Bicentennial Snapshot # 28 – Jerome Combs, The Cobblestone Baseball Catcher

Jerome Combs from RGE news September 1938
Jerome Combs from RGE news September 1938

This week we introduce you to Jerome Combs, the cobblestone baseball player. Did you know that some baseball players would use cobblestones as baseballs?

Well, one player could catch cobblestones and played for the North Parma baseball team and practiced catching them, which people said could not be done.

This snapshot is dedicated to the late Tom Sawnor (1961-2021). We appreciated Tom’s contributions to the Greece Historical Society and Museum. We will miss him and may his love for sports live on.

Jerome A. Combs was born on September 12, 1861, to Lewis Combs and Sarah Anne Combs. His parents moved from the town of Middlesex, in Middlesex County, New Jersey, to North Greece, in Monroe County, New York around 1840 to 1850 based on census data dated 1855 for Lewis A. Combs. The birth of Lewis Combs’s first son born in 1855 in North Greece, coincided with Doctor Abdiel Bliss Carpenter living in the area as well. Dr. Carpenter may have been the doctor who helped Sarah Anne Combs deliver both Jerome A. Combs in 1861 and his brother Lewis A. Combs in 1855, or more likely it was his son, Dr. Abdiel Milton Carpenter.

Map of North Greece 1872
Map of North Greece 1872
Jerome A Combs property in 1902 North Greece
Jerome A Combs property in 1902 North Greece

Lewis Combs owned two businesses and had a reasonable sized farm as well. The first one was the Blacksmith and Carriage shop where the North Greece Fire Department started in 1922 at the northeast corner of Latta and North Greece Road. The second business was a butter churn factory. He had a truck farm as well. His sons Lewis and Jerome helped worked the farm when they came of age. Both Combs boys went to School Number 6 on College Ave. Combs’s Truck Farm would take fruits and vegetables to local wholesalers or the Rochester Public Market in the city. They would load the truck or horse and wagon and be on the way by 4 am to the public market and would spend a good portion of the day selling what products they had from the wagon or truck depending on the day of the week. Some of the Combs’s fruits and vegetables may have been sold to H.C. Phelps General Store, Wagg’s General store on Lake Ave, or Anderson’s General store at Ridge and Greece Center Road (otherwise known as Long Pond Road). Also, the Larkin Hotel may have bought produce from the Combs to serve at meals for patrons at the hotel.

1954 Town Seal on the Town Flag
1954 Town Seal on the Town Flag
N Greece Fire House 1926
N Greece Fire House 1926
Directory of the Clio Lodge, 1927, from hipstamp.com
Directory of the Clio Lodge, 1927, from hipstamp.com

Jerome Combs was the town assessor for twelve years, and he was a volunteer with North Greece Fire Department for twenty years. Jerome Combs was one of the founding members of the North Greece Fire Department. He was a member of Clio Masonic Lodge in the village of Hilton once called North Parma.

North Parma Baseball Team, Jerome Combs is seated in on the left in the first row,  from RGE News September 1938
North Parma Baseball Team, Jerome Combs is seated on the left in the first row, from RGE News September 1938

But in the late 1880s and the early 1890s, Jerome Combs was the star catcher for North Parma’s semi-professional baseball team. In the team picture attached to the left here, Jerome Combs is seated in on the left in the first row. He propelled them through long winning streaks. But what was more interesting and made him legendary in the semi-pro leagues was his unique ability… What might that be? Was it his hitting stances? Was it his ability to communicate his signals to the pitcher?

cobblestone baseball
cobblestone used as a baseball
1887 Baseball Card from "The Baseball Glove Comes to Baseball, 1875," www.eyewitnesstohistory.com
1887 Baseball Card from “The Baseball Glove Comes to Baseball, 1875,” www.eyewitnesstohistory.com

It was none of those. It was his ability to catch barehanded. Jerome would catch either baseballs or cobblestones (that were used as baseballs when no baseballs were available to use) with his bare hands. Seen here is an 1891 catcher’s mitt vs. a modern catcher’s mitt; look at how different they are in terms of how the glove sits on the hand and how the ball rests in the pocket of a modern baseball glove.

E. H. Decker's GATGHERS GLOVE
E. H. Decker’s Catcher’s GLOVE
Wilson A2000 2021 1790SS 34″ Catcher’s Mitt

If you want to learn more about the evaluation of catcher equipment can be found on the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website. https://sabr.org/journal/article/the-evolution-of-catchers-equipment/

Jerome would catch baseballs thrown as far as 150 feet and as close as 3 feet, but for the pitching distance, it was 50 feet. One of Jerome’s quotes from the days he played baseball was

“I guess, I was the only man who had the reputation of being willing to catch any pitcher at fifty feet using cobblestones for baseballs. Folks who didn’t know me used to bet it couldn’t be done.”

Old Time Baseball played  on the grounds of the Town Hall 5-14-16
Old Time Baseball played put on by the Rochester Baseball Historial Society on the grounds of the Town Hall 5-14-2016 – https://rochesterbaseballhistory.org/

One day he was summoned from the fields where he was working to catch for John Smith, a pitcher with a Rochester team, one of those who said it could not be done. They started throwing at 150 feet. Then, it gradually shortened the distance to fifty feet. Combs, described as a gentle giant of a man, came through with flying colors as he always did.

Did his hands suffer any damage?

They did not. He explained his technique: “I learned to absorb the shock of the stones and the baseballs at fifty feet by pulling back my hands with the catch at fifty feet. Then I kept them in shape by soaking them in hot water after each game.”

And on the day, he died his obituary headline read “Former ‘Barehand’ Catcher, Jerome A Combs, taken by death” on August 30, 1940.

If you want to learn about some of our local hometown athletes that have gone on to the pro level or just had some records set at local high schools besides Jerome A Combs, then get yourself a copy of our publication written by Marie Villone Poinan the late Tom Sawnor.

Hometown Sports Heroes of Greece NY
Hometown Sports Heroes of Greece NY
Hometown Sports Heroes of Greece NY
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Bicentennial Snapshot # 27: “The Cooper” Tom Toal

This week in our bicentennial snapshot for September 20th, 2022 we explore Thomas F Toal a cooperage owner, a barber, and a worker from Kodak who grew up on the Parma Greece border.

Topics Covered in this snapshot

Thomas F Toal Bio

Thomas F. Toal was born on August 26, 1866, and grew up in Parma, Monroe County, New York. He was a cooper before going to work at George Eastman’s Kodak where he worked for 12 years and then retired back to the North Greece/Parma area to be back in the country. He died in 1948 and was laid to rest in Our Mother of Sorrows Cemetery at the corner of Latta Road and Mount Read Blvd.

Carrie L. Frisbee

Carrie L. Frisbee was born in 1864 in North Greece, Monroe County, New York she is a niece of Edward Frisbee the owner of the land that was leased to District School # 7 on the family land, the school was located on the north side of Frisbee Road, and east of North Greece Road. (Attach a Map of the location here). Carrie L. (Frisbee) Toal died on 1 January 1957 and she was laid to rest next to her husband Thomas F. Toal in Our Mother of Sorrows Cemetery at the corner of Latta Road and Mount Read Blvd.

Left Carrie L. Frisbee | Right Thomas F Toal
Left Carrie L. Frisbee | Right Thomas F Toal
This is a map of District 7 from the 1872 Map of Greece, New York you can see all the land that is owned by the Frisbee family

What is a Cooperage? What is it nowadays?

According to Wikipedia: A cooper is a person trained to make wooden casks, barrels, vats, buckets, tubs, troughs, and other similar containers from timber staves that were usually heated or steamed to make them pliable. Journeymen coopers also traditionally made wooden implements, such as rakes and wooden-bladed shovels. In addition to wood, other materials, such as iron, were used in the manufacturing process. The profession is the origin of the surname Cooper.  A Cooperage was responsible for making the barrels that were used to store foods, wines, whiskeys, and other drinks or other items that needed to be preserved compared to canning or vacuum sealing or bottling of fruits, vegetables, and drinks in glass jars.  A cooperage would make different size barrels depending on what was going in the barrel. Some of these barrels had gunpowder in the barrel, or maybe pickles, flour, crackers, dried beans, wheat, apples, corn, carrots, or other fruits and vegetables. Some were just used to hold umbrellas, tools, and other items to keep them organized.

Some of the barrels that Tom Toal made ended up in New York City to a buyer who either was for a big farm or a business in New York City that shipped products over to Europe and other places that wanted fresh goods from America in the late 19th century to the early 20th century.  Depending on what the barrel was going to be used for the cooper would choose the right type of wood the most common wood was oak it depends on where in the world it was made. Modern wooden barrels for wine-making are made of French common oak (Quercus robur), white oak (Quercus petraea), American white oak (Quercus alba), and more exotic Mizunara Oak. All typically have standard sizes. Recently Oregon Oak (Quercus Garryana) has been used. The links next to each type of oak will take you to the Wikipedia page on each of the different oaks.

Cooper Tools

Here is a picture of the tools that a Cooperage would use to make the barrels.

cooper's tools from Pinterest
cooper’s tools from Pinterest

Below is a picture of the different size barrels that a cooperage would make the smallest for dry goods would be a Rundlet which was 1/14 tun, the next size up would be a Barrel at 1/8 tun, and the next size up after a barrel is a Tierce at 1/6 tun, the next size after a Tierce is a Hogshead at 1/4 tun, followed by a Puncheon, Tertian at 1/3 tun, then a Pipe, Butt at 1/2 tun, finally the biggest barrel would be a Tun. But for liquids, there would be a gallon-size barrel that held one gallon of liquid.

Types of barrels revolutionarywarjournal.com
Types of barrels revolutionarywarjournal.com

Below are two charts from Wikipedia that explains the English Wine and Brews barrel storage and amounts:

Wine Cask Chart

gallonrundletbarreltiercehogsheadpuncheon, tertianpipe, butttun
1tun
12pipes, butts
11 1/23puncheon, tertian
11 1/324hogshead
11 1/2236tierce
11 1/222 2/348barrel
11 3/42 1/33 1/24 2/3714rundlet
11831 1/2426384126252gallons (wine)
3.78564.14119.24158.99238.48317.97476.96953.92litres
11526 1/43552 1/270105210gallons (imperial)
4.54668.19119.3159.1238.7318.2477.3954.7litres
English wine cask units

Brewery casks

English brewery cask units[4]
gallon firkin kilderkin barrel hogshead   Year designated
        1 hogsheads  
1 1+12 barrels
1 2 3 kilderkins
1 2 4 6 firkins
1 8 16 32 48 ale gallons (1454)
= 4.621 L = 36.97 L = 73.94 L = 147.9 L = 221.8 L
1 9 18 36 54 beer gallons
= 4.621 L = 41.59 L = 83.18 L = 166.4 L = 249.5 L
1 8+12 17 34 51 ale gallons 1688
= 4.621 L = 39.28 L = 78.56 L = 157.1 L = 235.7 L
1 9 18 36 54 ale gallons 1803
= 4.621 L = 41.59 L = 83.18 L = 166.4 L = 249.5 L
1 9 18 36 54 Imperial gallons 1824
= 4.546 L = 40.91 L = 81.83 L = 163.7 L = 245.5 L

H. C. Phelps Connection with Tom Toal

When Tom Toal was 21 years old, he went to work for H. C. Phelps making barrels; some were used in H.C. Phelps’s General store or sold from Phelps’s Store. This is where Tom learned the trade of making barrels to be used for different types of goods. Within a few years of working for H. C. Phelps, Tom started his own cooper business making barrels and selling them. While Tom ran his own cooperage he had customers from local farms, general stores, breweries, wineries, and other businesses that needed barrels to store items in. In 1972 Frank Toal was interviewed and explained his dad’s cooperage and shared some of the stories with us, below are a few quotes from Frank Toal.

Phelps general store Latta and North Greece Roads sketch William Aeberli 1970 GHS
Phelps general store Latta and North Greece Roads sketch William Aeberli 1970 GHS

” … my Dad began making barrels in early, August. He bought his staves in the rough and once a year an agent from New York City came up to take the order for staves, ‘hoops and headings.”

“They were shipped out to North Greece in box cars on the old Hojack Line. We’d go down to the station with racks up on the hay wagons and load the supplies.”

“Dad’s business was spread clear down to the lake and over to the Parma town line.  He even had a warehouse down at Braddock Bay…In those days the whole section was apple orchards and Dad would ride his bicycle all around the countryside and take orders from the farmers or collect his money—he never learned to drive a car!”

The most interesting thing that Frank said during the interview was that his dad never learned to drive a car.

Larkin Hotel William Aeberli Greece Post 1971 October 14
Larkin Hotel William Aeberli, Greece Post 1971 October 14

Tom Toal and His other Trade

One of Tom’s other trades was being a barber; Tom was one of those men who believed in hard work and hardly allowed himself to have an idle moment, so he took up being the village barber. He worked two nights a week in a second-floor room at the Larkin Hotel charging the proverbial two bits (25 cents) for a shave and a haircut.

Tom’s Connection with Doctor Abdiel Bliss Carpenter

After 18 years as a cooper, Tom bought the old Conway land and became a farmer. His farm was next door to Dr. Abdiel Bliss Carpenter. Years before, when he was a lad in his teens, he would do odd jobs for the old doctor.  The Doctor’s beautiful house and estate made a lasting impression on Toal. But you won’t believe this but after twelve years of city living, he decided to move back to the country but not to any house but the estate of Doctor Abdiel Bliss Carpenter and lived there the rest of his life.

Carpenter House sketch by Wm. Aeberli Greece Post 1972 February 17
Carpenter House sketch by Wm. Aeberli Greece Post 1972 February 17
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