The Baseball Race Riot of 1869

Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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10 Responses

  1. Burt Likko says:

    I’m sorry. Having a hard time getting past this and I know the thrust of the piece is elsewhere.

    35-17 is a football score, not a baseball score.Report

    • It was a plausible baseball score in the 1860s. Scores occasionally ran into the triple digits, though only when a good club was slaughtering some village innocents. (In other words, a score of 105-5 is much less surprising than would be 105-88.) The Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869 beat the New York Mutuals by a score of 4-2, and it was considered the wonder of the age. It actually turned out to be a harbinger. Scores dropped down to modern levels in the early-to-mid 1870s due to a deader ball, improvements in fielding techniques and loosened restrictions on the pitching delivery. (Not coincidentally, the curve ball as a mainstream thing kicks in about 1875.) The Powers that Be have maintained scoring levels ever since by tweaking the rules as necessary. 35-17 would be on the high side in 1869 for two good clubs, but Savannah and Carolina were not good clubs. They were amateur clubs from, in the baseball perspective, the far end of nowhere.Report

      • Well, the boat trip to play the game, the community picnic, the brass marching band, and the feasting after the game all sounded quite grand regardless of the score.

        Until you revealed the unsavory and ambiguous racial politics of the situation, that is. After that, not so much.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Back then, weren’t pitchers required to throw underhand with a “locked” elbow… essentially making them slow pitch softball pitchers? My understanding was that the pitcher wasn’t seen as part of the defense as much as his job was to set up the hitters to hit and the defenders to defend.Report

        • Richard Hershberger in reply to Kazzy says:

          More or less. It is clear that some pitchers were pushing the limits of the delivery restrictions: especially, at this point, that straight-arm part (which was copied from cricket bowling). Some pitchers were doing what was called an “underhand throw” and were rarely called on it. Some were also starting to make curve balls work.

          None of these advanced pitching techniques were dreamed of out in the boonies. For a game like this one, slow-pitch softball is likely a good approximation.Report

  2. Kazzy says:

    “Izzard responded “in a sulky manner” and words ended up being exchanged. The policeman then arrested Izzard.”

    You sure that wasn’t from yesterday’s paper?Report

  3. Fine article, Richard, except for the part abut the baseball teams being “white Southerners of the gentry class.”
    The names of the 9 Savannah team members in this game are known, and were published in the Charleston Courier July 27, 1869. My research on early Savannah ballplayers indicates the following:
    George G. Kimball was born in 1843 in ME, died 1923, attended Bowdoin (ME) College.
    William Forrestal May (1845-1920) was born in CT.
    “Flanders”–only Flanders in 1870 Savannah a mulatto
    Edwin L. Beard was born in NY c. 1840.
    Peter S. Neidlinger (1853-97) was a Ga-born clerk in Savannah.
    Peter Schaefer (1841-1902) was born in Germany.
    Charles Rossignol (bc 1850) was born in GA, as was William Nungezer Nichols (1852-1930)
    Frank Wagner Dasher (1852-88) was born in GA, of NY parents.

    From the above, it’s pretty clear that the team was not made up of “white southerners of the gentry class’ but mostly of transplants.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Bruce Allardice says:

      Thanks, Bruce, for the tip. I was fooled by the presence of General Anderson in the party. Also (though not mentioned in this piece) members of the Savannah Boat Club, which seems to have been boating in the rowing rather than the sailing sense. Either way, a sporting activity usually associated with the leisure class. Upon reflection, I made a sloppy extrapolation: one of those unexamined assumptions that will sneak up when least expected.

      I see from their ages that most of them were old enough to have fought in the war. Have you tracked down what they did there?

      This makes the composition of the Savannah Club more complicated and more interesting, but my initial reaction is that the context of race politics is unchanged.Report

  4. The Savannahs won 35-17, which was a perfectly plausible score at that time.

    Alabama beat Wisconsin by that score just last year.Report