June 21, 1891: A Sunday exhibition at Rocky Point, RI
When it was announced in 1891 that an exhibition game of ball would be played at the Rocky Point amusement park, 12 miles south of Providence, Rhode Island, between rival teams of the American Association, it caused little surprise that such a thing should be allowed. After all, Sunday ballplaying had been inaugurated at Rocky Point in 1888 by teams belonging to the state league, which, however, did not play as members of the league, but as picked nines. Liquor was sold at those games, and some bad behavior did occur, but the problem was dealt with, and since then the games had been orderly. But the game on June 21, 1891, was different, for this contest between the Boston Reds and the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association would be the first played by professional teams on a Sunday in New England.
Sunday ballplaying had met with considerable resistance in the East. The West, with a more cosmopolitan outlook, had adopted a relaxed idea of Sabbath observance, and for many years Sunday ballgames, horse races, and other sports were acceptable; but Rhode Island was the first of the New England states to lighten up on the old puritanical blue laws against amusing oneself on the Sabbath, and Rocky Point, on the shore of Narragansett Bay, was a fitting location for a change of heart and mood. A 45-minute boat ride from Providence added to the Point’s mystique as a place detached from the real world, and it offered shore dinners– also known as clambakes – and all kinds of sports and amusement. But traditional Sabbath defenders feared that the manner by which the management of the Point had gone into the business of using baseball as an attraction would sooner or later draw to that famous shore resort a class of people who would cause nothing but trouble.
The Boston Daily Advertiser reported that the larger portion of the 2,500 or so who attended the game between the Bostons and Athletics were “sporting characters and the roughest element of the population, and with few exceptions the faces of the fairer sex present were more familiar to habitués of the Bowery than to the residents of Quality Hill.”1 Ouch. But the Daily Advertiser did grant that as a rule, the crowd was an orderly one, even though beer was freely and openly sold on the grounds and aboard the boats transporting the crowd from Providence.
Many of the cranks present were attracted by a rumor that the players would be arrested after the game, but there seemed to be no objection by the officers present. Sheriff Sprague of Kent County had guaranteed that there would be no trouble. His deputies were at the game to ensure order, and a special police force hired by Rocky Point also helped to control the expected crowd. In Sprague’s opinion, “If steamboats were allowed to run to the shore places, to band concerts, flying horses, swings, toboggan slides, and the like, and to the shore dinners served, he saw no reason why the laws of the state should stop at base ball, which he considered an innocent game and an activity that was not any more enticing to gamblers than their betting on two flies crawling up a window pane, if the spectators were inclined to bet.”2 But he and his men would be inclined to arrest anyone at the first sign of fighting, gambling, or drunkenness within the crowd or on the playing field.
The game that Sunday showed he was right in his opinion, and just so long as they were run in a manner as orderly as that one was, there would be no interference at future games. If he saw any activity that was hazardous to anyone, he’d stop it, but until he did, Sunday base ball games would be allowed in his bailiwick.
As for the Daily Advertiser’s report on the game itself, the newspaper declared that it was a poor one. The players seemed to take little interest in it, and the miserable field made the playing difficult. The grass had been recently mowed but only from the infield, which was also the only portion of the field reasonably level, and the players were hemmed in on all sides by the spectators. Stricker of the Bostons was the only one who made any pretense of playing ball, the listless manner of the others causing general disgust among knowledgeable spectators. When it was announced just before the close of the game that the Bostons and the Baltimores of the American Association would play there the following Sunday, a crank in the crowd predicted a light attendance if the standard of playing was not improved significantly. The Bostons won, 15-5.
Base hits – Boston, 19, Athletics, 9. Errors – Boston 3; Athletics, 4. Batteries, Bill Daley, Charlie Buffinton, Duke Farrell and Morgan Murphy; Will Calihan and Ed McKean. Earned runs – Boston 8. Two-base hits – Brown, Corkhill. Three-base hits – Dan Brouthers (3). Home runs – Brown, Joyce. Stolen bases – Brown, Calihan. First base on balls – by Buffinton, Lave Cross; by Daley, Calihan, Gus Weyhing; by Calihan, Joyce, Farrell, Murphy. First base on errors – Boston 2, Athletics, 1. Struck out – by Buffinton 3; by Daley 1; by Calihan 5. Passed ball – Murphy. Wild pitch – Buffinton.
“Sunday Baseball,” Boston Daily Advertiser, June 22, 1891, 2.
“Will Play at Rocky Point,” Boston Herald, June 23, 1891, 10.
Charlie Bevis, Sunday Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2003).
1. “Sunday Baseball, Boston A.A. Breaks Rhode Island Law,” Boston Daily Advertiser, June 22, 1891.
2. “Will Play at Rocky Point,” Boston Herald, June 23, 1891.