From SABR member Randall Brown at Our Game on November 28, 2011:
(Editor’s note: This important article first appeared in the journal Base Ball, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2009. It is reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher, McFarland & Co.)
Before the Civil War, the most popular outdoor activity in New York City may have been fighting. The prize ring was popular, but rioting in streets and public squares attracted more participants. In fact, there was little distinction between professional pugilists and gang brawlers. Heavyweights like John Morrissey were also employed as “shoulder-hitters” by political gangs like the Empire Club, run by Captain Isaiah Rynders, a leading Democrat, or the Short Boys of Bill “the Butcher” Poole, hero of the Know-Nothings.
Rynders and his crew delighted in attacking abolitionist gatherings. In May 1850 they showed up in force at an antislavery convention at the Broadway Tabernacle. Speaker Frederick Douglass defused the attack by inviting a racist orator to share the platform. To the argument that Negroes were a kind of ape, Douglass, whose father was probably a slave-owner, responded:
“Captain Rynders, do you think I am a monkey?”
“Oh no,” replied Rynders, “you are half a white man.”
“Then I am half man and half monkey?”
“And half brother to Captain Rynders?”
With the audience “united in laughter and applause,” Douglass spoke his piece. It was a short-lived triumph, however.
Read part 1 of his article here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/28/blood-and-base-ball/
Parts 2 through 5 can be found at John Thorn’s Our Game blog here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com
Originally published: December 2, 2011. Last Updated: December 2, 2011.