1884: Richmond Joins The Major Leagues

Our story so far … On August 2, 1884, after an atrocious 12-51 record, the Washington Nationals of the American Association folded mid-season. The Richmond Virginians, playing in the lesser Eastern League, were tapped to complete the remaining games on Washington’s schedule. Those games represent the only major league games in Richmond baseball history.

If you’re going to picture Richmond, Virginia’s history of major league baseball – 71 days and 46 games in 1884 – you’re going to have to use your imagination.

They played at Virginia Ball-Park.

And, the outfield – rocky and uneven, but wider and deeper than most outfields – was over here, more or less …

… where the controversial statue of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart stands today on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.

And, the front gate, home plate, and wooden grandstand where the brass band would play were over here …

… where the even more controversial statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee now stands just a few blocks away.

That’s Richmond, Virginia in a nutshell. Its history is a wonderful pastoral pastime and its history is a conflicted and ugly war. And, sometimes they converge.

Like they did in 1884. Continue reading

1884: Those Other Washington Nationals

“We are going to have a genuine baseball revival this season.” –  Lloyd Moxley, 1884.

Lloyd. Lloyd. Lloyd.

God knows you tried.

There you were spending your money on a brand new baseball team, bringing major league baseball to Washington, DC. You had plans. Big plans.

You polished up a ballpark. Paid for a fine team of players.

You filled the schedule with Ladies Days, giving women free admission.

You put comfortable cushions on the seats.

You bought a “giant gong” to announce the start of games.

Sure, you wouldn’t sell alcohol, but who needs beer when you’ve got cigar stands and concessions galore? Continue reading

They Called Him Dad

Dad Clarke never married. He had no children.

But, baseball fans called him Dad, reporters called him Dad, everyone called him Dad, although his given name, which was given in 1865, was William.

Public Domain

Dad Clarke, circa 1888.

He is the only childless “Dad” I know.

I wonder if that seemed peculiar to him? To be a Dad in name only?

There are a lot of dads in baseball. The lower-case, fathers-with-children kind. Some ballplayers today have kids like other people have Tupperware. Just lots of kids. Preternaturally fertile, these players.

(Full disclosure: I am a kidless writer. I do not know beans about parenting. But, I had a dad, and I called him Dad, so I’m confident that I’m qualified to write this.)

There are only a handful of ballplayers who, over the years, were known primarily as “Dad.” Not as a sometime nickname, but as the name that overrode the name they were given.

Or, were there?

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“How The Other Club Won A Victory From The Orioles.”

Baltimore Sun, June 28, 1892

“The Oft-Told Tale.”

Dear Baltimore Orioles,

Me, again.

You’ve lost three straight to the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays … whose motto this season is “We stink, too, but nowhere near as bad as the O’s.”

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how awful you are. Do you?

(Not you, Adam Jones. You’re still trying. You can stop reading now. This is for everybody else …)

This may seem like uncharted territory to some of you, but really it’s not.

Look at the 1892 Orioles.

They stunk, too.

Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1892

Baltimore Sun, July 14, 1892

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The Polo Grounds And Peanuts Lead To A Rare Film Showing Life In 1911 New York

Public domain, via Library of Congress #LC-DIG-pga-02288

New York’s Polo Grounds, 1887

On Thursday, April 13, 1911, at New York’s Polo Grounds, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the New York Giants, 6-1. 

via baseball-reference.com

It was an unremarkable game – the second of the season – and Giants losing pitcher Christy Mathewson was not yet in the form that would lead him to 26 wins that season and an NL-leading 1.99 ERA.

Despite their uninspiring 0-2 start, the Giants would go on to win 99 regular season games and the NL pennant. (They would lose the World Series to the Philadelphia A’s.)

But, this is not about the Giants. (The Phillies ended their season 19.5 games back of the Giants and it’s not about them either.)

Public domain, via Library of Congress #LC-USZ62-58783

Fans at the Polo Grounds, a day earlier, April 12, 1911.

A few hours after the game, around midnight, the grandstand of the Polo Grounds was engulfed in flames. By morning, the grandstand and the right field bleachers had burned to the ground.

 

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The 1896 Orioles Opossum

 “The charm of the work of the Baltimores is that every man is alive and thoroughly in earnest, playing ball for all he is worth all the time. It is a very hard club to beat, and it is the verdict that there is little wonder this club won the pennant last season.” ~ The Boston Herald, Spring 1896

Dear Baltimore Orioles,

Me, again.

I guess I don’t have to tell you why I’m writing.

At 8-25, you’re tied with the Reds for the worst record in baseball.

Last night.

You’re worse than the terrible everyone predicted you’d be.

You’re 16 games back of the AL East leading Red Sox, which is pretty nuts, because you’ve only played 33 games.

Things are terrible bad in Birdland. Horriblaciously, rottenificously, awfulmoungously bad.

So bad I have to make up words to describe the badiciousness.

This is “unbelievably bad” territory.

You blow first innings, you blow ninth innings. Those innings in-between? You blow them, too.

And, extra innings too … because …

Continue reading

Walter “Steve” Brodie: Warrenton’s “Duke of Roanoke”

Take one part Yasiel Puig crazy …

Stir in Adrian Beltre …

 

… and that thing about people touching his head.

Toss in last summer’s nacho incident with Addison Russell …

 

And, there. You’ve got Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie.

1894

No, wait. We need some angry David Ortiz, too.

There. Walter Scott “Steve” Brodie.

1894

Goofy. Quirky. A bit of a mean streak.

The starting centerfielder of the 1896 Baltimore Orioles, Brodie wasn’t the greatest player on that legendary team, but he wasn’t the worst either.

1896 Baltimore Orioles. Brodie, Middle Row, Far Left.

He was loved by fans nearly everywhere he played, including Boston, St. Louis, and Baltimore, but not Pittsburgh, because … well, they had their reasons.

Continue reading

The Short Life & Tragic Death of Walter “Mother” Watson

I wish I had a photo of Walter “Mother” Watson of the Cincinnati Red Stockings to show you, it being “Mother’s Day” weekend and all.

I know he was a pitcher. A three-game cup-of-coffee guy. But, righty? Lefty? No clue.

Over two games, just 14 innings, in May of 1887, the Red Stockings put Mother Watson on the mound.

Watson gave up 18 runs in those two games though, to his credit, only 9 of them were earned.

He played just one more game for the Reds, when they stuck him out in left field.

Continue reading

Just South Of The White House, They Played Baseball

News from Washington, DC …

“A Base Ball Club has just been formed in this city. … It is a good sign to see such health-promoting exercises taking the place of insipid enervating amusements.” ~ The Washington Star, November 4, 1859

See, things were enervating back then, too.

There are far more important websites – newsy-type places trying to make sense of today’s Washington – you could be reading right now and I encourage you to do that.

In a sec.

Because, there was a time when, just south of the White House, they played baseball.

According to Histories of the National Mall, the first baseball games were held on the White Lot – the 52-acre park south of the White House that is now the Ellipse – in 1860.

white-lot-baseball-fields-1940s

Public Domain. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection LC-USW31-058724-C

The White Lot baseball fields in the mid-1940s.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln would take an occasional break from war strategy and catch a game at the White Lot with his son Tad.

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Sitting Here, Thinking About “Len, The Slugger”

These last few winters, the story has been pretty much the same. The Baltimore Orioles need an outfielder. Preferably two, but at the very least one.

And, every January, Orioles management scoops up a still-available outfielder at a bargain price. The Orioles get the guy for a year, he has a great season – greater than anyone could have imagined – and then “poof” he’s gone the next season, to a far richer, more generous team.

This brings me, in the most meandering way, to the brief career and life of Len Sowders.

len-sowders

Len Sowders

Sowders played just one season in the majors — 1886. He was a Baltimore Oriole.

He was an outfielder (who moonlighted some at first). A so-so fielder. A left-handed batter with a .263 average from his handful of at-bats in Baltimore.  Not a lot of power, but still, .263 isn’t the worst you can do.

That puts him right around current O’s centerfielder Adam Jones’s .265 last season and Mark Trumbo’s .256, the Orioles’s one-season outfielder whose 47 home runs led all of baseball last year and who is now a free agent looking for much more money than the Orioles will offer.

Embed from Getty Images

This Trumbo homer last August was a grand slam.

Back in 1886, Sowders was picked up by Baltimore late in the season from a minor league club in Nashville.  Before Nashville, he’d played in Evansville, where he was also known for running a local fish business and for making loans with interest (fitting, I guess, that a man in the fish business was also a loan shark). He was, one newspaper assured readers, a good player and a strict church-goer.

Continue reading