Latest update: November 7th, 2013
Two years ago, Richard Michelson authored a 32-page book for youngsters titled Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King.
Michelson believes Pike has Hall of Fame credentials and started a petition drive to get Pike enshrined in Cooperstown (www.change.org/petitions/induct-lipman-pike-into-the-baseball-hall-of-fame).
Here’s the Lipman Pike story and how it affected one of the readers of this column.
Pike was one of baseball’s earliest paid players. The Brooklyn native would go on to be the first Jewish paid player and the first Jewish manager. In 1866, the 21-year-old Pike was paid $20 per week to play third base for the Philadelphia Athletics of the National Association of Base Ball Players. The team also had two other paid players. Pike, however, outshone them all and gained fame by hitting six home runs in one game.
The following year, Pike played for Irvington, New Jersey, and jumped to the New York Mutuals during the season (a legal practice at the time). New York City’s “Boss” Tweed, famous for his bullying tactics and political payoffs, owned the Mutuals, and Pike saw and heard enough to want out after the 1868 season.
The left-handed batting Pike played closer to home with the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1869 and stayed through the following season. Known for his speed and hitting ability, and as a player who could play several positions, Pike started mostly at second base.
The 5-foot-8 Pike, who sported a handsome mustache and a full head of dark hair, was 28 years old when he ran against a racehorse at a Baltimore track in August 1873. Lipman got off to a quick start in the 100-yard sprint, but the horse was gaining fast. Pike, though, gave it all he had and ended up by winning by a nose and pocketing $250.
Pike would go on to lead the National Association in home runs four times in the 1870s. In 1880, as the Jewish population of the United States reached 250,000. Pike changed teams and ended his career in 1881 at the age of 36. Pike’s father was a Brooklyn haberdasher, and Lipman followed by opening his own establishment, which quickly became a popular meeting place for Brooklyn’s Jewish baseball fans.
In 1887 the 42-year-old Pike returned to baseball after a six-year absence. He played one game for the New York Metropolitans of the American Association. Pike then moved from the batter’s box to behind the plate and umpired for the next two seasons before going back to his men’s clothing store.
Heart disease claimed Pike at age 48 in his Brooklyn home on October 10, 1893, shocking friends and fans. The Brooklyn Eagle reported on his funeral:
“Many wealthy Hebrews and men high in political and old time base ball circles attended the funeral services. Rev. Dr. Geismar, pastor of the Temple Israel, conducted the services and paid a fitting tribute to the exemplary life led by the deceased.”
The Sporting News, which catered to a national baseball audience, wrote:
“He was a left-handed batsman and in his day could hit the ball as hard as many in the business. Pike was one of the few sons of Israel who ever drifted to the business of ball playing. He was a handsome fellow when he was here, and the way he used to hit that ball was responsible for many a scene of enthusiasm.”
Elliot Auerbacher’s enthusiasm for Michelson’s online petition for Pike peaked the interest of his friend Bruce Weinberg, like many of you a history and baseball buff. Bruce, a Brooklyn native and member of the Young Israel of Flatbush, took a day off work last October 4 to visit the grave of a relative and look for Pike’s grave at the nearby Salem Fields Cemetery.
Bruce found where Pike was buried 120 years ago and noted the day of his passing, October 10, 1893. More checking revealed that day was the 30th of Tishrei. You guessed it – the 30th of Tishrei this year was October 4, the very day Bruce happened to be at Pike’s grave. He recited the proper prayer on the exact date of his 120th yahrzeit.
Mere coincidence? I’ll have to ask my spiritual leader, the Cooperstowner Rebbe.
About the Author: Author, columnist, and lecturer Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and worked in a front office position for a major league team, becoming the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his dugout at email@example.com.
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