The Old Grays
In 1884, Providence was a major league baseball city. The Providence Grays played at the long-gone Messer Field in the Olneyville neighborhood, as one of the eight teams in the National League. Yes, that National League.
They were led by ace pitcher Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn, who is still remembered for winning a record 59 games that year and leading the Grays to the pennant. When the team's other pitcher defected to a rival league in July, it looked like the Grays' season was over, but "Old Hoss" offered to pitch the rest of the team's games. The Grays went on a twenty-game winning streak and blew past their hated rivals, the Boston Red Stockings.
When the season was over, the Grays had won the league title by five games. They then played the New York Metropolitans, champions of the rival American Association, in a three-game championship series, and won all three games. It wasn't officially called the "World Series", but the Grays became undisputed world champions.
The Providence Grays disbanded after the 1885 season. A minor league by the same name played in Providence from 1891 to 1929; they once had a promising young pitcher named Babe Ruth. But our beloved capital has not been a "major league" city for over a century, at least in the baseball world.
The New Grays
In the spring of 1998, several local fans banded together to form a tribute to the 1884 Grays, inspired by a league of similar historical base ball teams in New York. We learned the 1884 rules and style of play. Batters could call for their choice of high or low pitches. It took six balls to draw a walk. The pitcher threw from only fifty feet away. A few players wore only small gloves for protection. Most wore no gloves at all, and caught screaming line drives with their bare hands - or tried.
On June 20, 1998, we invited a New York club to Rhode Island for another "World Series" on the idyllic Bristol Common. The veteran New York team beat our nine in a doubleheader, 13-4 and 12-9. Though we showed our inexperience, there were promising moments, and fun was had by all.
The new Providence Grays are just getting started. We hope to form more historic teams in the Rhode Island area, and to play against other teams in the Northeast. There are, of course, no big contracts in our base ball world. No admission is charged to the games, and the players pay for their own uniforms. Though we play strictly for fun, winning would be much more fun, and we hope to continue our success on and off the field.