August 13, 2016
Do you know there’s ANOTHER curse I’ve found? Did you ever hear of Lip Pike? He was the first real superstar in Baseball History. Very shortly after the end of the Civil War, in 1866, the 21-year old Lipman Pike was playing for the Philadelphia Athletics Base Ball Club. Now, there are two things odd about that:
- he wasn’t from Philadelphia; he was from Brooklyn; and
- he was Jewish, which, even then, was not a common ancestry of baseball players (most of them were of Irish ancestry, in those days).
From the SABR website:
Playing for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1866, for whom the “long ball was a prominent part of [their] arsenal”, Pike “had numerous multi-homer games” on a team that boasted several sluggers “capable of smashing the ball beyond the reach of opposing fielders.” A description in The Baseball Chronology of the events of July 16, 1866, gives an indication both of Pike’s home run prowess and of the nature of the game at the time:
“Lipman Pike of the Athletics of Philadelphia hits six  home runs, five in succession, against the Alert club of Philadelphia. Final score is 67-25.”
Lip Pike was an amazing player! He played all positions on the field, despite being a left-handed thrower. He was so fast that he once beat a horse in a 100 yard race. He was also among the first professionals – illegally, at first. He was found to be getting paid by the Philadelphia team “under the table.” He was not the only one, but he was one of the first to be identified as a professional.
But he did not play in Philadelphia in 1867, despite his sensational year with the Athletics. Why? Well, there was the problem of him being considered a “foreigner.” No – not the fact that he was Jewish. He was a foreigner because he wasn’t from Philadelphia. He had a great season in 1866, but, despite that, he and another “foreigner” were accused of not playing honestly if the team didn’t win. So – the Athletics disrespectfully cut Lip Pike and his “foreigner” teammate at the end of the season.
According to SABR:
“The two salaried players who had been imported from New York (Dockney and Pike) were jettisoned in favor of Philadelphians. This experiment had never worked the way management had hoped. Whenever the play of the Athletics had been considered suspicious, the two ‘foreigners’ had been the most suspected. It seemed that, as nonnatives [sic], their loyalty was perpetually in question. With the exception of [Al] Reach, all of the 1867 regulars were local boys.
“In 1867, Pike played for the well-respected and powerful Irvingtons of New Jersey, (in 6 of the Irvingtons’ 23 games, all at third base) and for the first rate Mutuals of New York (in 21 of the Mutuals’ thirty games, in the outfield, first, second, and third base). He appeared exclusively for the New York Mutuals in 1868, hitting a robust .497, with a .661 slugging average for a Mutuals team that went 31-10.
“Pike returned to his native Brooklyn in 1869 where he played for one of the nation’s leading teams, the Brooklyn Atlantics. For the first time the National Association of Base Ball Players recognized the professional class of player and team. Overall, against all comers, the Atlantics racked up 40 wins against six losses, with two ties. However, the Atlantics record against teams composed exclusively of professionals fell off to 15 wins, six losses, and one tie. This was Pike’s first season as a full time player, as he appeared in all 48 games, hitting .610 with an astonishing slugging average of .883.”
In 1870, Lip Pike played for the Brooklyn Atlantics team that defeated the first professional team established in 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. After a 57-0 undefeated season in 1869, the Cincinnati team won their first 24 games in 1870. Finally, they played the Brooklyn Atlantics on June 14, 1870 – and lost. It required extra innings, but Brooklyn beat the Red Stockings 8 – 7 in 11. Starting at second base and batting eighth for the Atlantics was Lip Pike, who got one hit, had three putouts, and six assists.
In 1871, however, he did NOT play for Brooklyn. The Atlantics decided not to join the new National Association professional baseball league in 1871. Lip Pike became a foreigner again: he played for the Troy Haymakers that year. The Brooklyn Atlantics DID finally join the NA in 1872, but too late for Pike – he signed to play in Baltimore in 1872 and 1873. He played in 1874 in Hartford; in 1875 he was in St. Louis. The National League began play in 1876; Lip jumped to the St. Louis franchise in the NL. Then, he moved on to the Cincinnati NL team in 1877, where he stayed until July 1878, when he was released. He signed with the Providence Grays NL team to finish the 1878 season, then played Minor League ball in Springfield and Albany in 1879. When Albany disbanded in 1880, he finally returned to Brooklyn, finishing the season with the Unions. Finally, in 1881, he was back with the Brooklyn Atlantics, but by then it was a Minor League team.
In late 1881, the Worcester team in the NL (which had no official team name, but were called the “Rubylegs” or the “Brown Stockings”) needed a player to help them finished the season, due to an injury to a starting outfielder. He played poorly, hitting only .125. But the worst thing happened on September 3rd. Playing center field, Lip Pike made 3 errors in the 9th inning to give Boston 2 runs and a 3-2 victory over Worchester. The losing club immediately accused Pike of throwing the game and suspended him.On September 29th, he was black-listed – not allowed to play the next season. His playing days, though, were essentially over. He had established a successful haberdashery business in Brooklyn, so he didn’t need to play anymore. He had a brief comeback with the New York Metropolitans in 1887 at the age of 42, but he was definitely finished as a player.
From SABR: Pike “died of heart disease on October 10, 1893 in Brooklyn, at the age of forty-eight. His funeral was a notable event, attended by much of the Jewish and baseball communities of Brooklyn. The services were conducted by Rabbi Geismer of Temple Israel and, according to the Brooklyn Eagle, he ‘paid fitting tribute to the exemplary life led by the deceased.’ “
So – what does this have to do with anything? There are two significant connections to Philadelphia. First – he was disrespectfully cut by the 1866 Philadelphia Athletics for being a “foreigner.” This was toward the end of the season, in September of 1866. So – that’s when I believe Philadelphia baseball in the 19th Century was cursed… yes, the 84-year big curse for disrespecting a Jewish superstar. So… add 84 to September 1866 and you get…
Do you know what happened on October 1, 1950?
That’s right – the Phillies beat the Dodgers, 4 – 1, on Dick Sisler’s 10th inning three-run home run. A game where the curse on the Brooklyn Dodgers was manifested, but a curse seemed to have been lifted for the Phillies.
The curse that Elohim, the All-Powerful One laid on Philadelphia baseball in 1866 when they disrespectfully cut Lip Pike, questioning his loyalty to the team, despite his amazing accomplishments.
Yeah – that curse.
Now – I know what you’re saying: “But the Phillies lost the World Series in four games to the Yankees – and the “Curse of the Flying Dutchman” was still in effect – right?
“What!?” I hear some of you scream.
Here it is: when a curse is lifted, something good, like a World Championship, usually ensues. Yes, that is true. But – if curses overlap like these do, there is usually a sign that one curse is over, but no ultimate victory yet. Sometimes there is a bad sign (like 2003 for both the Cubs and the Red Sox), but sometimes there’s a good sign (like Dick Sisler’s home run). Sometimes the Lord relents – temporarily allows a blessing, even while there is a long-term curse (like the New York Giants in 1933 and 1954) because a team has done something very commendable (like Bill Terry adding both Harry Danning and Phil Weintraub to the Giants in 1933, two Jewish rookies).
So, when the Phillies’ “Lip Pike Foreigner Curse” was lifted, there was a good blessing, but not an ultimate blessing.
And now: the second curse. Lip Pike ended his Major League Baseball career with that debacle in 1881 – when he apparently threw that game for the Worcester team. Now – it may have been right, or it may not have: it’s impossible to tell since we can’t see what happened. It is possible that Lip just had a bad day – he was, after all, an older player who hadn’t recently played ball at a high level. It’s possible he didn’t do it on purpose. But, on the other hand – ballplayers can usually tell if another is “playing on the level” or throwing a game because they were paid to lose by gambling interests. Maybe his Worcester teammates knew he was throwing that game and there was no doubt about it. Whatever happened, an honest bad day or a dishonest thrown game, it ended Pike’s MLB career.
So: what does something that happened to Lip Pike in Worcester in September of 1881 have to do with the Phillies? Maybe nothing. But do you know what happened to Worcester? They played badly in 1881 and in 1882, finishing deep in the standings, so deep that they couldn’t attract very many fans. Attendance in 1882 was minimal – tiny crowds for any team, but especially for a Major League franchise. Something had to be done – and it was. The franchise was sold to a buyer who moved the team to another city where there was no Major League team. Oddly, he got the franchise rights, but none of the players. His team would essentially be an expansion team in 1883.
The team’s name? They were officially the Quakers, but that name never took. They were called a name based on their city, which soon became the team’s official name…
The Phillies. The Philadelphia Phillies. The worst team in the 1883 National League… starting in a position that would not be unfamiliar (last place) in their next century of play… and certainly beyond – the Phillies finished in last place most recently in 2015.
So… did the way the franchise that became the Phillies get cursed by their treatment of Lip Pike in 1881? You decide…
The 84th season, starting in 1881? Oh… that would be 1964.
Bunning… Short… Bunning… Short… Gene Mauch, Phillies’ manager has his team surprisingly with a 6 ½ game lead with 12 games to play… they lose 10 straight games, with him pitching Jim Bunning and Chris Short on 1 or 2 days of rest… they fail (of course) and the Cardinals win the pennant and the World Series.
Or – “I will bless those who bless you; I will curse them who curse you.” Yahweh is always in complete control.