Baseball in Providence: Line Drives, Then and Now

This article was written by William D. Perrin

This article was published in the Road Trips: SABR Convention Journal Articles


This article was originally published in the 1984 SABR convention journal (Providence, Rhode Island).

 

The semi-pro baseball season of 1875 at Adelaide Park was so successful that Gen. Dennis and his associates placed a much faster team on the field in 1876, one that would hold its own with any independent team in New England and strong enough to battle teams of the newly organized National League in exhibition games. In those days the league teams did not play every-day as now and it was easy to get the crack nines here on the open dates.

At a considerable cost the best players available were signed to Rhode Island contracts. They came from all points of the compass and made a formidable combination that was ready to face any team, big or little, in the country. The line-up that took the field early In May and continued with but one or two exceptions to September Included Keenan, c.; Critchley, p.; Tobin, 1b.; Brady, 2b.; Tom Burns, 3b.; Jerry Turbidy. s. s.; Shanley, l.f.; Mat Barry, c.f.; Ed. Hanlon. r.f., and Thomas, extra man. Barry was the only local player of the lot. For a time Fred Cory also acted as extra man on the team. The later-famous Ned Hanlon, for several years manager of the Baltimore National League champions, started the season In the outfield, but when Tom Burns, later third baseman of the old Chicago champions under Capt. Anson, had trouble with the management and was sent on his way, Hanlon played third base. So far as is known Hanlon is the only survivor of the team. Manager Arnold played a few games in right field.

To give the 1876 season a rousing start, an exhibition game was arranged between the Bostons and New Haven of the National League, and to the surprise of all hands the New Haven team won. The Bostons presented a battery that was considered one of the finest in the country in Joseph Borden, pitcher, and Ben McGinley behind the bat. A. G. Spalding had forsaken the Boston team to go to the newly-organized Chicago team, “The Giants of the West,” and “Josephus,” as Borden chose to be called, was signed in his place.

“Josephus” belonged in Philadelphia and had cut a wide swath the previous year in semi-pro circles. But he didn’t last long with Boston, as the other teams batted him to a fare-thee-well.

Like Spalding, he used the old square-hand delivery, consisting of a free swing of the arm backwards nearly to the height of the shoulder and then forward like the pendulum of a clock, letting the ball go as the arm swung slightly forward of the body. The underhand throw was not common then. No curves were possible with the old-style delivery, the pitcher depending on change of pace to fool the batsman. “Tricky” Nichols, later a member of the 1878 Providence Grays of the National League, pitched for New Haven.

Critchley was a young giant, who possessed a world of speed, and followers of the game have claimed he had as much speed as Walter Johnson in his best days. He threw an underhand ball, and to catch this cannonball delivery Keenan, a slight youngster, held sway behind the bat for almost the entire season, Thomas going in occasionally. Both catchers caught Critchley’s terrific delivery with bare hands, with no mask, chest protector, shin pads or glove.

But catching was not the hard task it is today, the catcher not going under the bat except when a batsman had two strikes or there were runners on the bases. The catcher stood in the shadow of the grandstand and took the ball on the bound when the bases were free and less than two strikes on the batter. Once a fan In the grandstand called to “Critch” to pitch a fast one, and he responded by hitting the backstop—135 feet away—without the ball touching the ground and holding Its level nearly the whole distance.

Tobin, the first baseman, was a tall youngster and played the entire season without once using a glove. In fact nobody used a glove In those days. Brady at second was a big man, also, and wore a flowing moustache. Burns and Hanlon at third looked very much then as they did when holding berths in the big league, both wearing moustaches. Jerry Turbldy was a little fellow, but he could play shortstop and withal was a comedian. In one game he played the entire nine innings with a battered silk hat on his head.

Shanley came from Brooklyn and was a fine fielder. Mat Barry was a local boy and was well-known in Providence. Thomas was little known, but Fred Cory was a player of great promise and developed into one of the best pitchers in the country during the next two years, but was forced to quit baseball because of illness when at the height of his career. More about him later.

Semi-professional, teams were supported in Taunton, Fall River, New Bedford and other places and it was with these teams that the Rhode Islands of 1878 played. The players traveled from Providence to the city where they were playing, in moving wagons drawn by a pair of horses and it was a slow, bone-shaking ride over the roads of that day. Salaries were low, the entire payroll of the Rhode Islands for a month being less than some individual minor league players get today for the same period.

Getting to Adelaide Park was not the easiest job in the world, as the street car service was limited, but the park itself was a gem, so far as the playing field was concerned. It was somewhat smaller than the present Kinsley Park, but large enough for home run drives inside the fence although with the dead ball in use at that time circuit drives were a rarity and worth extended comment in the papers the following day.

The seating capacity was small, the grandstand holding not more than 300 with 1200 seats in the bleachers. On hot days the bleacher crowd always went to the park early to get a seat under the great tree that grew up through the right field bleachers and spread over a goodly distance.

Occasionally a ball was batted into the tree, to bounce down from limb to limb, and fetch up, sometimes, on the heads of the fans beneath. That call was precious. Only one ball was used in a game then and play was held up until it was returned. It was the same with foul balls over the stands; until the ball returned play was suspended. This system had its advantages as well, for the crowd, anxious to see the game, forced the finder of the ball to return it. Under the present system of throwing in a new ball every time one goes over the fence or the cover becomes a trifle rough, the Rhode Island club would have gone into bankruptcy the first month.

Among the National League teams to play the Rhode Islands at Adelaide Park, then in its first year of existence, were the Louisville. Hartford, Chicago and Boston clubs.

*****

The success of the 1876 Rhode Islands was one of the earliest examples of players capitalizing their good fortune in the history of baseball. When time came to talk business for the 1877 season Manager Arnold and every man on the team came out with demands that the local promoters, in baseball for the sole reason of furnishing Providence with good baseball and with no idea of profit, could not meet. Both sides were obdurate and as a result Manager Arnold took his whole team, with the exception of Matt Barry, to Auburn, N.Y.

At this time Dickie Pearce, for many years a player in the National League and other baseball organizations, and who was living near New Bedford, was out of a job. The year before he had played shortstop for the St. Louis team, but didn’t care to play again in that city. Hearing of the situation here he came to Providence one day, had an interview with Gen. Dennis and others of the Rhode Island promoters and was hired as manager and directed to organize a team to possibly better the one of the preceding year.

Pearce was a fiery character and was approaching the age when the game was getting ahead of him. He was short and stout and wore a moustache with long waxed ends, giving him a somewhat fierce appearance, and tradition has it that he was as fierce as he looked. He had to be, as ball players of a half-century ago were a different lot from the present day brand.

It was a man’s job to gather a team at that time that would be better than the Rhode Islands of the Centennial year. But although the promoters would not be held up for tribute by the Arnold team they were willing to go a bit further to gather a new combination that would fill the bill. Pearce set to work and the first man signed was Fred Cory, one of the most promising young pitchers in the country. He was a Providence boy and acted as substitute on the 1876 team. Then a catcher from the Cincinnati Reds of the year before, Pierson by name, was obtained. He started with the team, but couldn’t get along with Pearce and was let go early in the season, Dungan doing all the catching thereafter.

Little Is known of Dungan, other than that as a backstop he filled the bill. He was a small man and wore a moustache and goatee. Imagine a catcher today going behind the plate without mask, glove, chest protector or shin pads, with whiskers blowing about with every fast pitch.

It was at this time that the famous “One Arm Dailey” came to the front. He was a big man with his left hand off at the wrist: He wore a chamois skin covering for the stump of his left arm and rubbed the ball against it when about to deliver to the batters. He had a fine assortment of curves and was a regular ball player. When it was announced that Dailey had been signed many fans about town lifted their brows. It took just one game to convince everybody that Dailey was all right.

In his first game at Adelaide Park he pitched fine ball and in addition contributed a three-base hit. He grasped the bat in his right hand and held the stump of the left arm against the bat. Later he played a few games in right field and pulled long flies out of the air as well as a two-handed man, taking the ball between his hand and the stump. He was too valuable a man to remain long with the Rhode Islands and after a few weeks left the club to join a big league team. His departure placed the entire pitching burden on Fred Cory, who pitched about all the games for the remainder of the season.

First base was the troublesome point with Manager Pearce and he had several men covering the position during the season. Sellman was the first regular, joining the team a few weeks after the start of the season. Evans, Cory and others having done temporary duty there. When the season was at its height and the Rhode Islands were making a fine record, a wild ball hit Sellman on the nose, breaking it so that he had to leave the team. A young player named Firth took his place.

Second base was in charge of Charley Sweasey, who played the previous year with the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Sweasey was credited with being the best second baseman outside of the National League. He was a fine fielder, could hit well and knew the game. His record was so good that he was selected as the regular second baseman for the Grays of the National League the following year. Pearce played shortfield all the season.

A red-headed youth named Reville started on third base, but never could get along with Pearce and after playing for about half the season was taken out and put in the box office selling tickets. Later he played a few games In the outfield. He was replaced on third base by Kessler, also a fine player, who later went to the National League.

The outfield was strong, with Stone of New Bedford in left; Evans, later with several National League teams, in center, and a variety in right. Dailey, Cory, Reville, and Richmond of the Brown University team played the position at times.

No definite schedule was followed. Games were arranged a short time before they were played. The majority of games were with the Fall River team, Live Oaks of Lynn, Lowell, Manchester and Auburn. Several National League teams were seen at Adelaide Park during the season. Because of the feeling between the Rhode Islands of 1876 and the team of 1877, the five games played with Auburn, the Rhode Islands of 1876 were fiercely fought affairs, with great crowds attending. Rooting for both teams was violent.

The records show that the two teams met five times, with one game a tie.one won by Auburn and three by the Rhode Islands. The first meeting was on Monday, July 23, with more than 4,000 attending. The teams battled for 15 Innings to a 3-3 tie and as darkness fell the game was ended. Four days later the teams met again with 2,500 present, but this time Auburn won by a score of 2 to 0.

As a fitting windup of the season a series of three games with the Auburns was played in September, the Rhode Islands winning all. There were hints of a scandal connected with the series, as for some unknown reason Critchley failed to show up and a man named Rossman pitched for the visitors. There was much betting and talk.

On the afternoon of Sept. 11 the Rhode Islands won by a score of 2 to 0; the next day the Rhode Islands won by a score of 7 to 3. The final game of the series was played Sept. 14 and also went to the Rhode Islands by a 6 to 2 score.

Of the exhibition games played by the Rhode Islands, two with the old Athletics of Philadelphia were the outstanding contests. The Athletics were in Providence for three days, defeating the Rhode Islands 2-0 June 2 and 3-2 two days later. Another game that was outstanding at the time was that of May 15 when the Lowell team won a 14-inning battle by a score of 12-8, Cory and Dailey dividing the pitching burden.

The Auburn games were the last of importance played at old Adelaide Park for the following year found Providence In the National League with new grounds on Messer street. Adelaide Park was located a few hundred feet from Broad street on Adelaide avenue, and some of the older fans of the city will remember the scramble that resulted on every hot day when everybody wanted to get a seat in the first base bleachers under the wide-spreading oak tree that grew up almost in the center of the bleachers. With many homes now on the site of the old park not a vestige remains, not even the tree.

*****

Although a matter of but a few months more than a half century has elapsed since the movement to place a National League team in Providence was launched, nobody seems to remember the exact facts. ‘ Moat of the original movers in the venture are known, but as far as is known not one of the organizers is now alive. Old-time baseball men in Providence recall the circumstances of locating the National League franchise here.

The press of the day made little of baseball and diligent search in the files reveals little of importance bearing on the matter. Among the business men of the city who were responsible for locating the old Providence Grays here were Col. Henry B. Winship, Marsh Meade, Phil Case, Newton Dexter, Horace Bloodgood, J. Lippit Snow. Newton Earle, New Allen and Henry T. Root. There were a few others, but their Identity is not known. Mr. Root was the first president of the club.

Hartford was not wanted in the circuit as it was then a small city and was felt to be more of a liability to the National League than an asset. But the promoters there made good every obligation and how to get the city out of the league was a problem. At the meeting of the League, held late in 1877 or early in 1878, a vote was passed that no city of less than 75,000 could hold a franchise in the League. This eliminated Hartford.

As nearly as can be learned Benjamin Douglas, Jr., son of a wealthy man in Hartford, with a liking for baseball, came to Providence one day early In 1878 and called on the prominent business men interested in the game. His visit resulted in the men spoken of above joining in subscribing the necessary capital to float the club. Col. Winship, apparently, was the prime mover for whatever light the press of the day throws upon the matter shines on him. The first move was to obtain a site for the proposed ball park and a committee named by him, now unknown, finally settled on the Messer street location, part way between High, now Westminster street, and Cranston street, and the lease of the property was singed Feb. 26, 1878.

The land needed little grading and about April 1, while this was underway a gang of carpenters started work on the fence and stands. It was the intention of the promoters to erect the best baseball plant in the country, and this was carried out. Although far behind many minor league parks of the present day it was then a half century ago the last word in baseball park construction. It was 500 feet square with a grandstand to seat about 2,000 and bleacher capacity of about 4,000. The infield was as smooth as a billiard table, the base paths being the only break in the expanse of greensward. There was no wide patch of rolled dirt such as now features all baseball parks.

In the meantime Manager Douglas had arrived in Providence and began getting his team together. He signed the entire team, with the exception of Louis T. Brown, who was later obtained from Boston, but before the season opened Douglas was released, the cause being given as “incompetency.” The real motives of the move are unknown. Douglas Allison was the catcher, Fred Cory and Tricky Nichols, pitchers. Cory was a Providence product. Tim Murnane was first base and Charles Sweasy second base. Hague was third base and Carey, shortstop and captain. In the outfield were Tommy York in left, Paul Hines in center and Dick Higham in right. Mr. Root assumed the management of the team.

Practice was begun early in April. Dexter Training Ground was obtained by permission of the city authorities. Every fine day during ^.he month the players assembled tor practice. There were no Southern training trips in those days. The practice sessions on the Training Ground were watched by large gatherings, according to stories in the papers, considerable stress being placed on the fine way Allison caught for Cory and Nichols.

May Day was set for the opening of the park and the baseball season. The new park was not completed and the weather was doubtful, threatening rain. A gang of men worked until dark April 30 and began again almost at daylight. The final nail was driven and the last remnant of shavings and dirt was carted off the park just five minutes before Umpire Charles Daniels called “Play ball.” And it did not rain. Six thousand attended, filling the park to capacity.

“The Providence Nine,” as the directors named the team officially, made a bit of history on this opening day by appearing in steel gray uniforms trimmed with blue, the first team to break away from the white uniform. Across the breast of the shirts were the letters in large Old English characters “P. B. B. C.”

Cheer after cheer greeted the teams as they took the field for the game. Cory and Bond were the pitchers, the lineups being: Providence—York, l.f.; Higham, r.f.; Murnane. 1b.; Hines, c.f.; Carey, s.s.; Brown, c.; Hague, 3b.; Cory, Jr., and Sweasey, 2b. Why Sweasey was placed at the tail-end of the batting order has always been a mystery. Boston—Wright, s.s.; Leonard, l.f.; O’Rourke, c.f.; Manning, r.f.; Sutton, 3b.; Burdock, 2b.; Morrill, 1b.; Snyder, c., and Bond, p.

For the first three innings not a hit was made, but in the fourth York hit safely for the Providence’s first base hit in the National League; Burdock in fumbling Hague’s grounder made the first error at Messer Park. The only run of the game was made in the seventh inning when Leonard hit safely and stole second; he raced up to third as Murnane ran out O’Rourke at first and scored when Manning hit solidly to right for two bases. Boston won the game by a score of 1 to 0, making six hits off Cory and three errors. The Grays got but three hits off Bond and also made three errors.

To play every day was considered impossible in those days and it was the following Saturday before the teams again met, this time in Boston. Providence won by a score of 8 to 6. Nichols pitched for the Grays and Allison was behind the bat. Higham had a batting streak, his hitting alone winning for Providence; he made a single, a double and a home run, the ball going over the left fence and on to the railroad track for the first home run in the National League that year.

No games were played until Thursday of the following week when Providence won on the Messer street grounds by a score of 3 to 2. This game is probably more talked about than any of the thousands played since in organized ball as it was in this contest that the much-discussed triple play by Paul Hines was made, the first in the history of baseball. The circumstances of this play have afforded more arguments than any other known play. That the play was made is not disputed, but whether Hines made the play unassisted or whether Sweasey completed it by retiring the third man has been a subject for argument for more than 50 years. Here is what happened: O’Rourke drew a base on balls and scored when Sweasey threw Manning’s drive over Murnane’s head, Manning going to third on the error. Murnane muffed Button’s fly, Manning holding third. Burdock was next up and dropped the ball just over Carey’s head for what looked like a safe hit. The story in the Providence Journal of the next day thus describes the play:

“Manning and Sutton proceeded to the home plate,” meaning that both rounded third. “Hines ran in and caught the ball, and kept going to tag third.” The rule then as now requires that when a base runner is forced to retrace his steps he must retouch the bases passed in reverse order. As Hines touched third, with the ball in his hand after making the catch, before either Manning or Sutton could get back, both were out automatically. It is true that Hines then on a signal from Sweasey threw the ball to second, but this was unnecessary as both runners were out at third.

This description in the Providence Journal should settle the matter for all time, as it is evident that Hines made the triple play unassisted. The second largest crowd of the season saw the game, more than 6,000 attending.

It was a weird schedule the Grays and Bostons played in this eight-game series of 50 years ago, as the eight games were played over a period of 25 days, whereas today the teams would play three times that number of games in the same time. The fourth game was played at Boston May 11 and was won by Boston by a score of 11 to 5. The box score of the game gives Providence 16 errors and Boston eight.

The fifth game, played at Messer Park, was another game that made history as the Grays defeated Boston 24 to 5, making 12 runs in the eighth inning and following this with seven in the ninth. The Grays made 26 hits off Bond and Manning, Hines getting a home run, Brown three two-base hits and York two triples. The Bostons made 16 errors, every man on the team getting at least one, Manning making four.

Providence won the sixth game 6 to 2, while Boston won the seventh 12 to 10 and the eighth 17 to 10, the series being split with four games each.

At the end of the first Boston series Milwaukee opened a series at Messer street, being the first Western team to come here, and, won the first game.

A few weeks after the opening of the season of 1878 Fred Cory was forced because of illness to stop pitching and Tricky Nichols lost his skill entirely, so the Grays were hard put for pitchers. For some time pitchers came and went. Healey of the Atlantics of Cranston pitched a few games, and in one game Lew Brown went into the box, following a short stay there of Allison, both players thus working at both ends of the battery. But a little later Johnny Ward was obtained from the Crickets of Binghamton and became the regular pitcher for the remainder of the season and for a few seasons thereafter.

At the end of the 1878 season the Grays were in third place, with 33 games won and 27 lost, the final standing of the league being: Boston, 41 won, 19 lost: Cincinnati. 37 and 23: Providence, 33 and 27; Chicago, 30 and 30; Indianapolis, 24 and 36, and Milwaukee, 15 and 45. The season’s schedule calling for but 60 games as compared with 154 played by the major leagues today. Following the league season the Grays played a number of exhibition games with teams playing independent ball and with other leagues, the season lasting almost to the first of November that year.

The Grays and Boston played for the “New England championship,” with the Grays represented as challenging. Boston won three straight, two of the games being shutouts. Of the Providence players in this first game, Brown, Cory, Murnane, Sweasey, and Higham are known to be dead; York and Hines are still living, but nothing is known of Allison, Hague, or Carey.

*****

Two innovations, one humorous and long since for-gotten, the other the beginning of a regular custom, marked the next National League campaign. These were, respectively, the introduction of brightly-colored uniforms known as monkey coats, and the introduction of Cuban baseball players. The monkey coats are gone from our midst, but Cuba is still sending good men to the major and minor leagues.

Starting the season of 1882, the fifth year in the National League, with the first professional manager since George Wright had piloted the Grays in 1879, the club made the year a sharp contrast to the previous season. This 1882 campaign was waged with vigor and the Grays held second place during the greater part of the schedule, with the Chicago champions never more than a lap ahead. The Providence nine was always dangerous and everything possible was done to produce a pennant-winning team.

Recognizing the necessity of having a manager at the head of affairs who knew the game and who would give his entire time to developing the team and leading it over the rough places that all baseball teams encounter occasionally the directors cast about for a man to fill the place. The experiment of placing one of the stockholders in charge of the team, in all cases proving unsatisfactory and a failure as the seasons of 1878, 1880 and 1881 had demonstrated. It was resolved that the affairs of the team should be placed in the hands of a man versed in handling men who, at that time, needed far more directing and ordering than could be given by a man, successful enough in business but innocent of baseball.

The Providence nine had received a great jolt at the annual meeting of the National League held on the last day in September 1881, the date evidently being fixed on the final day of the championship season so the actions of the magnates could have no ill effects on the race. At this meeting three of the Grays were blacklisted, the trio including Emil Gross, Sadie Houck and Lew Brown, “the charges being general dissipation and insubordination.

At the same meeting a vote was passed permitting club officials to negotiate with players at once. The next day Manager Morrow approached seven players of the nine and obtained their promise to play with Providence the following season under salaries agreed upon at that time. Ward, Gilligan, Farrell, Denny, Radbourne, and Hines gave their promise, but York, while not declining, refused to give his answer then. Quick action was necessary as the American Association, an outlaw body, had made overtures to the players with promises of larger salaries than the National League would pay. The Directors realized that unless a better state of affairs existed and a team put In the field of championship caliber the public would not support the club. The National League held a meeting at Chicago, Dec. 7, 1881, at which the Providence delegates made the threat that unless the Providence players on the blacklist were reinstated the club would withdraw from the League. But this must have been more or less of a bluff, as no action was taken In the matter and the threatened resignation was not tendered.

It was at this meeting that the now famous, or infamous, rule was adopted to dress the players in what later were declared “monkey suits” in some quarters and “clown suits” in others. Who perpetrated the joke is forever lost to history, but less than two months of the season had passed into the hereafter when the rule was rescinded and the clubs discarded the “coats of many colors” and returned to the regular uniforms. These “joke” uniforms made the diamond look something like the present day fences with all sorts of advertisements painted in every known color and some unknown. Here is the way the National League dressed its players at the start of the 1882 season, the colors applying to the caps, shirts and belts—Catchers, scarlet; pitchers, light blue; first basemen, scarlet and white stripes running vertically; second basemen, orange and blue stripes; third basemen, blue and white; shortstop, solid maroon; left fielder, solid white; center fielder, red and black; right fielder, solid gray; substitutes, green and brown.

The knickerbockers were of white and very roomy. The stockings were the only distinguishing mark whereby one team could be had from another, the Grays being given light blue, Boston red. Chicago white, probably the origin of the nickname “White Sox” still held by the Chicago Americans; Detroit old gold, Buffalo gray, Troy green, which resulted In that team being called “The Shamrocks; Cleveland navy blue, Worcester brown. It was also ordered that each player wear a tie of the color of the stockings, and leather shoes.

When it came to ordering the material, however, considerable difficulty was met, but the only change made was to change the third baseman’s colors to gray and white as it was impossible to obtain the blue and white striped cloth. The kidding Indulged in by the spectators was bad enough, but the growling among the players was worse. When runners were on the bases it was impossible for the players to tell which was which, especially when a first sacker, for instance, was on first, or a second baseman on second. The uniforms were exactly alike. The writer remembers well an incident that happened while the “monkey suits” were in vogue. He was sitting with the late John Dyer, one of the most widely known newspaper writers of his day, when the first baseman of the batting team occupied first base as a runner and the second baseman of the same team was on second. John called the attention of those about him to the singular coincidence and remarked that it might never occur again; it never did, as the kaleidoscopic mess was legislated out of existence a few days later.

There was a tragic end to the little affair, also, as Radbourne threw to Start to hold the runner on first and instead of shooting the ball to Start, “Rad” saw crooked and threw the ball to the visiting first baseman, who promptly ducked the ball and it rolled to the bleachers, the runner on second scoring and the man on first taking third. This happened many times and was one of the reasons for changing the rule.

But this is running out of the baseline and delaying the game. Dec. 6, 1881, the Providence baseball club held one of the most important meetings of its existence. At this session held at President Root’s office a large majority of the 90 stockholders of the club were present. It was resolved to get a team that would wipe Chicago from the face of the earth, if it took every cent the association could raise.

It was hinted, but not disclosed, that negotiations were pending with a veteran manager and that action might be expected before the end of the year. At this meeting President Winship expressed his regret that so many newspaper men attended the games on passes, and suggested that the scribes be limited to one from each paper, that one to be the man reporting the game. No action was taken at this meeting, but the resolution was adopted at a subsequent meeting.

Enough “inside” stuff was permitted to leak out a few days before Christmas to start something, the “leak” evidently dropping through a hole of the directors’ own punching, being to the effect that one of the leading managers of the United States had “approached” the directors, stating he was desirous of an engagement. After a few days of suspense it was announced that Harry Wright of the Boston club was the man and that he had been engaged.

Wright was given full charge of the team and grounds and was promised all authority in everything pertaining to the nine, no suggestions or advice from the board of directors to be offered. Up to this time there had been a suspicion that the club stockholders were secretly negotiating to dispose of the franchise to some other city, but the announcement that Harry Wright had been hired dispelled the gloom.

Tommy York was the first player to be signed for 1882, and was at once put to work obtaining subscriptions to meet the existing deficiencies. It was announced that subscriptions however small would be received. York did very well with the paper and the proceeds helped the club over a hard place.

The fifth annual meeting of the club was held Jan 29 and was a rousing affair. Col. Winship surprised the meeting by declaring two Cuban players had been signed for the 1882 team in Vincent Nava and a colt by the name of De Paugher, young stars who had played for the coast and were ripe for the National League. Nava was a catcher and the other Cuban a pitcher. It was proposed to use this pair as a pony battery, this being the first appearance of Cuban players in the United States in fast company, but they were the pioneers of a large contingent coming here from the island since that time. There was some opposition to the signing of the players because of their nationality, but the idea went through and the men reported. Nava made good and was a member of the team for several years, but his running mate failed to fill the bill and was released before playing a game.

*****

Major league baseball In Providence reached its peak in 1884. All previous seasons were eclipsed, and this seventh year in the big show did more to put Providence in the baseball Hall of Fame than all the years that went before, or came afterward. The Grays not only won the National League pennant for the second time, but won the first World Series. Radbourne set a record for pitching and winning consecutive games that has never been approached and probably never will be. Sweeney, although with the team but a part of the season, made a strike-out record that still stands, defying the onslaughts of hundreds of pitchers for more than 43 seasons. It is generally conceded among baseball men everywhere that the Providence team of 1884 was one of the greatest teams ever organized.

The season started in any way but as a success. The result of the opening game. May 1, was a bitter disappointment to the stockholders, and a surprise to everybody concerned. To begin with, Cleveland won the game by a score of 2 to 1; but that was a minor consideration to the attendance figures, for where preparations had been made for a capacity crowd, the outfield roped off for the expected throngs, and excursions arranged from Worcester and other places at reduced fares, but 2,395 paid to see the game.

Light batting prevailed, the Grays hitting McCormick for but three hits, one a double by Hines. The Grays lost at least one run by careless base running, and according to the Providence Journal’s report the next day, “showed signs of nervousness.” Sweeney was given the game and his work was admirable. He fanned eight men, including three in a row in the second inning. He allowed nine hits, all for one base, and should have won the game. Radford’s work in right field was brilliant and the feature of the contest. He made several grand running catches and completed a double play with Farrell that saved one run, and later threw a man out at the plate.

DOUBLE PLAY

In the double play with Farrell, Radford took the ball in territory that should have been covered by Hines. With a man on second base, Muldoon lifted a fly high over Hines’s head that he misjudged, but Radford pulled it down, spoiling a potential home run, and then threw to Farrell to double the runner, who was half way home when the ball was caught, probably saving two runs.

The first run of the game was made in the seventh inning, when Murphy got his third scratch hit of the game and reached second when Start threw wild to Parrell as they had Murphy in a trap between the bases Muldoon hit past Farrell and Hines fumbled and then threw past Denny. Murphy scoring. In the eighth inning, with two out, Glasscock singled and made second on a wild pitch, crossing the plate on a hit by Phillips to center that Hines fumbled, Phillips making third. Murphy hit safely to right field and Phillips ran for the plate. Radford gathered the ball and, on a peg that bounded squarely into Gilligan’s hands, enabled the catcher to nip the runner as he slid in.

For the first seven innings, Providence got but five men to first base, including passes and other things. The ninth inning opened so well that the crowd rose to its feet and cheered wildly. Gilligan began with a hit and reached second on Murphy’s muff of Radford’s fly and scored the first run for the Grays when Farrell hit safely to right field. In the meantime Hines went out on a pop fly. With a run in two on and only one out, it looked as if the game would be saved.

Evans threw the ball in, but Murphy dropped it and Radford took third, but was caught at the plate on a fast return by Phillips from Start’s grounder. Farrell reached third on this play, but failed in his attempt to score the tying run, an attempted double steal, with Start, Brody to Ardner to Brody, ending the game.

UMPIRE “ROASTED”

All through the contest the crowd “roasted” Umpire Burns, a brother of Tom Burns of the White Stockings. His decisions on balls and strikes were resented and his base decisions were bad. If any man on the field was nervous it was the umpire.

Radbourne went to the box for the second game and was the master of Cleveland at all stages. He held the visitors to five singles and was given brilliant support by his mates, his own two errors being supplemented by one by Gilligan; but one of “Rad’s” was a base on balls, the other a wild peg to first, while Gilligan’s slip was a passed ball. Sweeney was played in right field as a precaution, Radbourne still suffering with a slight lameness in his shoulder. Radford “played” on the turnstile that day.

Boston, Philadelphia and New York again registered victories. The Boston fans took an incident in this second game as a bad omen, as Dan Brouthers hit the pennant pole on the fly for a three-base hit. Perhaps it was a bad omen, as Boston was hardly dangerous after the first few weeks.

TEAMS SHIFT

The teams shifted for the third day and Buffalo was handed a 3 to 0 shutout at Messer Park. Sweeney was again in this box and displayed a sample of his skill that was later to raise him to the greatest heights. He held the Buffalo team to one hit, a single by Big Dan Brouthers that was scratchy enough and might have been chalked up as an error without damaging Brouthers a cent’s worth. Brouthers was the only man in a Buffalo uniform to reach first base during the entire game. Nine Bisons fell before Sweeney’s curves, but not a man walked and the Grays made no errors.

This was the second time Sweeney was robbed of a chance to join the no-hit-no-run circle. As Big Dan was caught napping by Sweeney on a quick peg to Start, but 27 Buffalo men went to bat.

Radford opened the sixth inning with a single and was followed by Hines with another bingo to safe territory. Both advanced on a wild pitch. Farrell’s single scored Radford, Hines going to third. Farrell stole second, and, after Start had been thrown out, both crossed the plate on Irwin’s single to left centre. No more scoring was done. On the same day, Boston, New York and Philadelphia won.

The opening week’s play was surprising from several angles, notably the fine showing of New York and Philadelphia.

Providence defeated Buffalo in the second game, this time by a 5 to 2 score in a light-hitting game. Buffalo presented a Boston boy in the box, this being his first game in fast company; his name was Serad and he later became a strong pitcher. He passed the first three Grays to face him, but got the next two without a run sifting over, but Denny hit safely to score Hines and Farrell.

Serad was sent to right field and the veteran Jim O’Rourke went into the box and, although he have the Grays nothing but straight balls, he got away with it pretty well. Radbourne pitched for Providence and gave Buffalo but five hits, and in addition made a three-base hit, for Radbourne was a great hitter, for a pitcher. Boston and New York again won, but Philadelphia’s streak was broken by Chicago.

BOSTON LOSES

The schedule was so arranged that the teams scheduled to play at Boston and Providence alternated between the two cities with two games in each in each half series. The third Cleveland game was postponed by rain, but Buffalo broke Boston’s clean record by winning, 3 to 2, Galvin holding Boston to one hit, a two-bagger by Hornung. In this game, the Boston rooters roasted Galvin, advising him to return the overcoat given him the previous fall by the Reds for beating the Grays.

Rain also prevented the finishing of the second game of the Cleveland half series, but Boston got square with Buffalo by winning 7 to 0, in a five-inning game. In the four innings the game at Messer Park lasted, the Grays had piled up seven runs, while the visitors had failed to score.

Manager Hackett of the Clevelands several times protested to Umpire Burns, against playing the game in the rain, but Burns refused to listen, although rain was falling steadily. A slight let- up in the rain and in Hackett’s protests was the signal for Burns to call time. The Cleveland players, under orders from Manager Hackett, gathered up their belongings and walked out of the carriage gate as if intending to take their bus, they returned to the park and began playing leap frog and doing the hop, skip and jump. But the rain fell in torrents again, and continued through the following day.

On May 9, the Buffaloes returned and a game was played, although the park was little more than a sea of mud. The Grays won, 3 to 1, Radbourne and Galvin pitching great ball, “Rad” allowing five hits, one a double by O’Rourke, while Galvin was nicked for but four, including a two-bagger by Hines.

BRILLIANT FIELDING

Both teams fielded brilliantly, saving the pitchers repeatedly. Buffalo got away to a great start, but it petered out early. The Bisons got three on the based in the firs inning with but one out, O’Rourke drawing a pass, followed by Richardson and Brouthers with singles. But Radbourne speeded up and forced Jim White to hit into a double play, ending the threat. In the Gray’s half, Hines opened with a double to left center and made third when Rowe missed Start’s third strike, giving Joe first. Start stole second and scored a hit to right. Denny’s walk and Carroll’s single filled the bases, but no more scoring was done, as Gilligan went out for the third out.

At the end of the second week of the season, New York held first place with five won and none lost; Boston was second with six won and one lost; Providence third with four victories and one defeat; Philadelphia fourth with three and two; Chicago fifth with two and three; Buffalo and Cleveland tied with one victory and five defeats, for sixth place. Detroit had lost all its five starts.

In these five games in Providence, Radbourne had pitched three and Sweeney two; Radbourne had allowed 15 singles and one double and fanned 10, while Sweeney gave nine hits, each for one base, and struck out 17.

*****

The season of 1886 was not only the final campaign of the Providence club aa & member of the National League, but the least satisfactory of any since the advent of the Grays In the National League. Starting out with a Southern trip that was fairly satisfactory, the club entered the pennant race with a team that was confidently expected to walk away again with the pennant. But fourth place was the best the team could get and fifth was narrowly escaped a few victories at the close of the schedule saving It from falling below Boston.

Strengthened by the addition of new and stronger players, the Grays started the league season with bright prospects, and the opening games at Messer Park were liberally patronized, but as the season wore on and the quality .of ball was far Inferior to that of the previous season, the attendance fell off alarmingly, and before the close of the race interest in the Grays had fallen so low that the accounts of the Providence games were given third consideration by the local press, the Chicago and New York games being given the leading places and the display heads with the Grays sunk low down in the column.

GRAYS SLUMP

At the end of the season the St. Louis Sporting Times printed a paragraph that told the situation to a letter, declaring that the team, always a weak hitting team, but strong in the field, had batted weaker than ever and fallen to next to last place in fielding. The paragraph closed as follows: “The team is completely gone, root and branch, and, apparently, is dying of dry rot.”

Troubles among the players was not the only thing to blame, as there was discord among the directors and stockholders. Rumors were about town as early as the middle of the season that some of the officials were in league with Boston, and that a financial offer had been made for Radbourne and Gilligan, which was being considered. This did not materialize, however, until long after the championship season had ended and the directors had declared the team would be in the National League in 1886.

Things floated along in this way till cold weather, and even as late as October 17, when the National League had a special meeting in New York, it was declared at the session that the Providence club would be a member of the league the next season. But later developments showed that some of the officials at least had negotiated with another city for the disposal of the franchise, and that Radbourne and Gilligan and possibly one or two other players were to go to Boston. This was denied vigorously, but later developments showed the rumors were founded on fact. The franchise was sold and Boston got the players she needed to rebuild a team as badly demoralized as the Grays.

THINGS STIR UP

Manager Bancroft arrived in Providence early In March, accompanied by his bride and things began to stir around headquarters. An ambitious southern trip, to take the entire month of April, was arranged, planned on the successful southern trip of the year before. Among the new players signed were Tom Lovett of this city, Charley Bassett of Pawtucket, who proved a valuable player when Denny was of but little use to the team because of malaria from which he suffered nearly all the season.

Jim McCormick of the Cleveland team of the previous year was signed, as was Con Dailey of Woonsocket, later one of the best catchers in the game. Dupee Shaw, a left-hander and the first southpaw pitcher of the Grays of any account, since Richmond, was also signed, but only after a long and bitter fight with Boston, that club claimed Shaw because of its “Influence in getting Shaw reinstated after he had Jumped to the St. Louis club of the outlaw Union League.

Shaw was a member of the Grays all the season and was one of its strongest assets. McCormick did fair work while he was with the team, but was suffering with a lame arm and was of little use to the team. This signing of Shaw and McCormick with Radbourne as the mainstay, and the obtaining of Dailey, gave the Grays three batteries, Gilligan and Nava, being the other catchers.

DIFFICULT SIGNING

There was some difficulty in signing the players of the champion 1884 team as all of them demanded, and finally got, an increase in salaries. Start was signed for $3,500 and was worth it. Radbourne was willing to play again with Providence, although under the agreement with the club he was a free agent as the Grays won the championship in 1884. After the negotiations ft contract, with the salary item left blank, was sent Radbourne with instructions to fill it out himself.

The contract was returned with $4,000 inserted as the figures. This was accepted by the directors and “Rad” reported here in March. This contract was later presented to Martin C. Day, for years city editor of the Providence Journal, and official scorer of the Grays for years. Mr. Day cherished this contract as one of his most precious souvenirs of his connection with baseball and kept if to the day of his death. The writer was shown the paper one day while “fanning” with “Mart” in his den in the old Journal Building.

Things looked bright when it was announced at the annual meeting of the Providence club. Jan. 30, 1885, that the 1884 season had been the moat successful in every way since the club was formed. The figures showed that a total of 64.409 paid admissions were received at Messer Park and that a “satisfactory bank balance was on hand.” President Root was re-elected and Marsh B. Mead was elected treasurer. Mr. Mead later got control of the stock, and it was declared, when the franchise was sold, that he owned or controlled the majority of the stock. A vote of thanks and confidence in Manager Bancroft was passed.

CRANE NOT SO GOOD

Ed Crane, a pitcher of renown in his day was signed before the team went south, making five pitchers on the roll, but Crane didn’t do the team much good and was used In the box but few times. Later Tom Lovett was sold to the Philadelphias.

The Grays started the season well by winning the opening game at Philadelphia, which had also been strengthened, 8 to 2, fielding the same team as won the pennant the previous year. After one game in Philadelphia the team jumped to New York, where an 8 to 5 defeat tacked on ‘with Shaw In the box; he was hit hard. Radbourne pitched “the next day and the Grays won 4 to 3. Going back to Philadelphia. McCormick was sent to the box. He was wild and was beaten 9 to 6.

Although the Grays had batted Keefe hard In the World Series at the close of the 1884 season, when the Grays went against him on their return to New York, they could find him for ‘but one hit, a single by Farrell. May 11 was the date of the opening championship game at Messer Park and a fair crowd sat in the World Series pennant was raised on one staff and the National League pennant on another. The series pennant was of white silk with black letters and trimmings, and a beautiful piece of work it was of the whip variety, and about 30 feet long. Radbourne was In the box and the Grays won 9 to 4 over Buffalo.’ The next day Shaw beat the Bisons 5 to 1 in a light hitting game, allowing but three singles, the Grays getting but four singles off Serad.

18 ERRORS

But possibly the light hitting may be laid to the fact that the Grays made 10 errors and the Bisons 18, as many of the errors would undoubtedly be given as hits nowadays. Serad gave nine bases on balls and these were counted as errors.

Everybody awaited the first St. Louis game, as it was announced that Radbourne and Sweeney would battle It out in the box In this game. When the St. Louis team took the field there were more than 3,000 spectators present. Where it was supposed Sweeney would meet with a frigid reception the reverse was the case, as when the former Providence star faced the Grays the big crowd broke out into a demonstration that had no equal at Messer Park from the day of its inauguration. Sweeney was cheered throughout the game.

It was a sweet morsel tor Sweeney and he responded by holding the Grays to five scattered singles, striking out four men and beating the Grays 8 to 2. The St. Louis team batted Radbourne hard, collecting 12 hits with a total of 15. The Grays also fielded miserably, Hines alone making four errors in center field. This game was the pioneer of the costly losses of the Grays and the beginning of the end.

SHAW GAINS

Shaw was rapidly gaining the good will of the Providence public as he was showing better form than any of the Grays’s pitchers, not excepting Radbourn. He pitched a great game against Buffalo in his first home series, holding the Bisons in his hand and winning 3 to 0. The next day Radbourne also handed the Bisons a 3 to 0 shutout. The close of the second week of the season showed New York in first place with eight victories and two defeats, Chicago in second position with seven and three, and the Grays third with five won and four lost.

The Grays were somewhat crippled during this period as Denny was of little use to the club because of malaria, but Bassett played third base as well, as Jerry McCormick’s lame arm was still lame.

Another big crowd gathered at Messer Park when St. Louis returned from its Boston engagement. If Sweeney had the laugh on Radbourne in that first tussle, the tables were turned with a vengeance in the second. The Grays batted Sweeney out of the box in the fourth inning, having made 12 hits off him, including two three-base hits by Carroll. Radbourne toyed with St. Louis.

McCormick was given a beating by Chicago and in addition to being batted hard he passed seven and made six wild pitches. More than 1500 saw this game go to Chicago 10 to 0, and great was the indignation about town. The fans would have sold the team for 30 cents about that time. More of the rumors that abounded in Providence went flying about town, and it was said that the Grays would not support Shaw or McCormick. Both pitchers published a letter in the newspapers to the effect that they were perfectly satisfied with the support given them by their mates and the best of feeling existed in the team.

GRAYS SLIPPING

At the end of the first month the relative positions of the leading teams were the same as at the end of the first fortnight, with New York on top and Providence third, less than three games back, but apparently slipping. The high water mark of the season was reached Memorial Day, when 4000 saw the Grays defeat Chicago 4 to 1 in the morning game, and Detroit succumb in the afternoon 4 to 3, in ten innings, before 3000.

The Boston series was the best of the year, and encouraging crowds attended, but with the close of that series the interest waned rapidly, not only here, but in Boston, matters in that city being about as poorly as here. Things went from bad to worse, and all sorts of absurd statements were spread about town as to the team “laying down” and “dissipation of the players.” This latter statement was true enough.

Going West badly crippled, disaster after disaster afflicted the team, and at one time or another about every man on the team was out because of injuries or other matters. Farrell had a broken arm, Bassett a broken finger and Denny “malaria.” Radbourne had a badly bruised hand, and the fans panned the club for releasing Crane, although when he was let out everybody seemed glad. At St. Louis, Irwin sustained a broken finger and was sent home.

Returning to Providence, the team played to small and discouraging crowds, and the quality of ball displayed was as meager as the crowds. Manning had been signed to play shortstop in Irwin’s place, but was no better than when he wore a Providence uniform a few years before. About Aug. 1, President Root resigned, and J. Edward Allen was elected in his place. Both Radbourne and Shaw were sick and Edgar Smith of this city was obtained to help out.

ELEVEN GAMES IN RUCK

At this time the Grays were far down in the ruck, so far as first place was concerned, being 11 games back of the leading New York team.

Things were bad enough with the team and it was common knowledge that the players were being tampered with by other clubs, and that they were playing poor ball to force the club to disband at the end of the season, giving them their freedom so they could sign elsewhere for larger salaries. Then, too, it became known that the larger clubs, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis, were in a compact to force Providence, Buffalo and Detroit out of the league.

Hines was suspended for “breaking training,” Carroll was sick, and the entire team was demoralized. Listless, indolent ball was played to empty benches. At that time the Providence Journal baseball writer printed a scathing article one morning charging the players with every sin on the calendar and urging the suspension of the worst of the offenders and the signing of local amateurs to complete the season.

A league meeting was held on Aug. 2 to consider “changes in the rules,” as announced by the league officials, but really to take measures to oust the Providence club. As Buffalo and Detroit were hanging by a thread the trio made a compact to fight the proposed ouster and succeeded, as unexpectedly the New York club took sides with the three intended victims and the measure failed to go through.

The Providence directors had a knife up their sleeves at this time, and in “the event of certain things coming up” the delegates—President Allen and George J. West—were empowered to pull the knife. The delegates, together with Stillman White, had been appointed a committee just before this meeting to arrange for a sale of the players at that time and to wind up the affairs of the club.

Owing to the action of the New York club, represented by John B. Day, the committee refrained from taking action, seeking a more favorable time to dispose of the property later on. Probably Mr. Day had some inkling of what was going on when he apparently forsook his co-conspirators, as it became known later that the Boston club practically had an option on the Providence players and franchise.

The stockholders held a meeting Sept. 9 and “voted to continue the team in 1886.” That this was a colossal bluff became known later. Both sides evidently carried out their bluff, waiting for developments, as at a League meeting in New York Nov. 18, President Allen of the Grays was elected to the Board of Directors of the League.

In the mean time the team kept on its way to the goal aimed at and lost game after game until 13 straight defeats had been hung up. The quality of ball was of the most miserable nature, the players being indolent and listless in every contest. Yet so poor were the other teams holding lower places that the Providence team was kept in third place in the standing despite the efforts of the players to get to the bottom.

As the team lost its 13th straight game, one of the players let the cat out of the bag by declaring in a moment of hilarity that the whole thing had been cut and dried and that it had been figured out to lose that number and then jump in for the final game of the season at Messer Park and show just what sort of a team the Grays really were. They showed it, all right. Had the directors disbanded the team then and there, fined the players all they had coming and blacklisted the lot it would have been no more than the players and the rest of the National League deserved. But this would have spiked the contemplated deal with the Boston club, and it was allowed to pass.

The information printed in the above paragraph was conveyed to the writer by a man who was active in baseball at the time and who had several statements in black and white on paper, now yellowed with age, which he permitted the writer to read a short time ago.

BEST GAME OF THE YEAR

But the facts of this final National League game in Providence are that in this game the Grays played the best ball of the year. It was a day of many surprises. The Providence team from the catcher to the right fielder played magnificent ball. Not an error of any kind, battery or otherwise, marred the contest. The baserunning was the most spirited the players had shown since early in the spring; Radbourne pitched in superb form. Philadelphia did all possible to win, but no team could have beaten the Grays that day and they won, 3 to 1.

But once on the road the same tactics that had disgusted the people and stockholders were followed and the road trip was a disastrous one. When the season was finished, Oct. 10, the Grays were in fourth place, the lowest they had been since the city joined the league. Chicago won the pennant with 87 victories and 35 defeats; New York was second with 85 and 27; Philadelphia third with 56 and 54, and the Grays fourth with 53 games won and 57 lost.

Although it was common knowledge that the stockholders had decided to quit and accept the offer of the Boston club, the matter was not announced until the morning of Nov. 30, when the doings of the stockholders’ meeting of the night before were made public. It was announced that the franchise and players had been sold to the Boston club “for a consideration that repaid the stockholders for their holdings and cleared the debts of the club.” The statement of the stockholders was soft In the extreme.

They declared that “after calm and thoughtful consideration It was thought best for all concerned^ that the club be sold, especially aa the larger cities of the league wanted the franchise to be transferred to a larger city where the game would be more profitable.

Boston’s main Interest was to obtain Radbourne and Gilligan, and “Rad” was for several seasons thereafter a member of the Reds pitching staff. The other players were scattered all over the league.

Thus died the National League experience of Providence in the eighth year of its age. Some of the sporting men of Providence died hard and an association was organized to place a team in the Eastern League of 1886, with such teams as Long Island City, Meriden, Conn., and a few cities of that caliber as members. The idea was that in a few years the National League would split Into Eastern and Western divisions, and then Providence would be sought for as a member: by continuing In baseball the promoters thought It would keep Messer Park in exigence and Providence on the map.

There was nothing to it, as nobody went to the games and the club disbanded, after a few weeks of starvation. A few circuses showed at Messer Park and a few semi-pro teams played a few games there. After a few years of this the famous Messer Park was dismantled, cut into house lots and continued not.

© SABR. All Rights Reserved