History I Never Knew: Lip Pike, Baseball’s First Professional

Lipman E. Pike (1845-1893) America's First Pro Baseball Player

Lipman E. Pike
(1845-1893)
America’s First Pro Baseball Player

Logan Mankins, late of the New England Patriots, will hereafter be cashing his generous paychecks in Florida, just his second professional sporting home. As you ponder that news, consider how far we’ve come since the days of America’s first documented professional athlete, the peripatetic Lipman Emanuel “Lip” Pike.

Lip Pike was the first American to be revealed as a professional athlete. He was also the first Jewish baseball player. And he was a good one. Known as the “Iron Batter,” he first appeared in a box score one week after his bar mitzvah in 1864. He joined the Philadelphia Athletics in 1866, and he was paid $20 a week under the table.

Two other guys were also reportedly getting money from the A’s, and a hullabaloo ensued. The National Association of Base Ball Players set up a hearing on the matter, but nobody showed up and the whole thing was dropped.

By 1869, however, the façade of amateurism in baseball had fallen away, and the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first openly professional baseball team. So Lip Pike was a Jackie Robinson of sorts – he broke a barrier and paved the way for others. What he did was first deemed unacceptable. Society eventually got around to embracing it, but I bet nobody every thanked Lip Pike.

Pike also endured prejudice, but of a different sort than that felt by Robinson or by Pike’s Jewish brethren. Yes, Lip was a powerful hitter and speedy runner – he once hit six homers in a game that the Athletics won 67-25. But the A’s dropped him from the team in 1867. Why? Because he was a “foreigner,” as far as the team’s fans were concerned. He was from New York. They couldn’t have that, in the City of Brotherly Love.

Pike wasn’t finished. He had a lengthy career, playing for teams like the New York Mutuals, Brooklyn Atlantics, Troy Haymakers, Providence Grays, Baltimore Canaries, Hartford Dark Blues, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Worcester Ruby Legs, and New York Metropolitans. He was always on the move. Harry “Suitcase” Simpson had nothing on Lip Pike.

August, 1886 Media Coverage of Lip Pike and His Baseball Exploits. Newspaper Price: One Cent.

August, 1886 Media Coverage of Lip Pike and His Baseball Exploits. Newspaper Price: One Cent.

In 1869 Pike batted .610 for the Atlantics. He was their second baseman in 1870 when they beat Cincinnati and ended the Red Stockings’ 93-game winning streak.

Pike also used his speed and skill to make money in other ways. On August 16, 1873, he raced a trotting horse named Clarence in a 100-yard sprint at Newington Park in Baltimore. Lip won by four yards with a time of 10 seconds flat, earning a nice little prize of $250.

The superb writer Mordecai Richler points out that the Encyclopedia of Jews in Sports reports that most baseball players of the 19th century were gamblers and drunkards, or thought to be. But Richler states that “Pike was an exception. Throughout his career, contemporary journals commented on his sobriety, intelligence, wit, and industry.”

After retiring, Pike went back to the family business; his father, a Dutch immigrant to Brooklyn, owned a haberdashery. Lip died rather young, succumbing to a heart attack at the age of 48. According to the Brooklyn Eagle, “Many wealthy Hebrews and men high in political and old time baseball circles attended the funeral service.”

Of course, Lip Pike is enshrined in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. In 1936, according to Wikipedia, he got one vote for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

As far as I’m concerned, Lip Pike belongs in Cooperstown too.

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One Response to “History I Never Knew: Lip Pike, Baseball’s First Professional”

  1. veteranscribe Says:

    Hello – I am not sure what you are requesting here. I don’t have any kind of subscriptions or regular e-newsletters. I just blog about subjects that are interesting to me, and that I think will be interesting to others. Thank you for getting in touch with me.
    Tom

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