Freeport and the National Pastime
Baseball has long been a popular sport in Freeport. The town’s Centennial in 1889 featured an old-timers game, played by rules that were already out of date. A description of the festivities in the Daily Eastern Argus reported that “the most amusing feature of the day was the old fashioned game of round ball, which was played by ‘boys’ 50 years old and upwards. Anyone under 50 was too young to play.” There were 12 men on each side, with four bases, “or goals as they call them.” Runners were out when touched by the ball (usually thrown at them) and the sides changed after every out. There were no foul balls: Peter Lane “knocked a swift foul which narrowly missed the heads of several in the crowd. Everything goes in this game, and Mr. Lane got two bases. Dana Dennison pounded wind for a while and was put out at second. The game was exceedingly funny and it is to be regretted that the pressure on our columns will not allow a description in full.”
By 1900, although the equipment was crude by modern standards, the game was much more recognizable as baseball as we know it today. There is evidence about the Freeport High School team in, of all places, the guest register for 1898-1901 from the Freeport House, a hotel on Park Street. The book contains several entries for entire visiting teams. Some of the players included the position they played when they signed the register, and in May 1901, A. Frank Ward, second baseman for Gardner High School, even included his nickname, “Kid.”
According to the Freeport High School Clarion, Freeport won that game by the lopsided score of 22-4. The Freeport team that “Kid” Ward faced included John Wesley “Jack” Coombs, who would have to be considered the most talented baseball player to come out of Freeport. Coombs was recruited out of Freeport High School by Colby College, which had a very good baseball team. From there he went on to pitch in the majors for the Philadelphia Athletics, Brooklyn Dodgers and Detroit Tigers. He held a number of major league records, and won three games in the 1910 World Series, when his Athletics defeated the Chicago Cubs. During the regular season that year he had 31 wins against just 9 losses; since 1900, only 12 other pitchers have won 30 games in a season. He was nicknamed “Colby Jack,” for his alma mater, which named their baseball field after him, and he coached the Duke University team for many years after he retired as a player.
Freeport also had a well-established town team by this time, as evidenced by a photograph of the 1902 team in the FHS collection. One of the big events of the year was the Fourth of July Merchants Picnic, which in 1917 featured a double-header against arch-rival Yarmouth at the True Farm at Flying Point. It was common practice for teams to import “ringers” for such big games, and that day, as the story goes, for $100 plus train fare, Yarmouth brought in a young left-handed pitcher from the Boston Red Sox. Danny Snow, leading off for Freeport, sent a home run into Casco Bay. The major leaguer bore down, and allowed no more runs in that game, but that was all Freeport needed, as they shut out Yarmouth and won 1-0. The “Yarmouth” pitcher apparently ate more than his share of lobster at the mid-day break, and Freeport won the second game as well, 6-4. The pitcher for Yarmouth that day turned out to be none other than Babe Ruth!
This was by no means Ruth’s only experience with Freeport. An avid outdoorsman, he often visited L.L. Bean’s on his way north, and became friends with LL. He was returning home from a hunting trip on Thanksgiving Day, 1933, when he stopped in at the LL Bean factory with his wife to make a few purchases. According to an article in the Brunswick Record, “The youngsters of the town swamped him, and for all he had a smile, and for some a pat on the head, and for a few he wrote his name on a bit of paper.” But two, Thomas Randall and Norman Kilby, Jr., had baseballs, which he signed “and as far as is known they are the only Freeport youngsters to enjoy such distinction.”
Thanks to L.L. Bean, another famous major leaguer, Ted Williams, who was an avid fisherman, was also a frequent visitor to Freeport. Ken Brown, who played on the Freeport town team in the 1940s and ‘50s, still treasures a photograph of himself and the rest of the team with the “Splendid Splinter.” And the Freeport team from that era was a strong one. A scrapbook in the FHS collection contains clippings about the 1949 team, which won the Casco Bay League post season playoffs after finishing second to the Gray Tigers in the regular season.
Organized sports, and especially baseball, keep track of records and statistics with an ever-increasing thoroughness and complexity. While the accomplishments of major league teams and players are well-documented, the same cannot be said of the countless local town teams, many of which are on the verge of fading from memory completely. We had to rely on fragments gleaned from newspaper clippings and eye-witness accounts to piece together this story. The 2010 summer exhibit at FHS will focus in part on baseball in Freeport, and we hope that it will jog a few memories, and perhaps motivate people to dig through their attics for artifacts and information about this entertaining piece of our past.
CLARIFICATION:In the Spring 2010 newsletter, our front page story, entitled Freeport and the National Pastime, contained a statement regarding Jack Coombs, which left out part of the story. Thank you to John D. Davis for offering this important clarification. We apologize for leaving the wrong impression .
In your Freeport and the National Pastime article, it was stated that Jack Coombs was recruited out of Freeport High School by Colby College. Strictly speaking that was not the case. In the middle of his senior year at Freeport High School Coombs was enticed out of Freeport High School by an offer to attend Coburn Classical Institute in Waterville–seemingly at no cost. Interestingly enough, Coombs was only one of four FHS athletes who were enticed to Coburn Classical Institute during those years. Coombs finished his preparatory education at Coburn Classical and then, that fall, was admitted to Colby College. Unquestionably, Colby was involved in some manner behind the scenes (the two schools–college and prep school–were located on opposite sides of the same street in Waterville) but strictly speaking Coombs went from FHS to Coburn Classical and then on to Colby College.
Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club & The Rules of 1860
The Dirigo Vintage Base Ball Club is a non-profit, educational and living history organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the game of Base Ball as it was played during its formative years in the mid-nineteenth century and other historic eras. We educate others about the beginnings of our national pastime through living history Base Ball games, educational presentations to area museums, historical societies and schools.
The Rules of 1860, as adopted by the National Association of Base-Ball Players.
SOURCE: Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player (1860)
Rules and Regulations of the Game of Base Ball,Adopted by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BASE-BALL PLAYERS Held in New York, March 14, 1860.
Sec. 1. The ball must weigh not less than five and three-fourths, nor more than six ounces avoirdupois. It must measure not less than nine and three-fourths, nor more than ten inches in circumference. It must be composed of india-rubber and yarn, and covered with leather, and, in all match games, shall be furnished by the challenging club, and become the property of the winning club, as a trophy of victory.
Sec. 2. The bat must be round, and must not exceed two and a half inches in diameter in the thickest part. It must be made of wood, and may be of any length to suit the striker.
Sec. 3. The bases must be four in number, placed at equal distances from each other, and securely fastened upon the four corners of a square, whose sides are respectively thirty yards. They must be so constructed as to be distinctly seen by the umpire, and must cover a space equal to one square foot of surface. The first, second, and third bases shall be canvas bags, painted white, and filled with sand or sawdust; the home base and pitcher’s point to be each marked by a flat circular iron plate, painted or enameled white.
Sec. 4. The base from which the ball is struck shall be designated Home Base, and must be directly opposite to the second base, the first base must always be that upon the right-hand, and the third base that upon the left-hand side of the striker, when occupying his position at the Home Base.
Sec. 5. The pitcher’s position shall be designated by a line four yards in length, drawn at right angles to a line from home to the second base, having its center upon that line, at a fixed iron plate, placed at a point fifteen yards distant from home base. The pitcher must deliver the ball as near as possible over the center of the home base and for the striker.
Sec. 6. The ball must be pitched, not jerked or thrown to the bat; and whenever the pitcher draws back his hand, or moves with the apparent purpose or pretension to deliver the ball, he shall so deliver it, and he must have neither foot in advance of the line at the time of delivering the ball; and if he fails in either of these particulars, then it shall be declared a baulk.
Sec. 7. When a baulk is made by the pitcher, every player running the bases is entitled to one base, without being put out.
Sec. 8. If the ball, from the stroke of the bat, is caught behind the range of home and the first base, or home and the third base, without having touched the ground or first touches the ground behind those bases, it shall be termed foul, and must be so declared by the umpire, unasked. If the ball first touches the ground, or is caught without having touched the ground, either upon, or in front of the range of those bases, it shall be considered fair.
Sec. 9. A player making the home base, shall be entitled to score one run.
Sec. 10. If three balls are struck at, and missed, and the last one is not caught, either flying or upon the first bound, it shall be considered fair, and the striker must attempt to make his run.
Sec. 11. The striker is out if a foul ball is caught, either before touching the ground, or upon the first bound;
Sec. 12. Or, if three balls are struck at and missed, and the last is caught, either before touching the ground or upon the first bound,
Sec. 13. Or, if a fair ball is struck, and the ball is caught either without having touched the ground, or upon the first bound;
Sec. 14. Or, if a fair ball is struck, and the ball held by an adversary on the first base, before the striker touches that base.
Sec. 15. Any player running the bases is out, if at any time he is touched by the ball while in play in the hands of an adversary, without some part of his person being on a base.
Sec. 16. No ace nor base can be made upon a foul ball, nor when a fair ball has been caught without having touched the ground, and the ball shall, in the former instance, be considered dead, and not in play until it shall first have been settled in the hands of the pitcher; in either case the players running the bases shall return to them, and may be put out in so returning in the same manner as the striker when running to the first base.
Sec. 17. The striker must stand on a line drawn through the center of the home base, not exceeding in length three feet either side thereof, and parallel to the line occupied by the pitcher. He shall be considered the striker until he has made the first base. Players must strike in regular rotation, and, after the first innings is played, the turn commences with the player who stands on the list next to the one who lost the third hand.
Sec. 18. Players must make their bases in the order of striking; and when a fair ball is struck, and not caught flying (or on the first bound), the first base must be vacated, as also the second and third bases, if they are occupied at the same time. Players may be put out on any base, under these circumstances, in the same manner as the striker when running to the first base.
Sec. 19. Players running the bases must, so far as possible, keep upon a direct line between the bases; and, should any player run three feet out of this line, for the purpose of avoiding the ball in the hands of an adversary, he shall be declared out.
Sec. 20. Any player, who shall intentionally prevent an adversary from catching or fielding the ball, shall be declared out.
Sec. 21. If the player is prevented from making a base, by the intentional obstruction of an adversary, he shall be entitled to that base, and not put out.
Sec. 22. If an adversary stops a ball with his hat or cap, or takes it from the hands of a party not engaged in the game, no player can be put out unless the ball shall first have settled in the hands of the pitcher.
Sec. 23. If a ball, from the stroke of a bat, is held under any other circumstances than as enumerated in Section 22, and without having touched the ground more than once, the striker is out.
Sec. 24. If two hands are already out, no player running home at the time a ball is struck, can make an ace if the striker is put out.
Sec. 25. An innings must be concluded at the time the third hand is put out.
Sec. 26. The game shall consist of nine innings to each side, when, should the number of runs be equal, the play, shall be continued until a majority of runs, upon an equal number of innings, shall be declared, which shall conclude the game.
Sec. 27. In playing all matches, nine players from each club shall constitute a full field, and they must have been regular members of the club they represent, and of no other club, for thirty days prior to the match. No change or substitution shall be made after the game has been commenced, unless for reason of illness or injury. Position of players and choice of innings shall be determined by captains previously appointed for that purpose by the respective clubs.
Sec. 28. The umpire shall take care that the regulations respecting balls, bats, bases, and the pitcher’s and striker’s positions, are strictly observed. He shall keep record of the game, in a book prepared for the purpose; he shall be the judge of fair and unfair play, and shall determine all disputes and differences which may occur during the game; he shall take especial care to declare all foul balls and baulks, immediately upon their occurrence, unasked, and in a distinct and audible manner.
Sec. 29. In all matches the umpire shall be selected by the captains of the respective sides, and shall perform all the duties enumerated in Section 28, except recording the game, which shall be done by two scorers, one of whom shall be appointed by each of the contending clubs.
Sec. 30. No person engaged in a match, either as umpire, scorer, or player, shall be, either directly or indirectly, interested in any bet upon the game. Neither umpire, scorer, nor player shall be changed during a match, unless with the consent of both parties (except for a violation of this law), except as provided in Section 27, and then the umpire may dismiss any transgressor.
Sec. 31. The umpire of any match shall determine when play shall be suspended; and if the game can not be concluded, it shall be determined by the last even innings, provided five innings have been played, and the party having the greatest number of runs shall be declared the winner.
Sec. 32. Clubs may adopt such rules respecting balls knocked beyond or outside of bounds of the field, as the circumstances of the ground may demand; and these rules shall govern all matches played upon the ground, provided that they are distinctly made known to every player and umpire, previous to the commencement of the game.
Sec. 33. No person shall be permitted to approach or to speak with the umpire, scorers, or players, or in any manner to interrupt or interfere during the progress of the game, unless by special request of the umpire.
Sec. 34. No person shall be permitted to act as umpire or scorer in any match, unless he shall be a member of a Base-Ball Club governed by these rules.
Sec. 35. Whenever a match shall have been determined upon two clubs, play shall be called at the exact hour appointed; and should either party fail to produce their players within fifteen minutes thereafter, the party so failing shall admit a defeat.
Sec. 36. No person who shall be in arrears to any other club, or who shall at any time receive compensation for his services as player, shall be competent to play in any match.
Sec. 37. Should a striker stand at the bat without striking at good balls repeatedly pitched to him, for the apparent purpose of delaying the game, or of giving advantage to a player, the umpire, after warning him, shall call one strike, and if he persists in such action, two and three strikes. When three strikes are called, he shall be subject to the same rules as he had struck at three fair balls.
Sec. 38. Every match hereafter made shall be decided by a single game, unless mutually agreed upon by the contesting clubs.
- Section 16 is a source of angst for players of the 1860 rules. Henry Chadwick added comments to the rules and provides other game interpretations in the 1860 Beadles Dime Base-Ball Player, the first edition of the series.
- From the Ohio Village Muffins and Lady Diamonds website
Crank, Rooters, or Bugs: this is what spectators were called. The term “fan” was not used until 1889