Whispering Pines: “Striker to the Nine!” (Batter up!)

In his monthly “Whispering Pines” essay, John R. Cross ’76 provides color commentary for an 1861 Bowdoin ballgame.

The last half of the major league baseball season brings into sharper focus the potential obstacles that must be overcome and the mathematical contingencies that must be satisfied for a team to reach the playoffs and the World Series. It’s easy to let statistics, who’s on the disabled list, and competitive juices crowd out the joy of playing or watching people play a game simply for the fun of it. Baseball’s origins predate the Civil War, and there is a growing following for baseball played by either the “New England” or “New York” versions of the 1860 rules. The 1860 rules called for the hurler (pitcher) to deliver the ball in an underhand toss to the place where the striker (batter) requested it. Foul balls were not called strikes, and balls were not called at all. A striker was dead (out) after three swings and misses or if a batted ball was caught in the air or on one bounce in fair or foul territory. The ball (brown or off-white and sewn from lemon-segment pieces rather than the two figure-8 pattern of a modern baseball) was furnished by the challenging team and became the property of the winner. No gloves were used. The bat could be no thicker than 2 ½” in diameter. Rule changes in 1880 brought baseball closer to the modern game.

The 1885 Bowdoin baseball team.

The first intercollegiate baseball game was played between Amherst and Williams in 1859 (won by Amherst 73-32). A little more than a year later, on September 29, 1860, baseball came to Bowdoin, when the nines from the junior and senior classes played the first recorded game on the Delta (a field now occupied by Sills Hall, Smith Auditorium, Cleaveland Hall, Druckenmiller Hall, the Hatch Science Library, and Kanbar Hall). The juniors won 23 to 13. On October 10, 1860, the seniors played a town team, the Sunrise Club, at the Topsham Fairgrounds in a close game, won by the Sunrise Club 46 to 42. The bat had been turned on a lathe by hardware store owner John Furbish (brother of noted botanical illustrator Kate Furbish) on the day of the game. The names of the players on both teams were inscribed on the bat, which became the property of the Sunrise Club. According to research by Dan Dorman ’65, the bat was donated to the Pejepscot Historical Society, which in turn loaned it to the College, where it was displayed for many years. The bat was returned to the historical society in 1995. It may be the oldest documented baseball bat known.

Less than a month after the 1861 nine played the Sunrise Club, Abraham Lincoln was elected to his first term as President of the United States. In January of 1861 federal forts and arsenals were seized in several southern states, and by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration in March of 1861, seven states had seceded from the Union and Jefferson Davis (H’1858) had been inaugurated as provisional president of the Confederate States of America. The Class of 1861 graduated on August 7 into a nation at war. Twenty-three of the 63 members of the class (37%) served with the Union; two members fought for the Confederacy. Here’s how the Bowdoin line-up fared in the years after their graduation.

An undated photo looking Southwest over the baseball field on the Delta.

Pitcher: Edwin Emery, 1836-1895, (Sanford, Maine), enlisted in the 17th Maine Volunteers as a substitute for a friend. As a color bearer he was wounded twice at the Battle of the Wilderness and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was a principal of high schools in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, and for 23 years was an instructor of cadets at the United States Marine Revenue Service (the forerunner to the Coast Guard).

Catcher: Albion Henry Johnson, 1840-1923, (Vienna, Maine) attended Bangor Theological Seminary and Andover Theological Seminary. He was a minister for churches in Maine, California, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

First base: Philenthius Cleaveland Wiley, 1840-1877, (Bethel, Maine) graduated from the Medical College of Maine and became a physician in his hometown of Bethel. He drowned in 1877 when his boat overturned on Lake Umbagog as he was returning from a medical visit.

Second base: Albion Howe, 1840-1873, (Jacksonville, Florida) was mustered into the U.S. Army in 1863 as a lieutenant in the 14th New York Heavy Artillery. He remained in the Army after the war, and was killed during the Modoc Indian War in 1873 in Oregon. The Centurion stained glass window above the front door of the Chapel was given in his memory by his brother, Lucien Howe of the Class of 1870, a prominent ophthalmologist.

A Bowdoin baseball game circa 1891.

Third base: Sidney Michael Finger, 1837-1896, (Lincoln Co., North Carolina) enlisted in the 11th North Carolina Infantry and was promoted to major in the Quartermaster Corps of the Confederate States Army. After the war he was principal of Catawba High School in Newton, North Carolina, was elected to the State Legislature and Senate, and became Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of North Carolina.

Shortstop: Edward Payson Loring, 1837-1894, (Norridgewock, Maine) joined the 13th Maine Volunteers in 1861 as a lieutenant and was promoted to captain in the heavy artillery in 1863, major in the U.S. Colored Troops, and was brevetted a lieutenant colonel in 1865. After the war he practiced law in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and served two terms in the Massachusetts Legislature and one in the Massachusetts State Senate.

Left field: Grenville Mellen Thurlow, 1838-1909, (Poland, Maine) taught school in Bath and became the head of Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, Maine. In 1881 he embarked on a career in manufacturing that took him to Boston, Newport, and Providence.

Center field: Gordon Merrill Hicks, 1835-1908, (North Yarmouth, Maine) taught at schools in Pownal, Bristol, and Paris, Maine, before being admitted to the Bar of Knox County. He practiced law for forty years and was Judge of the Municipal Court in Rockland, Maine.

Right field: George Eastman Stubbs, 1839-1909, (Strong, Maine), received an M.D. degree from Harvard in 1863, and was a surgeon with the U.S. Army and U.S. Volunteers during the Civil War. He was physician in Cincinnati and Philadelphia for many years and was a professor at the Medico-Chirurgical College in Philadelphia.

As major league baseball prepares for the latest installment of the World Series this fall, Bowdoin and Brunswick will share in the 150th anniversary of a friendly town-gown game, a modest celebration of sportsmanship and play for the sake of play. I like to think that the players on the Class of 1861 nine drew on their memories of the October 10 game for temporary relief from the trials and pressures they faced in their own lives.

With best wishes,

John R. Cross ’76
Secretary of Development and College Relations

Comments

  1. cpotholm says:

    fascinating John, what a great job of research. thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. Robert Hamlin '56 says:

    John,

    Thanks. Great piece of nostalgia. Reminds me of my early days of married life when 10 couples would get together on Memorial Day and have a softball game…adults vs. children. The first few years the adults dominated but it was all in good fun. Then the children got older and it became very competitive but still many laughs. Then the children dominated and we stopped getting together after 14 years. But all ten couples have remained good friends over the years as have many of the children. Great memories.

  3. Charles Ranlett '54 says:

    John,
    A great article. A number of small city teams in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois play under the old rules you describe. Their games are great fun to watch. At one park, Deep River, Indiana, it is an “out” if the ball hits the US flag suspended on the wall of an old barn in short right field. A team from Fremont, Ohio plays on the grounds of the President Rutherford Hayes estate on the outskirts of that city.

  4. I enjoyed your article. I am a retired high school teacher from british columbia who enjoys the game of baseball. A Bowdoin baseball player is fellow countryman.

Trackbacks

  1. […] On this day in 1860, Bowdoin played its first baseball game. […]

Leave a Comment

*