This article was written by Charlie Bevis
As president of the Eastern League from 1893 through 1910, Powers developed the circuit into a premier minor league, which was renamed the International League beginning with the 1912 season. From 1901 until 1909, Powers also served as president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the official organization of the minor leagues. In this capacity in 1903, he orchestrated sweeping changes in how the minor leagues co-existed with the major leagues, maintaining the independent status of the minor leagues while at the same time serving as a player development system.
Patrick T. Powers was born on June 27, 1860 in Trenton, New Jersey, the only son among six children of Irish immigrants David and Eliza Powers. Powers’ father supported the family by working as an “iron drawer” in a local foundry.
Powers began his baseball career by managing minor league teams in his home state of New Jersey for six years, the first two years in Trenton (1884-1885) and then four years in Jersey City (1886-1889). It was at Jersey City in 1889 that Powers first experienced the potential that Sunday baseball could have on the financial success of baseball. At the time, baseball games on Sunday were not permitted by law in states east of the Allegheny Mountains, while such games were highly popular in cities west of the Alleghenies such as St. Louis and Louisville.
“Sunday baseball was inaugurated at Oakland Park, Jersey City, yesterday in a decidedly unique and interesting way,” the New York Tribune reported on July 22, 1889, about the Jersey City game with Worcester in the Atlantic Association. “Everything was as quiet as a Quaker meeting, a buzzing Jersey mosquito around little ‘Chic’ Hofford’s head causing the only atmospheric disturbance. Umpire Hopkins called ‘Play!’ in a subdued stage whisper, dropping his usual wild and defiant yell. The peanut man took a seat in the rear of the grand-stand and swapped sympathy with the tutti-frutti peddler, the pie-man and the head barkeeper. They had all failed to get permission to retail their wares … Manager Powers sat demurely in a corner, with one eye on the fat policeman who had both eyes on ‘Pat’ Powers. Everything was quiet, but the game went on steadily.” After the game that “1,597 people had paid 25 cents each to see and about 200 women had been admitted free,” all 18 ball players were arrested and “marched down before Justice Norton, who, with great dignity, fined each player $1 and costs.”
When the police shut down Sunday baseball in Jersey City later that July, the team disbanded and Powers moved on to manage the Rochester, New York, team in the International Association for the rest of the 1889 season. The following year, Rochester moved into the American Association, then a major league, and attempted to play Sunday baseball, not on its regular grounds, but 10 miles north of the city in the town of Irondequoit at Windsor Beach on the shores of Lake Ontario.
More than 5,000 people attended Rochester’s first Sunday game at Windsor Beach on May 11. When thousands continued to flock to the Sunday games, the local Law and Order Society took action to shut down the Sunday games. The showdown with Powers’ Rochester club occurred on July 20, when the Law and Order Society, accompanied by local constables, marched onto the baseball field at Windsor Beach in the third inning and demanded that the game be stopped.
“Spectators began to pour out upon the diamond and shout derisively at the officers,” the Rochester Herald described the scene. “The crowd surged thicker and thicker about the Irondequoit people and called for the players to continue the game. It looked for a moment that there would be a row.” Powers stepped in and with his oratory skills “persuaded the farmers to leave the diamond” by promising that the players would report the next day to a designated justice of the peace. The Law and Order interlopers, “deeming discretion the better part of valor, accepted the terms and departed.”
Powers double-crossed the Sabbatarians, though, by having the players arrested upon the complaint of a friendly Irondequoit resident and set free by a friendly justice in Irondequoit. The scam by Powers was not well received by the establishment and turned out to have a more powerful impact on shutting down Sunday baseball in Rochester for the rest of the season than did the actual Sunday ball game itself. Powers managed Rochester to a fifth place finish in the American Association in 1890, the city’s only year in major league baseball.
In 1891, Powers stayed in upstate New York to manage the Buffalo club in the Eastern League. When Buffalo finished in first place, Powers caught the attention of the New York Giants of the National League. In 1892, Powers replaced Jim Mutrie and managed the Giants in the first year of the 12-team National League, resulting from its merger with the American Association. That year the League also experimented with the split-season format, dividing the season into two halves with the winners of each half meeting in a post-season championship series. Powers piloted the Giants to a tenth place finish in the first half and a sixth place finish in the second half, compiling an overall 71-80 record that year. It was his only year in the National League, as the Giants replaced Powers with John Montgomery Ward for the 1893 season.
Powers may have spent just one year in New York City, but it was a pivotal year for his career, as he established New York City as his base for sports promotion for the next two decades.
For the 1893 season, Powers moved up to an executive position, replacing Charles White as president of the Eastern League. The Eastern League that Powers inherited was comprised mostly of teams in upstate New YorkBuffalo, Albany, Troy, and Binghamtonwith a few teams in Pennsylvania and New England. Three clubs played Sunday baseball in the league. Albany and Troy played on Sundays at the Pleasure Island grounds located on an island in the Hudson River outside of Albany, until police stopped the practice a few years later. Providence, Rhode Island, would prove to be the key to the league’s future. Providence played Sunday baseball at the Rocky Point resort, about 15 miles down Narragansett Bay from the city. Sunday baseball was tolerated for several decades at Rocky Point, which has been described as “a tiny island of illicit professional baseball on Sunday within the vast New England ocean of strict Puritan observance of a Sunday day of rest.”
Powers navigated the Eastern League through the turbulent waters of minor league baseball of the 1890s, when National League teams brazenly raided players from minor league teams and otherwise made life difficult for the independent businessmen that owned clubs. During the 1890s, Powers expanded the league into Canada (Toronto and Montreal) and made greater inroads into New England (Hartford, Connecticut) to transform the league into a regional powerhouse from just a New York-based organization.
In 1901, Powers ascended from regional recognition to national prominence in the baseball world when he was elected as the first president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. This was the first time that the minor leagues had banded together into a formal organization to represent their desires in negotiating with the major leagues. Powers was elected at a September meeting in Chicago, which was attended by Mike Sexton, president of the Three-I League and organizer of the meeting, and presidents of five other minor leagues. Seven more leagues would join before the 1902 season began.
Powers, on behalf of the NAPBL, negotiated a new National Agreement with the major leagues for the 1903 season. This agreement established the foundation for minor league operations that would foster phenomenal growth over the next dozen years. Powers helped to establish standards for the classification system of the minor leagues, the drafting of players by higher classification teams, reserve list and salary limitations, and territorial and contract protections.
During this tumultuous period in professional baseball, Powers continued to strengthen the position of the Eastern League, by adding larger cities and ones that could play Sunday baseball. In 1902, Newark and Jersey City were added to the league, and all eight teams in the league could play each Sunday. In 1903, Baltimore joined the Eastern League. Baltimore, along with Toronto, Montreal, Newark, Jersey City, Buffalo, and Rochester, formed a core of teams that propelled the Eastern League to success well into the 1920s.
Powers kept his office at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where he augmented his income as president of the Eastern League by acting as a sports promoter. Powers was most renowned for promoting the six-day bicycle races at Madison Square Garden, a popular attraction in the 1890s and early 1900s. He also was a promoter for many boxers.
With the Eastern League stabilized and the minor leagues growing, Powers couldn’t resist the opportunity to purchase the Providence franchise in 1906. Interest in Sunday baseball and the Providence Grays was at its highest level, since Providence had won the Eastern League pennant in 1905.
Powers resigned as league president to operate the Providence club. He squeezed all he could get out of Sunday baseball at Rocky Point, playing 16 Sundays there during the 1906 season (12 with Eastern League foes and four exhibitions with major league teams) while two other dates were rained out. Distance was no obstacle to get in a Sunday game at Rocky Point. During a road trip in late July and early August, Powers had the Providence team transported from the location of its Saturday game to Rocky Point in order to play an exhibition game with a major league team on Sunday and then sent back on the road to the location of its Monday game. For Providence’s July 29 game with the Chicago Cubs, the team took a train from Jersey City to Rhode Island and then returned by train to Newark. The following Sunday, August 5, the team traveled from Baltimore on Saturday to Rocky Point for a Sunday game with the Pittsburgh Pirates and then jumped on a train to Montreal. Large crowds attended both Sunday matches.
Powers sold the team after the 1906 season and returned as Eastern League president. However, not every owner in the league liked Powers’ work as president of the NAPBL. With growth came increased pressure from the major leagues to serve as a player development system. Powers had trouble balancing his role as president of the Eastern League, which was to promote the interests of his league, and that of NABPL president to represent the interests of all the minor leagues. Player draft rules were most problematical, as many Eastern League club owners favored high draft prices to maximize their income, while the major leagues sought low prices to more easily obtain players. Powers resigned as NABPL president in January 1909 to focus his efforts on the Eastern League.
During his term as NAPBL president, Powers presided over fantastic growth of the minor league system. From 14 leagues at the beginning of the 1902 season, the minors grew to nearly 40 leagues by 1908. By 1910, there were 52 minor leagues in operation across the country.
Powers lasted just two more years as Eastern League president. He left the presidency after the 1910 season and Ed Barrow was elected as the new league president. His sour relationship with the Eastern League owners was reflected in his ouster as league president. Powers tried to resign at the December 12, 1910, league meeting, knowing that five of eight club owners would not vote for his re-election. However, that block of owners refused to accept his resignation and insisted upon a vote for president. Barrow collected five votes for president, while the other three votes went to Powers.
After staying out of baseball for several years following his ouster from the Eastern League, Powers returned to professional baseball in 1915 when he teamed up with oil millionaire Harry Sinclair to put a Federal League team in Newark, New Jersey. Powers brought Sunday baseball on a legal basis at the major league level to within a short train ride from New York City, since Sunday baseball was still illegal within the state of New York. Powers’ team was actually located in Harrison, New Jersey, across the Passaic River from Newark. Despite a heavy schedule of Sunday dates at Harrison Park (17 of 26 Sundays), many of which were two-for-one doubleheaders, Powers couldn’t make the team successful, and the Federal League folded following the 1915 season.
Powers never returned to an active role in professional baseball after the Newark Peppers disbanded following the 1915 season. After a Sunday baseball law was passed in New York in 1919, and Babe Ruth was swatting home runs in the Polo Grounds on Sundays in 1920, memories of Powers’ battles over Sunday baseball quickly faded. The 1920 census listed Powers with an occupation of “manufacturer, oil” and living in Jersey City with his wife Irene and his daughters Anna (and her husband William Billington), Edna, and Eliza.
Powers died on August 27, 1925 at the age of 63 at his summer home in Belmar, New Jersey. The New York Times reported that his death “was due to the combined effects of diabetes and a gangrenous condition that developed at the back of his neck from a neglected carbuncle, which his physician, Dr. George W. Potts of Asbury Park, thought was caused by a collar button.” Powers was buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Trenton, New Jersey.
“When he was president of the Eastern League, he was one of the most prominent figures in baseball,” the Sporting News eulogized Powers in an editorial. “He made the Eastern League, now the International, what it was in his time, and to a large extent what it came to be after he left.”
Bevis, Charlie. “Rocky Point: A Lone Outpost of Sunday Baseball in Sabbatarian New England.” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History & Culture, Fall 2005.
——. Sunday Baseball: The Major Leagues’ Struggle to Play Baseball on the Lord’s Day, 1876-1934. McFarland Publishers, 2003.
National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. “Patrick Powers Gave Credibility to Start of NAPBL,”
New York Times. 18921911.
——. “Eastern Base Ball League; P.T. Powers Elected President,” March 14, 1893.
——. “Eastern League Drops Powers; E.G. Barrow of Toronto Elected President,” December 13, 1910.
——. “Pat Powers Controls Providence Club,” December 23, 1905.
——. “Pat Powers Loses Brave Fight to Live,” August 28, 1925.
New York Tribune. “A Baseball Pantomime; Queer Sunday Playing in Jersey,” July 22, 1889.
Sporting Life. “Patrick T. Powers,” March 14, 1908.
Sporting News. “Patrick Thomas Powers,” September 3, 1925.
U.S. Census. 1860, 1870, 1920.