July 4th 2006

Fort Mackinac and Baseball in 1885

The history of America’s pastime can be found in the most remote places. Few places are more remote than a fort built during the American Revolution to serve as a sentinel for the British. The fort is located on a limestone bluff overlooking the village streets of Mackinaw Island, Michigan, and the waters of Lakes Huron and Michigan. Now the Fort is the cornerstone of Michigan’s first state park, Mackinaw Island. As part of the restored Fort’s exhibits, I found on display an original bat used by the Fort’s soldiers on July 4th, 1885.

According to the display, “Soldiers enjoyed many recreational and sporting activities and even formed a baseball club complete with uniforms and equipment. On July 4th, 1885, the Fort Nine traveled to Cheboygan where they whipped the Diamond Baseball Club in a 17-10 slugfest.”

The Peerless Sporting Goods Company of Detroit, Michigan manufactured the bat. The bat measured approximately 36” in length. Style of the bat was a slender barrel with gradual taper, which ended with a mushroom knob, a very popular style of the time. No barrel end markings were present, and the centerbrand read:

B.P.L. (block letters)
Peerless (fancy script)
Detroit (block letters)

The bat was displayed in a glass case with a photograph on display of the Mackinaw 9 player holding this very bat. The photograph pictured the unidentified player dressed in a period uniform. The uniform consisted of:

Quilted baseball pants with belts
Bib Front shirt with collar and turtle neck. A block letter “M” stood for Mackinac Nine
Pillbox striped cap with short brim

A hand painted sign hung in the background which read, “Baseball at the Fort Grounds, at 3 Sharp”.

The photograph was crystal clear and allowed for a detailed study of the uniform, bat and background sign. The fact that the image was dated served as great provenance to help date the centerbrand and style of bat used during the early part of the introduction of baseball to America.


Troy R. Kinunen