Arthur Gorman

This article was written by Brian McKenna

The story of baseball in the nation’s capital is interlinked with the career of Arthur P. Gorman, a name unrecognizable to today’s fans. Long before Clark Griffith made his annual trips to the White House to present the Commander-in-Chief with his season’s pass, Gorman actually befriended and entertained the President of the United States and future Presidents with a little ball playing on the Capitol and Executive Mansion grounds during the 1860s.

Every step of Gorman’s baseball endeavors had long-ranging significance. He was a founder of one of Washington’s first base ball clubs, eventually becoming the club’s president. He was a driving force behind the game’s first western barnstorming tour and even headed the National Association of Base Ball Players. Even after leaving the game for a political career, Gorman served as counsel and confidant of the game’s power base. It is even said that D.C.’s famed baseball nickname, the Senators, derived from Gorman’s stature within the game and the city and his presence at the ballpark. Until his death in 1906, Gorman held a special place in the game’s history, as a member of the Mills Commission, which eventually “unearthed” the historical origins of the game to the delight of their constituency.

Arthur Pue Gorman was born March 11, 1839, in Woodstock, Howard County, Maryland, to parents Peter and Elizabeth A. (nee Brown). Arthur was named after the family physician, Dr. Arthur Pue, who later became one of the boy’s tutors. The Gormans were Presbyterians of Irish descent. Arthur’s grandfather, John, emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland circa 1794, first settling in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He engaged in cattle trade with some Baltimore interests and was eventually lured to the area, moving to Old Town.

Peter Gorman, Arthur’s father, owned a rock quarry, worked as a contractor, and supplied granite and stone for public projects, government buildings, bridges, and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Gorman granite could be found in the pillars of the old Treasury building in Washington, D.C.

The oldest of five siblings, Arthur attended local public schools; however, in 1848 when the family moved to a 150-acre farm outside Laurel, a small town, there were no schools. Peter Gorman hired tutors, but after yet another one quit and left the area, Gorman called on two Maryland congressmen, William T. Hamilton and General Edward Hammond, and secured an extra page position for 11-year-old Arthur with the U.S. Senate in December 1850. Some sources claim that Gorman first held a page position with the U.S. House of Representatives, but no evidence of such was unearthed by Gorman’s biographer John R. Lambert.

There, Gorman struck up a friendship with Illinois Senator and perennial presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas, who helped Gorman land a full page position with the Senate in 1851. Gorman would later advance to messenger in 1855, assistant doorkeeper, assistant postmaster in 1861, and finally postmaster of the Senate in 1863.

Gorman’s friendship with Douglas led the Senator to invite Gorman into his household and to hire him as a private secretary. Gorman supposedly accompanied Douglas during the Lincoln-Douglas debate tour of 1858. Gorman’s friendship with Douglas has been confirmed by Douglas’ son, but there is no documentation confirming Gorman’s travels with Douglas. Gorman also befriended Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson, among others.

Gorman’s Senate responsibilities kept him from service during the Civil War, but his special relationship with members of the Senate and the Executive Mansion permitted him to make extensive tours of Union camps and war-ravaged areas. He first traveled to General Hooker’s headquarters on the Potomac River in October 1861 and a military camp in Frederick, Maryland.

In mid-1864, Gorman traveled to General Grant’s headquarters at City Point in Virginia. There, he met the general’s staff and Generals Benjamin F. Butler and George G. Meade. Upon his return to D.C., Gorman notified Washington officials that President Lincoln had arrived at City Point.

In September 1864, Gorman received a pass from President Lincoln, allowing him to see “something of the conditions in the West.” He traveled on the B&O Railroad, landing first in Cincinnati and then Louisville. In Nashville he called on military Governor Andrew Johnson, who greeted Gorman, a friend from the Senate, heartily. Gorman finished his trip with stops in St. Louis, Acton, Illinois, and Chicago before returning to the capital.

While in D.C. in the late 1850s, Gorman began playing with and representing various amateur base ball clubs. He often gathered after work with other government employees to play on makeshift fields on the property of the U.S. Capitol or at the south end grounds of the Executive Mansion near the incomplete 152-foot tall Washington Monument. The plot, set up during President Buchanan’s term, came to be called the President’s Grounds or the White Lot. Today, the area is known as the Ellipse.

In D.C., base ball, two words as it was known, was played under a variety of rules. A little north, in New York, the Knickerbocker rules would establish a national standard. As outside localities adopted the New York style of play, baseball contests could be played universally under a common understanding of rules and eventually compete with cricket for the top bat and ball athletes and their admirers, the cranks.

One further development occurred in New York. On January 22, 1857, fifteen New York-area clubs met to discuss the possibility of establishing a fraternity of baseball clubs to compete amongst themselves and aid in the spread of the sport that was already referred to as the “national game.” Soon, the delegates would adopt a uniform rule system, the Knickerbocker rules, save one important adjustment. In May, it was decided that contests would no longer end with the first team scoring 21 runs; instead, the winner would be declared after nine full innings were played.

In March 1858, the delegates formally drew up a permanent constitution with by-laws and rules, marking the official formation of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP). That meeting was attended by the first club outside New York City and Brooklyn, the Liberty club of New Brunswick, New Jersey. By 1860, the annual convention would attract interested parties from as far as Detroit, Boston, Baltimore, and the District of Columbia.

In the fall of 1859, two separate groups of government workers met in Washington and formed the area’s first baseball clubs, the Potomacs and the Nationals. The Nationals’ constitution survives as part of the Edmund F. French collection at The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. It describes a few concepts alien to modern major league fans. Profit was not among the ideals of the day; in fact, the reverse holds true. To join, men had to pay an initiation fee of 50 cents and half that thereafter as monthly dues. The club also held its members to the strictest of conduct codes. Fines were established for “profane or improper language,” for disputing an umpire’s call, and even for expressing one’s opinion prior to an umpire’s official declaration on a play.

The Washington clubs’ members were not among the nation’s wealthiest citizens, but they were among those fortunate at the time to boast a steady paycheck from the government, especially with the upcoming war turmoil. Many worked as clerks for the Treasury or other departments. The Nationals’ president, James Morrow, was a clerk in the pension office. Joseph L. Wright, vice president, was the official doorkeeper of the U.S. House of Representative. Gorman, the club’s secretary, performed a similar duty in the Senate.

The Potomacs adopted the Ellipse as their home field and even joined the NABBP for a few games in 1860. Despite a few on-the-field successes, including participating in the sport’s first intercity contest with Baltimore, the Potomacs would fade away and disband by the following season. The Nationals, a typically patriotic name for the era, would forge on and carve new ground for the sport that would soon surpass all others.

The first recorded baseball game in D.C. took place on May 5, 1860, between the Potomacs and Nationals at the Potomacs’ home field, the President’s Grounds. The Potomacs won 35-15. The Nationals hosted another contest on July 2 at their grounds near the Capitol at 6th and 7th Streets and Maryland Avenue, N.E. Second baseman Gorman scored six times in the Nationals’ 46-14-victory. The two clubs battled back and forth during 1860, culminating with a “championship” contest in late October at the Capitol field. The Potomacs won bragging rights, 32-16.

After a successful northern barnstorming tour, the Excelsiors of Brooklyn headed south in the summer of 1860 to face nines in Maryland, Delaware, and into southern Pennsylvania. The Excelsiors boasted James Creighton, the fastest pitcher of the day. The two tours by the Excelsiors did much to spark the adoption of the New York game and excite fans throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. In December, Philadelphia clubs would finally be represented at the annual NABBP convention.

On July 22, 1860, the Excelsiors faced a group of Baltimore all-stars, which included Arthur Gorman. Brooklyn romped to a 51-6-victory, but the Marylanders were ecstatic to have scored six runs off the great Creighton. A big post-game banquet was arranged where the Excelsiors were treated to all the local flavors: oysters, crabmeat, Maryland duck, roast beef and liberal amounts of wine. Ever the orator, Gorman exclaimed, “I see in this visit of the Excelsiors a precedent for further visits of New York and Brooklyn teams to Baltimore, and perhaps in the foreseeable future, our teams, too, will travel to New York, Philadelphia and other great cities.”

After the Potomacs disbanded, the Nationals adopted the Ellipse as their home field and joined the NABBP in 1861, participating in two league contests, winning one and losing one. Embroiled in Civil War administration, the Nationals withdrew from the NABBP, unable to maintain a traveling schedule. This is not to say that baseball died in the nation’s capital during the war. Quite the contrary, D.C. was a hub of sports activity during the war.

The Nationals continued to play ball in and around D.C., battling local clubs such as the Jeffersons and Unions. They also took on various soldier nines as they traveled through the area. Depending on their competition, the Nationals would occasionally accommodate a group that played a version of ball outside New York guidelines. The Nationals played frequently at the Ellipse, the Capitol field, and at various local forts and encampments or wherever troops and an empty field could be found within a short trip from the city.

On July 2, 1861, the Nationals faced the top nine players from the 71st New York Regiment at the Ellipse, losing 41-13. The 71st were headed to Manassas, Virginia, where they would soon suffer heavy losses at the Battle of Bull Run, the war’s first major land conflict. A weakened 71st nine would meet the Nationals in August 1862 at Tenleytown, Maryland. The Nationals would take that contest 28-13.

After the first loss to the 71st New York Regiment, the National club virtually dominated all competition from 1861-63, attracting large crowds along the way. In a game versus the newly-formed Jeffersons in May 1862, Gorman, now team captain, swatted three home runs en route to a 62-22-victory. The Nationals’ Ned Hibbs outdid him, belting five.

The Nationals continued to dominate in 1863, regularly defeating all local competition, the newly formed Pastimes of Baltimore, and various bands of soldiers as they encamped. By the summer, Gorman was elected president of the club and set his sights on competing against the finest clubs in the north.

During the summer of 1863, Gorman made two trips to Brooklyn to lure the Eckfords’ Al Reach to Washington. With the death of James Creighton in October 1862, Reach, a lefthanded second baseman, became the top player in the country. He would soon be the face of the impending professional movement, which would eventually cripple the NABBP.

Ultimately, Gorman’s efforts proved fruitless, as Reach agreed to terms with the Athletics of Philadelphia. Gorman’s offer may have indeed been sweeter than the Athletics’ but Reach preferred playing closer to his Flushing, Long Island, home and jewelry business in New York. Though Creighton was in all likelihood the game’s first professional, Gorman’s pursuit of Reach clearly and publicly established the precedent.

Gorman took the Nationals national once again, rejoining the NABBP at the December 1863 convention. The hot topic of the meeting was the continued push by many to enact the “fly game.” The effort was to eliminate outs declared when catching a ball on one bounce. Gorman and nearly half the other members voted to eliminate one-bounce outs, but they would have to wait one more year before the new rule was finally pushed through.

The Nationals took part in three NABBP games in 1864 and another five in 1865. Both years the Nats won more than they lost. In the five games in 1865, Gorman scored 15 runs. As the war was winding down, the Nationals toppled the 133rd New York Regiment at Fort Meigs, Maryland, on May 17, 1865. They also won all games versus the local Unions and the Enterprise club of Baltimore. In the supposed “Championship of the South,” the Nats topped the Jeffersons 34-14 on August 22.

The newly claimed title sparked Gorman to invite the Atlantics of Brooklyn and the Athletics of Philadelphia to D.C. for a grand tournament to be held at the end of the month at the Ellipse. The tough Atlantics were 18-0 on the season and boasted one of the early heroes of the game, shortstop Dickey Pearce.

With great pageantry Gorman met the two clubs at the train station with four horse coaches adorned with American flags. They first stopped for a tour of the Capitol and the Executive Mansion, though they missed the President. To everyone’s surprise, virtually overnight Gorman had seating erected for the city’s honored guests to view the contests at the President’s Grounds.

It was one of the top social events of the summer, and over 5,000 ponied up the hefty one dollar admission, only to see their beloved Nationals lose both games, 33-19 to the Atlantics and 87-12 to the Athletics. A scheduling snafu prohibited an Athletics versus Atlantics clash. On August 30, President Johnson received Gorman, his Nationals, and the other combatants at the Executive Mansion, a presidential first.

Clearly, talent needed to be added to compete with the top clubs of the north. On October 9, the Nationals defeated the famed Excelsiors of Brooklyn, 36-30, in Washington.

Gorman’s friendship with now President Johnson led to special privileges for the Nationals. Johnson was a big fan of the Nationals, often watching them at the Ellipse and was even known to let federal workers take a break to view the games. He was the first president to refer to baseball as “the national game.” He also instructed the Marine band to entertain whenever the Nationals were competing.

Gorman gained permission from the President in March 1866 to expand a building on White House property in order to store baseball equipment. Giving his permission, Johnson asserted, “These clubs are composed of some of the most worthy young gentlemen in Washington and are highly worthy of any aid we can give them.”

In 1866, Gorman withdrew from playing ball to concentrate on his Senate duties and club president responsibilities. However, the Nationals only benefited from his new focus. They won every local game and even topped the American Cricket Club 70-10.

In July, the Nationals took a northern tour. They lost to the Athletics 22-6 on the July 2 in front of the largest crowd, 12,000, to see a game in Philadelphia to that point. The Nats then defeated the crosstown Keystones the following day, 26-9. In New York for the fourth of July, the Nats lost to the Union club 22-8 in front of a healthy holiday crowd. The following day, the Nats lost to the Excelsiors, 46-33, and they lost again on July 6 to the Gotham club. On the trip home, the Nationals defeated a New Jersey club. Despite only two victories, the Nats’ mere participation boosted their reputation.

In October 1866, only one year after the end of the war, the Nats traveled south to Charlottesville and beat the Monticello club 37-7. On the return trip, they stopped in the Confederate capital of Richmond and defeated the Union club 143-11. In all, the Nationals were 10-5 in NABBP competition in 1866.

In August 1866, Gorman lost his position as the Senate postmaster due to his unwavering support of President Johnson in wake of the antipathy created by the President’s veto of the radical Civil Rights bill of 1866.

Johnson immediately found Gorman an internal revenue collector position in his home state of Maryland (5th District). Reluctant to leave D.C., Gorman had to be soothed into the position by the President, who promised to allow Gorman the opportunity to maintain his baseball connections; regardless, the new job sparked Gorman’s eventual withdraw from the Nationals and baseball altogether.

Gorman panned out well as a collector, gaining a reputation with his collection of over $150,000 in arrearages. He kept the job until administrations changed in 1869. On March 28, 1867, Gorman married Hattie Donagan, the widow of Mr. Schwartz. They would have six children: Arthur P. Jr., Ada, Haddie, Grace, Anne Elizabeth, and Mary.

Eighteen Sixty-Seven proved to be Gorman’s finest year in the game and formally one of his last. At the December 12, 1866, convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players, Gorman became the association’s first southern president. The number of clubs represented had increased dramatically as the war wound down. The NABBP jumped from 30 clubs in 1864 to 91 in 1865 to an astounding 202 in December 1866. New York no longer dominated the fraternity, as 17 states plus the District of Columbia were represented at the convention. Approximately 10% of the clubs came from Maryland and D.C. Baseball’s administrative power base was shifting south and westward.

The NABBP was in transition. Professionalism was streaming into the traditionally amateur association. Players were jumping from team to team, seeking the best deal, and clubs were bringing charges against one another for secretly paying their players. The 1866 convention itself was an unruly mess. Roll call and related activities took over three hours because there were so many attendees. The association decided to cut the number of future delegates by forcing clubs to join state associations. These state associations would then represent the clubs at the convention.

While cutting the number of future delegates to less than 30 per convention, the NABBP became controlled by professional interests as the state associations tended to be dominated by professional managers like Harry Wright. In 1868, the NABBP would essentially legalize pay-for-play as it formally drew a distinction between its professional members and its amateurs.

To accept the NABBP presidency, Gorman resigned from the Nationals, formally turning the reins over to Union veteran and former Excelsiors member Colonel Frank Jones, who was working in D.C. with the Treasury Department. Over the winter and spring, Jones and Gorman hatched bold plans for 1867.

In April, the Nationals lured 20-year-old second baseman George Wright from the Unions of Morrisania, giving him a fictitious job in Col. Jones’ Treasury Department. The position was fictitious, not the pay. The Nats also raided New York clubs for five other players, including third baseman George Fox and left fielder George Fletcher.

Keeping a strong core of returnees, the Nationals set out to take the sport’s first western tour. To ensure publicity for their venture and to chronicle their legacy, Gorman and Jones invited one of the game’s founders and the sport’s most respected voice, Henry Chadwick. Consequently, the Nationals’ tour of 1867 became the most thoroughly covered event in American sports history to date and a model for the Red Stockings’ tour of 1869. Chadwick fed columns to the Washington Star, The Ball Players Chronicle, and several New York dailies, and his articles were picked up in most major cities and their surrounding areas.

Their train departed from Washington on July 11. For the rest of the month, the Nationals would travel by railroad, boat, or coach to Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, and finally back to D.C. The team would play ten games and travel over 3,000 miles. At every stop along the way, the Nationals were greeted by tons of fans and entertained by hosting clubs and city officials.

In Cincinnati, the Nats defeated the Red Stockings and their crack pitcher Harry Wright 53-10. It was the Reds’ only loss of the season. The humiliation sparked the club to push aside the amateur ideal and hire Wright for $1,200 at the end of the season to captain the club and build a winner that would soon make a similar barnstorming tour and set the baseball world afire.

Gorman’s political responsibilities were taking their toll, but he was able to join the Nationals in Chicago for the tour’s final three contests. On July 25, the Nats suffered their only defeat to a Rockford, Illinois, nine, the Forest Cities, who had traveled a hundred miles to face one of the finest clubs from the east. That day, Forest City introduced 16-year-old ace Al Spalding to the baseball world. Plodding through two rain delays, Spalding etched a 29-23 victory over the touring giants. Forest City also fielded 17-year-old Ross Barnes, their ninth-place batter.

Forest City’s victory set the Chicago sports world on fire. Rumors flew that the Nationals had lain down against the previously unacknowledged club from Rockford in order to influence betting on the next game versus the respected Excelsiors of Chicago. The Chicago Tribune stated flatly that “The Nationals threw the game to Rockford for betting purposes.” The comment stirred Gorman and Jones to storm to Tribune’s offices and demand an apology. In hindsight, it is obvious to see that the Nationals just ran into a pitcher who would become the best in the game through the following decade.

Despite the loss to Spalding’s club, the tour was a huge success for the Nationals specifically and baseball in general. The Nationals returned to D.C. to fanfare and naturally made a call on the President. They were hailed as the “Champions of the South” and secured what Gorman and Jones had sought, a place among the great ball clubs. Unfortunately, the tour would be a financial bust; backers had to cover an additional $3,000 of costs by the time the Nats returned home.

Repeated defeats at the hands of the Nationals only served to impel western clubs to get better. Soon, the best would be making similar trips to the east coast. As the western clubs improved, no season would be complete for the eastern clubs without making at least one trip out west, or at least hosting western clubs.

Capping an outstanding season, President Johnson was among a crowd of 6,000 at the opening of the Nationals’ new park on August 26, a particularly thrilling moment for the President, despite the 40-16-loss to the Mutuals of New York. The Nationals finished 29-7 for the year and even added veteran pitcher Asa Brainard.

Gorman convened the NABBP’s eleventh convention on December 11, 1867, in Philadelphia, the first held outside New York. Over three hundred clubs were represented, and the association finally admitted junior clubs, those with young players. The hot topics of the day included the case for reinstatement of Thomas Devyr, participant in the sport’s first game-fixing scandal, the possible expulsion of the perennially questionable Mutuals of New York, and, of course, the mounting struggle between professionalism and the amateur ideal. Gorman relinquished the president’s chair to George F. Sands of Ohio’s state association.

At the convention of 1867, the nominating committee of the NABBP, charged with overseeing new club applications, presented their annual report. Inundated with applications, the committee did not have the time to assess all the new applicants, and they reported to the general convention that they could “only assume” that the applications were “based on good faith.” Due to their inability to evaluate all new applicants, the committee moved to exclude clubs with “one or more colored persons.” The general convention accepted the committee’s report and recommendations. The proposal was presented as a means to hold the association above political turmoil; however, the timing of the recommendation, shortly after a black club, the Pythians of Philadelphia, failed to secure admission to the Pennsylvania Base Ball Association, is telling.

Soon after losing his collector’s job, Gorman was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1869. That year, he also became a director of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company, a rival of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, rising to president in 1872. It was an influential position in political circles and allowed him to secure a hold on the Democratic Party in Maryland. He remained in the House of Delegates until 1875, serving as Speaker the final two years.

Gorman left the House of Delegates upon his election to the Maryland State Senate, where he served until 1881. In 1880, Gorman was elected to the U.S. Senate from Maryland. He quickly became a leader of the Bourbon Democrats and was the unquestioned leader of the Democratic Party in Maryland for the next two and a half decades.

In 1884, he became Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (modern title) and directed Grover Cleveland’s successful presidential campaign. This brought Gorman national attention. He chaired the Democratic caucus as minority and majority leader from 1890-98, before there were formal leaders. His name was also bandied about for presidential consideration in 1892, and he finished fourth in votes at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

He wielded great power as the Senate chairman of the Committee on Printing and as a member of the Senate Committee on Private Land Claims and the Senate Committee on Commerce. Gorman played a leading role in financial and tariff legislation and pushed through the Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894. This sparked a falling out with President Cleveland, who was pushing for low tariffs.

Though he left the game after 1867, Gorman could be found at the ballpark as often as his duties would allow. He was a frequent guest at American Association, National League, and American League games until his death in 1906. In February 1903, Gorman and attorney Wilton J. Lambert attempted to buy the American League Washington Senators. Ban Johnson even tipped off the press that the Gorman group was the leading candidate to take over the franchise; however, the bid proved unsuccessful.

As a Senate leader and influential financial lawmaker with friends throughout the national pastime, Gorman was at times called to aid the game. Al Spalding and National League president Nick Young did not hesitate to call on their old friend to gain favorable travel rates with the railroads for the National League in March 1888. Gorman declared that the issue wasn’t under the purview of his Senate Committee on Inter-state Commerce; however, he forcefully suggested that such endeavors as MLB and theatrical troupes should “have special consideration from the railroad companies” and even suggested that if “some meddling persons should raise the question, the commission would have to consider and decide it.”

After losing a reelection bid to Louis E. McComas in 1898, Gorman regained his position in 1903. On March 5, 1903, President Roosevelt called the Senate into special session to consider ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty. The following day, the U.S. Senate decided to formally elect caucus chairman for the first time. Gorman was the unanimous choice to serve as minority leader. He later became a state director, Washington branch, of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. He served in both capacities until his death of a heart attack at home on June 4, 1906, after an illness of several months. Gorman is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

In 1906, Cosmopolitan ran a series of articles claiming that politicians were receiving huge payments from large corporations to help argue their cases in the Senate. Gorman was named as one of the main figures. He was criticized for pushing through huge legislation and tacking on bonuses for his constituents. It was also said that Gorman had a slew of private interests that he fed with his connections and that he held numerous associations that were not known to the general public.

Gorman gave one other lasting gift to his friends in baseball. Though he died before the final committee report in December 1907, at the behest of Al Spalding, Gorman was one of the seven members of the Mills Commission, along with old friends Nick Young, Al Reach, and George Wright, which concluded that “the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839.”


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