Today in baseball history: Baseball on ice

Getty Images
2 Comments

On February 4, 1861, 20 members of the Charter Oak and Atlantic Baseball Clubs organized a baseball game on a frozen pond in Brooklyn. According to both the New York Times and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the match was incredibly popular. Anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 spectators stopped by to watch the game unfold, crowding along the boundaries of the makeshift baseball field and the high banks surrounding it.

The players were surprisingly proficient in skating, and the Eagle notes that only one or two tripped on the ice after failing to stop at a base or calculate where the silver ball was about to land. In lieu of physical bases, the ice was marked with a “reddish coloring” where players were expected to stop, though the official rules eventually mandated that players skate past the marks in order to avoid injury.

After nine full innings, the game ended 36-27 in favor of the Atlantics. Whether they had more talented baseball players or just better skaters (or both) is difficult to say. They opened the game with an eight-run spread in the first inning and had worked up to an 18-2 lead by the third, while the Charter Oak club didn’t hit its stride until it broke out with seven runs in the fourth inning. The most productive player by far was Atlantic second baseman C. Smith, who singlehandedly contributed six runs for his team — though if any home runs were incorporated into the game, the Eagle doesn’t say how the players managed to avoid hitting the skaters and spectators who surrounded them.

“Baseball on ice” didn’t survive the end of the 19th century in the United States, but it provided some much-needed entertainment during the sport’s long winter hiatus and inspired other countries to take up the gimmick. Here’s some fun footage from a women’s baseball game in Toronto during the winter of 1924:

If there’s any remedy for a tedious offseason, it’s this.