Wednesday, January 18, 2012


By the mid 1870's the National Association of Professional Baseball Players had weakened as the result of gambling and revolting. The large crowd that had once packed the league parks started to dwindle.

The Association took steps by fining players and forced others to resign. These efforts did little to change the game. Many large clubs raided these smaller rivals for players. But with the larger salaries demanded some soon met there fate. Significant reforms in the game were strongly needed. Otsego, Counties, William A. Hulbert had become an officer in the Chicago Baseball Club in 1875. His strong leadership convinced him that baseball could be a profitable business if under proper guidelines. His first though was to strengthen his own Chicago Ball Cub. During the 1875 season he convinced Boston Red Stocking star Albert Spaulding to jump ship and play in the windy city. Spaulding signing was against the Association of Professional Baseball Rules, and led to more pirating as three more Boston players agreed to join Spaulding in Chicago in 1876.

William Hulbert thought was to replace the old Association with a new league of selected cities. By early 1876 Hulbert had successfully founded the new league. He called it "The National League of Professional Baseball Players". The league consisted of Hartford, Boston. Philadelphia, and New York in the east, while the west housed St Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville and Chicago.

The new National League did have its shortfalls as many financial difficulties. Only Chicago showed in the black. By 1878, Louisville, Hartford, St Louis, Philadelphia and New York were gone. They were replaced Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Providence. A year later Indianapolis failed, Milwaukee took a financial bath and new teams were needed in 1879 to restore the league. It was decided that four teams would be added to make an eight team league. The four were the Syracuse Stars, Buffalo, Cleveland and Troy. By 1885 all would be gone as only Chicago and Boston remained.

Mr Hilbert had assumed the role as league president and received protest from new members Buffalo and Syracuse over the 50 cent ticket price for game admission. Both sent appeals for a lower 25 cents price as they had done the season before. The league upheld there 50 cent ruling stating that lower admission cost would bring a cut in player salaries that could lead to players accepting brides to through ball games.

Most Syracuse newspapers though ticket pricing should vary based on class, saying that drunks, rowdies and loafers that attend games should not be seated with members of the wealthy and respected gentlemen. By paying a higher ticket price it would prevent the social classes to see a game "without injury or ones feelings" as was being done in most Syracuse Opera Houses. Inconsistencies still prevailed as the Tecumsch Ball Club of Ontario was passed over, but Syracuse and Troy were both falling short of the necessary 75,000 people needed for admission according to league rules.

 The National League adopted new rule changes for 1879. First non-playing managers were barred from the bench. Each pitch is to be called a ball or strike or a foul ball and nine balls are required for a walk. A system of fines were established against a pitcher who hits a batsman. Batting order rules are changed to make the first batter in a new inning follow the last batter in the previous inning. Pitchers were barred from turning their backs completely to a batter during his delivery.

The Star Baseball Association elects Howard G. White as President. J. Forman Wilkerson, Charles J. Rae and Robert Townsend filled the remaining executive positions. George L. Smith was named manager formally with the Buffalo nine in 1878. New uniforms arrived with white center flannels trimmed with brown, brown stockings and white hats trimmed in brown. Philip S. Ryder's name was missing for the first time on the Stars Board of Directors but he did capture a team photo on April 25.

 The team the Stars would field were missing two familiar faces, that being Pete Hotaling and Alex McKinnon. Hotaling went to the Cincinnati Red Stocking while McKinnon became ill during the previous year and spent part of the season in a hospital. The Stars infield missed Mac's big bat and sure handed fielding. Hick Carpenter moved to first base to make room for Red Woodhead. "Moose" Farrell and Jim Macullar remained at second and short. Captain Mike Dorgan filled in at first when Woodhead struggled with the fast play of the league. Ham Allen returned to the Twinklers to plug the hole at the hot corner. He split the season with Syracuse and Troy.

The outfield was ably manned by Mike Mansell, John Richmond and Blondie Purcell. Mansell led left fielders in putouts as  National League sluggers batted Henry McCormick's servings. Purcell arrived from Utica by way of Binghamton to patrol right field and pitcher when McCormick wearied. Blondie parleyed his Syracuse experience into a twelve year major league career. Mansells' brother Tom, also had outfield duties in one appearance.

With the best catcher on last year's team, Mike Dorgan filled the roles of infield, outfield and substitute. So the Stars went looking for a quality catcher. Bill Holbert a product of the 1878 Milwaukee National League entry provided stability. Holbert's career lasted 12 years in big time baseball. Other catchers were "Honest" John Kelley and Frank Decker who caught thirteen games between them.

The first National League opponent was a strong Chicago nine managed by Hall of Famer Adrian "Cap" Anson one of the greatest sluggers ever to play the game. The contest was held in Chicago on May 1, 1879. The Stars came up short 4-3 in a hard fought contest as Larkin outdualed McCormick. Our Syracuse boys would lose their first five games on the road to the Leagues weaker opponents before defeating Cincinnati 7-6 on May 10. After successful stops in Cleveland and Buffalo the Stars returned for their Syracuse home opener.

In Syracuse, baseball fans could follow games at several local merchants. Many posted inning by inning accounts of games in progress. The most popular was W.B. Herrick's cigar store on West Fayette Street. Herrick's was a favorite gathering spot for the salt cities respected gentlemen of the days. A grand stop where one could place a wager on the outcome of any sporting event.

Wednesday, May 28, 1879, was the first and only National League opener in Syracuse Baseball History. Newell Park was again home and the National Leagues 50 cent admission price was in effect. The park was owned by the same Newell Family that owned the farm where the Cardiff Giant hoax was discovered back in 1869. Grandstand reserved seating that included a game score card was 25 cents extra. Cushioned seats proved by the Hawkins & Goodrich Company were available if reserved in advance.

The Syracuse baseball community was outraged at the new 50 cent admission (had been 25 cents the year before) and rebelled as only 500 loyal fans viewed that historic home opener. It was a great day as Henry McCormick shutout Cleveland 4-0 on a brilliant four hitter. The contest was won on fine fielding and the pitching delivery of McCormick that puzzled Cleveland batters all afternoon.

The Stars opening day lineup card read- Mike Dorgan (1b), "Moose" Farrell (2b), "Blondie" Purcell (rf), "Hick" Carpenter (3b), John Richmond (cf), Henry McCormick (p), Mike Mansell (lf), Jim Macullar (ss) and John Kelly catching.

As the first homestand ended the Stars salvaged six wins in thirteen contests. Ham Allen had been released and bad press was the news of the day. A Cleveland reporter wrote- "The Stars field was in miserable shape and seating was poor and seating capacity poorer. The grandstand was a skeleton affair and the Directors Box is a mockery. Action was more at the liquor bar set up on the side of the grandstand were betting was brisk". The scene at Newell Park was disgraceful. As the season continued loud swearing was frequently heard and open betting of games was the rule of the day.

By June 11 the Star had taken over third place and indications that better days were in sight. But it was not to be as the Stars embarked on a disastrous nine game losing streak that demoralized the club. The Syracuse Newspapers began heavy criticism of the team and its management. The attendance began to shrink too below a 100 fans a game. Journalist Paul Farmer writes in his 1984 article "In all fairness to the Stars, they deserved better. Many of their losses were close games that could have gone either way. Consider the series with "Cap" Anson's Chicago White Stockings in mid-June. They were setting atop the National League with a record of 18-3. The outgunned Stars put up a valiant effort, but all three games ended in Sox victories. The score 3-2, 4-3, 5-3". Ironically the series was perhaps the most successful of the year for the Stars, financially speaking. Most fans viewed this series than than did on opening day. What they saw was first-class major league baseball. Cap Anson managed five hits in thirteen at bats. against Henry McCormick. Following the Chicago's departure, the Syracuse Herald gushed that "Anson could make the Stars team win the pennant if he was managing it". There may have been a fair amount of truth to that statement. Between 1880 and 1886, Anson's team won the National League Championship five times.

Many other later Hall of Famers made Syracuse a stop during 1879, Pud Galvin, George & Harry Wright, Jim O'Rourke, Montgomery Ward and Dan Brouthers (whose first hit of 2,365 came off Henry McCormick) were all viewed by Stars fans that season.

Historic first were not just one sided.  July 26, Henry McCormick hit a solo home run in the first inning that defeated Boston 1-0. This is the only time in National League history that a pitcher won his own game with a home run. Many described this as the best game of the year. The only other standout was his white-washing of the Providence Grays 6-0 in Providence late in the season as the Grays were in a fight for the pennant with Boston.

As the Rockford club disbanded Star management was quick to sign George Creamer. The club had gotten untracked by mid season but Henry McCormick continued to hurl shutouts. He would finish third in white-washes. By August 7 the Stars had won just four of nineteen games. Jack "Moose" Farrell and Bill Holbert had ask to be released. Jim Macullar was appointed captain. Farrell was fined $90 for his indifference in playing, that was later remitted. Also many of the players were owed five weeks back pay. The team was in trouble, once gain the directors petitioned the league to lower the admission charge. The league refused.

Strange events were becoming common. During the August 7th Stars victory against Boston 6-5 this unusual play happened. Stars had runners on second (Dorgan) and third (Carpenter). Dorgan passed Carpenter and crossed the plate before Carpenter was tagged out.  There was no rule about runners passing preceding runners, but the umpire called both men out anyway.

September 7, 1879- Stars president Hamilton White resigns. The club played two more games. The last National League game was played at Newell Park on September 10, a Henry McCormick victory over Cleveland 6-5.

September 10 the Stars were forced to drop out of league competition fourteen games before the end of regulation play. In doing so the Stars became the first team since New York and Philadelphia too drop out of the league. The final record reads 22 wins, 48 losses and 1 tie for a seventh place finish. Many reasons for the fall of the franchise. Poor play, too much management, and the loss to directors of some $2,500 coming from poor fan support attributed to the 50 cent admission price were but a few reasons.

 In retrospect, the Star Baseball Association had been too successful as a non-leaguer to listen and adhere to League rules. These financial losses were minor in comparison to other teams. The club was accurate of it's fans desire, but the idea came a little to soon. Three years later, 1882, the American Association would stars up with 25 cent admission, Sunday ball, and free flowing beer. Many of its star players moved to new teams. Jack Farrell who hit a blazing .303 signed on with Philadelphia, Bill Holbert with Troy. Blondie Purcell & Hick Carpenter landed in Cincinnati, Jim Macullar in Albany. Local Syracuse residents Henry McCormick, Mike Dorgan, George Adams and newcomer Charles Osterhout all sat through the long Syracuse winter and wondered what next year would bring.

Accolades are not enough. Henry McCormick (the first native born Syracusan to reach the major league) was a whirlwind of talent who brought Syracuse Baseball to the national limelight. His pitching lead a small independent team to the lofty plateau of the National League and into the baseball history books. Fifteen years after his death, the Syracuse Common Council changed the name of the street where he lived from Granger Street to McCormick Avenue. Just a stones throw from the Armory Grounds where it all began.

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