Brown has a significant place in baseball history, holding the fourth oldest written record of the game: an 1827 diary entry by Williams Latham 1827, a Brown student at the time, according to Rick Harris, author of “Brown University Baseball: A Legacy of the Game.” When baseball started at Brown, it was played where the Main Green is today, he said.
Harris, also the executive director of Rhode Island’s chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, spoke to a small audience yesterday evening at the Brown Bookstore. Sporting a baseball cap and a tie decorated with baseballs, Harris said that his social work has largely influenced the writing of both his current and past work, which includes “Rhode Island Baseball: The Early Years.”
He considers himself primarily a storyteller who is more interested in individual stories than statistics. “I don’t care about the most famous. I care about the everyday people who played baseball,” he said. “Us non-famous people – that’s what the world is made of.”
Harris centers his book on the stories of Brown baseball players and where they ended up after graduation. John Richmond 1880 pitched the first perfect game in Major League Baseball in the same year he graduated. David Lewis Fultz 1898 began the Fraternal Order of Baseball Players, an organization that represented minor and major league players and established a minimum wage.
Forty MLB players have hailed from Brown since the inception of the major leagues. The last player from Brown to go into the majors was in 1974.
Included in the book is a description of the gentleman’s game from which baseball at Brown originated. In the team’s early days, Harvard traveled to Providence the night before, and the two teams shared a fancy dinner together, Harris said.
Until about the 1890s, baseball scores in the 50s and 60s were common because of the number of fielding errors by the players. At the time, gloves were not worn. First basemen and catchers could be identified by their broken fingers, Harris said.
Harris said he got hooked on baseball in 1992 when his eight-year-old son’s team showed up for their picture day but did not have a coach. He took on the role, and became more interested in the sport. “I wanted to keep it old, and I wanted to keep it local,” he told The Herald .
He started writing about what he found. “There are very few things in life you have total control over,” he said, so he originally started writing about baseball with no specific direction, not knowing he would one day publish two books on the subject.
At the talk, Harris spoke of other quirks in baseball history. In 1868, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok filled in for an umpire that was beaten up on the field, and he tamed rowdy fans by shooting their hats off, Harris said.
Dale Rogers P’12 P’14, from nearby Pawtucket, attended Harris’s book signing and talk. Rogers said that he came in good spirits because the Boston Red Sox have not disappointed yet this season. Rogers was interested in what Brown baseball players did after they graduated from college, and he said he especially enjoys learning about the social aspects of baseball. Rogers blamed the lack of Pawtucket residents at the talk on last night’s Pawtucket Red Sox home opener.
In his nine years of research on baseball in Rhode Island, including significant research at the John Hay Library, Harris has collected a huge database of local players and statistics. He assists families in learning about relatives who played in Rhode Island.
“Everything in my life connects back to baseball,” Harris told The Herald. He dedicated his book to his late mother, Katie “Home Run” Hudson, who was offered a contract in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a fact he did not learn until late in her life.