Big League, Small Town

Troy, New York

Troy, New York

Did you ever notice how Major League teams gravitate toward big cities? There simply are no teams in middle-sized towns. Those towns are reserved for the farm teams. That wasn’t always so. Way back in the beginning of professional baseball, medium-sized cities also played Major League baseball. For instance, there was Troy, New York.

Troy was founded in the early 1700s, grew up during the 1830s and by 1860 was a prosperous industrial town just north of Albany. By 1860 it had a population of 39,000 (56,700 by 1880) and was becoming a hotbed for baseball.

In 1860 the Union club was established. It played at a high enough level that it soon gained the attention of the powerful teams that played in Brooklyn, New York City, and Philadelphia. They played games against the teams from the larger cities and held their own through most of the 1860s. By 1869 they were part of the National Association of Base Ball Players. They participated in 21 championship games going 12-8-1, good enough for fifth place (The Atlantic of Brooklyn won the pennant). In 1870, they were 11-13-1, again good for fifth place in a fifteen team league.

In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed. Troy was one of the teams joining the first fully professional league. They managed a coup when they picked up perennial all-star Lip Pike to both play and manage the team. Pike led the National Association in home runs, extra base hits, and finished second in a number of other categories. Unfortunately for Troy, he wasn’t much of a manager and the Haymakers, as they were now called, finished 13-15, eight games out of first and good enough for sixth in the nine team league. The next season the Haymakers finished fifth (of 11 teams) with a 15-10 record. Pike, their best player was gone, and despite a winning record, the team wasn’t making money. At the end of the season the team folded.

Troy was without a Major League team until 1879 when a new team was formed. The National League had replaced the National Association and was looking to expand. It chose Troy for one of the teams. It might strike us odd today that Troy was getting a team while both New York and Philadelphia were shut out of the NL. It was personal. William Hulbert, founder of the NL, was angry at both cities for failing to complete a western swing in the inaugural NL season of 1876. He vowed never to allow either city back in “his” league. When expansion time came, Troy was close to New York City so it became a chosen team.

The new team was called the Trojans (although some news accounts still refered to them as the Haymakers). It played its home games at the Putnam Grounds, then moved to Haymakers Grounds in 1880. It remained there until making a final move to the Troy Ball Club Grounds (which was in Watervliet, not Troy) in 1882.

They finished dead last in 1879, going 19-56. They did, however, produce one good player. Future Hall of Fame first baseman Dan Brouthers made his Major League debut for the Trojans that season. He hit .274 with four home runs.

The 1880 season was better for Troy. They finished fourth at 41-42. Much of the increase in wins can be attributed to the rookie campaigns of Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, Mickey Welch, and Tim Keefe, all Hall of Fame players. In 1881, they were back to fifth and had lost Brouthers to Buffalo. The 1882 season saw the team continue to plunge, this time finished next to last.  Despite the record, the team drew moderately well.

But it wasn’t enough. By 1883, William Hulbert was dead, the American Association was flourishing and the National League needed teams in New York and Philadelphia in order to compete. The team in Worcester, Massachusetts (which finished last in 1882) was dropped. A new team was established in Philadelphia. Now only New York needed a team. Troy was closest, it was also falling in the standings, but it had a number of good players. The NL decided to drop Troy and set up a new team in New York. A number of Troy players, including Connor, Ewing, Keefe, and Welch, ended up with the new team (now the San Francisco Giants) and Troy was done as a Major League town.

The town continued to provide good quality Minor League teams and players. There is still a team around today. But the experiment of Troy as a Major League city was over.  

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

Buttercup Dickerson while a member of the Troy Trojans

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9 Responses to “Big League, Small Town”

  1. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    I enjoyed that piece, V.

    I used to live right near Troy. Troy is a city that’s seen it’s better days, as has nearby Schenectady. Actually, Albany, our state capital, isn’t in that good shape, either.

    Here’s a little interesting fact for you. As I recall, when you’re going across the bridge into Troy, you see a sign that calls it “The Uncle Sam City” or something like that, with a picture of Uncle Sam. That’s because the concept of Uncle Sam originated in Troy, New York. Uncle Sam was named after some guy who lived in Troy.

    Glen

    • W.k. kortas Says:

      Troy is also the birthplace of Hall-of-Famer Johnny Evers, the poem commonly referred to as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”, and (depending on how far back your memory goes) the best-smelling curve in the world–the Friehofer’s bakery was on a corner of Route 4, and it may have been the only place in Troy that actually smelled good.

  2. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    I hadn’t realized that Johnny Evers was born in Troy. I’ve got a question: Did he EVER TINKER with engines, or was he afraid to take the CHANCE?

    All punning and joking aside, yes, I certainly do remember Freihofer’s bread and all of the Freihofer’s radio commercials. Anyone who lived in the Capital Region of New York does, and, in fact, Freihofer bread, pastries, and cakes are still being manufactured.

    Actually, I’m surprised that you’re familiar with Freihofer’s, V. Were Freihofer’s products actually distributed all the way in Texas and Oklahoma??? I had assumed that their distribution was more of a regional thing. I also didn’t pay attention to the actual city where Freihofer’s was baked; I always did assume, though, that it was somewhere in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area, as they were so popular around there.

    And I hadn’t realized that “The Night Before Christmas” was written in Troy.

    Glen

  3. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    Whoops. I’m sorry, V. I didn’t notice, until I posted that reply, that you had posted that reply, that W.K. had posted all that about Freihofer’s. I hadn’t noticed that it was actually W.K. who posted that. Well, I’m not surprised that you know about Freihofer’s, being that you’re very familiar with upstate New York.

    Speaking of which, W.K., I’ll be visiting my sister and her family in Binghamton this weekend. I’m looking forward to getting the heck out of Queens, and New York City in general. I still get a kick out of what you wrote on my blog: “The best thing about Binghamton is that it isn’t Elmira!!!!!” (Even though I kinda LIKE Binghamton, but then again, maybe it’s mostly because I have family there.)

    Your remark brings me back to my memory something that former outfielder Richie Scheinblum (He and my father are the Pride of The Bronx) was quoted as having said after he was traded to Cleveland.

    “The best thing about playing for Cleveland is we don’t have to play road trips there.

    Glen

  4. William Miller Says:

    One has to wonder how long MLB will remain feasible in towns that have been largely overtaken in terms of population and economic relevance over the past half century, particularly Oakland, Kansas City and Pittsburgh (sorry, W.k.), as well as Detroit and Cleveland. If current demographic and economic patterns continue, one or more of those places will be the Troy, N.Y. of the second half of this century, if not sooner.
    Nicely done,
    Bill

  5. The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    Look what I found in your archives! 🙂 I’m working on a piece on Buttercup Dickerson — a Baltimore son. And, am trying to track him from the Cincinnati Reds to the Troy Trojans … and here you are! I will link over to this when it’s done. Thank you!

  6. Buttercup Dickerson ~ It’s Still A Good Story (But Some Of It Isn’t True) | The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    […] kicks around from team to team – Binghamton, Cincinnati, Troy, Worcester, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Baltimore, Louisville, Buffalo, Norfolk, Chattanooga – playing […]

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