By Richard Williams
Today baseball remains a major spring to fall sports attraction here in Clinton with high school, Little League, American Legion, and Hamilton College teams competing. The “national pastime” has a history dating back to the 1830s and 1840s when somewhat similar games were played with some different rules and procedures.
The New York Knickerbockers began in September 1845 as a social club for the upper middle classes of New York City and was amateur. They had rules, for example “plugging” or “soaking” was prohibited. This practice was to put the runner out by hitting him with the ball similar to schoolyard kickball today. Now rules require fielders to tag or force out the runner.
A league, National Association of Base Ball Players, formed in 1857 to govern the sport and establish a championship. Over 400 clubs existed by 1867. Civil War soldiers played the game, thus spreading it geographically.
Paid players were allowed in 1869, reversing a previous rule. The Cincinnati Red Stockings lasted two years, but the Boston Red Stockings began in 1871 and ten other clubs declared themselves professional ones by then. The National Baseball League started in 1876 and is known as the “senior circuit” while the American Baseball League was established in 1901.
Well, what about base ball (the original spelling was to separate base and ball) here in Clinton and Kirkland?
Hamilton College base ball history begins in 1884 with interscholastic play. However, during the Civil War the Clinton Courier had an article on June 30, 1864 saying that “there will be a match game between the Utica City and Hamilton College Base Ball Clubs on Saturday afternoon next.” We couldn’t find the score. Probably Hamilton men engaged in informal games prior to the start of interscholastic play.
The village men also played base ball as other items in the Clinton Courier indicate. In August 1865 an article reported that the “Rough and Ready Club of this place” and the Knickerbockers of New York Mills played on a Saturday with the R ‘n R winning 44 to 26. This was called an “exciting game and the first one ever played by the Rough and Readys.”
The Knickerbockers were credited with showing “rare pluck and skill” while the Rough and Readys at last “won the field handsomely.”
The same issue reported that the Married Men played the Single Men in Deansville (Deansboro) and the game featured “excellent batting, fly-catching, and base-making under difficulties.”
A year later, in the June 14, 1866 issue, two base ball games were reported. One was Deansville Rangers beating the Vernon Centre B.B.C. 124 to 49. Another was the Clinton Liberal Institute Eagles defeating the Whitestown Seminary Base Ball Club 28 to 16.
That issue also said that the Hamilton College First Nine would begin training to play a match game with the Central City Base Ball Club, and that the Rough and Readys would play a team from Hampton the next week. Hampton was what Westmoreland was called then.
Games were played between the College and the village, too. In June 1889, Clintons Number 2 trounced College Hill 20 to 1, and Hamilton College would play its last game of the season on June 8, 1889 against Madison University (later Colgate University).
Jumping to 1911, an article described a game between Clinton High School and Ilion High School where Clinton won 7 to 4 but lost another game to Ilion 9 to 4.
While the Ku Klux Klan brings to mind a white supremacist club the KKK also played base ball, and an announcement said the Oneida KKK would play the Clinton Rough and Readys at a contest in West Eaton in 1911.
The Trumpet was the name of the Clinton High School monthly in the 1920s and the final issue each June was called the “commencement number.” The 1929 issue had pictures and stories about only two sports: hockey and baseball (by then one word).
The Trumpet story said that in the spring of 1929 the school decided to have a baseball team, but lacked equipment, and there was no financial support from the school.
On April 15, 1929 the team met and elected officers: captain, Jerry Schilling; and manager, Durant Osborne. A subscription drive was planned and raised $133.70 for “essential equipment.” The money purchased jerseys, caps, and socks. Players provided their own trousers and gloves.
Practice ensued, and the new team played nine games and won eight. The only loss was to New Hartford 9 to 6. The only home run of the season was hit by Jerry Schilling.
Clinton High School beat Utica Country Day School (6-0), Clark Mills (14-1), Sauquoit (5-2), Deansboro (27-1), Sauquoit (19-1), Waterville (23-9), New Hartford (18-10), and Vernon (13-1).
Paul “Tiny” Hoff pitched and struck out 54 men in five games, and fellow pitcher Floyd Scoones struck out 19 men in four games.
The Trumpet said that this was the first time in four years that a “team had carried C.H.S. colors to the baseball world.” The story ended by saying that the next year the team will have a coach, more experience and better support.
The public school in 1929 was the Marvin Street building which did not have a large enough athletic field for games. A field on the west side of Sanford Avenue was used for many years into the 1950s even though, by then, the new central school on Chenango Avenue had a baseball diamond.
The 2011 Clinton High School team finished 13-9 and advanced in the play-offs winning the Section III, Class B-2 title. This continues a tradition of baseball or “base ball” here since the 1860s at least.
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