Bob Mayer, who lives in Putnam Valley, is a baseball historian gearing up for the 2023 season: Pitchers and catchers report for spring training on Monday (Feb. 13).
How did you get into baseball history?
I was a collector first, of photographs from amateur, semipro and the minor leagues. They were rarely labeled, so I always wondered who was pictured. Around 2003, I bought an 1899 photograph of a team from Moravia. I drove up there to see what I could learn about the team and the players. That was my first foray into historical research. I’ve grown more interested in the history of baseball than the current game, although recently the Yankees have been fun to watch, on occasion.
What kinds of artifacts do you own?
As a kid, I collected baseball cards but dumped most of them except for my Yankees and favorite players. I bought my first vintage glove at an antique shop in 1993, a Roy Campanella model in pretty good shape. I wanted a glove and bat used by every Hall of Famer. At one point I had 120 bats and 200 gloves. My oldest glove is from the 1890s.
What do you like most about the game?
It’s just the hitter against the pitcher. Can the hitter do something the pitcher doesn’t want him to do? One of biggest changes to the game is in the way pitchers work. You’re lucky if a starting pitcher goes five innings. Back in the day, even up through Bob Gibson [who played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1959 to 1975], starters pitched seven to nine innings. It’s made it more difficult for the hitters, to have to face four pitchers in a game. I’d like to see it go back to the starter going seven innings or more. Also, I think the amount of money players make today has soured some people.
What research have you found especially interesting?
I got into researching the Fleischmann family because, when I was a kid, my father liked Fleischmann gin. In the 1890s, the Fleischmanns moved to the Catskills, settling in Griffin Corners, which later became the Village of Fleischmann, and building summer mansions there. The sons liked baseball, so they started a team, built a ballfield with dugouts and showers. They signed players — semipros or college guys. Players were put up in fancy hotels and had a private train to take them to games. The team, known as The Mountain Athletic Club, did quite well. When the family moved, they donated the field to the town with the condition that admission never be charged.
In 1900, they established the Fleischmann Yeast Co. in Peekskill. It was the largest such factory in the world until it closed in 1969. Elizabeth Holmes, the Theranos CEO who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 11 years in prison, is a great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles Fleischmann, who founded the yeast company. Today, The Mountain Athletic Club exists once again, as a vintage team established in 2007 that plays under 1895 rules.
Does the Hudson Valley play any role in baseball history?
There has never been a major league team here, but there have been minor league and semipro teams. The Hudson River League, which included Peekskill, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Kingston and other teams, began in 1887. It lasted for part of 1888, then returned from 1903 through 1907. Black barnstorming teams often played in the Hudson Valley from the mid-1880s through the 1920s.
The Peekskill Highlanders, an affiliate of the New York Giants, were part of the North Atlantic League from 1946 to 1949. Their owner, Lou Baselice, also owned the Poughkeepsie Chiefs of the Colonial League, and the top players from the D-level Highlanders were sometimes called up to B-level Chiefs. In 2012, I put together a three-day celebration of the North Atlantic League in Peekskill. Nine players, now in their 80s and 90s, attended. Former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton was the keynote speaker at our dinner.