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Editor’s Note: Another recurring feature of this newsletter will be articles on the expansion of baseball prior to 1871, when professional baseball leagues began. The article below was originally published in John Thorne’s MLB history blog, “Our Game.”
The United States’ neighbor to the south, Mexico, has in the last 100 years been a baseball hotbed, with its own Baseball Leagues, Mexican-born MLB stars such as Fernando Valenzuela, and even MLB games played in cities such as Monterrey.
Less well-known, and certainly less well-researched, are the origins of the game in Mexico. Traditional histories have focused on games played in Mexico by U.S, soldiers and sailors during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. However, given this early date, it is doubtful that the bat-ball games played were New York-rules baseball. More likely, the games were some predecessor game, such as Town Ball. In any event, the game didn’t seem to catch on with the locals.1
Other published histories point to 1882 games played in Mexico City, by teams of Americans resident in that city, or 1887, when a league of amateur baseball clubs, including some Latino players and clubs, formed in Mexico City, as marking the start of baseball in Mexico.2 However, to me this raised the question of why baseball came to Mexico so late. After all, prior to 1882, baseball had spread to areas much further away than Mexico, places such as Hawaii, China, Japan, Alaska, Scotland, and Cuba.3 This prompted my quest to find the “first game” in Mexico, and with that, the “first Mexican” baseball club.
Logically, the focus of such a search should start with those parts of Mexico that are closest to the U.S. In the era after the American Civil War, the standard points of entry to Mexico were El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville, Texas, with their corresponding across-the-Rio-Grande neighboring Mexican cities of Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros. Baseball started in Laredo and El Paso relatively late, but in Brownsville as early as 1866.4 Thus, I targeted Brownsville and Matamoros.
Matamoros in 1863, from Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Dec. 5, 1863
Brownsville, Texas developed as the southernmost port in Texas, a supply base for the US army garrisons at nearby Fort Brown and along the border with Mexico. The city was an “army town,” and attracted many northern-born settlers looking for commercial opportunities. Unlike other areas of Texas, this meant settlers who were potentially familiar with the new game of baseball, as well as garrison soldiers who grew up in New York City and had played the game already. The Rio Grande River separating Brownsville and its Mexican counterpart, Matamoros, was (and is) narrow. The two cities developed into what one early history called twin cities, with goods and people crossing from the one to the other every day.5 The American Civil War expanded the links between the two cities. At the start of the War, the Union navy blockaded all southern seaports, including Brownsville. However, under international law, the Union navy could not blockade Mexico, including Matamoros. In response the Confederacy transported cotton to the Rio Grande Valley and crossed it over to Matamoros, shipped it out, and in return imported into Matamoros needed war supplies such as rifles. Texans flocked to Matamoros to manage this trade, further cementing the American presence in the city.6
While newspaper runs from Matamoros for the 1860s and 1870s don’t exist, scholars can access the Brownsville Ranchero online. This newspaper, edited by a northern-born Confederate army sympathizer, was even published in Matamoros in 1865 and 1866, when the Union army occupying authorities banned its publication in Texas.
Fortunately for historians like myself, the Ranchero devoted time and space reporting local baseball games. The first known baseball game in Brownsville was played Nov. 22, 1866, between the 1st and 2nd nines of the Rio Grande Base Ball Club. The first nine won 15-6, in a 5-inning game.7 By 1867 games were regularly being played by the soldiers of the various regiments stationed at Brownsville. These games were generally played on the parade grounds of Fort Brown, the army post just southeast of Brownsville, and could easily be viewed from the Matamoros side of the river.8
The first definite report of baseball in Matamoros can be found late in 1868. On Dec. 16th the “Union” Base Ball Club of Matamoros sent a challenge to J. F. Cummings of the Brownsville Rio Grande club to play a game on Christmas Day in Brownsville, the game to be played under the New York rules of 1866. The challenge is signed by “Jos. F. Medrano,” club captain, “H.D. Schreck,” club Treasurer, and “Ed. N. Caceres,” club Secretary.9 I’ve identified these individuals as youthful, middle class Matamoros residents--Jose Telesforo Medrano Montalvo (1849-1932), Enrique (Henry) Schreck Munoz (1849-86), and Eduardo Nunez de Caceres Jiminez (1851-91).10
As can be seen, the Mexican team won rather easily. The above-named Schreck and Medrano played for the Union. The other players for the Union, and the umpire, have Hispanic names, and several can be identified as Matamoros residents.11
Late 1869 (games were generally played in the winter in this hot climate) saw other games played by the Union Club. A November game featured a soldier club playing a “picked nine” of civilians from the Rio Grande (4) and Union (5) clubs. The fact that Mexicans from Matamoros could be so readily mix with Anglos from Brownsville signifies both the good relations the two had, and the respect the Americans had for the Mexicans’ ballplaying abilities. Among the picked nine was “Kenedy,” presumably Elisha J. Kenedy (1838-1900), president of the Rio Grande Club. Elisha’s brother Mifflin Kenedy, the wealthiest man in Brownsville, was the business partner of Richard King, founder of the legendary King Ranch. The fact that a Kenedy headed and played for the local baseball club confirms the high social status the game enjoyed in Brownsville and Matamoros.12
A month later the Union Club played a “championship” series with the McClellan Club of Fort Brown, the games being played Dec. 12, 1869, and Jan. 16, 1870. The Union Club lost the first game, 22-16, but won the rematch, 38-30. It is unclear where the first game was played, but the second was played at Fort Brown.13
The first verified baseball game in Matamoros was played Sept. 18, 1870 between the Oriental Club of Matamoros, and the Ranger Club of Brownsville. These were “new” clubs—the Rangers are first mentioned by the Ranchero in 1870, and this is the first mention of the Oriental. Presumably the Oriental club comprised members of the Union Club, though unfortunately the Ranchero didn’t report on this game or give the names of the players.14
Major League Baseball is increasingly international, and the players increasingly Latino. This article makes clear that baseball in Mexico and Latin America has very early roots. The Matamoros Union Club of 1868 is the first baseball club yet found In Mexico. It predates “first clubs” in two states of the U.S.15 It may be the first Latino baseball club of Latin America, depending on how one evaluates the credibility of stories of early clubs in Cuba.16 And the 1870 game in Matamoros is the first verified game in Mexico played under the rules of baseball.
See Cesar Gonzalez Gomez, “March, Conquest, and Play Ball. The Game in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848,” Base Ball, Fall 2013, 13-22. See www.Protoball.org for more on early baseball in Mexico and the United States.
2 See Protoball.org and sources cited therein. See also Alan Klein, Baseball on the Border. A Tale of Two Laredos (Princeton U. Press, 1997); Peter Bjarkman, Diamonds Around the Globe. The Encyclopedia of International Baseball (Greenwood Pub. Group, 2005); William Beezley, Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes of Porfirian Mexico (U. of Nebraska Press, 2004). In his blog, latinbaseballorigins.wordpress.com, Cesar Gonzalez Gomez identifies an Oct. 21, 1869 game played at Fort Brown, Brownsville, by the Union Club of Matamoros. as the first game by a Mexican club.
4 Brownsville in 1866; Laredo in 1879; El Paso in 1883. See Protoball.org for baseball in their Mexican counterparts.
5 For more on these two cities, see W.H. Chatfield, The Twin Cities of the Border… (1893).
6 See Jerry Don Thompson and Lawrence T. Jones, Civil War and Revolution on the Rio Grande Frontier (Texas State Historical Assn., 2004) for a history of the Civil War on the Rio Grande. Unfortunately for the Confederacy, at the time south Texas wasn’t connected by railroad to the rest of the Confederacy, and goods to and from Brownsville had to be hauled by wagon trains across hundreds of miles of dirt roads. These transportation difficulties reduced the flow of needed supplies to a trickle.
7 Brownsville Daily Ranchero, Nov. 23, 1866.
8 Cf. Brownsville Daily Ranchero, Feb. 21, 1867, Oct. 23, 1869, Sept. 22, 1870; New York Clipper, July 25, 1868.
9 Brownsville Daily Ranchero, Dec. 16, 1868. The name “Union” is probably a reference to the Federal Union of the Mexican states, rather than a reference to the United States.
10 Schreck’s father was German-American, but his mother was Mexican. The Schreck family owned a large grocery business in Matamoros. Medrano clerked in a store in Brownsville before opening up his own shop in Matamoros
11 I have tentatively identified several of the other players as Matamoros residents.
12 The player may have been Mifflin’s teenage son Thomas Mifflin Kenedy, whose mother was Hispanic.
3 Brownsville Daily Ranchero, Dec. 11, 14, 1869, Jan. 15, 18, 1870.
4 Brownsville Daily Ranchero, Sept. 17, 1870. While the location of the game isn’t reported, later baseball games in Matamoros were played at the Garita de Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Ferry), near the present-day Gateway International Bridge.
5 North and South Dakota. See Protoball.org.
6 See Protoball.org entries for Cuba. The 1868 date for Havana baseball is based on a 1924 newspaper interview
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