On December 5, 1884, an announcement appeared in the Hamilton Spectator, concerning the construction of a new baseball diamond and grandstand in Dundurn Park.
With the aim of establishing “the most desirable ball ground in the Dominion,” the advertisement went on to specify more about the nature of the baseball facility to be completed by the spring in time for the 1885 baseball season:
“The ground will be located upon that level spot now occupied as a garden, from which all trees and shrubbery will be removed. Turf will be put down, grand stands, high catchers' fence, scorers' stand, etc. will be put up, and the ground will be entirely surrounded by a railing to restrain the eager crowd.”
“A Baseball Ground : The Best in the Dominion to Be Created at Dundurn”
Spectator. December 5, 1884.
The work on the ball diamond at Dundurn Park was proceeded with over the winter and early spring months in anticipation of the upcoming season.
As the month of April, 1885 began, a letter appeared in the Spectator, which advocated that a new league be formed which would reflect the rising popularity of the game of baseball in Ontario :
“As an introduction to the whole question, I would propose the formation of an Ontario baseball league to be composed of six or eight clubs representing the principal baseball centers in the Dominion, such as Hamilton, Toronto, Guelph, London, St. Thomas, St. Catharines, etc. The initiative in the matter should be taken by Hamilton as being a central point, not only geographically, but the center of baseball enterprise in Ontario.”
“Sporting News : Baseball”
Spectator. April 2, 1885.
The letter writer, using the pen name Short Stop, suggested a number of rules which the new league should institute and concluded with the following observation:
“ Baseball has been dormant in Canada for some years past. It is beginning to revive again, and its future success depends largely on the way it should be handled this season.”
On April 15, 1885, a meeting was held at Hamilton's Royal Hotel to discuss the formation of a new baseball league. It was decided that the old Ontario league would be disbanded and that an entirely new league would be set up.
It was moved by James Henigan of Hamilton's Primrose team and seconded by James Lynch that a baseball association was to be formed with the name, The Canadian Baseball League.
After some discussion and voting, the following five teams were selected to be included in the new league: the Primroses of Hamilton, the Torontos of Toronto, the Clippers of Hamilton, the Maple Leafs of Guelph, and the Woodstocks of Woodstock. As the Londons had some outstanding financial obligations to the old Ontario League, the question of their admission was deferred.
A constitution for the new league was drawn up. The prize for the league championship, to be awarded at the end of each season, was a silk pennant, not to cost more than fifty dollars. The pennant was to be purchased and presented by the league itself as being emblematic of the season's championship. The Toronto News company donated a silver-mounted, ebony bat, which was to be awarded to the player having the highest batting average over the course of each season.
The opening of the new baseball ground in Dundurn Park was scheduled for Saturday, May 16, 1886, with a game between the Clippers of Hamilton and the Maple Leafs of Guelph.
The Spectator strongly encouraged as many baseball followers to attend the game as possible:
“Visitors are expected from Buffalo, Toronto, Guelph and London, and with good weather, the attendance should be large. The grounds and grandstand will be complete. A portion of the latter on the east end is divided off for ladies who will be admitted to the grounds on the usual admittance fee of 5 cents, and the managers of the team hope to see a good turn out of their lady friends.”
“The World of Sport : Items of Interest to the Noble Fraternity”
Spectator. May 15, 1885
On Monday, May 18, 1885, the Spectator carried an extensive report on the opening game of the 1885 Canadian Baseball League season in Hamilton's new baseball round:
“Level as the floor, roomy, well-marked out, and perfect in every way, the new ball grounds at Dundurn were a revelation, Saturday, to people who, last season, watched the games played in the rough and well-timbered country embraced in the old ball grounds. The grandstand is a great convenience, and the ladies of Hamilton will not be slow in showing their appreciation of it. The catcher's fence puts a stop to the tedious waits of last season, when an intermission of fifteen minutes was held every time the ball passed the catcher. The whole arrangement was perfect, and Hamilton has now as good a ball ground as there is anywhere. Every convenience has been provided, and if the public shows not show that it admires these things, and appreciates the efforts of the managers to please, it is not thr public it is generally taken for.”
“The Clippers Downed : By Guelph Maple Leafs – Score 4 to 3”
Spectator. May 18, 1885.
The Spectator reporter used superlative after superlative in order to describe the opening game of the first Canadian Baseball League Season, a game which he thought was “the finest ever played in Canada:”
“Both teams played ball from the word 'play' and a more intensely, hotly contested, and brilliantly played game never was seen on the diamond since baseball was invented. For three solid hours, the game held the attention of a thousand people, and as brilliant play succeeded brilliant play, storm after storm of applause startled the budding trees of the park into greater buddism. Baseball cranks rushed about in the crowd waving their hands and hats, small bets were plentiful, and every motion on the diamond was watched as keenly as if the fate of Europe depended upon it.”
A close call at home plate by umpire Thompson caused considerable controversy. Clipper left-fielder Pfann made a dash for home from third base. Guelph catcher Purvis in attempting to tag Pfann missed by several inches :
“The umpire stood behind stood behind Purvis and declared Pfann out. There was a kick. Thompson, of course, thought the man was out, or he would not have said so. Having said 'out' he stuck to do it like a brick, as he should have done; but that little error on the part of the umpire turned the fate of the game … it ought to clearly understood that the umpire was not to blame. An umpire is not infallible – he cannot see everything. Thompson's judgment – usually a clear, sound judgment – told that Pfann was out. It was an unfortunate error of judgment – nothing more. It came in precisely at the wrong place – that was the great trouble with it.”
After nine innings were up, the game was tied at 3-3, and for the first time in league competition in Hamilton, a baseball game went into extra innings. Finally in the bottom of the fourteenth inning, the Maple Leafs put a string of hits together and scored the score-breaking run:
“Downey, of the Guelph Herald, let out a war whoop that he had learned on the shores of Puslinch lake, the grandstand was visibly shaken by the cyclone of applause, and a stampede was made for the gate, everybody saying to everybody 'What a glorious game!' 'That was a rattler!' 'The best game of ball I ever saw' and things innumerable of that sort.”
In assessing the talent that the Hamilton Clippers possessed for the 1885 season, pitcher Pete Wood was considered to be among the best in the league although in the home opener against the Maple Leafs, he had some trouble with his control :
“Pete hit a good many of the Leafs pretty, Saturday, but he didn't mean it. He was pitching with a round ball, and it slipped. Some people thought because he didn't run out of the box and console with the victim every time an accident happened that he was indifferent and cold-hearted; that's not true. Pete suffers severely every time he hits a man, and prefers to suffer alone in his box. Besides it would have taken up a great deal of time, Saturday, for him to offer profuse apology every time a Maple Leafer couldn't dodge the ball.”
The Baseball Crank
(appeared in Spectator May 19, 1885 – Write Anonymous)
Of all the wretched tribe of cranks
Who cause life's sweets to pull,
There's one that all the rest outranks -
The fiend who talks baseball.
His hand in very glee he rubs
While talking of the game;
Unconscious of my chilling snubs,
His theme is still the same.
He tells of how Smith “flew out to first”
And how Jones “pounded air” -
For in the lingo he is versed,
And talks it everywhere
He goes to every game, of course,
And should his club “get left”
He'll hoot the umpire till he's hoarse,
Like one of sense bereft.
No wonder that I'm growing thin,
And look so lean and lank,
Since I must listen to the “chin'
Of this wild baseball crank.
On October 19, 1885, the $50 banner of silk representing the championship of the Canadian Baseball League was formally presented to the Clippers team in numerously attended ceremony held in Hamilton's drill shed.
After a musical concert by the Thirteenth Battalion Band, a group of local dignitaries took their places on a temporary platform for the presentation of the banner and to hear some speeches.
Keynote speaker Hamilton Mayor J. J. Mason displayed the silk pennant to the audience, and then began his address :
“Gentlemen of the Clippers Baseball Club, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasing duty, and a very honorable one, for me to present to the Clipper baseball club this emblem of the championship. The duty is more pleasing to me because I have always been an ardent admirer of baseball and all manly sports, and especially because, in my younger days, I have been an active participant in the game. I think the members of the club may be especially congratulated because this is the second season the Clippers have won the championship. It is true that the individual members of the club have been changed so much that there is only one member, Charley Wilson, of those who composed last year's club, now in the club. Yet the club has existed under the same name and has won. I am proud because I know that the club has won the pennant honorably and honestly. The members have been honest and straightforward, and to such, to a certain extent, must be attributed their success. People who patronize baseball games, and I have missed but few this season, go to see honest ball playing. They do not want to see games won by technicalities. They want to see every man play to win the championship for his club and for his city. I have, and I know you all have, been pleased with the gentlemanly behavior of the players. We are proud to know that the championship has been won by men whom we can shake hands with as gentlemen. I can only hope that during next season the club may be as successful as in the past. We cannot always expect to win, but we hope to hold the championship yet another season. I hope that the next person who presents the pennant may be able to say as I do know, that the Clippers have won it honorably. At any rate the players may come forward and say, “We have done our best to win.”
Mayor Mason then presented the pennant to “Billy” Hunter who started to reply, saying, “Mr. Mayor, ladies and gentlemen...” But the applause that swelled as he stood to speak, drowned out his remarks and the newspaper reporters in attendance were unable to record who he eventually said.
The Championship pennant was freely displayed to the crowd and an announcement was made that it would be on display later that day in the Columbia hotel for all to admire.
“The Pennant : The Championship Trophy Presented to the Baseball Champions”
Spectator. October 20, 1885