Baseball’s first umpire and his long walk to work

April 22nd, 1876, Boston and Philadelphia played the first game in National League history. Back then there was only one umpire and William McLean was chosen to be the first umpire. He was selected because having umpired since 1872, he developed a reputation for honesty and the ability to control a game, not easy when you are one man in a roughhouse era of baseball.

He was born, depending on the source, either in 1833 in Scotland, or 1835 in England. His family moved to Philadelphia when he was ten. He participated in cricket, boxing, gymnastics, and race walking, so he must have been athletic.

If what I read is true he believed in keeping fit. He lived in Providence, Rhode Island. It was said he either woke up at 4 a.m. or left at that time to reach Boston, 50 miles away. I say 50 miles because that is the distance that came up when I Googled. I live on the west coast and am unfamiliar with the New England area.

Assuming he left at 4 a.m. if he walked five miles per hour it would take ten hours, getting him to Boston at 2 p.m. Since they only played day ball the time is about correct. Of course as a race walker, he may have walked at a faster pace. And he did this on a daily basis when he umpired in Boston, at least that is the inference I drew.

One can factor in that the fifty miles today is based on highway. In 1876 could the distance have been different? Was there a shortcut? Could it have been longer?

The fifty mile walk to work sounds like a tall tale, something out of Paul Bunyan. There is no way to confirm the McLean walk, but considering his athletic youth, it is certainly possible he was a fitness fanatic. Could be he didn’t like horses. It could also be he did the walk on opening day in 1876, and the legend grew out of that.

Boston won that first game 6-5. There is no record on how Bill McLean got home.


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