An 1865 baseball battle between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton

As the weather cooled in October 1865, the best baseball players in the Wyoming Valley assembled on a makeshift diamond at the Luzerne County Fairground at Wyoming for two games to collect local bragging rights. 

1866 - Baseball Full
An illustration of a baseball game near Philadelphia in 1866.

Two games took place, pitting the first and second teams of the Susquehanna Base Ball Club of Wilkes-Barre against the Luzerne Base Ball Club of Providence (a Scranton neighborhood) and the Wyoming Base Ball Club of Scranton. 

This early baseball match-up proves one of the earliest in the Coal Region where the game took on its modern, relatively organized form. In the months after the Civil War ended, many of the soldiers who returned home brought with them experiences of playing or watching baseball while in the service. Peace-time brought the organization of baseball clubs throughout Pennsylvania. This story from Wilkes-Barre’s Luzerne Union newspaper provides one of the earliest detailed accounts of a baseball game from this time period. 

Salisbury NC Baseball 1865
A famous illustration of a makeshift baseball game being played among US Army prisoners-of-war at a Confederate prison in Salisbury, NC. (LOC)

From the Luzerne Union, October 11, 1865.

Base Ball at the County Fair

On Wednesday last the first and second nines of the Susquehanna Base Ball Club of this place [Wilkes-Barre] went to the Fair Ground at Wyoming to play two matches, to which they had been challenged, by the first nine of the Luzerne Base Ball Club of Providence, and the second nine of the Wyoming Base Ball Club of Scranton.

They reached the grounds at twenty minutes to ten to meet the Wyoming Club at ten o’clock, the hour appointed for the game between the two nines. The delay occasioned by the Wyoming Club, as they did not reach the grounds until 11 o’clock, put off the game to that hour.

Philadelphia Baseball 1865
An illustration of a baseball game in Philadelphia in 1865. The game in Wyoming in October 1865 probably looked something like this. (LOC)

The play began by the Susquehanna being sent to the bat, the Wyoming having won the toss, and taken the field. Our men opened with fine and strong batting, and all the efforts of the Wyoming men could not stop the heavy score of sixteen runs on the first innings. (It must be said, however, that the ground, which was the best the place afforded, and which had been selected by a joint committee of the two Clubs, was loose and heavy and hindered close fielding, which the unusual manner of the fly balls required, this difficulty hurt the field play of both sides throughout the game.)

The Wyoming men then went in and on some good batting scored five runs. The second and third innings were played, and our men with their strong batting, made six and eight runs – the Wyoming’s two and one. At this point the play was stopped by the rain, and time was called.

After the rain, in about half an hour, the game was resumed, and at a quarter to two o’clock the rain coming down heavily, and the sixth innings being completed, game, as it was generally understood, was called, the scores being for the Susquehanna 45, Wyoming 25, as follows:

1865 Box Score 1

At half-past two the first nine of the Luzerne Club and the first nine of the Susquehanna Club, in which two of the second nine played after having gone through with the Wyoming game. F. Ellis, who had played with the second nine against Dowd of the Wyoming first nine, also filled his place opened this game. After two and a half hours play, in which the Susquehanna men by strong and sustained batting scored 51 runs, and the Luzerne, who played well and pluckily for a new Club, scored 13 runs, the game was closed.

The scores are as follows:

1865 Box Score 2

The fielding of the Susquehanna men was good throughout, and the Luzerne men show promise of good play. Albright and Winston did finely.

The Wyoming Club had before the commencement of the last match expressed their desire that the game between the second nines should be continued, as they were under the impression that “time” and not “game” was called at the end of the sixth innings – not withstanding that the Susquehanna men were unanimously of that opinion and also some of their own men.

Our men, though provoked at such finessing, agreed that should there be sufficient time on the completion of the match between the Luzerne and Susquehanna, the game should go on. So at 5 o’clock the Susquehanna went to the bat, and the irritation which they felt so nerved their batting that it may almost be called famous.

The ball was driven into uncovered parts of the field or over the fielders heads. They scored 10 in the seventh innings and 23 in the eighth innings – the Wyoming making one run in the seventh innings. On their going to the bat in the eight innings it was growing rapidly dark – one of their men was put out at once, and they scored five runs when the ball could scarcely be seen.

The catcher of the Susquehanna said that he could no longer see the ball, and he insisted on having the game called. The Scranton men objected, when it was agreed that the game should be considered as called at the sixth innings. The Susquehanna men were indifferent where the score was stopped, and, indeed, were greatly provoked at the trifling conduct of some of the Scranton men, especially that they were not allowed the seventh innings after the Wyoming men had insisted that they should play on. However the matter closed good naturedly with mutual cheering and congratulations.

After saying so much we can only allude to the playing of the first base F. Ellis and to some fine catches by Bedford and H. Reichard of the Susquehanna. The other men did their duty. Dowd and Scranton of the Wyoming played well. But the batting of our men was remarkable and was sustained throughout the game. Not more than ten balls were weakly struck in all the play, and we do not hesitate to say that the best clubs of the country would have been proud of such hitting.

In conclusion we must state in justice to our own men that the game deserves to be reported thus:

Game as agreed:

1865 Box Score 3

It may be said that the whole game could have been played in the morning if the Wyoming men had been punctual.

Featured Image: A baseball game near Philadelphia in 1866. (Philly Sports History Blog)

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