Lipman E. "Lip" Pike became baseball's first professional player when the Philadelphia Athletics recognized his talent in 1866. The team gave him $20 a week to play third base. Pike was soon followed by others. The baseball players of the time were professional and amateurs.
Pike was born in New York City on May 26, 1845. He was one of five children of Jane and Emanuel Pike, emigres from Holland. His older brother, Boaz, was the first in the family to play baseball on an organized team. The first time that Pike's name appeared in a box score was a week after his bar mitzvah. He had played for the Nationals at first base and his brother had played shortstop. The two brothers played for many teams from 1864 through 1865.
Pike established himself as a home run hitter for the year that he was with Philadelphia Athletics as a professional. Hitting home runs was a rarity in those days. Pike hit them in clusters. He hit six home runs in a game against the Alerts in 1886. Five were hit in a row.
Pike left the Athletics and became the playing manager of the Irvington team in 1867. However, he didn't finish the season with the team. Boss Tweed of New York City made him an offer to play for the Mutuals and he accepted it.
He stayed with the Mutes for one year and left the team to join the Brooklyn Atlantics. The Cincinnati Red Stockings came East and beat every team they played, including the Atlantics, in 1869. The following year, the team returned to Brooklyn and was undefeated in 130 games. They played the Atlantics in a game that went into extra innings. The Atlantics took the lead 8 to 7. Pike played second base and was the key figure in retiring the Reds for Atlantics victory.
The first baseball league composed of only professional players began in 1871. Pike went to Troy, New York, to become the manager of the team there. During this period, teams quickly came into being and then quickly disappeared. There wasn't a reserve clause. Many players were drifters, drunkards, and gamblers. Pike was an exception. Pike moved to Baltimore for the 1872-73 season and played in the outfield. He was a very fast runner. It is told that Pike won $200 when he defeated a horse in a race.
Pike played and managed many teams after his stay in Baltimore. He moved around the East Coast, going from one team to another. He finished the year with the Worcester, Massachusetts, team in 1881. The team had a bad season and Pike was made the scapegoat. Pike was the first to be put on baseball's blacklist.
He opened up a haberdashery store and announced his retirement from baseball. The store was a gathering place for baseball enthusiasts. Pike made an attempt to play again when he was 42 years old. He joined the original New York Mets, later announcing his retirement.
Pike became an umpire in the National League and the American Association while still operating his haberdashery. He died of a heart attack at the age of 48. "He was eulogized in many newspapers." the Sporting News said. "He was one of the baseball players in those days, who was always gentlemanly on and off the field - a species which is becoming rarer as the game grows older..." Pike will always be remembered as the first professional player in baseball.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 12 May 2011