1870 Winter Meetings: The Calm Before the Storm
This article was written by Bob LeMoine
This article was published in Baseball’s 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900
As 1869 was coming to a close, baseball and the nation at large were in the midst of rapid change. Americans still had the bloodstained fields of the Civil War fresh in their memories, and the horror of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on their minds. Reconstruction was ongoing, as attempts were made to restore a divided nation.
America was becoming more of an industrial nation instead of an agricultural one. Cities swelled with immigrants from other lands who came to America with optimism of a new life and future. The Transcontinental Railroad recently had been completed, and people moved West in search of gold, the coast, and a chance to start over. Big business made profits in steel, railroads, oil, and real estate, which put loads of money into the pockets of entrepreneurs, while many others in the working class lived in poverty in the swelling cities or as sharecroppers on farms. Others worked long hours in dangerous factory jobs.
Despite the abolition of slavery, America remained segregated for decades to come. The Philadelphia Pythians all-black baseball team played a game in September against the all-white Washington Olympics in what was one of the first interracial games in baseball history.1 As America moved into new frontiers in the West, baseball was also seeking a new horizon. The first openly professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, took a train ride to the West, and baseball was becoming a truly “national” sport. Fans came out in droves to see the Red Stockings. They “need no introduction to newspaper readers,” wrote the San Francisco Bulletin, “as their exploits in the national game have been heralded wherever the game is known.”2
Baseball was relatively unique in the West at this point, including San Francisco. While no teams could match the power of the Red Stockings, baseball was becoming a recognized sport. “Such popular local sporting pursuits as sailing regattas, horseracing, billiards, footracing, velocipede riding, pugilistic affairs and cricket consumed most of the attention of participants and spectators alike before the Red Stockings’ visit to the area,” wrote Robert Knight Barney. “Baseball rapidly eclipsed each of those as well as other pretenders to the title of being the Bay area’s single most popular sporting attraction.”3 The days of amateur dominance of baseball were drawing to a close, and the days of the professional ballplayer were dawning.
In this climate of change, the 13th annual convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players was held on December 8, 1869, in Boston, at the corner of West and Mason Streets, the headquarters of the Lowell Baseball Club. Frederick Douglass had been in Boston just the day before, giving his “Composite Nation” speech for the first time, telling his listeners, “If our action shall be in accordance with the principles of justice, liberty, and perfect human equality, no eloquence can adequately portray the greatness and grandeur of the future of the Republic.”4 But the baseball convention wasn’t about to consider such grand visions. Just two years before, the NABBP Convention had banned black baseball clubs from membership.
The New York Clipper stated that the convention would be of interest to its readers who “will no doubt peruse with deep interest, as the business transacted was, in one respect, of vital importance to the future welfare of the great majority of clubs throughout the country.”5 Twenty-two delegates6 were present for the convention, representing seven states, a number the Boston Post commended as a large gathering considering “the fact the delegates from Western clubs were obliged to travel a good deal further East than heretofore in order to participate in the proceedings.”7 However, each delegate represented 10 clubs, and while baseball was spreading around the country, the NABBP was losing popularity. The number of delegates declined once again, and the convention the following year would be its last hurrah.
“The game had reached the limits of its structure,” wrote Warren Goldstein. “It needed to expand, to divide and multiply, and the National Association of Base Ball Players was no longer an adequate framework. By the last years of the decade [1860s], it was satisfying no one, and interest in it declined precipitously.”8
Illustrating again the lack of structure in the NABBP, both the president and vice president were absent, so J. Rogers of Pennsylvania, second vice president, called the meetings to order at 11 A.M. The delegate breakdown was as follows:
- New York: 9 (85 clubs)
- New Jersey: 3 (21 clubs)
- Pennsylvania: 3 (23 clubs)
- Massachusetts: 2 (17 clubs)
- Missouri: 2 (12 clubs)
- Ohio: 2 (11 clubs)
- District of Columbia: 1 (5 clubs)
No delegates were present from Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Alabama, or California.
Rogers spoke to the delegates, celebrating the “extension in popularity (base ball) had attained through the tour of the Cincinnati Club, now prevailing as a national pastime from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico.”9 The Nominating Committee reported on an application received for membership from the Missouri State Association, which was approved by an affirmative vote. But an application from a club in Louisville, Kentucky, stirred debate when it was learned Kentucky had no state organization, and questions arose concerning the constitutionality of an individual club joining in membership. A 23-to-1 affirmative vote allowed the club into membership.
The convention then elected officers: A. McC. Bush (Harvard), president; J.H. Westervelt (New Jersey), first vice president; L.P. Fuller (Missouri), second vice-president; C.E. Coon (Washington, D.C.), recording secretary; A.S. Goshen (Ohio), corresponding secretary; W.A. Conant (Long Island, New York), treasurer.
The convention adopted the National Chronicle as the “official paper of the fraternity,” wrote the New-Bedford Mercury.10 The Boston Journal noted that “the amendments made introduced no important changes, the general aim being to make improvements in phraseology, in order to avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding.”11 Amendments passed allowed leagues to submit applications for membership up to 10 days before the convention instead of 30, and made the annual meeting date the last Wednesday in November. Dues were reduced from $1 to 50 cents, and Chadwick’s Score Book was endorsed by the Convention as the Association scorebook for 1870. Another amendment ruled that a team quitting a tie game in progress would officially lose the game 9-0.12
A variety of amendments to the rulebook included the following (all descriptions taken from the New York Clipper13 account, unless otherwise noted):
- The section on the specifications of the baseball itself was split into two: One section concerned the specifications of the size, weight, and composition of the ball. This section was not changed and was left to the manufacturers to decide, despite a proposition to make the rubber composition 1½ ounces.14 The rules governing the specifications of the game ball were regularly written in the yearly Beadle’s Dime Baseball Player. The 1867 edition stated, “The ball must weigh not less than five and one-half, nor more than five and three-fourths ounces, avoirdupois. It must measure not less than nine and one-half, nor more than nine and three-fourths inches in circumference.”15 The other section discussed “the manner in which it is to be furnished in matches,” and this process was not changed, either. Game balls, according to Beadle’s, “must be composed of India-rubber and yarn, and covered with leather, and, in all match games, shall be furnished by the challenging club, and become the property of the winning club as a trophy of victory.”16 Clubs were also required to mark the lines of the “pitcher’s and striker’s [batter’s] positions, as is now done in regard to foul ball lines.”
- The pitcher was required to “deliver the ball within legitimate reach of the striker, instead of, as before, ‘fairly for the striker.’ This change obliges the batsman to be punished for refusing to strike at balls within his legitimate reach.” Another section on unfair balls stated that “all unfair balls must now be called by the umpire, no warning being required to be given.” Also, “the [pitcher’s] arm, in delivering the ball, must be held straight when it is brought forward, and must swing perpendicularly with the body.”
- The umpire was obliged to call “strikes on the batsman whenever he refuses to strike at balls within his legitimate reach. The umpire is not, too, obliged to warn the striker.”
- A rule changed affirmed, “(N)o game is considered regular in which any rule of the game has been violated, whether by mutual consent or otherwise. Of course, no such game, too, is to be counted in the club averages [standings].” There were cases of exhibition games played with adapted rules or games in which a team could not field nine players, and these games would not count in the standings. Rule 5 of Section 7 was struck from the rulebook. The rule stated, “All players who play base ball for money, or who shall at any time receive compensation for their services as players, shall be considered professional players, and all others shall be regarded as amateur players.”17 This distinction between amateurs and professionals was eliminated. Henry Chadwick spoke on the “necessity of introducing a law in the Constitution recognizing the distinction of classes, in accordance with the section governing the status of professional clubs contained in the rules.”18 But his words were not heeded. Chadwick stated, “By this [change], not only are all clubs placed on the same level as regards playing strength, but, all that has been previously done to place professional ball-playing upon a reputable footing has been nullified.”19 “By acting as though professional ballplaying did not need even the justification implied by distinguishing it from amateur ball,” wrote Goldstein, “the professionals had turned the tables on the amateurs (although, to be fair, they did not try to exclude amateur ballplaying).”20 “It is worthy of note in this connection,” Chadwick wrote in Beadle’s, “that the Cincinnati delegate considered the Cincinnati Club an amateur organization, with a professional nine. If the Cincinnati Club is not a professional club, then no such class of clubs exist.”21
- Another issue Chadwick addressed was “the composition of the ball to the extent of lessening its elasticity, which he regarded as simply offering a premium for poor batting at the expense of good fielding.” But while the delegates “attentively listened” to Chadwick, no important changes were made.22
A recess was called for dinner until 3:30 P.M., and no one seemed in a hurry to rush back to the convention. “On reassembling the roll was again called, there being barely a quorum of members present.”23
Approval was given to a resolution presented by delegate Cantwell from New York, reinstating player Ed Duffy, who had been banned from the league for gambling in 1865.24 Then considerable discussion followed a resolution presented by J. Wildey, from the New York delegation, concerning a game between the Troy Haymakers and Cincinnati Red Stockings in August.
On August 26, the Troy Haymakers traveled to Cincinnati in a much-anticipated matchup. “Thousands of people from cities in the East as well as the West crowded into our streets, the first detachment arriving on Wednesday and still they came throughout the day, yesterday,” wrote the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, which estimated a crowd of 10,000.25 Troy battled the undefeated Red Stockings to a 17-17 tie in the fifth inning. In the sixth, Troy catcher Bill Craver chased a foul pop up. He lunged and came up with the ball “and a handful of gravel,” in the Tribune’s description, after the ball had bounced, a legal catch at the time. Umpire John Brockway, however, ruled the ball had bounced twice and was not a catch.
McKeon, president of the Haymakers, charged on to the field to protest the call. When Brockway refused to reverse his decision, McKeon pulled the Troy players off the field. The crowd was irate, and many “broke over the ropes and surged toward the center, the policemen and officers of the Cincinnati club vainly striving to beat them back,” wrote the Cincinnati Gazette. Brockway announced that Cincinnati was awarded the victory, probably saving his own skin in the process. Cincinnati owner Aaron Champion refused to give Troy its share of the gate receipts, and local papers lambasted the Haymakers’ behavior. The Commercial Tribune reported on the thousands of dollars wagered on the game, including those of a John Morrissey in New York who bet $17,000 on the Haymakers.26 Many considered this a petty move by McKeon to keep the gamblers happy. “So ended the most disgraceful attempt on the part of a club which came boasting loudly of its ability to beat the Red Stockings,” wrote the Gazette.27
The Tribune asserted that the Haymakers “disgraced themselves and the National game as well as the city from whence they came. No respectable club in this country should have anything to do with them. … (T)he sooner they leave Cincinnati the better.”28 The game was later ruled a tie, the only blemish on Cincinnati’s perfect season.
Wildey offered a resolution “that the Cincinnati Club be allowed 20 runs to be added to their score in their game with the Haymakers in August last … making the totals — Haymakers 17; Cincinnati 37 — and in the opinion of the Convention the Cincinnati Club are in honor bound to pay to the Haymakers their proportion of the gate money as agreed.”29 Why 20 runs were chosen for this resolution is uncertain. The motion was tabled by a vote of 11 to 9, “after an animated debate … for the reason mainly that the subject had not been presented through the Judiciary Committee and therefore the convention had no official knowledge of the facts.”30 The one blemish on Cincinnati’s 1869 record, one tie, was officially kept.
Appreciation was publicly given to the Lowell club, and the meeting adjourned. New York was chosen as the site of the 1870 convention by a vote of 12 to 6.
The Lowell Club provided its “handsome club room,” and combined with the Harvard Club in providing warm hospitality by taking the delegates to the Selwyn Theater for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and providing a “grand supper” at the Parker House at the close of the convention.31 The Boston Journal reported that the delegates “expressed much satisfaction at the elegant scenic display it afforded and the attention shown them.” After the show, the “elegant repast” was held at the Parker House “shortly after eleven o’clock. … His honor Mayor [Nathaniel B.] Shurtleff presided, and the occasion was one of great pleasure to all its participants.”32 The newly elected president Bush offered a toast to “The City of Boston, whose mayor honors us with his presence.”33
“Several toasts were (drunk), and songs sung, the party adjourning with hopes to renew their acquaintances, the coming meeting, next year.”34 It would be a much different environment at the convention a year later, the last convention in the history of the NABBP. This rather tame convention was the calm before the storm as the radical shift of baseball from amateur to professional dominated the following year’s convention.
Rhodes, Greg. “August 26, 1869: Cincinnati Red Stockings: Unbeaten, but Tied,” SABR Games Project. sabr.org/gamesproj/game/august-26-1869-cincinnati-red-stockings-unbeaten-tied. Retrieved October 20, 2015.
Loeffler, Rob. “The Evolution of the Baseball Up to 1872,” Protoball, protoball.org/The_Evolution_of_the_Baseball_Up_To_1872. Retrieved October 20, 2015.
1 “A Novel Game in Philadelphia — a Negro Club in the Field — the White Club Victorious,” New York Times, September 5, 1869: 1.
2 “Sketch of the Game,” San Francisco Bulletin, September 24, 1869: 3.
3 Robert Knight Barney, “Of Rails and Red Stockings: Episodes in the Expansion of the ‘National Pastime’ in the American West,” Journal of the West (17) 3, July 1978: 61-71.
4 “Lecture by Fredric Douglass,” Boston Advertiser, December 8, 1869: 4.
5 “Base Ball. The Annual Convention of the National Association,” New York Clipper, December 18, 1869: 290.
6 The Boston Post listed 24, the New Bedford Mercury had 21. Totals were used by the account in the New York Clipper.
7 “Base Ball. The National Convention of Base Ball Players — the Banquet, etc.,” Boston Post, December 9, 1869: 3.
8 Warren Goldstein, Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball. 20th Anniversary Edition (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2009), 122 [E-book edition].
9 “Base Ball. The Annual Convention of the National Association.”
10 “Meeting of the National Base Ball Association,” New-Bedford Mercury, December 10, 1869: 6.
11 “Annual Meeting of the National Association of Base Ball Players. Afternoon Session,” Boston Journal, December 9, 1869: 4.
12 Other accounts said nine runs would be added to the winning team’s score.
13 “Base Ball. The Annual Convention of the National Association.”
14 “Annual Meeting of the National Association.”
15 baseballchronology.com/baseball/Years/1867/Rules.asp. Retrieved October 20, 2015.
17 “Annual Meeting of the National Association.”
18 Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player, No. 9 (1870), 48. Retrieved from dimenovels.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/dimenovels:6845/datastream/PDF/download.
20 Goldstein, 121-122.
21 Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player, No. 9 (1870), 50.
22 “Base Ball. The Annual Convention of the National Association.”
23 Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player, No. 9 (1870), 48.
24 Philip H. Dixon, “The First Fixed Game,” in Bill Felber and John Thorn, eds., Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the Nineteenth Century (Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research, 2013), 46-48.
25 “Base Ball Matters. A ‘Haymaker’ Game,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, August 27, 1869: 8.
27 “Base Ball. Haymakers vs. Red Stockings. Disgraceful Conduct of the Haymakers,” Cincinnati Gazette, August 27, 1869: 2; David Quentin Voigt, American Baseball: From Gentleman’s Sport to the Commissioner System (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966), 29-30.
28 “Base Ball Matters. A ‘Haymaker’ Game.”
29 “Base Ball. The National Convention of Base Ball Players.”
30 “Annual Meeting of the National Association.”
31 “Base Ball. The Annual Convention of the National Association.”
32 “Boston and Vicinity. Delegates to the National Baseball Convention at Selwyn’s — Supper at the Parker House,” Boston Journal, December 8, 1869: 4.
34 “Base Ball. The National Convention of Base Ball Players — the Banquet, etc.,” Boston Post, December 9, 1869: 3.