April 29, 1896: Brooklyn Bridegrooms bungle home opener
“Wot! Youse didn’t see de Brooklyns dumped? ... Dere eyes wuz filled with cotton.” — Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 30, 1896
In their home opener on Wednesday, April 29, 1896, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the National League hosted the Washington Senators, and enthusiastic Brooklyn fans filled Eastern Park for the matchup. The ballpark was richly decorated with “flags, shields and bunting, [and] lines of pennants stretching from tower to tower and from pier to pier.”1 The field was immaculate, as smooth as a billiard table, without “the semblance of a stone anywhere.”2 Among the throng were thousands of ladies, beautifully dressed in brightly colored frocks. “I have never seen such a magnificent assemblage of women at a ball game before,” said sportswriter Henry Chadwick, the 71-year-old “Father of Baseball.”3
The crowd of 17,000 was entertained by the Ninth Regiment Band’s pregame concert, followed by a parade in which the band and both teams marched to center field and back to home plate. The teams looked sharp – the Bridegrooms in new white uniforms with red trim, and the Senators in bright gray with black trim.4
The Bridegrooms were led by manager Dave Foutz and captain Mike Griffin. Captain “Scrappy Bill” Joyce alone guided the Senators, in the absence of manager Gus Schmelz.5 Joyce selected 21-year-old Win Mercer as his starting pitcher. Foutz chose 28-year-old Ad Gumbert, despite a mishap at batting practice that morning in which Gumbert was “hit in the mouth by a pitched ball, cutting his lips badly and raising a lump as big as an Easter egg.”6 On this day, the Bridegrooms would take their lumps.
Washington’s leadoff batter, Tom Brown, began the game by drawing a walk from Gumbert. Joyce grounded sharply to Brooklyn’s first baseman, Candy LaChance, who tried for a double play but his throw to second base sailed into left field. Tommy McCarthy, the Brooklyn left fielder, quickly retrieved it and threw to second base in time to get Joyce, while Brown moved to third base.
The next batter, Charlie Abbey, lifted an easy fly ball to center field, but the sure-handed Griffin muffed it. The crowd reacted with hisses and “yells of horror” at the egregious miscue.7 Brown scored on the play, and Abbey reached second base on the throw in.
With Kip Selbach at bat, Abbey “made a dash” for third base; he could have been thrown out, but catcher John Grim’s throw glanced off Selbach’s head!8 Third baseman Billy Shindle quickly recovered the ball to keep Abbey at third, but Selbach singled to drive in Abbey. The Bridegrooms are “boiled lobsters,” shouted a disgruntled rooter.9
In the third inning, the Senators tallied two more runs, again with the help of a jittery defense. After Brown walked, Joyce singled to right field, where John Anderson, a 22-year-old right fielder, let the ball go through his legs. “It rolled over the bicycle track and down the bank almost to the bulletin board.”10 The embarrassing blunder permitted both Brown and Joyce to score.
McCarthy got one back for the Bridegrooms in the bottom of the third with an impressive solo home run that traveled “far out over the bicycle track and into the grass in deep left center.”11 The Brooklyn fans finally had something to cheer about. But in the fourth inning, Washington’s rookie third baseman, Jim Rogers, “sent a tremendously high foul directly over the plate which Grim misjudged.”12 Given another chance, Rogers tripled to deep center field, and he scored on Gene DeMontreville’s groundout. After four innings, the Senators led 5-1.
The band played between innings. “It was good music,” noted the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “but very irritating under the circumstances.”13
George Harper replaced Gumbert in the top of the fifth but was wild. In that inning, he allowed one single, walked four batters, and threw two wild pitches. The Senators scored only one run, though, because McCarthy made “a fine running catch” with the bases loaded for the third out.14 The Bridegrooms scored a run in the bottom half and would have had more, but Selbach made “a brilliant catch” in left field to thwart the rally.15
Brooklyn pitcher Dan Daub entered the game in the top of the sixth and gave his team a much-needed boost. For four innings, he kept the Senators from scoring, and his two-out single in the bottom of the sixth drove in two runs, cutting the Washington’s lead to 6-4.
But Mercer pitched “a cool, steady game, using a slow ball with excellent results against the heavy hitters and mowing down the others with blinding speed.”16 He worked slowly and deliberately, which annoyed the Brooklyn fans, who tried to hurry him. They resented Mercer’s “flowing shock of foot ball hair,”17 a style worn by haughty college men. “Get-you-hair-cut! Get-you-hair-cut!” hollered the Brooklynites to the Washington hurler.18
Tommy Corcoran, the Brooklyn shortstop, led off the bottom of the eighth by driving the ball to left field, the kind of hit that looked like a sure double or triple. But Selbach moved fast to cut it off and sent “a lightning throw” to second base in time to get Corcoran.19 All agreed that Tommy “wuz robbed.”
In the ninth inning, the Brooklyn fans enjoyed a laugh at the expense of Scrappy Bill Joyce. The Senators captain stole second base with a head-first slide but did not notice that catcher Grim had thrown the ball into center field. Second baseman Tom Daly kept jabbing Joyce in the back with a clenched fist, leading Joyce to believe that Daly held the ball. By the time Joyce realized his mistake, it was too late for him to advance to third base. Even the Senators chuckled at Daly’s clever ruse.20
The final score was Washington 6, Brooklyn 4. According to published box scores, which varied in their accounting of the game, the Bridegrooms committed between six and eight errors. “I don’t want ter see de Brooks no more if dey can’t play better’n dat,” expressed the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in the local accent.21
1 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 29, 1896.
2 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 28, 1896; Brooklyn Daily Standard Union, April 29, 1896.
3 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 2, 1896.
4 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 29, 1896; Washington Evening Star, March 30 and April 30, 1896.
5 Senators manager Gus Schmelz also managed a theatrical troupe and was on tour with the group until mid-May of 1896.
6 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 29, 1896.
7 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 30, 1896.
9 Washington Evening Star, April 30, 1896.
10 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 30, 1896. Bicycling was quite popular in the 1890s. Eastern Park featured a bicycle track.
16 Washington Evening Star, April 30, 1896.
21 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 30, 1896.