Sunday, December 28, 2014

Baseball and Michael John Smith

In 1870, a 15-year-old boy named Michael John Smith wrote a short composition for his school. He titled it "A Base Ball Match":

Last Summer, I took a walk with my comrade to a large base ball yard belonging to the Athletic base ball club of this city at Columbia Avenue and Seventeenth street with the determination of seeing a grand match game of base ball between the celebrated Mutuals of New York City and the Athletics of this City. A large concourse of spectators assembled at the Athletic's ground in order to observe that professional club's playing a national game of base ball in that extensive yard and they thought that the Athletics would be able to achieve a great triumphant victory over the champion base ball players of New York city without difficulty. I jumped over the fence and ran with fear to the ladies' pavilion and concealed myself in it because I was afraid that the gate keeper would find me and kick me out. About two o'clock the Athletics and Mutuals were agreed to choose Mr Theodore T. Bomeisler of the Eureka base ball club of Newark in the State of New Jersey as umpire. At three o'clock the Mutuals won the toss and sent their famous opponents to the bat and played with the Athletics with great pleasure. In the seventh inning Mr Weston D. Fisler the first baseman of the Athletics struck a ball and sent it whizzing over the fence at centre field and scored one home run and the spectators applauded him for his tremendous batting. Both clubs played well till the nine innings were finished when they stopped playing and the scorers declared that the Athletics had gained a triumphant victory over the Mutuals by a score of 24 to 15 runs. The people of the city were very much glad that the Athletics were victorious and went home in all directions. The distinguished Mutuals were much ashamed because they had suffered their tenth defeat the last season and went into the coach and drove to the Girard House. Then I left the Athletic's ground and came back to this Institution and I explained about the base ball playing that I had seen to some boys who staid in here during the vacation and they said to me that they believed that the Athletics would beat the Red Stockings of Cincinnati Ohio easily.
This story of a baseball game from nearly 150 years ago is a wonderful rarity: a first-hand account of a game written not by a newspaper reporter, but by a young fan. However, it is all the more remarkable because of the story and mystery behind the young author.

First, here is my research into the baseball story of Michael John Smith:

"... a grand match game of base ball between the celebrated Mutuals of New York City and the Athletics of this City."

The ball game took place on July 4, 1870, between the Mutuals of New York City and the Athletics of Philadelphia, two of the top clubs of the day. The images below show both clubs from 1870:

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 55936

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID: 405464

The contest was the first of what was known as a home-and-home series. That is, the clubs agreed to play a best two-out-of-three series, with the Athletics hosting the first game, the Mutuals the second, and (if necessary) a final tie-breaker would be played on neutral grounds. Clubs commonly used this "home-and-home" format at the time. As it turned out, the Athletics won this 1870 series in three games.

"A large concourse of spectators assembled at the Athletic's ground ..."

This first game of the series took place at the Athletics home field at 17th and Columbia in Philadelphia. The lithograph below depicts a ball game played at the very same park in 1866:

(Interested readers can learn more about this park and the story behind the above image at my blog post titled "There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here - Athletics Park.")

Various estimates pegged the crowd at anywhere from four to six thousand people, an impressive attendance, especially considering that storms threatened the afternoon contest. Happily, however, the rains never came, the clouds cleared, and the game began in sunshine just after three o'clock.

"I jumped over the fence and ran with fear to the ladies' pavilion and concealed myself in it because I was afraid that the gate keeper would find me and kick me out."

It's interesting,and a bit humorous, that Smith willingly admitted that he sneaked into the ball game without paying the 50 cent admission.

"... the Athletics and Mutuals were agreed to choose Mr Theodore T. Bomeisler of the Eureka base ball club of Newark in the State of New Jersey as umpire."

As was the custom at the time, the two clubs agreed upon a mutually acceptable individual to act as umpire. In this case, Theodore H. Bomeisler (Michael incorrectly gives his middle initial as "T.") filled the role as the sole arbiter of the contest. As noted by Michael, Bomeisler was a member of the Eureka Base Ball Club of Newark, New Jersey. However, the 33-year-old Bomeisler was a longtime resident of Philadelphia, a jeweler by trade, and had played ball in Philadelphia as early as 1853.

"... the Mutuals won the toss and sent their famous opponents to the bat ..."

Another practice in baseball of this era called for the winner of a coin toss to choose whether his club will bat or take the field first. Given that generally just one ball was used for the entire game, team captains often chose to bat first, so as to be the first to get a whack at a fresh, lively and clean baseball. In this case, however, Philadelphia chose to start in the field.

"In the seventh inning Mr Weston D. Fisler the first baseman of the Athletics struck a ball and sent it whizzing over the fence at centre field and scored one home run ..."

Philadelphia first baseman Wes Fisler (seen below while with the Athletics in 1874 collected three hits in the game.

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID:56677

However, a quick review of contemporary game accounts (including the box score below) shows that the Athletics failed to score at all in the seventh and that Fisler never homered in the game. It is likely that the schoolboy confused Fisler with Athletics center fielder John Phillips Jenkins "Count" Sensenderfer, who starred that day, homering three times (once each in the second, fifth and sixth innings)!

New York Clipper, July 16, 1870

The Philadelphia Inquirer's coverage of the game noted that in the second inning Sensenderfer came "all the way home on a beauty between centre and left field." Perhaps this is the home run that Smith misidentified as Fisler's in the seventh?

Interestingly, the pitcher that the Athletics punished in this game was Alphonse "Phonney" Martin (pictured below while with the Eckford Club of Brooklyn the following season). Though the name may not be familiar to the modern fan, Martin was a celebrated pitcher in his day, known for throwing tantalizingly slow, batter-befuddling "twisters." The same Philadelphia Inquirer article stated that Martin "had not been hit at all lively this season." Despite Martin's poor outing in this game, it is exciting to know that young Smith witnessed one of baseball's first great curveball pitchers.

New York Clipper, August 5, 1871

"Both clubs played well till the nine innings were finished when they stopped playing ..."

After the Mutuals scored three runs in the top of the ninth, the score stood 22-15 in favor of the Athletics. Nevertheless, as was the practice at the time, the final half inning was played to its completion, Philadelphia tacking on another pair of runs and gaining the 24-15 victory.

"The distinguished Mutuals ... went into the coach and drove to the Girard House."

The Girard House (seen in the woodcut below) was one of Philadelphia's best-known hotels. Located just a few miles southeast of the ballpark, at the corner of Ninth and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia, the return trip from the ballpark would have lasted perhaps 15 minutes.

The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition, 1876

"... I explained about the base ball playing that I had seen to some boys ... and they said to me that they believed that the Athletics would beat the Red Stockings of Cincinnati Ohio easily."

The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings (seen below) gained fame for finishing the season without a loss. The next year they continued their winning streak, and just three weeks prior to the Athletics-Mutuals contest they suffered their first defeat since early October of 1868, an 8-7 loss in 11 innings to the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn on June 14.

New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Image ID:55937

Just over three weeks later, on July 27, the boys' prediction came true. Not only did the Athletics top the Red Stockings, 11-7, but the defeat came on the road ... in Cincinnati.

Now, here is my research into the story of Michael John Smith himself:

I found Smith's story in an unlikely location, a publication titled "The Annual Report of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb for the Year 1870." Yes, Michael John Smith was deaf, having lost his hearing at the age of four.

From 1826 to 1893, the Institution occupied a building at 320 S. Broad Street at the corner of Broad and Pine.

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-00045

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HABS PA,51-PHILA,348--1

It was from this location that Michael and his friend made the half-hour walk north to the ballpark. Designed by noted Philadelphia architect John Haviland, the building still stands today, the current home of The University of the Arts. In fact, UArts embraces the building's Greek Doric portico as the central theme of their logo:

At the age of four, Michael John Smith lost his hearing. It was also around that same time that he lost his father. This tragic story was the subject of an earlier composition by Michael, published in the previous year's "Annual Report of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb" and titled "About the Murder of My Father":

About ten years ago, I was at home, when I was an ignorant boy. My father whose name was Andrew, was a landlord, who had a large hotel in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He loved to pray to God every night and morning. One night, I undressed myself and lay in my bed. My father conversed with my mother named Mary about some thing. A malicious man came to the door of the hotel and knocked at the door with his knuckles. My father opened the door and said to him "What do you want?" He said that he wanted to play with some men by gambling with cards. My father said to him "No sir, I do not permit gambling in my house." The bad man became very angry at my father and drew his long sharp knife. He charged upon my father and stabbed him in the lung and murdered him. My father fell down on the floor, but he did not die soon. My mother wept bitterly, and screamed. She kicked at the door and I felt a great noise. I got out of my bed and dressed myself in the bed-room. I came to my father and I was very much astonished to see my father bleeding out of his lung. I was very sorry and wept bitterly. The constables chased the murderer who killed my father and caught him. The judge sent him into the Johnstown Prison. My father laid down on the floor till the next morning. My father grew worse and worse and died. My mother was very much depressed in spirits. My mother bought a pretty coffin for him, and my friends and relatives came to see his dead body. They wept bitterly. After three days, the funeral procession went in order to the grave yard. He was interred in the grave. My friends and relatives went from the grave yard to their homes. I hope that my father is in heaven because he was a good christian. My mother was almost murdered by a bad robber, but I am very glad that she narrowly escaped from being murdered by the bad robber. The murderer of my father was hanged in the prison, because he murdered my father. In the year 1866, I came here in order to get an education. I always remember that my father was murdered. I am a half orphan and I often explain to the boys about my father's untimely death. My mother lives at Johnstown, Cambria County, Pennsylvania. This is a true story.
Such a tragedy no doubt had a great impact on young Michael John Smith, but apparently his time at the Institution helped him greatly. In fact, his interest in baseball may have been a key to his education. The January 1888 issue of the American Annals of the Deaf featured a reminiscence of Benjamin Dean Pettengill, a longtime teacher at the Institution:

Benjamin Dean Pettengill, whose death occurred by railroad accident on the 21st of September last, was one of the most remarkable and widely known of the early teachers of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. No one who ever visited this Institution could fail to remember him. ... No teacher was ever more liberal or self-sacrificing for his pupils than Mr. Pettengill. ... He studied the different inclinations of his pupils, and tried to make them of aid in their advancement. If, for instance, he found a boy was fond of base-ball, he encouraged him in it, and got him to read accounts of the games in the papers, which he supplied in great numbers to his pupils. Michael John Smith, a deaf-mute who edits a paper in Colorado, was successfully brought out in this way.
Through baseball, Pettengill had helped the young Michael John Smith. Additionally, an article penned by Pettengill in the January 1878 issue of the American Annals of the Deaf noted that:

Deaf-mutes sometimes show considerable ingenuity and power of characterization in inventing (as school-boys are apt to do) sobriquets for their companions. For instance, a lad of amiable disposition, who was very popular among our pupils, got the name of "Lovely Charley. ... A lad who was very much interested in base-ball matches was called "the Champion Base-ball Thinker."
Could Michael John Smith have been that "Champion Base-ball Thinker?"

As noted in the 1888 article above, Michael John Smith was editor of a newspaper in Colorado. In fact, Smith held a number of jobs in the newspaper business throughout his adult life. His obituary ran in the December 31, 1896, issue of the Deaf-Mutes' Journal:


M.J. Smith a deaf-mute, who is well known among the deaf of the whole country as "Solid Muldoon" of the DEAF-MUTES' JOURNAL, died of stomach, catarrh and consumption on Thursday, December 17th, at fifteen minutes to 8 o'clock P.M. at his home, 5909 Larimer St., Denver, Colo. M.J. Smith was also well known in Denver and Pueblo. He was formerly proprietor and editor of the Pueblo Merry World, and did editorial work on the Globeville News, East Denver Dispatch and East End Echo. His last paper, the Echo, printed an edition of one thousand eight hundred copies, and the circulation was still growing. Very few papers in the United States can boast of such a record in their first year. Smith was a bright attractive writer and was making his paper one of the best of its kind in the West. He was identified with various projects here for the past ten years. Upon coming to Denver from Pueblo, where he had successfully conducted the "Merry World," a comic paper, he renounced newspaper work and went to work in the Globe-Smelter, where he worked for several years, but his health began to fail and he was compelled to stop working at the smelter and again took up the pen. He worked at the different newspaper offices, and was with the East End Echo since its inception. His ever ready wit and sarcasm has had much to do with the success of the various enterprises, as all could depend upon a bright and newsy paper when "Dummy" was with it. Besides a large and extended circle of friends, he leaves a wife and two children to mourn his loss. Buried at Fairmont Cemetery on Saturday. December 19th, at 2 P.M.
Interestingly, a few years later, the identity of the deceased Smith was called into question in the very same newspaper. The July 19, 1900, issue of the Deaf-Mutes' Journal reads:

S.T. Mellard, Attorney-at-Law, of Wesson, Wisconsin, is searching for Information about Michael J. Smith and Milton J. Smith. Michael was well known to some of our deaf, having been a classmate of Thomas Breen and others; but nobody knows anything about a person as Milton. Michael, who died in Pueblo, Col., some years ago, was known to be averse to being called by his first name because it sounded too Irish. He might have changed it then, but this point has yet to be proved. The lawyer does not state the point he wishes to prove, but wants all the information he can get about the two. We think the JOURNAL had an obituary notice of Michael in the winter of 1896.
And then in the August 30, 1900, issue of the same paper came this contradictory note:

It does not appear to us that the M.J. Smith, who is spoken of, in the JOURNAL as having been its correspondent and editor of several Colorado newspapers, is the Michael John Smith wanted. The Colorado Smith married under the name of Milton J Smith and swore to that. Also it is alleged that when the M.J. Smith was accused that his real name was Michael J. Smith he sternly denied it and insisted that his true name was Milton J. Smith. We hope some on in Missouri or Colorado will come forward and establish without doubt the real Michael John Smith wanted, not an imaginary nor bolstered up one.
And yet the following detailed notice was published in the same issue of the paper:

Information is desired by the undersigned from any person who knew Michael John Smith, a former resident of Johnstown, Penn. He was a deaf-mute, born at Johnstown, Penn., September 12th, 1854. His parents were Andrew and Mary (Marron) Smith. He attended the Pennsylvania Institution for the Dead and Dumb from October 1st, 1866, to June 26th, 1872. Some time afterwards, he went west and little was known as to his whereabouts except that it was reported that he went into the newspaper business. It is said that he lived for a while in St. Louis and India, Ill. On December 17, 1896, one M.J. Smith died: he was a deaf-mute. It is the purpose of this notice to obtain information that will identify the deceased as the original Michael John Smith above mentioned. The Smith who died at Denver was at different times a worker in the steel mills and smelters of the west, but was devoted to journalism. He was under the nom-de-plume of “Solid Muldoon,” the Denver correspondent of the New York DEAF-MUTES' JOURNAL; in 1887 he founded and edited the Merry World, a paper published in Pueblo, Col. Was also on the East Denver Echo, and other Colorado papers while he lived at Denver and Pueblo. He also wrote for the Deaf-Mute Leader, of Brooklyn. While correspondent for the DEAF-MUTES’ JOURNAL, it is said he became involved in a newspaper controversy with the St. Louis correspondent o the same publication. In Colorado, Smith was known as “Dummy” Smith by reason of his being a deaf-mute. He was there sometimes spoken of as “Milton” J. Smith. He attended a deaf-mute convention held at Pittsburg, Penn., about twelve years ago.
The undersigned is attorney for the guardian of an only child of the M.J. Smith, of Colorado, and if this Smith can be shown to be the original Michael John Smith, of Johnstown, Penn., then the child will inherit an interest in an estate in Mississippi. Suit has been filed by the undersigned for the guardian of the child, and considerable proof has already been obtained to establish the identity of the Smith above mentioned, but more proof is desired. An early and full response is desired, giving information as to this party, his parentage, place of residence, his family, wife children, etc., etc.
G.G. Lyell, Attorney at Law,
Brookhaven, Mississippi
So who was M.J. Smith? One final, short notice helps prove what seems fairly clear: that Michael and Milton were one and the same. This brief blurb comes from the Deaf-Mutes Journal of August 29, 1889, and, ironically (or perhaps appropriately), involves a bit of baseball:

M. J . Smith, editor and proprietor of the Pueblo, Col., Merry World, is at present in Pittsburgh, Pa., visiting his relatives and friends. This is the first trip to the East since 1876. He will soon go to Baltimore to spend a week with his cousin, Tom Quinn, of the Baltimore Base Ball Club.
Clearly, the Colorado newspaperman is the same as the Johnstown-born boy who attended the 1870 Athletics-Mutual ball game.

Why all the confusion about Smith? Why were lawyers trying to determine his exact identity? Why did he "sternly deny" that his name was Michael? And why did his obituary mention that he left "a wife and two children," while G.G. Lyell's notice state that he had but one child? I can think of just one explanation: Michael John Smith had, for reasons unknown, abandoned a family in Mississippi (or perhaps elsewhere?), headed west, adopted a minor change to his name (substituting Milton for Michael), and began a new life and new family in Colorado

Maybe one day we'll have an answer to the mystery of Michael John Smith. For now, we have his interesting and enjoyable baseball reminiscence.