Friday, April 4, 2008

Lip Pike

Reputed to be organized baseball's first Jewish player and manager, Lip Pike began playing with junior clubs in Brooklyn in the early 1860's. In 1866, he joined the Philadelphia Athletics where he quickly became one of the league's leading hitters. Pike returned to New York the following year and played two seasons for the Mutuals. The Tammany Hall connections he made with the Mutuals would pay off for Pike in his latter years.

In 1869 Pike joined the Atlantics where for two seasons he played second base in all 106 Atlantic contests. In 1869 he was the team's second leading hitter behind first baseman Joe Start. Pike was an outstanding fielder and base-runner, but he was particularly known as a dead-pull left-handed power hitter. In its 1893 tribute to Pike, the Sporting News described his hitting prowess: "in his day he could hit the ball as hard as any man in the business...during his career (he) had sent the ball over the right field fence of nearly every park in which he had played." According to the New York Times, Pike once hit a towering drive that struck and bent the flagpole high atop the pagoda in the outfield at Union Grounds in Brooklyn.

From 1871 through 1875, Pike played for a succession of National Association clubs: Troy, Baltimore, Hartford, and St. Louis. He batted .321 for the five seasons, and doubled as player-manager for Troy in 1871 and Hartford in 1874. Pike continued his outstanding hitting, batting .323 for St. Louis when they joined the National League in 1876. In 1877, he moved to Cincinnati where he batted .298. Pike completed his final full season in 1878, batting .311 for Cincinnati and Worcester.

Pike played in several games for Bill Barnie's minor league Atlantics in 1881 and played in a few matches for Worcester. In 1887, he played one final game with the New York Mets of the American Association, going hitless in four times at bat. Pike turned to umpiring, officiating in American Association games in 1887 and 1889, and in the National League in 1890. With his playing days at an end, Pike also worked for the Tammany Hall political machine, and according to the Sporting News operated a "sporting resort" near the Brooklyn Bridge.

In the early morning hours of October 10, 1893, Lip Pike died at the age of 48 at his home at 106 North Oxford Street in Brooklyn. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "Many wealthy Hebrews and men high in political and old time base ball circles attended the funeral service." Pike was buried in Cypress Hill Cemetery.

-From Long Before the Dodgers: Baseball in Brooklyn, 1855-1884

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