Baseball History in Chelsea
Like many small towns in Michigan, and indeed in the country, Chelsea has a rich history of amateur baseball clubs dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. The Monitors have in fact brought back to life an actual Chelsea club from the 1860's. Part of our mission is to continue researching and sharing as much of our local history with the nation's pastime as possible. Here is what's been found so far:
The only photo we've found so far is this undated photo taken by L.P. Vogel, showing Main St. in Chelsea, with a banner reading "Base Ball To-Day, Chelsea vs _____." (Yes, baseball was in fact originally spelled as two words!) We are hopeful to unearth more photos, including perhaps photos of some of Chelsea's ball clubs from this era. In the absence of such photos, the Monitors have designed our uniforms in an approximation of what amateur ballclub uniforms looked like in this period. Below left is a photo from 1865 showing two clubs from Dexter and Ann Arbor. Note the pillbox cap, long pants, work shirt and sash from a member of the Dexter Wahoo club at far right--this was essentially our model for our uniforms (below right).
The clipping on the right is the first evidence of an amateur ball club here in town: the Union BBC of Chelsea. Many clubs in this era took patriotic names, for obvious reasons...this club was organized just three months after the battle of Fort Sumter. There is some debate among Civil War scholars about how much of a role the war played in spreading the popularity of base ball around the country, but most experts agree that it did play a part--as soldiers returned home and shared a popular war-time pastime. The photo below is considered one of the earliest photos ever taken of a base ball game. Union soldiers in 1862 at Ft. Pulaski GA line up, with a game of baseball being played behind them by their comrades.
Above: Ann Arbor Peninsular Courier, 7/30/1861
The club named 'Monitor' first appeared here in Chelsea in 1867. We've found three clippings from the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune showing the Monitors in action. Note how the base ball report immediately follows a pretty morbid report in the clipping at left from July 2, 1867. Also note the high score of the Monitor v. Dexter match. This was obviously a hitter's game in that era!
The name 'Monitor' was another patriotic nod, paying homage to the Union ironclad warship U.S.S. Monitor, designed by Swedish-born engineer John Ericsson. There were other clubs named 'Monitor,' including one in Ann Arbor in 1862. There was even an Ann Arbor club named the 'Ericsson' in 1862!
The second clipping from the Detroit Advertiser & Tribune, at right, is from August 7, 1867.
Again, note the high scoring! A valiant effort made by the Dexter club that day. Many clubs might be somewhat demoralized at trailing by a score of 34-4 after two innings of play! Ah, to notch 22 runs in the bottom of the ninth, and still lose...
The clipping at left is from the Detroit Advertiser & Tribune from September 18, 1867. This report shows some of the colorful club names from neighboring towns that participated in a "base ball picnic" in Chelsea that month. There is reference to the Unknowns of Jackson failing to appear at the picnic in Chelsea, after having earlier competed in a very contentious tournament in Detroit the prior month. Other newspaper clippings show some bad blood between the Unknowns and Detroit Base Ball Club, two of the best clubs of the era. Much of the bad blood seems to derive from suspicions of both clubs having brought in "ringers" from other towns at different times.
This clipping was in part the impetus for the Monitors and Merries to host their own modern-day festival of base ball, inviting other clubs from around MI and OH to Chelsea for a day-long celebration of the pastime. Below is a group photo of the clubs that participated in the 1st-ever Ironclad Vintage Base Ball Festival, July 18 2015 at Chelsea High School.
Another round of newspaper clippings, this time from 1875, shows evidence of a third amateur Chelsea team, simply called the 'Chelsea Base Ball Club.' The reports below show a lot of enthusiasm and a fair amount of journalistic bias for the base ball matches:
A fourth clipping, at left, from 1875 shows a great deal of personality, and is a favorite for many of us. Read how the home club is skewered by the reporter for what's perceived as a lackluster effort against a club of local residents, and then for losing a pretty close match to the Stockbridge club. Wow, tough crowd!
This report gave us the idea to organize some modern matches featuring the Monitors versus an assemblage of locals we affectionately call the "Scrub Nine." The Scrub Nine has mustered itself several times over the past few years, and performed admirably. Here's a photo from the first Monitor v. Scrub Nine match on June 23, 2013 at Timbertown in Chelsea:
Here are some more clippings of early baseball in Chelsea beyond the 1860/70's to enjoy:
We will continue to search for more historical evidence of early base ball in Chelsea, and will share it on this website.
Some of the above research was originally done by Michigan's own renowned baseball historian, Peter Morris. He has written extensively on baseball history nationwide, including an excellent volume on the pastime's early years here in our state. We urge anyone interested in learning more to check it out: