Tag: vintage

Orator Jim O’Rourke, Connecticut’s Brilliant Baseball Pioneer


One of most influential vintage baseball figures from the State of Connecticut was an Irish-American named Jim O’Rourke. The 5-feet-8-inches tall Bridgeport native wielded a mighty bat and famous mustache. As leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Stockings of 1876, he recorded the first official base hit in major league history. O’Rourke’s epic playing career spanned five decades. He also became a manager, umpire, team owner, league executive, attorney at law, civil rights advocate, father of eight children and a posthumous National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on September 1, 1850, James Henry O’Rourke was the son of Hugh and Catherine O’Rourke, immigrants from County Mayo, Ireland. O’Rourke came of age at Waltersville School and Strong’s Military Academy. He learned to play baseball with his older brother John O’Rourke on local clubs, including the Bridgeport Ironsides and Stratford Osceolas. Jim was a right-hander acclaimed as an expert batsman and a smart talker. In fact, O’Rourke was so unexpectedly eloquent that he earned the nickname “Orator Jim.”

Stratford Osceolas with Jim O’Rourke (standing, far right), 1871.

In 1872, O’Rourke was recruited by the Middletown Mansfields, thereby becoming a member of America’s first professional baseball league: the National Association. Middletown folded in August, but O’Rourke would land on his feet. The next season he signed with the powerhouse Boston Red Stockings. Alongside Al Spalding as well as George and Harry Wright, O’Rourke batted .350 – swinging Boston to a pennant win.

1872 Middletown Mansfields

In the summer of 1874, O’Rourke became one of baseball’s first international ambassadors. Boston and Philadelphia performed America’s National Game before crowds in Ireland and England, but the trip was a strategic and financial failure. After returning to America, Boston laid claim to another pennant. O’Rourke led the way with a team-high 5 home runs while guarding first base. In 1875, he transitioned back to the outfield and helped Boston to a third straight pennant.

Boston Red Stockings with Jim O’Rourke (far left), 1874.

Beantown’s grip on the National Association resulted in the formation of the National League. O’Rourke decided to stay with Boston and recorded the league’s first base hit. The feat occurred on Opening Day, April 22, 1876, at the Jefferson Street Grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He swatted a single into left field. Though Boston committed 7 errors, they beat Philadelphia, who made 13 errors, by a score of 6-5.

Jim O’Rourke, Boston Red Caps, 1876.

O’Rourke’s breakout season came in 1877. He set a career-high with a .362 batting average and stood atop the National League with 68 runs scored, 20 walks and a .407 on-base percentage. His dominant play earned Boston another pennant (it was later discovered that second-place Louisville intentionally threw games). The following season, O’Rourke’s average slumped to .278, yet Boston defended first place with a 41-19 record.

Providence Grays with Jim O’Rourke (standing, third from right), 1879.

Due to complaints over wages during his time in Boston, O’Rourke became a notorious critic of management. In 1881, he accepted more responsibility as player-manager of the Buffalo Bisons. He played third base and paced the club with 105 hits. The Bisons achieved a winning record each season under O’Rourke’s direction from 1881 to 1884. Though Buffalo never won a title, O’Rourke set the standard for player-managers in 1884, with a .347 batting average on 162 hits.

Buffalo Baseball Club with Manager Jim O’Rourke (center), 1882.

Orator Jim garnered esteem for his leadership in Buffalo. He stood for excellence, sobriety, intellect and athleticism and was described as a non-drinking, non-smoking taskmaster. He might have stayed in Buffalo, if not struck by tragedy in 1883. O’Rourke’s second daughter, Anna, had suddenly died of an illness. The death led O’Rourke to move closer to home, and to sign with the New York Giants in 1885.

Polo Grounds (I), New York, 1886.

“The highest salaried ballplayer in the profession for 1885 will be James O’Rourke.”

The Pittsburgh Dispatch, 1885
1887 New York Giants with Jim O’Rourke (sitting front, left).

In New York, he was welcomed by owner John B. Day and manager Jim Mutrie. O’Rourke also joined future Hall of Famers: John Montgomery Ward, Buck Ewing, Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch and a close friend, Roger Connor from Waterbury, Connecticut. The Giants’ home field was the original Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. While earning a league-leading $4,000 salary, Orator Jim proved to be an on-base stalwart and a dependable defender.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Roger Connor, New York Giants, 1887.

During his tenure with the Giants, O’Rourke became a founding member of baseball’s first labor union: The Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. The brotherhood fought for the employment rights of the players. An articulate and learned O’Rourke decided to enroll at Yale Law School to litigate for player rights. He took courses in the off-seasons, passed the Connecticut bar examination and was admitted to practice law on November 5, 1887.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.

O’Rourke and the New York Giants toppled the National League in 1888. They beat their opponents in 84 of 138 games. Then the Giants agreed to face St. Louis of the American Association in a postseason series. O’Rourke suffered a meager .222 hitting mark in ten playoff games, yet the Giants were victorious in what became known as the original World Series.

1888 New York Giants with O’Rourke (sitting front, right, #15).

In 1889, O’Rourke batted .321 with 81 RBI and 33 stolen bases at age 38. Showing no signs of middle-age, he spearheaded New York’s back-to-back campaign for the National League title. At the 1889 World Series, O’Rourke turned in the finest hitting display of his career. He mustered a .389 average, with 2 homers and 7 RBI, defeating the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 6 of 9 games. O’Rourke and his teammates were stars of the baseball world.

John Montgomery Ward, Shortstop, New York Giants, 1888.
Jim O’Rourke, Catcher, New York Giants, 1889.

Though behind the scenes, O’Rourke and other players were irritated with club owners over the Reserve Clause. The policy allowed owners to retain players after their contracts had expired. Players could be traded, sold or released, but they could not initiate their own moves. Equipped with a law degree, O’Rourke followed the lead of his shortstop and fellow attorney, John Montgomery Ward. Together they protested and established the controversial Players League of 1890.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1889 (c.)
Players League Base Ball Guide, 1890.

O’Rourke had a standout season with the renegade New York Giants of the Players League. He batted .360 with a career-high 9 home runs and 115 RBI across 111 games. The unsanctioned Giants finished in third place, but the Players League was short-lived. The loop had failed to turn a profit. O’Rourke and the Brotherhood were forced to negotiate a return to the National League.

1890 New York Giants of the Players League

In the summer of 1891, O’Rourke reappeared for his old team, the New York Giants of the National League. Despite being 40 years old, his bat remained reliable. O’Rourke, however, felt undervalued and openly expressed his discontent. After playing two final seasons in New York, he secured another player-manager role in 1893. This time, he became field general of the Washington Nationals, hitting .287 in 129 games during his last full season in the major leagues.

New York Base Ball Club, 1891.

O’Rourke suited up for eight clubs over 23 major league seasons. The pride of Bridgeport ended his major league career with 2,643 hits, 62 home runs, 1,203 RBI and a .311 batting average. He had the most hits of any 19th century big leaguer other than Cap Anson. O’Rourke had been an integral part of eight championship clubs, but he wasn’t yet done with baseball.

Jim O’Rourke, 1891.

Less than a year later, O’Rourke was back on the diamond. In 1894, he umpired in the National League and at the college level for Yale University. Unfortunately, lackluster reviews of his calls led to O’Rourke’s exit from the job in mid-June. He went back to playing the game by performing at catcher for St. Joe’s amateur club of Bridgeport on Saturday afternoons.

Jim O’Rourke, 1895 (c.)

O’Rourke spent most of his time in Bridgeport, where he practiced law and cared for his family. Father to seven daughters, he was a proponent of women’s suffrage and civil rights. Orator Jim was active in civic affairs as a member of Royal Arcanum, Bridgeport Elks and Knights of Columbus. He was a self-described “Teddy Roosevelt Democrat” who ran for the Connecticut General Assembly in 1894 but lost in a Republican-leaning election.

Bridgeport Elks Lodge No. 36, 1905 (c.)

The following year, new train services allowed for a professional loop: the Connecticut State League. O’Rourke was elected President. As head of the league, he limited player salaries to $800 per month. He was a stakeholder in several teams including Waterbury. O’Rourke also guided the Bridgeport Victors club as player-manager.

The Meriden Journal, January 11, 1895.

The Connecticut State League dissolved midseason on July 10, 1895. Despite the setback, O’Rourke and Bridgeport continued to compete against clubs like Meriden and Hartford. O’Rourke played in just eight games that summer. Instead, he focused on developing his team. When he recruited Harry Herbert, a black outfielder from Bridgeport, O’Rourke rebelled against racial norms. Herbert played four seasons for the Victors.

1896 (c.) Bridgeport Victors

As an Irishman, a denigrated nationality at the time, O’Rourke used sport to quell ethnic stereotypes. He also used his influence to organize a new circuit in 1896. With help from local baseball leaders, Orator Jim created the Naugatuck Valley League. At catcher and manager for Bridgeport, he smashed a league-high .437 average and the Victors won the title.

Jim O’Rourke, Player-manager, Bridgeport Orators, 1898.

Bridgeport reentered the Connecticut State League in 1897. O’Rourke was no longer president of the league, but he wielded considerable power in local baseball matters. In 1898, O’Rourke ordered the construction of a new minor league stadium on his family’s farmland. Located in Bridgeport’s East End, the field was called Newfield Park. That same year, the Bridgeport club was renamed the “Orators” in O’Rourke’s honor.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

Jim O’Rourke spent fifteen eventful years as player-manager of the Bridgeport club. His players affectionately called him “Uncle Jeems.” From 1903 to 1908, O’Rourke managed and competed alongside his son James O’Rourke Jr. After playing for his father, young Jimmy O’Rourke signed with the New York Highlanders, predecessors of the New York Yankees.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

To the surprise of the entire baseball world, Jim O’Rourke Sr. was called up for one last major league game in 1904. Manager John McGraw of the New York Giants started the 54 year old at catcher on the final day of the season. O’Rourke handled a complete game from pitcher Joe McGinnity, beating Cincinnati 7-5, while going 1-for-4 at the plate. To this day, O’Rourke holds the major league record as the oldest player with a base hit.

Jim O’Rourke, 1906.

On June 14, 1910, Jim’s wife of 38 years, Annie O’Rourke, passed away from complications of a fall. About a year later his brother John died of a heart attack in Boston. Jim O’Rourke endured these tumults and kept up with the Connecticut State League. He served as a league official on several occasions, either as secretary or president. On September 14, 1912, O’Rourke made his final on-field appearance with New Haven. He recorded a single at the age of 62.

Jim O’Rourke Sr. (left) and Jim O’Rourke Jr., 1908 (c.)

When he was 68, O’Rourke was afflicted by pneumonia after walking in a blizzard. He died seven days later on January 8, 1919, and was laid to eternal rest at St. Michael’s Cemetery, in Stratford, Connecticut. O’Rourke was survived by seven children and his sister, Sarah O’Rourke Grant. He was a beloved hero of Bridgeport who personified the American Dream. O’Rourke’s his rags-to-riches story inspired multiple generations of adoring baseball fans.

Jim O’Rourke, Manager, Bridgeport 1909 (c.)

Orator Jim was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945 by the Old-Timers Committee. According to baseball historian, Bill James, O’Rourke’s Cooperstown plaque, “summarizes his career but is far too small to reflect the scope of his contributions to the game. As a pioneer player, union organizer and early minor-league executive, James Henry ‘Orator’ O’Rourke was an exemplary figure, one eminently worthy of baseball’s highest accolade.”

Jim O’Rourke’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

“He has made a brilliant record for himself as an outfielder, being an excellent judge of a ball, a swift runner, and making the most difficult running catches with the utmost ease and certainty. His average each season has proved him to be in the front rank in handling the bat, and shows that his usefulness is not merely confined to his fielding abilities. He has always enjoyed the reputation of being a thoroughly reliable and honest player, and one who works hard for the best interests of the club. His gentlemanly conduct, both on and off the ball field, has won for him a host of friends.”

1885 Spalding Guide on Jim O’Rourke
Jim O’Rourke statue, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“Baseball is for all creeds and nationalities.”

Jim O’Rourke, 1910
Jim O’Rourke’s gravesite, St. Michael Cemetery, Stratford, CT.

Sources

  1. “Jim O’Rourke” by Bill James, SABR Bio Project.

2. Pittsburgh Dispatch via Newspapers.com.

3. Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke from Cooperstown Cred.

4. Newfield Park: Home to One of New England’s Most Sacred Baseball Sites by Michael J. Bielawa.

The Charter Oak Base Ball Club of Hartford

The New York style game of “base ball” rose to prominence in Hartford during the summer of 1860. The first club to organize was the Independent Base Ball Club. Local merchants, W. O. Sherman and Charles A. Griswold served as President and Vice President. A few years later on June 13, 1862 a new team was formed in Bushnell Park named the Charter Oak Base Ball Club. The club was named after an unusually large White Oak tree and a symbol of American freedom from the Revolutionary War called the Charter Oak. Membership was limited to the club was 40 men. Game days in the park were Monday, Wednesday and Friday. According to the Hartford Courant, the club’s mission was to “establish on a scientific basis the health-giving and scientific game of base ball, and to promote good fellowship among its players.”

Painting of Charter Oak by Charles De Wolf Brownell, 1857.

The Charter Oaks were founded by its President, Gershom B. Hubbell, a native of Bridgeport, a telegrapher at the American Telegraph on Main Street, Hartford and later, superintendent of Western Union’s Hartford office. Other elected officers of the club included: James B. Burbank, Vice President; Charles A. Jewell, Secretary and Treasurer; Thomas Hollister, G. F. Hills and E. H. Lane, Directors. James Burbank was a clerk; Charles Jewell, was a clerk at his father’s hide and leather business, Pliny Jewell & Sons; Enos A. Lane, 20, was also a clerk at George S. Lincoln Company, iron founders of Hartford; George F. Hills, aged 25, a teller at the State Bank; and Thomas A. Hollister, aged 30, who returned from New York as an apprentice bookbinder. All of the founders, except Burbank, made Hartford their permanent home.

The Charter Oak Base Ball Club is organized, July 2, 1862.
Hartford Courant excerpt, July 19, 1862.
Hartford Courant, August 8, 1862.

The Charter Oaks fielded a “first nine,” a “second nine” and a “muffin team,” as was customary for “base ball” clubs in the early era. Practices and friendly inter-squad games were held in Bushnell Park. The uniform of the club was blue pants, with a white hat and a white shirt. On July 17, 1862 the “first nine” were picked. They were the Bunce twins—Frederick and Henry Lee, who both became Hartford bank presidents, Henry Yergason, Dickinson, Burbank, Branch, Hills, Hollister and Gershom Hubbell. In 1863, the team disbanded due to the start of the American Civil War and the ensuing military draft.

Charter Oaks vs. Collinsville,1864
Charter Oaks vs. Collinsville,1864

The Charter Oaks reorganized in the summer of 1864 and achieved greatness on the diamond. The ball club defeated local teams like Trinity College, the Hartford Mechanics and nines from Middletown, Norwich, Collinsville, and Waterbury. The Oaks later recruited a Trinity student, Cy Blackwell to take over pitching duties. In the fall of 1864, Blackwell and the Oaks out-dueled New Haven’s Yale College by a score of 44 to 32. A rematch was later cancelled due to snowy weather.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 15, 1864.
Yale challenges the Charter Oaks, 1864.
Aerial view of Hartford by J. Weidermann, 1864.

By 1865, “base ball” soared in popularity as soldiers returned home from the Civil War. Thousands of spectators witnessed the Oaks win a great majority of games along the banks of Park River in Hartford’s Bushnell Park. In addition to local teams, the Oaks “first nine” competed against the game’s first professional clubs in an era when there was no difference between professional and amateur. The Philadelphia Athletics, the Atlantics of Brooklyn, the Unions of Morrisania, the Eons of Portland, Maine, the Lowells of Lowell, Massachusetts, the Eurekas of Newark, New Jersey were among the best of Charter Oak challengers to visit Hartford.

Main Street Hartford, Connecticut, 1865.

The Charter Oak Base Ball Club also scheduled away games, otherwise known as “base ball excursions.” In Worcester, Massachussets, on July 31, 1865, the Charter Oaks were thoroughly defeated by Harvard by a score of 35 to 13. Nevertheless, the Oaks obtained a winning record against in-state rivals that season. As a result, they were honored as champions of Connecticut and given a miniature wooden bat with inscribed silver emblems by a supporter of the club, J. G. Belden. The bat was said to be made from the original Charter Oak tree destroyed in a storm nine years earlier.

1865 Charter Oak Base Ball Club.

In 1866, the Charter Oaks retained their state championship title in a three game series against the Norwich Chesters. The final game took place at Hamilton Park (later known as Howard Avenue Grounds) in New Haven, Connecticut. Hubbell, Jewell, the Bunce twins and the rest of the Oaks dominated the Norwich club, winning 39 to 22. A second consecutive state championship padded the Oaks’ well-regarded club. When the season was through, Hubbell represented the Charter Oaks at the annual “National Base Ball Convention” where the game, its rules and its clubs made efforts to standardize and coordinate base ball operations.

Charter Oaks vs. Norwich Chesters, 1866.

By 1867, Hubbell and the Bunce twins made appearances in every game the Oaks ever played. In late summer, the Pequots of New London managed to defeat the Charter Oaks and take hold of the state championship title. After the season, the first base ball convention of Connecticut was hosted in Hartford at Central Hall on Central Row. In attendance were representatives from each of the state’s major base ball clubs. The meeting formed the Connecticut Base Ball Players Association in which organization Gershom B. Hubbell played a lead role. He hosted two more base ball conventions in Hartford. By the 1870 convention, the Charter Oaks were history but they had put Hartford on the baseball map.

Charter Oak Base Ball Club travels to New London, 1867.
Charter Oak Billiard Hall , 1867.
Charter Oaks vs. Yale, 1867
Charter Oaks vs. Pequots 1867.

The Charter Oaks and Gershom B. Hubbell led the early development of baseball in Hartford. Four years after the Oaks disbanded, Hartford’s first professional team was established. The Hartford Base Ball Club colloquially known as the Hartford Dark Blues were inaugural members of the National League. Former Charter Oaks captain, Hubbell was selected as the club’s President.

Charter Oaks vs. Yale, June 20, 1870.

In addition to pioneering baseball in Hartford, Hubbell was also a three-term City Council member of Hartford’s 7th Ward, an expert electrician and a championship pool player. He is credited with introducing the first telephones to Bell Telephone Company and with starting the first telephone exchange in Hartford. Hubbell owned a local billiards hall on Pearl Street during the late 1860’s called Charter Oak Billiard Hall.

Base Ball Convention, Hartford, 1870.
The Hubbell House, Fairfield, Connecticut, 1880 (c.)

Yung Wing & Hartford’s Chinese Base Ball Club

Before the days of the Hartford Dark Blues, a delegation of dignitaries and students from China arrived in the Charter Oak City for a prolonged stay. The Chinese government commissioned the students to undergo a Western education in order to develop future ambassadors of the Qing Dynasty. However China did not expect the young students to become Americanized, to forget how to speak Mandarin and to gain an attachment to the game of baseball. Hartford’s guests were a part of the pioneering Chinese Educational Mission (CEM) guided by a man from China who was educated in America. Yung Wing, also known by his Mandarin title, “Rong Hong” was the first Chinese person to graduate from an American university when in 1854, he earned his diploma at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.

Yale College (left) New Haven, Connecticut, 1850 (c.)

Initially, Yung Wing was born in 1828 and raised in the prefecture city of Zhuhai near Macao. In his formative years Yung attended the Morrison School in Macao, the first Christian missionary school in China that was founded by another Yale graduate, Reverend Samuel Robbins Brown. In 1847 Yung was offered an opportunity to study in America when Reverend Brown needed to return home due to ill health. Yung accepted the invitation, traveled across the world and was enrolled at Monson Academy in Monson, Massachusetts until 1849. During this time he became a convert to Christianity and accustomed to a New England way of life. In 1852 while studying at Yale, Yung Wing became an American citizen.

Yung Wing (Rong Hong), Yale Graduate, Class of 1854.

After Yale, Yung Wing returned to China. He was determined to bring Chinese students to the United States so they too could experience a Western education. In 1863 the Qing court began debating the idea of sending students to study abroad. Meanwhile Yung Wing was promoted up the ranks of the Chinese government and became an important envoy to the United States. He was sent to America to purchase on multiple occasions to acquire machinery and equip the city of Shanghai with modern manufacturing arsenals. He was then called upon to serve as lead interpreter to negotiate the 1868 Burlingame Treaty providing rights for Americans and Chinese people while visiting abroad. Yung Wing was also key to negotiations with France following the Tianjin Massacre of 1870.

View of Hartford, Connecticut, 1869.

Eventually, Yung Wing became a Viceroy of the fifth rank, and he used his influence to appeal for the Western education of Chinese boys to develop future leaders and ambassadors of China. His persistence paid off when in 1871 the Emperor of China approved the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States. Yung Wing went ahead of other Chinese officials and students in order to establish the CEM in New England. He vetted American families who would open their homes to young Chinese students and would eventually set up CEM headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut. The first group of thirty students sailed to America in 1872, and rode a series of trains to reach Hartford.

Reverend Samuel Robbins Brown, 1870 (c.)

The first group of students from China were 30 boys ranging in age from 10 to 14. They arrived in Hartford in 1872.  A second detachment of students arrived from China in 1873, followed by a third and fourth in 1874 and 1875. The students lived with host families in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where they were immersed in the English language and American customs. CEM students attended local schools, including West Middle School and Hartford Public High School. They would go on to study at secondary schools throughout New England in preparation for college.

Chinese Educational Mission students departing Shanghai, 1872.

A majority of Chinese Educational Mission students hailed from Guangdong Province, while others came from Fujian Province, Shanghai, and various coastal locations of China. They arrived in Hartford wearing traditional Chinese garb but soon adopted an American style of attire after experiencing ridicule from peers. The students also improved speaking English at the expense of their Mandarin communication skills. They assimilated to a new culture, including going to church on Sunday, eating American cuisine and playing baseball, a game spreading rapidly in popularity throughout the United States at that time.

The first Chinese Educational Mission students arriving in Hartford, Connecticut, 1872.

In 1874, the Chinese Education Mission constructed a headquarters, at 352 Collins Street in Hartford, where in the summer, many of the boys lived and studied Chinese classics and culture. Summertime also brought about more outdoor leisure and more time to play baseball. A team of at least nine players was formed and called the Celestials (also referred to as the Orientals). In 1875, while directing the CEM, Yung Wing married Mary Louise Kellogg, the daughter of a prominent doctor in Hartford. Mary Kellog and Yung Wing were married by a close friend, sponsor and first pastor of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Reverend Joseph Hopkins Twichell.

Reverend Joseph H. Twichell (left) and Yung Wing, 1875.
Yung Wing on his wedding day, 1875.
Mary Louise Kellogg, wife of Yung Wing on their wedding day, 1875.
The parlor of the Chinese Educational Mission, 1878.
The classroom Chinese Educational Mission of Hartford, 1878.
Yung Wing, leader of the Chinese Educational Commission, Hartford, Connecticut, 1878.
The Celestials, 1878.

The marriage of Yung Wing and Mary Kellogg was the talk of Hartford at the time. They would have two children named Morrison Brown Yung and Bartlett Golden Yung. Not long after the birth of his sons, Yung Wing found himself in a predicament over the fate of the Chinese Educational Mission. Other CEM commissioners with traditional viewpoints wrote in secret to the Chinese Court denouncing the students for becoming too Americanized. These negative reports, funding concerns and a United States breach of the Burlingame Treaty prompted China to announce the end of the mission.

Chinese student, Hartford, Connecticut, 1879.

However Yung Wing and his Hartford-based circle of influence fought back. The closest friend of Rev. Joseph H. Twichell and an avid CEM supporter happened to be Samuel Clemens, better known as the famed author Mark Twain. Twain took the initiative to write a letter to former United States President Ulysses S. Grant whom China respected. Twain’s letter urged former President Grant to appeal China’s decision ending the CEM. Grant made the appeal and as a result, the CEM was temporarily allowed to continue.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) of Hartford advocates for CEM, 1881.

Despite the unpredictable future of the mission, integration of Chinese students into New England society thrived. By the spring of 1881, the CEM was so effective that many of its students were enrolled at colleges and preparatory schools. In fact, Phillips Exeter Academy and Phillips Academy Andover both featured a Chinese student on their baseball teams. Other students adapted to American culture by forming political clubs or joining religious organizations. CEM students were also well-versed in specialized fields such as telegraphy, machining, medicine, law, government and international studies.

Yung Wing (second from right) and other leaders of the Chinese Educational Mission, 1881.

Eventually though the Chinese government ordered the students back to China on June 8, 1881, six years earlier than originally planned. By August, one hundred CEM students were making their way back to China along with Yung Wing. The Chinese cohort stopped in San Francisco to await a steamer back to China but before their departure, a local Oakland baseball team challenged the Celestials ball club to a game. The Oakland club expected to walk all over with the young Chinese squad. However, to the surprise of most people in attendance, the Celestials drew on their experience in Hartford and won their final baseball game in America.

Chentung Liang Cheng (seated, right) of the Phillips Academy Andover Base Ball Team, 1881.
Chin Kin Kwai (seated, right) of the Phillips Exeter Academy Base Ball Team, 1881.
Chinese Educational Mission headquarters at 352 Collins Street Hartford, Connecticut, 1887.

In 1883, Yung Wing came back to Hartford to care for his wife who had fallen ill while in China. Sadly, she never recovered and passed away in 1886. A devastated Yung Wing raised his two sons who helped console him through the loss of both the Chinese Educational Mission and his wife. In 1895 Yung Wing returned to China in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War in which China was defeated. He made suggestions to government officials, such as construction of railroads, establishment of a national bank, but none were adopted.

Yung Wing in China, 1908 (c.)

Yung Wing then joined the Reform Party who lobbied for new progressive policies in China. During the summer of 1898, Empress Dowager Cixi brought a halt to any notion of reform and a $70,000 bounty was placed on the head of Yung Wing. He fled for his life to Shanghai and then on to Hong Kong. Though his United States citizenship had been annulled in 1898 as a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act, he snuck in to the country via a port of San Francisco in June of 1902. Yung Wing arrived in New Haven in time to see his younger son, Barlett Golden Yung graduate from Yale.

Along with his longtime friend, Rev. Joseph Twichell, Yung Wing published an autobiography in 1909 entitled My Life in China and America. On April 22, 1912, he died in Hartford and was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery. If not for Yung Wing, 120 Chinese students would not have come to live and study in New England during the 9-year Chinese Educational Mission. The students entered into diplomatic service, worked as engineers, physicians, educators, administrators, magistrates and naval officers; thus achieving the original vision of Yung Wing. He left a trailblazing legacy of international diplomacy, he led a Western expansion of China’s cultural footprint and perhaps unintentionally, Yung Wing ushered the game of baseball from Hartford to China.

Yung Wing in Hartford, Connecticut, 1909 (c.)
Morrison Brown Yung and Bartlett Golden Yung, 1910 (c.)
Yung Wing statue in Zhuhai, China, 2005.
Tombstones of Mary Kellogg and Yung Wing, 2012.
Yung Wing Statue Sterling Memorial Library Yale New Haven, Connecticut. 2014.

Sources:

  1. Wing, Yung. My Life in China and America. Nabu Press, 2010.
  2. Chinese Exchange Students in 1880’s Connecticut, www.ctexplored.org/chinese-exchange-students-in-1880s-connecticut.
  3. “Yung Wing, the Chinese Educational Mission, and Transnational Connecticut: Connecticut History: a CTHumanities Project.” Connecticut History | a CTHumanities Project, www.connecticuthistory.org/yung-wing-the-chinese-educational-mission-and-transnational-connecticut.
  4. Hartford Courant, Connecticut State Library digital database.

The Bat and Ball, Discovered at State Library

In 1990 at the Connecticut State Library in Hartford, a local historian named Linda Gradofsky discovered an original copy of the world’s first known baseball periodical, The Bat and Ball. The May 1, 1867 publication “Devoted to our National Game” was the “Second Season” of the series. Published without photographs or advertisements, the paper was written for Hartford’s earliest baseball fans. Columns included season previews of clubs from around the nation as well as scores from recent games played.

The paper sold for 5 cents per copy on the streets of Hartford, Connecticut and 14 issues a year was delivered for 50 cents to subscribers. The Bat and Ball featured ”base ball” happenings throughout the country (apart from a column on cricket) during the post-Civil War era. The sport, still in its infancy, was becoming increasingly more popular and fans demanded closer coverage of the sport. Hartford was on the forefront of baseball documentation and fandom.

Here’s the Second Season of The Bat and Ball:

The Bat and Ball, page 1, May 1, 1867.
The Bat and Ball, page 2, May 1, 1867.
The Bat and Ball, page 3, May 1, 1867.
The Bat and Ball, page 4, May 1, 1867.