Courtesy of the Anuta Research Center
The rawness of life in the early days of a developing city is evident in this picture, but it had no impact when it came to the game of baseball. With towering trees for a backdrop and a barbed wire fence surrounding the playing field, the “Boys of Summer” in the 19th century enjoy a game of baseball. Outfielders had to dodge tree-stumps when chasing balls hit in their direction. The scene was Riverside Park at the western skirts of the city where Isaac Stephenson had his famous horse-racing venue.
Courtesy of the Anuta Research Center

The rawness of life in the early days of a developing city is evident in this picture, but it had no impact when it came to the game of baseball. With towering trees for a backdrop and a barbed wire fence surrounding the playing field, the “Boys of Summer” in the 19th century enjoy a game of baseball. Outfielders had to dodge tree-stumps when chasing balls hit in their direction. The scene was Riverside Park at the western skirts of the city where Isaac Stephenson had his famous horse-racing venue.

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Football may outpoll baseball in popularity in the tri-county area, but baseball has been around much longer.

The “Boys of Summer” have been playing the game in this neck of the woods since the 1870s while organized football didn’t show up until 1894. The baseball season used to extend into autumn. Now football has practically become a yearlong sport with its spring training routines, summer camps, earlier season schedules and stretched out playoffs.

Newspaper accounts didn’t provide the coverage of games in the 19th century like present-day descriptions, which makes it difficult to research the sport’s history in these parts. But there are enough details to give us an inkling of how the game was played, and the spirit and competition that accompanied it.

Fred C. Burke of Marinette, a well-known author and historian in the pre-1950s, uncovered a game played in Peshtigo on the Fourth of July 1871. One team was captained by a man named Shepherd and the other team by a man named Barnes. The rest of the players were not identified. While the details of the game were not available, the final score was published: Shepherd’s team 45 runs, and Barnes’ 5 runs. Burke had no doubt the players on both teams were local.

Baseball historians talk of a game played in England in the 1830s called “Rounders.” The game was played with an ordinary ball, and with stout round sticks as bats. After school, the boys would assemble in the nearest field, select a smooth portion of it, and lay out the ground for a contest. This was easily done by placing four stones, or posts, in position as base stations, and by digging a hole in the ground where the batsman had to stand. The players tossed up for sides and innings and started to play.

Custom made the rules of play. There was no written code to govern the game.

The game called Rounders blended with a game called the “New York Game” in the U.S. and the game of baseball was on its way across America.

A Menominee River baseball team, representing the Village of Marinette, operated for four seasons from 1882 to 1886. Joshua Hodgins served as manager. Gale Allen and A. Sterling handled the mound duties, and Frank Hill and S. Amsler were the catchers. The rest of the lineup included Tom Connor at first base, James Porterfield, second base; W.C. Campbell, third base; Capt. George Kearl, shortstop; and Sam Stephenson, Tom Abern and H. Ring patrolled the outfield. George Townsend was the lone sub.

Another team organized in 1887 represented the City of Marinette for three seasons. Walter Prickett was named the manager. Some of the players from the team managed by Hodgins were in the lineup for Prickett’s squad. 

According to Burke, a team from Menominee was organized about the same time and was made up of Indians. Brothers Louis and Sam Lafromboy formed the battery. Louis was the pitcher and Sam was the catcher. The team was highly respected and competitive. The team disbanded after a few seasons and the Lafromboy brothers joined the city team. 

While Sunday baseball may have been popular with players and their rooters, it was not acceptable to many citizens. This prompted Dr. John J. Sherman, one of the most prominent community leaders, to seek a warrant and put a stop to the Riverside Park outings. With warrant in hand, he and the county sheriff went to the ball park and waited until the game started. After the first ball was pitched, the good doctor and sheriff went onto the field and arrested the participants. 

The actions of Dr. Sherman and the sheriff didn’t set well with players and spectators. In fact, it created a fracas and the umpires had nothing to do with the outbreak. The players and a few angry onlookers picked up the doctor and tossed him over the fence that circled the playing field. The game continued. Nothing was reported on what happened to the sheriff. 

The following day the players had their day in court. One of the witnesses called by the prosecution was Andrew C. Merryman who resided across the street from the baseball grounds. Merryman was a very influential businessman with ties to logging and sawmills, and was a key figure in the organization of Marinette County in 1879.

He was asked how much noise generated by the Sunday baseball games disturbed his day of rest. He responded that the game noise didn’t upset him as much as some of the residents who lived in the heart of the city a mile or two from Riverside Park. Not much more was reported about the case and baseball continued at “the old ball park.” 

Marinette was extended an invitation to join the Wisconsin State Baseball League when the league was getting organized in the winter of 1891. This was only 12 years after the county was organized and four years after the city was chartered. 

Baseball enthusiasts and community leaders huddled to determine what would be necessary to support the business part of the game. Marinette supporters were excited about the opportunity to join the league, which was considered a high level brand of baseball. 

Some of the sponsors behind the move were successful businessmen or political leaders. They included W.A. Brown, George W. Hanley, Arthur E. Mountain, W.C. Campbell and “Ad” Fairchild. Hanley was chosen president of the club. 

Other league members were Oconto, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac and Appleton. Arthur E. Mountain of Marinette was elected league president. 

On Wednesday, May 30, 1891, Marinette played its first league game at Fond du Lac. The City of Fond du Lac was excited about hosting the first game in the newly formed circuit. 

More about the opening game next Monday.