hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News August 2021


Winning team fueled a village’s passion for baseball

Maury Thompson


The start-up, semi-professional baseball team in Granville, N.Y., had a perfect record for the season so far, and local businessmen decided the village needed a new ballfield that would fit the team’s caliber.

“Granville has the baseball fever in the worst way,” The Granville Sentinel reported on Aug. 9, 1889.

A local investment group met Aug. 12 at the office of lawyer F.W. Betts to organize the Granville Athletic Club, which would lease four acres of land from Abram Temple at the head of Elm Street to develop a ball diamond with grandstand seating for 500 people, surrounded by a 9-foot fence.
The group raised $1,000 – the equivalent of about $29,500 in today’s dollars.

Betts was the group’s president. G.N. Finch, owner of the Central House hotel, was vice president. Charles Schiff served as secretary, and W.D. Temple, cashier of Farmers National Bank, as treasurer.

The group hired W.H. Hollister, a veteran baseball player, as manager.
Hollister had played first base for the Troy Haymakers in 1870. The Haymakers were among the first 12 professional baseball teams in the United States in 1869 and a charter team in the National Association of Professional Baseball Players in 1871.

The Sentinel reported that Hollister’s “cool head and good judgment is a sufficient guarantee that the Granvilles will not meet with any disastrous results on account of poor management.”
Work progressed quickly, and the opening semi-professional game was scheduled for Aug. 26: The Granvilles hosted the Acorns of Cambridge.

A couple of amateur games had been held at the field when the grandstand and fence were under construction.

“The grounds are now in fine condition,” the Sentinel reported on Aug. 23. “The new fence is rapidly approaching completion. It will be, without exception, the finest grounds in the country.”
A tall fence, which prevented people from watching games from outside the park without paying admission, was considered essential to the financial solvency of a ball club.

In Glens Falls, for example, baseball promoters learned quickly that a fence functioned as more than just a home-run marker.

The Glens Falls management attempted, unsuccessfully, to outfox a group of fans that had constructed a grandstand just outside the Second Street ballpark to watch games without paying admission, The Morning Star of Glens Falls reported on July 1, 1886.

“The deadheads occupied their grandstand yesterday in a lot adjoining the ball ground,” the paper wrote. “The managers of the Glens Falls team tried to obstruct the tactics of the impecunious crowd by erecting two long poles from which a sheet was suspended. The wind blew down the poles, however, and thwarted the plans of the obstructionists.”

There was excitement in Granville on the day of the first semi-professional game at the new field.
Players lined up at 1:30 p.m., along with the Elite Band of Pawlet, Vt., at the Central House hotel and marched to the field.

The band stayed on to “liven up the occasion,” which turned out to be sorely needed, as the Granvilles endured their first defeat of the season, committing 14 errors as they lost to Cambridge, 12-1.

Manager Hollister, “busy answering questions and selling soda,” didn’t get to watch much of the two-hour-and-ten-minute game.

“A poorer exhibition of baseball would be hard to find,” the Sentinel wrote on Aug. 30. “It was tedious to witness the many and unnecessary errors made by our home team. One thing is certain, and that is that it requires ball players to play the game, and the home team certainly has more than the usual number of very poor ones.”

Still, the ballfield’s first game was a success at the box office, bringing in “quite a credible showing” of $154.30 in revenue – the equivalent of $4,556 in today’s dollars.

“The attendance of the ladies was very fair,” the Sentinel reported. “Their appearance on the grounds had a tendency to make the game progress with gentlemanly decorum.”
The next home game, scheduled for Aug. 31, was expected to be “a soft soap” win for the Granvilles, until rumors, which turned out to be fact, started circulating that Whitehall was bringing in a few ringers for the game.

Granville “got on their hustler” and lined up a few “one day only” ringers of their own.
“Luckily, Granville had sized up the Canallers and knew what kind of material they intended to work with,” the Sentinel reported on Sept. 6. “It is evident from the names that neither club spared pains or money to capture the game at all hazards.”

The curiosity and celebrity talent boosted attendance, and more than 800 people watched Whitehall defeat Granville, 4-3.

Granville scored three runs in the first inning of the one-hour-and-55-minute game and led until the eighth inning, when Whitehall tied the game, going on to score in the ninth inning for the win.
After that game, the Granvilles pulled out of their slump and returned to winning.

The team was the anchor tenant at the ballfield, but amateur teams also played there, including a Sept. 2 masquerade game between two pick-up teams of local businessmen.

“Seldom have our people been treated with as cheap a price of admission to the ball grounds and received as much genuine sport and brilliant exhibition of fancy playing,” the Sentinel wrote on Sept. 6.

“Some wore costumes of Louis IV, while others were attired after the pictures in a comic almanac. One or two used the modern dress of our noted players, and several attempted to outdo one another in fantastic decorations which a Venetian carnival would make a hit on.”
There was ample good-natured trash talk in the lead up to the game.

“The nines have been carefully training on the streets with the weapons of baseball that nature gave them – their mouths,” the Sentinel reported.

About 400 attended the two-and-a-half-hour game that exhibited as much comedy as athletics.
Joe Green, a local retailer, “started for center field and came back and lighted a cigar,” the Sentinel reported.

Green reviewed his new advertising sign on the field wall for a few moments, then asked what he should do if a hit ball came his way.

“He was advised by the genial captain to dodge it, which he did at the first opportunity,” the paper reported.

Betts, the president of the ballfield investment group, was captain of the “New Yorkers,” which defeated the “Chicagoans,” 14-13.

The losing team paid for the after-game banquet at the Central House.


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.