SABR

Dan Bickham

This article was written by Chris Rainey and Jack Carlson.

As of the 2012 season, 26 former Princeton University Tigers had played major-league baseball. Dan Bickham was the first pitcher and arguably the most ardent Tiger supporter among the group. He seldom missed an alumni gathering, especially in the early years when games were played between the alums and the current squad. He was described by the class secretary as “a simon-pure, double-rivetted, copper-bottomed, orange-and-blacker.” His pride in his alma mater was such that he proclaimed the proudest day in his life to be the one when his son joined classmates at Princeton in 1909.i A grandson would also attend the alma mater.


The Bickham family were some of the earliest citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio. Dan’s father, William D. Bickham, was born there in 1827 and had an illustrious life. He went to Bethany College in what is now West Virginia. He stopped his studies and returned home upon the death of his father. He learned the newspaper trade, but set that aside for a few years when he left for the California gold fields in 1850. Upon his return he once again worked in journalism. As a correspondent covering county fairs he met Maria E. Strickle of Wilmington, Ohio. The couple were wed on December 27,1855, in Wilmington and moved to Cincinnati. When the Civil War broke out he was made a correspondent with the initial rank of captain in the Union Army. Maria and sons William and Abe were left with family in Ohio.


William Bickham’s work won praise and a promotion to major after action with General William Rosecrans in 1862 at the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee. In 1863 the city of Dayton, Ohio, was the headquarters of Clement Vallandigham, a Copperhead, or Democrat who opposed the war. The military governor in the area ordered Vallandigham arrested. In retaliation, the offices of the Journal, a Republican newspaper in Dayton, were burned by Vallandigham’s allies. Republican leaders in Washington and Ohio wanted to find a resourceful and dynamic man to restart the Journal and supply a strong pro-Union presence. They selected Bickham and he took over the paper on May 11, 1863. Two loaded cannons were placed in front of the newspaper office to dissuade further Copperhead attacks.ii


Daniel Denison Bickham was born into this volatile environment on October 31, 1864. Another brother, Charles, was born in 1867. Daniel attended Deaves Collegiate Institute in Dayton and followed his brother Abe to New Jersey College (now Princeton). He played his first baseball when the freshman class recruited him for a campus game.iii It soon became clear that Dan had baseball talent. The summer after his freshman year he joined brothers William and Abe on a team in Dayton. Partway through the season Abe and William joined a professional squad. Dan declined to join them in order to protect his amateur status. As a sophomore he made the college team as an outfielder. In his junior year he split time as pitcher and outfielder. Princeton played teams in the National League, the American Association, and the International League, and in the Tigers’ 1885 season opener, against the Philadelphia Athletics on April 9, Bickham was sent to the slab for the first time. The Athletics won 21-2 in a game shortened by an injury to a Princeton player. Daniel had “no control of the ball and wild pitches and passed balls were numerous.”iv Bick, as his college friends called him, was embarrassed by his performance, but bounced back in his next start.


The day after the Philadelphia debacle, the Tigers fell 15-4 to Trenton of the International League. Bickham played right field. They were then rained out of a match with Brooklyn and used the time off to regroup and regain their spirit. On April 19 they went up against Trenton again. This time Bickham was at the top of his game. More importantly, Princeton played a near-flawless game and won, 2-1. A typical fielding effort by the Tigers would include a handful of passed balls and five or more errors, but in this game, they made no errors and committed only one passed ball. Bickham, back in the pitcher’s box, limited Trenton to four hits while striking out eight. The Boston Herald called it “the most noteworthy college victory of the season,” and two days later wrote that Bickham’s speed “excels every pitcher now on the diamond.”v


The grueling pre-championship schedule continued for the Tigers as they lost 12-4 to the Boston Beaneaters (Bickham had a triple), and dropped two to minor-league teams. On May 4 they beat a team called Young Americas 17-2 behind a strong performance from Bickham. All these games set the stage for the American College Association season. Over the next six weeks the Tigers faced Yale, Harvard, Amherst, and Dartmouth in 14 games. They lost once to Yale, tied once with Amherst, and dominated Brown and Dartmouth, but were swept by champion Harvard, losing all three games. They even worked in an exhibition against Dan Brouthers and the Buffalo Bisons of the National League, losing 8-4. Highlights for Bickham included a 12-strikeout performance against Yale and 11 whiffs on June 13 against Dartmouth.


The New York Metropolitans of the American Association reportedly offered Bickham a $3,000 salary to sign in 1885 for the rest of the season, but John Montomery Ward, who helped coach the Tigers, counseled him against turning pro.vi Bickham returned to campus in the fall and was a member of the Princeton championship football team.


In the spring of 1886 the concern for the Tigers was whether someone could be found to catch Bickham. Carter, who had done so well in 1885, was no longer in school. The Trenton Evening Times reported on April 3 that a freshman named Chase would handle the catching duties, but his name does not appear in any of the box scores. Instead Bum Brownlee and team captain James Shaw (normally the right fielder) caught. Bickham opened the season on April 9 with a 10-5 win over the Stars of Syracuse, a team in the International Association. On April 14 Bickham took the box against Brooklyn but lasted only one inning because catcher Shaw could not hold him. He went to center field and King came in to pitch the rest of the 11-3 loss.vii


Bickham’s next start was against Tim Keefe and the New York Nationals He got one of the three hits off Keefe, but lost 9-0. The losing streak continued with games against the Nationals, Jersey City and Trenton of the Eastern League, and Columbia University, before a 9-5 triumph over Lafayette on May 7. Princeton opened play in the Collegiate Association with a 9-3 win over Penn on May 12 in which Bickham tripled and also struck out eight. On May 22 he shut out Harvard, 3-0, and drove in the first run. Wins over Amherst and Brown put Princeton in first place, but the Tigers could not maintain the top spot very long. On May 31, with 9,000 fans in attendance at the Harvard field, Bickham went all 14 innings against Harvard and hit a home run, but suffered a 7-6 loss. Two days later Princeton hosted Yale and in another marathon game – it lasted more than three hours despite going only nine innings – lost again. Bickham piled up 14 strikeouts, but a walk, a stolen base, and catcher Jim Shaw’s error put Yale up for good at 9-8. Shaw had been pressed into service after Brownlee was injured in the Harvard game.


Another loss to Yale was followed by victories over Amherst, Williams (twice), and Penn. Yale closed out the campaign with seven wins against a single loss for the league championship. Princeton was 7-3. Including nonleague games, the team went 14-10; Bickham was credited with a 10-4 record.viii In late June Bickham graduated and returned to Dayton to join the staff of the Journal.


The Journal on August 12, 1886, carried a small article about the large crowd that was expected to attend a Cincinnati Red Stockings game the next day. It was being advertised as a “ladies day” and Bickham was going to pitch. “All the college persons in this city will be present,” the Journal said. Indeed, a large crowd was present at the game, among them an estimated 300 fans from Dayton, including Major William Bickham and Postmaster William H. Gillespie. The crowd numbered 3,500 for a game against the Philadelphia Athletics. Bickham pitched two scoreless innings before the game was delayed 20 minutes by rain. Play was restarted but a drizzle continued, making for near-impossible playing conditions. The ball would reach the fielders “like a greased pig,” and it became impossible for the pitchers to get a good grip and throw anything but a straight pitch.ix


The Red Stockings started the scoring in the third when Bickham and catcher Kid Baldwin reached first on errors by shortstop Chippy McGarr. Four hits followed before an out was recorded. The team batted around and Bickham again reached on a throwing error by McGarr. Cincinnati had a 7-0 lead. By the fifth inning, “the ball had become entirely unmanageable.” Bickham hit two batters, threw a wild pitch, gave up four hits, and saw some sloppy fielding to yield five runs. The Red Stockings replied with four runs, thanks in part to a single by Bickham. “Mr. Bickham gave perfect proof that he possessed rare skill as well as coolness and good judgment.”x But the slippery ball gave him trouble and his error led to a run in the sixth. Wild pitches and hit batters in the seventh contributed to two more Athletics tallies. Philadelphia tied the game at 11-11 in the eighth on errors, a passed ball, and a couple of hits. Bickham pitched a scoreless ninth, then watched as Fred Lewis worked the count to 4-and-1 (it took seven balls to walk) before tripling to left center. Charley Jones then brought him in with a single to left.xi


The 12-11 victory was not a work of art, but Bickham did get his revenge for the humiliating loss to Philadelphia in 1885. He walked three, made two wild pitches and an error, and hit four batters. On offense he “batted well and ran the bases like a veteran.” The Dayton Journal did not carry any play-by-play or commentary on the game. It did, however, triple its normal space for baseball coverage by printing the box score of the game.xii


Bickham only played that one game as a professional. The Princeton Alumni Weekly opined that he played just to get a chance to beat the A’s. Co-author Jack Carlson, a historian of Dayton baseball, contends that Major Bickham persuaded Daniel to give up the game and go to work. Whatever the case may have been, any future ballplaying was simply for sport. Daniel did, however, umpire many games in Dayton, as did his brother Abe. Daniel entered the business office of the Journal the month after the Red Stockings’ game. He remained with the paper until 1910. On October 19, 1887, he wed Anna Raub Stout in Easton, Pennsylvania. The couple moved in with Daniel’s parents on Monument Avenue in Dayton. Daughter Emily Marie was born in December 1889 but died a year later. A son, William Denison Bickham, was born on October 31, 1891, sharing his father’s birthday. Ann Elizabeth was born in July of 1894. The marriage ended in 1905 or 1906, but Bickham made little mention of it in correspondence, so details are unavailable. Anna returned to Easton and is listed in the 1906 street directory for that city.


Major Bickham died in 1894, and Daniel took over leadership of the paper with his brother Abe. Abe served in the Spanish-American War, leaving Daniel as publisher and editor. Brother Charles, who also served in the war and was a lifelong military man, submitted war stories that Bickham published in the Journal. The reports continued after the war when Charles remained in the Philippines fighting the Insurrectionists. Charles was cited for action in a 1902 battle and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1904. The family sold the newspaper in 1904, but Daniel Bickham stayed on in the business department until 1910. He then took a job in the accounting department of the Herring, Hall, Marvin Safe Company in Hamilton, Ohio.


After the Great Dayton Flood and Fire devastated the city in 1913, Daniel joined the Miami Valley Conservancy, which was organized to plan and implement a dam system that would prevent future disasters. Bickham left the group in 1917 and ran a real-estate office from his home on West First Street. He was active in civic affairs and Princeton alumni matters. In 1927 he married a 44-year-old schoolteacher, Sylvia Carroll. In November 1936 he delivered an address to the Ohio Journalism Hall of Fame upon the induction of his father. In November 1949 baseball historian Lee Allen said Bickham, then 85 years old, was at that time the oldest surviving member of the Red Stockings. Bickham carried this distinction until his death on March 3, 1951, at the age of 86. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton. Sylvia lived until 1972.


Acknowledgement


Chris Rainey is indebted to SABR member Jack Carlson for the background information. He is in the process of writing a book on the history of Dayton baseball.


 


Sources


Boston Herald


Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (1886)


Dayton Daily News


New Haven (Connecticut) Register


Philadelphia Inquirer


Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican


Philadelphia Inquirer


Princeton Alumni Weekly


Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times


Bickham family archives in the Dayton main library


Various city street directories for Dayton.


Frederick Evans, compiler, After 25 years: Class Record of 1886 (Princeton)


Lisa P. Rickey, blog at lisaricky.wordpress.com


 


Notes



i Frederick Evans, compiler, After 25 years: Class Record of 1886. Available as an e-book.



ii Online blog by Lisa P. Rickey, lisaricky.wordpress.com.



iii Stephen Eschenbach, “The Challenge Game,” Princeton Alumni Weekly, March 23, 2005. Available online at www.princeton.edu/paw/archive.



iv Ibid.



v Boston Herald April 21, 1885, 2, and April 23, 1885, 4.



vi Stephen Eschenbach, “The Challenge Game,” Princeton Alumni Weekly, March 23, 2005. Available online at www.princeton.edu/paw/archive.



vii New York Herald, April 15, 1886.



viii www.goprincetontigers.com has the team’s baseball record available year by year. The source of the 10-4 record is Stephen Eschenbach, “The Challenge Game,” Princeton Alumni Weekly, March 23, 2005, but the authors question whether it is accurate; Bickham most likely pitched more than 14 of the 24 games.



ix Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, April 14, 1886, 7.



x Ibid.



xi Ibid.



xii The quote is from the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, April 14, 1886, 7. The concept of revenge was suggested in Stephen Eschenbach, “The Challenge Game,” Princeton Alumni Weekly, March 23, 2005. The Associated Press in its article on the game, said that Umpire John Kelly made some questionable calls that led to many Cincinnati scores. The Commercial Tribune said that “Kelly had the toughest game of the year to umpire. He may have missed several close base calls but neither side found fault.”

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