This article was written by Peter Morris
Who was Israel Pike? He was the younger brother of Lipman Pike, baseball’s first great Jewish star, and most likely was very briefly a major leaguer himself. Yet his career and life have been so shrouded in obscurity that questions endure about whether he is entitled to that distinction.
Israel’s father Emanuel Pike was born in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1820, and met his wife Jane Lyons after immigrating to New York City. They settled in Brooklyn and raised a large family that included five sons and several girls, but according to family genealogies, only three of the boys reached manhood: Boaz (1842), Lipman (1845) and Israel (1853). Census data also shows only these three Pike boys surviving past childhood, which is important to bear in mind. Not clear at all is how many girls were in the family.
Baseball became a big part of every Brooklyn lad’s life during the 1850s, and the Pike boys were no exception. By the 1860s, Boaz and Lipman were both playing for the Atlantics, one of the most illustrious clubs in a city full of great ballclubs. Boaz was a hard-hitting infielder and outfielder who, according to an 1865 game account, “struck the longest ball yet batted on the field, not less, perhaps, than 600 feet straight ahead.” (Brooklyn Eagle, July 11, 1865)
Lipman, however, was the real star of the family, jumping to Philadelphia in 1866 and playing on top professional teams for the next decade and a half. The boys’ father even became involved in the Atlantic club, serving on the club’s auditing committee. (New York Clipper, January 20, 1872) And, while Israel was too young to play alongside his older brothers, he undoubtedly watched them avidly and dreamed of a similar career for himself.
By the time he was old enough to have a realistic chance to do so, in the early 1870s, Boaz had retired from baseball and Lipman was successfully launched on his professional career. Then in 1875 Emanuel Pike died, and his widow and many of her children relocated to Boston. (New York Clipper, January 16, 1875)
At about the same time, in addition to the frequent mentions of Lipman Pike’s exploits, references to another ballplayer named Pike began to appear in the sporting presses. In 1874, the Brooklyn Eagle reported that a player named Pike “of the Concords” would represent Brooklyn in an exhibition game against players from New York City. (Brooklyn Eagle, August 13, 1874) The next year — after the Pike family’s move to Boston — a note suggested that left fielder “J. E. Pike” of the Lowells would sign with the Live Oaks of Lynn, Massachusetts. (New York Clipper, November 15, 1875) Then, a month later came word that this same player had instead signed with the Star Club of Syracuse. (New York Clipper, December 11, 1875) Finally, in a National League game on August 27, 1877, Hartford used a right fielder who was listed in the box score as “J. Pike” and described in game accounts as “Pike’s brother … formerly of the Concords.”
The mystery of who this man was persists to this day. If he was indeed Lipman Pike’s brother, then it seems that he has to be Israel — either the letter “I” was mistranscribed, or Israel used a variant form of his name while playing baseball. Support for this explanation can be found in an 1885 old-timer’s game in Brooklyn that featured “L. Pike” at second base and “I. Pike” in left field. (Brooklyn Eagle, September 5, 1885)
But with so little known about this ballplayer, it also remains possible that the J. Pike was not related to Lipman and that the critical note was in error. Another confusing twist is that accounts of Lipman’s 1893 funeral lists both “Mr. and Mrs. I. E. Pike” and “Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Pike” as mourners. There is no known relative by the latter name, but most likely this is a cousin, a nephew or just a mistake. If it is a cousin, then this could conceivably be the mysterious ballplayer.
As a result, the one-game Hartford player continues to be unidentified, and indisputable proof of who he was seems unlikely to ever emerge. Most researchers who have looked into the matter, however, are inclined to believe that he was Israel Pike.
After his baseball career — if he indeed had one — Israel Pike led an apparently uneventful life. He married Rebecca Fox, raised five children and worked as a haberdasher. He passed away on February 10, 1925, in Nassau County, New York.
Contemporary newspapers (as noted), censuses, city directories and vital records; PIKE/SNOEK Gedcom on ancestry.com submitted by David S. Ross.