The Mattapoisett Museum fits a lot about local history in its small, former-church space on Church Street. On June 15, the museum expanded that education with a detailed Zoom presentation on the early roots of American baseball.
Historian and “The Folklorist” television show host John Horrigan revealed that the Northeast and New England had a lot of influence on what baseball is today.
Baseball evolved from a variety of bat-and-ball games played in England prior to the mid-18th century. However, the modern rules for baseball as we know them were developed in the 1840s in New York by the Knickerbocker and Gotham clubs, made up, according to Horrigan, “of merchants, brokers and salesmen whom were at liberty after 3 pm.”
In 1857, baseball enthusiast Edward G. Saltzman (and former second baseman for the Gothams) brought the game to New England when he moved to Boston from New York. In Dedham in 1858, he established what were known as the (short-lived) Massachusetts rules for the game and the first New England ball club, the MA Association of Baseball Players and its “Tri-Town Mountain Team.”
With no opposing teams geographically available, the Tri-Town Mountains played against each other. That is, until the first baseball game played in New England happened in 1958 against a Portland, Maine, baseball club on the Boston Common.
The popularity of the New York rules outgrew the slightly different Massachusetts rules, and by September of 1859, there were 16 baseball clubs in Massachusetts using the former, more popular baseball rules.
In 1867, the Lowell Boston Baseball Club formed. The Harvard Club, baseball’s first collegiate team, formed and played the first collegiate baseball game ever versus Yale in 1868. On January 20, 1871, the Boston Red Stockings formed and won their league championships in 1872, ’73, ’74 and ’75.
In 1876, the National League formed to oppose the American league to which the Boston team belonged. The Red Stockings won the first “National Association of Baseball” Championship in 1877 and again in 1878.
Among New England’s first baseball parks, the South End (Boston) grounds at Walpole Street and Columbus Avenue opened in 1888; it was the game’s first double-decker stadium. Then the Huntington Avenue Grounds were built nearby at the former circus grounds where Northeastern University’s Nickerson Field now stands. It later became known as Boston Braves Field (part of the Braves Field bleacher construction is still evident at Nickerson.) The South End Grounds, which were twice reconstructed, were demolished by a fire in May 1894.
The first World Series started on May 5, 1904, between what was then the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The first four games were in Boston at the Huntington Avenue Grounds with Cy Young himself pitching for Boston. The next four games were played in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, at the Pirates’ home park, and the last game that won Boston the championship was played back in Boston.
From 1907-1919, the Boston team’s name evolved from the Americans to the Doves to the Rustlers to the Braves to the Red Sox. The infamous Black Sox scandal in which the Chicago White Sox conspired to fix the World Series was planned on September 1919 at what is now the Buckminster Hotel in Kenmore Square, Boston.
Toward the end of his presentation, Horrigan corrected the record on Babe Ruth’s sale to the New York Yankees in January of 1920. He said his research reveals that “My Lady Friends” (debuting in December 1919) not “No, No Nanette” as is widely believed, was the Broadway play that the Red Sox owner funded by trading Ruth to New York.
For a link to this presentation and information on any of the museum’s other programs, visit mattapoisettmuseum.org.
By Michael J. DeCicco