By Juti A. Winchester
In May of 1876, the United States was gearing up to celebrate its centennial. On the Plains, Indians struggled with the frontier Army for control of their hunting rights and their homelands, and George Armstrong Custer's demise at the Little Big Horn battle was still months in the unknown future. William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody had just begun his stage career.
Women agitated for the right to vote, and the still-new Women's Christian Temperance Union fought to remove the influence of alcohol from American society. Questions concerning the influx of European immigrants and the conditions of laborers were on the minds of both politicians and ordinary citizens.
In 1876, Prescottonians referred to Arizona's former territorial capital as a "village." Its newspaper, the Arizona Weekly Miner, offered a variety of international and local news including reports on the progress of regional roads, stories about Indian affairs, and the local gossip. On May 19, among its more mundane news the Weekly Miner proudly announced that a match game of Base Ball to determine the Championship of the Territory would be played on the Plaza at two o'clock the following Sunday afternoon.
"Base Ball" was a comparatively new sport in 1876, originating as a sport-oriented fraternity in the East sometime in the early part of the century. Beginning in the mid-1850s, base ball fever took over the New York area, respecting no boundaries of race or class; records are sketchy but teams composed of laborers and even "coloreds" contested for supremacy in sandlots all over the state. The first recorded championship series, played between "nines" representing Brooklyn and New York City, took place in 1858, at a horse racing track on Long Island, and tickets cost fifty cents. The press reported that a "galaxy of youth and beauty in female form...nerved the players to their task" and cheered the New Yorkers to the championship. Proceeds from the series enlarged a fund for the widows and orphans of fire fighters.
Early base ball clubs were both sports groups and social organizations. Single young men found satisfaction in playing the game and companionship in the associations, things sorely missed in the work that consumed so much of their lives. Base ball clubs generated so much interest and pride among their fans that they inspired songsters to create music celebrating their achievements, such as the 1861, favorite "The Home Run Quick Step, respectfully dedicated to the members of the Mercantile Base Ball Club of Philadelphia," or "The Union Base Ball Club March, to the members of the Union Base Ball Club, champions of Missouri," first heard in 1867.
The Army had its share of base ball clubs, and soldiers maintained active leagues both during and after the Civil War. The men of Company H, 7th Cavalry formed the Benteen Base Ball Club, and this group played a heavy schedule against other military teams. History also records that a good number of the Benteens were lost in battle at the Little Big Horn in June 1876. Soldiers at the fort near Prescott formed a team they called the Whipple Base Ball Club, their military uniforms doubling as base ball uniforms.
Prescott had a team, too- the Champions Base Ball Club. On April 30, the newspaper recorded that the Whipples scored forty-seven runs to the Champions' twenty-one, wryly commenting, "By which it will be seen that the Champions got badly beaten." When it announced the championship contest to be held three weeks later, the writer for the Weekly Miner anticipated a good game, noting that both clubs were in good playing condition and that the Champions were going to receive additional help from the Red Stockings of Boston.
The Territorial Championship rated a front page story on May 26, including a box score of the action for those who had missed the game on the Plaza. The rules of the game (and its recording) have changed since 1876, but even today we can get a basic idea of what happened. By the way, the game took three and a half hours to play, and the game was called by Parker acting as umpire.
|WHIPPLE B. B. C.|
|Player||Run||Out||Fair Catch||Home Run|
|Pitcher - Smith||3||2||1||0|
|2nd Base - O'Niell||3||4||0||0|
|Catcher - Reynolds*||1||0||0||0|
|Catcher - Thornhill**||0||2||0||0|
|Left Field - Cody||1||3||1||0|
|1st Base - Ochus||3||3||1||0|
|Short Stop - Phillipson||1||5||0||0|
|3rd Base - Guylfoyl||5||1||1||0|
|Right Field - Murray||3||3||0||0|
|Center Field - Shoemaker||2||4||0||0|
*Quit the field on account of injuries.
**Took Reynolds' place.
|Player||Run||Out||Fair Catch||Home Run|
|Pitcher - Caton||7||1||2||2|
|Left Field - Miles*||5||3||1||0|
|1st Base - Wheeler||4||4||0||0|
|Short Stop - Sivyer||5||4||1||0|
|2nd Base - Pettibone||7||5||0||0|
|Center Field - Jennison||4||5||0||0|
|Catcher - Heenan*||4||5||0||0|
|3rd Base - Schroeder||7||1||1||0|
|Right Field - Pierce||6||2||0||0|
*Good foul catch.
|C. B. B. C||2||12||2||8||4||6||10||4||1||49|
|W. B. B. C||1||2||2||6||1||3||1||4||2||22|
In addition to the notoriety of being the Champions of the Territory, the winners received a "fine Regulation Dead Base Ball, 91/4 inches, 5 1/4 ounces." The Weekly Miner also included a disclaimer stating that the Territory was a large field, and that distant teams might argue with the right of the two Prescott teams to "thus dispose of the Championship" but that the Champions were excited enough with their success to invite all challengers to contend by simply saying so and they would meet them half-way. One enterprising soul captured the event on film: if you look carefully at the picture, you can see the soldiers in their uniforms, and you can't miss the Bostonians. Prescott must have been proud of their "nine," but not quite moved enough to compose a quadrille or two-step to commemorate the event.
Since that game in the Plaza, both baseball and Prescott have changed. Baseball games draw huge crowds and players draw huge salaries, and Arizona has the Diamondbacks to send into the national contest. The Red Sox are in this year's playoffs. Meanwhile, sandlot baseball lives on in the streets of Prescott and other American cities, alongside the professional and semi-professional leagues. The sound of balls slapping gloves and the crack of bats can still be heard on still afternoons.
Juti Winchester is the Assistant Archivist at Sharlot Hall Museum and is a die-hard fan of the San Diego Padres Baseball Club. She recommends Benjamin G. Rader's Baseball: A History of America's Game, 1992, for more information.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (st121pa). Reuse only by permission.
In 1876 the Champions beat the Whipple Team right on Prescott's Plaza for the Championship of the Arizona Territory. This photo documents the event and the shows the men from a Boston Team that assisted the winners of this high scoring contest.