Norway’s Championship Baseball Team

The origin of baseball is the subject of some controversy, but the game as we know it started taking form in the 1840s and 1850s.  By the 1860s, Norway had a team that played other town teams.  Their home games were played at the fairgrounds, where the high school now stands.  In 1867, the team traveled to Brunswick to play the heavily favored, champion team of Bowdoin College.

These newspaper articles were written well after the famous game was played. The first article was wrtten by Carrie Tucker, who had a long career as a photographer and news correspondent, writing hundreds of articles about Norway for Maine and Boston newspapers.  Team member Cyrus Tucker, mentioned in these articles, was Carrie’s father.  The second article was written by C.A. Stephens, considered by many to be Norway’s  most famous author.

The stories vary slightly in the recollection of facts, but they convey the excitement and pride of bringing the trophy home, as well as provide a glimpse of the early days of baseball.

Norway’s Champion Ball Team of 1867, The Pennesseewassees, and Historic Game Recalled

Written for The Lewiston Journal  by Carrie Tucker, date not known.

It was in 1867-68 that Norway boasted the champion baseball team in the State. The players were: Sumner W. Burnham, captain and catcher; Eugene Fuller, pitcher; Isaac P. Morrill, lb; Marion L. Bartlett, 2b; James Danforth, 3b; Silas H. Burnham. ss; Clinton Young, rf; Cyrus S. Tucker, cf; and Clarence M. Smith, lf.

Others who played at different times were James Chaffin of Buckfield,  Julius Fuller of Oxford, A. E. Herrick of Bethel, Wallace Cushman, Arthur F. Denison, Chandler Swift, Alton O’Brion, Charles Cole, A. L. Crocker, Elisha Taylor, Ellis Hersey, Horace Burnham and Percival Parris. Charles Howe, of Norway, E. F. Knight of Manchester, N. H., and Harry Virgin of Portland (still living there) kept the score, and the late Judge A. Wilson of South Paris umpired most of the home games.

The first game was with the Fleet-foots of Mechanic Falls, and Norway won 78 to 39. Other games were with the Ticonics of Paris; Androscoggins of Lewiston, the Athletics of Portland. The scores were large in comparison with the present-day scores, and the games were long, ranging from three to five hours.

In October, 1857, the Maine State baseball association was formed with the following members: the Cushnocs of Augusta, Eons of Portland, Pine Tree of Kent’s Hill, Live Oaks of Bath, Bowdoin College and the Pennesseewassees of Norway.

This association put up as a prize a solid silver ball, regulation size, and costing about $80. Bowdoin College trimmed all the other teams, and the Norway team challenged them for the championship and the ball. The game was played October 19, 1867, at Brunswick and the Norway team won with a score of 29 to 8. Clarence M. Smith, in telling of the game, years afterwards, said that no one who saw the game would ever forget it. The Norway boys went to Brunswick the day before the game and were given the college grounds for practice. The grounds were as hard as a wood floor, some different from the home grounds which were soft and a ball would stick where it struck. The Norway lads had no idea of winning the game until they had admired the silver ball, which was in a silk-lined jeweler’s case and looked very attractive. As they were admiring it, some of the Bowdoin boys told them how they were going to have it kept in a glass case and had picked out the place where it should be kept for the admiration of future generations. This “riled” the Norway boys and they decided to “go to it” and win if possible. Capt. Burnham lined them up for practice and they were followed by a crowd to “size them up.” They were willing for them to see their batting and fielding, as they were good at both and had the name of being the heaviest strikers in the State, but they did not want to give away their pitching, so Clarence Smith went in the box and as he said any could hit his pitching there was some wild batting.  Sumner Burnham, always good for three or four home runs, came up to the bat and used a 42-inch white oak bat, which he swung as a man would in chopping wood.

There was a fence around the field, then a road, another fence and some houses. Burnham hit the ball away over both fences, breaking a blind and a window in one of the houses, and the next time up, he sent the ball into a beet bed about two rods farther on. This made the college boys sit up and take notice, and naturally the Norway lads felt pretty good over their practice.

The next day they found the first fence had been removed and the top rail of the second fence. A big crowd was on hand.  All the support the Norway boys had was three or four Norway boys in college and three from the Androscoggin team.  The game started off with everything in Norway’s favor but not one could get a ball outside the inside fence line.  Eugene Fuller, the regular pitcher, fooled the Bowdoin boys completely, and he used an under-hand throw just like pitching horseshoes, with his speed and a slight twist.  Later in the game, one of the college boys hit a ball into center field that Cyrus Tucker started for but lost in the sun. Clarence Smith was two rods back of him, and as Tucker was shading his eyes with his hands trying to get a glimpse of the ball, it struck him on the head and careened off toward Smith, so he just managed to catch it with one hand and he got the credit of the put-out. That was a sample of the luck. There were two double plays and one triple play in the game.

There was great excitement among the crowd, and one man from Portland bet $700 on the “Farmers.” Several hot arguments were settled.  The Norway boys felt pretty “kinky” when the silver ball was presented them, for they were the champions of the State.  All the way home, Sumner Burnham and Eugene Fuller sat on the floor of the car and rolled the ball back and forth. On reaching home, they were received by a band, fireworks and a big parade and were treated like heroes.  That was the last game of the year.  All thru the winter, the boys kept up their practice, so to be ready to defend the ball at the openings of the next season, which opened May 2, ’68, and Norway won over the Androscoggins 23 to 21; the Crescents of Saccarappa [Westbrook], 26 to 5; the Ursa Majors, 102 to 4: and the Athletics of Portland, 38 to 13. They were at the pinnacle of their fame, and few teams cared to tackle them, but the Eons of Portland conceived the scheme of challenging them for a game in the very midst of haying when the team should be scattered and there was no time for practice. Thru the aid of Enoch Knight, editor of the Portland Star, the Portland team was fooled. The Ursa Majors and the Ulysslans had joined the league and paid the assessment of $10 for the privilege of competing for the silver ball.

A proviso in the league constitution was that any challenge for the silver ball should be accepted within 15 days after it appeared in a Portland paper.  Editor Knight heard of the scheme of the Eons and put the Norway boys wise, so they got the Ursa Majors and the Ulyssians to issue challenges for games, which they did and sent to Knight   who held them until the Eons came forward with their challenge, when he printed them all in the same paper, thus giving the champions the right to accept the challenges in any order they wished. They chose the Ursa Majors first, and the Ulyssians second and the Eons last. The first two teams forfeited the games as per agreement, so the Norway boys had 45 days in which to prepare for the Eons. They came to Norway, August 21, won the game 14 to 20, and took the ball home with them and no one knows whatever became of it. One story was that the Eons melted it and had small silver balls made for the members of the nine.

A funny incident happened when the Norway boys were topnotchers. One day a sealed package was received by Clarence Smith with all charges prepaid and he was asked to sign a receipt for it. It proved to be a bottle of Dr. H___’s bitters. A day or two following, the papers came out with the statement over Smith’s signature that the great success of the Pennesseewassees, the famous baseball team, was due to the fact that they all used Dr. H___’s bitters. The team disbanded immediately after the game with the Eons. Among the supporters of the Norway boys were many of the Norway girls, a few of whom are living today, and they recall some of their cheers that they used, much the same as the girls of today.

Their cheer leader was Addie Denison, as she was known then, later, Mrs. Charles Q. Blake. The Portland crowd called the Norway girls “The Corn-fed Beauties.”

The only surviving members of the team are Isaac P. Morrill and Silas Burnham, both of whom visited in Norway last summer.

Mr. Morrill who came from Hollywood, California, the first time he had been east for sixty years, on purpose to look up old-time friends, and Silas Burnham of Lincoln, Nebraska, visited in Norway a week apart so did not see each other.  Mr. Morrill had visited Carthage where he lived and taught school as a young man.  Mr. Burnham came from Nebraska to attend his class reunion at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N. H, so came on down to Norway, his boyhood home, and to Portland to visit relatives.

The Silver Ball; The Early Days of Baseball in the Old Home Town

By: Charles A. Stephens

From: The Oxford County Advertiser  March 21,1930 – Page 5

At the time of this bit of history, baseball was in its infancy, or at least no more than a few years old. It was preceded by “Four-old Cat” (why “cat” I never knew, unless cat stood for cat stick, a former name for bat stick) which we boys used to play on Fast Day afternoons in the old Squire’s south field.

Four-old cat had this advantage, it could be played by as few as four, whereas the new baseball required eighteen, at least, to say nothing of “spares” to take the place of disabled or sick players. To get eighteen players together was always a difficulty in the sparsely populated country.

But at the Liberal Institute – which answered as High School and fitting school at the home village in our town – the students had contrived to select a baseball nine to play according to the new rules of the game; and although there were no competitive ball clubs as yet, friendly games with other nines in neigh­boring towns began to be indulged in.

Such were the humble beginnings of baseball in Maine. No one then suspected or even dreamed of what a giant among sports, baseball was yet to grow. There were then no leagues, no professional baseball players. The players received no salaries. Merely playing ball was glory enough, without emoluments.

That a future Babe Ruth, or a Jimmy Foxx, would ever draw a salary of seventy-five thousand dollars a year for merely playing ball, was an event so monstrous as to be wholly incredible.

But it is human nature to desire something to show for a victory; and ere­long as enthusiastic friend of baseball, whose name I have forgotten, devised a remarkable trophy of success for the winners of the game— nothing less than a Silver Ball.

This was a ball of solid silver, regulation size, bearing an appropriate mot­to in the space below the date and name of the victorious nine. This was to be borne home with them to exhibit in token of their prowess abroad. It was a truly popular trophy with nothing sordid or otherwise suggestive of filthy lucre.

The regulations attending the prize were that – if the baseball club winning it could retain it against all challenging comers during three successive years – it should be theirs in perpetuity.

We have in our home burg a beautiful lake bearing the long Indian name of Pennesseewassee, which is not wholly unmusical when you learn how to pro­nounce it, but to do so you must hear a native speak it. As was natural, we named our baseball club, The Pennessewassees. This nine had been in exist­ence about six months at the time of my story. Sumner Burnham was our Captain with his younger brother, Silas, short-stop. Jim Danforth was Catcher, Clarence Smith played Second Base and Ellis Mersey, Third Base, while Warren Bartlett was Right Fielder.

We possessed little skill in the technique of the new game, but were strong at the bat, particularly Sumner Burnham. Sum, as we called him, was an original Babe Ruth at batting, while Silas Burnham and Jim Danforth were only a little behind Sumner in this essential of the game. All three split a few batsticks as often as they played.

Bowdoin College, at Brunswick, down by the sea, was supposed at that time to have the best baseball team in the state. This nine had held the Silver Ball for a year or more and bade fair to do so indefinitely. Their pitcher, Bangs, was, in the new slang of the epoch, held to be a “humdinger.”

When the Pennessewassees sent down a bashful proposition to compete with the Bowdoins for the Ball, the college team was at first inclined to regard the challenge as a piece of effrontery and take no notice of it; finally, however, they decided to let them come and receive their punishment, offering to play the fol­lowing Saturday.

Promptly in time the Pennessewassees arrived on the College ball ground and seated themselves on two settees at the left of the pitcher’s base. The Bowdoins took their own time about appearing, but at last came out and passed the time of day casually with their rural visitors. Several of the faculty also ap­peared, among them old Professor Jonathan Small, who, on espying the new­comers, pushed up his glasses, glanced across at the row of waiting Pennesse­wassees and asked in his soft voice, “Are those the Penny sawhorses?”

Preliminaries were omitted. The captains tossed a batstick and stacked hands for choice of first inning.

The Pennys – as we may call our home team – were the first at the bat, Sum Burnham taking up the batstick while the college nine strung out on the field. These latter expected to have a walkover, so to speak, and believed that the Silver Ball was in no danger, whatever.

In those primitive days it was customary for the pitcher to say to the batsman, “Where d’ye want “em?” and the batsman to reply “knee high” or “breast high” or “shoulder high”, and “slow” or “fast”, as he preferred.  But when Bangs asked this, our Sumner Burnham returned: “Put ’em where you want to. I guess I can find ’em.” Meanwhile he spit on his hands and squared his feet.

The smiling, unsuspecting Bangs thought he would give him a puzzler, and let go a swift ball. But Sum struck it. They heard a sharp crack and the ball seemed to disappear, skyward. It was then seen to descend on a grand curve to a vegetable garden across the Harpswell Road. The Bowdoin fielders simply stood still and watched it. Sumner made a home run. He didn’t run, however; he merely walked round the bases.

The college team began to look troubled. Finally their fielders discovered the ball among some cabbages and play was resumed with our Jim Danforth at the bat. Pitcher Bangs now resolved to take no chances and pitched a swift knee high ball; but Jim struck it so high in the air that it whizzed down through the right fielder’s hands and Jim made a second base hit. Smith came next to the bat.   Bangs gave him a high swift ball, but Smith reached it and drove another flyer clean into the Harpswell Road. He also made a home run and gave Jim a chance to get home also. The Pennys made four home runs during that first inning.

And now the Bowdoins had wholly ceased to smile. They whispered anxiously together, more anxiously still when at length they came to the bat and two struck out while one lost first base.

It was the turn of the Penny’s to smile.

“Gosh, Boys, I believe we can get that Ball,” Sum said to Jim, and Jim passed the whispered word along to the rest of the Pennys.

With the first stroke in the second inning, Captain Burnham split the bat. It flew in two pieces while the ball spun a little to one side and to the top of a big pine tree to the right of the grounds, then came hitching down into the outfielder’s hands. The umpire shouted, “Foul-out!” But Jim Danforth, who batted next, sent the ball into the Harpswell Road again and went to third base on it. Clare Smith then brought him clean home and got to second base himself, with a flyer.

That was about the way the whole game proceeded. The Collegians played better ball than we did; but the Pennys out batted them completely. The score was 23 to 9, in favor of the Pennys. The Bowdoin team surrendered the Silver Ball with as good grace as could be expected.

We carried it home in triumph, and for a year thereafter it was exhibited in the showcase of Denison’s store, to the delight of the local populace of the village.

Very soon after this, the Athletics, a Portland team, sent a challenge to the Pennys, to come and play a game on their Portland ground. Our nine ac­cepted and whitewashed them – again by tremendous batting. Next the Androscoggins of Lewiston challenged them and were in turn worsted in a 7 to 4 score.

The Pennys were at present renowned throughout the State as the unsur­passable batters. No club dared challenge them and they held the Silver Ball for three years and bade fair to retain it in perpetuity even after three years of pos­session had been lengthened to five. It was remarked humorously by the Bowdoin Bugle that the Pennessewassees would no doubt be able to retain the ball because nobody could spell the name of the nine.

Meantime, however, the two Burnhams, Sumner and Silas, migrated to Lincoln, Nebraska; Ellis Mersey died; and Jim Danforth, after suffering a broken leg, resigned from the club. Inferior players now came to take their places, and toward the end of the fifth year possession of the Silver Ball, the Pennys suffered their first defeat from the hands of the Eons of Portland, and were compelled to surrender the trophy.

During the following ten years baseball appears to have declined in public interest. The game-like others-has had its ups and downs. The last known of the Silver Ball, it was still held by the Eons at Portland.

And it somehow passed from sight. One account has it that the trophy fell prey to a thief. Another story is that the donor reclaimed it in disgust and melted it down for old silver. Still another tale has it that some crafty person is conceal­ing it against the time when the steadily growing fame of baseball will give it high value as a curio.

This is as much as I have been able, at present writing, to learn as to the fate of the Silver Ball. If it ever comes to light might it not be given befittingly to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis?

Some of the members of that celebrated team distinguished themselves later in life:

Cyrus Tucker continued the harness-making business started by his grandfather.  Tucker’s Harness shop was in business on Main Street more than 100 years in the same spot.  The building that now houses Creative Media and Tucker’s Pub was built by Cyrus Tucker after the fire of 1894.

Henry Virgin became a lawyer, a state senator and president of the Maine Senate.

Sumner and Silas Burnham both moved to Nebraska.  Sumner was a decorated Civil War soldier prior to his baseball days.  After moving west, he served in both the Nebraska House of Representatives and the Nebraska Senate.  Silas graduated from Dartmouth College and practiced law in Norway.  After moving to Nebraska, he became a banker and ultimately became president of the First National Bank of Lincoln.