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Jan 30

Ted’s Tale

Ted Sullivan was a true renaissance man and a friend of the District. In 1890 he was the manager of the minor league Washington franchise that had no talent and no cash to acquire it.

In desperation Walter Hewitt, the youthful and beleaguered proprietor of the franchise announced he would play baseball on Sunday. Oddly enough baseball had never been banned in the District, Georgetown routinely played baseball games on the Sabbath as did several amateur associations. But the reaction to the announcement was strong enough, imagine a scene of players being carted off in the field on stretchers, to cause Hewitt to move on to plan B, the first game would be played across the Potomac River in Virginia.

Sullivan among his many talents was an author. The following is taken from his book, “Ted Sullivan, Humorous Stories of the ball field, 1903. The chapter is the “Virginia Sheriff.” Keep in mind that Ted Sullivan was noted for his tall tales and parts of the book are offensive.

“In 1890 when Washington lost its league team, by the revolt of the brotherhood, it entered the Eastern league with the writer as sole owner of the club. We concluded we would test the Sunday law in the old Dominion. The grounds were across the Potomac, near Alexander, Va., and there was an immense crowd from Washington on this day to see the opening Sunday. The game started and in the middle of the second ending, the country sheriff appeared, and as he was lately elected, he wanted all to know who he was, and wanted to arrest everyone connected with the game, from the manager down. First he was looking anxiously for the manager, Sullivan, a friend heard about it and posted me. So eight or nine of the men rehearsed the reception for Mr. Sheriff, when he appeared. As all the details of the plan were understood, out comes Mr. Sheriff from the crowd to see me. Someone in the distance pointed me out, who was oblivious of what the sheriff wanted, he was partially excited, and his long, red beard bore crumbs of a pumpkin pie. In his hurry to get to the ball grounds he had failed to utilize a napkin, and the crumbs of the pie were nestling in his long, flowing beard, he approached me with the proverbial Virginia politeness and said: “You will pardon me, sir, but are you not Mr. Ted Sullivan, manager of the Washington base ball club, I am sheriff Ashby, of Fairfax Co., Va., and I wish to inform you that this violation of law and desecrating of the Sabbath will have to be stopped.” In the sweetest tone possible, I turned and extended my hand, saying, “Sheriff Ashby, I am not Mr. Sullivan, manager of this base ball club, but I am Senator Tim Sullivan of New York, allow me to introduce you to some of the great members of the house and senate, they wished a little diversion this afternoon and came over here to Old Virginia soil where even the trees bid the stranger welcome. Are you note a blood native of the Ashby’s of Valley of Virginia, and also Turner Ashby, the Murat of the southern cavalry. Proud am I to meet you and so are these distinguished gentlemen.”

“Reader I know the Virginians, I know them well. My residence in Washington taught me to know their hospitality and the traditions of that they never allow to be questioned, and they would rather have a hand cut off before they would tell you to leave their soil. As a class of people they are social kings. The humorous side of this unsophisticated county sheriff in trying to stop the game, presented itself, and I could not but take advantage of it. The introduction went on from man to man, one man was so and so of Pa., another man that was introduced was supposed to be Senator Morgan from Alabama, the next was a senator from Ohio, until finally we picked a man who slightly resembled Joe Blackburn from Old Kentucky, the latter man played Blackburn to a dot. First the Fairfax County sheriff had to take a snack of Old Bourbon from Old Kentucky, and Joe took from his hip pocket a flask of Old Rye, and remarked: “Let old Virginia and Kentucky drink together.” And Sheriff Ashby took a good swallow. The game was going on and the audience was cheering at all good plays. Funny story after funny story was told to the sheriff between drinks, and why should he leave this distinguished company that he was in? He laughed so much that he jarred all the crumbs of the pumpkin pie out of his beard.”

The game was nearly over when “Well, gentlemen, I will not hunt up but I reckon that I will let the game go on since yall desire it, and if the Governor of Va. himself was here and desired me to stop it I would not.” As the last inning of the game closed, the chivalrous Ashby took one more drink of Joe Blackburn’s Kentucky whiskey, and bidding us all good-bye, thanking us for the honor conferred upon him and happy with the thought that he spent an afternoon with the distinguished men of the nation, he left for home. But you can bet your life that we never attempted to play any more Sundays over in “Old Virginia.”

The team would go on to play one more game in Virginia. It would be a game that would make its own mark in the history of baseball in the District and will be recounted in the next article.