Looking Back at the History of Patriots’ Day in Boston

For many people, perhaps most, Patriots’ Day means but one thing – the Boston Marathon. For Red Sox fans, Patriots’ Day means the earliest game of the MLB season (with an 11 AM start). However, the tradition of baseball being played in Boston on this Bay State holiday has a long and winding history… one that is even longer than that of the Marathon.

Patriots’ Day Thursday?

Patriots’ Day was established in Massachusetts in 1894, commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord on April, 19, 1775. Until 1969, the Commonwealth celebrated the holiday on April 19, unless the 19th fell on a Sunday, when Patriots’ Day was celebrated on Monday, the 20th. However, in 1969, Patriots’ Day was changed to be celebrated on the third Monday of April.

The first Patriots’ Day was held, in fact, on a Thursday and was commemorated in Boston by baseball, as the Boston Beaneaters (who would become the Braves), opened their season against the Brooklyn Grooms (who would become the Dodgers), defeating the Brooklynites 13-2. Whether or not the schedule was manipulated to have Boston play at home on Patriots’ Day has been lost to history… however, it was the Beaneaters only home game of the season until May 10 –  after a three-week, 15-game road trip.

The Beaneaters would also start their season at home on Patriots’ Day in 1895 and 1897 – the same year the Boston Marathon made its debut. Boston would play their only home game of the first ten games on Monday, April 20, 1896 – neither baseball nor the holiday were observed on Sunday – and would interrupt a 13-game stretch on the road to begin the 1898 season to play the New York Giants in Boston on Tuesday, April 19.

By 1899, it was well established that the Beaneaters would be playing a home game on Patriots’ Day, and like 1898, the Wednesday game was the only one of Boston’s first 18 games to be played in the Hub. The National League also saw that Boston began the 1900 season at home on Patriots’ Day (before going on the road for 11) and in 1901 (before a short five-fame road stanza).

A New Tradition with a New Team

The 1902 season again saw the Beaneaters come home for Patriots’ Day, interrupting an otherwise ridiculous stretch of road games – the Beaneaters played only five of their first 34 games at home. But the first two of those five games both came on April 19 with the first Patriots’ Day doubleheader against the Brooklyn Superbas, with Brooklyn winning the first game 3-1 before succumbing to the Bostonians 5-3 in the second game.

With the holiday falling on a Sunday in 1903, the Beaneaters would play the traditional Patriots’ Day home game on Monday the 20th, and for the second successive season, split a doubleheader (this time against the Philadelphia Phillies). However, in 1904, the Beaneaters would, for the first time in a decade, play away from home on Patriots’ Day. But Boston would still see professional baseball played on this Bay State holiday.

The Boston Americans were one of the original eight American League teams in 1901, and the new league was quick to place them in Boston for the April holiday. After missing Patriots’ Day in the inaugural season (as the American League did not begin their schedule until May), the Americans opened their second season with a home opener against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, April 19, four days before the remainder of the American League began their seasons In fact, it was the only game Boston and Baltimore played before the league officially opened play on April 23.

In 1903, the Americans would join the Beaneaters for the second consecutive Patriots’ Day in Boston… and would also dive into the new tradition of playing a doubleheader, splitting a pair with the other Philadelphia team (the Athletics). However, it would be the last season where both Boston baseball teams would be “technically” home for the holiday.

[The 1936 season, however, did see a strange case of the holiday falling on a Sunday… and therefore both teams could be said to be playing on “the holiday.” The National League Bees lost to the Giants at Braves Field on Sunday, the 19th, while the Red Sox split the traditional doubleheader against the Washington Senators at Fenway Park on Monday, the 20th. The 1942 season also saw the Braves play at home on Sunday, the 19th, with the Red Sox at home for a doubleheader on Monday, the 20th.]

In 1904, it was the world champion Americans who played the now annual Patriots’ Day doubleheader, sweeping the Washington Senators. In 1905, the Beaneaters took their turn to delight Boston, sweeping Brooklyn on the anniversary of Lexington and Concord.

And so it would be, with the American League side scheduled to play on the holiday in even years and the National League side playing in the odd seasons. Until 1956, as long as baseball was scheduled in Boston for Patriots’ Day,  the name of the game was the Holiday Double Dip.

The alternating of the seasons continued all the way through the 1952 season, when the Braves took their bats and balls to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Red Sox would take over the Braves’ slot with a Patriots’ Day doubleheader in 1953… and the American League would continue to schedule the Red Sox to be at home on Patriots’ Day in almost every year from then on.

The final Patriots’ Day doubleheader to be played for nearly a decade came in 1954, with the Red Sox splitting with the New York Yankees, winning game one, 2-1, before being shutout in the second game, 5-0. The Red Sox were also scheduled to play a doubleheader the following season, but rain postponed both games against the Washington Senators.

The doubleheader made a comeback in 1963, when the Red Sox swept the Detroit Tigers, 3-1 and 5-1. They tried it once more in 1965, against the Senators, only to be rained out. In 1966, the Red Sox and Tigers split the seemingly once-again traditional doubleheader. But the 1967 scheduled doubleheader (once more against the Washington Senators) was washed away by rain yet again. It was the final attempt at a doubleheader, with a single game scheduled for the 1968 season. But with a tweak of the Massachusetts law establishing the holiday, a new Patriots’ Day Monday tradition would take its place.

A Three-Day Weekend and a Morning Start Time

While there was never a definitive time start for the traditional Patriots’ Day game, morning starts were not unheard of. The 1903 doubleheader, for example, began at 10 AM while games in 1953 and 1954 each started at 10:15 AM. However, it was the 1968 season in which the 11 AM start time that is now tradition began. The following season, Patriots’ Day became an official Monday holiday, moving from the date of April 19 to the third Monday of April.

With the other Boston Patriots’ Day tradition – the Boston Marathon – kicking off at noon, the morning start enabled fans of both athletic endeavours to see a full Red Sox game and to exit Fenway just in time to watch the elite runners pass through Kenmore Square on their way to the finish line. Player complaints saw the starting time pushed back one hour to noon in 1987, but it would return to the traditional start at 11 AM the following year. When the Marathon’s start time changed to 10 AM in 2007, the Red Sox followed suit by changing their start time to 10 AM as well. However, weather thwarted those plans with the game being changed to a noon time start the day prior due to dreary conditions. The 10 AM start was abandoned the next season, with the return to the traditional 11 AM game time – a time that has stayed constant ever since.

Patriots’ Day No Shows

Baseball is a game played largely in open air stadiums. However, open air stadiums can have weather wreak havoc on actually playing the game. Scheduling a game for Patriots’ Day in Boston is easy… however, it has not always been so easy to play them.

Baseball was played in Boston on the holiday from 1894 through 1911. The Red Sox had the traditional doubleheader scheduled for Friday, April 19, 1912, against the New York Highlanders… but a persistent northeast rain put these games on hiatus until later in the season.

The weather would also cancel Patriots’ Day Baseball in Boston in 1925, 1955, 1959*, 1961, 1965, 1967, and 1984. Precipitation would also affect the scheduled doubleheaders in 1907, 1921, 1924, 1933, 1939, and 1942 with only one of the two scheduled games being played.

*[The Red Sox claim they did not play Patriots’ Day baseball in 1959… as their game on Monday, April 20, was postponed due to rain. However, they did play on Sunday, April 19, the traditional holiday date.]

In 1946, the American and National Leagues only had a single game scheduled on Good Friday, April 19, with neither the Braves or the Red Sox on the docket. However, the Red Sox did play a single game on that Saturday; the same day the 50th Boston Marathon was run. The traditional doubleheader was saved for Sunday – Easter Sunday – that season. The American League also left Friday, April 19, 1957 –  another Good Friday – without baseball, denying Boston the traditional home game. However the Red Sox did play at home on Saturday – the same day the 61st Boston Marathon was also held.

The 1943 season started a few weeks later than normal, with the first game of the season taking place on Tuesday April 20, 1943 – one day after Patriots’ Day – with a single game in Washington, DC. The rest of the teams were slated to begin the following day, although rain prevented the Red Sox from beginning their season until Thursday and the Braves until Saturday. The last time the Red Sox did not play a game on Patriots’ Day was in 1995, when the strike-shortened season began on April 26 – a week and a half after the Massachusetts tradition.

Finally, there was 1958. In every season since the birth of Patriots’ Day, as long as major-league baseball had begun their season, either the Braves or the Red Sox were scheduled to play in Boston on either the actual holiday date of April 19 or on the observed date of April 20.  But in 1958, the Red Sox and Boston would be denied this celebration. The American League pitted the Red Sox and the Washington Senators on Saturday, April 19 – at Griffith Park in the District. Order would be restored for the 1959 season… and the traditional scheduling has not been trifled with since.

While there is no guarantee that weather, labor strife, or a natural catastrophe will never again postpone a Patriots’ Day game, for nearly six decades, Major League Baseball has made certain the Red Sox were scheduled for a home game on that date. It would certainly be imprudent for the powers that be to change such a strong baseball tradition – a tradition that began before the American League itself had been established.

A special thanks to Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org. Without their copious data, the research for this piece would have been quite a bit more difficult.


Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt

Featured image courtesy of Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports.

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY