"Base Ball Matters"
The clubs were also generally segregated by race. The color line became official as early as 1867, when the National Association of Base Ball Players voted to deny membership to any team that included "one or more colored persons." White teams, thereafter, tended to remain all white, and African Americans were forced to form separate teams. White and African American teams did sometimes compete in matches, but most games were between either all white teams or all African American teams, although the spectators often were of both races.1
1. A good discussion about the role of early ball clubs and the color line is in the article by Ted Knorr and Calobe Jackson, Jr., "Blackball in Harrisburg." 1998 Commemorative Program: 2nd Annual Negro League Commemorative Night. Harrisburg, PA, 1998. n.p. To read Knorr and Jackson's original article, click here.
Just as baseball fans have favorite teams today, fans
in the early decades also followed favorite local clubs. As a
result, newspapers began reporting on games in their local news
sections--the sports section had not yet made an appearance--with
Harrisburg's Daily Patriot writing about local games under the
headlines "Base Ball Matters," and "The Bat and
Ball." On April 11, 1876, the Daily Patriot reported
on the first game of the season between an African American and a white
"The baseball fever has not yet broken out in earnest.
|2. All of
the articles taken from the Harrisburg Daily Patriot are from the
Pennsylvania State Archives, microfilm role 3081 (Daily Patriot,
April 11, 1876)
3. Daily Patriot, April 13, 1876.
Two days later the paper reported a similar match, with a resulting tie score of 10 to 10. It noted "The Olympics announce that they are open to challenges from any other club in the city."3 Apparently even regular season play did not yet feature a pre-determined schedule.
Two other Harrisburg African American ball clubs, the Tyroleans and the Mystics, began playing games a little later in the spring, the first on May 8, which resulted in a win for the Tyroleans. As the Patriot reported it, "The Tyroleans defeated the Mystic club (both colored) on the North street grounds, yesterday afternoon by a score of 40 to 15." A rematch was played ten days later, with the Mystics getting their revenge in a much closer game, besting the Tyroleans 22 to 17. The North Street field, where these games took place, was located in the notorious Eighth Ward, probably just east of the intersection of North and Seventh Streets.4
On June 5th, the Tyroleans won another game against the Mystics, beating them in a tight game, 2 to 1. It was not until June 7th that the Mystics played the Olympics, at an Allison Hill field. Under "Miscellany," the Patriot reported "The Mystic and Olympic nines, two colored clubs, played a match game yesterday at the Kittatinney park, the score resulting 16 to 14 in favor of the Mystic."5
4. Daily Patriot, May 9, 19, 1876 (The North Street Grounds were probably located on the northeast corner of North and Seventh. The second game was reported as being played "at the North street and Pennsylvania avenue grounds." Seventh Street, bordering the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, was for a while officially named Pennsylvania Avenue, according to Boyd's Harrisburg and Steelton Directory, 1889 edition. It identifies "Pennsylvania av(enue) or 7th st (as extending) from North...to city limits." A check with Roe's 1889 Atlas of the City of Harrisburg shows longstanding buildings on all corners of that intersection, with the only open space being on the northeast corner, just to the east of a meat packing plant.
5. Daily Patriot, June 8, 1876.
Obviously not all games between African American baseball teams were
being reported. Much column space went to coverage of games between
the local white teams, the America Club and the Harrisburg Club. It is
not known how many times the Olympic team met the Tyrolean team at this
point in the season, but by mid-June the two clubs were emerging as the game
leaders, and had become famous rivals. On June 19th, the Patriot ran a
comparatively lengthy article under the headline "Base Ball
"The friends of the Olympic and Tyrolean base ball clubs are making arrangements for a grand match of base ball for a purse of twenty-five dollars and the championship. Great rivalry exists between these clubs for superiority of playing. The Tyroleans have never been able to cope with the Olympic although their games have been hotly contested. They have recently added several new players to their nine, which tends to increase their strength and they now feel able and willing to cope with the latter named club. The Olympics having been successful in every game they have played with the several clubs in the central portion of the state, feel they are second to no club in this vicinity, and will contest the Tyroleans as soon as the arrangements for a game can be completed. Those who are desirous of witnessing a hotly contested game of base ball should not miss the proposed game between the colored nines.
This announced "grand match" featured quite a few dramatic aspects--the "great rivalry," the Tyroleans' role as underdog hoping to topple the confident Olympics, new players, and the "immense" catcher, Allen, playing for the Olympics--all which no doubt convinced the Patriot editor to devote several extra column inches to a subject which was usually only lightly covered. Of no little interest was the glory of the championship, and particularly the twenty-five dollar purse. Divided between nine men, that was $2.77 each, an amount equal to several days of pay for most laborers.7
much anticipated grand match took place on June 22nd at Union Field. It was a well attended and exciting game, as the Patriot
"An assemblage of probably four hundred spectators was present, yesterday afternoon, to witness the game between the Olympic and Tyrolean clubs (colored) at the Union grounds. The contest was for a purse of $25 and the championship. The game was a spirited one from beginning to end, and was hotly contested. The batting of the Olympics was immense, one of the batters sending his balls far beyond the seats on the rising ground on the west side of the enclosure.
True to their reputation, the Olympic club had taken the championship and the purse, but the Tyroleans were anything but beaten in spirit. The next day, under the headline "The Bat and Ball, the Patriot made this brief but tantalizing announcement: "The Tyrolean and Olympic will have another rough-and-tumble fight for the championship in a short time. The game will doubtless be an interesting one."9 If the rematch took place, it was most certainly "an interesting one," but we may never find out. The Patriot dropped coverage of the African American base ball club games in favor of the games involving the white Harrisburg and America clubs through the remainder of the season.
Patriot, June 19, 1876
7. The panic of 1873 had severely depressed wages, which steadily fell through the decade. Common laborers at the Wister Anthracite Furnace in Harrisburg were earning $1.10 per day in 1876 and the average daily wage at the Cotton Mill in 1877 was 72 cents. However neither of those businesses employed African Americans, who were usually forced to take even lower paying servant and labor jobs. (Harrisburg Industrializes, Gerald G. Eggert, 1993, p. 269-270.)
8. Daily Patriot, June 23, 1876. Thanks to Calobe Jackson, Jr. for identifying the location of this championship game. He writes "The Union field was well known. It was located at Third and Delaware and is shown on a map at Dauphin County Historical Society. The field extended from Third to Fourth Streets and was later fenced in. It was used at least until 1885." (Correspondence, Calobe Jackson, Jr. to George F. Nagle, September 24, 2003)
9. Daily Patriot, June 24, 1876.
Daily Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), April 11,1876 to July 6, 1876, newspaper microfilm, number 3081. Pennsylvania State Archives, Microfilm Reader Room, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Eggert, Gerald G., Harrisburg Industrializes: The Coming of Factories to an American Community. The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, Pennsylvania, 1993.
Knorr, Ted and Calobe Jackson, Jr. "Blackball in Harrisburg." 1998 Commemorative Program: 2nd Annual Negro League Commemorative Night. Harrisburg, PA, 1998. n.p.
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