After last week’s article, where I briefly mentioned a certain baseball team, I had quite a few questions about what exactly it was that I was writing about. Well, let me tell you all about the time Hartford beat the Cincinnati Reds.
Before the rise of radio and television in the 1940s and ‘50s, it was common for professional baseball teams and even individual players to “barnstorm” for publicity. For those of you not familiar with sports terminology, barnstorming is when those teams or players would spend the preseason or postseason traveling their region and playing exhibition games against the locals. It was good press, a good way to build a fan base, and kept the baseball players from getting rusty out of season.
Because Mason County is crisscrossed by two major railroads, like I’ve covered in previous articles, our “local” pro teams, the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates, spent quite a bit of time in this area. As a matter of fact, we know of at least three times that they barnstormed the Bend Area, and doubtless there were dozens of other occasions as yet undiscovered in the older newspapers.
For example, on October 2nd, 1899, the Mason team played Cincinnati. Mason lost, but they played well, for it is said that received considerable complements from their opponents. We know that on this trip, the Reds also played and beat New Haven, Hartford, Syracuse, and Pomeroy.
One of the problems with barnstorming though, and the reason that the major leagues tried to get rid of it in the 1910s and ‘20s, is the remote possibility that the professional players could lose to some local amateurs. That isn’t a good look for a professional team, as you can probably imagine. It didn’t happen often but was still enough to concern the managers, and it just so happens that one of those losses was right here in Mason County.
In 1910, the Cincinnati Reds stopped in Hartford. That year’s team included West Virginian and future Reds MVP Dick Hoblitzell, noted pitcher Mike Mitchell, and one of the best base stealers in the National League, Bob Beschar. The Hartford Blues, according to historian Mildred Gibbs, included manager George Lerner, Lem Ruttencutter, Pat Rea, Harry Gibbs, Charles Kell, Joe Pierce, Avalene “Lee” Moore, Frank “Fat” Chapman, Mitt Wayland, Ira Fields, Charles “Ricky-Ticky” Fields, and an unknown 11th player.
The game, likely in October, was held at the town’s baseball field down in the creek bottom behind what is now the community center. We don’t know much about this game, because neither Mildred nor I were ever able to find an article in the newspapers. All that we know for sure about outcome of the game is that the Hartford City Blues beat the Cincinnati Reds, supposedly by a score of 5-4. Yes, for all of you currently scoffing at the paper, it’s true, and how we know is a short article in the Pomeroy Tribune-Telegraph the next year.
In 1911, the Reds were barnstorming once again, and a short article in the Telegraph reads: “The Cincinnati Reds were here again last week and contested with the Hartford Team, and the story is somewhat different from last year. Hartford won last year, but were easily defeated this year by a score of 5-1. The Reds presented the same team that played throughout the season, and although no one expected the Hartford Team to win, yet they put up a game of ball that caused the Reds to tighten up several times in order that Hartford would not score any heavier.” This proves the story, though it doesn’t give much detail about that legendary game.
One thing that the 1911 article doesn’t mention is that the second game was played in Syracuse due to flooding in Hartford. Those of you that live in town know that the creek bottom floods several times a year, and apparently this was the case then. Maybe it was this home field advantage that helped the Hartford Blues in 1910 and the lack thereof that hindered their playing in 1911, or maybe the second time around, the Reds were just out for revenge and knew better than to underestimate these coal miners and salt workers.
Information from Mildred Gibbs’ histories of the Bend Area and the Pomeroy Tribune-Telegraph.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at email@example.com.