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League Confusion, 1890-1891
In 1890 Erie was part of the New York and Pennsylvania League (not to be confused with the 20th century New York-Penn League, which also featured an Erie team for many years). This is clear enough from newspaper accounts of the time, but for reasons unknown the league has sometimes been called the "Nypano League," or even the New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio League. But this confusion pales in comparison to the enduring story that Erie was once part of the Iron and Oil League.
The I&OL had three unsuccessful incarnations over parts of the 1884, 1895 and 1898 seasons, and while all three versions included towns in Northwest Pennsylvania, there is no evidence that Erie was ever one of them. In his history of Erie sports, John G. Carney claimed that the NY&PL was the successor to the I&OL, and that "in 1890, the Iron and Oil League was going strong." While it is true that several towns fielded teams in both leagues, there was a gap of several years between the demise of the original I&OL and the creation of the NY&PL.
Carney, who never credited any source in his book other than his own personal experience, may have relied on an article from 1938 by Frank Baumeister, former owner of the Erie Sailors (see below) who had said Erie was in the I&OL in 1890-91, the same years that it was actually in the NY&PL. In relating events from forty years before, Baumeister may have relied on faulty memory, and could have confused the two leagues that played in the same decade.
Complicating matters is the fact that the I&OL was often called the "Oil and Iron League." The Wheeling (WV) Register of May 8, 1883, reported that "The Keystone Club of Erie has organized ... a strong nine, and arrangements are being made to organize an oil and iron league." In June 1895 a notice appeared headed "BESEBALL SATURDAY" [sic] "The Warren club of the Oil and Iron league will cross bats with the Erie club at Athletic park Saturday afternoon. Go out and see Darling's men hustle the leaguers," suggesting that the "Erie club" was an independent team, not in any league, similar to the "Eries" of 1884. In July 1895 as the I&OL was failing, a report appeared stating "that after the Fourth the Oil and Iron league will go to pieces, ... and that Oil City and Washington clubs will join the inter-state league." The 1898 incarnation was no more successful.
The 1890 Erie team, referred to as the Drummers or the Eries, wore black uniforms with "Erie" in white across the jersey. While it's not clear where their home field was, it seems likely to have been the old Drummers field at 9th and Poplar, as the Times mentioned games would be played "at the Eighth street park." Other teams in the league included Bradford and Meadville, PA, and Dunkirk, Jamestown and Olean, NY.
In 1890, Jamestown manager Harry T. Smith told the Times that he had hired R. A. Kelly (or Kelley), of Plainfield, Illinois to play first base. Smith described Kelly as "an octoroon," who had led the Illinois and Indiana League in batting the previous year. He added that "At first there was some prejudice against him on account of his color, but his fine work at the bat and his gentlemanly qualities speedily made him popular."
Erie's 1890 opening day lineup included:
Samuel Gillen, SS
Daniel Shields, 2B
Manafee threw a one-hit shutout as Erie crushed Meadville 12-0. He pitched a no-hitter later in the season. Erie, managed by Perry McCully, finished second behind Jamestown in 1890, but because Dunkirk did not finish the season, Jamestown played fewer games than Erie, leaving the true pennant winner open to debate.
More controversy was created by the fact that in one of the last games of the season, one of the Erie outfielders dropped an easy fly ball, costing his team the game. At the time, rumors of gamblers "fixing" games to ensure that betting went their way were rife throughout baseball. This would culminate in the infamous Chicago "Black Sox" scandal of 1919, in which eight players were accused of throwing the World Series.
On February 26, 1891, the Erie Athletic Association applied for a charter as a corporation, the "object of which is the maintaining of public or private parks and of facilities for skating, boating, trotting, baseball, football, cricket, lawn tennis, and other innocent or athletic sports, including clubs for said purposes." It was capitalized at $2,500, and hired Depinet as president.
The NY&PL did not fare much better than the I&OL. Bradford and Meadville dropped out after the first season. Elmira was added to make a four-team circuit for 1891. The league disbanded before completing its second season, with Erie in first place. The team reported a loss of over $1,200 at the end of that season.