October 19, 1884: Watch and cuff links for little Barney Gilligan

(A daily diary of the greatest season a major-league pitcher ever had.)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Only six hundred people pay their way into the Messer Street Grounds to see the Providence Grays take on the Cincinnati Reds in a post-season exhibition game, a turnout that hardly seems to justify the hotel expenses Cincinnati incurred over the weekend.

Still, other clubs have it worse: The National League’s Cleveland club attracts all of twenty-six paying customers to its final exhibition game, a death rattle before the collapse of the franchise.

Manager Frank Bancroft rests Old Hoss Radbourn and Barney Gilligan, and starts Eddie Conley, who is anxious to get back to Holy Cross College this month and resume his studies.

Conley proves sharp, surrendering only four hits, and the always dazzling left fielder Cliff Carroll makes “three phenomenal catches,” but the Grays halfheartedly run themselves out of potentially big innings, and with darkness and cold approaching, the umpire calls the game after nine innings, with the score locked 2-2. On that unsatisfying note, baseball on Messer Street ends for 1884.

Barney Gilligan sits in the grandstand in his street clothes, his hands half beaten to a pulp by catching 81 regular-season games, happy to have the day off. But during the game, he is called out onto the field, and over to home plate, to receive a $175 gift (worth about $4,100 in modern money), a beautiful engraved Springfield watch, with a charm attached in the form a shield, featuring crossed bats on one side and a monogram on the other.

He is also awarded cuff links in the form of $5 gold pieces, monogrammed, “a present from a lady friend,” who presumably is in the crowd, smiling and waving as he opens the gift.

The audience applauds the plucky little catcher who had done so much to help Radbourn achieve baseball immortality. Smiling broadly, Gilligan raises his derby hat to the crowd in gratitude.


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