Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"Taken at the Flood"

If, as Shakespeare wrote, there are multiple paths to greatness, the same can also be said of the different ways base ball players get started on the road to the major leagues.  In the case of  Edward "The Only" Nolan, the first of the Olympic players to leave Paterson, it was the chance to pitch when the club's regular pitcher was absent.  Nolan took full advantage of the opportunity and after two productive years with the Olympics, eventually reached the majors with Indianapolis in 1878.  Kelly, Purcell and McCormick spent less time in an Olympic's uniform with William "Blondie" Purcell apparently having the least success in Paterson.  In the starting lineup early in the 1876 season, Purcell earned more newspaper ink for poor play than good.  He dropped out of the Olympic lineup, only to surface with the Port Jervis club for the 1877 season and arrived in the major leagues in 1879 with Syracuse.  Both Mike "King" Kelly and Jim McCormick, the two destined for the most major league success, did a brief stint with the Olympics at the end of the 1875 season and Kelly earned a place in the starting lineup for 1876, a position he would hold all season.  McCormick, however, spent most of the 1876 season laboring for the Star Club, one of Paterson's numerous lower level teams.

McCormick's efforts didn't go unnoticed, however, especially a August 13, 1876 performance against the Olympics which led the Paterson Daily Guardian to praise his "very effective" pitching and comment it would be no surprise "if he should at some day prove a second Nolan" - high praise indeed.  Less than a week later, McCormick, like Nolan, got his chance when O'Brien, the Olympics' regular pitcher was unavailable due to a sore arm.  The young pitcher took full advantage of the opportunity defeating the Alaska Club of New York, supposedly the "strongest nine in New York City," reinforcing the Guardian's belief that with "proper support, he may claim to be as effective as Nolan."  That performance along with O'Brien's ongoing arm problems allowed McCormick to continue as the club's starting pitcher.  With McCormick now joining Kelly on the Olympics, the stage was set for a three game visit by Nolan's new club, the Columbus Buckeyes in September.  Nolan himself, was reportedly very anxious that "his club should come" and the Olympics agreed to meet the Buckeye's demand for a financial guarantee. 

Jim McCormick - New York Clipper - May 20, 1882

On Saturday, September 16th, the Buckeye's arrived at the Paterson depot, met by a crowd of 2-300 people generating "almost as much excitement as a visit from the president of the United States."  Naturally, Nolan was the "observed of all observers" as the Columbus club settled into their rooms at the Franklin House.  After what must have seemed like an endless Sabbath, the Daily Guardian said that "Broadway, Market Street and every other thoroughfare" on the way to the field resembled "a sort of jubilee or picnic day" before Monday's game.  A thousand lucky fans crammed themselves into the grounds while an equal number took full advantage of "trees, knotholes, railroad cars and etc."  Although Columbus got off to an early 2-0 lead, the Olympics tied it in the sixth and took a 4-2 lead after seven only to see the Buckeyes tie it at 4-4 in the eighth.  When both teams failed to score in the ninth, the game ended in a 4-4 tie since Columbus had to leave for a game in Binghamton before returning to Paterson for the final two games of series.  McCormick allowed seven hits, but the Guardian said the majority were not clean hits. While the paper praised Nolan's performance, it also claimed McCormick was every much his equal so that "Paterson has furnished two of the best amateur pitchers in the country."  "Amateur" was clearly a relative term.

Paterson about 1870

After a hurried round trip to Binghamton the Buckeyes returned to Paterson on the morning of the 20th for the second game of the series that very afternoon, a contest, the Guardian praised as "the finest game ever played in this vicinity."  McCormick was even more impressive this time, shutting out Columbus for eight innings only to be undone by Olympic errors that allowed the visitors to tie the game at 4-4 at which point it was called for darkness.  Showing his competitiveness, the paper reported McCormick "weeps and refuses to be comforted," but his performance after Columbus tied the game demonstrated beyond any doubt that he was destined for bigger things.  The Buckeyes had the winning run on third with no one out, doubtless thinking they were going to pull of a dramatic come from behind win.  McCormick would have none of it, striking out the next two hitters before retiring the final batter on a harmless fly ball.  Even though both games had ended in a tie, anyone not impressed with McCormick wasn't paying attention.  Although McCormick justifiably got most of the attention, Kelly and Nolan were waging their own personal duel.  After Nolan held his former teammate hit less in the first game, "the irrepressible Kelly" broke through in the second game supposedly allowing him to stand "several feet higher than usual."

New York Clipper - September 30, 1876

With one game left in the series, the Olympics had everything, but a victory and McCormick made sure the club didn't waste their last opportunity.  After allowing a run in the first inning, the Paterson pitcher shut out the Buckeyes the rest of the way for a 3-1 Olympic win the Daily Guardian justly believed was "a victory to be proud of and one that will be long remembered."  Kelly also "built his resume" with one of the fair/foul hits which he was reportedly "famous." That night a large crowd saw the Columbus team off at the depot on the 8:00 express to Binghamton, giving the visitors three cheers.  The Buckeye's more than returned the compliment, saying that the Olympics were the best "semi-professional nine" they had played over the course of their 60 game schedule.  While McCormick remained in Paterson to finish out the season, the following spring, he joined Nolan to give Columbus an all Paterson pitching staff, the first step on the way to a long and successful major league career. Although his stay with the Olympics was briefer than his teammates, the club had given him the best possible stage to display his skills and the big right hander seized the opportunity.  It was, as Shakespeare put it, a tide "taken at the flood."

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