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May 25: The First Baseball Pro

Lawrence Bush
May 25, 2010
bookA_Page_017_Image_0001Lipman Emanuel Pike, the first professional baseball player and first home run champion in America, was born on this date in 1845. Pike became well-known as a power hitter with the Philadelphia Athletics; he hit six home runs in a game that had a final score of 67-25. When it became known that he and two other Athletics were being paid $20 a week (a common violation of the amateur sport’s rules), a hearing was called by the National Association of Base Ball Players. When no one showed up to the hearing, the issue was dropped and the door was open to the professionalization of baseball. The Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first pro team in 1869. That year, with the Brooklyn Athletics, Pike batted .610. (The game resembled slow-pitch softball during that era, with underhand pitching.) In 1873, Pike raced a trotting horse in a 100-yard sprint (the horse began to canter at 75 yards) and won with a time of 10 seconds. When he retired at 42, he was the oldest player in baseball, with a six-season National Association batting average of .321, with 20 home runs and 332 runs batted in, and a five-season National League batting average of .306, with 5 homers and 88 RBIs. “Pike was a handsome fellow . . . and the way he used to hit that ball was responsible for many a scene of enthusiasm at the old avenue grounds.” —The Sporting News, October 21, 1893

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.