With the Rams rebooting in Los Angeles, ESPN.com presents a series exploring the remnants departed teams have left behind in the cities they abandoned.
TROY, N.Y. -- Only four fewer people than the official attendance for Troy's penultimate major league baseball game are here in Knickerbacker Park on this morning. The pilgrims stand before a monument that pays tribute to the Trojans, who were asked to leave the National League 134 years ago to make way for the franchise you now know as the San Francisco Giants.
The Trojans won that game, beating the home team Worcester Ruby Legs by a score of 4-1. They took the last game of the season the next day, as well, 10-7. Troy had four future Hall of Famers on that 1882 team (Roger Connor, Buck Ewing, Mickey Welch and Tim Keefe), but even they couldn't help the club finish above any other team but Worcester, which was also asked to step aside -- for the Philadelphia Phillies.
That ancient game was resurrected last season when the Orioles closed their gates to fans for their April 29, 2015, game with the Chicago White Sox because of the Baltimore riots. When asked to find the previous major league record for lowest attendance, MLB historian John Thorn unearthed that Troy-Worcester game. Paying customers: Six.
Six minus four equals two.
Me and my wife.
And I had to coax her out of the car.
I grew up in Troy, you see. And because I loved baseball even more than Freihofer's baked goods, I grew up fascinated by the momentarily glorious history of the national pastime in Troy.
The so-called Collar City is now frayed, but back in the mid-19th century it was a prosperous transportation nexus across the Hudson River from Albany, with a steel industry and shirt factories and scientific research facilities nurtured by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
It even had its share of celebrities. Looking down upon Knickerbacker Park in the Lansingburgh area of Troy is the Oakwood Cemetery, the home of Samuel Wilson, the meat-packer who inspired the name Uncle Sam because his "U.S." goods fed the troops during the War of 1812. And just a few blocks away is the house where a struggling novelist named Herman Melville completed "Omoo" and "Typee."
Troy's involvement in baseball began in the wake of the Civil War. In 1867 the Unions of Lansingburgh, who played in what is now Knickerbacker Park, traveled down the Hudson to beat the vaunted New York Mutuals, thereupon earning the derisive nickname of "Haymakers." Turning that sobriquet into a point of pride, Troy made Haymakers the official name of the team that paid $10 to join the first professional baseball league, the National Association, in 1871.
Among the early Haymakers were Lipman Pike, thought to be the first paid professional baseball player; Steve Bellán, the first Latino player; and Troy native Bill Craver, a Civil War vet who would be expelled from organized ball in 1877 for refusing to cooperate in an investigation into game fixing. (He later became a policeman in Troy.) The first baseball superstar, Mike "King" Kelly, was a Troy boy, too, though he only played there while passing through for the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Stockings (who went through several names before settling on Cubs).
Troy was left out when the National League was formed in 1876, but the Haymakers were invited back by NL president William Hulbert after the '78 season. Renamed the Trojans, they finished dead last in '79, though they did sign a future Hall of Famer, Dan Brouthers.
Troy actually had five future immortals in uniform in 1880, but, unfortunately, player-manager Bob "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson didn't think Brouthers was much of a ballplayer, so the first baseman saw action in only three games and barely got a chance to know Connor, Ewing, Welch and Keefe. Brouthers made out OK, batting at least .300 in each of the next 16 seasons.
Connor took over at first base and became the city's most romantic figure. In a delightful book on Troy baseball, Jeffrey Michael Laing writes, "Since the club had no uniform big enough to fit him, he was sent to the shirt factory where a local woman, Angeline Meir, was working as a seamstress. She took his measurements both literally and, apparently, figuratively as well. They married and remained so for 47 years."
It was Connor who would set the major league record for career home runs (134) that Babe Ruth broke. Ewing was baseball's first modern catcher, a fiery presence who squatted close to the batter despite the absence of a chest protector, using hand signals to call for pitches and throwing out baserunners from a crouch. Welch and Keefe would win 649 major league games between them.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to the quartet's prowess was that they kept Troy relevant. The 1880 Trojans actually finished in the first division, fourth in the eight-team league at 41-42. But by the next year, the writing was on the wall -- the other NL owners had to chip in to keep the franchise solvent. And by the end of the '82 season, charity turned into reality.
Troy put up a brief fight to keep the team, but on Dec. 6, 1882, the National League passed this resolution: "That the resignations of the Worcester B.B. Club and the Troy City B.B. Association are hereby accepted, and that the names of said clubs be placed on the roll of honorary membership."
Worcester and Troy were also promised four exhibition games a year if they could field representative teams. Nothing happened with that, or the honorary memberships. So technically, they are still part of the National League family -- like some crazy uncles who live in the shed out back.
Connor, Ewing and Welch were signed by the New York Gothams. After playing for the New York Metropolitans of the American Association for two years, Keefe rejoined his old Troy teammates.
In 1992, 110 years after the major leagues waved goodbye to Troy, Troy waved back. A committee spearheaded by City Manager Steven Dworsky raised funds for a monument to the city's baseball heritage, and a game between teams representing Troy and Worcester was played in Knickerbacker Park on June 6 of that year with 1882 rules and uniforms. The San Francisco Giants sent a letter of support.
The monument itself is quite striking. Right next to a ballfield and underneath a flagpole with Old Glory, it honors the Hall of Famers of Troy (Johnny Evers was born here in 1881), lists the 32 Trojans who played in the majors and tells the story of how many of our last major league players went to the New York Gothams, who were renamed the Giants BECAUSE OF THE "VERY TALL TROY PLAYERS."
There's also some graffiti spray-painted on the monument, but at least someone else came by recently.
My wife has gone back to the car now, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I was here that day in 1992, and I remember the heady mixture of time travel and civic pride. Oh, to have been there when Big Roger launched the ball toward the Massachusetts border, or when Smiling Mickey baffled opposing batters with his sidearm flings.
Then it dawns on me that major league baseball in Troy ended on a four-game winning streak.
Too bad. We were on a roll.