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The Midnight Terrors: Baseball's Original Thugs

Image result for 1890s new york baseball team
The St. Bonaventure College baseball team in the 1890s.  How can you play the game without a splendid uniform?

Probably the nastiest team in the history of baseball—or in any sport, ever—were the Midnight Terrors.  The Midnight Terrors started out in the 1890s not as athletes but as a teenage street gang, operating out of Manhattan’s First Ward—what’s now known as Battery Park and the Financial District.  Their ages ranged from 11 to 19, and they gave themselves that name because they did their best work at night.  When forming baseball teams got popular, they got the idea to form their own team.  They weren’t allowed to form a team unless they had their own uniforms, which was a problem.  Uniforms cost money, and no one was willing to sponsor them.  Their solution was to start the Midnight Terrors’ Uniform Fund, which was supported entirely by a rash of armed robberies.  They picked pockets, snatched purses, robbed people at gunpoint and knifepoint, and even robbed businesses as far north as Prince Street.

With the success of the Uniform Fund, they could start playing.  The Midnight Terrors were never any good at the game, but athleticism was never really the plan.  The Terrors, like other players, wore metal spikes on their cleats to help them gain traction when running the bases.  Their spikes were sharpened to inflict damage when they would “accidentally” slide into players on the other teams, or step on their feet.  The mayhem wasn’t strictly on the field, either.  When the team was at bat, instead of sitting in the dugout, players would walk through or under the bleachers, robbing spectators.  Their stats were terrible, but their haul was pretty good.

When games weren’t going on, the Terrors were still active in their original vocation of street crime.  They were good enough at it to pay off the cops in the First Ward.  They were foiled by their own ambitions, though.  Once they decided to spread their regular criminal operations outside the First Ward, the cops in other wards, who weren’t enjoying the bribes, cracked down on them hard.  The Terrors were soon rounded up and hauled off to court.  The leader of the gang boasted at his sentencing that he’d be back on the street in no time.  He was wrong.  They all got long sentences, and the game of baseball was nicely cleaned up.  Until the invention of steroids, at least.


Fascinating. Sounds like they were a real-life version of the Really Rottens:
Kurt Kaletka said…
You know, the Really Rottens kept going through my head while I was writing that piece. I almost referenced them. When I learned about the Midnight Terrors, I started thinking about how all the evil athletes in cartoons behaved throughout the 20th century, and it made me wonder just how common this sort of thing was. They certainly couldn't have chalked it all up to one team of teenaged thugs.

I feel like I did once read about Ty Cobb installing spikes on his cleats for nefarious purposes. I shouldn't say more about that before I research it, but from what I've heard about Cobb, it's believable.

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