The last time there wasn’t a professional baseball game played in the U.S. in the month of April was 1883. That year, opening day was May 1; and the Chicago White Stockings, now known as the Cubs, won the first of 59 games (out of 98). One of their top players was a homegrown local man — Abner Dalrymple; born in Gratiot and buried in Warren.
Celebrating the town’s sesquicentennial in 1993, Jim Nielsen, the Warren High School baseball coach, wanted to honor the hometown hero that had been all but forgotten.
“We made replica baseball cards of him,” Nielsen said.
In the time before the internet, Nielsen had to dig deep to find information on Dalrymple — including making the trek to baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
“They let me into the back rooms to do some research. They have the bat he received from the National League engraved with silver from the year he led baseball (1878) in batting average,” Nielsen said.
A plaque was also dedicated to Dalrymple at Meridian Park, just outside the fence near home plate.
“That was the last time we did anything for him,” Nielsen said.
Abner Dalrymple’s backstory
Dalrymple was born Sept. 9, 1857, near Gratiot. By the time he was a teenager, he was living about six miles away in Warren and working as a brakeman on the Illinois Central Railroad. He played baseball for various traveling teams, including a hometown club from Warren, a club from Freeport, and a team made up of railroad co-workers.
In 1876 he joined the Milwaukee Grays, then of the League Alliance. Two years later, the club joined the National League and Dalrymple led all hitters in batting average at .354. In the offseason, White Stockings player-manager Cap Anson, a baseball Hall of Famer, reportedly paid $2,500 to buy Dalrymple from Milwaukee, and then paid him $300 per month — said to be the highest on the team.
While the rate of inflation would put that amount at about $67,000 in 2019, it was nearly the amount the league’s highest paid player that year would make — Al Spalding, who played for Chicago before hanging up his cleats in 1877 and moving into the role of team president and co-owner.
Dalrymple led the league in batting average as a rookie with the Milwaukee Grays in 1878. In 1885 he led baseball in home runs with 11 — though the year before that he hit 22. Teammate Ned Williamson had 27 that same year, a single-season home run record that would last 35 years until a 24-year-old Boston slugger named Babe Ruth set a new record. Ruth would break his own record three more times.
Dalrymple played 12 seasons in the top tiers of professional baseball, playing the final three years of his career with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and then the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association. He had 43 career home runs, 407 RBIs, 1,202 hits, 813 runs and just 359 strikeouts in 951 games. He had a career batting average of .288. At one point, Dalrymple held five major league career records, none of which still stand: runs, RBIs, extra base hits, total bases and walks.
Dalrymple’s White Stockings in the 1880s
The White Stockings were one of the prolific dynasties of any era. Thanks to a lack of free agency, the club was routinely able to hang onto its best players. Many of the team’s batting marks and winning percentage from the late 1870s into the 1880s stood for years — and some still to this day. The club’s roster had some of the game’s best players in that era, like Anson, Williamson, George Gore, Bob Ferguson and Hall of Fame outfielder King Kelly. Dalrymple, a left-handed hitting outfielder, was the team’s leadoff man.
Chicago had the highest team batting average five years in a row and won three league titles from 1880-82. The 140 team home runs hit in 112 games in 1884 was a record that stood until the 1927 New York Yankees, with a lineup consisting of Ruth and Lou Gehrig and dubbed “Murderer’s Row.” The Yankees played 154 games that season, hitting 155 home runs.
In 1879, the White Stockings finished fourth in the NL with a 46-33 record. The following season, the White Stockings blew the top off of the baseball world, winning 67 of 84 games. The club averaged 6.4 runs a game and hit a collected .279 — and that was not even the best season during Dalrymple’s time in the Windy City.
From White Stockings to Cubs
Founded in 1876, the Chicago White Stockings joined the National League as a charter member club. Owner William Hulbert brought in several of the game’s best players, including Al Spalding, a pitcher, and Cap Anson.
Spalding, of Byron, Illinois, is widely known as the first player to write down the rules of baseball, including issuing the rule that only Spalding-made balls be used. In 1874, he and his brother opened their first sporting goods store. Spalding would go on in his post-playing career to help develop the world of sporting goods, with his name branded on balls, gloves, clubs and bats.
Spalding’s playing career lasted just eight seasons, but he accumulated 252 wins and had a 2.14 earned run average. He was elected into the Hall of Fame 24 years after his death in 1939 alongside Anson, Comiskey, and Gehrig. It was just the fourth Hall of Fame class in baseball history.
The team quickly grew in popularity and prowess within the league, winning six league titles in 11 seasons. Anson, baseball’s first player to 3,000 career hits, was the team’s first baseman and manager, and oftentimes the club was referred to by fans and newspapers as either the Chicago Colts or Anson’s Colts.
After a dreadful losing season and ninth-place finish in 1897, Anson was released as both player and manager. The next season, newspaper writers penned the team as the “Orphans” in direct response to Anson’s departure.
Charlie Comiskey, who managed the Browns over Chicago in 1885 and 1886, also led franchises in Cincinnati and St. Paul (Minnesota). According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Comiskey received permission in 1900 to put a team in Chicago, so long as he didn’t use the city’s name. He chose “White Stockings,” a dig at his old rival. Shortened to White Sox, the club won the American League in 1901.
Spalding sold the National League Chicago team in 1902 to Jim Hart, and the Chicago Daily News nicknamed the club the “Cubs,” however the name didn’t become official for five more years.
In 1906, the Cubs set the record for the highest modern winning percentage, but lost to Comiskey’s White Sox in the World Series. The Cubs finally reached the summit of baseball glory in 1907 and 1908, winning the World Series over the Detroit Tigers and the New York Giants. It would be 108 years until its next title, the longest drought in American history.
In 1881, Chicago again won the NL (56-28), this time averaging 6.5 runs per game and a .295 team batting average. The reign on the NL continued in 1882, as the White Stockings (55-29) took home the pennant, hitting .277 with an eye-opening 7.1 runs per game. Chicago played its games at Lake Front Park.
The second-place finish in 1883 still saw the team hit .273 and average 6.9 runs a game, despite an added 14 games to the schedule. In 1884, another 14 games were added to the schedule, but this time the White Stockings struggled to fifth place (62-50) despite averaging 7.4 runs and a .281 team batting average.
It was in 1884 that Dalrymple’s career high of 22 home runs put him among the most powerful hitters of the era. Williamson’s 27 HRs paced the league, with teammate Fred Pfeffer finishing second with 25 and Anson fourth at 21.
Chicago played its games at Lakefront Park on the site of the old Union Baseball Grounds that had burned during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The dimensions of the ballparks in the 19th century were much different than in today’s game. Many fields were very shallow along the foul lines, and incredibly deep in center field. Lakefront Park, however, was shallow all the way around — the left field foul pole stood about 186 feet from home plate, compared to the right field pole at 196 feet. Center field was a mere 300 feet away.
The next season, the club opened a new park, West Side Park No. 1, which would be used until 1891. The foul lines were 216 feet from home plate to the pole, while center field was hundreds of feet deeper. The updated West Side Park field, dubbed No. 2, was used over the two decades until another field was built, since renamed Wrigley Field, which is still used today.
Beginning of a rivalry
In 1885, the White Stockings won 87 games in the regular season — a winning percentage of .776, with only the 1880 season mark of .798 being higher. Those marks, plus the 1876 White Stockings (52-14) are the three highest marks by percentage in the history of the NL, with the 1906 Cubs (116-36, .763) the highest of the modern World Series era at the turn of the 20th century.
“He was a big guy for his time and had a really good arm — he led the league in outfield assists one year,” Nielsen said. Dalrymple is listed as 5-feet, 10-inches tall and weighing 175 pounds by one organization, and 6-feet, 1 ½-inches by another.
In 1885 and 1886, the White Stockings played the St. Louis Browns in the end-of-season championship series, the predecessor to today’s World Series. The first year, the two teams played to a 3-3-1 series tie. The second year, St. Louis won the best-of-seven game series in six. The rivalry between the two ball clubs has lasted ever since, as the franchises are now known as the Cubs and the Cardinals.
For the 1885 season, the National League and American Association pitted their two top teams against each other at the end of the season. The Charlie Comiskey-managed St. Louis Browns went 79-33 in the regular season. The two teams ended the series in a tie. Dalrymple hit one of just two home runs in the entire series, in which Chicago outscored St. Louis 55-42.
In 1886, the leagues added even more games, playing 124 in the regular season. The White Stockings went 90-34, while the Browns finished 93-46. In the World Series, St. Louis won 4-2, but not without some fireworks, according to the weekly newspaper Sporting News.
St. Louis led the 3 games to 2 headed into Game 6. Visiting Chicago scored a run in each the second and fourth inning, and the home crowd began getting rowdy. According to the Chicago Tribune, “several thousand men jumped on the field and demanded the game be declared off. The players were surrounded, the umpire threatened and time was called. The police then formed in line and drove the crowd back. Play was then resumed.”
Chicago made it 3-0 in the sixth inning before unraveling. In the eighth inning, a throwing error allowed a run to score.
In Alfred H. Spink’s “The National Game,” written in 1911, Spink recalled a story in which Dalrymple was told by Brown’s hitter Arlie Latham to move back and play deeper in the outfield. Dalrymple instead moved in, anticipating Latham trying to dump in a soft hit.
With two outs and two men on base, Latham sent a hard line drive that was misplayed by Dalrymple, which allowed the tying run to score. It was ruled a triple in the scorebook.
St. Louis won in the 10th inning and each Browns player took home and extra $580 for the win, which was more than double the normal season salaries at the time.
Dalrymple is quoted by the Sporting News as saying “Goodbye, boodle. Goodbye.”
While the official scorebook said the play was a triple and not an error, Chicago players and club faithful saw it differently. The Sporting News quoted several players and the owner on the series. Outfielder George Gore supposedly said, “Dal did not see that ball Latham knocked. He was asleep at that time and dreaming about the boodle.”
Outfielder Jimmy Ryan claimed that “if that ball had come to me instead of to Dal, I’d of chewed the hide off it.”
Spalding said that Dalrymple should have caught it. Utility player King Kelly said he didn’t know if the ball could have been caught.
Years later in the Dec. 31, 1898 issue of Sporting News that re-told the story of the game, while leaving the field, Anson reportedly told Dalrymple “You can’t play ball for me anymore, Dal.” Anson denied the quote, and in his biography years later said that Dalrymple was a good batter, but only “an ordinary left fielder.” However, less than three months into the offseason, Dalrymple was sold to Pittsburgh. Kelly and Gore also were sent out of town to Boston and New York.
Dalrymple played two lackluster years while suffering from an undisclosed illness in Pittsburgh, hitting .233 and .212 with just two home runs combined for both years. He spent the 1889, 1890 and most of the 1891 seasons playing in the Western Association with Denver and Milwaukee. Milwaukee, then renamed the Brewers, moved into the American Association in 1891 to replace the Cincinnati Porkers.
Dalrymple hit .311 with a home run, 22 RBIs and 31 runs in 32 games in Milwaukee after the move to the American Association.
Locally-born players that have reached Major League Baseball
According to Baseball-Reference.com, there have been 14 Major League players born in the stateline region in southwestern Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois. Many played for just a handful of games at most, usually filling in for a team in need of a player while traveling from town to town. Only two were born after World War II.
Player, Birthplace, Born, Years Active, Teams
Abner Dalrymple, Gratiot, 1857 1878-91, Mil./Chi. White Stockings/Pitt.
Cal Broughton, Magnolia, 1860 1883-88, Cleveland/Mil./STL/NY Metropolitans
Charlie Dougherty, Darlington, 1862 1884, Altoona Mountain City
Dick Lowe, Evansville, 1854 1886, Detroit Wolverines
Charlie Newman, Juda, 1868 1892, NY Giants, Chicago Colts
John “Jack” Callahan, Freeport, 1874 1898, St. Louis Browns
Homer Hillebrand, Freeport, 1879 1905-08, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ernie Ovitz, Mineral Point, 1885 1911, Chicago Cubs
Tom Tennant, Monroe, 1882 1912, STL Browns
Jack Enzenroth, Mineral Point, 1885 1914-15, STL Browns/KC Packers
Stan Sperry, Evansville, 1914 1936-38, Phil. Phillies/Phil. Athletics
Johnny Gerlach, Shullsburg, 1917 1938-39, Chi. White Sox
Jason Pearson, Freeport, 1975 2002-03, San Diego Padres/St. Louis Cardinals
Tuffy Gosewisch, Freeport,* 1983 2013-active, Ariz. D-backs/Sea. Mariners/Mil. Brewers
*Moved with family to Arizona in childhood
After his major league career was over, he spent four more seasons traveling around the minor leagues, playing in places like Spokane (Washington), Burlington (Iowa), Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Macon, Georgia.
“He switched leagues a few times. They didn’t have free agency like we do today, so he kind of demanded his release and shopped for the best price. It probably cost him some stature in the game, but it filled his wallet a little better,” Nielson said. “He was a self-promoter and did well for himself.”
His career came to an end in September 1894 while playing for Indianapolis, when he collided with Toledo infielder Jim Connor. Dalrymple broke his leg. He attempted one last comeback in 1895 at age 37 with independent club Burlington (Iowa) and played 48 games with the Evansville (Indiana) Blackbirds of the Southern League, hitting .314 before calling it quits.
Dalrymple and life after baseball
Dalrymple had a few colorful incidents over the years on the diamond. During one game against Worcester in 1882, he asked Spalding to move down a couple of chairs while watching the game. According to the Chicago Herald, Dalrymple said “That was the seat Harry Wright occupied during the games we had with his club.” After Spalding moved, Chicago scored three runs in the inning, winning 5-1.
In another game in 1880, Dalrymple robbed Boston’s Ezra Sutton of a grand slam, but not in the traditional way. A smoke haze had settled over the field, and when the ball was launched over Dalrymple’s head, he reached into his shirt and grabbed another baseball — one he kept in for an emergency, he recalled years later — then put the fresh ball in his glove and stretched as if he caught it for the third out.
In 1886, Dalrymple married a woman named Minnie and in 1892 he began working for the Northern Pacific Railroad in the offseason. He spent 36 years working for the railroad, starting as a brakeman and later serving as a conductor on passenger trains. He and Minnie lived in Morris, Minnesota, a small town in the west-central part of the state for over three decades.
In the 1920s the pair split, and Abner returned to Warren where he married Margaret Adderson Glasgow, a widow. He retired from the railroad in 1928.
Abner died in Warren on Jan. 25, 1939 at age 81 after suffering from an illness. The illness began in the early months of that winter, and he traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas for treatment, but found no relief according to his necrology, or obituary at the time. He was buried at Elmwood Cemetery and has a plaque dedicated in his honor at Meridian Park in Warren. His wife died in 1954.
Years later, Nielsen’s son bought the Dalrymple’s house near the Methodist church by the high school.
“It turns out his wife liked hats,” Nielsen said. They uncovered a roomful of hats, some used once at most, and others that looked as if they had never been worn. “Between his playing career and the railroad, he had made a good amount of money. So he bought her hats.”
Abner Dalrymple career MLB statistics
According to Baseball-Reference.com
YEAR TEAM GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS
1878 MIL 61 271 52 96 10 4 0 15 6 29 -- -- .354 .368 .421 .789
1879 CHI 71 333 47 97 25 1 0 23 4 29 -- -- .291 .300 .372 .672
1880 CHI 86 382 91 126 25 12 0 36 3 18 -- -- .330 .335 .458 .793
1881 CHI 82 362 72 117 22 4 1 37 15 22 -- -- .323 .350 .414 .764
1882 CHI 84 397 96 117 25 11 1 36 14 18 -- -- .295 .319 .421 .739
1883 CHI 80 363 78 108 24 4 2 37 11 29 -- -- .298 .318 .402 .720
1884 CHI 111 521 111 161 18 9 22 69 14 39 -- -- .309 .327 .505 .832
1885 CHI 113 492 109 135 27 12 11 61 46 42 -- -- .274 .336 .445 .782
1886 CHI 82 331 62 77 7 12 3 26 33 44 16 -- .233 .302 . 353 .656
1887 PIT 92 358 45 76 18 5 2 31 45 43 29 -- .212 .311 .307 .618
1888 PIT 57 227 19 50 9 2 0 14 6 28 7 -- .220 .247 .278 .524
1891 MIL 32 135 31 42 7 5 1 22 7 18 6 -- .311 .345 . 459 .804
Total 951 4172 813 1202 217 81 43 407 204 359 58 -- .288 .323 .410 .732
Season Ave. 79.0 347.7 67.8 100.2 18.1 6.8 3.6 33.9 17.0 29.9 4.8 -- .288 .323 .410 .732