March 23, 2005: Sports
Sports Scores Updated weekly
By Stephen Eschenbach
It seems like a strange and grandiose gesture — becoming a major leaguer for one game in order to beat a team in a grudge match. But it happened Aug. 13, 1886, and it’s how Dan Bickham, Class of 1886, became a member of an elite group: Princeton graduates who played major league baseball.
When Bickham came to Princeton in the fall of 1882, he never really had played baseball before. His first appearance as a pitcher came in a game between the freshmen and the seniors when a freshman pitcher was hit in the head with the baseball. (He would later die from the injury.) Bickham was called on to pitch in relief and, according to a contemporary account, made his “grand entree to baseball stardom.” He made the varsity team his sophomore year as an outfielder, but switched to pitcher at the beginning of his junior year.
Bickham’s transition to pitching was not smooth. His first time on the mound was an exhibition game against the major league Philadelphia Athletics, and Bickham was terrible. The Athletics beat Princeton 21—2 in a game mercifully stopped after five innings. Bickham “had no control of the ball and wild pitches and passed balls were numerous,” the Princetonian noted.
The humiliating defeat rankled Bickham, but his abilities still impressed his coach, future Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward, who coached Princeton while playing for the New York Giants. Bickham told the coach to rely on Princeton’s other talented pitchers, but Ward gave Bickham another chance, this time against Trenton, a very good minor league team that had defeated Princeton 15—6 the week before. The junior pitcher won 2—1, striking out 14 and drawing interest from professional scouts, including league magnate Albert Spalding, who wanted him for his Chicago Colts.
Bickham stayed at Princeton, pitching with an odd combination of promise and frustration. He was wild. In a loss to Harvard, he tossed seven wild pitches, his catcher allowed 15 passed balls, and the Tigers made 11 errors. But Bickham was also fast, racking up 14 strikeouts in that same Harvard game. The curious stats were at least partially caused by the Princeton catcher, whose hands were battered by Bickham’s pitches. (Catchers’ mitts had not yet come into use.)
Bickham went on to post a fine record in 1885, winning 10 and losing four, but his inconsistency remained. In one game against Quaker City (a professional team), he had five wild pitches in an 11—6 loss. In a rematch a week and a half later, he beat Quaker City handily, striking out 19. The majors’ interest was renewed. The New York Metropolitans of the American Association offered $3,000 for a partial season, excellent money that was offered only to a few star players. New York pitcher Mike Lynch, who had worked with Bickham earlier that spring, declared that he had “all the requirements of a first-class pitcher.”
Bickham refused to turn pro, taking the advice of Ward, who told him to pursue a more stable line of work. “This is no business for you,” the coach said. “I don’t mind it because I like to handle myself with my fists, but if I were you, I would go into something else.” Bickham returned to Princeton and enjoyed another fine season, posting a 10—4 record as a senior, with far fewer wild pitches and passed balls.
Then, in an about-face, Bickham agreed to turn pro — for one game. He had a matter to settle. He agreed to pitch for the Cincinnati Reds at home against the Philadelphia Athletics, the team that had humiliated him in his first varsity pitching appearance.
Bickham’s father owned a newspaper in nearby Dayton, so the contract was almost certainly a publicity stunt. But it worked. Advertisements went up around Cincinnati that on Aug. 13, “Mr. Dan Bickham, the noted Princeton pitcher,” would be on the mound for the Reds. According to one account of the game, “all Ohio seemed to be there.” Bickham exacted his revenge as the Reds won 12—11.
His honor restored, he immediately retired with a perfect 1—0 record and went to work at his father’s newspaper, the Dayton Journal, where he would eventually become the business manager. When Bickham died in 1951, classmate Frank Everitt recalled in PAW’s Class Notes: “At the advice of his coach, John Ward, whom he loved and trusted, he turned aside from professional baseball to enter civic life, and he never regretted it.”
Stephen Eschenbach is collaborating with the Ivy League on the Ivy Baseball History Project (www.ivyleaguesports.com/documents/bsbmlb.asp).
After an undefeated regular season and a challenging but successful run through the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, the Princeton women’s lacrosse team had its goal of a third consecutive national championship in sight last May. But the Tigers faltered at the finish line, losing the championship game to Virginia, 10—4.
The disappointing ending has turned into an early-season rallying point for this year’s team. “They want to fight through to the end on everything,” coach Chris Sailer said. “‘Break the tape’ is one of their motivational phrases.”
The Tigers will have a chance to take a big step toward their goal on March 26, when they travel south for a rematch with No. 1 Virginia. But for Princeton, which has reached the NCAA Final Four in five straight years, the ultimate measure of a successful season always comes in May.
With seven starters returning, Sailer’s team has enough experience to hit the ground running. Explosive scorer Lindsey Biles ’05 returns at attack, backed by midfielder Elizabeth Pillion ’05, the team’s assist leader and a dynamic scorer in her own right. Kathleen Miller ’07 scored 32 goals last year, earning Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors. Ingrid Goldberg ’05 and Leigh Slonaker ’05 should have an increased role in the offense, as well.
Defensively, the Tigers will lean on goalkeeper Sarah Kolodner ’05, a four-year starter, and defender Lauren Vance ’06, who will cover top attackers. Alison Murray ’08, one of four freshmen expected to contribute, likely will be in the starting lineup, along with Jennifer Austin ’05, Caitlin Abidin ’06, or Christine Dobrosky ’07.
Patience on offense, physical toughness, and better shooting under pressure will be keys to the Tigers’ success, according to Sailer, especially in the opening weeks of the season, when Princeton takes on five top-10 teams in its first seven games.
“We’ve got to see what kind of team we’re going to be,” Sailer said. “We certainly believe that we’re capable of being right back there again this year, but we know we have to prove ourselves.”
Luke Owings ’07 scored 19 points to lead MEN’S BASKETBALL to a 68—59 win at Columbia Feb. 25. The Tigers lost the following night at Cornell when Princeton missed a layup that would have given the Tigers the lead in the closing seconds. After sinking two free throws at the opposite end, the Big Red won 52—49. WOMEN’S BASKETBALL beat Columbia Feb. 25, putting the Tigers within one win of their first winning season since 1998—99.
Harvard snapped WOMEN’S SWIMMING’s five-year streak of Ivy League championships at DeNunzio Pool Feb. 26. Stephanie Hsiao ’05, who broke her own pool record in the 100-yard freestyle (49.68 seconds), was named the meet’s outstanding swimmer.
Jacqueline Leahy ’06 of the WOMEN’S FENCING team won her third consecutive gold medal in the foil at the Intercollegiate Fencing Association championships Feb. 26. MEN’S FENCING’s Tommi Hurme ’08, who will compete in the Junior World Championships this month, placed first in the epee.
MEN’S SQUASH upset Penn in the quarterfinals and Yale in the consolation final at the College Squash Association team championships Feb. 26 and 27 to finish third in the nation. WOMEN’S SQUASH finished fourth in the Howe Cup, the women’s national championship hosted by Princeton Feb. 19 and 20. Freshman Margaret Kent was 3—0 in the tournament.
WOMEN’S HOCKEY swept Union Feb. 25 and 26 to finish the regular season 16—8—5. In MEN’S HOCKEY, junior goalie Eric Leroux made 38 saves in a 0—0 tie at Union Feb. 26, the first scoreless tie in the Princeton program’s history.
At the Ivy League Indoor Heptagonal Championships Feb. 26, MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD placed second behind Cornell. WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD finished seventh.