Friday, September 19, 2014

North Country baseball prizes in 1867 and “clean” home runs

            One hundred and forty-seven years ago, post-season baseball in the North Country meant tournaments, and tournaments meant interesting prizes for the winners. In September 1867, Burlington, VT hosted a major tournament for baseball teams from northern New York State and Vermont. A team from St. Lawrence County, New York, won the contest and took home most of the prizes, according to a story in the Malone Palladium.

            For winning the tournament, the St. Lawrence County nine was awarded a silver ball, a silver bat, and a prize stand of colors. The team was also given a book for making the largest score.
            Individual members of the St. Lawrence County team also walked away with prizes which included a pair of shoes to the “best catcher,” a golden badge to the “quickest runner on base,” a silver mounted rosewood bat to the “longest batsman,” and an unspecified prize for the “furtherest horizontal thrower.” The tournament’s “best umpire” won a copy of Hayes’ Base Ball Book of 1867.
            A.D. Tenney of the St. Lawrence County team won a prize for hitting the most “clean” home runs in the tournament. Now what exactly were “clean” home runs in 1867?

            No, a hitter’s use of anabolic steroids or human growth hormones had nothing to do with whether the homers were considered “clean” or “unclean” by post-Civil War baseball scorers. Back in 1867, “clean” home runs had nothing to do with the use of performance enhancing drugs, and everything to do with how far and where the ball was hit.

            In The Complete History of the Home Run, baseball historian Mark Ribowsky credits the English-born 19th century baseball journalist Henry Chadwick for determining what should or should not be scored as a home run. The 1867 version of Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player, edited by Henry Chadwick, contained a section entitled “Hints for Scorers.” It noted: “Home Runs are made when the batsman goes the round of the bases and reaches home before being touched with the ball, and without having stopped on any of the bases while going round. A ‘clean home run,’ is one made before the ball returns from the outer field. Home runs can therefore be made through loose fielding or wild throwing as well as from long hits to the outer field; but the latter are not counted in the score of home runs."

            If Chadwick were alive and writing today, it would be interesting to see how he would have scored the record-breaking, steroid-fueled home runs hit by Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGuire (70 and 65), and Sammy Sousa (66, 64 and 63). And, would any of them be counted as “clean” home runs if they had been hit in the 1867 tournament in Burlington?

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