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Reference book digs into 19th century baseball

Posted Apr 21, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Apr 21, 2012 at 07:09 PM

Record books can be antiseptic works, with orderly rows of year-by-year statistics. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re looking for a particular statistic, then “The Baseball Encyclopedia” and the tremendously viewer-friendly baseball-reference.com are perfect. I have used both sources extensively through the years.

But if you’re looking for something different and innovative, turn to just about any work by baseball historian David Nemec. Not only is Nemec a meticulous writer, he also is a determined researcher who enjoys nothing better than to uncover a nugget of information about a baseball player that will make you stop and think.

Nemec’s latest project might be his most ambitious, and certainly his most rewarding. “The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball: Biographies of 1,084 Players, Owners, Managers and Umpires” (McFarland & Company, 314 pages) is breathtaking in its scope. It is a thorough look at mostly forgotten major-league players.

Nemec breathes life into some of the most obscure names of baseball. Or, as fellow baseball historian John Thorn writes in the book’s foreword, “Nemec gives us the strange, the #####, the halt, the lame, and the determinedly quotidian.”

If a player appeared in a box score from 1871 to 1900, there is a good chance Nemec has found him, documented him and added something noteworthy about him.

That’s true throughout the book. Specific information is given on each player’s first and last games, that player’s most notable achievement, and “peer-driven analysis” of his baseball-related skills. Players are broken down by position or job title. There are chapters for pitchers, catchers, first basemen, etc.

In a split with Major League Baseball, Nemec includes players from the National League’s predecessor, the National Association, giving those players equal weight as major-leaguers. It is the proper move, since baseball certainly existed before the National League was formed in 1876.

Other leagues are included too: the American Association (1882-91), Union Association (1884) and the Players League (1890).

Most players in the index have a listing, except for one, whose name intrigued me. That would be Boileryard Clarke, a catcher who caught in the 1899 debut of pitcher Harvey Bailey and the final game pitched by Ed Dunkle in 1904. He is listed on baseball-reference.com, however.

Some other interesting facts: Warhorse Studley played for the Washington Nationals in the National Association in 1872 and went 2-for-21. He served in the Civil War, but was mustered out after less than 100 days after suffering severe sun stroke while loading horses on a train car.

Catcher Fritz Buelow faced Hall of Famer Rube Waddell in his first major-league at bat in 1899 as a National Leaguer, and in his final at-bat eight years later, face Waddell as an American Leaguer.

Second baseman Erve Beck had the first extra-base hit in American League history (a double off Roy Patterson) and the first home run in AL history the next day, off John Skopec in Chicago on April 25, 1901.

Outfielder Bill Barnes was a half-breed Canadian Indian and his mother was a full-blooded Dakota.

And finally, there is Abraham Lincoln “Link” Wolstenholme, a catcher who played for the NL’s Philadelphia Quakers (Phillies) in 1883. I reference that name because this Philadelphia native, who died on his 55th birthday, could be related to two of my children. Since genealogy is a hobby of mine, I am going to have fun checking this guy out.

Nemec and his band of researchers (and he credits several people who helped him out) have put together a valuable reference source. It’s interesting, entertaining and educational.

 

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