Early History of Baseball in Wheeling
-from the Wheeling Intelligencer, Jan. 15, 1895.
Some Reminiscences of Base Ball Contests of Other Years.
THE INTRODUCTION OF THE GAME
In This City Away Back in the Early 60s -- The First Club Ever Organized and the Results the Followed. From the Baltics and Standards Down to the First Professional Team Put on a Wheeling Diamond -- Some Remarkable Contests of Those Good Old Days of the Straight Pitched Ball -- Last Night's Bowling Scores. Yesterday's Races -- Other Sports of Interest.
As the interest in base ball is reviving in this city, and as there are good prospects for a professional club this season, a local retrospect ofthe national game will not only be timely, but the ancient history of the pastime for popular favor will command a lively interest at this juncture.
The game was first introduced in the early 60s by the late C. H. Collier, who at that time was principal of the Second ward school, where the Lincoln school now stands. Mr. Collier was just fresh from college and a firm believer in the benefits to be derived from outdoor sports in connection with the mental tasks of the student, and so it was not long after he became settled in his position that he set about organizing the older scholars into a foot ball club. This sport did not take with most of the boys, when it struck Mr. Collier to try base ball on them, the game then being in its infancy and almost wholly confined to the far east. The similarity of the game to the familiar game of town ball, and having many attractive points the latter did not possess, captured the boys at once, and as a consequence the old Star base ball club, the first in the city, came into existence. It would be tedious to follow the history of the game through all the years until the fever, which had been increasing in virulence every summer, resulted in the organization of some very fair amateur teams. The important one in the early history of the game was the Baltic team, from the fact that it toured the prominent towns of the state, winning an unbroken succession of victories. The old Mears club, of Steubenville, however, was their bete noir. They never did beat them. It was during the life of the Baltic team that the celebrated Cincinnati Red Stockings were at the zenith of their fame. Harry Wright's pets were induced to stop over in Wheeling and try conclusions with the Baltics. The game was interesting only from the standpoint of the large score, the Red Stockings making sixty-six runs an dthe Wheeling team, through some inadvertence, scoring six, in six innings. During this time and in after years there flourished the Bridge City, Anchor, National, United, Champion and Osceola, with many minor clubs such as the Enterprise, Eagle, etc. There were many warm contests in those days, but they left no bitter memories, as the days of professional ball had not yet come.
It was when the old Standard club was on the diamond that the liveliest interests were centered around the fortunes of a Wheeling team, and from that period until the organization of the semi-professional Wheeling club the patrons of the sport were as great cranks as the "fans" of later years. Then followed a long interim of inactivity and indifference until once more the fever struck the town and Wheeling launched a strictly professional team as a member of the Tri-State League. The history of that revival is too well known to be mentioned in the scope of this article. It is only necessary to state from the inception of the game to the second interregnum Many of the star players of the national league of today were graduated from the diamond of the Wheeling club.
During all these years there have been some remarkable contests, and in chronological order the famous game between the semi-professional Neshannock team of New Castle, Pa., and the old Standards comes first. With the Neshannocks as catcher was Barley Bennett, afterwards of the champion Bostons. Well, the Wheeling boys didn't do a thing that day but wipe up the earth with the Pennsylvania aggregation, defeating them to the tune of 19 to 0.
Then came along some years afterwards the Indianapolis Association team, and they found the Wheeling boys to made of sterner stuff than they counted on. The first game resulted 1 to 0, and the second game 2 to 1 in favor of the visitors, but the home team and their friends were very much gratified in having been able to make so good a showing.
The game between the Cincinnati club (not the Red Stockings, but the feeble offspring) and the semi-professional Wheeling teams was a mild corker for those days. On the ninth inning the score stood 6 to 5 in favor of the Cincinnati's and the Nail City boys came to the bat very languidly for their closing half. Somehow the first man at the bat knocked out a corking two baser, which put some life into those who followed, and before the last man was out they had piled up six runs, winning the contest by a score of 11 to 6.
The greatest, and at the same time most unexpected victory of the Wheeling Tri-state team was the morning game with the Zanesvilles on July 4 in 1886 or 1887. There was a tremendous crowd of spectators on the grounds but during the progress of the game they thinned out, many leaving in disgust about the sixth inning because Wheeling hadn't scored with Zanesville away in the lead. But those "easy quitters" missed it. Wheeling took a batting streak, tied the score in the ninth and won out in the tenth. You could hear the frenzied yelling of that crowd on the Island at the city building. Fact.
Another remarkable game was the defeat, several years later, of the Pittsburgh team in an exhibition game, by a score of 1 to 0. There were many other eventful games but these are the only ones that the writer can recall. With these old triumphs spread before the public it is to be hoped that their imperfect recital will revive some of the spirit and local patriotism that prevailed in those days and encourage the projectors o fthe club for this season to give Wheeling such a base ball revival as she have never yet experienced.