A HISTORY OF THE
MELBOURNE CRICKET CLUB
BASEBALL SECTION TO 1976
MELBOURNE BASEBALL CLUB
1976-77 to 1979-80
M.C.C. BASEBALL SECTION
1980-81 to 1987-88
1988-89 to 2000
I commence this undertaking with some sketchy information on the early days and a fair working knowledge of events over the past fifty years or so.
M.C.C. Annual reports and Newsletters have assisted in filling some of the gaps.
I have received help from Gordon McKee, Keith Cheong and Arch Cavanagh, and have tested the memories of some of our former players.
Bob Black of the Australian Baseball Federation has given me the names of selected Australian players.
Because of the hundreds of players involved in the thousands of games that we have played and the almost total lack of information about the vast majority of them, it has been impossible to do more than skim the surface.
I would have loved to include something about the many coaches, managers, scorers and other workers who have kept this great Club together, but in the circumstances, it was not possible, so I now offer them my personal thanks on behalf of all Melbourne Baseballers over all the years.
There has been baseball in Victoria since the 1850’s - ever since the diggers from California played the game in the days of the gold rush. Like most sport on the goldfields, it was unorganised and there was no public interest in the game.
The first recorded game of Baseball played in Victoria, was staged at the Carlton gardens, later the site of the Exhibition Buildings, on 1st March, 1857, between Richmond and Collingwood members of the Melbourne Cricket Club.
It must have been a very busy afternoon because the report continues that the match was limited to three innings, the scores being Collingwood 250, Richmond 230. It should be noted that the first Victorian game of Baseball was eighteen months before the first ever game of Australian football and five years before the arrival of the first visiting English cricket team.
What sort of game they played all those years ago we can only guess, because Baseball as we know it today did not start to take firm shape in America until the end of the Civil War in 1865. Nobody can state with certainty how the game emerged from the medley of ball games being played across the country up until this period, and the subject is still keenly debated.
A commission which sat from 1905 to 1908 decided that the founder of the modern game was Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, N.Y., and that the year was 1839, and although this has been largely disproved, it is recorded in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Strong support also exists for Hoboken, N.J., as the birth place and the year 1845. This version known as the New York game was widely played in the Northern camps of the Civil War, following which the basics seemed to fall into place and a nation-wide code became established, the first professional League being formed in 1871.
American residents continued with social games at Carlton in the 1860’s, and later in Albert Park, but their activities attracted little notice. Amongst the Carlton pioneers, the names of Lord Rickards, Newell, McGuire, Chaplin, Wheelock and Throckmorton are recorded.
Organised baseball in Victoria started in 1879 with the formation of the St. Kilda Baseball Club. The St. Kilda Cricket Club wanted to give some competition to a touring American Negro music troupe - the “Georgia Minstrels”. They played several games at Jolimont and had some lively parties. The Age of 14 June, 1879 noted:
“...a game of an interesting nature is expected, reminding most of our American citizens of their national pastime. There is a hope expressed among baseball circles that some professionals may visit Australia.“
Unfortunately for St Kilda’s baseball club, the reason for their club had disappeared with the Georgia Minstrels. They disbanded but reformed twelve years later. Other American baseball players visited Melbourne during this period from ships in port and other minstrel groups.
Australian public interest in the game started with the arrival in Melbourne of the US man-of-war Enterprise in 1885. The officers of this vessel challenged the Melbourne Cricket Club to a series of games of Baseball which were the first ever played on the M.C.G. The 18 Officers all became honorary members of the M.C.C.
The Touring Americans
The Americans wanted to play baseball while they were here, so the M.C.C. Committee recruited a team, provided lunch at the ground, and the first baseball match on the MCG was played. The fielding, throwing and teamwork of the visitors so impress M.C.C. Officials and it all looked so spectacular, that later, when an emissary of American tycoon A.G. Spalding approached the club for the use of the ground on a promotional World Tour of two American teams, they were very pleased to co-operate.
The M.C.C. committee thought that here was a scheme for improving the fielding and throwing of the cricketers, and furthermore, what a happy way of keeping them fit during the winter. Tom Wills, when he was worrying about the waistlines of his cricketers, had the same idea when he suggested a football club in 1858.
Interest was kept alive in Baseball by the visit to Melbourne in the following year by the All Black Georgia Minstrels Company, appearing on Harry Rickard’s Tivoli Theatre Circuit. Not only were they magnificent on the stage, part of their repertoire was to play exhibition games of baseball, and because of this association, J. C. Williamson and Harry Musgrove became interested in the Spalding project. While in Melbourne, they played a representative team of Victorian cricketers at the East Melbourne ground. Harry Musgrove was a leading cricketer in his day and he managed the 1896 Australian cricket team in England. J. C. Williamson was an American actor who first visited Australia in 1874 and later founded the theatrical firm Williamson, Garner and Musgrove - later J.C. Williamson & Company.
And so the stage was set for the arrival in Melbourne in December 1888 of A.G. Spalding with his Chicago White Sox Team and a selected All American side. These skilled professional players created a furore around Australia with their dazzling displays.
Spalding's careful plans for the American "visitation" to Australia were not in vain. Enthusiastic receptions complete with greetings from local dignitaries, parades and bands playing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" preceded baseball games and cricket exhibitions from Sydney to Melbourne during the tourists' three-week stay there. Although one Australian suggested that Professor Bartholomew's balloon ascents provoked more interest than the exploits on the diamond, most observers were more appreciative. One correspondent for the Melbourne Punch, after noting that the "life and dash" of baseball would make it popular with his local countrymen, added that the game's introduction in Australia would be but the "first link of a mutual friendship between the two continents".
Comparing his country and the United States as nations of "go," he hoped that Australia's acceptance of baseball would guarantee that America "will always be on our side helping us on the onward path". American commentators offered similar appraisals. Newton MacMillan, for instance, in his Christmas day story for the Chicago Tribune, praised A.G. for achieving "a distinct coup for himself, his game and his country. The red, white and blue are the fashionable colors here just now," he continued, "the baseball bat is mightier than the cricket paddle, and Americans are the princes of jolly good fellows."
Nor did Spalding ignore such sentiments when he attempted to market his wares. In a special Australian version of his baseball guide, A.G. dedicated the book to the "sportsmen of Australia" and reminded them that "all those essentials of manliness, courage, nerve, pluck and endurance characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race" were embedded in baseball. Hopeful that Australians busy in developing a large country would find baseball a quick game conducive to encouraging such traits, Spalding filled the guide with detailed playing instructions, advertisements for his baseball goods, and the location of stores in Sydney and Melbourne authorised to distribute Spalding athletic goods.
A Mr Lynch came to Australia to complete the arrangements, then A. G. Spalding came out with his Chicago team and an All American combination. They played their first match on the MCG on December 22, 1888. Chicago defeated the All Americans by 5 runs to 3, and 7000 people watched the game. E. Crane, the All American pitcher, was the big drawcard. He was so good some felt that he was even like Spofforth - he could vary his pace without the motion of his arm giving the slightest indication of what he was doing. There were matches in Adelaide and then a big return match on the MCG.
Above: Players pose at the start of the 1888 Tour before the “All-Americans” uniforms arrived. Moustaches are obviously a necessary feature of any Baseballer. Top Row: Tom Burns, Tom Daly, Robert Pettit, Marty Sullivan, Mark Baldwin, John Tener, John Healy, Fred Carroll, George Wood, Tom Brown, Jim Manning. Middle Row: Ned Williamson, Fred Carrol, Cap Anson, Albert Spalding, John Ward, Jim Fogarty, Harry Simpson. Front Row: Clarence Duvall (Mascot), George Wright, Ned Hanlon, Billy Earle.
Chicago outclassed Victoria 12 runs to 1, then the All American team defeated Chicago 5 runs to 1. But to give the 12,000 spectators extra value for their money there was a football match between Carlton and Port Melbourne. This was something, a football match on the MCG in January! It was a draw - three goals each. Behinds did not count in the 1880s.
There was an exhibition of throwing a cricket ball, and E. Crane, the All American pitcher threw the ball 128 yards 10 inches, breaking the Australian record of 126 yards 3 inches. The record baseball throw was then 133 yards 11 inches. A cricket ball was heavier than a baseball.
An aviator named Bartholomew was scheduled to make a balloon ascent and then to make a magnificent parachute leap, but a strong wind was blowing and he refused to take off. However, the crowd was satisfied; they received their money's worth.
Above: The dashing Professor Bartholomew.
Returning to Melbourne in January 1889, after a visit to Adelaide, Spalding found that plans for a local competition were well under way. A Victorian Baseball League was constituted by J.C. Williamson in 1889, Harry Rickards and Harry Musgrove, leading theatricals and former Americans of note, J.S. Milford, an American resident and Major Ben Wardill, long time secretary of the Melbourne Cricket Club. The M.C.C. voted three guineas towards the creation of the league. J. C. Williamson was the first President and he remained in office for six years. He was succeeded by Major Ben Wardill, who was tremendously interested in the game and already he had put on the uniform and he was succeeded in turn by J.S. Milford.
Spalding opened a sporting goods store in Bourke Street, Melbourne, leaving behind a member of his touring party (Harry Simpson) to manage it and to give assistance and advice to the infant league. Harry Simpson was a great local servant to the game helping local leagues get established in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney where he is considered the father of NSW baseball. He arrived in Australia with the Spalding Tour of 1888 and stayed on to help promote the game and Spalding's business. He spent some time in Melbourne and played some scratch games with the Melbourne Baseball Club but later moved back to Sydney where he helped form the NSWBL and put it on its feet. Tragically, he died of typhus in September 1891 near the end of the first season of the NSWBL he helped create.
Spalding also donated a handsome trophy to the competition that would be given to the first team to win the pennant 3 times. He had come well prepared.
The most significant event in the 1890 season was a challenge from South Australia which was accepted. This was the first intercolonial meeting and was won by South Australia two games to one.
The visitors included the Test cricketers Lyons and Slight in their side, while the Victorians had the Australian cricketers Boyle, Burton, Bruce (also an MCC baseballer) and Musgrove, Victorian cricketers in Lewis, Ross and Houston and the Americans Graham and Smith.
The series was repeated in 1891, with an exchange of visits, Victoria winning three at home, and then South Australia turning the tables with three wins in Adelaide. For various reasons, these games were not played again until 1910.
The first series against New South Wales was played in 1900, this was almost a Sheffield Shield affair, with Frank Laver, Peter McAlister and Sam McMichael for Victoria and Victor Trumper, M. A. Noble, Austin Diamond and Frank Iredale for NSW. It took until 1936 to meet Western Australia. The Claxton Shield series commenced in 1934, with Queensland appearing for one year in 1939 and then regularly from 1950 onwards.
The formation of the Victorian Baseball League
The teams in the inaugural season of the Victorian Baseball League were: Carlton, Ferguson & Mitchell, Fitzroy, Geelong, Kew, M.C.C., Melbourne (to be renamed Metropolitans), Richmond, Richmond C.C., Fitzroy, the “Age” and Victoria.
They were followed the next few seasons with teams from St. Kilda, South Melbourne, East Melbourne, Malvern in 1893, Essendon in 1893, Hawkesburn in 1896, and Prahran in 1897.
The first league season was set to open October 1st 1889. Season 1889 was apparently a formative one as the Spalding trophy was not put up for competition until the following year. In 1889, the M.C.C. won 12 games, lost 3 and tied a game against the Victorian representative team but finished behind the Metropolitans. This was also the year that the M.C.C. gained occupancy of the warehousemen’s ground in St. Kilda Road, known since as the Albert cricket ground.
The Metropolitans had formed sometime around 1887 and were using the name Melbourne Baseball Club prior to 1890. When the new Victorian Baseball League formed its constitution in late 1889, in order to avoid confusion, they ceded the name “Melbourne Baseball Club” to the M.C.C. and took on the name “Metropolitans” which was a moniker they had used from time to time.
The Metropolitans were mainly Americans residing in Melbourne amongst them being J. McKay, known as “little Mac”, an outstanding player in the first few seasons, and who later transferred to the M.C.C. Baseball section, J.S. Milford, Smith, Graham, Brown, Perkins, Cathkin, and Freshman all of whom played their part in coaching the locals.
In 1890, the M.C.C. won the pennant and held the Spalding trophy for the first time. M.C.C. Test cricketer, Wm. Bruce was named Victoria’s most proficient player.
In 1891 and 1892, the M.C.C. were runners up to East Melbourne, but were successful again in 1893, going through the season undefeated and scoring 353 runs to 79. The M.C.C. were again undefeated in 1894, scoring 341 runs for the season against 85. In winning the Spalding trophy for the third time, they retained permanent possession of it and it now occupies a prominent place in the MCC Museum.
Above: MCC Baseball Section 1894 Premiership photo
In 1895 and 1896, the MCC were runners up to East Melbourne and then South Melbourne but in 1897 a large number of MCC players were selected to represent Australia on the first Baseball tour to America.
The ill-fated 1897 tour to America
The depression of the 1890s and the Boer War upset baseball, but in 1897 there was an ambitious plan to send a team to the United States - the first foreign team to play in America. A South Australian, A. M. Roberts, donated £1500 towards the expenses.
Harry Musgrove from the Metropolitans was appointed manager, Frank Laver of East Melbourne was captain, Wally Ingleton of Melbourne was vice-captain. Other well-known cricketers apart from Laver and Ingleton to make the tour were Peter McAlister and Harry Stuckey. Then there were the Melbourne players A. Wiseman, H. Irwin and Charlie Over and Melbourne cricketers John L. Wallace and John A. McKay.
Above: Australian Baseball Team Photo (From the MCC Baseball section Clubrooms)
There were big hopes for this tour. It was thought that it might result in regular test matches against the Americans, just like the cricket Tests. Sadly the tour was a financial and sporting failure. The Australians were vastly inferior to the Americans. The team lost 18 of its 26 matches and finally became stranded in New York. Only the financial assistance of their friends at home enabled them to return via London. Advertisements for the games in America carried the line, 'Come and see the Kangaroos hop!’ The team had some success in England, where they defeating a team of English players at the Crystal Palace. This was the only time that an Australian baseball team went overseas before 1978.
Above: 1897 Australian Baseball Tour to America team sketch
Players: Frank Laver (captain) (1869-1919) VIC East Melbourne Cricket Club, 15 Cricket Tests, Walter George Ingleton (vice captain) (1867-1923) VIC Richmond, South Melbourne Cricket Club, Melbourne Cricket Club, Peter A. McAlister (1869-1938) VIC East Melbourne Cricket Club, 8 Tests, Rue Ewers SA (1867-1940) Surveys Baseball Club, North Adelaide Baseball Club, Charles E. Kemp (1864-1940) VIC South Melbourne Cricket Club, Charles Over (1862-1910) VIC Richmond Cricket Club, Arthur Wiseman (1873 - ?) VIC Melbourne Cricket Club, Harry Irwin VIC, Melbourne Cricket Club (1868-?), Sydney W. Smith SA (1874 -1943) Semaphore Cricket Club, Harry Stuckey (1869-1952) VIC North Melbourne, East Melbourne Cricket Club, Alfred S. Carter (1869-1920) VIC East Melbourne Cricket Club, John L. Wallace WA Melbourne Cricket Club, John A. McKay VIC Melbourne Cricket Club, Harry Musgrove (manager) (1858-1931) VIC One Test, Manager Australian Tour of England 1896.
This fiasco, coupled with a severe financial depression, and the onset of the Boer War, nearly finished the game in Victoria and it only survived because of the indomitable efforts of people such as Wardill, Ingleton, Milford and Chas Nodrum of East Melbourne. For years afterwards, the Melbourne Cricket Club was often called upon to make up the League’s financial deficits. The 1897 season reduced the competition from 12 teams back to 6 (Metropolitans, Essendon, Carlton, East Melbourne, Hawksburn and Prahran).
It would appear that only 4 teams competed in 1898, South Melbourne, East Melbourne, Essendon and Metropolitans and the competition struggled along with these four teams until 1900. South Melbourne won the J.C Williamson shield in the final year, but it looks as though there was no organised club competition between 1901 and 1903 and Victorian baseball nearly died out altogether. The East Melbourne club maintained the state team until 1904, when baseball started a respectable comeback.
The following teams were established in regular competition in 1904-05 and remained active for many years: MCC, East Melbourne, South Melbourne, South Melbourne, Fitzroy, Carlton, Prahran, Richmond and St Kilda. After 1906, Melbourne baseball saw steady growth that never faltered. The following year saw sixteen teams in the Victorian competition.
The new century dawns bright for Melbourne
After the turn of the century the club was very powerful, and there was an extraordinary run of successes when Melbourne won the premierships of 1904 and 1905 going through the season undefeated, was runner up in 1906 and then won seven successive pennants straight from 1907 to 1913 on its way to the greatest run of success by any Club in Victorian Baseball history. They were finally defeated for the pennant by Fitzroy in 1914.
Above: MCC Baseball Section 1904 Premiership photo
In 1906, The MCC were the first team to enter two teams in the competition, the B team also played in A section and did a creditable job. The MCC team played against the USS Baltimore in an exhibition match on the MCG and went to Sydney to play various teams in the Sydney Grade competition. There was a high load on the pitching staff due to extra mid week games that season, especially Dr. Twiss and as a result the MCC missed out on the 1906 pennant.
In 1907, A B-grade competition commenced, the MCC winning this in 1910, 1911 and 1912, and were runners up for the next three years.
Above: MCC Baseball Section Team - Premiers 1907
In 1909 the M.C.C. defeated East Melbourne 7-2 for the Spalding Pennant without taking advantage of their right to challenge, and were premiers for the third successive season. Scott and Taylor, the battery for the MCC team, kept East to six base hits. Ingleton (second base), Ballantyne (short-stop), and Allan (third base) completed an infield difficult to be improved upon. In the outfield Yuille, Vaughan, and Johnston did well, the first-named especially. Their batting, too, was strong, no fewer than 11 safe hits being recorded. Henty did best with three, whilst Allan, Taylor, Vaughan, and Johnston each got two.
Above: MCC Baseball Section Team - Premiers 1909
In 1910 the final match for the premiership resulted in a victory for Melbourne against Fitzroy 5-2, who got one run in their first and four in their third innings, while Fitzroy did not score till their last innings. Melbourne with five base hits to four, only made one error, while Fitzroy made four. Scott and Allan (the Melbourne battery), Henty (1B), Ingleton (2B), and Ransford (right field) did good work.
Above: MCC Baseball Section Team - Premiers 1910
In 1911, the MCC Baseball Section won the VBA A grade pennant over Fitzroy 2-1 - the final out was a dramatic double play from a fine pick-up and throw from right fielder Ransford to Henty to Taylor to catch future Baseball Victoria life member and legend Charles Lansdown at the plate.
Above: MCC Baseball Section Team - Premiers 1911 and 1912
In 1912 there was a baseball carnival in Victoria and several teams came over from NSW. Alan Kippax was among the juniors, and Charles Simmonds, who had appeared for Australia against US Fleet teams in 1900 and 1908 and captained his State many times, was among the seniors. Then among the Victorians there was Vernon Ransford, right field, and Jack Ryder, left field. New South Wales won, nine runs to six. Simmonds transferred to Melbourne in 1914 and joined the MCC. Len Mullet, a left arm pitcher of great ability and Simmonds as catcher, formed an outstanding battery. In 1917, Mullet secured twenty strike-outs in a game against St. Kilda. Charles went on to become President of the Melbourne Cricket Club from 1957 to 1965.
Many stories are told about Charles Simmonds in those days. Not all of them have been substantiated, but this one was interesting. On one occasion C. W. Simmonds was catching and there was a man on third. After taking a pitched ball, Simmonds inconspicuously took a white potato from his pocket and hurled it towards third base. It sailed high over the baseman’s head. The runner on third, thinking it was the ball, immediately took off for the home plate with thoughts of a certain run. As he ran towards home Simmons casually tagged him with the ball, which had been carefully concealed in his glove.
It could be a rugged game at times. One time when he was playing the MCC at Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, Simmonds ducked a ball from Dr Twiss; it hit him on the head and bounced right out of the field into the tennis courts. Baseballers, apparently are built for that sort of thing and he was uninjured. Another time, on the MCG, when NSW was playing Victoria, Simmonds was stealing second base. J. Balantyne, short stop, covered second base, went to tag Simmonds, but missed his body and hit him on the chin: with the ball. He knocked him unconscious. Later Charles Simmonds introduced him as the only man who ever knocked him out. On the left was Balantyne, 10 stone, on the right, Simmonds, 12 stone.
A great occasion in Australian baseball was the appearance in 1914 on the MCG of the two top American teams, the New York Giants and the Chicago White Sox, under the leadership of the famous John J. McGraw and Charles Comiskey who were on a combined world tour. Both of these teams were at near full strength and played exhibition games against each other and against Victoria. Among the Victorians there was Vernon Ransford, right field, and Jack Ryder, left field but the local standard was so far behind that of the visitors as to amount to a different game. The Giants defeated Victoria 18 to 1, and the White Sox were almost equally destructive, 16 to 3. Hugh Trumble used to tell a story of this visit. The top-hatted, frock-coated advance agent came to his office. He gave a full-speed, non-stop oration on terms and requirements and he finished it with these words: 'We don't like to fuss around with foreign banks and foreign currency - and as we leave for Adelaide after the play, we would be glad for you to have the proceeds in sovereigns right at the gate. We will count them on the train.’
Baseball fans were able to see in action such immortals of the game as Tris Speaker, Larry Doyle, Fred Merkle and the incredible athlete Jim Thorpe, playing for the Giants. In 1950 a nation-wide poll of American sports writers voted Thorpe as the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century as well as the greatest football player. Apart from his football and his baseball, he was the winner of both the pentathlon and the decathlon in the Stockholm Olympic Games of 1912 only to lose the medals on the grounds that he had managed a pool room and had played semi-professional Baseball.
The highlight of these matches was undoubtedly a home run by the fabulous Red Indian athlete, Jim Thorpe. His hit from in front what is now the Northern or Olympic stand clean over the fence on the opposite side of the ground and is calculated at over 550 feet. The ball landed on the asphalt embankment and crashed into the booth bar on top of the bank much to the astonishment of the drinkers. It was the biggest hit ever recorded on the MCG. And this was years before the introduction of the rubber centred or lively ball.
There were many other great names amongst the touring party, but perhaps the one which will live the longest is that of Fred Merke, the Giants first baseman, who in a previous season had perpetrated the historic Merkle boner. In the deciding game for the National league pennant with the score tied at two out in the ninth, Merle was the runner on first when the winning run was batted in from third. With the crowd over-running the ground, Merkle did not go on up to second, and the resultant rhubarb caused the umpires to call the game off as a tie. The Giants lost the replay, the pennant, and a berth in the World Series while Merkle’s name went into baseball’s text books for ever.
In 1915 a breakaway group of teams formed the Victorian Baseball Union to avoid playing on Association grounds which played to smaller crowds. The club competed in the Union as well as the League, winning the A-grade Union premiership in 1916, 1919 and 1920.
During the 1920’s the Club’s efforts met with only moderate success as Vernon Ransford, Freddie Vaughan and Harry Taylor all retired in the early part of the decade. Some of the famous names at the time were the Rodgerson brothers, Mel Stokes, Charlie Macartney, Peter Gibaud, Frank Mercovich and Frank Beaurepaire. Outstanding MCC players in its first thirty years were C. Rose, F. Walters, W. Bruce, J. McKay, W. Ingleton, T&H Irwin, C. Over, A. Wiseman, Dr. Twiss, G. Henty, J Ballantyne, W. Scott, H. Allen, A & L Johnston, V. Ransford, B. Onyona, L. Mullett, C. Simmonds, A. Chrighton, F. Vaughan, and H. Taylor.
The year of 1925 marked the visit of the American Pacific fleet which practically filled the Port and was honoured by a ten day Baseball carnival. Of interest in these games was the appearance at centre field for Victoria of a sixteen year old from Hawthorn-East Melbourne named Jack Francis who later played 25 years with the MCC as a pitcher, first baseman and for a period, the best second baseman in the State. He was still representing the MCC as an A pennant Bowls skipper into the 1980’s, a record of over 70 years in the front line for the Club.
Also in 1925 the League and the Union settled their differences and amalgamated into the Victorian Baseball Association under the Presidency of Len Johnston, a prominent MCC player of former years.
The A-grade competition coincided with the League football fixture list, which that year had expanded into 12 clubs with the admission of Footscray, North Melbourne and Hawthorn. It was considered that Baseball should set up a parallel competition and play the same set of fixtures. In the first season under this systems Geelong was represented by Williamstown, and under a challenge arrangement was supplanted by University, Northco, , , , , te and then Univers, ity again who were then permanently included in A grade.
Under this system every A grade team had the backing of a District Cricket Club with all of the resultant benefits. Baseball curtain-raisers to League football had been an institution right back to the years before the First World War, and this was the time when the game was most popular with the public. They were discontinued in 1947 when the introduction of the VFL third eighteen eliminated baseball from League football grounds and allowed promotion and relegation to return.
After 1929 the club steadily began to improve. There were some great occasions such as the day in 1929 when the left-hander Bill Mackay pitched a no-hit game against University. The acquisition of Jack Francis, Stan Qu, , in, Tom Trumble, Roo Morris, Bill McKay and Len Darling lifted the club into the grand final of 1931, only to be narrowly defeated by Carlton.
During the 1930s the club was always well up in the four or just out of it, the addition of Bill Ponsford, Perry Ballmer, Geoff Eustace, Les Cheong, Colin Spargo, Keith Taylor and Colin Miller gave the Club teams that were probably as strong as any in its history, but the opposition was also strong and we had to be content with premierships only in 1932 and 1935, while finishing runners up in 1938 and 1939. In 1933 our second nine were premiers and our third nine runners up in their respective grades.
In 1934 Perry Balmer, the giant American first baseman and mighty hitter, received the first award of the Lansdown Medal for the best player in Victoria. Undoubtedly Perry was one of the greatest players ever to represent the club and one of the most popular, but sadly in 1937, an old injury struck him down and he died after a short illness.
In 1935 Melbourne finished the season as minor premiers and the season included 9 shutouts and an 18-1 record. Melbourne won both finals while defeating Richmond 4-1 in the grand final.
Above: 1938 Team photo, note that the team did not win the premiership that year, it is likely this is a team shot during the 1938 finals.
In 1939 Colin Miller won the Lansdown Medal. He was also a great player for the club and a grand clubman.
World War II caused a complete disruption of the competition and most clubs struggled to keep even one side in the field, but despite number being cut from 40 members to 12, the game went on and Melbourne was a strong force throughout the decade. Melbourne won back to back premierships in 1942/3 and 1945/6 as well as the Club Championships of 1942 and 1943. The club was also one of the few teams during this period to beat the powerful combination of American servicemen. In 1943 the final was a very exciting match, and the club defeated St Kilda by 2 runs. A big factor in the success was the strong batting of George Merkle and Lyn Straw and the pitching of Ross Straw, backed up by the catching of Stan Quin who all developed into outstanding players for the Section. We were fortunate during the war years to gain the services of Bill Jost, an American serviceman, stationed in Melbourne.
Jost was a gridiron footballer of some note, and he fascinated Melbourne crowds by the way he could throw a football. In one demonstration he competed against Fred Hughson of Fitzroy, and according to Fitzroy fans nobody could kick a ball further than Hughson. This day he had to kick the ball 75 yards to beat the throwing of Bill Jost.
The club again won the premiership in 1946, and it was like the old days after the First World War. It had taken four premierships and two championships in five years. At the War’s end the Club saw the return of many members from the Services and the recruitment of several more, one of whom was Max Lord.
The last competitive game played on the MCG was the 1947 A1 Reserve grand final in which we defeated Prahran for the premiership 10 runs to 9 in an extraordinary game extending over 4 hours. This marked the second retirement of one of our great players in Les Cheong, who had or, iginally finished in 1938 after seriously injuring a knee in an interstate carnival. Although on one leg in this season, Les held down right field and did good work with the bat. Three of Hugh Trumble's sons, Tim, Charlie and Ken were playing. Both Charlie and Ken broke their left legs. Over the preceding seasons, five Trumble brothers appeared for the club, the other two being Arthur and Robert. Two sons of Arthur, Ian and Rex, also played with Melbourne at later stages.
Ken had returned after years as a prisoner of war in Japan. Disaster came in the second innings when he was sprinting from second to third base. There had been some rain during the week and the turf on the MCG was hard on top but soft and sticky underneath. As he went into his slide his boot dug deep into the ground and he went into a Catherine-wheel. When the players picked him up his foot, which should have been pointing north, was pointing south. His badly dislocated ankle was broken and they took him to Prince Henry’s Hospital.
Later in the game Charlie Trumble was trying to steal from first to second. It was too dangerous. He made a mighty leap back to first base, his foot dug in, and he did exactly the same thing as his brother. Something seemed to give, but he felt no serious pain. That night he went to the hospital to see Ken, and by this time his leg was swelling. At the hospital the doctors decided to give him an X-ray. His leg was broken in two places and he was to be in plaster for 14 weeks.
The irony of it was that next day he received a note from Vernon Ransford congratulating him with the news that he had been appointed captain of the club’s D cricket eleven.
MCC baseballers then made their headquarters the Albert Cricket Ground in St Kilda Road from season 1947 onwards due to the introduction of the VFL third eighteen matches used to replace baseball as curtain raisers at League football grounds.
In 1948 George Belfrage, who had been secretary for 30 Years and captained second and third nines for most of that time, succeeded Andy Crighton as Chairman. George Belfrage started as a player in 1916 and when he resigned early in 1957 his association with the section had lasted 41 years. He was succeeded as chairman by Tom Trumble, who worked as a player and administrator since 1925.
Les Millis became the new secretary in 1948 and immediately the section began to take on a new aspect. Les was a remarkable recruiter and a tireless organiser, integrating the Club as it never had before. There was a seemingly endless round of trips and excursions, dinners, dances, barbeques, theatre parties and smoke nights which attracted a number of members of other sections of the Club into our activities.
But it was too good to last. The Melbourne Football Club was not slow to realise his value, and he was lost to us in 1954. The writer can personally vouch for the contribution he made to the Football Club during the golden era of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
In 1948 Stan Quin retired and transferred to North Melbourne as coach – he had been an outstanding catcher for twenty years. This position was filled by Max Lord who was to become one of our all time great players.
During the 1950s, we took the club championship of Victoria in 1953 and 1956 and with great interstate players like Max Lord, Ken Stephens, Ken Donald, Stan Matthews and Lyn and Ross Straw there was no shortage of talent.
Above: MCC First Nine 1950
By 1951 we had all three teams in the finals and repeated in 1952 when our third nine were premiers.
In 1953, in the third nine team appears the name of a young fellow called David Went who had already distinguished himself by rescuing an elderly person who had fallen from a railway platform into the path of an oncoming train. Also in 1953 Ken Donald won trophies for the best V.B.A. player and for the highest batting average in the competition.
However in 1954, the Straw brothers moved to Essendon, Ian Huntington was claimed by University and we lost three other first nine players for various reasons.
With a nucleus of Ken Stephens, Max Lord, Ken Donald and Colin Miller, we recruited John Miles and George Ford from University and with reinforcements from our premiership seconds and thirds, namely Stan Matthew and Dave Hansford in particular, we turned out a side good enough to beat Essendon on its way to a place in the finals. Our second nine also played in the finals, While Max Lord was named best player in that season’s interstate carnival.
In 1956 we won the A grade Club championship with all teams doing well. At the end of the season George Belfrage resigned as chairman with Tom Trumble being appointed in his place. Tom had acted as George’s deputy for a number of seasons during a prolonged terminal illness of Mrs. Belfrage. Max lord represented Australia against a visiting US Services team on the MCG during the Olympic Games.
In 1956, the South Melbourne cricket ground was flood lit and with great expectations a night Baseball competition was initiated. Sponsors were found for eight combined teams, the MCC playing under the mantle of Biro, Swan and Collin and being assisted variously by North Melbourne, Fitzroy, Richmond, Footscray, Caulfield, University and others. There was little public support, the sponsors withdrawing after two disappointing seasons, and although the competition battled on for another three on a nominal club basis, it was finally abandoned. Our best performance was to run second in the last season.
There was a black year in 1957. The Melbourne Football Club took over the Albert Ground while the MCG was being restored following the 1956 Olympic Games and we played at the oval of Miller’s Rope Works in Brunswick. It was not a good year for us, and although only three games out of the four we needed to defeat Prahran in the last game to avoid relegation. We were headed for victory when a violent hail-storm interrupted proceedings for half an hour, allowing Prahran back into the game, and then at the end, what appeared to be the winning hit, turned into a miraculous outfield fly and put us into B grade.
1958 was the first year that the club was not represented in the top grade. Max Wishart the All Australian second baseman, was appointed coach and there was a superb recovery. He bought with him an ex New York Giant’s player in Charlie Gassner whose assistance was invaluable. With a new lease of life from Ken Stephens as pitcher, they went through the B grade like a hot north wind to win the B grade premiership and the club championship. Melbourne in 1959 was back in the A grade four.
Above: MCC Baseball Section B grade Premiers & Club Champions 1958
In 1958 the club fielded our first ever under age team and before the start of the 1959 season we staged a field day for 12 to 15 year olds whom we entered two teams in the under sixteen competition. These two teams finished premiers and runners-up in the same section in their first year and also won premierships in 1960 and 1963. From these boys Peter McFarlane and Roger Miller player Senior baseball for Australia, Geoff Mathers, Wayne and Bobbie Bishop and Noel Smith for Queensland. Many others have been mainstays of the Club ever since.
A special note is due here for Arch Cavanagh who brought his three boys, Tony, Michael and John down to the first field day, and was talked into becoming a team manager. There is no need to stress what Arch and his wife Veronica have meant to the Melbourne Baseball Club ever since, nor to mention the contributions made by the boys.
In 1959, with players like the speed pitcher Alan Connolly from Geelong who later played Test cricket for Australia, Ken Stephens, Bernie Bryer, Eddie Illingworth, Ken Capp and David Went, the club made the final four.
1960 was the year that the V.B.A. lumped the A and B grades together and formed North and South division. We were in South Division and failed to make the finals. A highlight in this season was our winning of the V.B.A. lightning premiership, defeating in turn Collingwood, Malvern, Fitzroy, Prahran and Essendon. The heroes of this series were Eddie Illingworth who pitched fifteen innings and Rod Franklin who caught for twenty five. Four of our junior stars in Geoff Mathers, Roger Miller, Con Doherty and Wayne Bishop gave great support.
In 1961 David Went made the interstate squad for the first time and suffered a fractured skull at private batting practice. On his behalf the boys ran a pleasant Sunday morning which went until nine o’clock at night. David did not play again that season and we lost the South division premiership to Malvern by only one run.
Season 1962 opened with seven teams representing the club. There was an extra senior team to absorb all the promising juniors and a third under-16 team. All these teams were well coached by Max Wishart assisted by Charles Gassner, ex-New York Giants, Ian Huntington and our senior players. Two of the promising juniors in Geoff Mathers and Roger Miller were by now regulars in the first nine.
This season also saw Gordon McKee take over as secretary. Since the loss of Les Millis as the start of 1954 season, this position had been held in turn by Jack Elliot, Keith Cheong and Martin Kenny but various factors had prevented any of them from remaining in the job for very long. Gordon was to give outstanding service for fifteen years.
In 1963 the V.B.A reverted to the old A and B grade system, and we resumed our customary position in A grade. With 5 teams in the finals, Melbourne won the A grade Club Championship with premierships going to out third, fourth and under 16 teams. Max Lord came out of retirement this season to take over the thirds.
Ken Stephens replaced Max Wishart as coach in 1964. Max had lifted us out of B grade in 1958 and had built us into a very strong club. Our thanks are due to him also for the rapid progress made by many of our younger players under his guidance.
Ken Stephens had joined the club from the minors in 1952 and had gained Victorian selection in his first A grade season. He starred as a left arm pitcher, outfielder, first baseman and with the bat. One of our best clubman ever, he coached and managed junior sides for many seasons.
In this season, with both Connolly and Illingworth absent overseas, Ken pitched our first nine into second place, but in the finals, a baulk in one game and a spilt fly ball in the other, caused our elimination.
The 1965 season saw us again winners of the V.B.A. lightning premiership, but although we had five teams in the finals, we had to be content with our fourth-nine winning its third successive premiership. The end of the season saw the retirement of Tom Trumble as Chairman. Like his predecessor, George Belfrage, he had been actively involved in the Club for forty years but pressure from his other duties as MCC and MFC committeeman and VFL delegate, together with family responsibilities were proving too much. He was succeeded in the position by Keith Cheong who had followed his father and uncle into the Club in the early 1950’s and played a valuable role in various teams, mainly as a pitcher and acted as secretary for some years.
In the 1966 season, Ken Stephens resigned as coach because of the increasing demands of his business. David Went, who was now a regular member of the State side, took over the reins and was soon to become Victorian coach, and then assistant coach and later official coach of the Australian teams which toured abroad. In this season also three of our 1960’s under 16 stars in Geoff Mathers and Wayne and Robbie Bishop were all selected in the Victorian Carnival teams, while another team mate in Brian Carne represented Western Australia.
This season launched us into one of the most exciting as well as exasperating periods in our history. We won the A grade premierships of 1967, 1969 and 1971, missed the finals altogether in 1968 and lost the premiership 1 – 0 to South Melbourne in 1970, on an error. South had not one an A grade premiership for over sixty years and have now disappeared from the scene. We won the V.B.A Lightning premiership in 1967, under 15 in 1969, A1 grade in 1970, under 17 and under 13 together with the Club championship with seven teams in finals, in 1971 and the under 17 premiership in 1972. We also won the summer competition in season 1969/70.
In the period from 1962 to 1972, fifteen separate MCC players were picked to play for Victoria with an aggregate of 43 separate selections.
In 1968, Peter McFarlane and Roger Miller were selected to play for Australia in a series against a top Japanese amateur team who visited here to asses the standard of Australian Baseball. In 1969 Peter was selected in another Australian side which visited Manila.
In 1971, Roger Miller and David Went as assistant coach, were selected in the team invited to play in the 9th Asian championships in Seoul, Korea. Australia was on a probationary basis, but after wins over Japan, Korea and China, was accepted as a full member of the Baseball Federation of Asia. This was a remarkable achievement when one considers that all of our opponents were semi-professionals playing on company teams and drawn from a huge population.
Then in 1973, David Went was appointed official coach of the Australian team which played in the Asian series in Manila and he held that position until 1982.
But back to 1971, in this year Keith Cheong was forced to resign as Chairman, because of the expansion of his business activities, although he remained on the Section committee. He was replaced as Chairman by Colin Spargo who had played in our strong pre-war A grade sides and had lately come on to the MCC committee.
Above: MCC Baseball Section Division 1 Premiers 1971
In 1972 five of our teams made the finals with our Under 17’s repeating their premiership of the previous year. In this season, Martin Kenny who had been a one hundred and fifty game player with our second nine and secretary of the section for three years as week as a fifteen year cricketer with the Club, underwent brain surgery for a tumour, with consequent limitations to his mental processes. A benefit fund was organised by some of his old team mates and this culminated in a sportsman’s night held at the MCG.
The night was compared by Ted Whitten, who excelled, and he was assisted by Ron Barassi, Bob Skilton, Lionel Rose, his cousin and two other good boxers, their trainer Jack Rennie, Alan Connolly, Sid Patterson, Brian Blackmore and others, and was one of the greatest nights ever held at the ground. The final result was to assist in taking the load off the shoulders of Martin’s wife Paddy and their four children.
In 1973 our A side unsettled by the retirement or transfer of several experienced players did not make the finals. Four of our other sides did, however, our seconds, thirds and under 17’s all being runners-up, while our under 15’s were defeated in their preliminary final.
In 1974 our A side weakened further by the loss of pitcher Noel Smith through injury, battled to avoid relegation. Bright notes, however, were the premiership won by our youthful second nine and the playing in grands finals again of our thirds and under 17’s. Another splendid performance was that of our under 13 boys, who commenced the season with a 35 – 0 defeat, but battled on to a place in the four.
1975 was a year of team building, 19 players appearing in our A side. Among them was American Dennis Bettancourt who was a tower of strength. The team won 9 games, drew 2 but did not make the four. Our second nine maintained their form in spite of many changes but were beaten in the grand final. Our under 13’s were also runners up, while our under 17’s made the four after 8 consecutive losses.
Although winning the summer premiership in 1975/76, the 1976 season started disastrously with the loss of 6 first nine players from the previous season. The acquisition of American Michael Raney, a top class pitcher midway through the season lifted us to finish half a game outside the four.
One has only to look at the names of Victoria's top baseballers now and in the past to see what the game has done for cricket, and the story has been the same throughout Australia with everyone from Norman O’Neill and Neil Harvey back to the days of Trumper, Ransford and Ben Wardill. The MCC Committee of the 1880s showed great enterprise.
After the outstanding successes of the 1960s and 1970s the club's performance faltered and seemed to lack purpose for some years.
As with all other sports the post-war socioeconomic development of Melbourne had its effect on baseball. Housing and industrial development in the outer areas saw increases in clubs participating in the Diamond Valley, Ringwood and Dandenong Baseball Associations. Conversely, the inner suburbs with an aging Australian population and an influx of migrants from European countries saw the demise of many clubs catering for all sorts of sports. As far as baseball was concerned this included North Melbourne, Richmond, Carlton, Collingwood, Brunswick, East Brunswick, South Melbourne, Prahran and Flemington. The MCC found recruitment of juniors living within a reasonable distance of the Albert Ground and Fawkner Park had become a problem during the late 60's and early 70's.
Baseball enters the modern era
Foreword by Arch Cavanagh
The first history of the MCC Baseball Section was written in 1980. Tom Trumble had researched the detail up to 1976 and when he was ready to produce it he asked me, as Chairman of the then Melbourne Baseball Club, to update it. There was always the feeling that it was still looked upon as part of the MCC and the official return would be achieved.
The present committee requested my assistance in bringing the story up to date for this Centenary publication. I thank them for the honour.
Unlike Tom, my task was comparatively easy as I had Section Annual Reports from 1976-77 to 1987-88 available to me. Readers will probably notice that as a result the past 12 years have been treated in more detail.
In August 1976 the Victorian Baseball Association made a decision to change the season for the main competition to summer. This is the time of year in which the sport is played in the two major countries of America and Japan. Furthermore all other Australian states were playing during summer and this put Victoria at a considerable disadvantage for the Australian Championships (the Claxton Shield). The immediate impact on Melbourne was that the Albert Ground was no longer available for training or matches. Understandably the MCC cricketers had first call on this outstanding ground surface.
With the benefit of hindsight this enforced move had the particular benefit of rejuvenating the junior section of the club. It had only been through efforts of current and former players like Ken Stephens, Ron Ralph and Wayne Bishop organising groups of juniors from their own residential and work areas that the section had been able to fulfil its VBA obligation to field three junior teams. Ten years later the club was running its own under-13 centre with four teams in regular competition. In addition upwards of 20 to 30 under-10 players learn about the game and its skills playing the modified version called T-ball. Two under-15s and two under-17 teams complete a junior contingent numbering well in excess of 100.
At the August 1976 MCC general committee meeting, Colin Spargo sought the opinion of the committee on the move to summer Baseball, pointing out that it would have little or no effect on the Club’s cricket. Out of a number of views expressed, only one member of the committee opposed the Clubs engagement in summer Baseball. No conclusion was reached nor any decision made at this meeting.
At a following meeting, a senior committeeman put a motion calling for the club to disband its Baseball section, on the improbable grounds that the V.C.A. might look with disfavour on one of its member clubs sponsoring a competitive sport. The motion was carried by the President and carried with only two members dissenting – a plea for deferment for 12 months to enable the situation to be studied was not accepted.
An independent Melbourne Baseball Club was formed, backed by a support group known as the “Pinch Hitters” and a ground was obtained at Kew.
The Melbourne Cricket Club released all funds held by the section, handed over all Baseball materials, and waived an amount outstanding on a loan made for the purchase of special equipment. It also admitted to membership, ten players who had already qualified or were with a season of doing so.
Although there is no question of the general committee’s power to take this action, a considerable number of members felt that it was wrong. The issue of the Baseball section’s reunification into the MCC was to continue to be a goal of the Baseball Club over the next ten years.
The news that the MCC committee had decide to disband its Baseball section dismayed everybody in the Club. However, the bright side was that there was a group of talented juniors on their way up and with the recruitment of 3 or 4 good players in the same age group, we looked set to again develop into a force to be reckoned with.
It was difficult to accept that baseball being played on summer Sundays and Wednesday evenings, presented any real threat to cricket. With one exception, (he was a potential Sheffield Shield cricketer who gave up Baseball to concentrate on cricket), all other players indicated they would continue with both their cricket and baseball. A unanimous decision was taken that we should stay together and continue in the V.B.A as the Melbourne Baseball Club.
An offer by the V.B.A. to use Ross Straw field as our home ground was declined as Flemington has disbanded based on their inability to attract juniors from the surrounding district. After considerable research, an approach was made to Kew council for the use of Stradbroke Park. This oval was only used for Football so there was no clash with other summer sports. At the same time it also gave us access to a number of local primary and secondary schools. These local sources of junior players have been constantly tapped. The main credit for this new location was Murray Fielder, a former South Australian, who gave 8 seasons outstanding service as a player and 2 as secretary including the difficult transition period.
A suggestion that we change our name to Kew Baseball Club was successfully resisted. The former Kew Club has disbanded the previous season after a poor record on the field and administratively.
The challenge of finding our way after 86 years under the banner of the MCC produced a number of pleasing features. There was a deep strengthening of club spirit, we gained new players both senior and particularly junior, there were improved performances on the field, the supporters ranks swelled and social activities were well attended. In addition, a large number of former players, officials and friends, formed the “Pinch-Hitters” to lend valuable financial and advisory assistance.
On the field in 1976/77, a series of early wins gave us our best ever start for a decade with top position at the Christmas break. However a slump caused mainly by poor defence saw us just hold on to our position in the final four. We lost the semi final to Preston. The 3 under age sides all made the finals with the under 13’s being runners-up.
The club was represented at interstate level by David Went (Manager, title was formally coach), Michael Raney, Max Grant, and Mark Day (under 15’s).
Season 1977/78 required us to find a new secretary as Murray Fielder had returned to Adelaide. Our choice fell on Neil King recruited as a player from Oakleigh 2 years previously. It proved an excellent choice.
Early inconsistency proved a big handicap to the first nine and although we defeated 4 of the top 5 over the last 8 games, it was not good enough to put us in the finals. However, the thirds and the 3 under age sides all made the finals, with the under 13’s winning the premiership.
David Went was again Victorian manager in 1977/78 and Zen Gotoh was our sole under age state representative in under 13’s.
From 1978/79 the V.B.A introduced a rule that required a raised pitching mound for all Division 1 clubs. To meet this requirement we approached the North Balwyn Baseball Club and the Macleay Park committee of management and were successful in obtaining the use of their well established diamond. With Nth Balwyn playing in the Ringwood winter competition and the ground only a mile from Stradbroke Park, we were able to combine in further developing juniors in the Nth Balwyn – Kew area. The neighbouring areas have proved to be a continual source of junior players.
We gained the services of John Hodges, an outstanding Short-stop and Geelong pitcher Gary Hicks. Although batting was the strongest for many years, our defence again let us down and we finished one game out of the four. Again the thirds and our 3 under age sides all made the finals but a premiership eluded us.
After only one season as secretary, Neil King was transferred in his work to the country and his position was filled by Ian Williams, a Melbourne player from the very early junior days and a dedicated clubman.
We had outstanding representative selection this season, David Went (Vic. Manager and Australian Assistant Manager), John Hodges (Vic. and Australia), Ross Arthur, Rod Chapman and Gavin Fraser (Vic.), Grant Weir (Vic. U18 and U18 American tour selection), Zen Gotoh and Keita Yashima (Vic. U15).
The recruitment of Greg Biggs to the pitching staff and the development of 18 year old Grant Weir as a pitcher, augured well for a successful 1979/80 season. In probably the most even competition for 30 years, we won the last 4 games decisively to enter the finals. However, we failed to Coburg, the eventual premiers and Malvern, both of whom we had defeated during the last 4 games. Provided the players learned from their lack of application and self discipline in these matches, they should again make the finals next year and hopefully a flag. The seconds also lost their semi-final. All junior sides again made the four with the under 15 side winning a flag.
We were again strongly representative at State level, David Went (Manager), John Hodges, Ross Arthur, Rod Chapman, Wes Thornton (Under 18) and Zen Gotoh and Keita Yashima (U15). David Went (Manager) and John Hodges were selected to represent Australia in the Asian championships in August 1980.
Ross Arthur won the V.B.A. Division 1 Best Player Award – we probably have to go back to the 1940’s since this honour was achieved by a Melbourne player.
And so we look back over the last 4 seasons. A majority of the senior players and officials were with the club as a section of the MCC and feel proud that they have been able to carry on, both on and off the field, the traditions established over the past 88 years. The attainment of the highest standards and the sense of belonging with those standards are not easily discarded.
We must also look forward. What does the future hold?
The volatile eighties
If any title was to be given to the development of Baseball in the 1980’s then it would have to be “volatile”.
On the national front, the Claxton Shield which had commended in 1934 had been played as a carnival in the capital city of each state on a rotational basis. Then in the early eighties it was changed to a zone system with West Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory forming the West Zone and Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria forming the East Zone. The leader in each Zone played off for the Shield. After two years this was replaced with the “touring” concept where each state did a 14 day tour of all other states with the top 2 states playing off. In 1988 an entrepreneur had the authority to organise a national league.
Within Victoria, the VBA had for many years, conducted its program within a 12 division and 22 game framework with each playing all others twice. The 1980/81 season introduced a 28 game season with a “luck of the draw” component. It included 3 double headers – playing the same opponent twice in the one day and 3 Wednesday twilight games. After 2 seasons it reverted to a 22 game season for 1 year then it changed to a 27 game season with a number of games on Saturday and under lights at South Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesdays.
The most significant factor of the 1980/81 season was the rapid development of the junior program. A decision to run clinics over the August/September school holidays was well supported by senior players acting as coaches. The increased parent interest and involvement was also a big plus. We fielded 1-U17, 2-U15 and 2-U13 sides.
We moved into the sponsorship area for the first time with boards around the outfield fence.
The first nine was defeated by Waverley 6-5 in the preliminary final in a really outstanding and controversial game. Trailing by a run in the late innings, Ross Arthur drove a pitch from Phil Dale over the left field fence with two runners on base, but the ball hit a cricket practice net tied to the outfield fence from the previous day’s cricket practice. Instead of a 3 run homer – only the tying run scored with Waverley winning the game by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning!
D. Went, J. Hodges, R. Arthur and R. Chapman were in the Claxton Shield side with the first three also in the Australian side.
John Hodges won the Helms award as the outstanding player in the Claxton Shield series. Junior State representatives were W. Thornton, T. Nomura, and A. Nomura with Wes Thornton also in the Australian side which played in the junior World Series in Ohio.
All this time the junior programme was developing momentum. An early indication of its potential was seen when the first batch of older boys combined to win the Division 1 reserves premiership in 1981-2. The years 1983 and 1986 saw the end of an era for the club and hopefully, confirmation of the beginning of another.
At the end of the 1983-4 season David Went retired after nearly 33 years association with the club. His service included 20 years as a player (1951-71) and 17 years as senior coach 1967-84. During this time he achieved state representation as a player from 1962 to 1968 and as senior coach from 1970 to 1982. The Victorian side was successful four times at the Australian championship whilst David was coach including a hat-trick of wins in the 1970s. Similarly he represented Australia as a player from 1962 to 1965, and in various coaching capacities from 1971 to 1983. He was Australia’s 1st Level 3 Accredited Baseball Coach. In 1985 following his retirement David Went was made a life member of the Victorian Baseball Association.
No less a contribution, albeit largely off the field was made by the Cavanagh family. Arch and Veronica became associated with the Demons in 1959 and then followed the club’s progress along with that of their sons (Tim, Michael and John). They became part and parcel of the administrative and social structure of the club. Arch was elected section chairman in 1976 and held that position until his retirement in 1986.
The fruits of the junior programme began to be harvested in these years with pennant victories in all age groups. In particular:
· The 1983-4 under-13 side represented Victoria at the Australian Championship as the best club team in the State.
· Under-13 teams under the coaching of Des Marshall won four metropolitan Lightning Premiership (one day's continuous play competition) in four out of the five years from 1982 to 1987.
· The 1986-7 under-17 team won the State Club Championship to confirm their standing as the best top-age junior team in Victoria.
October of 1986 saw the Melbourne club produce a 'first' in Australian baseball by hosting a dinner for the visiting American Hall of Fame great, Stan Musial. The evening, staged in the Olympic Rooms, was a huge success - both for the section and for Victorian baseball generally.
It is an odd turn of history that the Melbourne club won the first ever Victorian title - and in the 1987-8 season won the title again to return to the top Division 1 competition in their centenary season.
Above: Ross Arthur holding the 1987-88 Division 2 shield
In 1988 the club celebrated its centenary with a dinner in the Long Room. Perhaps even more significant there was a 'Living Legends' match at the historic Albert Ground. Each club made a selection of veterans in the 40 to 50 age group and played a game Melbourne versus Coburg, foundation teams from the original competition, 100 years before.
In 1989-90 the club won the Victorian under-18 state title, which was a brilliant effort by coach Bill Longmire and all the players. Les Arthur and Norm Robinson became life members and playing coach, Ross Arthur, played his 400th game, a record for the section. Des Marshall and Peter Unwin became life members in 1996-7.
The greatest story of the 1990s was the search for a home. The club was playing at Macleay Park in North Balwyn. The local council was unsupportive and the local residents were unfriendly.
They wanted sport removed entirely from the North Balwyn area. At times Macleay Park was the worst in the competition and almost unplayable. This was disastrous for the section's performance. Some of the best players left the club knowing they could get better conditions elsewhere.
There were good years and bad years. In the 1990-91 season the club finished second in Division 1. The firsts, seconds and thirds all finished high in the finals. The club was relegated to Division 2 in 1992-3, scrambled back the following year only to be relegated once more in 1994-5. It was back again in 1995-6 and 1996-7. In 1997-8 the seniors dropped back once more and Macleay Park was in such disrepair, at times it was dangerous to play on.
But at last the good times were back again. The club entered a team in the recently formed Women's League and this was one of the most significant events in the clubs 109-year history. That team not, only proved itself being beaten only in the grand final, but it became a vital force to the club off the field. Chairman Rob Dyer was the driving force behind the introduction of the team. The women were such a success, the following year the section was strong enough to introduce a second women’s team. The MCC was one of the few clubs that could field two women’s teams.
At last things were happening, a new home was on the way. In May 1998 there were meetings between the Melbourne Cricket Club and the City of Whitehorse and construction actually begun at Surrey Park in Box Hill in August. The club was grateful to Ian Buckingham for all the work he did to bring it about.
On September 26, 1999, Bruce Church. President of the Melbourne Cricket Club, opened the splendid new baseball field and clubhouse at Surrey Park. It was a joint effort between the City of Whitehorse, the baseball section and the MCC. The biggest share of funds came from the MCC.
So for the 2000-01 season the future was bright indeed. The club was back in Division 1. There were 104 registered players, men and women, and just over 200 in the juniors.
Above: 2000-01 Division 2 Premiership Team photo
The above contains excerpts from “The MCG: People’s Ground”
By: Keith Dunstan
Publisher: Australian Scholarly Publishing
Contributors to this book included content from a manuscript entitled “The history of Melbourne Cricket Club / Baseball Section” that was first undertaken by Tom Trumble from day 1 and continued by Arch Cavanagh from 1976 thru 1988 and Peter Unwin 1988 to 2000. Other general content has been added from public information sources to fill in the gaps in Tom Trumbles original manuscript.