Baseball History in 1876- Start of the National League

At the conclusion of 1875, the organization was known as the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (also known as NA) disbanded as it was known as a conglomerate of drunken players, rowdy men, corrupt and mismanaged businessmen and under the influence of gambling. But the fact remains that after five seasons, they ran out of money.

A Chicago businessman, William Hulbert, began the process of forming the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (also known as NL) on February 2, 1876. He was the owner of the Chicago White Stockings, which were also known as the Chicag0 Cubs. He put together some new rules that any team that wished to join must have at least 75,000 people or more. He set up the league with eight teams and each team between April 22 and October 21 would play seventy games.

Who Is William Hulbert?

He was born on October 23, 1832, in Burlington Falls, New York and at the age of two years, his family moved to Chicago. That would be his home for his entire life except for the period of time when he attended Beloit College. His in-laws had a very successful grocery business and he expanded the business into the coal trade. It was from this that he became a very rich person. He became involved in 1874 with the Chicago White Stockings when he became an officer on the Board of Directors. 

 

 

There would be eight teams in the National League which included the Chicago White Stockings, Hartford Dark Blues, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Boston Red Caps, Louisville Grays, New York Mutuals, Philadelphia Athletics, and the Cincinnati Reds. Ten days after the formation (February 12), Chicago was the first to announce that they had signed Albert Spalding as a player on their team. Shortly after that, Spalding announced he would start a sporting goods store in Chicago and called it Spaldings.

On April 22, 1876, the first National League game was played and the Philadelphia Athletics were victorious over the Boston Red Caps 6-5. In that game. Joe Borden was the winning pitcher and the first base hit of the league went to Jim o’Rourke. Pitcher Albert Spalding threw the first shoutout on April 25th as Chicago won 4-0 over Louisville. It was a doubleheader and Spalding tossed another shutout in game two.

The first National League home run was an inside-the-park homer on May 2nd from Ross Barnes of the White Stockings. The game was against the Cincinnati team and the pitcher that allowed the first home run was Cherokee Fisher. There was a triple play on May 13 as the Hartford club pulled it off the Hartford Dark Blues. Also in May, the first tied happened on the 25th of the month between the Louisville Grays and the Philadelphia Athletics.

The first cry of cheating came on May 30, 1876, when the right fielder for Louisville, George Bechtel, made three of the teams nine errors. He was asked to resign when officials found a wire dated a few weeks later that he sent which mentions conspiring to lose and solidify his winning bet. The team kicked him off the team after he refused to quit. (Bechtel’s Wikipedia page)

With two months in the books, some events that took place in June include George Hall of the Athletics hitting two home runs in the same game as his team defeated the Reds 23-15. Davy Force has six hits in six at-bats on June 17 to lead his team to a 14-13 win over Chicago and Albert Spalding.

The first no-hitter was in the books on July 15, 1876, when George Bradley of the St. Louis Brown Stockings won 2-0 at St. Louis Grand Avenue Park over the Hartford Dark Blues. Cal McVey of the White Stocking garners six hits in a game which now totals 15 hits in three games, and 18 hits in four games which tie his own record.

On August 22 with the game tied, a St. Louis hitter smacks the ball down the third base line and hits one of his teammates. The umpire rules the runner can score and Chicago makes a protest and leaves the field. Now the umpire rules the Brown Stocking the winner of the game.

On September 11, 1876, the Philadelphia Athletics quits the league due to financial concerns. Five days later, September 16, the New York Mutuals do the same thing and inform the league they will not travel west for the final trip of the year due to financial constraints.

The Chicago White Stockings clinch the pennant on September 26 with a 7-6 win over Hartford. They finish the year with 52 wins and 14 losses. In the second place, the Hartford team is 47-21, followed by St. Louis at 45-19 and Boston with a 39-31 record. The other teams all finish under the .500 mark.

The Chicago Tribune published, on October 23, 1876,  a section in their paper which included stats for the year. This is the first known instance of this happening. At the end of the year meeting on December 10, the New York team and Philadelphia squads are expelled for not finishing the season. Also, at that same meeting in Cleveland, William Hulbert was elected President of the National League.

 

Alta Weiss- Female Baseball Pitcher

Alta Weiss- Female Baseball Pitcher

ALTA WEISS

Born on February 9, 1890, in Berlin, Holmes County, Ohio, she was the daughter of Dr. George and Lucinda Zehnder Weiss.

In the early 1900s, four women – Lizzie Arlington, Alta Weiss, Lizzie Murphy and Josie Caruso – immersed themselves into men’s professional baseball. The news of their playing would often bring in large crowds so they were seen more as promotional gimmicks instead of serious players. In a time when gender roles were deeply ingrained in the fiber of society, these women’s abilities began to chip away at that barrier. Baseball was a man’s game until a seventeen-year-old girl in a long heavy wool shirt and baseball hat stepped up the pitcher’s mound and struck out numerous players. That girl was Alta Weiss.

She was the middle child of three girls, Alta stood out right away. At that age of two, her father once stated that she “hurled a corncob at the family cat with all the follow-through and wrist-snap of a big league pitcher.” Why did she throw it at the cat? Reportedly, she was trying to save a bird the cat had its eye on. Her father, a doctor, saw Alta’s talent and nurtured it. So what does any father do to encourage his young child to continue to enhance their talents? Create a high school. In 1905, Alta’s father established a local high school which allowed her to play on its newly created baseball team. Additionally, he transformed their barn into a gym and created “Weiss Ball Park” so that his daughter would have more opportunity to train and play.

Alta’s particular talent was pitching and she soon perfected the fastball, knuckleball, and spitball. Many were skeptical of a girl who could pitch – especially one would that could play at the same level as male players. She proved her abilities during a vacation in Vermilion, Ohio with her two sisters in the summer of 1907. Alta was playing baseball with some local boys when the town’s mayor happened upon it. Seeing her skills he went to Charles Heidloff who was the manager of the semipro Vermilion Independents. The Independents had just lost their starting pitcher. The mayor told Charles that he should have Alta join the team. Taken aback, Charles refused. The mayor wanted to prove to Charles that Alta did indeed have the skills it took to be on the semipro team and arranged a game. Alta struck out 15 men. Charles immediately signed her as the Independents’ starting pitcher.

At the age of seventeen, Alta became a member of Ohio’s Vermilion Independents. Every weekend, she would travel almost 130 miles to Vermilion to play. On September 2, 1907, she made her pitching debut in front of over 1,200 fans. Alta pitched 5 innings and gave up only 4 hits and 1 run. Hailed as the “Girl Wonder”, Alta was a fan and newspaper favorite. So much so that special trains were commissioned to run from Cleveland to Vermilion so that people could see Alta in action.

Usually, Alta would pitch the first five innings before moving to first base. It was estimated that over 13,000 fans came to watch her during her first season. When she played at Cleveland’s League Park on October 2, 1907, there was a season high audience of 3,182 and Alta led the Independents to victory against the Vacha All-Stars with a score of 7-6.

In 1908, Alta’s father bought a half interest in the team and renamed it “Weiss All-Stars.” She wore a black uniform while the male team players wore white uniforms. Alta also changed her previous uniform of long heavy shirts to bloomers. In an interview that year, she explained her change in attire: “I found out you can’t play ball in skirts. I tried. I wore a skirt over my bloomers and nearly broke my neck.” The Weiss All-Stars were based in Cleveland. She continued to draw large crowds during home games as well as away games throughout Ohio and Kentucky.


The 1908 Weiss All-Stars semipro players. Back (L-R): Roth (c), Grill (1b), Tischer (rf), Miss Irma Weiss (Alta’s sister), Meyer (lf), Murphy (c), Hobart (2b). Front: Hoffman (2b), Lehman (3b), Chas. Heidloff (mgr), Miss Alta Weiss (p), Ebner (ump), Langenhan (cf), Sonnendecker (ss). Absent: Reynolds (p), Zmich (p) and Winchester (c).

Photo Credit: Ohio Historical Society via Vermilion Views

While Alta was playing baseball, she was also following her father’s footsteps and studied medicine. She paid for school using the money she earned from playing ball. Alta graduated from the Starling-Ohio Medical School (a predecessor to the Ohio State University College of Medicine) in 1914. As with her baseball team, she was the only female in her class. Alta continued to play baseball for seventeen years until she hung up her uniform in 1922.

After leaving the pitcher’s mound, Alta practiced medicine – first in Norfolk, Ohio before settling back in Ragersville. The Vermilion, Ohio website stated that, at one point, she “owned 10 cats, drove a 1940 Buick for decades, and read no less than 3 newspapers daily.” Alta also enjoyed watching the town youngsters play ball. She passed away on February 12, 1964 (three days after her 74th birthday).

Alta’s trailblazing role in baseball paved the way for other female players. She played her first game thirty-six years before the famed All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was created due to the mass player shortage during World War II. Alta’s skills with a baseball proved that an unexpected person can have remarkable talents.