On April 26, 2020, Ben Porter (@Ben13Porter) shared the following story on Twitter:
He followed it up with this tweet:
According to this article, a player by the name of “Wild Bill” Setley recalled an 1893 game in the Atlantic League between his team from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Setley remembered the game going to 11 innings tied 2-2 before his teammate, Mike Kilroy, broke the last bat either team had. In desperation, he found an axe, and decided to bat with it.
In an unprecedented turn of events, according to Setley, Kilroy sliced the ball in half, with one half being caught by the first baseman, and the other half going over the fence. The umpire’s initial call was an out, but after Kilroy finished circling the bases, he argued that since half of the ball went over the fence, then Allentown should earn half of a run and win the game. After deliberation, discussion, and arguments between both teams and the umpires, the officials awarded Allentown the half of a run and the 2 1/2-2 win.
In the days following, this tweet has been retweeted nearly two thousand times and favorited nearly eight thousand times. In addition, the screenshot has made its rounds on both Facebook and Instagram.
But, how legitimate is this story? There are many factors at which need to be looked.
First, there’s the believability of half of a run being scored in baseball. In the history of Major League Baseball, there has never been a situation where half of a run has been awarded to a team. Within the rules of the game, there are no opportunities to have half of a run awarded. However, with baseball still being a relatively young sport in 1893, there wasn’t much precedent set, possibly allowing for umpires to be more flexible with the rules.
There is also the idea that every other bat in the ballpark was broken. In today’s game, each player carries their own collection of bats, due to how easily their bats can break. Back in the late 19th Century, bats were made of a tough hickory. Players may have not carried as many bats with them because of the infrequency in which they broke. In addition, this was the Atlantic League, which was minor league baseball, and the players didn’t have the same luxuries as those in the majors. Even though it wasn’t often, bats still broke, so it is plausible for a team in 1893 to have gone through all of their bats in an extra-inning game.
Second, there’s the source. The pictures from Porter’s tweet seem to come from an older newspaper. In the article, “Wild Bill” Setley was said to be 79 at the time of publication. Assuming he was somewhere between 20 and 40 years old at the time of the game in question, then the article would’ve been printed somewhere between 1932 and 1952. In the first picture of Porter’s chain of tweets, we also see a wrap-up of other sports stories from that day.
After the byline, there is a year listed next to the date. Although blurry, it looks to end with an “8.” That would mean the article was likely produced in either 1938 or 1948.
Next is to look at the names mentioned in the newspaper. The first name is Babe Phelps. Phelps played in the MLB from 1931 to 1942. In 1938, he was with the Brooklyn Dodgers, which aligns with the article. Another player mentioned is hall of fame player Mickey Cochrane. Although Cochrane only played from 1925 to 1937, he did manage the Detroit Tigers from 1934 to 1938. The article mentions Cochrane to be in possession of the Tigers, as if he was managing. This shows the facts of the article to be straight, meaning there are no glaring inconsistencies that prove it to be forged.
Meanwhile, there’s fact checking the article that mentioned the game. In 1893, there was a minor league baseball conference known as the Pennsylvania State League that ran from 1892 to 1895. During this run, there were both teams in Allentown and Pottsville. In 1896, the name of the Pennsylvania State League was changed to the Atlantic League. This shows that, in 1893, both towns mentioned in the article had baseball teams that played in a league that would’ve been known as the Atlantic League by 1938.
Then, there’s the records of both “Wild Bill” Setley and Mike Kilroy. There are accounts of Setley playing in the early years of the Pennsylvania State League. He was a pitcher, just like mentioned in the article. Although Setley didn’t play for Allentown in 1893, he did play part of the season for them in 1894. Since the article didn’t provide an exact date of the game, this could’ve been due to Setley misremembering.
In addition, Setley was born in 1871, but he claimed his entire life to have born in 1859, which would’ve made him “79” in 1938.
Then, there’s Mike Kilroy. Kilroy did play for Allentown in 1894 as a pitcher, like mentioned in the article. According to Baseball Reference, he did have a recorded home run that season. There are no individual game records, however, which was not uncommon for minor league games at the time.
The final piece needed to be checked is where the article was published. In Porter’s tweet, the title of the newspaper was cropped out, and in the photos he shared, there was no indication of the identity of the publisher. In the two articles presented, they both have datelines from New York City. This indicates the article could’ve come from a New York-based newspaper. In 1938, there were dozens of distinct newspapers circulating around New York City.
The article can be focused to being on or around August 4, 1938, as that is the date displayed in the “Odds and Ends from Sports” section. However, a search in the NYS Historical Newspapers database shows zero results.
Interestingly, on April 29, a woman named Judy Wright (@JwPolliglot) responded to Porter’s tweet saying that she was the great granddaughter of “Wild Bill” Setley. She left a PDF response with her family’s accounts of the event:
In this account, Setley went on the nationally syndicated “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” radio show the year before the article in 1937. From there, Wright believes newspapers across the country picked up the story and ran it the years following. She also mentioned Setley being a great storyteller, often exaggerating pieces of information.
In all, the evidence is inconclusive, and the jury is still out on the story. There are many confirmed pieces of information that were true. “Wild Bill” Setley and Mike Kilroy were teammates for Allentown in the Atlantic League in 1894. They did play another team from Pottsville. The timeline lined up in the article posted on Twitter. However, without articles about the incident from 1894 or stat sheets from the game, we may never know if that half of a run was scored that day.
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