Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dickey Pearce

One of the original members of the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1855, Dickey Pearce spent most of his adult life on the baseball field. For nearly three decades he covered the ground between second and third base as no other player in his time. Short, stout and slow of foot, Pearce did not look like a star athlete. But he made up for his physical limitations with what Henry Chadwick called "head work." He virtually invented the position of shortstop. A skillful fielder with an accurate and strong throwing arm, Pearce positioned himself on the infield according to the proclivities of the opposing batters and in anticipation of plays. He perfected the deceptive infield fly double play which became a standard defensive ploy until the infield fly rule was implemented. His knowledge of the game, judgment and competitive spirit more than made up for his size and lack of speed.

Pearce was equally innovative at the plate, becoming the prototypical leadoff hitter...he was an effective contact hitter who had a knack for getting on base ahead of his power-hitting Atlantic teammates. He took advantage of the existing rules by developing the "fair-foul" hit, an early variant of the drag bunt...

Pearce played 16 consecutive seasons for the Atlantics before the team broke up after the 1870 campaign. In 1871, Pearce and teammates Bob Ferguson and Joe Start moved to the New York Mutuals in the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. He returned to the reconstituted Atlantics for the 1873 and 1874 seasons and played in every game. In 1874, Pearce led the team in batting average, on base percentage, runs, hits, and RBIs. Pearce joined with his former teammate Lip Pike to play for the St. Louis Browns in 1875 and 1876. In 1877, he played for Providence for most of the season, returning to St. Louis to complete his big league career.

Age did not diminish Pearce's enthusiasm for the game. Unwilling to hang up his spikes, he continued to play for local teams in the St. Louis area and later for various minor league clubs. With the spring thaw in March, back in Brooklyn Pearce could be seen playing with younger New York area professional players in preseason practice games at the Parade Grounds. But Pearce was no longer able to financially support himself and his family as a player. To honor Dickey's contribution to the game, in 1881 the New York Mets played a benefit match with a picked nine of veteran players captained by Pearce. The proceeds from the game allowed Pearce to open a "wine saloon" at 7 Boerum Street near the court house in downtown Brooklyn. The establishment became a sort of sports bar, decorated with mementos of Pearce's playing days and stocked with the latest sports weeklies.

Not content with a sedentary life, Pearce was forever drawn back to the diamond. On May 10, 1883, at the newly formed Brooklyn Base Ball Club's inaugural game at Washington Park, a New York Clipper reporter noticed Pearce among the crowd of spectators. According to the Clipper, Pearce was in trim shape and looking for an opportunity to captain and play infield for an Interstate League team. The following year, at age 48, Pearce did return to the playing field as the player-captain of the Quincy, Illinois, baseball club in the Northwestern League.

Although an injury in 1884 finally brought an end to Pearce's playing career, he had one final contribution to make to the game. With the formation of the short-lived Players League in 1890, Pearce was hired to help design and maintain the ballpark for the New York franchise. Constructed in 1890 at the northern end of Coogan's Hollow in 1891, the New York club's ball grounds would be renamed the Polo Grounds, the third and final incarnation of the park that would be home to the New York Giants. Pearce continued to work as a groundskeeper at the Polo Grounds for several years.

Upon his retirement, Pearce moved to Boston and later Cape Cod. He was somewhat of a local celebrity, appearing in numerous Old Timers Games. According to Christopher Price of the Barnestable Patriot (Cape Cod, Mass.), Pearce caught the flu while playing in a 1908 Old Timers Game in Boston. He returned to his Wareham, Massachusetts, home on Cape Cod where he died on September 18.
-From Long Before The Dodgers: Baseball in Brooklyn, 1855-1884 by James L. Terry

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