Baseball in early Saratoga, New York
From: Reminiscences of Sratoga
Compiled by Cornelius E. Durkee
Reprinted from The Saratogian 1927-28

Baseball in Saratoga

Over half a century ago, some of the members of an athletic club in New York City conceived the idea of forming a club to play ball. At that period in England there was a game played with a ball and bat called Rounders, which was very popular but quite unlike baseball as it is played today. However, the New Yorkers adopted some of the rules of the English game, but made many changes and so baseball was invented and started in the United States.

This early club styled itself The Athletic Baseball Club and played the game at first among themselves on vacant lots and in parks, where ever players could obtain, permission to do so. At one time, they occupied grounds in Hoboken. The club was strictly an amateur one. No admission was charged at their games, and no seats were provided.

Very soon other baseball clubs were organized. One in Jersey City, another in Philadelphia. Then matches between the clubs were arranged, All were amateurs. Troy had a club, members mostly from Lansinburgh, and styled The Hay Makers. The Hay Makers became quite celebrated, going to New York and Philadelphia and other cities to play, and beat all their competitors.

Form Club Here

Finally the young men in Saratoga caught the the fever and decided to organize a club here. Lemuel S. Hardin, William H. Bockes, W. R. Winchell, who was the proprietor of a clothing store, Nathan D. Morey and brother, Robert E. Morey, proprietors of a meat market, Harlan Leggett, clerk; Frank D. Wheeler, school teacher; E. R. Stevens, Jr., merchant; Mr. Hastings, merchant; Esek Cowen, lawyer, and myself, and a few others formed the first baseball club in Saratoga Springs.

Not one of us had ever seen a game of baseball played but everyone of us bought a book of rules, published by Beadle, dime novel publisher, and studied the rules. A lot on the southeast corner of Broadway and Circular street was vacant and we obtained permission to play there. We sent to New York to Spaulding and bought a dozen regulation baseballs, and a few bats, made canvass bases and laid out the diamond, according to the plan described in the book.

Played With Books

If Saratogians of today could have seen the first few games played by the Saratoga Baseball Club I think that they would have been greatly amused. Frequently after a play had been made, every player would take his book of rules from his pocket and see what was to be the best move.

At that period, the rules were that the pitcher must “pitch the ball, underhanded” as it were. He could not throw the ball as it is done now. Few players could pitch a swift ball; so hits were frequent, and the outfielders were kept busy. If a ball was caught on the first bound, the batter would be called out. This latter rule was soon changed and the ball must be caught on the fly as it is now. The catcher stood some ways back of the batter, catching the ball on the first bound and only after two strikes had occurred would he move up near the batter and catch the ball on the fly.

In those days catchers’ masks were unknown as well as breast protectors, gloves and spiked shoes. Spit balls, curved or drop balls were not known. About 1860 a family came to Saratoga with two boys or young men from Philadelphia, Obed and Frank Coleman. They had been associated with a Philadelphia Club and were familiar with the game. They joined our club at once and proved a valuable acquisition.

Defeat Batiston

Obed Coleman had the faculty of pitching (underhanded) a very swift ball. That cut down our batting record very materially and with this addition to our club, after a month’s practice, we were emboldened to challenge a club that had been formed in Ballston, composed mostly of strong husky employees of the Ballston tannery They came to Saratoga for the game and we were badly beaten. We found that our outfield was weak and started making changes to correct this fault and also to improve our base running. We made such improvement that the next season we arranged another meeting with the Baliston club, the game to be played at Dunning street, about four miles down South Broadway. This time we beat the Ballston Club easily.

By this time, Glens Falls, Sandy Hill, now Hudson Falls, Fort Edward, Schuylerville, and even Greenfield boasted of baseball clubs. We met all of them during the season and won most of the games. We adopted a uniform, a cream colored shirt with a big S in front a black belt and cream colored trousers. With Coleman for a pitcher and Hastings or Leggett for a catcher, we felt as if we had a very strong nine but when the great Hay Makers came to Saratoga with their strong nine we went down to defeat. Later we met them for a return match and beat them, the score being 36 to 7.

Even in those amateur days, all clubs had their “rooters” and remarks from the spectators were heard as at this day: Hit the Dirt, Stick it on Him, He’s Out. He’s out a mile. You’re crazy, and Kill the Umpire.

Now at the end of the seventh inning, every spectator is supposed to stand up and stretch, but we didn’t know about that. I suppose that custom originated in England from the fact that in playing cricket at the end of the 7th period. the players rest and are served tea.

We had quite a number of Saratogians in our club. Senator E. T. Brackett joined us in play freqently. I can’t remember all of their names and I wonder if any of them are living today.

The club was kept up for several seasons, meeting other clubs in Troy, Albany, Hudson and Kingston with various successes and defeats. A new and younger generation took the place of the original members and it wasn’t till 1886 that the Saratoga Baseball Club was disbanded.


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