Who’s Going to Pitch?
This article was published in the 2010 The National Pastime.
While controversies related to baseball in the nineteenth century focused mainly on the playing of ball on Sundays, it was the noise, confusion, and occasional violence of unorganized pickup games of ball by troops of boys that frequently led to complaints and confrontations.
Thus, in 1884, Macon, Georgia, was merely one among the thousands of places, large and small, throughout the United States that had ordinances banning the playing of baseball on Sunday. And, just as would happen in those other communities, a group of boys gathered on a vacant field, just outside the city limits, on Sunday, July 13, for a game of ball. There weren’t enough boys to make up two full teams, so this became a game called, in the local vernacular, “scrub.”1
Whatever it might be called in other locales, in this game two or three boys were the batters, and the others took defensive positions. When an out was made, the batter who was put out went to the outfield, and the other players moved up in position, with the pitcher being the last stop before becoming a batter. It sounds simple enough, but in Macon on that Sunday afternoon, an argument arose over who was going to pitch.
Oney Cauley and Dan Lucas, each 20 years old, both claimed to have been playing first base, and therefore they both insisted on advancing to the post of pitcher. In the heat of the moment, Lucas removed a knife from the pocket of another player and stabbed Cauley in the chest. As the Atlanta Constitution described it: “The blade struck the breast bone and would not enter and Lucas then drew the blade across the left breast and arm of Cauley, cutting a deep and fearful wound and severing an artery from which a stream of blood freely flowed and Cauley was in great danger of bleeding to death, had not parties present tightly bound cords above the cut artery and stopped the flow of the life crimson fluid.”2
The Constitution began its story by quoting the Biblical line “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” and reported that Cauley, when first cut, endeavored to get a bat but was so weakened from the loss of blood that he could not raise the bat to strike Lucas. Cauley was confined to bed at home; Lucas was not arrested.3
The newspaper made no further reference to the incident, but ironically, about a month later, the Constitution took editorial notice of Sunday baseball problems in Memphis, Nashville, and Chattanooga, gloating: “Fortunately we have no trouble over the Sunday law in Georgia. As a rule our people are in favor of properly observing the Lord’s day.”4
But a year later, Macon residents were still complaining about games of baseball being played on Sunday afternoons by crowds of boys, white and black, who “disturb the quiet of the day by yells and shrieks emitted, while handling the ball and bat.” Added the Constitution: “As the police will be called on to abate the nuisance it is probable that next Sunday will be a quiet one in the neighborhood of the park.”5
Of course, there was no mention of Lucas and Cauley; they’d had their moment of notoriety.
RICHARD MCBANE, a retired newspaperman, is the author of "Glory Days: The Akron Yankees of the Middle Atlantic League, 1935–1941" (Summit County Historical Society, 1997), and "A Fine-Looking Lot of Ball Tossers: The Remarkable Akrons of 1881" (McFarland, 2005).