Once in a while, I see references made to a Ladies Day Riot that occurred on September 13, 1897 during a game involving the Washington Senators.
The story involves women angry about popular heartthrob pitcher Win Mercer getting tossed from the game for arguing with the umpire in the fifth inning, and the ladies in attendance attacking the umpire after the game, who had to be rescued by players and escorted to the clubhouse.
Supposedly, the ladies in attendance then attacked the stadium, ripped out seats and railings and broke windows. Police had to quell the disturbance and the umpire had to be smuggled out of the stadium in disguise.
Ladies Day was purportedly cancelled after this and not held again for years in Washington.
Some basic research demonstrates that this story has been wildly exaggerated, and the sexist overtones of the reason for the upset among the female fans simply aren’t true.
The account I read of this story, as noted above, claimed that the ladies broke windows in their rampage. That put my antenna up because most baseball stadiums of that era (or of any era) don’t tend to feature too many windows, especially near the grandstands and cheap seats. The picture above of Boundary Park (also called National Park) where the Senators played in 1897 displays a distinct lack of windows.
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Since I was having a hard time believing that particular detail, I wanted to see what the local newspapers had to say about this incident. Surely the fact that a bunch of women tore up a baseball stadium and attacked an umpire would have made the local papers.
I read the articles for the games of September 13th and September 14th published in the Washington Post and the game write ups for the September 13th game from the Washington Times and the Washington Star.
September 13, 1897 was probably not a Ladies Day game. The Washington Post had an article published on September 13th, which was a recap of the Senators’ play over the last seven days, which mentioned at the bottom of the article that today was Ladies Day at National Park. That was probably an error.
The write ups in both the Washington Post and Washington Times for the September 14th game both stated that the 7/14 game occurred on Ladies Day. The Washington Star article about the September 13th game notes at the bottom of the writeup that tomorrow [Sept. 14] is Ladies Day.
There was no incident reported by any newspaper for the September 14th game, even though George Mercer was pitching on that day and it was Ladies Day.
Mercer was the starter for the September 13th game also. He was able to start the next day because he was thrown out of 9/13 game in the third inning by umpire Bill Carpenter. Mercer, according to the Washington Star and Washington Post, was asked to take a seat on the bench by Carpenter for arguing balls and strikes in a somewhat unique manner, offering a pair of shaded spectacles to the umpire, implying there was something wrong with his eyesight. The umpire did not take kindly to the suggestion and thumbed Mercer to the bench. The Washington Times states that Mercer was verbally abusing the umpire.
Either way, it is clear that Win Mercer was no longer pitching for the Senators after the third inning.
The only mention of the umpire being confronted by female fans during the September 13th game apparently had nothing to do with the removal of Mercer, the “heartthrob pitcher” as he is referred to in the article I read about this incident.
That confrontation occurred after the seventh inning, according to the Washington Times story on the game, and it was sparked by a call by the umpire in the field.
All the newspaper accounts agree that one of the Cincinnati Reds batters, named Schriver, stepped out of the batter’s box to swing at pitches. Umpire Carpenter called him out for doing so, but after the Reds manager argued that only by making contact with the ball outside of the box would be an automatic out, the umpire reversed his call and Schriver drew a walk.
The writers from the Washington Post and Washington Star thought that the umpire’s call was correct in the first place and the batter should have been out. The writer for the Washington Times stated that the umpire was correct in reversing his decision. This just goes to show that baseball rules are just as complex and unfathomable now as they were then. Even the folks that get paid to cover sports can’t keep all of these rules straight.
At any rate, the Senators fans were enraged, especially since it led to a big inning for the Reds and was a call that arguably lost the home team the game.
The Washington Times report on the game says that some of the women in attendance confronted the umpire after the seventh inning. This is what was reported:
"“The male portion of the spectators might have felt like mobbing Carpenter, but they refrained from becoming violent. Not so, however, with woman. Crowding around the place where the umpire comes into the grand stand, they awaited him with drawn parasols and upraised fans. Just what the language was like would be rather hard to translate, but no further had Carpenter started for the office than he was assailed with whatever the women had in their hands. One used her fist, and was not slow in telling her companions that she came near hitting him on his solar plexus. The umpire was too manly to turn upon the women, and made rapid strides for the office.”"
It should be noted that neither the Washington Post or Washington Star makes any mention of this incident in their write ups of the game.
That was the extent of the “riot”. There was no destruction of property, nor were the police called in to restore order. The ladies did not rip the umpire’s clothes off. He didn’t need to be rescued from the attacking women and sneak out of the stadium in disguise.
The actual story sheds a much better light on the female baseball fans of 1897 than the made up story about enraged women rioting at a baseball stadium because they were denied viewing their favorite eye candy player for six innings.
The women were angry about a call on the field by an umpire that may have cost their home team the game. I am certainly not condoning the women’s methods of expressing their displeasure to the umpire. These days this sort of behavior would get fans arrested and probably banned from the park, rightfully so.
However, it was refreshing to discover that the female baseball fans of 1897, just like the female fans of today, were passionate about the game and what was going on with the team and not just a bunch of ignorant, hormone motivated females who only cared about the looks of the players.