Franklin relives 19th century baseball
By Bill Traughber, For the Williamson Herald
If you want to take a trip back to the 19th century and witness a baseball game, your wish can be granted. No time machines are needed. The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball began playing local organized games in 2013. At present only two teams exist—the Franklin Farriers and the Nashville Maroons.
The origin of Nashville baseball is not known, but it is a myth that Union soldiers taught the citizens of the city to play the game during their occupation in early 1862. A newspaper article in a July 1860 issue of the Republican Banner records a baseball game played on the eastern side of the Cumberland River in the Edgefield community. The Banner read in part:
“Base Ball. —This healthful and exciting exercise was generally popular in the Northern States, and we hope it will be introduced here as soon as the heated term passes off. We noticed the other evening a party engaged in Base Ball on the Edgefield side of the river, all apparently enjoying themselves. The early closing of the stores gives a fine opportunity to the young men engaged in mercantile pursuits.”
This article was written before the Civil War and the election of Abraham Lincoln. It is unlikely that new confederates would be playing games with the occupying Yankee army. Earlier than 1860 was a story in a November 1857 issue of the Nashville Daily News announcing that the new Hickory Club would promote athletics including baseball.
The 2013 Nashville Maroons are a reincarnation of the powerful amateur club that was formed in 1868 and played in the 19th century. Since there is no known documentation of a Franklin team, Farriers is a nickname used for men that made horseshoes. The following story appeared in a December 1938 issue of the Tennessean with a photograph of the 1887 Nashville Maroons:
“Only remnants of the old Nashville Maroons, first sandlot baseball club organized in the city, are a pitcher, a catcher and a faded negative picturing the entire squad of ten men. The pitcher is Robert S. (Lefty) Corbitt, 68, former city inspector and major domo of the Eagles Club, a slight little fellow who only talks baseball when he is sitting down or standing up.
“The catcher is Ed (Monk) Mrzena, a year younger, built like a bull and loquacious as a lamp post. Monk always managed to say fewer words than were absolutely necessary. It is probably the oldest living battery in the United States.
“It was exactly 50 years ago, come next spring, that this pair, built along decidedly opposite lines, joined the Maroons and immediately became stars. Corbitt was a southpaw pegger who had plenty of steam for a little man and a sharp breaking curve in a day when benders were few and far between.
“The first man who tried to catch him, Johnny Foreith, was hit solidly in the stomach and another was tried. He failed to hold Lefty Corbitt’s baffling delivery, too, so Monk Mrzena was tried. It should be said here that the old Maroons were a versatile outfit, composed entirely of utility men, who were at home at any position.
“Well, sir, old Monk took his stand behind the platter and called for Corbitt to send his best, Lefty did and Monk’s mitt met the spheroid head-on. From then on it was Corbitt pitching and Mzrena catching and it was a combination that went through five sandlot seasons unchallenged. Then Mzrena went into pro ball, playing with Nashville, Memphis, Milwaukee and Syracuse in order. Corbitt went to the Texas League.
“Corbitt modestly gives Mzrena all the credit for their many triumphs, ‘Shucks, I wasn’t a pitcher,’ he says. I just threw what Monk told me and that was always good enough.’
“Although they played together five years, Corbitt said not one time did he ever shake off his catcher’s signal. ‘He was the greatest receiver I ever saw,’ he still contends. Other members of the club were Will Martin, Will Olwell, Johnny Irwin, Jack Sullivan, Charles Watkins, Charles Frank, Johnny Foreith and Pat Milloran.
“After the club was disbanded the members agreed to hold a reunion once a year in Nashville. Gradually the size of the squad has diminished by death. Last year the third from the last, Charlie Watkins, succumbed in Florida, leaving only that famous battery, Corbitt and Mzrena, to carry on. The two will hold their annual ritual as usual in the spring.”
The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball “promotes living history by bringing the 19th century to life through base ball events that use the rules, equipment, costumes and culture of the 1860s-1880s.” The Franklin Farriers play their home games at the Carnton Plantation while the Nashville Maroons call home at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park.
In the 19th century the baseball is an onion, a bat is a willow, a talleykeeper is a scorekeeper and a baller or ballist is a player. No gloves are used and a pitched ball is underhanded.
The next scheduled game between the Farriers and Maroons will be June 30 at the Carnton Plantation. For more information on the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball go to www.tennesseevintagebaseball.com.
Bill Traughber is a researcher and writer of Nashville sports history. He can be contacted at WLTraughber@aol.com.
Posted on: 6/19/2013