Jun 20

They were the Glory of Their Times

They were the Glory of Their Times[1]

Saturday, 16 June while the Yankees battled the Nationals, Mark Hornbaker, Martin Niland, Karen and I from DC Baseball History at the request of Bill Blewett, One-Eyed Horse Productions,[2] took a step back in time to watch the filming of their new motion picture, “Day of the Gun.” Walking down a woody knoll the foliage suddenly parts. Below us is a cow pasture with a medicine wagon, tents and town folk dressed up for a big game between a barnstorming professional nine and the local team. The baseball player’s are wearing uniforms not seen in well over 100 years.

We are in Singletree; a rail stop located in Montana, the date is 1895. The town is celebrating its 25th anniversary and the highlight is the match played in a dale below the town, between the visiting Excelsior Aces, barnstorming their way west, and the Singletree Nine. The visiting players are dressed in black with an “A” on a red breast shield with red socks. The home nine is a mix of uniforms, one wearing union army pants, authentic to the period when dress for many local teams tended to be whatever was available.

In recognition of the town’s 25th Anniversary the two nines are playing according to 1870 rules.[3] A spectator to the game, the word fan was not in use, would have understood the basics of the game but would have been surprised at the differences. The pitcher throws underhand and stands in a box. Another surprise is when the ball is hit to an outfielder. The outfielder comes in on an easy fly ball then suddenly stops and catches the ball on a bounce; the arbitrator[4] calls the striker[5] out.[6]

The players play without gloves or masks. The ball a white 1861 style “Lemon Peel” baseball, so named because of the stitching[7] is slightly larger and softer than the baseballs used today. An era when the local town baseball team was the center of the town’s interest and many played for the love of the game.

I could almost hear Rod Serling beginning his famous monologue, “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is…”

In reality we are in Jessup, Maryland for the filming of the upcoming movie, “Day of the Gun.” A One-Eyed Horse Production, written and directed by Wayne Shipley. The movie, a western, centers on the conflict between a widow protecting her ranch and family against a powerful cattle rancher with a cantankerous mule thrown in for good measure.[8] A centerpiece of the movie is a baseball game mentioned above. The game and equipment is authentic to the period. Attention to detail is meticulous. The players are not actors; they are members of area teams like the Chesapeake and Potomac Baseball Club. They are experts in the early rules of baseball, circa 1864.

Movies tend to ignore the impact baseball had on daily life. In rural towns the local nine was a source of pride. Games would often feature hard fought rivalries with other near-by towns with the possibility of significant betting on the side lines. Many larger cities featured industrial leagues. Washington of course had the Departmental League which at times more popular than the District’s major league club.

The Hollywood Dream factory has long featured baseball themed movies. Some like the 1958 musical, “Damn Yankees,” are fun, but sometimes the facts get in the way of the story. Take the 1942 “Pride of the Yankees,” with Gary Cooper playing Lou Gehrig. Babe Ruth,[9] Bill Dickey or Bob Meusel get some air time. But Cooper’s baseball skills were such that the batting scenes were reversed, when he hit the ball he ran to third![10]

For the film, “Day of the Gun,” the One-Eyed Horse Production team got it right. Players like; Gene “Pop” Meacham, second baseman for the Chesapeake and Potomac Club[11] and Tim “Shakespeare” Grieb, the pitcher from the Excelsior Base Ball Club[12] play for the comradeship and love of the game. The Chesapeake and Potomac Base Ball Club[13] has three nines; Chesapeake Nine of Kingsville, Potomac Nine of Gaithersburg and the Old Dominion Nine from Leesburg. They play a regular schedule of games during the season and new members are always welcome.

It was a magical experience; all of us are treated with warmth and kindness. We have never been to a movie set and are impressed with the hard work and dedication of the staff and actors. Many different skills sets and resources are required. On set are horses, a “super star” mule, adults and children all in period attire. Many of the actors are experts in various fields, bringing unique talents to play.

For someone who has conducted research in the early days of baseball it was incredible to see the game played in its early form and refreshing to talk to the players who play the game for the simple joy of it.

Special thanks to Wayne Shipley and Bill Blewett from One-Eyed Horse Productions and the interviews with players, Gene “Pop” Meacham, Justin “Buddha” Linksz, Rex “Stoney” Stone and Tim “Shakespeare” Grieb that will be used in future articles.

[1] A reference to the Lawrence Ritter classic, “The Glory of Their Times.” Stories from the early days of baseball.

[2]www.one-eyedhorse.com. Mr. Blewett is Co-Producer for the upcoming film, “Day of the Gun.”

[3] This did happen! On 25 September 1877 an historic match took place between members of the famous 1867 Nationals and the soon to be good 1880 Nationals. This in the press, “An interesting but one-sided contest took place on the Olympic Grounds between the “Old” and “New” Nationals. The game was much anticipated and with some anxiety as the “Vets” had publically declared their ability to warm the modern style of pitching, but they reckoned without their best when they essayed to hit the curious twisters of Bannon, which they found so bothersome that they sighed for the balls of other days.

[4] The title given to the umpire.

[5] What we call the batter. The catcher was said to be behind the bat.

[6] They play according to the rules that were in place in 1964. The bounce rule, as it was called was controversial even then. The elite clubs would often wave the rule since it was felt good only for muffin players. A muffin being the term for a less skilled player. A batter could also wait on a perfect pitch since there was no danger of striking out, Individual at bats could take ten minutes or even longer. The National Association of Base Ball Players 1857 to 1870 by Marshall D Wright.

[7] The cover comes together in four pieces. Prior to 1860 a dark leather had been used. http://keymancollectibles.com/balls/lemonpealbaseball.htm

[8] “Amazing Grace,” “Gracie the Mule” seen on the NBC Today program.

[9] For a different view of Ruth check on the 1920 feature, “Heading Home,” featuring the Babe. Available on Internet archive

[10] IMDB Pride of the Yankees, trivia

[11] Member of the Mid Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League. 19th Century base ball along the east coast. According to their web site the league is composed of 16 clubs. Each club is independent and has its own rules and regulations.

[12]http://www.arundelbbc.com for more information