America's National Game/Chapter 6
THE FIRST BASE BALL TOUR—VISIT OF THE BROOKLYN EXCELSIORS TO CENTRAL AND WESTERN NEW YORK—REMARKABLE CHAIN OF VICTORIES—THE FIRST BASE BALL ROW.
THE first recorded tour made by any Base Ball organization grew out of the series played between picked nines from the New York and Brooklyn quartets. Following the Fashion Course games of 1858, Base Ball clubs began to increase with great rapidity throughout the Atlantic States. Every city of considerable size soon had its team or teams of ball players. Interest in their prowess was manifested by larger attendance at matches between clubs of the same city, and by the multiplication of clubs everywhere. Now interest to know how the playing of nines of one city compared with that of teams of others began to develop.
Up to this time not much attention had been given to field sports in this country. Horse-racing was in vogue at all large places and in smaller cities in certain sections; but golf, lawn tennis, cricket, lacrosse and other games of the kind were without favor, save as here and there English and Scotch residents indulged in the national sports of Great Britain.It was apparent now, however, that a new era had dawned in America, and while Base Ball had not yet earned the right to be denominated our national game, it was forging ahead with rapid strides toward the goal of that distinction. It was quite natural that especial interest in the game should center in Brooklyn, the home of that splendid quartet comprising the Excelsiors, the Atlantics, the Putnams and Eckfords. But these were not all the Brooklyn clubs, by any means. Junior organizations had been formed in that city during the years in which their seniors were winning laurels, and before 1860 the older clubs were glad enough to find recruits for their ranks from strong players who were being developed in the minor organizations. In 1859, the Stars and Enterprise Clubs, both juniors, had been drawn upon by the Excelsiors, who profited greatly in securing several players, among them, from the Stars, James Creighton, afterwards famous as a pitcher.
The year 1860 saw the first tour of an organized Base Ball club, in the visit of the Excelsiors, of Brooklyn, to several cities in Central and Western New York. The trip is memorable, not alone as the first Base Ball tour, but because of its very remarkable record of victories.
The tour was made under the management of Captain J. B. Leggett. The team consisted of a trained nine from the Excelsiors, of Brooklyn. The first city visited was Albany, for which place they left on June 30th, 1860. On July 2d they met the champion nine of the capital city, defeating them in a nine innings game, the score of which was 24 to 6. The following day, July 3d, they encountered the Victory Club, of Troy, and again won, this time by a score of 13 to 7 in a full game. Taking train from Troy, after their victory there, the Excelsiors went to Buffalo, and on July 5th engaged the strong team of the Niagara Club. The score was 50 to 19, with victory on the banners of the visitors. This was the highest score that had ever been recorded in a Base Ball match up to that date, and, as games were measured in those days, it was regarded as a very fine exhibition of ball playing on both sides.
This record of consecutive victories, the tidings of which were flashed over the State, created a profound sensation, and bred a strong desire on the part of lovers of the game in every city having a team to see the invincible Excelsiors. Per consequence, invitations, which could not be accepted, came pouring in upon the victors from all points of the compass. Another effect of this first missionary tour in the interests of the game was to cause the formation of clubs in many places where none had theretofore existed.
From this time on the tour was one of triumphal ovations. The Niagaras, of Buffalo, took their guests over to the Falls, and entertained them at a fine banquet at the Clifton House, on the Canadian side. Returning from Buffalo, they played the Flour City nine at Rochester, July 7th, winning by a score of 21 to 1. Next day they met the Rochester Live Oaks, whom they defeated, 27 to 9. Stopping at Newburgh-on-the-Hudson, July 11th, they added another victory to their chain by a score of 59 to 14, in this game surpassing their large total in the Buffalo match.
Always and everywhere on this great journey of conquest the Excelsiors were the recipients of most gracious hospitality, a true sportsmanlike spirit possessing the hosts in every city visited. Moreover, at all points the game received fresh impetus, new clubs were organized, and word canie from all over the State that Base Ball matches were being scheduled as never before.
Encouraged by the success of their trip through Western New York, the Excelsiors turned toward the South, and later, in July, 1860, took a trip in that direction, crossing the States of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. The first contest was with a picked nine from all the clubs of Baltimore. It came off July 22d, and was a repetition of the story of former experiences, the score being 51 to 6 in favor of the Excelsiors. True Southern hospitality marked the treatment of the Excelsiors at Baltimore. The day closed with a fine banquet at Guy's Hotel.
Returning, the Excelsiors stopped at Philadelphia, where, on July 24th, they played a nine composed of all the best players of the Quaker City, including the Olympics, the Athletics, the Winonas, the Equities, the United Base Ball Club and the Benedicts. The game was played on the old Camaco Woods Cricket Grounds and attracted a large attendance. The Excelsiors won by 15 to 4. Like the New York tour, this trip had a tremendous influence in promoting interest in the game in a new quarter. Upon their return, the Excelsiors found awaiting them an invitation from Boston, which they were compelled, reluctantly, to decline until a later date.On July 20th, 1860, while resting on laurels won on their trip through New York—and before their Southern tour—the Excelsiors met the Brooklyn Atlantics. This fine team had been their old time conquerors; but, flushed with their recently acquired string of victories, the Excelsiors felt that they might take their former rivals into camp. They had been greatly strengthened by the accession to their ranks of James Creighton, the star pitcher of the time, and other recruits from minor clubs. And so it came about that, in this first match game with their old adversary, the Excelsiors found no trouble in winning, the score standing 23 to 4. The crowd in attendance at this game numbered fully 2,000 spectators. The game was played on the new grounds of the Excelsiors. It was the prestige of this victory over the Atlantics, rather than their achievements in contests with less prominent clubs on the trip to Buffalo and return, that gave to the Excelsiors so much of notoriety on their visit to the South.
On the home-coming of the Excelsiors from Baltimore and Philadelphia, arrangements were made for the return match with the Atlantics, on the Atlantic Club Grounds. The game was played on August 10th, 1860. It was believed by most people interested in the contest that the Excelsiors had a "walk-away," and this opinion was strengthened when, at the end of the third innings, the score stood 8 to 0 in favor of that club; but the Atlantics were not yet beaten. In spite of the positive belief of the great throng that the Excelsiors were invincible, the Atlantics played that game with sublime courage and faith. At the end of the sixth innings, while the Excelsiors were still leading, the Atlantics had changed the score from 8 to 0 to 12 to 6. Then came one of those surprises peculiar to the game, and which gives always the assurance that the contest is not ended until the last man is out. The Atlantics in the seventh innings found the redoubtable Creighton for five clean hits, yielding nine runs and giving them a lead which the Excelsiors were unable to change. The final score was 15 to 14 in favor of the Atlantics. Thus ended a hitherto unbroken succession of victories, dating from the beginning of the Excelsiors' remarkable tour through New York.
The great rivals were now even in the race for championship honors of Brooklyn. Each had one game of the series. The next contest must decide the question of club supremacy. Interest in the result became intense. It was not confined to Brooklyn, but extended to all neighboring cities and villages. Under the agreement regulating the series of games, it was provided that the third game should be played upon neutral grounds. The new grounds of the Putnams, having just received their finishing touches, furnished just the requisite conditions. After a lapse of two weeks, namely, on August 23d, 1860, the final meeting took place.
The intense feeling of partisanship that had been engendered by the preceding contests increased as the time for the last game drew near, until it had become very bitter. It permeated all grades of society. Schoolboys, clerks, merchants, manufacturers, workingmen, and members of all the learned professions were profoundly interested. This would have been well enough, but, unfortunately, in those days all Eastern cities were noted for their utterly uncontrollable elements of thugs, gamblers, thieves, plug-uglies and rioters. Of these both New York and Brooklyn had more than their full quotas. It happened that public sympathy, as expressed in the views of the disorderly members of society, was strongly in favor of the Atlantics. They proposed that the Atlantics should win the deciding game of the series, and were on the grounds in large numbers for the purpose of securing a result to their liking, either by fair means or otherwise.
The Atlantics repudiated, but could not control, their belligerent partisans. Early in the game the actions of the disorderly among the spectators threatened trouble. Betting had been widely indulged in, and the class to which bettors belonged, and that never was particularly scrupulous in its acts, in this game, when the Excelsiors took the lead at the start, winning five runs to one for the Atlantics, began to show bad temper. At the close of the fourth the Excelsiors were still in the lead, by 8 to 4. From this time on the toughs began a crusade of black-guardism that became so unbearable as the game progressed that at the end of the sixth innings, with the score standing 8 to 6 in favor of his team, Captain Leggett, of the Excelsiors, took his players from the field, saying, as they entered the six-horse stage:
"Here, O'Brien, is the ball. You can keep it."
O'Brien replied, "Will you call it a draw?"
"As you please," responded the gentlemanly captain.
And thus ended the contest, for from that day to the date of disbandment of both clubs, in 1871, they never played together again.
This game saw the first recorded row at a Base Ball match.
The Brooklyn Eagle, of February 5th, 1898, contained the following article relative to James Creighton, one of the greatest ball players of ante-bellum days:
"The stone in commemoration of Creighton faces the famous Firemen's Monument, and it would never be mistaken for anything else than the grave of a ball player. Across the face of the column, surrounded by a circle of oak leaves cut in the granite, is a design embodying a pair of bats crossed, a cap, a base and a score book, surmounted across the top by a scroll with the word "Excelsior" carved upon it. The old Excelsior Club of Brooklyn was the one with which Creighton made his reputation as a pitcher. On a level slab, just below the wreath, are carved the words: 'James Creighton, son of James and Jane Creighton, April 15, 1841; October 18, 1862.' A Base Ball, fashioned in stone, rests lightly upon the topmost pinnacle of the monument.
"Creighton's death occurred when he was twenty-one years of age, while he was still an active member of the Excelsiors. He was not only well known, but thoroughly popular among the followers of the early game, and his death came as a personal loss to every man who had been associated with him, either in the Base Ball field or in everyday life. Though he has been dead thirty-six years, Creighton's memory is still cherished by surviving members of the Excelsior Club.
"Creighton was in his day generally conceded to be the pitcher par excellence of the period. He was the first to introduce the wrist throw, or low underhand delivery, which was so puzzling to batsmen of that day. His forte was great speed and thorough command of the ball. His first appearance was as a member of the Niagara Club of this city in 1858. He was then playing second base, and J. A. Shields, U. S. Commissioner, was pitcher. He remained with the Niagaras throughout that season and the greater part of the following one, playing second base most of the time. In July, 1859, he began to loom up as a bright particular star in the Base Ball firmament. He first attracted attention as a pitcher in a game against the Star Club. Shields, the regular pitcher, was absent, and Creighton pitched so effectively that the Star Club tempted him to leave the Niagaras and join its nine, which he did, along with George H. Flanly, who had also been playing with the Niagaras.
"On September 3, 1859, the Stars met the Excelsiors on the latter's grounds in South Brooklyn, and the former won by a score of 17 to 12. On October 19, the Stars met the then famous old Atlantic nine on the Excelsior's grounds, and, after an interesting game, the Atlantics won by a score of 15 to 12. The contest was so evenly played that at the end of the seventh innings the score was a tie—11 to 11. Loose fielding, however, on the part of the Star players enabled the Atlantics to win. That season Creighton participated in six match games.
"During the following winter Creighton and Flanly joined the Excelsiors, and it was while with the latter that Creighton gained his greatest renown. In 1860 he participated in twenty match games, some of which are memorable ones. Probably the most noteworthy of these was the famous series between the Excelsiors and the Atlantics. The latter were pretty generally looked upon as being unconquerable. On May 17, 1860, the Charter Oaks defeated the Excelsiors by 12 to 11. Commissioner Shields pitched for the former and Creighton for the latter. On June 21 these clubs met again, and this time the Excelsiors won by 36 to 9. Creighton pitched for the Excelsiors and Shields for the losers. In July Creighton accompanied the Excelsiors on their great tour of victory through the State."
Under the caption, "Obsequies of a Celebrated Ball Player," the Brooklyn Eagle of October 20th, 1862, contained the following obituary:
"The circumstances of his death are very touching. In the late match with the Unions (Tuesday last) the deceased sustained an internal injury occasioned by strain while batting. After suffering for a few days, he expired on Saturday afternoon last at the residence of his father, 307 Henry Street. The remains were incased in a handsome rosewood coffin, with silver mountings, and upon a silver plate was inscribed the name, age, etc., of the deceased—'James P. Creighton, 21 years, 7 months and 2 days.'"