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The Olympians

The request has been made by one of your grave and dignified professors that I, as a member of the old Olympian Base Ball Club of former days, give a short account in The Round Table of that still remembered famous nine. I cheerfully comply with the request, duly sensible, however, that the subject is a momentous one and that a description of the numerous games in which they engaged and an account of all the noteworthy incidents which can be called to mind would fill a volume. I can therefore refer to only one or two of the more celebrated contests and a few of the more stirring events and personal incidents of those days long past.

     The Olympian Club reached the summit of its fame during the college year ending in June, '67. It had during the years '66 and '67 met all clubs of any note near and far, and had, I believe, come out victor in every contest with an unusual number of tallies in every instance. Its superior playing was noise abroad and as a consequence, whenever a game was to come off, a large crowd was sure to be present, many base ball enthusiasts coming from all the surrounding towns and cities. The Madison Club crossed bats with the Olympians at two different times and was badly defeated each time. The city of Janesville had what was called a first-class club in those days and challenged the Olympians to a contest. Just a word in regard to that game. The Olympians had a short time before secured for themselves new suits. White canvas shoes, white zouave pants with red stripe at the side, red flannel shirt with white cuffs and collar, which with belts and skull caps, made quite a stunning suit. The Olympians won the toss and took the field, and then for a few moments before the game was called the Janesvillians were given an exhibition of ball throwing, fancy catches, hand springs and various other gymnastic exercises, which made their eyes open with astonishment, and they were practically beaten before the first ball was pitched. The tallies piled up thick and fast for the Olympians until at the end of the game there were, if my memory serves me rightly, about forty to their credit.

     One of the most exciting contests that the Olympians ever had was with the Cream City Club (of Milwaukee). At that time this club was considered one of the strong clubs in the country. It had a national reputation, having not very long before its struggle with the Olympians taken part in a tournament and stood well to the front, occupying the second place, if I mistake not, at the close of that national contest. The Cream City boys came to Beloit with a great flourish of trumpets and a large following of friends. They were boastful and confident of an easy victory. They came with their pocket-books well lined with greenbacks, and offered the Olympians almost any odds -- ten to one on general result; two to one that we could not make a home run during the day, and various other offers. Right here I wish to say during all the struggles in which the Olympians engaged, there was never the slightest suspicion, so far as I know, that any member of the Club ever wagered so much as a nickel on the outcome of any game. The Olympians played ball for exercise, for fun, for the satisfaction which they had in seeing their opponents bite the dust, and last, but not least, they played ball for the reputation of their Alma Mater, and to raise a little higher in the breeze the colors of the college and never permit them to be lowered or trailed in the dust. Before the contest opened the Olympians were quiet and dignified, feeling sure that they were about to engage in a battle royal, but fully determined to win if possible. The Cream City men won the toss and took the field. The Olympians put forward to open the contest the one who was supposed to be as strong as any of their number at the bat. He took his position, club in hand. Game was called. "What kind of ball do you wish?" inquired the umpire. "Give me a hip ball," was the reply. A fair ball was pitched, but the Olympian let it pass, desiring to take the measure of the pitcher and know what to expect. The umpire called out, "What was the matter with that ball?" "Nothing," replied the Olympian, "it was a fair ball. Give me another just like it." The second ball was very much like the first, but when it reached the home plate it seems to have struck against the end of a bat wielded by a stalwart Olympian, and it went sailing through the air over the head of the shortstop, second baseman and right fielder. On and on it went, and probably it would have gone on forever had it not run up against a high board fence far in the distance. The Olympian made the circuit of the bases and shouted "Tally" at the home plate before the ball ever reached the diamond. Enthusiasm was unbounded, and the antics in which the Olympians engaged for a few moments eclipsed anything ever seen in a cage of monkeys. Suffice it to say that the Cream City Club met with a signal defeat. I have not the record of that game, nor of any of the games in which the Olympians engaged, but my impression is that the score was 33-8. The Olympians gave the Milwaukee boys a banquet in the evening at the Salsbury House and tried to jolly them up, but it was of no use. With drooping plumes they left the city in the night time.

     An incident or two which took place during those games of long ago days may be of interest. During one of the games with the Madison Club a feat was accomplished by one of the Olympians which is not seen every day on the ball ground. He batted a safe ball and reached second base. The player following also hit safe, and the man at the second base determined to make a score. He reached the third base and then started down the home stretch like a young cyclone, but the short-stop of the Madison Club secured the ball and stood directly on the line, bending forward to put the ball on his opponent. The Olympian did not slacken his pace, but when near the short-stop he leaped into the air and landed safely on the other side and soon had his foot on the home plate. The shortstop was completely dumfounded. He looked up and down and all around and would not have been any more surprised if the earth had opened and swallowed up the Olympian. He was so confused that he did not have enough presence of mind to put the ball on the Olympian as he went sailing over his head.

     The brilliant catches of the long gaunt Chadwick, center fielder, are never to be forgotten. Time and again he would make a long run for a ball, which to the spectators seemed far beyond his reach, but somehow he would get near enough to stretch out one of his long arms and slip his hand under the ball just before it touched the ground.

     Hyde, the third baseman, among his many good catches, made one, at least, that was an astonishment to all. It was during the game with the Cream City Club. A hot ball from the bat went sailing, as everybody supposed, far over his head, but he made a leap into the air and stretched up his left arm to its fullest extent and captured the ball and then threw it to second base, cutting off the man who, supposing the hit a safe one, had started for the home plate.

     It was a great delight to Charley Bicknell, shortstop, to open the eyes of the uninitiated. His arm seemed to have more than the regulation number of joints. He would take the ball, give his arm a peculiar twirl, bring it behind his back and send the ball far up in the air. He would then turn a number of hand-springs, stand on his feet and catch the ball behind his back as it descended.

     It was often a mystery to the members of contesting clubs to understand how the Olympian pitcher knew when an opponent was off from a base, as he very seldom turned around and seemed to pay but very little attention to base runners. He was accused of having eyes in the back of his head. The fact is, he depended upon the eyes of the catcher to give him information in that particular. They had between them a number of signs, and whenever the catcher saw a man stealing away from the second base the signal would be given and the ball would be in the hands of Bob Town, second baseman, and placed on the man before he even realized that such a move was about to be made.

     It is worthy of mention here that the faculty of the college in those days was in heavy sympathy with the boys, and cheered them by their presence as well as by their voices. The grave, sedate, dignified President was an habitué of the ball ground, and it is reported that he would become so enthused at times that he would rise in his carriage and wave his silk hat, in a very dignified manner, of course, to cheer the boys. The dearly beloved but now deeply lamented Prof. Blaisdell with his charming wife by his side lent the inspiration of his presence. Prof. Porter forgot, for the time, that the Latin world rested upon his shoulders, and he was one with the boys. Prof. Zeus from his seat on top of Mount Olympus watched with every growing interest the contest on the plain below, and during a particularly brilliant play he would give his legs an extra wrap around the mountain to make sure his seat, and then give himself up to uncontrollable laughter which would shake the mountain, and down to the Olympians would come the encouraging exclamation, "Ha! Ha! Good play. Well done, worthy sons of Father Zeus." Who could not play good ball under the inspiration of such a Galaxy?

     To the members of the College base ball club of the present day I would say that if you wish to enlist the interest of the faculty and gain their earnest co-operation and support, play good ball, go in to win, bear forward the standard to victory and you will find the College Faculty back of you to a man.

 

Mr. Cochran was pitcher on the Olympian team and Harmon B. Tuttle, '70, catcher. The Olympians played the Cream City Club, June 15, 1867, winning by a score of 44-25. (Beloit College Monthly, July, 1867, p.211.) The game was played on the grounds of the Badger Club, Beloit.