Among my many memories from playing on the baseball diamonds of Williams Valley are numerous occasions of rowdy fans or abusive players heckling officials or opposing fans. Most games, in fact, featured some sort of shouts to the umpire about a bad call or a tight strike zone.
Well, this is apparently far from a modern phenomenon.
In August 1894, Williamstown and Lykens were locked in a tight race for the pennant. Semi-professional baseball in Dauphin County’s “Upper End” had become something of an obsession among local residents, and the two largest towns dominated the ball fields in the lower reaches of the Coal Region.
As the summer began to draw to a close, tensions grew among the teams. Both knew that soon the season would be over and bragging rights were to be claimed.
This tension exploded in a fit of rage on the field at Williamstown on Saturday, August 18, 1894. A tight game between the home team and its rival from “down the valley” boiled over into an incident between two Lykens players and the umpire.
A Williamstown correspondent described the events in a letter to the Harrisburg Telegraph:
…two of the visiting [Lykens] players made life miserable for Umpire Holler, kicking at everything. The ‘Tommy Tucker’ language of those players was ungentlemanly, and instead of making our national game a success in our valley, it gives it a black-eye. Let the managers have this work stopped and let harmony reign in both towns. The attendance was about 600.
Anger may have been stoked by the fact that Williamstown roundly defeated Lykens that day by the score of 8-4. The Williamstown fans could stand morally righteous considering their team won the day. “Harmony” could wait until the season was over.
And what about the “Tommy Tucker” language being used? This is likely a reference to Boston Beaneaters first baseman Thomas “Tommy” Tucker. He had gained a reputation for his abusive, over-the-top behavior on the diamond, including a well-publicized incident from the summer of 1894. This excerpt comes from the Society for American Baseball Research:
Tucker’s most infamous moment in a road game also took place in 1894, at Philadelphia. On July 17, Boston tried in vain to delay a game during the eighth inning after Philadelphia had taken a prohibitive 12-2 lead. Boston had been ahead 2-1 at the end of the last fully played inning, the seventh, and wanted Umpire Bill Campbell to call the game because of the light rain that had begun falling before the eighth was completed.
As per the rule, had Campbell done so the score would have reverted to the end of the seventh frame, and Boston would have won. After Philadelphia was able to circumvent Boston’s delaying tactics and end its turn at bat by having Sam Thompson purposely miss second base on his return to first on a long foul ball, Boston refused to continue and Campbell forfeited the game to Philadelphia.
Soon after he did so, several fans, in the opinion of the Boston Globe, seemed to have had a “preconcerted plan to attack Tucker, for they fairly swarmed around this player” when he attempted to return to the Boston bench to retrieve a sweater he had forgotten. Reports conflict as to whether he sustained a broken cheekbone in the fracas or merely a severe bruise before Philadelphia players and police helped get him away from his assailants.
In the end, Lykens gained the last laugh. They clinched the 1894 pennant on Saturday, September 22 “in the presence of a large crowd” at Lykens.
In the decades that followed, the rivalry intensified and didn’t always stay on the ball field.
Stay tuned for more Williams Valley baseball history in the coming weeks!