Thursday, May 26, 2005
The Color of Sport
Why does a fireman wear red suspenders? Every kid knows the answer: to hold his pants up. But the better question for curious adults may be why he wears red at all, or why brides wear white and kings wear purple. Color speaks a secret language that our generation hears as white noise, an indistinct hum that we decipher unconsciously. The traces of these ancient meanings have come down to us most clearly in sport, which retained some of the mystical, hierarchical, and military trappings of old, even as society advanced beyond the guild, the village, and the governing church. In the colorful pageant of sport we may see rulers and revolutionaries, capitalists and tradesmen, even valorous firemen and, if not brides, baseball annies.
While the proliferation of sports teams over the past fifty years has created some startling color choices in uniforms and logos (what’s with those Florida boys?), even these must be the product of some thought process, no matter how dubious. The Florida Marlins’ hideous teal surely is meant to represent Miami waterways, as the Colorado Rockies’ purple signals the nearby mountains’ majesty. The New York Mets’ blue and orange echo the official colors of the 1939 World’s Fair as well as the tinted gowns of the damsels Liberty and Justice, respectively, on the New York State Seal. There are animal associations (Lions, Tigers, Bears, and more), but team colors are not always consonant with life in the wild. And there are frontier motifs (49ers, Spurs, Mavericks) and ethnic lampoons (Indians, Braves ... don’t get me started).
But we must start our story somewhere, and Baltimore seems as good a place as any. Its revered football team, the Colts (colors: blue and white) hightailed it out of town for Indianapolis in 1984, leaving fans without the NFL until the Cleveland Browns (brown and orange) left the shores of Lake Erie for those along Chesapeake Bay. This was the second brown-and-orange team to come to Baltimore, as baseball’s Browns had arrived from St. Louis in 1954. Those Browns dropped their name in transit, becoming the Orioles, a venerable name in the city’s baseball history. The oriole (Icterus galbula) also happened to be the official state bird, in part because its yellow-and black coloration matched that in the shield of Sir George Calvert (Lord Baltimore) and was further memorialized in the state flag. (Yes, I know the ball club’s featured bird is orange and black, but John James Audubon’s rendition of the Oriole had been yellow and black, matching the colors of the western Maryland Bullock’s Oriole; the two variants have since thoroughly interbred, and are now combined in a single species ... see what happens when you get me started?)
Unlike baseball’s St. Louis Browns, a succession of teams who were named for the color of their stockings, football’s Cleveland Browns were named for their founder and genius coach Paul Brown. Even if Baltimore now had their team, Cleveland’s football fans sued to keep the name; this seemingly petulant move proved practical in 1999 when the league granted the city an expansion franchise, which promptly dusted off the old name and colors. Meanwhile Baltimore, compelled to find a new name and colors for its freshly seduced Browns, launched them as the Ravens, honoring the city’s other famous bird.
But rather than duplicate the colors of the baseball Orioles, the Ravens’ management went for a black-and-purple scheme unimagined by Poe, and yet not without historical substance. To be “born to the purple” was to proceed from royal lineage, and certainly the state of Maryland fits the bill. Moreover, it is the only state whose flag is marked by heraldic symbols, and its official sport is neither football nor baseball but ... jousting. Purple was the regal color because it was the most expensive dye to produce, from biblical times until the mid-1850s, when the aniline (synthetic) dying process came into being. Purple (“purpur”) was extracted from the marine gastropod mollusk “murex”, also called Purpurschnecke (purple-snail). So, two cheers for Ravens management.
When Baltimore’s first professional baseball team took to the field in 1872 they wore Lord Baltimore’s colors of yellow (heavy silk shirts) and black (flowing pantaloons), striking such a figure of fun that they were called not the Orioles but the Canaries. Indeed, by the following season that epithet had become the club’s de facto nickname. Every other team in the National Association featured the more discreet embellishments that flowed from the original American team sports uniform, that of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York. Many of the gentlemen who founded that organization in 1845 were volunteer firemen, and the fealty and pride they felt for their fire companies gave them a common sense of purpose on the Elysian Fields of Hoboken, where they were eventually engaged by other sturdy “base ballists” playing under their own sedate colors.
As volunteer firemen, the men who would become Knickerbockers might have adopted for their ball play the fire company’s classic red shirt with a shield or dickey on which the number of his company was embroidered in muslin figures; the magic numerals fixed the men’s identity beyond a doubt and gave them a sense of belonging. These jaunty uniforms bound men to their comrades in united purpose, just as the common color of medieval guildsmen might indicate their craft. Fireman’s red was a prestigious color because, like purple, it signified blood, with its connotations of bravery, sacrifice, and passion. In medieval times crimson and scarlet (the latter name actually derived from an expensive cloth that might be dyed any color) were, like purple, beyond the reach of the peasantry. The word crimson comes from the Sanskrit krmi-ja, a dye mistakenly believed to be produced from a worm (the kermes was actually an insect).
While the fire laddies’ garb formed the prototype for early baseball uniforms (and arguably those of today), the Knicks’ earliest mandated ensemble (1849) consisted of blue woollen pantaloons, white flannel shirt, and chip (straw) hat. While blue and white remained the costume of the club until it disbanded in 1882, the straw hats were replaced by blue mohair caps in 1855. Oddly, the Knickerbockers always wore pants, never knickerbockers (knickers, knee breeches), even after Cincinnati innovated its calf-exposing, lady-thrilling red stockings in 1867. Soon almost all baseball teams in the 19th century went for the “manly display” and many derived their enduring names from the color of their stockings (Cincinnati Reds; Chicago Whites; New York (Mutual) Greens; Hartford Dark Blues; Providence Grays; St. Louis Cardinals; etc.).
Baseball in the 1860s was dominated by patriotic color schemes of white (symbolizing peace, purity, innocence) and blue (freedom, constancy, justice), with red as the accent color for caps or the cord trim of the pants, which were often cut wide in the style of the French Colonial Zouaves, in sympathy with their exotic mission in Algeria. Furthermore, this red-white-blue combination continued to echo the colors of other nations born in revolt.
Even today, of 192 national flags, these three colors constitute the flags of 30 nations, more than any other color or combination.However, as former colonies have attained independence since the end of World War II, new national color combinations have arisen, and these have worked their way into 21st-century sport. Red, white, and blue as color choices for national flags have declined from their post-WW I heights, and yellow has shown an overall increase from 26 percent in 1917 to 43 percent currently. The use of black, orange, and green have shown constant increases, green appearing on 16 percent of the flags in 1917 and 42 percent today. Brown and yellow continue to express few national aspirations as the former is a symbol of humility (monks’ habits, for example), while the latter has a long association with cowardice and exclusionary marking. Yellow patches (round for Jews, crescent for Muslims) have been used to identify those “not on the team.” In the Nazi era, a pink patch marked a homosexual for persecution.
Baseball uniforms of the 1870s and ’80s erupted into a rainbow owing nothing to national aspiration or the heraldic tradition of few but intense colors. Skullcaps of different colors by position played (1876 Chicago White Stockings, in what a reporter termed a “Dutch bed of tulips”), striped silk jerseys (all major-league teams in 1882), and blood-red flannel uniforms, top and bottom (Louisville, 1888) made baseball players feel like theater folk, prisoners, or “fancy men.” Codpieces and pigeon-breast plates might have been next, but a relatively somber palette returned in the ensuing decades, as stripes and checks were displayed in faint motifs in the uniforms of the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants.
But flamboyance and color have certainly returned with a vengeance since the disco days of the 1970s. With the digital revolution making thousands of new colors spring into life, the meat-and-potatoes basics of the analog color set began to seem awfully tame. Why do blue and gold when you can specify “Pantone Color 14-4002, Wind Chime” (whatever that looks like). Martha Stewart (recently decked out in heraldic orange, not creamsicle tangerine) presents an imagistic palette of 416 colors that reads like a diner menu (“succulent, farm-fresh tomatoes”) yet has the vapory lure of perfume advertising. Imagine going to a ballgame and seeing the New York Flauberts, outfitted in Caen Stone, Rosedust, and Light French Gray, square off against the Boston Brahmins, robed in Acanthus, Aristocrat Peach, and Buckram Binding. (These are real Martha colors.)
So what is the color of sport? Pastel, tincture, gradient ... or the bold colors and noble metals of yore? Whatever the value or the shade, it says here that the color of sport is green — and not for the reasons you think, bilious reader. Green may indeed be the color of money, which is what defines professional play. Or envy. But even professionals love the game, which makes them, at heart, amateurs who get paid (from Andrew Marvell’s The Garden: “How vainly men themselves amaze/ To win the palm, the oak, or bays...”) For the player as it is for the fan, green is the color of spring, of baseball, of hope.
Friday, May 13, 2005
Hoops, Hebrews, and the Hudson River League
My father had not been an athlete in his youth in Cracow and he never could fathom my boyhood mania for sports, especially basketball, “this crazy American jumping,” as he called it. Immigrating to this country after the War, by 1954 my family settled into Kew Gardens, then a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Queens. As my pudgy frame began to elongate by age 11, basketball became my life: maneuvering around the nuisance of schooling, I became a playground habitué from daylight to dusk and a gym rat at night. And I was never lacking for company from similarly crazed coreligionist jumpers.
Ever since the turn of the century, when the new game of basketball had come into the cities through the settlement houses, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, and the Amateur Athletic Union, Tevye could have blared “Tradition!” in reference to basketball more aptly than to the Talmud. As Hank Rosenstein of the original 1946-47 New York Knickerbockers recently said, “Basketball was our religion.”
Today the game is universally conceded to be the game for African Americans, with a token representation by white jumpshooters from the western states and Eurostars looking to buy a vowel. But the year 2000 marked the first time in the history of the National Basketball Association, and all the pro leagues before it going back to the 1900s, that not a single Jew was on a roster. In the middle-class flight to the suburbs what had been left behind on the curb was “Our Game.”
Investigating the story of Kingston’s surprisingly long and illustrious history in professional basketball [see sidebars below], we will focus on “Our League”: the Hudson River League (HRL) of 1909-12. Kingston played in other pro leagues too, from 1914 all the way up to 1940. The Colonials of 1923 were world champions, defeating the Original Celtics (of New York, not Boston) in a best-of-five classic. Among the hoopsters who wore Kingston colors are Hall of Famers Frank Morgenweck, Barney Sedran, Johnny Beckman, and Benny Borgmann, plus such stars as Harry Franckle and Phil Rabin. While not all of our region’s top players were Jews, certainly, there is no telling this story without them, any more than you could tell the story of the NBA’s rise without mention of Shaq, Kobe, Lebron, and other black stars so famous they don’t even need last names.
Let’s do a racehorse run through early basketball. Our national pastime of baseball has roots in this country going back to the 1700s but it is an Old World import. Indeed, the only major sports born in America are basketball and lacrosse — the latter created by Native Americans and the former by a Canadian physical education instructor at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1891 James Naismith nailed peach baskets to the balcony rail of the local gym and formulated a set of rules (no backboards, no dribbling, no limits to the number of men on the floor) that soon became subject to widespread tinkering.
Unlike the development of baseball and football, in basketball the pro game advanced simultaneously with the college brand, with the formation of a play-for-pay circuit in the Philadelphia area in 1898. As additional pro leagues sprang up, each operated under its own rules, as did the AAU and the NCAA at the amateur level. One of Dr. Naismith’s original rules — that a ball out of bounds belonged to the team that first possessed it — led to bloody mayhem that did not cease until 1913. An early means of keeping the ball in bounds, adopted by several pro leagues, was to play the game in a wire or rope cage; though the cage was last used in 1930, players were still called cagers in news headlines for fifty years thereafter. And then there was the center jump, an action-stopper after each field goal or free throw that somehow survived until 1936-37.
In its inaugural season of 1909, the HRL included teams in Kingston, Newburgh, Catskill, Hudson, Poughkeepsie, Troy, Yonkers, and Paterson (NJ). Apart from the inclusion of Troy, these franchises mirrored precisely the final-year cast of HRL baseball only two years before. In its three years of play, several of the league’s teams (the Newburgh Tenths, the Yonkers Fourth Separates, etc.) were sponsored by local National Guard units, or “Separate Companies,” thus transforming the patriotically grandiose, white-elephant Armories into basketball arenas. Probably the best of the early pro teams and champions of the HRL in its first two seasons were the Trojans of Troy. Led by Ed and Lew Wachter, they then abandoned the HRL for the New York State League, whose crown they also captured … playing on courts with no backboards, so all that all shots had to be made “clean”! Many early pro fives also played in other leagues under the banner of other cities, or barnstormed like the Original Celtics, the Rens (Renaissance Five, an all-black unit), and SPHAs (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association).
“Professional basketball is a Jewish boys’ game,” said Eddie Gottlieb of the SPHAs in the 1920s. And for several decades it was, despite such formidable African American teams as the Rens and the Harlem Globetrotters, organized by Ape Saperstein in 1927 and still barnstorming today. Jews went on to dominate the new pro leagues that began to have national aspirations, from the American Basketball League (1925) and the National Basketball League (1937) to the Basketball Association of America of 1946, which three years later would change its name to the NBA. In what is now considered the NBA’s first game, between the Knicks and the Toronto Huskies on November 1, 1946, Ossie Schectman scored the league’s first basket on a give-and-go fast break. With Jewish teammates Sonny Hertzberg, Stan Stutz, Hank Rosenstein, Ralph Kaplowitz, Jake Weber, and Leo “Ace” Gottlieb, the Knicks won that game and finished the season with a 33 – 27 record.
What accounted for the basketball success of the Jews? New York Daily News sports editor Paul Gallico wrote in the mid-1930s that basketball “appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background [because] the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind and flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smartaleckness.” In rejecting the clear anti-Semitism behind that analysis we are thrown back upon the obvious answer, that pro basketball provided a ladder to a downtrodden minority, as it would continue to do for other minorities. Yet the most intriguing answer may lie closer to Gallico’s remark, and it played out in the Hudson River League of 1911-12.
In that truncated season the Kingston Company M squad, led by Harry Franckle and Sam Curlett, won the championship as the league folded on January 20, 1912, having played barely half its scheduled games. Kingston’s 14-8 record bested the 14-9 mark posted by the Newburgh Tenths. This colorless regimental name soon gave way to the more descriptive “Bizzy Izzies,” the nickname that the all-Israelite squad had first assumed when it won the New York City inter-settlement league “midget” title (under 106 pounds) five years running. Its players included future Basketball Hall of Famers Barney Sedran (Sedransky) and Marty Friedman, league-leading scorer Ira Streusand, and such other Lower East Side luminaries as Harry Brill, Lou Sugarman, Bill Cone (Cohen), Joe Girsdansky, and Jake Fuller, all of them alumni of the teenage Bizzy Izzies.
This “midget” team — some, like Sedran at 5’4” and 115 pounds, were too small to make their high-school teams — owed everything to their coach, Harry Baum, who is not in the Hall of Fame but ought to be. Streusand explained that “as kids, we were all physically inferior. We were really midgets; hardly weighed anything at all. But Baum taught us teamwork and a new brand of ball and we ran everyone ragged.” Sedran added: “He taught us a style of play which we carried with us during our entire careers. In fact, his style of basketball was followed by most of the pro teams.” In 1983, at the age of 87, the legendary Nat Holman recalled that he had really begun to learn the game in 1908 ... when he was the 12-year-old mascot of the Izzies.
Substituting brains for brawn, Baum transformed the plodding style that basketball had known ever since its birth into a sharp passing game with intricate crossing patterns that became the classic New York style. Instead of bulling one’s way to the basket or positioning for two-hand set shots, the Bizzy Izzies pioneered the five-man fire-drill that presaged today’s Phoenix Suns.
Amazingly, Baum never played basketball himself. Born in Cracow on July 11, 1882, Baum graduated from City College in 1902. He played one season of lacrosse while there and another three seasons at Columbia. It was while pursuing his engineering degree at Columbia that he agreed to coach the midget team at the University Settlement House on Eldridge Street. Because Baum's only previous athletic experience had come in lacrosse, he based his approach to basketball on that game, with its short passes, absence of dribbling, and man-to-man switching defense. Also influencing the Izzies’ style was the Lower East Side kids’ tradition of playing basketball with a rag ball that could be tossed between the rungs of a fire-escape ladder. As Maclyn Baker, Jewish captain of NYU’s 1921 basketball team, put it, “rags didn't bounce.”
Leave it to a Polish Jew to blend one game invented by a Canadian with another created by Native Americans. In basketball history no better example of “an alert, scheming mind and flashy trickiness, artful dodging” may be found than Harry Baum and the Bizzy Izzies.
HRL Standings, 1909-12
Hudson River League data derives from work by John Grasso and Robert Bradley in Total Basketball (Sport Classic Books, 2003).
1909-10 HRL W L Pct.
Troy Trojans 24 4 .857
Paterson Crescents 23 5 .821
Kingston Wild Cats 14 13 .519
Catskill Mystics 14 14 .500
Yonkers Fourth Separates 13 14 .481
Hudson Mixers 12 14 .462
Poughkeepsie Bridge Jumpers 6 18 .250
Newburgh Rose Buds 2 26 .071
NOTES: This year was the last in which this league employed the rule that a team would designate a man to shoot all the team’s free throws. HRL leading scorer Toby Matthews of Catskill had 71 Field Goals and 140 Free Throws, averaging 10.4 Points Per Game. Troy’s Bill Hardman had more FGs with 78 but only 10 FT, as teammate Ed Wachter was Troy’s FT specialist with 89.
1910-11 HRL W L Pct.
Troy Trojans 29 10 .744
Paterson Crescents 26 11 .703
Kingston Colonials 26 14 .650
Yonkers Fourth Separates 18 17 .514
Newburgh Company E 16 23 .410
Hudson Mixers 13 21 .382
Catskill Beare-Cats 12 26 .316
*Schenectady Indians 2 20 .091
*The Poughkeepsie Bridge Jumpers were replaced by the Schenectady Indians, who assumed Poughkeepsie’s 0-6 league record. Schenectady dropped out before the season ended.
NOTES: In this year the HRL rule adopted the rule that the man fouled had to shoot the free throw. HRL leading scorer was Chief Muller of Troy at 6.3 PPG. Bill Hardman of Troy had 6.8 PPG but played in only 31 games to Muller’s 38 and so had fewer total points. Kingston’s Sam Curlett was third at 5.3 PPG, but led in FTs. Kingston’s Harry Franckle averaged 5.6 PPG but played in only 32 games to Curlett’s 39.
1911-12 HRL W L Pct.
Kingston Company M 14 8 .636
Newburgh Bizzy Izzies 14 9 .609
Paterson Crescents 13 9 .591
White Plains Lambs* 8 8 .500
Trenton** 3 5 .375
Yonkers Fourth Separates*** 3 16 .158
*White Plains dropped out
**Trenton dropped out
***Yonkers dropped out
NOTES: In 1911 Catskill’s league president Major Albert Saulpaugh, Jr. was dumped, precipitating withdrawal from the league of the teams from Catskill, Troy, Hudson, and Schenectady. League founder John Poggi of Newburgh assumed the presidency and brought in White Plains and Trenton to make for a six-team league. But after only three games most of the Kingston team jumped to the Central Basketball League to play as the Pittsburgh Southside AC. Trenton folded after eight games. The Paterson team doubled up as the Cohoes squad in the NYSL. On January 20, 1912, the league folded. Kingston was the champion and continued to play as a new entry in the NYSL (where they finished third at 24-26) while the other three clubs continued play as independents. HRL leading scorer was Newburgh’s Ira Streusand, at 12.7 PPG. Kingston’s Sam Curlett was second at 11.7 PPG.
Kingston in Pro Basketball, Post-HRL
1912-13: Kingston finished third in the NYSL at 27-23. Their leading players were Jimmy Clinton, George Henschel, and Pete Lamb.
1913-14: Kingston fell to sixth at 23-41. Its leading scorer was Joe Johnson at 6.6 PPG. Troy failed to win the championship for the first time in five years, losing by one game to Utica and its “heavenly twins” of Sedran and Friedman.
1914-15: Kingston precipitated the close of the NYSL in midseason (January 2). The Kingston team had been run by the players and they sought a guarantee of their salaries by the league, which refused. Leading players for Kingston had been Joe Johnson and 18-year-old newcomer Johnny Beckman, later to become an HOFer as captain of the Original Celtics. Kingston did not return to the NYSL for seven years.
1915-16: Kingston Pathfinders played briefly in the Interstate League.
1921-22: Kingston returned to NYSL and finished 18-21 but were led by HOFer Benny Borgmann, who scored 10.8 PPG.
1922-23: In the NYSL’s final year Borgmann upped his PPG to 11.7, highest in league history, and Kingston ran away with the championship with a 33-9 mark. In a 1923 World Championship Series, on April 6 Kingston wins a fifth and final game at home over the Original Celtics by a score of 24-19.
1924-25: Kingston Colonials played in Metropolitan League.
1927-28: Kingston Colonials were champs of the first half, then the league folded. Key Kingston players were Carl (Mickey) Husta, Harry Riconda, and James Campbell. Benny Borgmann, now with Paterson, was the star of the league.
1935-40: Kingston Colonials were members of the ABL from 1935-36 to 1939-40. Carl Husta was Kingston’s notable player, along with Nat Frankel and Phil Rabin, who led the league in scoring at 13.2 PPG in 1937-38 and 10.3 the next year. The Colonials won the pennant in 1938-39 (28-7) but lost in the playoffs to the Jersey Reds. In 1939-40 Kingston (8-4) merged with Troy on December 19 and lost in the playoffs. Its stars were Sammy Kaplan and Chick Reiser. League leading scorer was the future HOFer Bobby McDermott.
Monday, May 09, 2005
Remember the Old Hudson River League?
In 1902 African American pitcher Andrew Foster won 51 games for the Cuban X-Giants of Philadelphia. In one of these games he defeated the squirrelly lefthanded ace of the Philadelphia Athletics, Rube Waddell, thus acquiring his nickname.
In early September of 1903, Rube Foster and the X-Giants defeated the Philadelphia Giants in the first black World Series (although it was not until 1924 that the champions of two distinct Negro Leagues squared off in a postseason contest). Then the X-Giants took to the road, playing white minor-league and semipro teams and making good money. On September 21, 1903, Rube Foster and his champions came to Kingston to play at the Driving Park, a new baseball grounds opposite the West Shore depot.
Their opponents, the Kingston Colonials, were only four days away from clinching the pennant of the Hudson River League, a minor circuit in its first year of operation. The Saugerties Colts had broken from the gate well, winning their opener at home against Newburgh, 5-2, on May 21, then taking their next three games as well; but by September the Colts had slid back into the pack as Kingston's Colonials and Hudson's Marines emerged as the obvious class of the league. The Poughkeepsie Giants finished far behind Saugerties, as did the Newburgh Taylor-Mades and the Catskill squad, which had relocated from Ossining in August. Peekskill, which had declined to join the HRL at the beginning of the season, changed its mind on August 10 and fared well enough in its truncated season to finish third as measured by won-lost percentage.
The star player of the Saugerties nine into September had been Art DeGroff, a product of Hyde Park, where he had played with the Robin Hoods. (Other Robin Hoods who went on to play in the HRL were Artie Rice of Kingston, later sheriff of Ulster County and city treasurer of Kingston; Bill "Pony" Farley, who played 2B for Saugerties and later moved to New York City; and Eugene Ressigiue, who played outfield and pitched for Kingston in 1905.) DeGroff, a pitcher and hard-hitting center fielder who reached the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1905-06, played professionally through 1917. Yet when interviewed at the age of 69 he recalled: "I had the most wonderful time of my life that year in Saugerties. They treated the players like sons and brothers. They invited you to their homes. When you had a good day, why they were tickled to death.... As you go up in baseball you lose all that...."
Art DeGroff was Saugerties' lone selection to play in the Hudson River League's midseason All-Star Game, the first ever played in professional ball (it was another thirty years before the major leagues got around to the idea). That momentous contest was played in Poughkeepsie on August 17. On September 11, with Saugerties out of the race and Kingston struggling to hold off the late charge of Hudson, DeGroff was traded downriver in a fishy deal, with Kingston giving in return a nondescript outfielder, W. Peoples, and a sore-armed pitcher, G. Van Riper.
And now we come full circle. Ten days after joining Kingston, DeGroff took the mound against the Cuban X-Giants. Not only did the black champions have Foster as their hurler, they also had Home Run Johnson at shortstop, Danny McClellan in center, Pete Hill at third, and the remarkable Charley Grant at second. The light-skinned Grant was so highly prized that in spring training two years before, John McGraw, then manager of the Baltimore Orioles, had tried to smuggle him into the American League as a full-blooded Cherokee, "Chief Tokohama," who was said to have barnstormed with Guy Green's noted Nebraska Indians, a team that on several occasions played in Ulster County. The ruse worked through several exhibition games as the Orioles headed north ... until they reached a locale where Grant's fans came out to the park and hailed him as "Charley." On March 31, 1901 the Washington Post reported: "There is a report in circulation that Manager McGraw's Indian player is not a Cherokee at all, but is the old-time colored player, Grant."
Rube Foster, who would go on to create the Negro National League in 1920 and in 1981 earn a plaque in Cooperstown, defeated the Kingston Colonials, but barely. Coming up on the short side of the 3-2 score, Art DeGroff pitched brilliantly. It may be coincidence, but by the time he reached Rochester for the 1904 campaign, and forevermore thereafter, he too was known as "Rube."
On September 20, the day before the once and future Rubes were to duel in Kingston, Hudson and Poughkeepsie played an unbelievable quadruple-header. In what is the longest day any professional team has endured in the twentieth century, Poughkeepsie lost all four games.
Nary a man alive can recall this Hudson River League of 1903-07, nor obviously its predecessor of 1886, in which Cy Young's future catcher, Chief Zimmer of Poughkeepsie, would win the batting title with a mark of .409, nipping Kingston's Myron Allen, a future big leaguer with the New York Giants, by only six points. To digress further for a moment, the Kingston Leaders of the 1880s were so formidable a semipro nine success that at an organizing meeting of the upcoming third major league, the Union Association, on October 20, 1883, they applied to become a big-league team along with aspirants from Lancaster and Richmond. They failed to win entry, but one of their star players, Dick Johnston, went on to play for Richmond in the Union Association in 1884 and for many years thereafter was a celebrated center fielder with Boston.
The HRL of 1903-07 is notable for several oddities and firsts. Its teams and fans traveled together to distant games by riverboat, boarding the celebrated Mary Powell for the trip south to New York City to play the Paterson (New Jersey) Intruders, who entered the league in 1904. The Kingston and Saugerties teams defeated two of the most famous barnstorming outfits of the day, the All-Cubans (the genuine article, not African-American "impostors" like the Cuban X-Giants) and the Sioux Indians (whose pedigree as Sioux, or even Indians, was open to question). The contest between these Sioux Indians and the Kingston Colonials the previous year had been played at night, incredible as that may seem, under arc lights at the Driving Park. The major leagues' first night game did not take place until 1935.
Many big leaguers passed through the old HRL, either on the way up or on the way down. Most of these names are known only as trivia questions, obscure bit players in the major-league pageant. Elmer Steele, Joe Lake, Ernie Lindeman, Pete Cregan, Al Burch, George Gibson, Heinie Beckendorf, Phil Cooney, Con Daily, Pete Lamar - and three genuine stars: Jimmy Dygert of the 1903 Poughkeepsie team who as a spitballer with the Phladelphia A's in 1907 would post a record of 21-7 that included three shutout wins in four days; George McQuillan of the 1905 Patersons, a ten-year major leaguer who with the Phillies in 1910 would lead the league with an ERA of 1.60; and the inimitable Dan Brouthers.
A Hall of Famer who was undoubtedly the most feared slugger of the nineteenth century, Brouthers played first base for Poughkeepsie in 1903-05 as well as for Newburgh in 1906. Big Dan's splendid career in the bigs had appeared to end with the Phillies in 1896, despite his batting .344 at the age of 37, two points above his lifetime average. In 1897 he marked his exile to Springfield by leading the Eastern League in batting (.415, with 208 hits) but as the new century turned he returned home to Wappingers Falls. When a new league opened its doors for business right around the corner from his horse farm, however, he got back in harness. On June 1, 1904, in a game at the Driving Park in Saugerties (at the site of the present Cantine Field, but with its home plate facing the other way) Brouthers went 6-for-6 with a grand slam and a three-run homer. Saugertiesian Merce Farrell, whom I interviewed back in 1981 when he was 83, recalled sneaking into that game; he declared that the old man's two home runs were the longest balls anyone in the town had ever seen or ever would see. At year's end the 46-year-old Brouthers wound up leading the league in batting with a mark of .373 and as a reward was even called up to the New York Giants at season's end to play in two games.
Oh, we had stories and stars back then, right in our backyard. This column can barely contain the baseball tales coming out of the Hudson River League, so we'll get to the little-known world of pre-NBA hoops, and the years when Kingston of the Hudson River League was a national champion in basketball, next time around.