Special thanks to Julie Mountain for sending us articles and information on Frank Mountain and to library volunteer Diane Leone for compiling this information.
Between the ages 10 and 14, my friends and I would gather for weekly games of Wiffle Ball in the court next to my house. We formed our own league, had our own constantly changing rules, decided what counted as a home run (over the power lines, over my neighbors fence, or if we managed to hit the street light), made some drastic modifications to the bats we used, decided whether a player running the bases would be considered out if he was hit with a thrown ball, and tried a few different types of ball (later experiments with a tennis ball led to unhappy neighbors and bruised hands). Like the residents of Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1791 who banned bat and ball games within 80 yards of the newly built meeting house, I’m sure our neighbors often wished to ban us from playing ball in the court. Similar to our ever changing rules, rule changes in professional baseball during the late-1800s happened quite frequently and Schenectady’s Frank “Curley” Mountain was one of the preeminent players during this evolving period of baseball.
Frank Mountain was born in Fort Edward, NY on May 17, 1860 to David and Elizabeth Mountain. The family moved to Schenectady in 1865. Frank would play sandlot ball while going to class at the Union Classical Institute, and would often head straight for Union College’s field. As a student in high school, he wasn’t technically allowed to play with the college students on campus, but his skill on the field made him a welcome addition. Mountain pitched one game for Union College in 1879 and at least 10 in 1880 before officially enrolling in Union in 1881. As a freshman, Mountain debated with Union Professor Cady Staley about the physical and mathematical possibility of throwing a curveball. It was widely believed that the curveball was an optical illusion and Mountain was set on proving that the ball actually curved. According to Reverend W.N.P Dailey in the St. Johnsville Enterprise, the debate was ended when Mountain “placed his teacher so that unless he moved suddenly in the straight pitch the curved ball at the plate would have hit him.” Staley was amazed by the pitch and would go on to have Frank demonstrate his curve for physics classes. Mountain and fellow student Daniel McElwain would lead Union to win the 1881 championship of the New York State Intercollegiate Baseball Association.
|Frank Mountain shown in the front row, second from the right, and the Union Class of 1884. Courtesy of Julie Mountain.|
|The 1884 Columbus Buckeyes. Pitchers Frank Mountain and Ed Morris are shown in the front row. Mountain and Morris pitched a total of 94 games in the 1884 season. Courtesy of the issue #37 of Old Cardboard (http://www.oldcardboard.com/enews/2007/enews37/enews37.htm).|
Mountain moved back to Schenectady, started a family, and worked at General Electric as the Assistant Fire Chief for about 40 years. An unidentified 1921 article titled “Frank Mountain Craves Chance to Pitch Them Over to Babe Ruth” profiled Mountain. In the article, he states that he would like to be back in the game “with his old-time pitcher’s cunning” to face off against Babe Ruth. The article also focuses on some of the changes that have occurred in baseball since his heyday. According to Mountain, the pitcher would never think of taking instructions from the catcher, as he would be able to decide which pitch he threw by sizing up each batter. It is also reported that he discovered the spitball and frequently used a “moist delivery to secure a fairly slow ball that broke with a drop as it crossed the plate.” He also played during a time when baseball gloves were optional. Even if players chose to wear a glove, they were more like a leather work glove and lacked padding or webbing. One of the first instances of adding padding to a glove was in 1885 when Providence Grays shortstop Arthur Irwin attempted to protect two broken fingers by padding his glove.
|An example of the type of glove players "subject to sore hands" would wear in the early 1880s. From the 1880 issue of the Spalding Base Ball Guide courtesy of The Smithsonian Library on Archive.org (https://archive.org/details/spaldingsbasebal1880chic).|
In 1938, Frank Mountain was given a silver pass which gave him lifetime admission to any Major League Baseball game. The pass came as a complete surprise to Mountain who said that receiving the pass was one of the happiest moments of his life. He passed away on November 30th, 1939 and was buried in the Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery. His legacy lives on through great granddaughter Julie Mountain, who also graduated from Union 103 years after Frank. She feels that his efforts to leverage Union and engineering professors to demonstrate that the curve was real and not an optical illusion is important to show his commitment to learning and education. Julie very kindly sent us her research on Frank Mountain for this post and is working to nominate Frank for the Buck O'Neil award for his early contributions to the game. If anyone has any additional information about him please contact her at Mountain_299@hotmail.com.
Vintage baseball leagues have
been making a comeback in recent years. The Atlantic Base Ball Club based out
of Brooklyn plays home games on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society
in Long Island, but have been playing at the Annual Ommegang Brewery Festival
in Cooperstown, NY. Follow this link to
watch a clip of the Atlantics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5I98ACObgnw.
|Frank Mountain kept his signature handlebar mustache (a bit difficult to see in this photo) throughout his life. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library.|
The Grems-Doolittle Library has been digitizing some of our photos on sports and recreation in Schenectady through the New York Heritage website. This collection features photos of the Schenectady Blue Jays, the J.C. Baseball Club, and the Schenectady Whirlwinds, with more being added periodically. Check it out at http://nyheritage.nnyln.net/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16694coll45.