A "Yaller Kivered" Game: New York-Style Baseball Comes to Racine

By Epstein, Michael | Nine, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

A "Yaller Kivered" Game: New York-Style Baseball Comes to Racine


Epstein, Michael, Nine


While the old game is manly and full of life, health and vigor and
pleasing to behold, the new "yaller kivered" game is indolent, sickly,
puerile, effeminate, and disgusting to behold.
Racine Journal, August 1867

INTRODUCTION

By the early 1860s the New York variety of baseball was well established in the large cities of the Northeast and was already beginning to reach many small towns and villages. In the post-Civil War period, the New York game began to rapidly spread throughout the nation. Returning veterans, tours by well-known eastern clubs, and the increasing publication of baseball manuals all served as important seeding mechanisms for the new game. In his book, Early Baseball and the Rise of the National League, Tom Melville points to the quote above as an example of the chilly reception the New York game sometimes received when first introduced into areas where older folk versions of baseball were still prevalent. (1) This particular condemnation of the game was attributed to an "old town ball player" in Racine, Wisconsin. I was much intrigued by the old town baller's statement and decided to delve a bit further into this subject to see if I could provide some context. Who was this old town ball player? Why did he dislike the new game so? Was his view of the New York game common in Racine at that time? I went back to the original article in the Racine Journal and soon discovered that the author was none other than the owner and editor of the newspaper, Colonel William L. Utley. So, who was this Utley fellow anyway?

THE COLONEL'S JOURNAL

William Utley was born in Monson, Massachusetts, in 1814; but a few years later, his family moved to rural Ohio. At age twenty-one Utley moved to New York in an attempt to better his educational and financial status but seems to have had little success there. He later journeyed to Racine and, in 1844, established himself there as a portrait painter and musician. During this time he became an ardent supporter of the Free-Soil movement and launched his political career in 1848, when he was elected Marshall of Racine. He was elected to the legislature in 1850 and served in various political offices until the onset of the Civil War. Commissioned as a colonel in 1862, Utley commanded the Twenty-second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry and became a figure of national note when he refused to turn over a fugitive slave who had taken refuge in his camp. Utley later became a prisoner of the confederate army; and after his release in 1864, he returned to Racine. There, in 1865, he and his son Hamilton purchased the Racine Journal and ran the newspaper as a weekly until 1873. (2)

The Racine Journal was perhaps best known for William Utley's staunch
Republicanism as well as his "spicy" editorial style. The Milwaukee
Sentinel observed that, "It is widely read and widely quoted, chiefly
for the sharp hits got in by the Colonel, whose trenchant pen slashes
both this way and that, and cuts both friend and foe, provided they have
any ungainly excrescences that need cropping off." (3)

EARLY BASEBALL IN RACINE

While the colonel was editor in chief, his son, Hamilton, was responsible for editing the local page; and it is here where we find the newspaper's first mention of baseball in September of 1866.

Base Ball--This very interesting game, which is so popular in this
country, is being played every evening upon the West Park by the Racine
Club. Base Ball is a noble game--very exciting--great deal of fun
playing it--it is enjoyed hugely--result of first night's play is as
follows: Crosby, hurt his hand; Upham, sprained his ankle; Hall, so lame
had to be assisted off the ground; Tapley, thumb out of joint;
Martindale, Shepard and others, lame all over. We were there, made a
splendid short stop with forefinger, been using arnica since. (4)

The article goes on to mention that another club had formed in the Fourth Ward and that the Racine Base Ball Club would be meeting again shortly. …

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