Personal and impassioned hard ball research indicates Oklahoma City base ball was officially born in the nineteenth century on June 11, 1891. On this date, the birthing father of Oklahoma City's organized base ball at the professional level, Walter R. Jennison, enthusiastically ordered all black uniforms for a team to be called the Pirates. The Pirate name being selected by Oklahoma City's inaugural players which included team sponsors, brothers and cotton gin owner/operators Harry T. Jennison (Catcher) and Walter R. Jennison (Manager/Captain/Infield). Other original Pirates included G. Kittle (Pitcher), Harry Hanley (Infield), F. Morey (Infield), Ed Johnston (Pitcher/Infield), John Hall (Infield), Frank Butts (Infield), Cliff Scott (Outfield), Will Ebey (Outfield) and Moore (Outfield).
Walter R. Jennison transported 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 team in our 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. Migrating from the east and into the territory along with people, religion, education, agriculture, music and everything else was the game of base ball.
What more identifies a base ball club than uniform uniforms. The same pants, same jersey, same socks and same caps could make men from two centuries previous feel extra special and feel like they were part of a real team. A salary with travel amenities provided could transform these men from mere town ball amateurs to mighty professionals with just one trip on a train headed to a first ball game.
It had to have been a great moment in time to know you were suiting up to represent Oklahoma City as troops on the battlefield of base ball. With historical mentions of opposing players, winning or losing, enjoying their particular time spent in our city, the game of base ball was noted as a great advertising medium for Oklahoma City. Sounds most similar to the type of market branding and representation our current Dodgers bring to the table.
Simultaneously and on a continuous "play it by ear" basis, Walter R. Jennison labored on a schedule of games against other teams with railroad connections from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. From these pioneer efforts to birth the most successfully organized team and season to date, the summer of 1891 was eventually highlighted with professionally organized and ticketed games against Purcell (Oklahoma), Gurthrie (Oklahoma), Stillwater (Oklahoma), Gainesville (Texas), Winfield (Kansas) and Wellington (Kansas).
Oklahoma's chosen few and fine 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 professionally 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 professional base ball, I set out to seek the embryo of this infrastructure and discovered there were years previous that included some well organized, properly scheduled and travel ready entities existing and representing Oklahoma City on base ball diamonds throughout the Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas areas.
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 jus 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 that 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.
The first published reference of an Oklahoma City base ball game is found in the July 25, 1891, edition of the Oklahoma Daily Times-Journal. "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 reports: "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 reports "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.
The August 16, 1891, edition of the Fort Worth Gazette reports "the Gainesville base ball club played Oklahoma City their second game today, resulting in a score of twelve to four in favor of Oklahoma City. The Gainesville boys leave for Guthrie in the morning to play Guthrie tomorrow."
The September 09, 1891, edition of the Wichita Daily Eagle reports "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 reports 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 reports 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.