The 1903 Hudson River League

This article was written by Vern Luse

This article was published in the 1979 Baseball Research Journal


In 1903, one of the more prominent citizens of Poughkeepsie, New York, was William A. McCabe. McCabe, the Chief of Police and “tenement” investor, had been a professional baseball player with the 1886 Poughkeepsie team in the old Hudson River League, primarily at second base, and had sponsored semi-professional teams in Poughkeepsie since the mid-1890’s. McCabe had been acquainted with J. H. Farrell, President of the New York State League and Secretary of the National Association, for many years. In mid-March, McCabe and Farrell called a meeting “for the purpose of forming a league.”

Working closely with these men was Henry D. Ramsey, a long-time minor league player and manager, who had been retained by the Kingston stock company as its manager for 1903. On March25 and again on April 1, meetings were held which resulted in forming the Hudson River Baseball League for 1903. Franchises were taken up by Ossining, Newburgh, Hudson and Saugerties, as well as Kingston and Poughkeepsie. Elected President was McCabe, Secretary was Ramsay, and Treasurer was Col. H. D. Claflin of Saugerties. Application was made to the National Association for the Class C classification; admission was received on May 5.

Ramsay, the Secretary, was delegated to formulate a schedule. The response to his initial effort was symptomatic of the entire season-the schedule was rejected because it provided an “unfair share” of Saturday dates to Kingston. Finally, a new schedule was approved which opened on May 21 and closed September 19. Managers were McCabe, at Poughkeepsie, Ramsay at Kingston, August Schnack at Hudson, W. Merritt at Newburgh, and Keeney at Saugerties. W. L. Evans was owner/manager of the Ossining team.

Opening day at the brand-new Poughkeepsie ball grounds was deferred to May 28 because the skinned diamond was not completed. Instead Poughkeepsie opened at Newburgh, using Ernest Linderman, of Hoboken, as pitcher. This very first game of the season was protested-Linderman was on the Toledo (American Association) reserve list and was unable to acquire his release. The league president (McCabe!) threw out the protest on the grounds that the Poughkeepsie management was unaware of Linderman’s status.

As the season progressed, dissatisfaction with the umpiring mounted. In spite of frequent levying of $5 fines on rowdy players, umpires were under such pressure that all the original umpires had resigned by June 21. At a league meeting held June 21, McCabe and Ramsay resigned their league offices and C. S. Harvey, who resigned that day as umpire, was elected President. McCabe’s letter of resignation, quoted in the Poughkeepsie Eagle, spoke to the criticisms of the umpires-by players, management and newspapers-and his reluctance to serve longer. In fact, the Newburgh paper had taken to calling McCabe by the cognomen “Bad Bill,” because of his managerial protests to the umpires. Ramsay, at Kingston, and Evans, at Ossining, were also highlighted as bad actors, while even the Eagle characterized the Hudson aggregation as “gentlemen.”

On the field, Kingston had jumped off to an early lead, with Hudson, Saugerities and Poughkeepsie staying close. Newburgh and Ossining played close games, but were consistent losers. From June 22 through July 12, Hudson ran off a string of 12 straight wins and took over the lead, while Poughkeepsie kept slipping down toward Newburgh, in fifth place. ByJuly 28, however, Kingston recovered the lead, although Hudson hung close down to the end of the season. Ossining’s record slipped from 11-11 on June 25 to 14-29 on July 24, with a corresponding loss of fans. Catskill, an early potential franchise holder, agreed to take over the franchise with the support of the local electric railway which built a new park adjacent to the electric line. Evans remained manager, but gave up some of his ownership prerogatives.

Fred W. Valentine, manager of a semi-professional team at Peekskill, had been one of the early supporters of the idea of a Hudson Valley League. However, Peekskill had decided that playing five or six games a week would require that their players become fully professional-leaving their “lucrative positions”-so they had played independently. However, independent exhibitions had proven to be unsuccessful, financially. Valentine applied for admission to the League and was accepted as the seventh team as of August 2. This was very unusual to have a league increase in size in the course of a season. At that time Poughkeepsie had a 21-24 record, and Peekskill was credited with that same record. The beefed-up Peekskill team played its first game on August 11, and, through the remainder of the season, played at a 27-15 clip. Curiously, this .643 pace would have been good for third place behind Kingston’s .677 and Hudson’s .656. As official standings show, even with the 2 1-24 handicap, Peekskill’s final 48-39 .565 record stood third.

The quality of baseball clearly improved during the season. Early on, games with five or more errors per team were frequent, while errorless games became sufficiently common as to warrant no comment late in the season. As far as can be determined, only three major leaguers played in the league during 1903-James Dygert, a rookie pitcher with Poughkeepsie, Arthur DeGroff, a fast centerfielder with Saugerties and Kingston, and Dennis “Dan” Brouthers, at age 45 still a dangerous hitter whenever he played first base with Poughkeepsie, known as the Giants. Brouthers was a resident of Wappinger Falls, a village near Poughkeepsie, and reportedly found great difficulty in “getting in condition.” Apparently he could still “crush” the ball; in a game at Ossining, he was noted as having been cheated by the umpire when he hit the ball over the fence and was credited only with a single. The Poughkeepsie Eagle believed it should have been credited as a two-base hit!

One no-hit game was pitched during the season, by James Berger, of Hudson, against Ossining on July 7. The one triple play was turned by Newburgh against Poughkeepsie on July 24-with Brophy and Brouthers on base, McQuade lined to right-fielder Sullivan who, after a circus catch, threw to first-baseman Alfy Williams, who relayed to second-baseman Billy Shufelt.

The 1903 Hudson River League season is remarkable for the playing of the first known mid-season All-Star game. On August 17, the stars, called the All-Leaguers, defeated Poughkeepsie by a score of 7 to 0 before a capacity crowd. Demonstrating Kingston’s dominance in the league, five of the stars were from the Kingston Colonials, with one each from Catskill, Peekskill, Hudson and Saugerties. The Newburgh Hillsides were unrepresented.

As the season came to its final stages, the heavy incidence of rainouts produced a large number of double-headers. So many games would have been lost that the season was extended one week, through September 27. Even so, almost every day in September there was at least one doubleheader. The season was climaxed by the Hudson-Poughkeepsie QUADRUPLE-header played on September 20. In the morning double-header, Hudson won 2-1 and 6-4, and in the afternoon, 3-1 and 4-2. Bingham and Sewall each lost two games for Poughkeepsie, while Donaghue and Berger won in the morning and Donnelly pitched two winners in the afternoon for Hudson. Peekskill had previously won three games in a day-a morning victory from Poughkeepsie, and twin victories over Catskill, all on September 7.

Although the Hudson River League had to survive bad weather, unskilled management and other problems, the league was reasonably successful, with Peekskill and Ossining/Catskill the only heavy financial losers. Although McCabe lost money, much of his loss was traceable to the capital investment in the new ball grounds. The league expanded into New Jersey in 1904 with the addition of Paterson’s “Intruders,” and survived into the 1907 season.

Final Standings:

 

Ki

Hu

Pe

Sa

Po

Ne

Os

Ca

 

 

 

Kingston

7

3

10

15

13

7

8

63

30

0.677

Hudson

11

2

11

13

11

5

10

63

33

0.656

Peekskill

4

5

4

7

3

0

4

48

39

0.565

Saugerties

6

9

4

6

12

4

7

48

47

0.505

Poughkeepsie

1

5

1

9

10

8

5

39

51

0.433

Newburgh

5

4

3

7

7

5

6

37

54

0.407

Ossining

2

3

0

4

2

3

14

29

0.308

Catskill

1

0

2

2

1

2

8

40

 

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