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Baseball! America’s pastime has undergone several changes over the years, even down to its name. Originally viewed as a child’s game, “base ball” began its conversion to the sport of gentlemen thanks to the Knickerbocker Club of New York. In the 1840s, this club wrote down its base ball rules with the intent to distribute them. These established rules gave credibility to the sport due to their detailed, well-constructed layout.
Base Ball in Michigan: 1857-1865
While there had been teams that played a hybrid version of base ball in Michigan, the first regulation team was founded in 1857 in Detroit. The Franklin Club did little else in Michigan’s base ball history, but their creation seemed to spark an interest in the Detroit populace. On May 25, 1859, the Detroit Base Ball Club was created. Other Detroit teams – the Early Risers and the second incarnation of the Franklin Club – popped up almost immediately. Indeed, base ball was spreading all over Michigan at a rapid rate. This spread was curtailed by another event sweeping the country: the Civil War. Clubs began losing members to military regiments and through the four years of war, play was limited.
World’s Base Ball Tournament
In the wake of the Civil War, base ball experienced a huge resurgence all over Michigan, with dozens of clubs springing up across the state. Maintaining its prominence within the burgeoning base ball scene was the Detroit Base Ball Club, who began challenging and often easily beating other competition within the state. This gave the base ball club an idea to arrange a great base ball tournament in Michigan. The club declined to participate in the tournament themselves so that “no dissatisfaction may ensue.” They did offer to play the winner for a special $100 prize.
Teams from Canada and Pennsylvania joined what was being called the World’s Base Ball Tournament. From August 13 to 18 of 1867, twenty-four clubs battled it out for honor and prizes. Finally, the Unknown Club of Jackson, Michigan won the tournament over the Allegheny Club of Allegheny, Pennsylvania. However, the Detroit Base Ball Club did not play the Unknowns for the special prize. While the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune called them “a blubbering schoolboy who…after winning largely, refused to play any more,” the Jackson Citizen asserted that the Detroiters were upset due to losing money by betting on the opposing team. This and other complaints marred the festivities and the spirit of the game for several clubs.
“We lost sight…when we began to have an itching for foreign aid.”
Sadly, the World’s Base Ball Tournament was the beginning of the end for amateur base ball in Michigan. By 1869, the first openly professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was traveling throughout the country, playing amateur clubs and beating them handily. Inspired by the dominance of the Red Stockings, Michigan base ball clubs that could afford it began soliciting players. Teams that couldn’t afford the price of players or still stubbornly adhered to the old standards were wiped out. The Detroit Base Ball Club was among the casualties.
Today, the spirit of vintage base ball is alive and well in Michigan, thanks to efforts by the Vintage Base Ball Association and other groups. Even Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources has gotten into the act, fielding three different teams! With games, tournaments, and an annual championship, the “manly and athletic game of ‘base ball’” continues to provide clean fun for people of all ages around the state.
Come see “The Old Ball Game” – a special exhibit at the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing. It will be on display until September 16.
Local Vintage Base Ball Events:
Toledo War Days – On July 23, 2011, a vintage base ball game will be played between the Wood County Inmates of Ohio and the Department of Natural Resources’s Walker Wheels at Walker Tavern!
Fort Mackinac Never Sweats Take on Bay City Independents – Also on July 23, the Fort Mackinac Never Sweats will be playing the Bay City Independents on the large parade ground behind Fort Mackinac!
Sources for above article:
Morris, Peter. Baseball Fever: Early Baseball in Michigan. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003.
Detroit Free Press, August 13-19, 1867.
Detroit Advertiser and Tribune, August 14-20, 1867.
The Detroit Post, April 7, 1868
For more information on Vintage Base Ball:
“These Teams Play The Vintage Game” – The Department of Natural Resources Base Ball Teams
Vintage Base Ball Association Clubs – Lists the twenty-two Michigan base ball teams registered with the association.