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Holliston’s Long and Glorious Baseball History: A 4-Part Series; Part IV

by Joanne Hulbert
August 16, 2019

Holliston High School baseball team, circa 1890

Part IV:  Our 19th Century Baseball Roots

Part IV:  Our 19th Century Baseball Roots

 

Holliston’s history records the first hints of involvement in baseball back in 1857. No doubt the game had been played in years long before that, since newspapers recorded the crucial role Holliston had played in early Massachusetts baseball history.  One article mentioned “our citizens who in years gone by were accustomed to engage in this athletic sport.”

The history of the Winthrop Base Ball Club and the Dedham Convention begins in 1858, when the rules of the Massachusetts Game of Base Ball were established. Holliston was one of the clubs involved. In 1859, the second president of the league, Peter Rogers Johnson (who could actually be called a “player-president”) was from Holliston.

The official rules of the Massachusetts Game – distinct from those of the New York Game that quickly dominated the way baseball was played across America – can still be found. (Locally, the Mudville Base Ball Club occasionally still plays by those rules when they can find a willing opponent with sufficient courage.)

Yes! We have Mudville. Did Ernest Thayer have our famous neighborhood in mind when he wrote that poem? We would like to think so! 

First mentioned as Mudville in 1856 in a poem that was actually written about a political incident at a town meeting, the name Mudville predates the poem by 32 years. We once had a team named The Mudvilles, in 1892, comprised of 14-year old boys who challenged the Ward Four team to a match. No word could be found concerning the outcome of the game.

One player, Albert Rockwood Crosby, of Boston, with Rockwood family ties to Holliston, was a prominent player in Boston in the 1850s, having once been a member with each of the four major teams there. He was an influence on Holliston’s team, as there was a Rockwood cousin on the Winthrops, and he was a frequent visitor here. We also care for Albert, as he died tragically in 1870, at the age of 31 and is buried at Lake Grove Cemetery. 

Looking back into the nineteenth century, we see that Holliston baseball was a major source of social activity in town, both for players and spectators. So many games every year, so many teams that reflected the changing cultural life of Holliston.

Prior to the rise of many baseball teams in Holliston, where it seemed everyone who could stand at bat and take a few hits, baseball found its way to colleges.  The Harvard College class of 1866 started the first team in 1863.

Harvard team catcher, George Flagg, was grandson of Asa Whiting, who built the present-day home of the Holliston Historical Society. George bought this property, having nostalgic memories of life on that farm.

George earned a few lines in the New England Baseball list of November 19, 1868, as a “noted player of baseball history” and “one of the prettiest catchers ever seen,” in the Harvard Advocate of 1891.

The Advocate also recorded a “first” by Flagg: in a game against the powerful Atlantics from New York City, “it looked as if Harvard was likely to win. Flagg was the power behind the throne and surpassed all others in the management of the game. On one occasion, when a runner was on first base, and second base had an easy catch, Flagg called out, ‘Muff it,’ and so he did, and two hands were lost instead of one – the first instance of this play on record.” 

Hmmm…. the first mention in baseball history of a double play???

George Flagg also retains a modicum of baseball remembrance in Holliston with Flagg Field on Linden Street bearing his name. This moniker was not directly due to Flagg, but to the former Flagg School that once stood nearby. Yet we can remember him as one of Holliston’s early baseball pioneers.  But George was not the only one of our early players.

The Shamrock Club and the Holliston Irish Athletic Club in the 1870s reflected the obligation of the Irish to form their own teams. Local non-Irish residents had not quite reconciled the fact that the Irish were more than pretty good players and could actually help them win games. Gradually, there would be integration.

And naming rights is nothing new for teams or ballparks today. In 1886, the Morse’s Dyspepsia Cure Nine was so named as local druggist Charles H. Morse found a novel way to advertise his patent medicine. They were usually called “The Cures,” or the MDCs, a more convenient term for the local sportswriters, if not the druggist.

Holliston High School baseball team, circa 1890

The town of Clinton proclaimed a few years back that they had the oldest baseball field in continuous service in Massachusetts--since1876.  We beg to differ!  The field located on Green Street is at least a few years older than that. Incidentally, the Clinton team came to Holliston and played there in 1876, on a field that had been in use as recreational land since the days when the local militia trained there.

Our baseball history is substantial in Holliston. Perhaps, because of it, we ought to sneak in a tiny baseball on the town seal.  From Peter Rogers Johnson and the Winthrops to Mark Sweeney, there’s a multifaceted history about the town we live in and where we still “Play Ball”!

 

 

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