Toot-Toot! Oh, To Be In Fox Lake In 1868

By Royalbroil via Creative Commons

I don’t know much about Fox Lake, Wisconsin. I’d never even heard of it before now.

I bet it’s nice.


Fox Lake, a town of about 1,500 that’s 70-odd miles northwest’ish of Milwaukee, does include an actual lake and Wisconsonites (Wisconsonians?) consider it one of the best in the state for fishing, especially if you like walleye, which is a decidedly Midwestern thing. The lake is also amply populated by northern pike and crappie, along with muskie, bluegill, and bass, but really it’s the walleye that brings the fishermen back to Fox Lake.

Public Domain

I was delighted to discover that Fox Lake is the hometown of Bunny Berigan, the great jazz trumpeter. I had a friend who was head-over-heels for Bunny Berigan and how she picked him out of all the jazz trumpeters in the world escapes me. What, Miles Davis wasn’t good enough?

Maybe it was because of Berigan’s 1935 hit “Chicken and Waffles” …


Or maybe she was just soft on Wisconsonites (Wisconsonians?).

(Bunny, whose real first name was Roland, died in 1942 of cirrhosis. He was 33. Fox Lake’s long-running annual Bunny Berigan festival ended, sadly, in 2018.)

If you are now thinking there ain’t no way, no how this story is going to come around to baseball, then clearly you don’t know me well.

Some 245 major league players and managers hail from Wisconsin.

Public Domain

Moose Baxter

Moose Baxter – born in Chippewa Falls in 1876 – played just six games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1907 …

The Anaconda MT Standard, 12/1/1907

… and became an early proponent of indoor baseball, pre-dating the Houston Astrodome by 58 years.

And, surely, you history buffs know Happy Felsch …

Public Domain

… one of the infamous 1919 Black Sox.  He was born in Milwaukee in 1891.

Or, how about Burleigh Grimes, the last major leaguer to legally throw a spitball? …

Public Domain

… He won 270 games with that slobbery pitch and got himself a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was born in Emerald, Wisconsin in 1893.

Today, there’s Jordan Zimmerman, born in Auburndale in 1986, and now pitching for the Tigers. (Well, he would be pitching, if there were baseball. Which there is not.)

But, he was pitching here …


Orioles win, 11-3. Good times.

What does all this have to do with Fox Lake, Wisconsin?

This: There are no major league baseball players from Fox Lake, Wisconsin.

With scads of ballplayers filling up baseball rosters for more than 150 years now, every town should have at least one, don’t you think?

And, it’s a shame really because Fox Lake was a baseball mad town. Well, they were in 1868, anyway.

“Equal Rights For All Men And Women — White Or Black.”

It’s on May 29, 1868 in their little four-page weekly Fox Lake Representative that I found this notice for a game to be played between the Fox Lake team and the team from neighboring Westford that afternoon.

Fox Lake WI Representative, 5/29/1868

The Representative was clearly unimpressed. “[T]he club of this village,” they wrote, “has had so little practice that any very scientific playing is not anticipated.”

This is 1868-speak for, “Our team stinks.”

Despite the stinkiness of the team, the game would still, the newspaper insisted, be of “interest to the spectators.”

Which is 1868-speak for, “Hey, come watch them stink.”

The game was played on Baptist Hill. Perhaps it’s just me, but playing baseball on a hill is a little concerning and could explain why the team wasn’t any good.

But, that’s not why we’re here. It’s because of this … in that same day’s paper I found this:

Fox Lake WI Representative, 5/29/1868

Toot-Toot. The horn used to arouse the members of the base-ball club at 4 o’clock A.M., is undoubtedly a very fine thing for the club, but it is a decided nuisance to those who are not members of the club, and who are not “early risers.”

I love everything about this complaint because just one column over the paper is mocking the team for not practicing enough.

I know some of you are shuddering … because something annoying wakes you up at 4 a.m., too.  Maybe it’s the infernal all-night barking of the scrum of hound dogs down in the neighbor’s holler, barking that seems to get even louder and more urgent around 4 a.m.  You, too?

But, hey, give the Fox Lake team a break. Alarm clocks wouldn’t become affordable or widely used for another decade. These boys can’t wait.

Rise and Shine!

So, how did the Fox Lake team do on May 29, 1868?

They lost 56-55 to the equally inept Westford “Muscles,” the Representative reported.

I guess in baseball’s early days you would call that a one-run squeaker.

The Representative suggests that perhaps Fox Lake allowed the Muscles to win. After all, Westford was the guest that day. Fox Lake wasn’t very good, but at least they were polite?

The Representative continued:

“In the evening the players partook of a supper together at the American, which, according to the verdict of the Umpire, Scorers, and all, was satisfactory to the clubs.”

I appreciate that the paper chooses to allow the umpires and the game’s scorers to also be the final arbiters of the evening meal.

And, the Representative, god bless ‘em, posted a box score:

Fox Lake WI Representative, 6/5/1868

The game, which included 111 runs, clocked in at a brisk two hours and 30 minutes.

Maybe that Fox Lake team, despite the 4 a.m. practices, wasn’t very good. But, baseball took off in Fox Lake. By July, Fox Lake had four teams and the team that played that game in May finally got a name – they became the Unions. By September, the tiny newspaper was excited to report of a movement out in Brooklyn, New York to create a “female base-ball club.” It’s unclear if one ever formed in Fox Lake.

Maybe Fox Lake never “grew” a major league player, but they had baseball.

Oh, to be sitting on Baptist Hill watching a not-very-good Fox Lake team play on a May afternoon in 1868. Sounds like heaven to me.

OK, Bunny, play us out …

13 thoughts on “Toot-Toot! Oh, To Be In Fox Lake In 1868

  1. In the boxscore; what’s “Whitewashes, easy”? Anybody know?
    Doesn’t look like either pitcher has much of a big league future.

    • Oh, you saw that, too. It puzzled me as well. I did some snooping and found the term “whitewash” used occasionally in baseball in the 19th century to signify batters who were on base but did not score. So they were whitewashed from the bases. But, that doesn’t explain “easy.” So, I’m still trying to figure it out.

      I was so delighted to find that box score … so detailed and, for an ancient newspaper, very crisp, clear, and easy to read!

  2. Another gem! These old news accounts are such a joy, especially for those of us now under curfew. And the box scores!
    As someone who grew up on ocean seafood, I have to say I find walleye to be tasty., particularly when it’s broiled instead of the fried alternative.
    I am also puzzled, given the apparent baseball talent in Wisconsin, why the UW Stinkin’ Badgers don’t field a men’s team. They have women’s softball. They have good teams below Div 1, and Minnesota (as well other top tier schools) have benefited from their skills. Gotta be the before-dawn horns.

    Unrelated “small world” note: The other day I realized that Chris Taylor of UVA and L.A. is the grandson of the former wrestling coach of my high school.

    • Self-isolation AND a curfew — you are the Russian Nesting Dolls of quarantines! I hope you are doing ok. Such sadness in our country today, my heart can keep up with all the misery.

      The University of North Dakota is the same … they axed their baseball program a couple years ago which annoyed me. They kept softball, happily, but I think it was kept purely for Title 9 parity reasons.

      And, Chris Taylor! Small world indeed … where was your high school?

      • In 8th grade I attended Virginia Beach High School. By my Sr. year, that became a Jr. High/Middle School & was replaced by new First Colonial HS, alma mater of Mark Reynolds, I believe. Chris Taylor attended nearby rival Frank Cox HS. In 9th grade my parents sent me to Norfolk Academy, oldest private school in VA, and I graduated from there. I am not aware of any NA grads in mlb, but apparently their new boy’s coach is Tim LaVigne (also a Cox HS graduate). When I attended, the wrestling team was coached by Armand Taylor to make a short answer long 😉

  3. Wisconsonite sounds so much more polite than Cheesehead or Badger. As for playing on Baptist Hill, a hill in, for example, Chicago, is a small rise in the road. One has to wonder how a score of 56-55 could be racked up in 2 hours and 30 minutes. Thanks, Bloggess.

    • They didn’t mess around back in those days … plus, there were a lot of other odd rules that made for a quicker game back then … including the rule that batters had to request where they wanted the ball to be pitched and the pitcher had to accommodate them, which is part of what probably led to so many hits and so many runs. :)

  4. Reblogged this on The Baseball Bloggess and commented:

    This box score from an 1868 game is, for its time, the crispest and most lovingly detailed I’ve ever seen.

    Unfortunately, yesterday’s original post only went out to a few … it got caught in a wordpress hiccup. (Even Editor/Husband was shut out.) But, I didn’t want it to disappear … so here it is again. Check out the box score and stick around for more trivia about Fox Lake, Wisconsin than you could ever imagine. ~ The Baseball Bloggess

  5. Jackie – I discovered your blog several weeks ago and, must say, I enjoy it very much. I especially liked your recent, well-researched, Fox Lake post. I have been recently getting back to my baseball writing after a 9-year hiatus. Hope you’ll visit my blog:
    I do have to warn you, however, I am a Red Sox fan from way back in the 60s. But… I enjoyed watching many Orioles players like Boog and Brooks and a catcher named Gus Triandos. Keep up the great writing.

    • Hi Rich … Thank you for the kind words and I’m looking forward to following your blog. I do my share of Red Sox teasing on here, it’s part of an Orioles fan job description. But, my baseball “guru” who taught me so much about baseball and continues to answer my baseball questions is a Red Sox fan from Braintree … so I appreciate the passion and baseball-sense Red Sox fans bring to the table. :)

      On the other hand, I named my cat Mookie Wilson-Betts after both Mookie Wilson AND Mookie Betts, which resulted in my Red Sox fan friends not knowing whether to love or hate the name. (Now that Mookie Betts is a Dodger, some of that has worn off. But, it was fun while it lasted.)

  6. I love this column! Living near Fox Lake, Illinois, I can tell you that I did not know of Fox Lake, Wisconsin. Nonetheless, I’m not too far from the Wisconsin border and you would be right to call them “Sconnies”.

    Regarding the box score, what do they mean by “Outs” and “Runs”? As we all know, each at bat doesn’t need to be one or the other. It’s confusing, right? Are we talking RBI’s or Runs scored? Could it be both? I see only one player did not record an out, that being “Tobey” on “Muscle”. I love this. Notice how two players had 5 outs but were still able to account for 5 runs. Interesting.

    Thanks for the awesome story!

    • Fox Lake, Illinois kept tripping me up as I wrote this. (THAT Fox Lake is the home to Billy Klaus who played 11 seasons in the big leagues in the 1950s/early ’60s, including two seasons with the Orioles!)

      Yeh, 19th century box scores are odd … and every scorer recorded things differently. (When I first started reading them it took me awhile to discover that while today we consistently give the visiting team line first then the home team, back then the losing team was always the top line — which explains why Fox Lake, the home team, is listed first.)

      RBIs wouldn’t become a baseball stat until about 1920 … so those runs listed are scored by the player himself. And, while walks existed, they were pretty rare, since the batter got to tell the pitcher where he wanted the ball thrown.

      I’m guessing that in this game players seem to have had about 10 at bats. And, I don’t think you would see a lot of double plays and such (baseball gloves hadn’t been invented yet). I don’t think there was a lot of on-base strategy. Once you got on base, you just waited to see if the next batters would get hits so you could run home. Base stealing existed, but it wasn’t a big deal yet.

      Also, your super-duper fun fact of the day: Fly balls could be caught on one bounce and would still be an out. Same with foul balls. :)

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