Powell was an outfielder of modest ability with Cincinnati of the American Association in 1886, and on the afternoon of August 22, he was playing right field at Louisville’s Eclipse Park. Louisville’s William Van Winkle “Chicken” Wolf hit a long drive to right, but Powell never got to the ball.
The reason? A dog had been sleeping near the fence, heard the yells of the crowd and began running alongside Powell. Literally nipping at Powell’s heels, the dog finally bit down on the outfielder’s leg. That prevented Powell from getting to the ball and throwing it back to the infield, and Wolf circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run. That helped the Colonels defeat the Reds, 5-3, in an 11-inning game.
Chicken gets an assist from a dog.
What a baseball card that would be. The only card I have seen of Powell is a 2009 TRISTAR Obak specimen on eBay, and that has a very cheap price tag. A cut autograph of Powell from 1884 is also being sold on eBay, and the seller wants $295.
Wolf was a legitimate hitting star in the American Association, winning the batting title in 1890 with a .363 average and leading the league with 197 hits in 134 games. His career average was .290.
There is an 1887 Old Judge card of Wolf on sale on eBay for $3,999.99. That's kind of steep for an ungraded card, but hey, it only costs $2.99 for shipping.
Powell played parts of two seasons in the majors, but spent 16 seasons in the minor leagues. But his impact on baseball may have been bigger than you might expect.
He is generally acknowledged as the “father of the raincheck,” allegedly helped schedule one of the first “ladies day” games, and claimed to be the first to cover the infield with a tarpaulin to protect it from the rain.
The raincheck idea came in 1889, when Powell was managing New Orleans of the Southern League. In those days, teams used hard, cardboard rectangular tickets that were collected, returned to the box office and resold at the end of the game. If rain halted the game before it became official, fans would line up to receive a ticket for the next day. Legitimate ticket buyers and poachers alike could get those tickets.
“A lot of fellows got into the park by jumping the fence,” Powell told United Press in a 1943 interview. “Usually, there were a lot more fans in line than there were tickets in the box. All those free riders and fence jumpers joined the line, too.”
There was no way to know who had bought a ticket to get into the game. But Powell sketched out a ticket idea, had a firm in Fort Smith, Arkansas, print them up, and sold the perforated tickets at the gate. Dates were printed on the tickets to ensure legitimacy, and fans kept them as they walked to their seats. If the game was rained out, only the ticketholders could return when it was rescheduled. Free loaders would not have a ticket to show at the gate.
New Orleans had been drawing 5,000 fans during the week and up to 10,000 on the weekends, but the team was not making money because of the fence jumpers. Powell’s idea was soon adopted by other teams and was a rousing success.
It wasn’t good enough to save the Southern League, which was disbanded in July 1889. New Orleans had been leading the league when play was discontinued.
The league was gone, but Powell’s idea stuck.
While newspaper accounts in the 1940s and ’50s gave Powell credit for Ladies Day games (New Orleans held its first Ladies Day on April 29, 1887), the promotion actually took several years earlier. On June 16, 1883, the New York Gothams (later Giants) of the National League scheduled an “official” Ladies Day and allowed women to enter the game against the Cleveland Blues for free. The Gothams won that game, 5-2.
Powell’s claim of being the first to see the value of a tarpaulin is also not rock solid. Some sources claim the St. Louis Browns were the first. During the 19th century, bales of cotton were covered by tarpaulins to keep them dry. Powell allegedly spotted this at a Louisiana loading dock in 1887. As captain of the New Orleans Pelicans, he convinced team owner Toby Hart to try it.
When the Reds came to New Orleans the following spring to play an exhibition game, team officials apparently liked the tarp idea so much that they began using one to cover the infield on rainy days in Cincinnati.
However, an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on March 15, 1884, noted that the Browns covered the four bases with tarps “to protect them from wet weather.” Covering the pitcher’s mound became the norm in St. Louis two weeks later, according to the March 26, 1884, issue of Sporting Life.
Since Powell claimed his tarp covered the entire infield, he might have a claim to being the first to cover the entire infield.
Powell died in 1953 at the age of 92. While some baseball purists might have a bone to pick about the legitimacy of some of his claims, Powell (rightly or wrongly) has been acknowledged as the Bill Veeck of the 19th century.
And whether the “dog bites player” story is true or not (I have been unable to find a news report from 1886 that actually mentions it), The Associated Press, New York Post, Washington Post and SABR acknowledge the incident took place.
It’s a fun story. It would be a doggone shame if it wasn’t true.