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Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Baseball and Gratz

Posted By on July 1, 2011

Just about everyone in the Lykens Valley area of Pennsylvania knows the story of Gratz baseball star Carl Scheib and his quick ascent to the big leagues, becoming the youngest person ever signed to a American League baseball contract when he joined the Philadelphia Athletics at the age of 16 during the 1940s.

Now a “Gratz” connection has been discovered in the 1860s – and to the same team, the Philadelphia Athletics, an early incarnation of the team later established in the 20th century as the most successful sports franchise in Philadelphia history.  Found in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer of 22 June 1865 is the following sports story and “box score:”

ATHLETIC VS. CAMDEN. – Yesterday afternoon, a game of baseball was played between the second nine of the Athletic and Camden Clubs, on the grounds of the former, at Fifteenth street and Columbia avenue.  The play commenced at three o’clock, and was witnessed by a large number of persons.  The Athletics were the victors by the following score: -… 46-32.

The “box score” contained the “lineup” with the last names of the players, their positions, and the number of runs scored by each.  From the runs scored, the heavy hitters appeared to be in the middle of the lineup.  The name  “Gratz” is clearly recognizable as the fourth batter in the Athletics lineup and as the 2nd baseman. Gratz scored 6 runs that day, the third highest total of any individual.

Who was this “Gratz” who played on the “second nine” of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1865?  According to information on the website of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, early baseball players came from the “best families” who had time and money to compete for recreation.  In telling the story of the Philadelphia Mercantile Base Ball Club, a successful group in Civil War period, the website reports that the Philadelphia Athletics were another successful ball club in the city and often played the Mercantile Club and the Olympic Club, which was considered the oldest American ball club.  It is not known at this time whether rosters exist for all these early teams, but if they do, it might be possible to find the first name and more information about this “Gratz” who played in the game against the Camden club in 1865.  It is very likely that this “Gratz” was a member of the Gratz family that was connected to the founding family of Gratz, Pennsylvania – and this “Gratz” was a cousin of John  C. Gratz, son of the first mayor of GratzJohn C. Gratz was born in Gratz, Pennsylvania and died in the Civil War.

Many soldiers returning from the Civil War brought baseball back to their communities.  They had played baseball in camp and there are numerous examples of games within regiments, between regiments, and even in some of the prison camps.  It is not known at this time how the rise of baseball in Gratz, Pennsylvania, was connected to returning soldiers from the war.  But, by but the beginning of the 20th century baseball had firmly established itself in the Lykens Valley area.  A history of baseball in the early 20th Century in Gratz and the Lykens Valley area can be found in A Comprehensive History of the Town of Gratz Pennsylvania, pages 805-807, including the story of Carl Scheib and some pictures of the early teams.  An exhibit in the Gratz Historical Society Museum features memorabilia from the early teams.  A monument to Carl Scheib stands at the ball park where he played in Gratz and is adjacent to a restored, historic grandstand.

Much research has been done on what has been called the ‘first inning” of organized baseball in America but there is so much more that remains to be discovered.  Now, knowing that someone named “Gratz” played on one of the earliest baseball clubs – the forerunner of the Philadelphia Athletics – gives even more interest to finding out about the early origins of baseball during and after the Civil War and the role this “Gratz” played in helping to establish baseball as our national pastime.

For more information about the history of the Philadelphia Athletics, see the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society website.  For more information on the history of baseball, see the National Baseball Hall of Fame website.  For more information on the Gratz family in Philadelphia, see Susan Sklaroff’s blog, Rebecca Gratz and 19th Century America.

The clipping from the Philadelphia Inquirer is from the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia.


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