Idiosyncratic and adrenalized hard ball research indicates Oklahoma City base ball was officially born late in the nineteenth century on June 11, 1891. On this date, the father and obstetrician of Oklahoma City's organized base ball at the pro level, Walter R. Jennison, enthusiastically ordered all black uniforms for a team to be called the Pirates. Within a brief two days following, the maiden voyage of these red dirt base ball buccaneers would launch Oklahoma City into a distinguished dominion of professionals against a Guthrie nine on an Oklahoma Territory road in Guthrie. This being the transition point where Captain Jennison and his Pirates engaged in a specified activity (base ball) within the sphere of a paid occupational status rather than just being casually associated with "America's Greatest Pastime."
Sports historians and even some early twentieth century teammates and players have pointed toward Eugene Albert "Gene" Barnes as the "Father Of Oklahoma City Base Ball." Mr. Barnes, Kansas born in 1873, is noted for his youthful participation within Oklahoma City's sandlot pastures soon after the first land run settlers staked out their sections of Oklahoma Territory in 1889. Barnes was a teenage base ball organizer and pitcher who stepped off a late nineteenth century train from Kansas with his father, Albert Augustus Barnes, and strolled into a majestic realm of early 1890's Oklahoma City town team base ball that included the Oklahoma City Browns, the Overstreet Prints, the Barrett Prints, the Oklahoma City Hoo-Hoos and the Oklahoma City Lightning.
A sixteen year old Gene Barnes helped erect Oklahoma City's first base ball grandstand. It was constructed near what is now the historic Oklahoma City Municipal Building site. With empty beer kegs from a nearby saloon and local lumber yard donated 2 x 12's, a conglomerate of land run pioneers, along with Barnes, scrapped together a makeshift facility to accommodate the enthusiasm of Oklahoma City's original base ball fans.
Gene Barnes, later to become Oklahoma City's emergency interim manager in 1904 and eventual team owner in 1905, personally traveled with Walter Jennison's Pirates on what was recognized as a "barnstorming tour" ending in Wellington, Kansas. Barnes himself, with eye witness to the Pirates operation and success, personally and publicly recognized the Jennison brothers as "the real pioneers of base ball in Oklahoma City."
Bob Stoops is not the first coach from Ohio to venture into Oklahoma's sporting arena and claim success on its fields of glory. Oklahoma City Pirate player/coach Walter R. Jennison escorted some actual professional minor league management experience with him to Oklahoma City from Springfield, Ohio. He served as one of three managers of the Springfield base ball club during Oklahoma's Land Run year of 1889. Springfield compiled a record of 61-48 to finish second in the Tri-State League that included teams from Canton, OH; Springfield, OH; Mansfield OH; Dayton, OH; Hamilton OH; and Wheeling, WV. Sometimes nineteenth century math did not add up as two states do not truly equal a Tri-State league, but, teams from Michigan and Pennsylvania had been a part of this minor league's history at various points within it's brief existence.
Migrating from the north and east and into the territory along with people, religion, education, agriculture, music and everything else was the game of base ball. Arriving in Oklahoma Territory on a train engineered by an engineer of the Atchison, Topeka & Sante Fe Railroad in the year of 1890, Walter R. Jennison was found playing second base for a competitive Norman town team with his brother Harry handling the catching duties from behind the plate. The two brothers anchored a Norman base ball club that literally played a double header season of two games against the Purcell Black Stockings.
Game one highlights include a July 4, 1890, morning train ride south for the Norman nine on that same Sante Fe Railway. The Black Stockings of Purcell cordially greeted the team from Norman as they stepped off this now antiquated train. The boys with black sox proceeded to escort Norman's nine to the Hotel Clifton where a "sumptuous" dinner awaited all players. After disposing of the "sumptuous" cuisine, both clubs headed for the picnic grounds south of Purcell for a Friday afternoon game that was called to "play ball" by an umpire named Johnson at exactly 2:30 o'clock.
From the top of it's first inning, evidence revealed the Black Stockings from Purcell to be no match for the nine from Norman. Before a soon to be dispirited "home team crowd en-masse," Norman reeled off 5 runs in the first inning of play and never looked back in a high scoring affair that found Purcell on the short end of a 20-12 final score. Walter Jennison led off and played second base for the Norman nine. With three of a team total twenty-two base hits, Jennison accounted for four of the twenty runs scored by the nameless Norman base ball club. With a win over the "Chickasaw" boys from Purcell, a magnificent purse of $20.00 was celebrated in grand style by the victorious base ball club from Norman.
Much like today's norm of home and home series, Norman, in turn, hosted a redemption match for the same Black Stockings from Purcell. This happening near one month later on August 5, 1890, before a "very good" crowd in attendance. Much like the norm of those days, Norman jumped out to a first inning lead with no need to look back on their way to a 21-8 victory. With a second victory over the hapless Black Stockings, Norman's press labeled their nine as the best ball team in the 1890 Territory with advice for the Purcell team to "get a new club." Norman's "Cotton Gin Men," Walter and Harry Jennison, combined for three hits and six runs in this game called to "play ball" at exactly 2:20 o'clock on a hot August afternoon.
From Norman, the Jennison Brothers catch the 1891 Sante Fe north to originate their own red dirt buccaneers and fabricate the genesis of Oklahoma City base ball. What more identifies a base ball club than uniform uniforms. The same black pants, same black jersey, same black socks and same black caps could make men from two centuries previous feel extra special and feel like they were part of a nonfictional team. A team name of Pirates combined with being paid to play as well as train travel, hotel and fine cuisine amenities could transform mere town ball amateurs into admired and well respected professionals with just one trip on a train headed north to Guthrie for a game of ball.
It must have been a great moment in time to suit up and represent Oklahoma City as professionals on such a magnificent yet unpolished diamond of base ball. With historical mentions of opposing players, winning or losing, enjoying their particular time spent in Oklahoma City, the game of base ball was recognized as a great advertising medium for such a young, struggling, yet, growing community. Sounds similar to the type of market branding and representation offered by the current Oklahoma City Dodgers organization. The Dodger's representing a more mature city and modern window of progressive times, but, their seeds of organizational existence and harvest of success was planted along with some of central Oklahoma's first cotton crops back in the year of 1891.
This year of 1891 turns out to be a most important turn around moment in time relative to Oklahoma City and it's future. Following a disaster filled Fourth of July celebration of 1889, anything recognized as good representation for the city was most important the struggle to recover from such recent and major catastrophe was difficult to say the least.
The New York Evening World reported that two hundred Oklahoma City people were injured by the fall of a stand with one child killed and others expected not to live. "Without warning two thousand men, women and children were precipitated to the ground and covered with beams and boards with one hundred of the injured possibly to die" was published in what was branded as a "special to the world" by the Evening World.
Datelined Oklahoma, I.T., July 4 (1889) - "During the Fourth of July celebration, at 3 o'clock this afternoon, just at the close of the ball game, the crowd started for the stand to see the races, which were announced to take place in twenty minutes. The rush was rapid and seats were most instantly filled, there being at least 2,000 people on the stand when, without a preliminary crack or sound, the whole fabric went to he ground. Most of the occupants were women and children. There was one wild whirl, a horrible crash, and scats, roof and timber came down, burying the throng in a mass of splintered timbers. Investigation showed that though fully two hundred were injured by falling timbers, only one fifteen-months-old child of Dr. Ryan, of this city, was killed outright, though several others may die."
The Evening World individually listed sixty-four of the injured men, women and children while closing their worldwide report on Oklahoma City's tragedy. "The grand stand was hastily constructed a few days ago and was then pronounced unsafe, but the officials thought they would not have to build another. The military in this city took charge of the grounds and nobody was allowed to enter this district where the wounded were except the surgeons and the friends of the injured. Army ambulances were furnished and all the injured were brought to this city on mattresses. It is said that 100 of the inured will die," concluded the Evening World.
An original Oklahoma "89er" vividly shares his thoughts of the tragic event during Oklahoma City's first Fourth of July celebration attempt. Hardware store owner W.J. Pettee said "Cheyenne and Arapaho indians were brought here to participate in the celebration. Various persons entered their horses in the races. Cold drink stands, wheels of fortune and other concessions were housed under the grand stand," stated Pettee.
Another original Oklahoma "89er," Dr. J.A. Ryan, was both fortunate and unfortunate to be present at the 1889 Fourth of July celebration. Fortunate that his medical skills were needed immediately on site, yet, most unfortunate as his "thirteen month old" son, James Alvin Ryan, was killed in the infamous grandstand collapse tragically marking Oklahoma City's first attempt at celebrating our nation's freedom.
Quite a large set back for any just born city, its people, its base ball teams, its horse racing entities and any positive outlook in general for its inhabitants of such a tragic filled environment. All the more reason to recognize the arrival of Mr. Walter R. Jennison and his vision of the future for Oklahoma City's base ball team, but, even more important at the time, Jennison's vision of a vibrant cotton industry and the growth of agriculture which would help stabilize a struggling territorial city walking in its tragic filled baby steps of historical significance.
Simultaneously and on a continuous "play it by ear" basisin 1891, Walter R. Jennison labored on a schedule of games against other teams with railroad accessibility from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. From these pioneer efforts to birth the most successfully organized team and season for a youthful Oklahoma City, the summer of 1891 was eventually highlighted with professionally organized and ticketed games against Purcell (Oklahoma), Gurthrie (Oklahoma), Fort Reno (Oklahoma), Frisco (Oklahoma), Stillwater (Oklahoma), Gainesville (Texas), Winfield (Kansas) and Wellington (Kansas).
Oklahoma's chosen few and fine sports historians have pointed towards the year of 1904 as being the first and most consistent year of professional base ball competition to be played in Oklahoma City. The Metropolitans, as they were called at that time, were quite competitive and were recognized by the Oklahoma City press as champions of the Southwestern League in 1904. Despite the potential of error in championship accolades, 1904 was a solid year but not the true iron-willed genesis attempt at professional and organized base ball in Oklahoma City.
Being one of curious mind over matters that contributed to the solid foundation of Oklahoma City's start-up in pro base ball, I set out to discover the embryo of this infrastructure and found there were years previous that included some well organized, properly scheduled and travel ready entities existing and representing Oklahoma City on fields of red dirt and rough grass throughout the Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas areas.
At first, my imperfect and slow curved mind thought 1902 was the Genesis effort headed up by a con artist and former 1890's minor league player Frank Quiqq. Quigg was found conducting the same type of business as Walter Jennison in 1901 and 1902 yet his motives may have been more for the money as he sort of left Oklahoma City holding the bag so to speak in the early part of the 1902 season.
The first true "incorporated" venture to field a professional team came about in 1902 with Frank Quigg stirring up pre-season expectations of "great ball" to be played at the professional level in and by Oklahoma City. Although an eccentric part of a continued transition towards better base ball in 1904 and 1905, Quigg's demise was quick as his quirky antics did not hold up with astute pioneer businessmen and stockholders such as Charles F. Colcord, F.H. Shelly, Jake Barnes, Harry Robare and others. As Oklahoma City base ball moved forward, Quiqq eventually found himself fan mobbed as an umpire and then shot to death by U.S. Marshals in a 1909 attempt to rob the Harrah State Bank.
1902 members of the first true incorporated attempt at base ball in Oklahoma City include (front row l to r) Ollie Conn, Mt. Zion, Ill., 2nd base; R. Wayne Reynolds, Lincoln, Neb., Pitcher/RF; Harry Robare, OKC, O.T., Interim Manager; Otto Meyers, Kansas City, MO., Catcher; Charles Parks, Vinita, I.T., Catcher/IF; (back row l to r) Max Gibbs, Sherman, TX, SS/3rd base; A.B. Snodgrass, OKC, O.T., CF/SS; John Desmond, St. Louis, MO, Pitcher/OF; Hardin Thurman, Chickasha, I.T., Pitcher/IF; and Charles Barry, Cairo, Ill., 1st base.
With em•bry•o being described as "an unborn or unhatched offspring in the process of development," it is my belief I and a few others have discovered just that in regard to Oklahoma City's transformation from enthusiastic and fun town ball reality into a higher realm of professional base ball existence.
Choosing to implement full focus on more than just the mere mention of the name Walter R. Jennison, I do believe the genesis of pro ball in Oklahoma City wraps around his existence and efforts in 1891. Although town ball teams, and later sandlot teams, continued to increase in popularity and numbers across Indian and Oklahoma Territories well into the early twentieth century, well researched documentation points toward Walter R. Jennison being the pioneer of Oklahoma's gateway to professional base ball in his guts to glory year of 1891.
Previous to 1891, sporadic documentation and images of base ball being played throughout the territories exists as nucleus evidence of a game being bred for a higher level of play. Along with these scattered mentions of amateur contests, mostly jokes of a base ball nature were published for the enjoyment of nineteen century newspaper audiences.
The May, 12, 1889, edition of the Omaha Daily Bee, shared "the Oklahoma base ball club has not yet been organized. R. E. Volver has put in a ball or two with a swiftness and accuracy which would indicate who was to be the pitcher." Recognizing this comedic approach of reference to "R.E. Volver" as being (revolver) just twenty-five days post the rampant Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. Despite the humor, the thought of base ball in Oklahoma did exist outside our territorial boundaries.
With amateur level ball being the highlight of many villages and towns within Indian and Oklahoma Territories, games were played and bets were made, but, from this historians research and opinion, a true professional attempt did not exist until 1891. This leaving the year of 1890 as a continuation of a mixed bag of amateur strategy targeting the Walter R. Jennison led birth of Oklahoma City's first true professional venture towards organized play in 1891. Not to sell previous efforts short, but to recognize them as birthing pains to what the future held for Oklahoma City base ball.
Historians flourish with pride from being able to share real time cutting edge new verifications but nothing to date exists to offer anything other than town ball guestimation for the year of 1890. One can only feel flourish from making up the word guestimation, but, newspaper documentation for a real attempt season organized and played in a professional manner in 1891 offers enthusiasm for those few interested in the true genesis year and storyline of Oklahoma City base ball.
With some thoughts of the Pirate's genesis and first game being played against the Purcell "Chickasaws," the first actual reference to Oklahoma City's red dirt buccaneers competing for a base ball victory was delivered to subscribers of the June 12, 1891, edition of the Oklahoma Daily Journal. Within this very same issue, Walter Jennison is recognized "ordering up suits for the base ball boys," Jennison is also found extending a directive for all who wish to travel to Guthrie "tomorrow" needing to provide notification so Jennison can secure excursion rates for avid Pirate fans who would actually witness Oklahoma City's genesis of professional base ball on the summer Saturday of June 13, 1891, in Guthrie, O.T.
Relative to a futuristic struggle to locate Oklahoma's state capital, Oklahoma City's first professionally organized base ball game against Guthrie could ironically be considered as controversial. With a seventh inning score of 4-3 favoring Guthrie's nine, the Pirates were at bat with a man on third and nobody out. Trouble arose over what was described as "some rank decision" by an umpire named Berger. It seems that if things were all square in a fair deal, Oklahoma City would have won their initial base ball campaign of competition. But, with claims of Guthrie stealing what was described as a fine game from start to finish, the Pirates were evidently forced by Berger to walk their inaugural plank back to Oklahoma City with a one run loss.
Following the bitterly disputed first loss on the road to the Guthrie nine, the second published reference of an Oklahoma City Pirate base ball game is found in the June 19, 1891, edition of the Oklahoma Daily Journal. Headlines read OKLAHOMA CITY VS PURCELL with a subliner of "A Great Game of Base Ball This Afternoon Between the Chickasaws of Purcell and the Oklahoma City "Pirates." The game was held in Oklahoma City "on the reservation" being called to "play ball" promptly at 2:30 o'clock with admission free and a special invitation for "the ladies" to attend.
In what has been thought by some to be the actual first documented game, the Oklahoma City Pirates roster against Purcell included Harry Jennison, Catcher; Harry Hanley, First Base; W.R. Jennison, Second Base; Frank Butts, Third Base, John Hall, Short Stop; Usher Carson, Left Field; Frank Morey, Center Field; and George Boss, Right Field. Walter R. Jennison was recognized as the manager and captain of this 1891 Oklahoma City Pirates base ball club.
To date, no discovery of the actual results against what was thought to be the Chickasaws from Purcell had been documented. To date, it is now known that pitching in the beginning was rough around and inside and outside edges, the Chickasaws were actually named the Black Stockings and Oklahoma City won their inaugural home game of the season by a score of 23-13. Before a number of "ardent admirers" from Purcell who had caught the train to Oklahoma City with hopes of seeing a good game, the umpire mercifully closed the game at the end of the sixth inning with the Black Stockings trailing the Pirates by ten runs.
The Pirates ball players were recognized as gentlemen of Oklahoma City who extended a courteous and friendly reception toward the Black Stockings and their fans from the Chickasaw Nation. Purcell pitcher Will Blanchard, "the artistic twirler," was targeted as a reason for the Black Stockings loss for lacking his standard pitching skills on this Friday afternoon in 1891 Oklahoma City.
The July 25, 1891, edition of the Oklahoma Daily Times-Journal reported: "The Wellington Mail of Thursday says that 'Walter Franz of this city and Lee Phillips of Winfield will constitute the battery for Stillwater, O.T., base ball club in the games with the Oklahoma City Club on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week. With such a strong battery, Stillwater's chances of winning are good.' The indications, therefore, are good for an excellent game. Our boys will have to put up their best licks."
The July 31, 1891, edition of the Oklahoma Daily Times-Journal reported: "It rained all day yesterday. This would not be a matter of particular note in Oklahoma except for the fact that it prevented the second base ball game between Stillwater and Oklahoma City. There were some expectations that the Hawks would put up such a game that would worry the Pirates to overcome. and a great many were disappointed. The Stillwater boys returned home on the noon train yesterday, well satisfied with the treatment in this city, and will be back later in the season to play a couple more games. It is an excellent team and puts up an excellent game.
Today the Pirates and the Gainesville club will cross bats. The latter club is here and is an excellent one and a good game is expected. The game will be called at 3:45 p.m. sharp. Turn out and help the boys out, besides seeing a good game."
The August 01, 1891, edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle reported "the base ball clubs in Oklahoma are getting into the fact that the visiting club gets the best treatment when it is beaten." Within the same edition is found, "The Oklahoma Pirates have done up the Stillwater Hawks. The base ball complication in Oklahoma is getting almost as interesting as the capital fight."
The August 06, 1891 edition of the Oklahoma Daily Times is headlined with "BASE BALL TODAY." A sub liner reads "THE WINFIELD TEAM VS THE PIRATES THIS EVENING." A secondary sub liner reads "Today the Ladies will be Admitted Free–The Game to be called at 3:45 Sharp."
The Oklahoma Daily Times continues with "The Windfield team arrived on the 12:30 train this morning and are a fine looking set of young men, they are all 'men' and not 'kids' and their last game before coming to Oklahoma was with Wellington (Kansas) and resulted in a victory for Winfield by a score of 4 to 2, thus it will be seen that the Pirates will have to 'play ball' if they win from the boys from the Sunflower state.
The boys here expected to have a hard fight to win from Winfield and have devoted some time in getting themselves in shape to win, and yet there is no victory until it is won.
As per agreement the Winfield club will play three games with the Pirates. Gorsuch and Bennett will occupy the points today for Winfield while Kittle and Jennison will do the battery work for the Pirates.
Today admission to the ground will be free for all the ladies, but everybody is cordially invited to attend. Come out and se one of the best games ever played on the home grounds.
The game will be played at the ball park east of the city. Game is called at 3:45. Following is the names and positions of players for Winfield: Bennett, Catcher; Gorsuch, Pitcher; Kyger, 1st Base; Redmond, 2nd Base; Phillips, 3rd Base, Watson, SS; McCampbell, LF; Eastin, CF; and Garver, RF. For Oklahoma City: H. Jennison, Catcher; G. Kittle, Pitcher; F. Morey, 1st Base; W. Jennison, 2nd Base; Ed Johnston, 3rd Base; R. Hall, SS; C. Scott, LF; Will Ebey, CF; and Moore, RF.
The September 09, 1891, edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle reported "the last game between the Guthrie and Oklahoma City base ball clubs came out 13 to 13" while noting "thirteen was an unlucky number for both sides this time."
The September 11, 1891, edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle reported on the September 10 base ball match between Oklahoma City and Wellington, Kansas. "The game today between the Wellington Maroons and the Oklahoma City Pirates resulted in defeat of the boys from the territory by a score of 6 to 3. Kittle, Blackburn and Bennett occupied the points for the Oklahoma City club, while Fournier and Frantz were the Wellington battery.
The September 13, 1891, edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle reported that "the Wellington base ball club 'paid' a Denver pitcher $100 to beat the Oklahoma City Pirates" while indicating "he did it." This referencing the previously mentioned 6 to 3 loss by the Pirates to Wellington on September 10 of 1891.