Lipman Pike: Jewish baseball pioneer and power hitter


He was one of the game’s greatest power hitters, and he actually beat a horse in a race. Considered by many to be the first professional baseball player,  he was also the first Jewish professional baseball player. 

Lipman “Lip” Pike, born in New York City in 1845, was the son of a haberdasher. As a youngster, he, and his older brother Boaz, played amateur baseball. Lipman appeared in his first amateur game one week after his Bar Mitzvah.

Pike played in two baseball eras. In the era of the amateur baseball league, during the 1860s, home runs and high scores were the norm. On July 16, 1866, for example, Pike, who was nicknamed “The Iron Batter,” hit six home runs in one game for the Philadelphia Athletics. The final score was 65-25. He played outfield, second and third base.

According to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), the “amateur” Athletics paid him $20 a week to play. It was rumored that two other players were also receiving a stipend from the Athletics. This was really not allowed and Pike was asked to appear before a commission to discuss the situation which could have resulted in a ban from the league. At the time of the inquest, no one from the judiciary committee of the National Association of Base Ball Players appeared at the hearing. By not appearing at their own disciplinary hearing or inquest, the judicial committee all but acknowledged paying ballplayers was going to be an accepted practice   Thus the issue was dropped and Pike became one of the first – if not the first  – professional baseball players. 

At the conclusion of the 1866 season, Pike was let go by the Philadelphia team because he was not from the Philadelphia area. So Pike went to play for the Irvingtons of New Jersey and the New York Mutuals. 

In 1869, the league allowed professionals to play. Lipman moved on to play for the Brooklyn Atlantics. In 48 games, Pike had a .610 batting average and a slugging percentage of .883. This seems rather high compared with today’s standard. However, at that time, the batter told the pitcher where to toss the ball over home plate. And, the pitcher threw the ball in an underhand motion without snapping the wrist. No fast balls or curves to contend with. 

In 1871, the second era of baseball was ushered in with an all-professional league. With the formation of  the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, everyone playing was a paid professional ballplayer. Home runs would be hard to come by as the rules changed as did the manufacture of the baseball itself. The size and the weight of the baseball was stabilized, becoming  similar to the one used today. The ball was no longer made for hitting long distances at almost every at bat.

Pike joined the Troy Haymakers. At the time, Troy, New York, was considered a major city. Pike was elected captain of the team. This meant that he was the manager of the team. He not only filled out the lineup card for the game, he filled the role of general manager as well as team manager while also playing the game. During his first year with the Haymakers, Pike hit four home runs to tie for the league lead.

During his professional baseball career, Pike played for a number of teams including the Hartford Dark Blues, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Providence Grays.

Considered one of the few baseball stars of the 19th century, Pike led the league in home runs four times. He was the first player to lead a professional baseball league in home runs. He was also among the leaders in stolen bases during the years he played.

An outfielder and second baseman for most of his career, Pike had a lifetime batting average of  .321, had 20 home runs and 332 RBI in a career that went from 1871 to 1887. It is rumored that his home run power was so great that in 1877, while playing for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, he hit a ball 360 feet at 40 feet high and hit a metal rod so hard he bent it. 

Pike went on to manage a few teams before retiring to the family business as a haberdasher in New York. According to Baseball Reference, Lipman Pike died in 1893 at the age of 48 from heart disease 

During the inaugural election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Lipman Pike received one vote from the Baseball Writers of America in 1936, according to SABR. According to a number of  baseball enthusiasts and writers about the baseball pioneer, Lipman Pike should be in the Major League Hall of Fame. Some people believe he was not elected because he was Jewish.    In 1985, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, in Netanya, Israel, elected him as a member.

The horse Lipman Pike beat in a race was a famous trotting horse named “Clarence.” Pike beat the mare in a 100-yard sprint in 10 seconds flat, according to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. For winning, Pike received $250 prize. 

MARTY COOPER is a baseball fanatic and the community relations director for The Jewish Alliance.

Baseball, sports