100 YEARS OF BASEBALL IN SARATOGA COUNTY
The history of baseball in Saratoga County mirrors the development of the game elsewhere in the northeastern United States. Although baseball was played in America in the late eighteenth century, it was not until the mid-1840s that it evolved into a game played mainly by adult men. In 1845, the New York Knickerbocker Club’s rules for the game of baseball became widely accepted. By the 1850s, men’s baseball clubs were being organized all over the northern and Midwestern states. Saratoga County was no exception.
The earliest documented teams were organized in Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa, both by the mid-1850s. No doubt, “town ball” was played in rural areas all over the county. Competition was not limited by the county boundaries. For the first 100 years of organized base-ball, teams from Saratoga County routinely played clubs from Glens Falls and Luzerne (Warren County), Ft. Edward, Hudson Falls, Granville and Comstock (Washington County), as well as Troy, Albany, and Schenectady.
Each new generation of players represented a “boom” in the popularity of local baseball. Teams from the late 1860s, the mid-to-late 1880s, the 1910s, and the 1930s are most noteworthy in local baseball history. This exhibition examines the growth and popularity of baseball in Saratoga County from 1850 to 1950.
This exhibit was on display at Brookside Museum October 1999 – December 2000.
1850 – 1885
“It is Expected Base Ball Players will be Gentlemen.”
W.R. Winchell, Saratoga Baseball Club, and one-time umpire, June 1863.
Organized baseball existed in Saratoga County as early as the mid-1850s. Teams were formed in Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs, and followed shortly by Schuylerville and Greenfield. Tannery and factory workers made up the Ballston team, while members of Saratoga Springs’ baseball club included business owners, clerks, merchants, a school teacher, a lawyer, a banker, and a future Confederate soldier. These early teams relied on copies of Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player, a book of rules first published in 1860. Equipment was purchased from the Spalding Company in New York City.
The rivalry between Ballston and Saratoga began at once. In 1860, the Ballston San Soucis (named after the famous hotel there) claimed the championship of Saratoga County, and defeated the Saratoga Stars. Matches and rematches brought the two teams together often. Teams from Troy (the Haymakers), Glens Falls, Ft. Edward, and Sandy Hill (Hudson Falls), Albany (Knickerbockers), Hudson and Kingston made appearances in Saratoga County as well. Teams also proliferated within the larger towns: Saratoga had the Star, Hope, and Hickory Clubs in 1867.
On occasion, outside teams played on baseball grounds at Saratoga, in part to take advantage of the summer crowds there. Despite controversies in scorekeeping and umpiring, the emphasis in the early years of baseball was on gentlemanly behavior while on the playing field.
1885 – 1900
Fast games and clever teamwork…
While larger towns in Saratoga County were fielding well-organized teams, smaller communities were also “playing ball.” In the Town of Northumberland, the hamlet of Brownville had its own baseball club, probably in the years between 1880 and 1900.
Known only as “Jonathan R. Deyoe’s Team,” they played clubs in a twenty mile radius, from Victory Mills to Fort Edward (Stars), to Greenfield Center and Quaker Springs. These teams were composed of a tightly knit group, and usually more than one family member played.
During this time the rivalry between Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa heated up, with numerous matches being played. The powerhouse team of this period was the Ballston Monitors, organized in 1883. This was an era in which baseball flourished in the area, producing many teams from semi-pro to worker’s clubs.
Saratoga Springs produced a number of clubs in addition to its Athletic Club Team. The west-side neighborhood, populated mainly by workers of Irish descent, formed the Dublin Daisies in the 1890s. Clubs made up of workers from the large hotels played one another. In one well-documented game, the Business Men and the Professional Men of Saratoga Springs went head to head in 1895.
1900 – 1920
Ballston dominates the baseball scene…
After 1900, local baseball increased in popularity. Early in the decade there was a Tri-County League, which folded in 1906. Teams from Ballston Spa dominated county play in the first decade of the twentieth century.
The Monitors, formed in 1883, continued their noteworthy winning record, alongside the Ballston Knickerbockers, another semi-pro club. Both teams played at the Fairgrounds, with the Knickerbockers playing on Saturday afternoon, and the Monitors on Sunday. Along with the Saratoga A.C. Team, Ballston teams regularly played clubs from Schenectady, Albany, and Troy. In 1904, the Ballston Monitors won 25 of 26 games, their best record ever. They attributed their success to teamwork and pride in Ballston Spa, since all the players that year were natives of the village. It was customary for baseball clubs to accept players from other towns.
Pride in Ballston Spa extended all the way to the Major Leagues during this period. Ira F. Thomas, born in Ballston Spa in 1881, became the catcher for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics between 1909 and 1913. In 1909 and 1910, he was on the World Championship Team. Thomas began his career in the minor leagues in Hartford, Connecticut, and moved on to play with Newark, Providence and the New York Highlanders before being picked up by the New York Americans in 1906. In 1908, he joined the Detroit Tigers for a single season, prior to his long association with Philadelphia.
World War I interrupted the baseball scene for a brief time, though interest in the game remained high in this area throughout the period. It was during the 1910s that the only professional team in the region, the Mohawk (Colored) Giants of Schenectady, began to play at Saratoga Springs.
1920 – 1940
Between the Wars: A County League Flourishes
What made a countywide league flourish in the Depression Years? It was great entertainment that did not cost a lot of money, and transportation from town to town became easier as automobiles and trucks became more commonplace. Still, baseball already had a history in Saratoga County, and old rivalries were being played out in fields from Saratoga Springs to Stillwater. These were the glory years of local baseball.
Teams from Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa, Stillwater, Corinth, Round Lake, Mechanicville, Middle Grove, Greenfield, and Halfmoon played regularly scheduled games, and there was a County Championship. In the late 1930s, Ballston Spa and Mechanicville shared the title, although Saratoga Springs players dominated the All-Stars roster. The International Paper Team from Corinth and the Mechanicville Westvacos (West Virginia Paper Company) were two county teams sponsored by local industry. These teams were built around local talent and some well-known college players. Comstock Prison fielded its own team — it only played home games — managed by the prison’s chaplain.
As in earlier years, county teams played teams from the region, including the Mohawk (Colored) Giants, a professional team from Schenectady, and such scene-stealing traveling teams as the House of David from the mid-west. Other leagues were formed during this time, including the New York-Vermont Twin City League, which Schuylerville belonged to, and the Twilight League.
1940 – 1950
Changes begin for local baseball
World War II made a significant impact on the game of baseball in the area. Despite the many players who entered military service between 1941 and 1945, the game continued, thanks to the efforts of men like Robert Gass of Saratoga Springs, manager of the Saratoga A.C. Team. From 1942 to 1951, Gass managed the A.C.s, a time about which he later said: “Those were nine of the happiest years of my life.”
Following the war, county teams were reinvigorated, and between 1946 and 1949, the Stillwater Stars battled the Mechanicville Westvacos and the Mechanicville Rangers; the Saratoga A.C. met the Ballston Socks and the Corinth A.C., and teams from Troy and Schenectady continued their long tradition of regional play.