2021 Season in Review Part 1: Living History
Updated: Jan 9, 2022
The Mountain A.C. began it's '21 campaign in the Fall of 2020 leveraging patron's generosity on Giving Tuesday raising over $1,200 for the Historical Society of Middletown. The funds enabled the M.A.C. to erect a historic marker commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the Mountain Athletic Club and its recent designation on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places. The original goal of $600 was surpassed in less than a few hours and by the end of the day, the project was fully funded. A week or so later, the order was placed at Catskill Castings - a foundry in Bloomville, NY (less than 10 miles from my house) where all New York State's historic place signs are made.
The M.A.C. came out of the gates red hot in their first appearance May 14/15 at Brewery Ommegang sweeping all four games over the Providence Grays, Brooklyn Atlantics, Boston Union and the Liberty Base Ball Club of Connecticut.It was also the M.A.C.'s first appearance in 1897 replica uniforms purchased in the offseason.
In his first time hitting out of the two spot in the lineup, 1864 catcher and new father, "Shoeless" Dave MacClintock went 15 for 19 (.789 AVG) and ran up 48 total bases over the weekend.
The M.A.C.'s homecoming two weeks later was on a raw and clammy day more well suited for November football. In front of the many Fleischmanns' faithful who had been put through the wringer in the aftermath of rebuilding from Hurricane Irene a decade ago, the new sign was unveiled and live streamed on Facebook to thank the many donors from points near and far who made the project possible. The transcript of the dedication speech follows:
It’s not lost on most of us here today, that later this Summer will mark ten years since Tropical Storm Irene – a 500-year flood, or in other words, a flood with a 2/10th of one-percent chance of occurrence - wiped out this park and its freshly renovated ballfield, as well as parts of this Village and others throughout the region. Lives were lost, communities ravaged. After such devastation, the vintage baseball scene that had developed into a summer tradition in this County for several years seemed trivial.
A couple of years prior to that, I moved to New Hampshire over a couple hundred miles away, but the memories of summer baseball here in Fleischmanns were never far away. We had come back to the area for my wedding and on one of those early September mornings following the flood, my bride and I stopped by this park in the pre-dawn hours on our way to LaGuardia to catch a plane for our honeymoon. It was gloomy, muddy, and ominous. It looked like a scene right out of The Dead Don’t Die (minus all the zombies); I recall that right over there, a sign stood with the words “PARK CLOSED” spray-painted on the back of the same baseball-shaped piece of plywood that the M.A.C. had used to advertise our games.
That morning in the saturated air that draped over the park like a wet blanket, I got all choked up in thinking that it was the end of a great season of my life and yet the beginning of an entirely new one...
Now, many of you know or have become aware in recent years of John Thorn and his connection to Fleischmanns. John has authored over 30 books on sports, countless articles on nineteenth-century baseball and is the Official Historian of Major League Baseball. But long before all of that, as a young boy in the 1950’s he spent summers here with his family like so many other New Yorkers did (and still do). He played on this ballfield first as a child, then years later with his sons. He regrets that he could not be here today but sends his regards…I couldn’t twist his arm too hard though; his son was flying into town and the two are making a much long-overdue trip to Cooperstown today.
So back in 2004, John penned an essay that ran in the Woodstock Times called “Mangled Forms.” It was, in large part, the inspiration to reincarnate the Mountain Athletic Club in 2007 nearly 100 years after the original team disbanded. After spending some time with John Duda in our Museum of Memories in preparation for the article, Thorn’s reflection on Fleischmanns and the M.A.C. sums up perfectly why we are all here today. Thorn says:
“In this somewhat remote place, determined individuals and families who love the old ways are working to be sure of the past; the extent of their success will indeed predict the future of Fleischmanns and so many other communities whose histories, if properly understood and conveyed, are their principal assets.”
Like many of you, I’ve had more time at home than normal over the past 14 months. Apparently, there’s nothing like a global pandemic and no baseball on television to free up some time for research. But, in addition to Thorn’s work, there’s a body of research and writing out there about this place and this team, like for example the talk that historian Bob Mayer gave at the Skene Library back in ’18. After hearing Bob’s talk that night then going back to Thorn’s piece for another re-read, I simply was just a guy that thought we needed to officially put this place on the map. Not just for local baseball history’s sake, but American history as well.
So, I inquired about these signs and how one goes about getting one. It was explained to me that I had to prove with “primary source documentation” that historically significant things happened here and in doing so, that I should seek a special listing on the State and National historic registry; after which time the sign will sort of fall into place. Therefore, I set about to confirm the most prominent professional ball players that played with the M.A.C. or against them here at the “M.A.C. Grounds” as it was called during its period of most significance. I’ll remind you that this project was gestating amid a proposal to dissolve the Village in December of 2019…
Now I am no formal researcher, but I’m learning from good teachers. After all, like I said before, I was treading in the path of several others including our own Former Mayor, Todd Pascarella back when he revived the M.A.C. in 2007. Like Todd, or “Moonshine” as we have nicknamed him on the Club, I turned to places like the Giamatti Research Center at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Society for American Baseball Research and our local historical societies. (call attention to our new local SABR chapter President, Mike Hauser)
I also contacted Terry Pultz, who’s late father, “Junior,” we owe a debt of gratitude to for several of the M.A.C. and other baseball-related items in our Museum. I did not have the fortune of meeting Junior before he passed, but after speaking with Terry, I had a few great leads to follow up on (more on that later). And naturally, I also turned back to our friend, John Thorn. Very quickly, scores of newspaper clippings started appearing in my inbox to corroborate the connections of so many minor and major league ball players with the Fleischmanns. Within roughly 72 hours, I had nearly all of them confirmed for me. All of the professional ballplayers with time on the M.A.C. (and a few other VIPs including the brothers Julius and Max) are now fixed on our Wall of Fame scoreboard along the third-base line. I encourage you to have a close look at some point today and visit our website for more descriptors on each of them. I’ll be explaining our three newest additions (corrections, really), just prior to our first pitch.
One of my favorite clippings that Thorn discovered for us comes from a column titled “Millionaire Fans” that appeared in the Delaware Gazette on July 26, 1899, during the season when the M.A.C. started recruiting men from the major leagues and its private ballpark was gaining national significance in newspapers coast to coast: The piece recalled that “games were played on the mountainside, where a half-way hit in any direction meant a home run every time.” The story continues:
“Since Julius’ nine began playing a few years ago, baseball has become the rage in every town in Delaware county within twenty miles or more of Fleischmann’s…Church deacons, farmers, country sports and summer sports all became wild over it. So, Charles Fleischmann looked about and finally found a four-acre tract that did not have more than a dozen hills and valleys on it and purchased it for his sons. Many thousands of dollars were spent in leveling this ground and blasting out the boulders, so that in the summer of 1895 the team had a real ball ground to play upon.”
So it is today, with the help of our many friends far and wide that donated over $1,200 in less than 24 hours to the Historical Society of Middletown last November through Facebook’s “Giving Tuesday;” And the continued support of the Village Trustees (really going all the way back to 1914 when they first accepted these “athletic grounds” from Julius and renamed the Village in his honor); And to countless others who’ve invested their time, talents and money to support the revitalization of vintage baseball in Delaware County over the years, that I present to you and all who’ve gathered here today, this formal acknowledgement of the M.A.C. Grounds’ place on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Following the sign dedication, three new plaques were also unveiled on the M.A.C. Wall of Fame Scoreboard to replace the busts of three other men whose affiliation with the M.A.C. could not be verified. They are Black Jack Keenan, Bill "Hippo" Gallaway, and Fleischmann's own, Judson "Jay" Kirke. Each of their criteria for selection as presented during the dedication ceremony is as follows:
John W. “Black Jack” Keenan
Keenan is sort of like our own Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. You’ll probably recall Moonlight’s story from the book “Shoeless Joe” (later made famous by the film “Field of Dreams”) where Graham only played a half an inning of a professional game (which by the way was not true). Well, Black Jack, who was born on New Year’s Day in 1869, made his first and last debut in pro ball at 22 years old pitching a complete game (out of contract) for Kelly’s Killers of Cincinnati in 9-3 loss to Boston in August 1891. Then, he wasn’t tendered a contract before the Club went on a road trip (back then, only certain players traveled with the team for road games) and the team folded less than a week later. Unfortunately for Keenan, he wasn’t offered a job by Milwaukee who acquired the team. However, Jack’s importance to the M.A.C. cannot be understated. In early October of 1900, pitching for Mayor Julius Fleischmann’s Mountain Tourists (as they were often referred to that year) Keenan scattered only 5 hits over nine innings to upset the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 in an exhibition match held at League Park in Cincinnati. It was a benefit game arranged by Mayor Fleischmanns for a local sportswriter who had fallen ill. The M.A.C. made three trips to the Queen City in 1900, a year in which they won a reported 56 games with only 4 losses behind such dead ball era notables as second baseman Miller Huggins (playing as “Proctor”), Doc White, future southpaw star of the White Sox from Washington D.C., and future Phillies Catcher, Red Dooin. Max Fleischmann played right field that day for the Mountain Tourists in the win over the Reds. The local report was as follows, “The Reds offered themselves up to sacrifice…They thought they could play tiddlywinks and beat the Mountain Tourists. Instead, Max Fleischmann and his associates were superior to the leaguers in every department of the game. Their fielding was perfect and their batting strong.” The Sporting Life account of the game said, “Black Jack Keenan made “The” Breitenstein (popular lefty for the Reds that year) look like a plugged Canadian quarter.” Keenan passed away in 1909 at the age of 40 and is buried in Cincinnati.
Sources: David Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles, Vol 2. Page 422 The Sporting Life, October 13, 1900 “Jack Keenan’s Triumph” The Wilkes-Barre Record, Oct 18, 1900. p.3
Bill “Hippo” Gallaway – Cuban Giants In the Fleischmanns Museum of Memories there's a crisp image of the Cuban Giants taken at the Mountain Athletic Club Grounds by Will Earl during their three-game series with the M.A.C. over the weekend of August 10-12, 1903. According to a scorecard in our Museum here, the M.A.C. took the first game 3-1. A scorecard from the collection of Terry Pultz that appeared in the Fleischmanns Flyer in 1976, shows the M.A.C. dropped Game 2 of the series the next day by a score of 6-3. The Giants stayed in town for a rubber match the following Monday, but I’ve not found the results of that one yet.
Much has been written about the Cuban Giants, who are actually from New Jersey and not from Cuba as their name suggests. Founded in 1885 in the Long Island town of Babylon, NY, they were the first professional baseball team composed entirely of African-Americans. The Cuban Giants spent over 20 years in the barnstorming circuit competing with white amateur clubs including many Upstate New York teams such as Oneonta Stars, Gloversville AJG's, and others. They were also a dominant force in the Negro League.
The most interesting thing about the Cuban Giants club that visited Fleischmanns in 1903 was their second-baseman, Bill "Hipple" Galloway. It was John Thorn that first drew attention to Galloway and this photo in his 2004 homage to Fleischmanns, Mangled Forms that I alluded to earlier today.
Webster defines hipple as "a small heap." His nickname apparently became "Hippo" at some point later on. Galloway was born Dunnville, Ontario and in 1899 he became perhaps the earliest person of color in hockey while playing for Woodstock in the Central Ontario Hockey Association. Later that Summer, Galloway played for the Woodstock Bains, a professional baseball club in the Canadian League. According to GreatestHockeyLegends.com, Galloway left the Bains in 1899 after he was released when a white American import on the team objected to playing with a negro. A local sportswriter cried: "An effort should be made to keep Hippo in town. Our hockey team needs him." It would take another forty-seven years for a professional baseball team to racially-integrate with the advent of Jackie Robinson's debut at Ebbets Field with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
For Hippo's place in sports trivia as having been perhaps the first black hockey player and the last black professional baseball player prior to formal integration, artist and baseball historian, Gary Cieradkowski featured Galloway in his 2015 book, "The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball's Forgotten Heroes." And for his place in Fleischmanns history, we now have a pioneer of black baseball to adorn our wall.
Judson Fabian “Jay” Kirke If they ever build a Delaware County Sports Hall of Fame, Jay Kirke will most certainly be on the first ballot as perhaps the most accomplished ball player to emerge from these mountains. After cutting his teeth playing with the Mountain Athletic Club as a teenager in the early 1900's, Kirke amassed a .315 career average and 3,511 hits and over 1,000 runs-batted-in over a 23-year run in the minor and major leagues. Sufficed to say, if the Designated Hitter rule was around in the dead-ball era, Kirke might be Cooperstown. When we first put up the scoreboard a couple years ago, I had never heard of Kirke. Then, while doing research for the historic site designation, Terry Pultz told me to look him up. And I did immediately. Right off the bat, I read a comprehensive biography of his life in baseball on the SABR BioProject website. Although he was born just down the road in Allben (present-day Shandaken) in 1888, records show he grew up right here in Fleischmanns, which means that he came of age during the birth the M.A.C. and the construction of the M.A.C. Grounds right in his own backyard.
After doing well with clubs in Kingston and Poughkeepsie in the Class C Hudson River League, Kirke signed with Connie Mack’s A’s Class B affiliate in Wilmington, Delaware in 1907. The next few years he bounced around teams in Binghamton, Elmira, Wilkes-Barre, Gloversville, and finally the Scranton Miners (farm team for the Detroit Tigers) in 1910 where he got some attention finishing third in the league in hitting with a .336 avg and 182 hits. That year at a game in Syracuse, he hit two doubles and a home run off the future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander. He was called up to the bigs and made his Major League debut for Detroit on September 28, 1910.
In 1911, while playing with the National League’s Boston Rustlers he doubled and scored the only run in a 1-0 victory over the Pirates. The winning pitcher that day was Cy Young and that win was his 511th and final career victory…a record that will surely never be broken. In July of 1914, while playing with “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Nap Lajoie on the Cleveland Naps at Fenway Park (predecessor to the Indians), he punched a couple of hits and an RBI off a 19 year old rookie pitcher from Baltimore who was making his major league debut that day, his name was Babe Ruth. Unfortunately, Kirke made an errant throw to first base in a tie game in the seventh that factored into Boston’s taking the lead going on to get the win.
Kirke was by all accounts, a well-below average fielder, which is why he could never stay in the bigs for very long. But his bat would keep the major league clubs calling despite him being a defensive liability. In a series with the Washington Senators in 1915, Kirke went 3 for 4 off Walter Johnson.
His final major league appearance came in ’18 with the New York Giants, but he went on to an illustrious career in the American Association. One highlight of those days was when Kirke went 13 for 36 in the 1921 Little World Series leading the Louisville Colonels to the pennant over the Baltimore Orioles. In Game six of the nine-game series, Kirke hit a home run off future HOFer Lefty Grove. Kirke also broke the league record in hitting and total bases that year. The Louisville Colonels celebrated Jay Kirke Day in 1942 with Kirke and his family in attendance.
Following Kirke’s retirement in 1927 after a season in Class B ball in Decator, Illinois, he moved back to Fleischmanns and coached and played first base on a semi-pro team in Fleischmanns in the 1930s with his son Judson, Jr who played shortstop and would also go on to a reputable minor league career. Through the vast baseball network afforded by SABR, I was able to track down Jay Kirke’s grandson in Orlando, FL a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough lead-time to get him up here, but he sends his regards and plans to come up for our own Jay Kirke Day next year.
Let's give a round of applause for all three inductees.
To wrap up Part One of the season in review, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the decorated recruit we picked up in March by way of referral from John Farbairn (former thirdbaseman for the Roxbury Nine). A real ballplayer and renaissance man, Nate Fish is the only current M.A.C. member with a wikipedia page and of whom much has been written. This Summer, he represented Team Israel coaching third base at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Then, a month later was named head coach and led the team to a Silver Medal at the European Baseball Championships. We're glad to have a man of his talent join the Club, but more important than his skills on the ballfield, we enjoy his easy-going attitude and generous spirit.
More on the M.A.C.'s historic season to be continued in "Season in Review: Part Two"...