Down East 2013 ©
The 1897 Bowdoin varsity baseball team, pictured here in the Bowdoin Bugle, may have lacked a formal mascot, but they made up for it with talented shortstop play, political ambition, a master chess player, and the school’s top organist. Referred to as the Bowdoin Nine, the team didn’t receive its official namesake until 1913, when Robert E. Peary, class of 1877, discovered the North Pole, and donated a polar bear to his alma mater. Despite lacking the intimidating presence of a nine-foot tall Ursus maritimus, the team managed a solid record of nine wins and seven losses.
The winning record can be attributed in part to its manager, future Maine governor and Bowdoin junior, Percival Proctor Baxter, seen second from the left in the top row. Typically a responsibility that fell to the elder statesmen of the college class, young Percy became the first ever non-senior to manage the team.
The benefactor of six thousand acres of land that became Baxter State Park, Percival was best known in college as the school organist, editor of the Bowdoin Orient, and owner of Deke, an Irish setter named for the DKE fraternity. Baxter was perhaps proudest though of a single penny earned as a sophomore. A state judge awarded it to Baxter, a Republican, after he was unjustly arrested for leading a ruckus during a rally for William Jennings Bryan, a Democratic presidential nominee.
During his junior year Percy took over a varsity team that had scored 197 runs over sixteen games the previous season. Poor pitching, however, meant the team only finished with nine wins. Once Percy became manager, either he instilled a defensive approach in his players, or there was a league-wide crackdown on performance enhancing nerve tonic, because while the team allowed only 78 runs, compared to 163 in ’96, their offensive production fell by nearly 50 percent.
Following Baxter’s leadership were stars Henry Oliver Bacon (bottom left) and John George Haines (second row, middle). Haines, a senior and captain of the team, played four years of catcher while Bacon, a freshmen shortstop, helped lead the team to two late-season wins over rivals Bates and Colby.
Percy handed the reigns over to Lincoln Lewis Cleaves (top left), who guided the team to a nine and three record the following year and outscored Baxter’s team overall. Cleaves achieved this feat despite playing four fewer games, demonstrating that whether in a court of law, or on the “Delta” Bowdoin baseball field, Percival Proctor Baxter’s strength lay in his uncanny defensive prowess.
Image provided by the Maine Historical Society