Thursday, March 23, 2017
Baseball in the Old West
By Kristy McCaffrey
The earliest known mention of baseball in the United States was in 1791 in Massachusetts. In 1845, the New York Knickerbockers was the first team to play by modern baseball rules, although it was considered an amateur club and far less popular than the game of cricket. But following the Civil War, over 100 clubs were members of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP). The Chicago White Stockings won the championship in 1870. Today they’re known as the Chicago Cubs and are the oldest team in American organized sports.
One of the first games played in the Arizona Territory was a Christmas Day match at Camp Grant near Tucson in January 1873. A Prescott paper, the Arizona Miner, reported, “In the afternoon, an exciting game of base ball took place. This occupied the attention, [of] both of the combatants, until one o’clock, when the welcome call to dinner was wafted to our ears, and readily responded to.”
Baseball became a holiday fixture (Fourth of July and Christmas Day) for many young communities in the Arizona Territory in the 1870’s and early 1880’s. Matches tended to be played in the winter or early spring, with Christmas an especially favorite day for the sport.
On April 10, 1887, the Phoenix baseball club, with a number of its players from Ft. McDowell, played Fort Lowell from Tucson at the territorial fairgrounds with an audience of around 200 people (back then, fans were nicknamed ‘kranks’). A severe wind and sand storm delayed the match for half an hour and blowing sand remained a problem during the first few innings. The Phoenicians, outfitted with “considerable good material here in ball tossers” defeated the “boys in blue” 14-7. At one point in the eighth inning, the crowd surrounding the field made so much noise that the local players couldn’t hear their coaches’ directions and instead of scoring a possible three runs, only marked a single tally.
By 1900, amateur football had become popular and replaced baseball as the traditional game played on Thanksgiving and Christmas.