Alaska’s First Baseball Team
The Knock Down and Skin ‘Em™ ballclub was founded on St. Paul Island, AK in July of 1868 and was organized by missionaries from New Haven, Connecticut. The team was an integrated ballclub composed of individuals from the local Aleut community, Alaska Native individuals from Kodiak, crewmembers of the US vessel New London, and two tribal members/missionaries from Hawaii. The team even issued a challenge to the rest of the United States to come play them in St. Paul Island, AK!
The history of the team was lost until it was rediscovered by Professor Bruce Allardice in 2012, who uploaded the original documentation of the team (an article from the New Haven Colombia Register on January 1869) to the “Protoball” website, a repository of information collected by amateur and professional baseball historians. The Protoball website entry for the ‘Knock Down and Skin ‘Em’s” can be found here:
The Aleut Community of St. Paul (ACSPI) Tribal Government, rediscovered the history of the “Knock Down and Skin ‘Em”™ team in April of 2017. MLB has taken some effort to document the earliest baseball teams and the spread of baseball in the nation. Their information related to this effort can be found here: http://mlb.mlb.com/memorylab/spread_of_baseball/earliest_clubs.jsp.
ACSPI worked with Major League Baseball and Professor Allardice to substantiate the history of the team. Once this history was reasonably verified, ACSPI presented the information to the community. A formal presentation was given to the community by John Wayne Melovidov as part of the Tribal Governments Annual community meeting on December 12, 2017. The community was interested to learn the unique history of the team and their connection to a rich part of the history of baseball in the nation and within the State of Alaska.
Major League Baseball honored this history by allowing the community to ask their historian, John Thorn, questions about the team and its history. Questions were selected by children in the community and those questions, and his answers, are detailed here:
- What would the rules have been for games played during this time (1867-68)?
THIS IS EASILY GLEANED FROM THE RULE BOOKS OF THE TIME.
FOR 167, SEE: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ut3p4lfxxsxgsiw/Beadle%201867.pdf?dl=0FOR 1869,
- What would the ballfields have looked like from this era? (Would they have been different, in dimensions or construct, from current ballfield designs)?
EXCEPT FOR AHANDFUL OF ENCLOSED PARKS, DESIGNED FOR PAID ADMISSIONS TO TO-RANK CONTESTS, FIELDS WOULD HAVE BEEN OPEN, WITH ONLY BOUNDARIES BEING BASELINES AND FOUL-MARKER FLAGS IN THE OUTFIELD.I ATTACH A TYPICAL VIEW.
- What would the jerseys have looked like from this era?
FULL TROUSERS–NOT KNICKERS, WHICH WERE WORN ONLY BY CINCINNATI RED STOCKINGS IN 1860S. FOR A NICE DISPLAY, GO TO: http://www.threadsofourgame.com/category/year/1866-1870/
- How extensive is the history MLB has for these early teams?
MLB DOES NOT POSSESS HISTORICAL RECORDS, IF THAT IS WHAT YOU MEAN. BUT MANY INDIVIDUALS HAVE COMPILED GREAT HISTORICAL MATERIAL ON THIS PERIOD, ESPECIALLY MEMBERS OF SABR’S 19TH CENTURY RESEARCH COMMITTEE: (http://sabr.org/research/nineteenth-century-research-committee). MANY BOOKS HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED ON THIS PERIOD, INCLUDING SIGNIFICANT PORTIONS OF MY OWN BSEBALL IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (https://baseballeden.com/)
Early and Ongoing History of Baseball in St. Paul Island, AK
Prior to the rediscovery of the team, it was known and well documented that baseball had been an important part of the community’s history. When the US Dealrof showed up unannounced in 1942, as part of the US Government’s involuntary evacuation of the Aleut communities of St. Paul and St. George Islands, they interrupted the weekly community baseball game on St. Paul Island. Further information of the involuntary evacuation and its profound effects on these communities can be found here:
Elders in the community still talk about the importance of the history of baseball in the community. They talk about and recall games played, lively discussions and debates occur amoung community members about the games and MLB; there is a deep and ongoing interest by the community for the game, both for playing the game in the community and following the national pastime.
This interest extends generationally. For example, when the first navy wireless radio was installed in St. Paul Island in 1915, the community gathered around the radio operator to hear the first incoming transmission. When the radio operator announced they made contact with Hawaii station, and asked the community what information they wanted the community members gathered responded in chorus: “all the baseball news you can get”. After sending current standings, the Hawaiian operator attempted to send news about the coronation of King George. “Ditch that”, said the group gathered, “ask him for Cobb’s batting average, and all about Eddie Collins, Honus Wagner, and Red Dooin. The coronation can wait”. Source: https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1911/07/15/104829683.pdf
St. Paul Island ballfield, dates unknown, estimated: (1880-1910)
There were rumors locally about the Japanese fleet having visited St. Paul Island as part of the settlement over pelagic seal harvesting. Documentation of this event was sparse, but part of the narrative told locally was that baseball games had been played with this fleet. Only recently was photographic evidence uncovered of this event. While the date is unknown at present, we estimate these games would have been played sometime between 1910-1919. We have verified that this picture, recently discovered, shows a Japanese fleet team on the baseball field on St. Paul Island, which has been in active use since at least the 1880’s and shown here:
Japanese Fleet team, dates unknown, estimated: (1910-1919)
A Boys Life (1927) article talks about a game played against the radio crew in St. Paul Island as part of a ‘Sea Scouts” cruise at Harbor Cove, and as part of the 4th of July celebrations in the community. Source: https://books.google.com/books?id=VrybVE0S5QIC&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&dq=st+paul+island+alaska+baseball&source=bl&ots=F4k4GjSAHD&sig=2MeRA0bJHrVGNvRv1-0KzkGWXqE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiUyf76vIfTAhUM4oMKHUKEC284FBDoAQglMAQ#v=onepage&q=st%20paul%20island%20alaska%20baseball&f=false
St. Paul Island Youth Baseball team, 1921
Documentation from a NOAA archive, showing teams, events and even uniforms for both the community of St. Paul and St. George islands. Here is a team photo for the St. George team (era 1930), and two community photos from St. Paul Island (4th of July, 1938), both depicting players, teams, and uniforms:
St. Paul Island, 4th of July, 1938
St. Paul Island, 4th of July,. 1938
St. George Island ballclub, 1930
Baseball in the St. Paul Community, Modern era
Baseball was actively played on St. Paul Island by community members until sometime in 1960-1970’s. A transition to softball occurred sometime at this point, and the game of softball is actively played by community members during the summer and remains an important part of the community summer events and activities. A tournament is organized every year as part of the Evacuation day events that mark the importance of the game to the community and honors their history and the significance of the evacuation event. The team names (Team Funter Bay, Team Delarof, Team Baidars, and the 44’s) all reference historic teams and events. The community still plays on the same field actively used since at least 1880. When games are played the community gathers around, cheers their teams, and honks their horns when good plays are made. The game is still loved and active. The connection to playing the game, and discussing the national pastime, remains. This is a community where you are as apt to find a Seattle Mariners fan or LA Dodgers fan as you might in those respective communities. MLB games are still watched, followed and discussed. The community has cheered loudly, emphatically, and passionately for this game, for 150 years and beyond. This love extends for any team they follow be that for the M’s, the Baidars, LA Dodgers, or the 44’s.
Ballfield Project: Current Goals and the Future of the Field
ACSPI has been working with multiple community partners for years as part of their efforts to promote the community, to diversify the economy, and to bring infrastructure, support and sustainability to the community. The discovery of the unique history of the community, specifically of the ‘Known Down and Skin ‘Em” ™ team, has helped to focus some effort towards the reconstruction and improvement of the historic ball field. The field, in active use since 1880’s, has had several changes. Most notable over time were the loss of the grass of the infields and outfields and the loss or removal of the backstop. It is the goal of ACSPI and its partners, as part of a larger downtown revitalization plan, to spend considerable effort in rebuilding this field and making substantial improvements both to honor the history of the community, field and the “Knock Down and Skin ‘Em” ™ team. These improvements are both to honor the history but importantly to improve safety for players and the community, as the field needs substantial upgrades to the surface of the infield and outfields. ACSPI would also like to upgrade facilities around the field and will be working over the next 3-5 years to secure funds for the ball field project and upgrades. Desired upgrades may include seating, a grandstand designed for Elder seating and comfort, a backstop, fencing around the field to protect it, grass in the infields and outfields, turf, a concessions and clubhouse building/stand, an increase in the size of the current field to accommodate the reintroduction of baseball to youth in the community, and improvements to the area around the field to possibly include BBQ pits, bonfire pits, new playground equipment for the kids (current equipment is worn and badly outdated), other recreational facilities (basketball court, pitching and hitting cage, open fields), parking, and lighting. These elements will be shaped by available funding and community input. In 2017 ACSPI formed a Baseball workgroup to work on the formal elements and develop a business plan associated with the ball field project, ACSPI has since elicited 15 community volunteers to provide a community centered workgroup which will focus on providing guidance and input, on forming and facilitating softball and baseball leagues, and on other activities that develop as part of the project.
Link to the ‘Knock Down and Skin ‘Em”™ article by the Anchorage Daily News: