The 1887 Binghamton Bingos

This article was written by James Delaney Jr.

This article was published in the 1982 Baseball Research Journal


On August 20, 1887, the Binghamton, New York Bingos (International League) folded. The Binghamton Daily Leader described the meeting which ended the Bings season:

The directors met. . .and shook dice to see whether the Bingos should go or linger and the festive cubes said they should meander. And now we ain’t got any Bings.

The Daily Leader felt the main cause of “the Bingo disfranchise ment was the large crowds of people that didn’t go see `em.” But, it had been quite a year for the Binghamton team: visits to Newark (“the benighted land of malaria and bad hotels”), to the Syracuse “salt marshes,” to “Starch City” (Oswego) and contests against the Rochester “Lushers” a team which would have found the International League Guide useless, “because it doesn’t furnish addresses of saloon keepers.” The Elmira Gazette, which covered the exploits of Binghamton’s closest (though non-league) rival, was subject to almost daily criticism by the Daily Leader. It was written that a man from Elmira happened to stroll by Riverside Park (home of the Bingos) and had asked someone What was going on there — evidently the “cheesy ball” the Elmira papers were “gushing over” had left the man incapable of recognizing a baseball game when he saw one. Or so it was reported in the Daily Leader.

This article will cover the 1887 season of the Binghamton Bingos, primarily through the pages of the Daily Leader. Binaghamton’s weekly papers, the Democrat and the Republican, made little mention about baseball. The Democrat, however, did have a story about “Base Ball Lunatics” in its May 12 issue. It is the story of a Connecticut man who was considered insane because all he talked about was baseball. The Democrat added that now there were “about 10,000,000 such lunatics in the country.”

The April 12 issue of the Daily Leader had two items of interest in its “Base Ball Notes” column. The first concerned the prospective unnerving of opponents when they visit Riverside Park since “the Binghamton Gun Club (is) in the next lot.” The other item concerned Frank Grant, the noted black second baseman:

Complaint is being made that Grant. . .is being used as a star player by Manager Chapman of Buffalo. This accounts for the amount of ground he is allowed to cover. . . and no attention is paid to such a thing as another man’s territory.

The Daily Leader was seemingly ambivalent about the black players in the IL. This is best illustrated in its coverage of the release of the Bings two blacks, second baseman John “Bud” Fowler, and a pitcher named Renfroe. The lead note of July 13 read: “Gone coons — Fowler and Renfroe.” But, in the same group of notes is this comment on Renfroe: “He will return to his home in Memphis, whence he expects to join the Topekas of the Western League. Renfroe is a gentlemanly fellow, who deserves to do well.”

Two June visits to Binghamton by the Cuban Giants, a top black independent team, were cause for the Daily Leader to break out the racial epithets. On the ninth, the Bingos defeated the Giants 12-8, with Renfroe hurling a complete game and allowing one earned run. The Giants were referred to as “the snow flakes,” the “dark objects,” and “the simmenian (sic) visitors,” and a suggestion was made that “watermelons at home plate” might help the Giants. On June 30, the Giants returned, and this time emerged victorious, 8-6, in a game called after eight innings. The Daily Leader reported that “the sable, cimmenan (sic), colored Ethiopians, who make their lair at Trenton, N.J., jumped on the peripatetic Bings yester- day, and spilled innocent gore.” Bud Fowler, in his Binghamton finale, went 2 for 5, but committed two of the ten Binghamton errors.

Despite remarks such as those above, which can only be judged today to be cruel and bigoted, the Daily Leader was generally sympathetic to the blacks in the IL. For instance, in the May 14 notes:

If Billy Hoover (umpire) made the remark that is credited to him, that on a close point he would give a decision against a team employing a colored player, he should be driven out of the League at the toe of a boot.

Hoover resigned by the end of the month to manage the Oswego team which soon disbanded.

On July 14, the IL directors met in Buffalo to discuss “the question of black players. Several representatives declared that many of the best players in the League were anxious to leave on account of the colored element, and the board finally directed Secretary White to approve no more contracts with colored men.” The Daily Leader was quiet on this matter until after the season ended. But on October 4 it commented, “We think the International League made a monkey of itself when it undertook to draw the color line.” And, on October 7, “We wonder if the International League proposes to exclude colored people from attendance at the games.” It is obvious where the Daily Leader stood on the question of blacks in the IL.

Bud Fowler had an interesting run at Binghamton. He was one of the stars on the team, usually playing second and, usually batting cleanup. Minor League Baseball Stars lists the righthanded batter’s record as 34 games, a .350 average and 23 steals for the Bingos. The Daily Leader reported on his exploits consistent with the attention his teammates received. Rarely was his blackness referred to in game stories.

Though there is no indication of how Fowler got along with his teammates, it does seem as though a blatant hostility did not exist against him. The Oswego club respected Fowler’s opinion enough to sign black second baseman Randolph Jackson upon his recommendation. On June 4, the Daily Leader reported that

Mr. F. F. Billings offered as a prize a life sized portrait of the member of the Binghamton club who made the greatest batting average during home games of the current week. . . the official score-sheet. . .shows Fowler is the lucky winner of the prize.

With a .500 (8-16) for the week, Fowler beat out ten teammates for the portrait, each of whom hit over .300. One would hardly expect that such a gift would have been given to a despised member of the community. After all, even “official records” could have been altered, but there seemed no reluctance in awarding the prize to Fowler.

Fowler continued to play for the Bingos until June 30, when, according to the Rochester Chronicle, he was released upon the condition he sign with no other IL club. There must have been rumblings of displeasure before then, however. For example, on June 9, the Daily Leader reported that “We are authorized to state that the report of Fowler’s release was entirely without foundation.” Seemingly the forces were in motion which would lead to the banning of blacks in the IL the following month.

On April 21 Binghamton began its exhibition schedule with a 10-3 win over Scranton before some 800 fans. Already there was “a rumor afloat that Binghamton will not finish the season,” which “Cricket” (Sporting Life‘s Binghamton correspondent) adamently denied. Fans were reminded that if a game was to be played, a red flag with “Game” on it flew on Court Street, opposite the stores of Clark and McHenry; a blue flag meant no game. The Bings went 5-0 in exhibition play, with two wins over Scranton and Read ing, and a win over Allentown.

Regular season play began on May 3 and the Bingos beat Utica 8-2. The following day the Utes were soundly drubbed 26-8, with pitcher Ely allowing just one earned run and going 6-6 at the plate. Fowler’s second inning single contributed to a 7-run outburst. On May 9, Buffalo’s Mickey Walsh was the victim of a 7-hit first inning explosion. Fowler was in the middle of the rally which, reported the Daily Leader, gave Walsh a “dose of nux vomica.” Binghamton finished its first homestand 5-5. A trip to Oswego netted three wins in four tries, and the Bings scored 47 runs. Fowler was the starting pitcher and loser in Oswego’s 12-10 win. He gave up five runs in less than two innings, causing the Daily Leader to remark: “Fowler has hitherto been the packhorse between a lame arm and victory. He didn’t get there yesterday.” Two days later, Fowler “got there.” The Bings beat the “Sweegs” 8-3, with Fowler the batting star. In the fourth, “Fowler stepped to the plate, and meeting the second ball pitched fairly in the nozzle drove it over the right field fence for a fourbagger.”

Binghamton traveled to Newark and lost four games in mosquito land, the highlight being George Stovey’s 9-0, 5-hit shutout. It was reported that the Bingos offered “a bushel of peanuts” for Stovey. Black hurler Renfroe (2-4 record) broke in during the afternoon session of a Memorial Day doubleheader with Utica. After winning the opener 20-13, the Bings completed the sweep with a 14-9 victory. Renfroe hurled a complete game in 1:40, striking out nine. The Daily Leader wasn’t concerned with Renfroe’s color that day. In fact, it seemed most concerned with the absence of the clown Juice, left home by Utica, which was accused of penny-pinching.

When Oswego folded at the end of May, Binghamton’s three wins over them were removed from their record. So as June began, the Bings were 8-11, nine games behind first place Newark (17-2). The Bings first June contest was a 12-1 1 win over the Syracuse Stars. Fowler’s two-run double in the eighth provided the winning margin. For the day Fowler was 4-5, with 3 doubles, each good for “two Ottomans.” One June 2, the Bings lost to Syracuse 7-6 in 11 innings. Renfroe, “(who) promises to be a daisy” went the distance allowing no earned runs. The Daily Leader reported that “The `Bings’ did not support Renfroe yesterday and many think the shabby work was intentional.” In addition, Syracuse players were refusing to support Higgins, a black pitcher. On June 4, Renfroe and the Bings lost to Higgins and the Stars 10-4, before 1500 in Syracuse. Scranton joined the league the following day. On June 25 Renfroe pitched the Bingos to an 11-7 win over Utica. The Daily Leader reported that:

the dark skinned twirler of the Bings gave them tricky little geometrical problems full of arcs and tangents. . . toward the final stages of the examination, however, he tried them on some of the rudimentary branches, and found them apt and greedy.

The beginning of July saw Newark still atop the IL at 28-11, Buffalo second with 30-15, Rochester third, 2 1-18 and Toronto fourth, 19-18. Binghamton was ninth at 15-21, 101/2 games ahead of last place Utica. On July 2 it was reported that Mark Twain was scheduled to umpire at Elmira. The 1887 National League champion Detroit Wolverines visited Binghamton on the 6th. Detroit won 6-1, behind the pitching of Burk, a “fat cuss” with an excellent “drop curve.” Hardy Richardson was 4-5 for Detroit and Weidman hit a home run. The Bingos resumed regular IL play the following day with a 3-2 win over Buffalo. Knight had replaced Henry Ormsbee as manager with the Bings’ record 18-22, 11½ games behind first place Newark.

The “lift” provided by the new manager was short-lived, as the Bings quickly lost four straight to Syracuse, allowing 45 runs. The previously mentioned league meeting was held July 14 and in addition to the discussion of black players, it was decided that Wilkes-Barre would take over Utica’s record. The Daily Leader speculated that this “might lead to a reopening of the Oswego matter (where teams’ wins and losses versus Oswego were deleted).” However, the Oswego matter remained closed. In other matters, Jersey City and Newark were censured for playing a Sunday exhibition on July 3, and, umpire salaries were raised from $200 to $250 a month, effective immediately.

On July 25 a meeting was held on the fate of the Bings. It was decided that a benefit game versus Elmira would be played. One thousand tickets at $1 each were to be sold and it was hoped that -“an enthusiastic response will enable the committee to dispose of the entire number” and “keep the franchise in this city.” The Bings lost to Stovey and Newark 4-3 on the 26th. Outfielder Milt West was suspended “without pay by the Binghamton Association for indifferent playing. Justice to this player would seem to demand that he be released.” West was released and eventually signed with Columbus.

As the Bingos moved into August play, the financial difficulties were becoming more apparent. Four players were released on the night of the 6th, following a 7-3 loss to Buffalo. Among those released were season-long hurler Tony Madigan and team stolen base leader Casey, who was hitting about .330. The Daily Leader commented that “maybe too many players were pruned by the Board of Directors.”

“Base Ball Notes” of August 10 spoke to the issue of rowdy fan behavior:

It is scarcely a wonder the club is not successful financially. One would imagine from the conduct of the spectators that only loafers were present. Decent people will feel bound in the interest of self-respect, to stay away. . .if those disgusting exhibitions continue.

By now it was evident that the fans had better start turning out for the games or the team would fold. The fans were admonished daily to “attend the games” and it was hinted that if folks want a warm welcome at the Great White Gate, they should “attend the games this week.” When attendance for a 7-4 loss to Rochester on the 16th was still small, the Daily Leader in its best guilt-inspiring tones, wrote that the turnout was “not such as becomes enterprising Binghamtonians.” The payroll which was causing all of these difficulties was reported to be $2400 a month.

On the 20th the Bingos beat Elmira 18-2, their third exhibition victory in as many tries over their hated rival. As mentioned earlier, the directors met that night and the Bingos folded. After the recent urgings for the fans to turn out, on August 23, the Daily Leader lamented “We are a Bingless people.” The Republican noted that Binghamton was a lively baseball town “for its inches” but had too small a population to support a club.

The demise of the Bingos created a league controversy. Sporting Life reported in its August 1 issue that Binghamton’s games against the teams remaining in the League would count only if a replacement for the Bingos were found. This stand, consistent with the IL constitution, drew the ire of Syracuse, which had defeated Binghamton in 10 of 12 meetings. The Stars, previously hurt when Oswego disbanded, threatened to withdraw from the league should their wins against the Bingos be removed from the standings. A meeting was scheduled for August 30 in Buffalo and, as the September 7 Sporting Life headlined: “Syracuse Wins — Binghamton’s Games to Count.” Rochester, Wilkes-Barre, Newark and Jersey City joined with Syracuse in a 5-4 vote which allowed the games with Binghamton to count, despite the fact that no replacement franchise was found.

The Bingos did re-appear on September 9, with only Ely and pitcher Green remaining from the IL club. The new-look team lost 6-3 to Elmira. In the IL, Toronto won 22 of its last 26 games to capture the pennant. The final standings:

 

  W-L Pct. GB
Toronto 65-36 .653
Buffalo 63-40 .612 3
Syracuse 61-40 .604 4
Newark 59-39 .602 4.5
Hamilton 58-42 .580 6.5
Jersey City 48-49 .495 15
Rochester 49-52 .485 16
BINGHAMTON 27-46 .370 24
Scranton 19-55 .257 32.5
Wilkes-Barre (Utica) 26-75 .257 39
Oswego 3-22 .120 38

 

The Binghamton team stole 179 bases, scored seven runs a game, and ranked ninth with a .304 team average. The Bings also ranked ninth in fielding percentage (.893), committing 343 errors, or about 4½ a game. Individually, pitcher Green won 14 games and hurled the team’s two shutouts.

This look back on the 1887 Binghamton Bingos serves as yet another confirmation of the often frustrating maxim “things never change.” Certainly baseball has improved its relationship with the black athlete — perhaps one should be merely grateful for Branch Rickey breaking the half-century old color line, and not question his motives. Certainly many former Negro League players feel today that Rickey’s main reason for signing Jackie Robinson was to lure black fans into Ebbets Field.

But, in other areas, it seems as if 100 years has changed very little. Milt West, earning a fraction of what today’s long-term contract big leaguers make, still could be suspended for “indifferent play.” Big salaries were a concern then, as now. Sporting Life used the Peoria Reds for “a sample of the tremendous increase in player salaries” that was occurring in 1887. Fan violence, supposedly a malady of today’s “permissive society,” plagued the `87 Bings. And, perhaps most poignantly for present day Binghamton baseball fans, this note on the prospects for a team in 1888 in the October 7, 1887 Daily Leader: “Binghamton will have a team.. .if somebody can be found to go behind and push the darned thing.” That “somebody” was found in 1888 and Binghamton had baseball, almost continuously for 80 years. Today, out of organized baseball since 1968, Binghamton is once again looking for someone to push the darned thing. Some things never do change.

© SABR. All Rights Reserved