DAVIDSON HISTORY

In the Spring, Our Thoughts Turn to Baseball

by | Apr 5, 2018 | Davidson History

One of Davidson College’s first varsity baseball teams in 1903. (photo courtesy of Davidson College Archives)

The game of baseball, based on the British game of rounders, became popular in the United States during the early 19th century. In 1845, Alexander Cartwright formalized the rules of the game. The Civil War slowed baseball’s spread, but by the early 1870s, baseball had come to both the town and the college. According to The Charlotte Democrat, by 1871 there were several teams in and about Davidson. The May 9 issue reported that “base-ball men will find a hearty welcome to a lively field from Red Jackets, and Mecklenburgs, and Independents. They will find on their base-ball grounds as much as most folks find, and some think more – work so hard that even a pillow will not give them rest… one or two of your Fire Companies had better come along to keep the men of the bat and the ball cool.”

W.W. Rumple, a Davidson College senior who, in 1877, died after being struck by a baseball. (photo courtesy of Davidson College archives)

Although there was no intercollegiate team until 1902, Davidson College students had begun to play the game by 1870; in September of that year members of the college’s literary societies were excused from meetings on Saturday morning to play ball, dividing up to play each other.  On May 18, 1881, the Democrat published a tongue-in-cheek report about a meeting held by a group of Davidson students eager to “organize a Base Ball Club for the purpose of diminishing the overweening self-conceit of the Endymion and Osceola Clubs (of the same college).”  J.L. Scott was elected captain of the team, and a committee chosen to select a name “retired with Le Conte’s Geography and Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary,” and emerged with the team’s catchy new name, Phizocrinus Rhamphorhynchus. (Phizocrines are early Crinoids, and are related to starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Rhamphorynchus was a long-tailed pterosaur which flourished in the Jurassic period.) Exactly what this means is lost to history.

Several students also spoke, bragging about their prowess, and one asserted that “although he was unacquainted with the game, yet observation had taught him that its tendency was to promote the development of the individual, especially with respect to his nasal protuberance.” Sadly, early games proved fatal to at least two Davidson students. According to college records and a report in the Durham Recorder, in 1877 senior Watson Rumple died after he was struck over the ear by a ball. Six years later an unidentified student fell hard on his stomach and died of his injuries the following day.

Nancy Griffith

Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.

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