Truckee’s 1904 baseball season was a winner
Echoes From the Past
From the founding of Truckee in 1868, men and boys played some form of baseball. In 1869 it was the Central Pacific’s playing the Red Stockings every few days. These games were played by teen boys in the plaza on Front Street. Adults played an occasional Sunday pickup game, but were mostly too tired from working hard jobs to engage in sports.
All through the 1870s and early ’80s teams were organized to play each other on the plaza on Front Street, and slowly more adults began to take up the game. As baseball gained in popularity nationwide in the late 1880s, Truckee responded by forming two organized adult teams that played each other on a dirt field on the south side of the Truckee River. These games were nine-inning, nine-player games that attracted most of the town on summer Sunday afternoons.
As the players got better they formed a town team that played other regional teams. For example, the 1889 Truckee team played Quincy, Reno, Virginia City, and Carson City. Truckee fielded the best organized and equipped team in the informal league and went 8 and 1 for the season.
During the 1890s through 1903, Truckee baseball teams came and went, as did regional leagues, as getting a sponsor and town support wasn’t always forthcoming. When Hobart Mills was built in 1897, it started a baseball team, as did Floriston when it was built in 1901, adding to the local competition. These towns were company owned, and as a result support for the teams was high.
The 1904 team stood out for many reasons, starting with better organization, more community support than in previous years and a new ballfield on the south side of Truckee River.
An organization meeting was held in April, and Truckee Post Office store owner Howard Wilmoth was elected as manager. Wilmoth led the fund raising effort around town, succeeding in getting almost all businessmen to donate at least a dollar or two.
Practice games started in late April with a game at the new ballfield that was donated and improved by the Truckee Lumber Company. The previous year’s team, known as the Regulars, played a quickly formed team of local players called the Scrubs. In a surprising upset, the Scrubs beat the experienced Regular team. Attendance of the townspeople was large, with almost the whole town enjoying Sunday across the river.
The Regulars, stunned by the defeat, practiced harder and beat the reorganized and renamed Scrubs, now the Invincibles, the following Sunday, by scoring the winning run in the 10th inning, winning 9-8.
With the practice games among Truckee teams complete, the competition loomed large. By May 15 the Truckee squad played the Hobart Mills team, beating them by one run in the bottom of the ninth. The Truckee Republican praised the team, and boosted the team locally and among other area teams.
Truckee men were charged 25 cents for admission, with women and children admitted free. A gang of freeloaders tried sitting on the rocks on the hillside above the field, planning to watch the game without paying. Despite donations, the team needed the revenue to pay off the debt from the expense of new uniforms and gear, and the bums were convinced to pay up.
The first real game was against a Nevada opponent, playing in Verdi, where they promptly beat the Lumbermen by four runs. Next up was a much publicized game against a Reno team that was picked from the best players of several teams. Truckee’s lineup included “Tex” Johnson who actually was a paid ringer, having been a former Texas League pitcher hired by the Truckee Lumber Company just to play ball for Truckee.
The May 29 game against Reno featured many Reno fans taking a special excursion train provided by the Southern Pacific. Upon arrival they were treated royally by Truckee businessmen, then escorted to the ballfield in a grand procession. The game was a defensive one with Truckee star pitcher Jack Sullivan allowing just three runs, struck out ten, while adding a run of his own to beat the Reno team 4-3.
The word began to circulate around the area that Truckee was the team to beat. The next team wanting the challenge was the East Reno team that was undefeated for the season. To compound Manager Wilmoth’s problems, “Tex” Johnson and another paid player skipped town owing money to local merchants. Johnson soon turned up on a Sparks team, playing for a higher payoff.
To top the problems off, ace pitcher Jack Sullivan was injured in a practice game at Hobart Mills when he was hit in the temple by a ball hit back at him, knocking him unconscious. As a result, the East Reno game was postponed
The next scheduled game was a home game against the Verdi team, still smarting from the earlier loss, but Truckee’s still improving team beat them handily 16-5. Sullivan didn’t pitch, but replacement pitcher Nagle did an outstanding job.
The East Reno team, apparently not willing to be embarrassed, failed to show up in Truckee for their rescheduled game, and didn’t even send a message that they were not coming. So the Truckee team had a Sunday off to practice.
The following Sunday, the Truckee team survived a long, bumpy, dusty stagecoach ride to Loyalton. This gave the Sierra Valley team confidence that they would be the victors over Truckee. But Jack Sullivan was back in top form, and on both offense and defense, and the Truckees were in charge. They beat the Loyalton team with no problem, extending their winning streak.
The July 3 game was a huge one as the Kirk-Geary team from Sacramento came to Truckee, along with thousands of visitors, intent on enjoying a long holiday weekend. Unfortunately the visiting team got delayed by several hours when a train wreck near Blue Canyon tied up the railroad tracks for a few hours. The game got underway at 5:15 p.m., after the crowd had listened to the Truckee Nifty Band play for a few hours, and a pickup game of locals kept the fans attention.
The Truckees showed the Valley team their best stuff, Sullivan pitched a one hitter, and the home team scored five runs, with everyone getting at least one hit. After the game the hills rang for an hour with the crowds cheers for the victors.
With the prospect of a winning club, the Truckee businessmen and citizens got behind the team in a big way. A reorganization meeting was held, more donations poured in and more regional teams were contacted to play the up and coming team. Increased business was definitely the bottom line for the merchants, but town pride was close behind.
A 6-3 victory against Loyalton followed, then a 16-3 win against Nevada City. Both were home games with the Nevada City game being attended by thousands of cheering fans. Truckee barber Dan Smith even gave a play by play account using a megaphone to educate the fans just learning the sport. Second baseman Leavy had Dr. Kelley install a gold crown on a bad tooth the day before, promising a home run if he had the new cap. He followed through with a three bagger in the third inning.
The hype in all the area newspapers heated up, as did offers from rival clubs wanting to play Truckee. While the players were not officially paid, they did receive free food, drinks and other discounts for playing well. Sums of up to $500 were paid on the team level to compensate the teams for travel expenses. Large private wagers were also being made on the upcoming games.
The schedule was rearranged so instead of playing Nevada City, Truckee played the Grass Valley Auroras. The Grass Valley team won easily over the previously undefeated Truckee team by 17-4. Bad defense was one of the Truckee’s downfalls.
After a week off, the Truckees played a home game against the undefeated Reno Overlands, who were mystified by Jack Sullivan’s pitching, and went down to defeat by 7-2.
Next up was the rematch of the visiting Grass Valley Auroras, in a fast defensive game Truckee beat them 3-2. Truckee had a new pitcher, Ryan, who proved to BE as good as the resting Sullivan. Grass Valley, still the best team in the foothills, was not satisfied with the results and requested one more game to decide the series.
Truckee, now 9-1, was eager about the final game of the season against the Auroras at Grass Valley. Truckee had the game well in hand in the seventh inning, and should have won the game. The home team fans began crowding the third base line, yelling at the Truckee players, insulting and taunting them. They even threw small stones at the fair minded Truckee players. The umpire and Auroras manager failed to stop the harassment.
The umpire, a Grass Valley man, allowed the use of extra players running back and forth along the third base line, confusing the Truckee pitcher with the real runner. This allowed the winning run to be scored for the Auroras in the bottom of the eighth. The ninth inning was a riot of confusion by the Grass Valley crowd, preventing the fair playing of the game, and Truckee went down to a season ending one run defeat.
Despite the malicious behavior of the Grass Valley fans, the Truckee 1904 baseball team considered itself the best in the Sierra, and other teams agreed. This surprising season set the stage for future Truckee teams to be supported by the merchants and citizens in a big way. Truckee was a baseball town for years to come.
Gordon Richards is the president and research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site at http://truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is email@example.com. You may leave a message at 582-0893. Past articles by Gordon Richards are available at http://www.sierrasun.com in the archives.
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