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July 8, 2008

 

Cortland history takes on Honus Wagner

Wagon Makers will play vintage game on Aug. 23

MAC Field

Photo provided by Tony Kissel
An early 1900s photo shows fans at the Mountain Athletic Club in Fleischmann, N.Y., where baseball Hall of Famer Honus Wagner once played. Fans attended the game in wagons, which may have been built in Cortland, to watch from the outfield.

Baseball has a long history in Cortland County, with Truxton native John J. McGraw leading the way to Cooperstown.
With this history in mind, the Cortland County Bicentennial Committee is bringing baseball back to Cortland in the form of a vintage baseball game. On Saturday, Aug. 23, at 1 p.m. the Cortland Wagon Makers will take on the Mountain Athletic Club of Fleischmann, N.Y.
A group of baseball enthusiasts from Fleischmann have organized a modern-day MAC team, and they travel through the region sharing the game of Vintage Baseball with fans.
For more information on this game, please call Cortland County Historian Jeremy Boylan at 753-5360, or e-mail cortlandvbb@gmail.com. There will be an informational meeting on the game this Thursday starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Red Dragon on Tompkins St. in Cortland.
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Who are the Cortland Wagon Makers?
You are. For this special event the Bicentennial Committee is putting together a vintage baseball team, with hopes of the team carrying on in 2009 as a permanent part of Cortland’s baseball culture. If you are interested in playing on this team or helping to organize this event an informational meeting will be held on Thursday, July 10 at the Red Dragon at 6:30 p.m. 
Vintage Baseball is played by the rules and customs of the 19th Century. The players often wear period reproduction uniforms. They recreate the game based on rules and research of the various decades of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The playing of vintage baseball can be seen at open-air museums, tournament re-enactments and city parks all over the country. It is played on both open grass fields and modern baseball diamonds. Vintage baseball is a reflection of how baseball existed at an earlier time. 
The Cortland Wagon Makers will be playing with rules from 1860s. Some of the rules that differ from modern-day baseball include:
No mound for pitchers.
Three balls are considered a walk.
— Four balls do not count as strikes.
— Fair balls caught on one bounce are considered an out.
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Why the Wagon Makers?
It can be assumed that the Wagon Makers name was a tribute to the strong wagon industry of Cortland at the time. Beginning in 1897, the Cortland Wagon Makers played in the New York State Baseball League, and were coached by Hank Ramsey. The team finished the season 54-46 against teams like the Albany Senators, the Rome Romans and the Binghamton Bingoes. While Ramsey only managed the team for one year, he had a much longer tenure in baseball. Ramsey managed various minor league teams for more than 20 years, including teams in Elmira, Canandaigua, Troy and several others.
The Cortland Manager is not to be confused with Thomas “Toad” Ramsey, who is occasionally, and erroneously listed as the 1899 manager. While Hank had a longer-tenured and stable career as a manager, Toad may have better stories to tell. Over a six-year career from 1885 to 1890 for the Louisville Colonels and the St. Louis Browns, Thomas “Toad” Ramsey performed impressively. He had back-to-back 30-win seasons, but his career was cut short by his personal habits. Opie Caylor, a founder of the league, wrote: “His personal habits tore up his body. He was a man who gets down in the gutter completely,” and that his life was ruined by debauchery. Giving in to these temptations would end Toad’s life in 1906 at the young age of 41.
According to local baseball researcher and author Tony Kissel, “The Cortland Wagon Makers joined the NY State League in 1897. Led by a 16-man Board of Directors, the club was a cooperative business venture with businessmen and fans purchasing shares of stock in the team. Weekday and Saturday afternoon games were played at the County Fairgrounds until 1899 when the team played at Athletic Field, located diagonally across from the Cortland Standard on Main Street. Sometimes 2,000 fans were willing to spend a quarter to come out and see a big game. The Wagonmakers drew National attention one season after a 15-game winning streak moved them into first place.
After a hot pennant race in 1900, the team sold off its two 20-game winning pitchers to NL clubs for $600. Attendance fell in 1901 and the board of directors sadly gave up the franchise to Waverly midway through the season. At least 23 Wagonmaker players played in the major leagues, including Fred Ketchum who grew up on Hamlin Street.” 
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Who is the Mountain Athletic Club?
Fleischmanns Park, on the north side of Wagner Avenue, was a gift to the village in May 1914 from Julius Fleischmann, son of Charles. Baseball was one of their many interests. The park was known as the Mountain Athletic Club, where players came before the start of the regular season. Even Honus Wagner, the Flying Dutchman and Hall of Famer, played on the team.