Games People Play: William W. Temple and Early California Baseball, 1867-1875

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This morning, the Homestead’s Book Club met to discuss Warren Goldstein’s Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball, which examined how the American sport transitioned from amateur fraternal organizations to professional clubs, the first of the latter being the Cincinnati Red Stockings (better known as the Reds), which formed in 1869.

As often is the case, I dropped in at the end of the meeting to share artifacts from the Museum’s collection related to the topic and this morning I brought out just a small sample of objects connected to baseball prior to 1930. Included was a great 1920s piece of sheet music with the song about the legendary George H. (Babe) Ruth, who was more transformative a figure than anyone for that sport through at least World War II. There was also an instructional book by the Spalding sporting goods company about how to hit and run bases.

An 1869 carte de visite portrait from the Homestead’s collection, taken in Santa Clara, of William W. Temple in a military uniform.

These general items were complemented by some local materials, included several connected to Wrigley Field, the South Los Angeles stadium built by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., owner of the Chicago Cubs and the Pacific Coast League semi-pro club, the Los Angeles Angels, as well as the owner of Santa Catalina Island where the Cubs conducted spring training. Included were a press ticket, a few snapshots of the venue (with one of Wally Hood of the Angels, a Whittier native and outfielder who played briefly in the majors in the early 20s), and one of two official scorecards for Wrigley Field in our collection—we’ll spotlight this great item in late March, so look for that.

Finally, the earliest baseball-related artifact in the Homestead’s holdings and one that goes back to the earliest days of the sport in California, is an 1867 honorary membership certificate issued to William W. Temple, the 16-year old son of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, for the Young Original Base Ball Club, comprised of students at Santa Clara College. Temple was a student in the high school department of the institution, but it is not clear whether he was one of “the nine” who played for the team or not.

A “Certificate of Honorary Membership” to the Young Original Base Ball Club at Santa Clara College (now University) to William Temple, 8 June 1867 and in the Museum’s collection.

Within a couple of years, however, Temple was on the squad of another Santa Clara team, the Phoenix Base Ball Club, and in the 13 March 1869 edition of the Los Angeles Star newspaper, a correspondent only known as “SUBSCRIBER” sent a box score and a very brief game description, the latter of which read,

A very interesting and well contested game of base ball was played on Saturday, March 6th, in Santa Clara, between the well-known “Phoenix” base ball club of Santa Clara College, and the “Numean” club, of the Pacific Institute. The game lasted nearly three hours, but finally terminated in favor of the “Phoenix” club by 9 runs.

The box score showed that the Phoenix first baseman was Temple, who bested all players by scoring 6 runs in the 32-23 contest (yes, baseball games then often had such elevated scores!) The teams were evenly matched through four innings with Phoenix holding a one-run lead, but then going scoreless for three frames and allowing eight runs, so that Numean was up 23-17 before Temple’s team unleashed 15 runs in the final two innings to run away with the game. It seems obvious, of course, that “SUBSCRIBER” was Temple, who concluded by stating, “you will oblige the undersigned by inserting this in your publication.”

Los Angeles Star, 13 March 1869.

Temple graduated from Santa Clara and then returned home to the family’s Rancho La Merced in the Whittier Narrows area near today’s South El Monte, where he was recorded in the 1870 census that summer.  By early 1871, however, he was back in the Bay Area, specifically in San Francisco where he “read law” as a student with the well-known firm of John J. Williams and James D. Thornton, the latter went on later to serve on the California Supreme Court.

While he pursued his legal education, however, Temple decided to continue his participation in amateur baseball, as well, and the 25 February 1871 edition of the Anaheim Gazette briefly noted that,

William Temple, Esq., of Los Angeles, son of F.P.F. Temple, Esq., has been elected Vice-President of the Wide Awake Base Ball Club of Oakland.  Mr. Temple is a law student in San Francisco, but resides in Oakland with his brother T.W. Temple, Esq., a student in the University.  William also belongs to the first six of the first nine which is about to play for the Champion bat with the Eagle Club of Oakland.

Temple’s older brother, Thomas, a former club official in Los Angeles with the Gazette’s publisher, George W. Barter (who later in 1871 took over the Los Angeles Star newspaper), was likely attending the University of California in adjacent Berkeley and the last reference appears to mean that William batted in the top of the order for the upper-level cohort of his club as it prepared for the big game against the Eagle team.

San Bernardino Guardian, 23 July 1870.

A San Francisco Chronicle article from a few weeks later included a brief history of baseball in the Golden State, noting that the Eagle club was the first to organize in California, forming in San Francisco in late November 1859.  On Washington’s Birthday the following February, the squad squared off against the Red Rovers and this first recorded contest in the state was at a 33-33 stalemate after nine innings when the Red Rovers refused to continue in a dispute over how J.C. Whitlock of the Eagles was pitching (the guy allowed 33 runs!) and the came was called in favor of the latter.

The piece reviewed the history of other teams and observed that the Wide Awake club formed in 1866 and currently had 70 members with another 100 on the honorary roll.  It was noted that Temple was the 2nd Vice-President and was among the first nine as the team took on the Atlantics before meeting the Eagles for the purported state title.  A few published accounts of Wide Awake games in April and May, included an 18-16 loss to the Eagles with Temple, playing right field, scoring three runs, and a 61-6 shellacking of the Atlantics featuring him, positioned at first base, scoring seven times. 

Anaheim Gazette, 25 February 1871.

A 7 May contest against the Liberty club, however, was another close defeat, 29-26, and the Chronicle reported that Liberty’s pitcher, identified only as Miller, played a nifty little trick while in a rundown between third base and home, in which, as the Wide Awake catcher lunged toward him for a tag, Miller dropped to the ground and then nimbly sprung up and scampered home for one his five runs.  The president of the Eagles, however, personally handed his Wide Awake counterpart a letter before play began stipulating that any pretense that the game constituted a championship contest was false and that the Eagles laid claim to the bat that was the trophy.

The Star, in its 21 April edition, published a letter from San Francisco dated five days earlier and subscribed only by “T” in which it was noted that the Wide Awake and Eagle squads would play “for the champion bat of the State” on the 21st and named Temple as one the nine members of the former club. It was added that the team practiced at the “Clynton grounds” two-and-a-half miles northeast of Oakland and the club’s uniform was also described at some length. The piece then added,

I hope our worthy contemporaries in Los Angeles will arouse from their present state of lethargy, summon up their dropping spirits, and enter boldly into the Base Ball arena. What is to prevent them? They have the metal [mettle?], and with a little practice a first-class club can be easily established, and who known but at no distant day their brows may be crowned with victorious wreaths, and the champion bat, the emblem of superiority; be lodged within their hands.

It seems almost certain that this mildly mocking challenge was issued by Temple, though it isn’t quite the case that the Angel City lacked interest in the rapidly growing sport. The earliest located reference in the local press was from February 1868, though it was a general comment about clubs forming tournaments “for match wood-s

Oakland Transcript, 22 April 1871.

Temple’s submission of March 1869 was the second found reference and another in the Los Angeles News from September reported that the Cincinnati Red Stockings were in San Francisco to play local clubs. A March 1870 reprint in the Star of a “physical culture” article in a magazine noted that organized exercise of various kinds “has become a mania in the Northern States,” including “those wonderful base-ball players who break their fingers and sprain their ankles.” Early baseball players did not wear gloves and footwear was not specialized for their game, so these injuries were to be expected!

In fact, the 28 March 1871 edition of the Star reported that the City Base Ball Club was practicing in the “upper part” of Los Angeles, this being likely in the vicinity of the Elysian Hills where Dodger Stadium now is situated, but “one of the young men . . . struck the bat so forcibly with his head, that he was knocked senseless, and remained so for some time.” It was added that a later statement on “the damage to person sustained by base ballers” included “broken heads, patched faces, and colored peepers [eyes].”

San Francisco Chronicle, 7 May 1871.

At the end of July, the paper recorded that “a young man in Washington has had an eye knocked out while playing base-ball” and that this was “a warning to all who feel a yearning for this base [!] and deadly game.” It added that a New York paper’s article on “A Good Game of Base-Ball” only warranted the response that “the only good game of base-ball is one that is indefinitely postponed.”

Yet, the earliest located reference to a club in the City of Angels was from the San Bernardino Guardian of 23 July 1870, which reported from the Star that the inland city’s Active Base Ball Club issued a challenge to the Phoenix squad of Los Angeles—that name may well be a clue that Temple, who was home at that time, as noted above, was a founder. It was added, though, that the Phoenix team temporarily folded “owing to the College vacation” though it was noted that “as soon as the absent members return to the city that challenge will doubtless be accepted.”

Star, 28 March 1871.

In early 1872, nearly a year after Temple’s prodding, the Star indicated that, as “the boys are becoming much excited over the subject of base ball since the abatement of the rains,” a couple of clubs were expected to be launched soon. In July, a former pupil of a local private teacher, springing to the educator’s defense among claims of cruelty to his charges, wrote, among other praiseworthy actions, Dr. T.H. Rose “bought us a base ball and bat so that we would stop gambling with marbles and tops.”

In 1874 and 1875, there were published accounts of baseball contests being carried out on Fort Moore and Bunker hills, while, in the new town of Santa Monica, an October 1875 account in the Los Angeles Express by “Q. Kumber” recorded that a steamship named Colima docked at the new wharf built by the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, whose treasurer was Temple’s father, and that among the 300 or so passengers were “a few who had tossed the ball in some of the professional clubs of New York and Philadelphia.” Harry Dupuy, captain of the Santa Monica Base Ball Club, fielded his nine and the home team prevailed over the ad hoc steamer squad by a score of 27-15. A few days later, the paper reported that Dupuy and others, including the sole Latino, Juan Tico, formed the Bonita Base Ball Club.

A humorous description of the Los Angeles Base Ball Club nine from the Los Angeles Express, 7 October 1874.

Just over a month later, Temple returned home after nearly some two years, during which time he completed the rigorous studies at the prestigious Harvard Law School and then went to London to study at the famous Inns of Court. He was deeply immersed in his work in England when word was sent to him of the suspension of the bank owned by his father and grandfather William Workman, for whom the young man was named. Temple rushed back to California and stayed for several weeks in San Francisco as his father negotiated a loan with Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin that, as expressed to Workman in a 20 November letter, was “on rather hard terms.”

There was likely no opportunity for the young attorney to take to the diamond as he plunged into intense and highly stressful efforts to assist his father and grandfather in the legal morass that worsened considerably with he failure of the bank in January 1876 and was followed by the placement of assets to a receiver and assignees, the suicide of Workman, and Temple’s untiring work to do what he could for the estate.

The account of “Q. Kumber” of a contest between the Santa Monica Base Ball Club and passengers from the steamship Colima from the Express, 12 October 1874.

In 1880, not long after Baldwin foreclosed on his loan and received a court judgment allowing him to take legal possession of tens of thousands of acres of Workman and Temple land put up as collateral for the loan, a worn-out and despairing William Temple returned to San Francisco, joined the Army, and stayed away from Los Angeles for some thirty years, much of it spent in México. He came back as the revolution of 1910 wracked the country and, in poor health, lived most of his remaining years in hospitals. He died in 1917 at age 65, a shell of his formerly athletic self, just a few months before his younger brother, Walter, who received legal advice from William, celebrated the first oil well on his Whittier Narrows ranch near Montebello that vaulted him and his family into a quick and substantial fortune.

Baseball, meanwhile, was an obsession with two of William’s nephews, the younger sons of Walter: Walter, Jr. and Edgar. The brothers were fine musicians and excellent athletes at school and, for example, were standouts on the baseball team at their high school, Dummer Academy of South Byfield, Massachusetts, not far from where their older brother, Thomas, followed William’s footsteps by earning a degree at Harvard Law School. A future post in he “Games People Play” series may be in the offing concerning the Temple brothers and their passion for the game and the context of Angel City baseball during the Roaring Twenties!

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