Harry Smith was not particularly noted for his ability to hit the baseball.
But the Salad Birds team member had his eyes on the prize when he went up to bat during the May 25, 1911 season opener against the Carlisle Shoe Factory.
“He had several fine hits,” The Evening Sentinel reported. “One was a home run, the ball going almost as far as the West Street steps to the Franklin High School building. There was yelling and cheering aplenty when Harry went the rounds of the bases.”
Not only did Smith help the Birds soar to a 14-0 victory, but he also won for himself a fine new baseball glove. Dr. Jay Benfer, the popular pharmacist at Pitt and Louther streets, offered the mitt as the prize for the first home run of the season.
Five hundred fans gathered at Franklin Field, which was located at the junction of West Willow and South West streets. The weather that day was ideal for a game that was so one-sided, the only thing that made it interesting was its status as the season-opener.
The only close call for the Birds came in the top of the first inning when the shoemaker shortstop managed to get to first base after hitting the ball deep into center field. He was called out while trying to steal second base.
The Birds came out hitting in the bottom of the first to score three quick runs. The score remained at 3-0 until the fourth inning when the Birds had solid hits from five players to widen the lead to 8-0. They held the shoe factory team scoreless in the fifth and final inning to get the one-sided victory.
Birds vs. Indian School
Later that season, the Birds took on teams from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School on three different outings, defeating them each time. The first game was held at Franklin Field on Friday, June 9, 1911.
Unlike the season-opener, this game was close and, at one point, the score was tied 3-3. But the plays were not the only source of excitement. This game pointed out a fundamental design flaw in the layout of Franklin Field when an Indian school player knocked down a female spectator while trying to catch a ball to left field. There were no report of any injuries, but the proximity of players to fans was clearly a topic of discussion.
“How to keep the people out of the way and yet give them an opportunity to see the game is a puzzling question for the management,” The Evening Sentinel reported on June 10. “They (the fans) disregarded the rope Friday evening. Why not rent a lot of chairs at ten cents each?”
The second game took the Birds to Carlisle Barracks where they defeated the Indians 8-2 in six innings. A player named Sarcine pitched eight strikeouts and gave up seven hits while a Birds player named Goodheart pitched four strikeouts and four hits. “The Birds are fast improving in base running and with a little more hard work will become proficient,” The Sentinel reported.
A month later, on July 14, the undefeated Salad Birds flew back into Carlisle Barracks to trounce an Indian school team 5-0. Birds pitcher Frank Hart was “simply invincible,” The Sentinel reported on July 15. But the home team had its own champion.
“Dr. Hess, the Indian School physician, covered first in fine style,” the newspaper reported. “He is suffering from a sore knee caused by the game Wednesday evening on Franklin Field, when he distinguished himself by making a phenomenal catch. Dr. Hess we learn was a star in his college days.”
The 1911 winning record carried over for the Birds in 1912. What’s more the legacy was remembered by the Carlisle community. On Wednesday, Aug. 5, 1936, The Sentinel published an article about how several members of the 1912 team were planning to return to the diamond to play in the Old-Timers game that Friday on Masland Field.
“Many fans remember the Salad Birds of 1912, when this team played 25 games and lost only two of them,” The Sentinel reported. “The Birds made a winning streak of 22 straight games after getting away in a mediocre start that season.” The proceeds from the charity Old-Timers game went to Carlisle community ambulance maintenance fund.
Team name trivia
Before his death in October 2013, Carlisle resident and amateur historian Jack Mullen conducted research into the bygone days of local baseball. He compiled his findings into a written record titled “The Crack of the Bat in Old Cumberland,” which is stored in the archives of the Cumberland County Historical Society.
While “Crack of the Bat” included a list a team names of the past, there was no explanation on how the Salad Birds and other exotic names got their origin. “Salad birds” is an alternate name for the American goldfinch, according to the Cornell Lab or Ornithology. According to the Urban Dictionary, “throwing salad” involves a pitcher who doesn’t throw with much speed.
In his research, Mullen also found references to the Undines, the Utopias, the Prospects, the Flickers, the Hi Boys, the Little Potatoes, the Big 8s and the Wannabes. Other teams derived their names from local employers including Minerva Mills, Stambaugh Dairy, Frog and Switch, Narrow Ribbon Mill, Montgomery Wards and the Carlisle Meat Market – the originator of the Giant Food Stores chain.
Mullen traced the history of baseball in Cumberland County to the Union Army units stationed at Carlisle Barracks during the Civil War era. “The seed had been planted in conflict, but the tired beaten bodies from that war spawned the game from villages, towns and cities throughout the county,” he wrote.
The growth of baseball locally was influenced by Native American athletes who came to the area as Carlisle Indian Industrial School students, Mullen said. He cited a case where a Boiling Springs team was short of four players in a game against a Mount Holly Springs team. Rather than concede, a Boiling Springs player jumped into his horse and buggy and hightailed it to the campus where he “retrieved” four American Indian students to take to the game.
“The game was played but, needless to say, Boiling Springs lost the game and perhaps Capt. Pratt learned of this incident but never again was an Indian (sic) kidnapping observed in any further newspaper microfilm,” Mullen wrote.
Teams from the late 1870s centered on a name connected with the town where they were organized. However, by the mid-1880s, team names began to relate more to industries operating within the county. “These industries were the workplaces for the majority of the baseball players,” Mullen wrote. “The industries supported the teams for their uniforms, travel and essential gear.”
At first, newspaper coverage was rather sparse with no box scores or mention of player names or statistics. Gradually, more details were added as baseball and the print media grew. This created a feedback loop that generated fan interest and promoted newspaper circulation.
“Certainly a bond formed that built pride, competition and esteem throughout the communities,” Mullen said. “For the most part, the players were great fans of the game and just ‘average Joes’ who loved the game and enjoyed the competitiveness with his teammates and his foes.”