How They See the Game (Part 1)

added 2/19/2012 by Darrell Pittman

As Houston prepares to take in its final season of professional baseball*, James Hays Quarles of The Houston Daily Post gives us a contemporary glimpse of how some fans viewed Houston Buffaloes games in 1896.

(Part 2 of the article can be found here.)

How They See the Game
by James Hays Quarles

Houston Daily Post, August 2, 1896, Page 12

How true it is that one-half the world does not know how the other half lives! It is also true that one-half of those who attend the ball games do not know how the other half sees the game.

The Houston Baseball association was organized, the promoters put up their money to pay salaries, traveling expenses, for buildings and grounds. To reimburse themselves and make the business self-sustaining, admission is charged at the gate, and an additional fee for the grand stand, which has comfortable seats, is covered, and a wire netting prevents a foul ball from striking the occupants of the stand. In addition to this is a long line of “bleachers” for those who do not care to sit in the grand stand.

And the association has been liberal.

They have been exceedingly courteous to ladies in allowing them free admission to the grounds almost every day, and on occasions free seats in the grand stand. However, there are many who witness the game and never pay a cent. It would be a surprise to a great many to know the number of those who watch the sport free of charge. In a large number of cases the association is not a loser by this, as some of the urchins have nothing to pay, and it would be no loss to the club if they were admitted free, but it would be a bad practice to start such an arrangement, as there would be too many demands, and then, again, they would never know where to stop the charity.

I have often noticed heads above the high fence which encloses the diamond – faces of boys yet under 15 years of age, beardless youths, and many men of mature age, seemingly comfortably seated, umbrellas above them to shade them from the sun, enjoying the game and occasionally applauding. During the week past I decided to take a trip around the park and learn how they see the game and the various methods employed.

The story will probably be surprising. The ingenuity of the lover of the game who does not care to pay would amuse many of those who sit in the grand stand and grow enthusiastic over the many good plays on the diamond.

Along the Milam street fence there is a motley crowd. I counted no less than a dozen animals, the owners standing on the saddles and looking over the fence being given an opportunity to see what transpires within. Some of the horses had as many as two to carry. Boys ranging in age from 8 to 15 are seen all along the fence looking through convenient cracks or holes that have been whittled. They watch through these cracks for a foul ball, and when one happens of the high fence – as is often the case – there is a scramble, whites and blacks joining in the rush to recover the sphere, the possession of which gives them free entry into the park.

Turning the corner at Dennis avenue, I found the entire length of the fence lined with vehicles and people. Here is where the inventive genius has gotten in his work. The first seen is a number of buggies – old ones, new ones, dilapidated ones, some with tops and some without, each having from three to a half dozen occupants who are perched about on the wheels and tops anxiously watching each successive play of the game. In between these vehicles can be seen boys and men looking through the holes in the fence. Now and then a horse is standing patiently supporting its owner who is standing erect to observe the occurrences within. Next is seen a delivery wagon carrying upon the side the familiar sign of a well-known Houston business house. Upon the roof of this wagon, which should be used for the more legitimate purpose of distributing its cargo of fine silks, laces and dress goods, is roosting the driver and his friends, who are eagerly taking in the movements of the eighteen members of the two clubs.

Further on can be seen the inventive genius. There are two structures which might be called portable grand stands, having a seating capacity of two each. The portable grand stand is an arrangement of timbers in the form of a step-ladder, surmounted by a seat on the order of that used on large moving wagons, with a footboard adding to the comfort of the occupant. This affair is placed upon an ordinary uncovered buggy, and its height allows the occupants to see the entire diamond and watch each play of the National game. As I said before, there are two of these. They are occupied by grown men, who perch themselves upon the seat, and, with umbrellas to shield them from the penetrating rays of the sun, they sit throughout the two hours of the game. They seem proud of their ability to thus defeat the gatekeeper, and when I passed they suggested that their arrangement be used in a baseball write-up. It seems that genius is wasted when used for defrauding ends.

But then it is human nature, and one would not be an American if he did not display some of the traits of human nature.

Nature has assisted others. Just behind the portable grand stand is a large tree, a gnarled oak, which has grown throughout the time of many years. Its spreading branches were designed to afford shade for the domestic animals that graze within that territory, free from the depredations of the mounted police, or to give a shelter to a passer who, weary of travel, may stop to rest beneath its spreading boughs. This tree has a seating capacity of about twenty-five, and the limbs are crowded. Men and boys, white and black, congregate among its foliage every afternoon and watch the game.

Passing around on the south side of the park, the vehicles and horses are again seen, the peepers at the holes being as numerous as upon the other sides of the park. They watch on this side for home run hits over the left field fence, and then a scramble begins for the ball.

At the McGowen avenue corner the wagons are again found, and I saw a number more bold than others who had climbed to the top of the fence and sat upon that structure. Out in McGowen avenue I saw a small boy at the point of a deserted telegraph pole. A seat had been arranged on this pole and he was comfortably ensconced upon it. A newly erected residence on McGowen avenue, which is yet unoccupied, affords a place of vantage for some of them.

When Superintendent Ells of the Houston City Street Railway company first began massing cars on McGowen avenue for the convenience of patrons when the game is over, the small boys, and the large ones, too, scrambled to the roofs of the electric carriages, but the superintendent soon put a stop to that. He has a man to guard all cars, and the association loses nothing by that arrangement.

This goes to show how some people see the game, and how they see it without cost. There is no doubt that many of them are able to pay 25 cents for the pleasure they derive therefrom, but they do not do so. The Houston Baseball association pays for the club, and the people I have spoken of see the game free.

There should be a way to stop it. In Fort Worth the peepers at the cracks and holes in the fence were thwarted by a second fence which was put up inside the outer one. This might be done here. If the association would build an outer fence sixty feet high there are probably some who would get a balloon and hang over the diamond. They must see the game, and they do not care how they see it. Enterprise and public spirit are lost on some people. I suppose other people have the same trouble in other cities.

Hotel men have to contend with men who forget to pay their bills and the Merchant’s Protective association has a blacklist of those who never pay their bills, so I suppose the baseball association can stand it.

I know that I can.

James Hays Quarles

* - Beginning in 2013, the Houston Astros will play in the American League, which uses the designated hitter. A key part of the definition of baseball is that there are nine players on a side. The designated hitter being a tenth player, the American League -- by definition -- does not play baseball.