Fridays with Fred: In Which ‘Beloiters Vowed Sweet Revenge,’ Baseball-style
In vivid May and rustling June
When breeze’s breath is like a tune,
O where can life be free?
Where swings the bat,
Where shoots the ball,
Where rings the umpire’s sudden call,
And curve and catch must settle all, –
Upon the diamond.
—Horace Spencer Fiske, class of 1882
October 1, 1903. More than 16,000 boisterous fans pack the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds in Boston for the debut game of the very first World Series. A short, stocky, flame-haired Pittsburgh Pirate steps to the plate and faces Boston ace Denton “Cy” Young. Clarence Howeth “Ginger” Beaumont lifts a fly ball to center field, an easy out.
Five years earlier that first batter of the first World Series patrolled the infield for the Beloit College Gold. In January of 1898, the Round Table boasted that “judging from the splendid material that has shown up this winter, it is probable that Beloit will this spring have the strongest base ball team it has ever had…Good players are being attracted here with the hope of making the team, and the universities are seeking for games with ‘doughty’ little Beloit.” Among the newcomers trying out was Beaumont, from Rochester, Wis., and his friend, 26-year-old pitcher, Merle “Babe” Adkins, from Troy, Wis. Both had experience in semi-pro ball, playing for a strong team in Waupun the previous summer. The Round Table assured its readers, however, that the new Beloit Academy students intended to “enter college and take a regular collegiate course. There is no professionalism in this.”
That February the Gold began practicing in earnest under the direction of Coach Charles “Doc” Hollister and team captain William H. McMaster, who years later used his leadership skills as governor of South Dakota. By mid-March, every night after chapel services the team practiced at Keep Athletic Field (later Hancock Field), making good progress despite muddy playing conditions. On April 1, the Gold played the first of a few “practice games” leading up to major contests. A veteran team from the Janesville Y.M.C.A. traveled down to Beloit and left a few hours later with heads bowed, having lost 23-1. Rush Medical College fared no better a week later, crushed by Beloit, 14-3. A few games in, the Beloit Daily News was impressed by the “twirling” of Adkins and newcomer Bob Blewett, a former Lake Forest University player who featured “a drop curve that is a puzzler,” according to famed University of Chicago coach, Alonzo Stagg. The paper reserved special praise for Beaumont, at that time nicknamed “Reddy.” “Beaumont, a new man, played his position at third base in good style and his base running was one of the features of the game…Beloit has a prize in Beaumont.” Years later, Pittsburgh sportswriter, John Gruber, described Beaumont’s colorful style of play: “He was an excellent base runner, being very fast on his feet, but nobody who saw him for the first time ambling along on his way to the batter’s box would admit this. A lazier or more indifferent-appearing player, emphasized by a burly body, could not be conceived. But when he hit the ball he was off like a streak, which astonished the uninitiated and made him one of the wonders of the century.”
Beloit’s first real challenge came on April 15 against Northwestern University, but they handled the larger school easily, winning 19-7. The following day the weary team took the train to Chicago to face Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago team at Marshall Field. In a close contest Beloit suffered its first defeat, 4-3.
One of the season’s most exciting games took place against the University of Michigan at Keep Field on April 20. Merle Adkins hurled a gem, striking out twelve batters. The Beloit Daily News noted that “he did something rarely seen on a diamond. In the third inning he put ten balls over the plate, striking out three men! Michigan men confessed that the ball looked no bigger than a marble when it whizzed by the batters.” Beaumont was a whirlwind, smashing a double, a triple, stealing two bases and scoring twice.
“In the ninth inning Beaumont started the scoring by a single,” the Beloit Daily Free Press reported. “He then stole second and third immediately after and started for home. When he got half way he stopped and looked at the pitcher who had the ball. While Miller was puzzling as to what to do, Beaumont edged nearer and nearer and making a sudden dive reached the plate before the ball did.” When the game ended with Beloit ahead, 5-3, the crowd in the stands and nearby carriages went wild, according to a Beloit Daily News reporter: “There were yelling men and women, hats thrown in the air, heroes carried from the diamond on the shoulders of half-crazed and joyful students. These things happened because Michigan, the great, with its star man in the box, was outdone fairly by modest Beloit College.”
The team continued its winning ways, defeating Lake Forest 33-5, Minnesota University 25-2, DePauw University 12-5, and then came the highly anticipated first contest with long-time rival, the University of Wisconsin, held in Beloit on May 7. Downtown businesses and local residences paraded banners and decorations in hometown gold for the Beloit nine and cardinal red for the Madison team.
“Madison has a strong team this year and Beloit never had such a splendidly trained aggregation of ball-tossers as this year,” claimed the Beloit Daily News a day ahead. The Beloit Daily Free Press noted the city’s busy preparations: “Plans have been completed to seat 700, with good standing room for 500 more. There will be special arrangements for carriages so that every turn out will have a good clear unobstructed view of the field. Many fine equipages will come from Janesville and Rockford, and Beloit will show up her best rigs. Good police attendants will keep any team from accident and small boys will not be allowed in the grand stand unattended by parents.”
The day arrived with a huge crowd in attendance from Beloit and surrounding areas and with rooters from Madison, all paying twenty-five cents admission. The papers noted fifty “gaily decorated carriages on the grounds.” Although Adkins pitched his best, striking out six Madison men, it wasn’t enough and Madison came out on top 5 to 3. “It was the general feeling that the teams were over confident from winning too much and that this defeat will be as good a tonic as could be to brace them up,” commented the Beloit Daily Free Press. Beloiters vowed sweet revenge in a future matchup.
Meanwhile, Beloit had a return engagement against their other strong rivals, the University of Chicago, again at Marshall Field. The Beloit Daily News described the game’s aftermath: “Because of the news that flashed over the wire Saturday evening telling of the Beloit College victory over Chicago University by a score of 4 to 1, crowds of enthusiasts were at the depot at 9:42 to give the winners a reception. Red fire was burned and yells rent the heavens when the train rolled in. The players were escorted uptown and every ball tosser was a Dewey.” The paper’s reference to national hero, Commodore George Dewey, underscored the headline news of the period, the recent Battle of Manila Bay during the early stages of the Spanish-American War. Their thumping of the famous Chicago team cemented tiny Beloit’s reputation as a powerhouse in baseball, as noted by the Chicago Chronicle: “Beloit’s win, coupled with its other victories over the best teams in the west, gives it at least an excuse for claiming the western championship, and rather holds up to ridicule the schools which shut it out of the College league.”
The following week, Beloit went on a road trip, losing a game to the University of Michigan and defeating DePauw and Purdue. Another one of Beloit’s star players, Merrill “Possum” Strothers, an African-American student from Beloit, apparently came under fire during this trip, said the Beloit Daily News: “A southernor approached Mr. [Louis] Moore [Beloit’s business manager] during one of the games and said rather contemptuously, ‘I see you have a colored man on your team. What do you carry him for?’ Just then ‘Pos’ came up and lined out a three-bagger… ‘That’s what we carry him for,’ replied Louie, and the southernor had no more to say.”
Back in Beloit, the team trained hard for their rematch in Madison against the University of Wisconsin. Some two hundred Beloiters traveled by special train, only to see the Gold go down to defeat once more, 7-3. However, the season’s rivalry was not over yet.
The University of Wisconsin team headed to Beloit for the final game of the season on June 11. Fans from Beloit and environs thronged Keep Field and the well-matched teams kept them enthralled through several close innings. Adkins took the mound and Beaumont served as his batterymate at catcher, moving in from shortstop. It seemed, however, that once again Madison had Beloit’s number, leading through the eighth inning, and then momentum suddenly changed in the ninth inning, as the Beloit Daily News reported: “In the most spectacular ball game every seen on Keep Field Beloit College rendered Wisconsin University hors du combat Saturday after the crowd had mentally chronicled an overwhelming defeat for the home team. Patriotic wearers of the gold were groaning inwardly and crying “Usual luck with Madison,” when the aspect changed. Beloit players began playing like fiends. They gathered in everything Wisconsin sent them, landed on Mr. Husting in a most ungenteel way and plucked victory out of defeat. And a glorious victory it was…Adkins outpitched Husting. Never did the local good-natured twirler throw finer ball. The outfielding of the home team was absolutely perfect. Blewett did the best batting in the whole game, and Beaumont and Strothers helped out for the home nine.”
The Round Table crowed about the victory: “We have met the enemy and they are ours… [The game] was won against what seemed insuperable odds in the final inning by the remarkable work of Beloit’s pitcher, and a splendid rally made by the entire team.” Fittingly, Captain McMasters scored the deciding run.
A few days later, Clarence Howeth Beaumont sat on stage at Scoville Hall and received his diploma as a graduate of the Beloit Academy in the Classical Division. Although he considered coming back to Beloit to attend the college proper, the allure of professional baseball proved too great. He signed with Milwaukee of the Western League and within a year “Ginger” began a distinguished, twelve-year major league career for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Boston Doves, and the Chicago Cubs. In 1902 he led the National League in batting with a .357 average and in 1903 in runs scored with 137. He led the league in hits four times.
Two other players from the 1898 team went on to brief Major League careers, Merle Adkins and Bob Blewett, although Adkins played professional baseball for many years after graduating from Beloit College in 1903. He starred for the old Baltimore Orioles of the International League, playing for manager Jack Dunn, the man who signed Babe Ruth to his first professional contract. Adkins won 20 games in a season four times, including a fabulous 29-12 mark in the 1908 season. After retiring from baseball, “Doc” Adkins, as he became known, practiced medicine..
The 1898 season went down as one of the finest in Beloit College history, summed up well by the Beloit Daily News that year: “Beloit College, comparatively small as she is, can now lay claim to being the peer of all the western college or university ball teams. She has defeated Michigan, Wisconsin and Chicago universities, and all the rest of the minor teams - and no other team can say as much.”