Dakota Datebook

Baseball Arrived in Bismarck

Monday, May 12, 2014

 

When spring sunshine warms the earth and grass grows green, baseball begins. 1873 was the first year of existence for the brand-new city of Bismarck, and a visitor from Minneapolis who arrived in the city, on this date, told about the first baseball games in the frontier town.

Known only by the initials “C.A.L.,” the writer reported : “The snow was all gone in Bismarck in March and the boys have since had high times playing base ball.”  The two teams were made up of either soldiers or citizens.

One ballclub was called the “Lincoln Nine” – for its players were all soldiers from Fort Abraham Lincoln, located south of Bismarck on the high bluffs along the Missouri River.  These men, from the 20th Infantry Regiment, brought baseball to Bismarck. The other ballclub was known as the “Bismarck nine” – city residents who challenged the soldiers.

The national pastime back then was quite unlike the modern game.  1870s baseball “resembled fast-pitch softball,” according to historian Bill James, for “the pitch was delivered underhand from a distance of 45 feet.”  Although the rules required that the pitchers throw with a “stiff arm so as to limit velocity . . . the rules were not tightly enforced,” and pitchers zipped the ball to the plate “with a flick of the wrist.” The players played without fielder’s gloves, so games were filled with errors, and ballplayers got sore fingers.

The ballgames that summer between the Bismarck Nine and the Fort Lincoln Nine were high-scoring affairs. In an August 10th game, Bismarck defeated the soldiers, 65 to 31.  Bismarck’s best hitter, known only by his last name “Wells,” accounted for 10 runs.  The best hitter for the soldiers from “D” Company, 20th Infantry, was Mr. Ashton, the lead-off batter, who scored 6 runs.  The soldiers accepted their loss in a “gentlemanly manner,” according to A.J. Smith, Bismarck’s team captain, even though they lost their $100 bet on the game.

In another August contest, played at the fort, Bismarck won 89 to 39 and Mr. Wells, listed in the box-score as the catcher, scored 11 runs, but Second Baseman A.J. Smith out-performed Wells, scoring twelve times. Later in August, Bismarck’s Nine won the “most closely contested” ballgame that season – 40 to 34.

And so baseball history in Bismarck began in May of 1873, when soldiers and citizens first played “America’s Game” on the city’s earliest ball diamonds.

 

 

Dakota Datebook written by Daniel Bihrle and Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

 

Sources:  “C.A.L.,” [author] “Dakota: All About the Coming City of Bismarck, Its Situation, Progress, and Prospects,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 21, 1873, p. 2; same article reprinted in “Dakota,” Bismarck Tribune, July 11, 1873, p. 3 [first issue of the Bismarck Tribune].

Bismarck team identified as “Bismarck and Camp Hancock Base Ball Club,” in “Congratulations,” Bismarck Tribune, August 11, 1873, p. 1.

“Base Ball,” Bismarck Tribune, August 27, 1873, p. 4.

“Base Ball,” Bismarck Tribune, August 20, 1873, p. 4.

“Sunday Services,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 10, 1873, p. 1.

Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (N.Y.: The Free Press, 2001), p. 8-9.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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