- Card series: 1880s: Loving Paupers
- City: Chicago
- Team: Maroons
- League: Western Association
Frederick W. Lange began his pro ball career as a teenager (how young is in dispute). He was from the San Francisco Bay Area and played in 1886 for the Greenhood and Morans team of oakland, a charter member of the California State League. The owners were haberdashers in Oakland who sponsored the club for three years. In 1887 the team floundered in last place despite having a lot of talent. The loss of star pitcher George Van Haltren, who went east to begin a long major league career, was a big blow. Fred Lange was a pal of Van Haltren’s and followed him to NY.
There is a fair degree of uncertainty and confusion surrounding Lange’s career, some of which appears to have been instigated by Lange himself. He had changed his surname to “Dolan” to sign with the G & Ms in Oakland so his parents wouldn’t know of his unworthy occupational choice. (Anyone familiar with the American Association’s reputation as the “beer and whiskey league” can sympathize with Fred’s folks as the 1880s were an era of free-wheeling debauchery in big time baseball.) But there is a reference by authors Dick Dobbins and Jon Twichell in their book Nuggets on the Diamond:Professional Baseball in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present, published in 1994, to the effect that Fred Lange was also “Willard Brown,” who went on to play for the NY Giants after leaving Oakland in 1886. Catcher William “California” Brown did play for the Giants from 1887-1889 and, perhaps not coincidentally, had played for Greenhood and Morans as well. Adding to the confusion, the editors of The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Co mistakenly list William Brown as “Willard” in that seminal encyclopedia on the Old Judge universe. One possible theory to the confusion, however unlikely, is still intriguing: In moving East to pursue his big league dreams, might Fred Lange have adopted the name “Willard Brown” as a sort of hopeful and opportunistic nominal doppelganger to William Brown?
The truth is, most likely, that the mystery and confusion around Fred Lange’s name and identity is the result of a more modern human error and that there is no mystery at all. Fred Lange & William Brown are clearly different people, perhaps even friends, who look nothing alike and appear together in a Greenhood & Morans team photo from 1886, thereby dispelling the notion that Brown was Lange’s alter ego. Furthermore, there is no record of a “Willard Brown” playing professional baseball in the 19th century and the Old Judge folks were unconfused on the players’ identities, with each player getting five unique poses in the series with no misspellings, overlay or confusion between them. Given that Van Haltren knew both Lange and Brown and that Van Haltren and Brown had quickly established themselves as bone fide big leaguers, it seems unlikely that Lange would attempt to perpetrate such a thinly veiled con while striving to join his friends on the big stage.
- Further adding to the confusion around Lange’s name, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art mistakenly lists Lange as “Lance” for the two Old Judge cards of Lange that reside in the museum’s collection.
- Lange later authored an influential tome of his own: History of Baseball in California and Pacific Coast Leagues (1847-1938)