Mt. Morris’s Roscoe Barnes was the Joe Morgan of his era

Mt. Morris’s Roscoe Barnes was the Joe Morgan of his era

Memorial in Roscoe Barnes’ honor at pocket park on the corner of Main and East State Streets, Mount Morris, NY (8/19/17) From Ross Barnes Is First Baseball Pioneer Honored in Monument Series

On Monday, Joe Morgan died at the age of 77. Morgan was the National League’s MVP in 1975 and 1976, the same years he led the Cincinnati Reds to World Series titles. Baseball historians generally rank Morgan as the second greatest second baseman of all time behind Rogers Hornsby. (see Itching for baseball and the 12th inning home run that Carlton Fisk hit and I missed)

(left) Baseball Digest, December 1975 and December 1976 [David Kramer’s collection]; (right) (l-r, t-b) Topps 1973, 1974 All Star Second Baseball, MLB 3-D Super Stars, 1975,  Topps 1977, 2002 Topps Archives Reserve, 1978, 1980, 1982 KMart 20th Anniversary 1975 MVP National League, 1976 MVP National League [David Kramer’s collection] From Itching for baseball and the 12th inning home run that Carlton Fisk hit and I missed

The Boston Daily Globe, 06 Feb 1915

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Nov 02, 1987

Less well known is that Charles Roscoe “Ross” Barnes, baseball’s first superstar second baseman, was born in Mt. Morris, later moving to Rockford, Illinois at age 15 or 16. Regarded by baseball historians as about the 5th best second baseman of all time, like Morgan, Barnes starred in the mid-70s.  In Barnes’ case, it was in the mid 1870s.

Barnes’ two best season’s were 1875 and 1876 when he led both Boston and Chicago to titles and led the National Association and the National League in multiple categories. Barnes’ seasons mirror Morgan’s 1975 and 1976 — exactly 100 years later — when Morgan led in eight categories to go along with his two MVP awards and two World Series rings.

Even less well known is that in 1878 Barnes returned to his boyhood region as a player coach for the International Association’s London [Ont.] Tecumsehs who played games against the Rochester Flour Cities (mostly known as the Rochesters) and the Hornellsville Hornells. (see below).

Unfortunately, for many years, Barnes’ connection with western NY was largely forgotten. As lamented in Bob Bickel’s 198 “Native son is ignored in Mt. Morris,” almost nobody in Mt. Morris had heard of Roscoe Conklin Barnes.

In 2017, the amnesia was corrected when a monument honoring Barnes was erected in Mt. Morris.¹

Memorial in Roscoe Barnes’ honor at pocket park on the corner of Main and East State Streets, Mt Morris, NY (8/19/17) From Ross Barnes Is First Baseball Pioneer Honored in Monument Series

The Ross Barnes Case” (Baseball History Daily) provides a worthwhile account of Barnes’ career:

Charles Roscoe “Ross” Barnes was one of the greatest players of his era, and largely forgotten today.

Barnes was a member Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stocking teams in the National Association from 1871-1875 and won the National League’s first batting title hitting .429 in 1876 as a member the Chicago White Stockings.

Ross Barnes

Teammates and contemporaries had no doubt about how good he was.

“Orator Jim” O’Rourke called Barnes “the greatest second baseman the game ever saw.”  In 1896, A.G. Spalding “declared Ross Barnes to have been the greatest ballplayer in America,” and Tim Murnane said of Barnes:

“His left-handed stops of hard-hit balls to right field were the prettiest stops ever made on the Boston grounds. As a base-runner no man of the present day is his equal, and as a batsman he must be reckoned very high.”

1871 Red Stockings. Spalding, standing second from left, Barnes, standing far right, O’Rourke, seated far left.

Some of Barnes’ success was due to the rule at the time regarding  balls that rolled foul in the infield, The Sporting Life said:

“It was Barnes who was the first to master the fair-foul hit. He was able to drive the ball so that it would land fair and then swing in foul just outside of the reach of the third baseman.”

Barnes became ill in 1877, although he started the season with the White Stockings, The Chicago Inter Ocean said in early May “he is now, and has been all spring, very sick with few signs of improvement.”  After a slow start, Barnes was out for more than three months before returning in late August.

The Chicago Tribune said:

“Barnes made his reappearance with the Whites, and played his old position at second base,  but he showed evidence of physical weakness and lack of practice,”

Barnes appeared in only 22 games, hitting .272.

The second baseman,  who was earning $2500 for the season, and as was often the case in 19th Century baseball,  was not paid for the time he missed.  Early in 1878 Barnes filed a lawsuit against the White Stockings to collect more than $1,000 the team did not pay him while he was ill.

Cook County Judge Mason B. Loomis heard the case, which The Inter Ocean said:

“(I)s a new one in the experience of ball clubs, and the result is looked forward to with some interest  in sporting circles.”

The result was not favorable for ballplayers.  Judge Loomis ruled against Barnes, The Tribune said:

“This makes clear the point that players are not legally entitled to wages when laid off by sickness.”

While some owners did pay players during time missed due to illness and injury, teams had the right, after 15 days, to suspend any player without pay; and the legal precedent established in Barnes’ case remained until 1916 when the “injury clause” was rescinded.

Barnes attempted to return to the White Stockings in 1878, but The Tribune said he “has never fully recovered,” from the illness, and was released.

He played with and managed the London Tecumsehs in the International Association in 1878, then made two comeback attempts with the Cincinnati Reds in 1879, and the Boston Red Stockings in 1881, his career was over at age 31.

Barnes retired to Chicago and was working for Peoples Gas, Light and Coke Co. when he died in 1915 at age 65.”

Wanting to learn more about Barnes’ 1878 season and any games he played in Rochester, I did a search. My search only produced a few snippets about Barnes.¹  I found an April 1878 “Baseball-Ball Notes” covering the first week of the season that mentions the Hornels, the Rochesters and Barnes. The Elmira Gazette held the Rochesters in high regards, saying they “can beat any club we know of.”

Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, 19 Apr 1878

I did find one account of the aftermath of a game between the Rochesters and the Tecumsehs. Apparently, Barnes missed the game, but the article refers to some bad behavior on behalf of the the Rochesters and the Tecumsehs.

Chicago Tribune, 16 Jun 1878

Readers in 1878 would not be surprised to read about ball players becoming uproariously drunk on a spree, fighting, and “kicking up all kinds of capers.” In the 19th century in polite society, baseball players were often portrayed as ruffians from dubious class backgrounds.

In BASEBALL IN THE 19TH CENTURY PART V 1877 – Rochester’s First Year of Professional Baseball (Rochester History, Vol. LXIV Fall 2002 No.4), Priscilla Astifan reviews the 1877 International Association season, explaining that the Rochesters played near the intersection of North Union and Weld Street. Perhaps this vacant lot is where Ross Barnes played second base.

Vacant lot near North Union and Weld Street. Perhaps this was the site were the 5th greatest second baseman in history wowed Rochestarians. [Photo: David Kramer, 10/14/20]


¹ I was not able to visit the Local History Room of the Rochester Public Library to review the non-digitized newspapers from Barnes’ era that would have reported upon his games with The Rochesters. I welcome readers to take that microfilm tour and report back. More tantalizingly, in 1878 John “Bud” Fowler pitched in the International Association.  Fowler was the first  African American to play in Organized Baseball. If Fowler played in Rochester, a trip to the Local History Room — poring over old newspapers for accounts of base-ball games — would be justified and fascinating.


I caught up with Marty “Crooked Arm” Brancato who attended the dedication of the memorial to Ross Barnes:

I was there at the dedication of the memorial to Ross Barnes. A group of us from the Base Ball program at the Genesee Country Village & Museum were there for the ceremony. Afterwards, I umpired a match between the GCVM and a team of Mt Morris residents. We played on a field that was built in the 1930’s, I believe, and is adjacent to the Italian Festival grounds. It was a lot of fun calling the game and explaining it to the crowd at the same time.

See  “Crooked Arm” Brancato brings 19th Century base ball to the Game at the Corners

Crooked Arm pitching barehanded in the 8/21/16 Game at the Corners. From “Crooked Arm” Brancato brings 19th Century base ball to the Game at the Corners

Itching for baseball and the 12th inning home run that Carlton Fisk hit and I missed

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

1 Comment

  1. George Payne

    Excellent summation of Barnes’ career and some captivating images of Morgan. You should send your piece to Barnes scholar Gary Passamonte. There is an active campaign to get him in the HOF, and your piece could be a contribution to that cause. If I am not mistaken, the only reason that he is not in is that he only played 9 seasons and the rule is 10. That seems like an unfortunate technicality given his contributions to the game.

    It is difficult to compare Barnes with modern players because the seasons back then were so much shorter. If he would have played 160+ games in his prime, he may have surpassed 300 hits in those years. He batted 400 4 different times, but could he have achieved that over a long season? It was a much rougher game back then. No gloves and throwing balls at runners happened all of the time. Also, hitters could ask where they wanted the hurler to throw the ball. Imagine if Barry Bonds or A-Rod had that luxury!


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