With less than a month remaining of summer — autumn arrives on September 23 — baseball season is quickly coming to a close. This is especially true for Northville’s vintage baseball club, the Northville Eclipse.
Organized in 2002, the Northville Eclipse pays homage to Northville’s earliest known baseball game which was played on August 30, 1869 between the hometown Elipse and the Lone Star club of Plymouth, according to Eclipse historian Al Smitley.
The team, which plays its home games on across the creek from , uses 1860s rules that mandate gentlemanly conduct and etiquette. They also wear vintage-inspired uniforms and play without gloves. Ouch!
For nearly a decade, the Eclipse has been representing Northville at games and tournaments throughout Michigan. If you have not attended an Eclipse game, there is still time to cheer on our vintage base ball club. Its next two games are away with the team playing the Hartwick Pines Swampers on Sept. 4 and the Walker Wheels of Brooklyn on Sept. 11.
The team finishes its season during Northville’s Victorian Festival with two home games. The first is on Friday, September 16, after the Victorian Parade, against the Port Huron Welkins. The final game of the 2011 season is Sept. 18, at 1 p.m. against the Greenfield Village Lah De Dahs. For more information about the Northville Eclipse, visit www.eclipsebbc.com
While the Northville Eclipse was chronicled as possibly Northville’s first ball club, it was hardly its last. Since the establishment of that organization in the years following the Civil War, there have been countless Northville baseball teams. Among those was the Northville Juniors, which eventually become the notable Circle N Baseball Club.
The roots of the Northville Juniors can be traced to Northville High School, circa 1907. Without a high school baseball team that year, a group of 10 players who had played together for several years formed a team called the Northville Juniors. Dr. T.H. Turner and R.R. McKahan supervised the team. Gate receipts paid for new uniforms and equipment.
The players suggested in 1909 that they play as a high school team during the school year. That year, Northville High School added baseball to its sports schedule. When the school year ended, the team went back to playing as the Northville Juniors, and eventually became the Circle Ns.
The Circle N Baseball Club organized in 1910 and gained a reputation as one of the area’s best teams, defeating many Detroit teams – no small feat. It also produced many fine players including pitcher Henry German, who would go on to serve as Northville’s mayor in 1930-31.
While Northville’s history is laced with baseball stories about teams such as the Eclipse and Circle N, there is perhaps no more entertaining an account of early Northville baseball than The Northville Record’s front-page story about a July 3, 1876 game played between two teams from the Michigan School Furniture Company.
The Michigan School Furniture Company was established in 1873 in an industrial complex on Cady Street. By 1887, the name was changed to the Globe Furniture Company. It would become the worldwide leader of manufactured school furniture, bringing Northville national renown.
On July 3, 1876, just one day before the nation celebrated its Centennial, the two Michigan School Furniture teams — the Wood Butchers and the Iron Mongers — met on the field of Charles Yerkes’ farm just south of Baseline.
The headline of the story makes baseball sound like a blood sport: “ The School-seat boys take a turn at the game — New hands at the bellows — killed and wounded cared for.”
Here’s an excerpt from The Record account:
“The wood workmen were on one side under the cognomen of ‘Wood Butchers,’ while the moulders took the other side and were designated as ‘Iron Mongers.’ W. John Little (brother of Northville Record founder Samuel Little) officiated as Captain of the former and Milton J. Withee, Captain of the latter. The game came off on the grounds usually occupied for the purpose on Yerkes’ farm just south of the base line.
“A number on both sides had previous experience and were good at playing, while others again were new at the business. As the play progressed the fun ran high, and every now and then when some player, thinking probably he was engaged in the old game of ‘two old cat,’ and using a soft ball, — would let fly that hardened missile smack into the face of an opponent, to the detriment of that person’s nose and general appearance . . .
“One gentleman on Little’s side was the recipient of this kindly reminder by receiving the ball full in the eye, compelling his immediate retirement from the field. Another was hit square on the ear and that organ assumed a size not usual in ordinary beings. By good luck no one was killed outright but the narrow escapes of many that day were fearful to contemplate.
“The ‘Wood Butchers’ came off victorious with a score of 28 to 24.”
Play Ball! . . . and take cover.