ½ foot long ash baseball bat “lettered with the names of the First Nine and the two substitutes.” The Red Stockings beat the local picked nine 53-11. A banquet was held in the team’s honor that evening.  The Cincinnati Commercial said it was a “glorious reception…An extra pig was killed in honor of the ‘boys.’”  The Enquirer said the crowd called on the Harry Wright to make a speech:

“Loud calls were made for Harry Wright, Captain on the Nine.  He arose and rather bashfully asked to be excused from making a speech; it was something that he was not in the habit of doing, but he would do all in his power to aid in keeping the reputation of the nine.”

One-by-one each player on the team refused to give a speech for the crowd.  Wright’s brother George said “Gentlemen, you must excuse me, as nobody else is making speeches.  My forte is base-ball, and not speaking, therefore I’ll stop short.”

George Wright

George Wright

The closest thing to a speech came from one of the team’s two reserves, James Fowler.  Fowler rarely played, and appeared in only one game during the tour—Allison was hit over the left eye by a foul ball during the June 24 game with the Maryland Club of Baltimore, George Wright moved behind the plate and Fowler played the final three innings at short.  Fowler, primarily acted as the team’s scorekeeper, does not appear in the team photo and is usually not listed on the team roster. Fowler told the crowd:

“Mr. Champion says that I slept through all these matches; if I didn’t play I talked, and helped in that way.  I am happy to be a member of the Cincinnati Nine—or rather Eleven.”

The Red Stockings "Eleven" minus James Fowler

The Red Stockings “Eleven” minus James Fowler

While none of the players were willing to give a speech, the crowd, and local dignitaries, made a series of toasts to the team.  The Enquirer said:

“At a late hour our reporter left the scene of conviviality, at which time the company were enjoying themselves in the happiest manner, and doing all in their power to manifest their appreciation of the victorious ‘Red Stockings.’  So ended the grand ovation—the most complete, in every respect, ever extended to any similar organization in the country.”

Despite the late night and “conviviality,” the Red Stockings beat the Olympics of Washington twice that week, 25 to 14 and 32 to ten.

Harry Wright Returns to Cincinnati

17 Dec

In 1871, Harry Wright took several of his Red Stockings players, as well as the team name, moved to Boston and joined the newly formed National Association.  Wright’s exit from Cincinnati was contentious, but despite that he was invited back for an exhibition game in July between his former team and a “picked nine” consisting of the members of Wright’s current team and the Washington Olympics.

Advertisement for the July 3, 1871 game

Advertisement for the July 3, 1871, game

The Cincinnati Enquirer said the two thousand people in attendance indicated “that the interest in base-ball is not dead in this city, but only needs the stimulus of first-class games to awaken it to renewed life.”

The paper said:

“The old Reds did not have the services of George Wright (who was injured), and did not play with the skill characteristic of them in 1868-’69, which may have been due to fact that there was nothing at stake than gate money.”

Albert Spalding pitched for the “picked nine” and beat Wright’s club, with Asa Brainard pitching, 15-13. The Enquirer said former Cincinnati players Cal McVey and Charlie Gould, who both joined Wright in Boston, “have improved in their batting powers.”

Wright’s team led 10 to 4 through five innings, but the opponents posted a five-run sixth which included a home run by Davy Force and added two in the seventh and three in the eighth.

The box score

The box score

One sign that all might not have yet been forgiven in Cincinnati:  while Harry Wright was listed in the box score and the inning-by-inning recap of the game, The Enquirer didn’t use his full name in any of the game advertisements or articles.

Professional baseball returned to Cincinnati in 1876 when the reds became an inaugural member of the National league.

Davy Force

28 Oct

David W. “Davy” Force was a popular figure in 19th Century baseball.  Francis Richter, founder and editor of The Sporting Life said the five-foot four-inch Force was, along with George Wright ”the two greatest shortstops of the early days of baseball.”  Nick Young, National League president, told Ren Mulford Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer that Force was second only to Wright as the greatest.

Davy Force

Davy Force

Force played in the National Association and National League from 1871 to 1886, and finished his professional career in the Western Association with the Sioux City Corn Huskers.

He remained popular, and well-known enough that multiple newspapers reported in 1890 that the former player “sided with the Brotherhood,” and supported the Players League; he even made news that year for growing a beard:  “Force has raised a crop of whiskers as long as himself. “

So when it was reported on Christmas Eve of 1896 that Force had shot and killed a man—a former ballplayer no less–in a San Francisco bar and then fled, the news was reported in papers across the country.

The Louisville Courier Journal:

Ball Player Kills Another

The Cincinnati Enquirer:

Old Cincinnati Ball Player Kills a Man in Frisco

The Salt Lake City Tribune:

Baseball Player Shoots Another Without Warning

The Chicago Tribune:

Police now on Lookout for Force

The Baltimore Sun:

‘Davy’ Force Wanted for Killing a Man

Towns where Force had been a popular player were quick to distance themselves.  The Sioux City Journal said that while fans “took a sort of paternal and patronizing interest” in Force when he played in Sioux City “the Golden Gate murder is quite another story…If he has been leading a wild, reckless life, possibly discouragements and vicissitudes have made a different man of him.”

The victim, Joseph Manning, was described as “an ex-ballplayer,” and in various articles was conflated with former big leaguers Jim Manning and Tim Manning.

Once it was determined Manning was not Jim or Tim, no one seemed to know anything about him.

Seven days after the murder, Abraham Mills, former National League president, issued a statement:

“I have known Davy Force almost continuously since I engaged him in 1867 to play in the Olympic Base Ball Club of Washington.  For the last seven years he has been in the employ of the company for which I am an officer, (The Otis Elevator Company) and is a steady, hard-working man, and I fully believe his statement that he never knew a Joseph Manning, and that he has never had any serious difficulty with or made any assault of any kind upon any ballplayer, either during or since his professional career.”

Mills’ statement was printed in only a fraction of the newspapers that reported the shooting.

The accusations faded, and by the time Force died in 1918 there was no mention of the case of mistaken identity in the ballplayer’s obituary.

Who exactly Joseph Manning was, and whether he was actually a professional baseball player, remains a mystery; as does the identity of the “Davy Force” who killed him in San Francisco.

“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.