MOUNT MORRIS — For decades sports have taught us that anyone can reach up and grab glory; even for a moment, and that moment can last a lifetime.
Sports have inspired us, encouraged us, and brought us together in ways that go beyond scorecards, rules, and statistics. They have a heartbeat, and have often been considered the lifeblood of a hometown.
No one knew this more profoundly than Ross Barnes, a Mount Morris-native, whose passion for baseball changed everything. Barnes pioneered the game in more ways than one.
He has been called “one of the greatest of all the 19th century baseball players.”
Barnes joined the Pioneers in Rockford,Illinois at the young age of 16, and quickly advanced to the Rockford Forest Cities, an adult team, from 1866 to 1870. Barnes was recruited by (future)Hall of Famer Harry Wright in 1871 to play for the Boston Red Stockings. This was a newly formed National Association of Baseball Players. It was the first major league.
He played from 1871 to 1875 for that team and became the first star of the major league. Barnes moved on to play for Chicago White Stockings in 1877. Due to illness he was limited to playing a couple more seasons in 1879 and 1881. Ross Barnes is among those frequently admired by his peers, and has gone down in history as the one who perfected the game.
On Aug. 19 several members of the baseball community as well as the town came out to honor this legend with a dedication ceremony. Mount Morris-native and Barnes fan Gary Passamonte is working hard to get Barnes on the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Tony Brancato of Live Oaks Baseball Club came out to honor Barnes the best way he could. He brought his team down to play an 1868 version of the game they both love.
“I met Gary Passamonte at an event. I thought it would be cool to play an authentic game from Ross’ time period, and invite the locals to play,” he said. “We like to make the games interactive. We try to play the part, and stay in the time period.”
Brancato has played this game since he was about four years old, and it brings him a lot of joy to play it at the Genesee Country Museum.
“Ross Barnes is a person we talk about a lot at the museum,” he said. “We talk about this history of the game, and his name always comes up. Ross Barnes was one of the best players in the game’s history. I am glad we get to honor him today. It is nice to be a part of something like this. They changed the rules of baseball.”
Brancato added his hope is that this will push him up the list to be honored in the Baseball Hall of Fame where he belongs.
Passamonte was proud to unveil the monument that to him finally honors the legend of the game.
Albert Spalding is a name that remains popular in the sports industry, and he was a contemporary of Barnes. The two played together for many years. He is often seen in history supporting his friend, and called him one of the best all-around players the game has ever produced.
“He (Barnes) was the best (Baseball) player at the time,” Passamonte said. “He reached the top of the baseball world.”
“Barnes got an illness that ruined his muscular strength,” Passamonte continued. “He was only able to play 22 games, because he was sick. He played second base as he tried to get back in shape.”
David Stalker of Watertown, Wisconsin made the monument that now sits in Mount Morris.
“It is a series I have been working on, and I have several in Watertown,” he said. “I worked with Gary to get this one made. He (Barnes) is one of the pioneers of baseball. He deserves to be recognized.”
Stalker said he hopes Barnes will one day find his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“If he gets in the (Baseball) Hall of Fame someday we will etch it on the top of the monument,” he said. “I left a spot open just for that.”
Barnes played the game in a way that can never be broken. Barnes was the only major league player to hit .400 in four seasons. He was the National Leagues first batting champion in 1876. He led the league in career batting average, hits, runs, total bases, doubles, triples, and slugging in 1876, and hit the league's first home run. Barnes still holds the record for 1.4 runs-per-game. He passed away on February 5, 1915.
“History has forgotten him a little bit,” Passamonte said. “He was highly respected in his time. I hope the (Baseball) Hall of Fame will give him the recognition he deserves. We will keep fighting.”