SABR, Bud Fowler and a Taste of Cooperstown
Last Thursday I made my way to Upstate New York for the fifth annual Frederick Ivor-Campbell 19th Century Base Ball Conference. I have gone each year so that means it has been five times that I have attended if my math is correct. Driving to Cooperstown can be challenging since I cannot wait to get there and my foot tends to push down on the gas pedal. Thankfully there wasn’t any cars trying to pull me over to delay my arrival to baseball’s land of nostalgia. When I arrived I headed straight to Doubleday Cafe, usually the first stop of all my arrivals in Cooperstown. I sat at the bar and had an open-faced Reuben and an Ommegang BPA. The ale is brewed locally at Brewery Ommegang, the brewer of Iron Throne – the official beer of Game of Thrones. I was hoping to grab some of this specialty beer to bring home but liquor stores in Cooperstown cannot sell beer and I had little time to drive to the brewery.
After checking into my room, I headed to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to do some quick research. On that particular day I was looking for some info on Will White, the 19th Century pitcher who won 40+ games three times and was the brother of the newly-elected Hall of Fame player, Deacon White. I was hoping to find an account of his death in correspondence from a family member. I checked White’s player file and there was a few items of interest including a letter to Lee Allen dated September 6, 1962. The letter was from one of his nieces that was with him when he drowned in Canada on August 31, 1911.
Once done with the research, I met up with some of my friends from the Society for American Baseball Research or SABR as it more commonly known to most casual fans of the national pastime. The first stop was Cooley’s Stone House Tavern for some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and baseball chatter. I learned that one of my friends, let’s call him “Joe Jackson for the Hall (Not!)”, lived next door to Frank Tripucka and his family. For those of you who do not know much about the game of football (American version), Tripucka was a decent quarterback in his day, twice leading the American Football League in passing yards. Frank’s son is Kelly Tripucka, former Notre Dame basketball standout and a 10-year veteran of the National Basketball Association. Kelly was a particular favorite of mine back in the day. The man could score. He averaged over 20 points-per-game five times during his NBA career, including a career-high 26.5 points-per-game during the 1982-83 season. All other conversations during the few hours at Cooley’s cannot be divulged to protect the identity of my friends so they do not have to publicly admit that they are my friends or that they hang out in bars. Between you and me, SABR members are only suppose to do research and not have any fun like regular folks. Don’t tell anyone.
After the highly confidential and private conversations at Cooley’s, we met up with a few more friends for some food at Nicoletta’s Italian Café. I had some tasty veal parmigiana. After dinner I realized I have already been to three Cooperstown food and drink establishments so I started thinking that I was participating in a “Taste of Cooperstown” and was ready for the next place. However, Cooperstown in April closes pretty early so instead I trekked back to my room for an update on the Boston Marathon bombers.
The next morning I found myself glued to the TV (tele in England) watching the news on the bombings and the manhunt. Crazy stuff! Once I got out of the room, I tried finding a Matt Harvey T-shirt for my son. I visited many of the local shops that have baseball clothing but not a single store had a Matt Harvey T-shirt. Was it too soon? Why were a handful of stores closed? Was it time to get food? So no Harvey T-shirts were going to be bought that day, but a stop at the Tunnicliff Inn for a burger was going to happen. I met up with my friends “Joe Jackson for the Hall (Not!)” and “Mr. Timeshare Dude” to get our pre-conference burger on. Before they arrived, they bumped into SABR executive director Marc Appleman and asked him to join us for lunch. As “Joe Jackson for the Hall (Not!)” and “Mr. Timeshare Dude” chomped away on their elk burgers, we discussed the status of SABR, the conference and Frank Tripucka. Once our burgers were history, it was time for the Frederick Ivor-Campbell 19th Century Base Ball Conference.
The conference was named for Frederick Ivor-Campbell after he passed in a tragic car accident just a few months after the first 19th Century Base Ball Conference. It was fitting that the conference was named after him since he was among the historians and researchers that began the 19th Century base ball research renaissance that is still going strong and was SABR’s 19th Century Committee’s chair from 1991 to 1998. At the first conference, Fred played a prominent role as a moderator for the panel discussion and it was the last time many of his colleagues saw him. When Fred died, it was a sad day for SABR and all that knew him.
Peter Mancuso, the chair of SABR’s Nineteenth Century Research Committee and the man behind the conference, got the day going with some introductions before he handed over the floor to Joanne Hulbert. Hulbert brought her energy and enthusiasm to discuss others who usually bring energy and enthusiasm to baseball games. Her presentation was on base ball cranks, spotlighting Boston’s legendary-crank Arthur “Hi Hi” Dixwell. Richard Hershberger followed with his presentation on the Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright creation myths. Did you ever notice that their first names both begin with the letter A and that their last names have nine or more letters in it? Coincidences? I think not!
Paul Browne showcased the Allentown, Pennsylvania minor-league team of 1894 that was led by Mike “King” Kelly. The team was comprised of many former major league veterans, including 2009 19th Century Overlooked Base Ball Legend Pete Browning. Marty Payne followed Browne with “Beer Tanks & Barbed Wire: Bill Barnie and the Baltimore Orioles of the AA (1883-1891)”. He highlighted many instances of ballplayer troublemaking during some troubled times for the American Association’s Baltimore team. Jerry Casway, a veteran presenter of past conferences, gave the audience excellent insight into the career of outfielder Jim Fogarty.
After Friday’s conference presentations, it was time to head to the Otesaga Resort Hotel for a dinner reception. Before dinner we gathered for drinks at the Otesaga’s Hawkeye Bar & Grill. My beverage of choice for the evening was Red Hook Long Hammer IPA. During the gathering I met the great-granddaughter of Larry Corcoran. Corcoran is one of my favorite pitchers whose career ended prematurely. From 1880 to 1884, Corcoran went 170-83 with a 2.23 ERA, 1,076 strikeouts and 246 complete games while pitching three no-hitters. Not too shabby! Unfortunately he blew out his arm, ending his major league career in 1887. He died a few years later of Bright’s Disease at the age of 32. You never know who you are going to meet in Cooperstown or at a SABR gathering.
Dinner was pretty good and the view out the window was the beautiful Otsego Lake. We had a packed table of conference veterans and a few newcomers. The newcomers fit right in. For some reason I had the chicken dish. I’m usually a beef man. What was up with that? Most of the dinner I was getting text messages from my son with updates on the Mets-Nationals game. Matt Harvey bested Stephen Strasburg. Nice!
Saturday’s conference was off and running by 10 a.m. Bill Humber gave an interesting and amusing presentation called “George Sleeman and the Guelph Maple Leafs”. Humber is a proud Canadian who adds humor to his presentations. He also added a beer baron to the mix with George Sleeman. That caught my attention. He also talked about Guelph. At first I thought it had something to do with The Lord of the Rings but it turned out to be a city in Southwestern Ontario. The Guelph Maple Leafs were the pride of Canada in the 19th Century. Humber’s humor is hilarious. Say that ten times!
Next in the lineup was a panel discussion moderated by Major League Baseball’s Official Historian John Thorn entitled “The Evolution of the Pitching/Catching Battery”. The panelists were two prolific 19th Century baseball authors in David Nemec and Peter Morris plus rules expert and vintage baseball veteran Eric Miklich. The panel discussions are always a highlight at the conference. Thorn brought his usually wit and the panelists have such incredible knowledge of 19th Century base ball that I almost cried. At one point Thorn asked about overlooked catchers and pitchers of the 19th Century. My ears perked up when the question was asked. See I chair SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Project Committee and when the word overlooked comes up, it is my job to listen. Miklich brought up two outstanding catchers from the period of the 1850s to the 1870s, Joe Leggett and Nat Hicks. Morris, of course, brought up Deacon White, SABR’s 2010 Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legend. Leggett was on the preliminary ballot to become the 2013 honoree but failed to advance to the final round of ten. Leggett was one of baseball’s first stars and the first great catcher in baseball history. His ability to catch Jim Creighton was a main reason Creighton changed the game from a pitching perspective. Creighton’s name came up when overlooked pitchers were discussed. During the discussion I was about to ask Nemec about Jack Clements as an overlooked catcher and oh my gosh he started talking about Clements, the first man to catch 1,000 games and the greatest left-handed throwing catcher in major league history.
After the panel discussion, it was time for lunch at Templeton Hall (a few buildings up from Cooley’s) and the keynote address. The keynote speakers to date have been an impressive list. The list includes John Thorn, Peter Morris, David Block, William Ryczek and the 2013 speaker, Tom Shieber. Shieber is a senior curator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He is known to be among the top (if not the top) researchers of baseball artifacts. Shieber discussed SABR and where he would like to see SABR in the future, focusing in on a more collaborative effort among members to further baseball research utilizing the tools available today to annotate primary resources and classic published works. I say “Bravo” to his ideas and hope to participate in some of these collective projects.
After the keynote address, we headed back to the Hall of Fame for the member spotlight part of the conference. This year Tom Simon interviewed Peter Morris. It was a fitting pair since both served on the Pre-Integration Era Committee that selected Deacon White, Hank O’Day and Jacob Ruppert to the Hall in December. Simon asked Morris about his Scrabble playing days, his greatest finds while uncovering biographical data on missing or incomplete player information, books he would like to write but probably won’t get to in his lifetime, and women’s college volleyball. Morris won the World Scrabble Championship in 1991. As someone who is a proponent for more 19th Century personalities being elected to the Hall of Fame, Morris said something that I have been saying for a long time in relation to many 19th Century personnel, especially players and pioneers of the pre-National League days (1830s-1875): “Deacon White never had a chance to be voted on by his peers.” In other words, Deacon and others have never really been properly looked at by a body of Hall of Fame voters that really knew anything about them. Having Morris and Simon on the Pre-Integration Era Committee was the key for Deacon to finally be elected. I give credit to the Hall of Fame for finally recognizing the fact that 19th Century experts need to be on the committee. I hope they continue to put experts like Simon and Morris on future committees so the truly overlooked but deserving candidates get their due and a permanent place in the game’s ultimate shrine.
Speaking of an overlooked legend, the rest of the conference was devoted to Bud Fowler. Cooperstown town historian Hugh MacDougall presented on the life of John Jackson, also known as John “Bud” Fowler. His presentation was thorough, interesting and a tribute to black baseball’s original pioneer. He was the first African-American professional baseball player in organized baseball. His first pro game was in 1878 when he played with the Lynn Live Oaks in the International Association. He traveled the country for 30 years, playing at all levels of baseball except in the majors–not because he wasn’t talented enough but simply because of the color of his skin. Fowler, who was born in 1858, grew up in Cooperstown and learned the game of baseball on the fields of the Cooperstown Seminary.
After MacDougall’s presentation, we headed over to Doubleday Field. We walked to Chestnut Street for the unveiling of the new Fowler Way sign which connects Doubleday Field and Chestnut Street. Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz, who is also an author, baseball historian, SABR member, a Rock and Roll enthusiast and a fellow Seamheader, made the dedication while local high school ballplayers unveiled the new street sign.
The crowd then walked down to the first base side of Doubleday Field for some brief comments and the unveiling of a plaque honoring Fowler. Katz declared it Bud Fowler Day and various political figures and local leaders said a few words.
The final speaker was John Thorn who talked eloquently about Jackie Robinson and how others came before him. He ended his words saying Robinson had to take Fowler Way to make his mark in the history books.
Graduate students, working with the Cooperstown Graduate Program (CGP), created an exhibit on Fowler and now is displayed at the field. According to the CGP’s website, the program is the premier program for the training of museum professionals in the United States.
Bud Fowler Day and Bud Fowler Way is hopefully the beginning of people remembering and honoring Bud Fowler. Ultimately, it would be nice to see Fowler on the next ballot for the Pre-Integration Era Committee in December 2015. I’m still in shock he was not elected in 2006 when 17 Pre-Negro League and Negro League legends were elected.
The local press and historical society have been writing about him recently. See the picture below.
After the ceremony, many SABR members feasted at the Cooperstown Back Alley Grille. I sat with “Joe Jackson for the Hall (Not!)”, “Mr. Timeshare Dude” and a few others. I found myself drinking the local Ommegang BPA and eating a favorite of mine, steak and shrimp fajitas. After dinner we said good-bye to our other fellow SABRites before we drifted over to the Tunnicliff Inn for our final drink of our stay. This time I had a Saranac Pale Ale and topped it off with a hot fudge sundae. When we left, flurries covered the sky and it oddly seemed like Christmas Eve. However, I didn’t see any fat man in a red suit. After all the eating and drinking, I did see a fat man in a green jacket. No! Not John Daly in a Masters jacket. He hasn’t earned one yet.
So when I woke up in the morning, I packed the car and headed back home to the Constitution State. But before I turned out of the parking lot, I made a detour, drove to Doubleday Field and left town via Fowler Way.