Vintage baseball clubs from Philadelphia, Delaware team up to honor 1800s star with gravestone

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Vintage baseball clubs from Philadelphia and Delaware will honor one of the game’s original stars, Fergy Malone, with a grave marker on Sunday and then renew their own friendly rivalry. (Courtesy of Diamond State Baseball Club)

Vintage baseball clubs from Philadelphia and Delaware will honor one of the game’s original stars, Fergy Malone, with a grave marker on Sunday and then renew their own friendly rivalry. (Courtesy of Diamond State Baseball Club)

The athlete’s name was Fergus G. Malone but everybody called him Fergy.

He immigrated from Ireland to America as a boy in the mid-1800s and settled in Philadelphia. Malone excelled in cricket as a kid but later embraced his adopted country’s new game: baseball.

In 1866, a group of Wilmington, Delaware lawyers who formed an early professional baseball team, brought him to their town to play for the Diamond State club.

He later became a catcher and spent several years with the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia. Malone was a cog in the 1871 team that won the first championship of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.

Dan Gordon, president of the vintage rendition of the Athletic, called Malone a pioneer and perhaps the first catcher to wear a rudimentary glove behind the plate.

“When you have a catcher playing every single game and is also a very good hitter and really defining what happens on the field, then that’s really the importance of Malone,’’ Gordon said. “He solidified that position as a leadership position on the team, as a person who directs the team.”

Malone died in 1905 and is buried in an unmarked grave at Philadelphia’s New Cathedral Cemetery. 2019 is the 175th anniversary of his birth. It was the perfect time for the vintage teams in both cities to team up with his descendants and create a gravestone to honor Fergy.

They will dedicate the marker Sunday at noon on the cemetery’s north side and then square off at nearby Lighthouse Field at 199 E. Erie Ave.

The public is invited to attend the graveside ceremony and the game  at 1 p.m.

A player on the Philadelphia Athletic slides into home. (Courtesy of Athletic Baseball Club of Philadelphia)

The game will be contested using old-fashioned rules: No gloves, underhand pitching and nineteenth century uniforms that cost Athletic players up to $300 apiece.

Just like today’s game, the vintage counterparts couldn’t resist a little trash-talking. Jeff Kabacinski of the Delaware nine joked that his team has the upper hand to the modern matchups and took a lighthearted jab at his neighbors to the north.

He said the Athletic team “has history nerds and are looking for ballplayers. We have more guys who have baseball talent.”

Members of the Philadelphia Athletic gather before a recent game played under old-fashioned rules. (Courtesy of Athletic Baseball Club of Philadelphia)

Back in the 1860s, however, the Athletic beat the Wilmington club by an unthinkable 104 to 7 while letting the losers put 18 guys — twice the normal number — on the field.

“But I believe, we’ve gotten the best of the Athletic in recent times,” Kabacinski said.

The Diamond State Athletic Club, pictured in the field, has recently had bragging rights against its vintage team counterparts in Philadelphia. (WHYY file)

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