Baseball Fever 1866


Some discussion regarding the growth of baseball in the post Civil War period inspired some delving into New London County newspapers to see what was happening locally.  The evidence is clear that New London County caught base ball fever in 1866.

Reading through the New-London Daily Star issues for the summer and fall of 1865 only one small reference could be found.  The editor, Mr. Ruddock, had reported on a number of sail boat races and regattas, and on the 16th of June, reported considerable “interest in the college regatta which is to take place at Worcester” between Yale and Harvard.  In addition to the boat races on Friday afternoon, the glee clubs of both colleges would give a joint concert and, “Friday morning the Harvard nine will play the Yale nine at base ball.”

Moving ahead to early 1866, the Mystic Pioneer, reports on June 2, an account of a match in Worcester, “from a correspondent:” “Mr. Editor: – As the young men of Mystic are much interested in the game of base ball, I send you the particulars of the match game between the Nicean nine of Amherst College and the University nine of Brown University which was played this morning on the Agricultural Grounds.”  The score of that game was, Nicean nine 29, University nine 13.

Also included were separate reports of clubs in Bridgeport –  Pembroke, Pequonnock, and Americus clubs, the latter a new club which already had six or eight nines; plus reports of the Mutual club and the Empire club in New Haven, the Mutual club being a combination of the Union, Eagle and Active Clubs.

Later in the month, the Pioneer reported: “On Thursday afternoon the Oceanic Base Ball Club of this village played their first game with another club, and a game they will probably remember with feelings of pleasure and pride.  The club playing against them were a picked nine from the Pequot Club, of New London—a fine club, composed of young men rather above the average in respect to intelligence and refinement.  Playing commenced at a quarter past three o’clock and continued just three hours.  The playing was good, and better fielding than that of Thursday afternoon we have never seen in clubs having had so little practice.  We must give the Pequot nine credit for the best fielding, though their batting was not equal to that of the Oceanic nine.”  The score for this match was Oceanic 49  Pequot 27.

The first report found in the New London Chronicle in July, is not even about a New London club: “The first nine of the Oceanic Base Ball Club of Mystic, passed through this city Thursday morning on their way to Norwich.  They had a friendly bout with the Uncas Club of that city in the afternoon.”

The report of a match held in September was somewhat revealing: “The muffin match at Williams’ Park, Monday afternoon, between the Coporocity and the Skin and Bones Clubs, was one of the most interesting ever witnessed in this city.  (There have been but four or five played here.)  We went up to the Park to report the game, but for the life of us we couldn’t tell which was ahead.”  Score of the game Corporocity 95, Skin and Bones 56.  Time of game 3 hours, 20 minutes.

Clearly, in early 1866 not much baseball was happening in New London, yet by the fall, matches between the New London ace team, the Pequots, and the Chesters of Norwich, the Uncas of Norwich and the Oceanics of Mystic had become front page news.  In late October we find the following item in the New London Chronicle, (a weekly):

“From the Bat and Ball published at Hartford, we learn that Bridgeport has fourteen Base Ball Clubs; Danbury five, Norwalk four, Stamford two, New Milford two, Ansonia two, Derby six, Naugatuck two. – Bridgeport Standard.

“That’s nothing! We’ve got almost as many right here in New London, –among them the Eureka, Live Oaks, Enterprise, Pioneer, Continental, Liberty, Thames, Niantic, Eaglets, Mohegan, Alert, Active, Star, African, Hackman’s Boot-black, Double-headed Muffins, Gristly Bears etc.  Any of them can whip the Atlantics—in their own estimation.”

It should perhaps be pointed out that this is not little league, these were “gentlemen’s clubs” that had rented rooms in downtown buildings.  The list of players appended in some of the later articles, approximating something of a primitive box score, lists the names of ship wrights, lawyers and local businessmen.

The New-London Daily Star report of the September 5th rematch between the Pequots and the Oceanics spends more ink describing the two clubs meeting at the wharf, the accompanying Mystic Brass Band, the carriage procession to Williams Park and the supper following the game at the home of Henry P. Haven, than was spent describing the game – won by the Pequots by a score of 53 to 50.  At the close of the article Mr. Ruddock writes, “We are glad to chronicle the success of our own City Club, and wish there might be other clubs of the same kind formed in our city.  The game of Base Ball is not only an interesting and exciting one, but is healthful and invigorating to the physical system.”

The third game of the match, called the “home and home” game was played in neutral territory on the Pequonnock Plains on Saturday the 22nd and reported in the Daily Star on Monday the 24th, and in the weekly New London Chronicle on Saturday the 29th.  Both were half column articles with box scores appended – the tie breaker was won by the Oceanics 53 to 40.

By October items such as these became worthy of note in the Chronicle: “The new uniforms ordered by the Pequot Base Ball Club, are very handsome and well made.  When each member is uniformed the club will make a fine appearance.”   “At the last monthly meeting of the Pequot Base Ball Club, they were presented with a splendid set of foul-ball flags by a number of their young lady friends.  The flags are made of purple and white silk, trimmed with silver cord, with the initials ‘R.F.’ and ‘L.F.’ (right and left field).  They are attached to black walnut staffs, surmounted by tomahawks, and altogether are probably the nicest in the state.  The thanks of the club are unanimously extended to the fair donors.”  Then in the middle of October the Chronicle reports: “We learn that gentlemen in town interested in the game of base ball, are having a handsome silver-mount rosewood bat manufactured to be contended for and held as the emblems of the championship of New London County.  The conditions of play, etc., will be announced hereafter.”

The three game series between the Pequots and the Uncas club of Norwich for the championship bat, which takes place during the first half of November, are described in tones and typefaces that hadn’t been seen in these papers since the end of the War!  In the Chronicle, the first game (on Thursday) rated a full column article next to two full columns on the fire in downtown New London the previous Monday night.  Uncas won 57 to 48.  The rematch, played in Norwich was won by the Pequots 90 to 26; the Pequots had been winning 50 to 1 at the end of the third innings.  Then on the 17th the Daily Star reports in headlines at the top of the page: “Special Dispatch to the Star.  The Base Ball Match at Mystic.  The Pequots victorious.  They win the Championship Bat.  Score 44 to 20.”  On the 19th we get the full report in a two column article which is wonderfully descriptive – ground balls are termed “daisy-cutters” and fly balls are “star-startlers;” here there is also a first reference to a base-on-balls and a base on a baulk.

As we come to the close of the year, a year at the beginning of which there was no mention of baseball in New London, the New London Chronicle reports on Dec 15: “The following is a list of the clubs from the state who applied for admission to the National Base Ball Association at the conference held in New York, Wednesday: Alert, Hartford; Alert, Norwalk; Azalian, Middletown; Bridgeport, Bridgeport; Forrest City, Middletown; Howard, Hartford; Hoskanum, Manchester; Liberty, Norwalk; Monitor, Westport; Monitor, Waterbury; Marvin, Norwich Town; New Britain, New Britain; Oceanic, Mystic Bridge; Pequot, New London; Pondgrove, Fair Haven; Quinnipiac, New Haven.”

Our bound copies of The New London Chronicle are the ones that belonged to Henry P. Haven, you see his name penned above every masthead.  The numbers for late August through early September of 1866 are missing.  I have to imagine that those issues were appropriated and saved some special place by his son, Thomas W. Haven, president of the Pequot Base Ball Club.

Edward Baker1861 Rules at Fort Trumbull