In the spring of 1998, several local fans banded together to form a tribute to the 1884 Grays, inspired by a league of similar historical base ball teams in New York. We learned the 1884 rules and style of play. Batters could call for their choice of high or low pitches. It took six balls to draw a walk. The pitcher threw from only fifty feet away. A few players wore only small gloves for protection. Most wore no gloves at all, and caught screaming line drives with their bare hands – or tried.
On June 20, 1998, we invited a New York club to Rhode Island for another “World Series” on the idyllic Bristol Common. The veteran New York team beat our nine in a doubleheader, 13-4 and 12-9. Though we showed our inexperience, there were promising moments, and fun was had by all.
15 years later, the Grays are still going strong, the longest run of any vintage team in New England. We’ve played games from New Jersey to Block Island to the Catskills, under rules from the 1850’s to 1898. We take great pride in the level of historical accuracy we’ve established, and we always aim to do better. We plan to use this site to record some of the lessons we’ve learned about vintage base ball and baseball history.
Rhode Island was a hotbed of baseball in the 1870s with several notable amateur clubs along with Brown University’s powerhouse collegiate team.
In 1875, the semi-pro “Rhode Islands” were formed. After successful seasons (along with excellent paid attendance) in 1875, 1876, and 1877, the team drew the attention of the recently formed National League. When the League elected to drop the Hartford franchise after the 1877 season, Providence was awarded a franchise to replace the Connecticut club. The new team was officially organized on January 16, 1878 by Benjamin Douglas, who became the team’s general manager. Henry Root was hired as the team president‚ and Tom Carey was initially hired to be the on-field captain, whose duties were similar to the modern-day manager.On January 21, 1878, Providence applied for membership in the NL, and was officially approved on February 6.
While the team practiced at the Dexter Training Ground in the spring of 1878, preparations were made to provide them with “the best baseball plant in the country”. Construction on the Messer Street Grounds began on April 1 and took exactly one month to complete; the final nail was hammered a mere five minutes before the opening game got underway on May 1.
In a break with tradition, the National League’s newest addition adopted gray flannel instead of white for their home uniform and the team became known as the ‘Grays’
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