By Len Wilcox
1869 was a banner year for many Americans: It’s the year that baseball grew up and turned pro. The first professional baseball team – the Cincinnati Red Stockings – took to the field and all their players were paid a salary. It’s also the year a Kansas City team – the Antelopes – hired a famous frontiersman, lawman and gunfighter to umpire a game for them.
The Antelopes weren’t paid, but they were enthusiastically supported. Baseball fans were just as ardent then as they are today, and the hometown team could count on a rowdy crowd coming out to watch them play. Fortunately, Kansas City had a town-wide ban on guns. That was a good thing, because emotions ran high and civic pride ran deep, and baseball was a very popular pastime. The weekly games had a habit of descending into brawls. This was especially true when the Antelopes were playing the Atchison Pomeroys.
The Pomeroys were eager to beat the Antelopes to a pulp. They’d done just that in their last match in Atchison, but when the teams met again in Kansas City, the Antelopes’ fans were extra-rowdy in their support of the home team. When the umpire made a call against the Antelopes a riot broke out. The fans used fists, boots, bottles and knifes to make their point, and the game was called.
A rematch was scheduled in Kansas City, but finding an umpire brave enough to face down the mob was tough. Fortunately, none other than James Butler Hickok – known as Wild Bill – was in town, and he was a big fan of the new game. He agreed to umpire the next game.
Guns were outlawed in the city limits, but Wild Bill had asked for and got a special license for the day. He wore his famous Colt 6-shooters that day, as he stood behind the plate for the first pitch.
The game was peaceful, and it was enjoyed mightily by the citizens of Kansas City. The Pomeroys were soundly trounced by the Antelopes, 48 to 28.
I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View.
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That’s a good story and something I never knew about old Wild Bill!