November 2011

Blood and Base Ball, Part 3

Blood and Base Ball, Part 3

Randall Brown

This important article first appeared in the journal Base Ball, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2009. It is reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher, McFarland & Co. Randall Brown majored in American Studies at Wesleyan and is still addicted to history. His discovery of an obscure 1887 interview with William Wheaton, the first umpire, led to an article, “How Baseball Began,” in the 2004 issue of The National Pastime. Brown’s articles on local history have appeared in The Staten Island Historian and the Santa Cruz History Journal, and he recently completed the documentary How Base Ball Was Born, featuring the story of Wheaton and the New York Base Ball Club. Part 2 of this article ran yesterday and may be linked directly at:

When the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, the effort was redoubled. Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts, a longtime Abolitionist, won permission to raise a regiment in his state. As there were relatively few blacks in the state, the rolls were opened up to volunteers from all quarters. Recruits from Philadelphia shipped out in small squads under cover of night to avoid incidents.

Douglass volunteered to raise at least one company of men from the state of New York. The first to sign up was his son Charles, then 18, and Charles’ brother Lewis soon joined him. For two months the famous orator stumped the state, picking up new soldiers in railroad strongholds like Buffalo, Albany, Little Falls, and Canajoharie. By the end of April he had sent more than a hundred men to Boston.

On May 28, Douglass traveled to Boston to see his children march off to war. Lewis had been promoted to sergeant-major, while Charles served as an orderly to Colonel Robert Shaw and his fellow officers.31

As Lee’s Confederates headed for the Maryland border that June, “a company of colored men” appeared at the City Arsenal in Philadelphia and applied for guns and uniforms. They were fitted out without question and sent to Harrisburg, but were sent home by the governor. A week later, at the insistence of the federal government, the unit was finally mustered.

A circular was issued by community leaders. It read in part:

This is our golden moment. The Government of the United States calls for every able-bodied colored man to enter the army for the three years’ service, and join in fighting the battles of Liberty and the Union. A new era is open to us. For generations we have suffered under the horrors of slavery, outrage, and wrong. If we love our country, if we love our families, our children, our homes, we must strike now while the country calls.

Joining Douglass in signing the call were James Needham, Rev. William T. Catto, and Jacob C. White; the names of younger men appeared as well: O. V. Catto, I. D. Cliff, J. C. White Jr., Jesse Glasgow.

During July 1863 the Civil War was fought north of the Mason–Dixon line. After three incredibly bloody days at Gettysburg, Lee’s army retreated to Virginia, pursued by the exhausted victors. From the 13th to the 16th, New York City was the scene of intense street fighting as antiwar mobs looted, burned, and lynched. On Staten Island, home of Francis Shaw, father of the 54th Massachusetts Colonel, word spread that a mob was coming “to make war on Extreme Republicans. …As the story spread, it took the shape that every Republican and every rich man must suffer, and every Negro must die.”32

Many fled to the woods, swamps, and hills, but others fought. Snipers defended the narrow streets of Greenwich Village and the downtown offices of the Tribune. Victims of the deadly violence along the Brooklyn waterfront and in Williamsburgh found a refuge in Weeksville, where heavily armed patrols guarded the streets.

On the morning of July 18, in South Carolina, the 54th Massachusetts assaulted Fort Wagner, a Confederate stronghold in Charleston harbor. Lewis Douglass was with the vanguard that reached the parapet of the fort and somehow survived the hail of fire that killed Colonel Shaw and drove back the charge.

Despite the presence of soldiers, violence persisted in New York and Brooklyn. Cricket, clearly a pastime of the idle rich, was targeted in Brooklyn. “Early in the morning of July 23,” reported the Clipper, “the club house of the Satellite Cricket Club was set on fire by some unknown person and destroyed.” It was the opinion of the editor that “the incendiary should be bowled out with a cricket ball in his corpse.”33

There were arguments against enlistment in the Colored Troops. The pay was unequal, the officers were white, and, if taken prisoner, the soldier might be shot immediately or sold into slavery. As the summer unfolded, however, more and more young men were convinced to take up arms. Thirteen-year-old Simpson Younger signed on as a drummer with the 27th Colored Infantry. Frank Stewart joined the 14th Rhode Island Infantry, earning a promotion to sergeant before the war’s end. In New York and Brooklyn, a whole regiment, 1,000 strong, was raised. “Eight months ago,” the Times observed in March 1864, “the African race in this City were literally hunted down like wild beasts, now they marched in solid platoons.”34

For many years Emancipation Day—the anniversary of the end of slavery in the British West Indies—had been the equivalent of a national holiday for black Americans. As one woman explained to a reporter from the Eagle, “You have the 4th of July, we have the 1st of August.” From all parts of the greater New York region, people flocked to Brooklyn’s Myrtle Park to hear orations, dance to band music, eat, and drink. It was also an occasion for sports. “A little further on,” the correspondent noted, “a baseball game was being played between some picked darkies of Brooklyn and Williamsburgh.”35

When Frederick Douglass met Abraham Lincoln in the summer of 1863 to report on the progress and problems of his recruiting efforts, he was pleasantly surprised. The President listened sympathetically and spoke frankly, without “airs.” A year later, he decided to bring a personal concern to Lincoln’s attention.

As a boy, Charles Douglass had survived a bout of typhoid fever, and the conditions of military life had again compromised his health. He had missed the assault on Fort Wagner due to illness, before transferring from the 54th Infantry to a cavalry unit. Most of his time in the service had been spent guarding prisoners at a Maryland camp, not far from his father’s plantation birthplace.

“Now Mr. President,” wrote the worried parent on August 29, 1864,

I hope I shall not presume too much upon your kindness—but I have a very great favor to ask—that you will cause my son Charles, 1st Sergeant of Company I, 5th Massachusetts, colored cavalry (dismounted) to be discharged. He is now sick. He was the first colored volunteer from the State of New York—he was but 18 when he enlisted and has been in the service 18 months. If your Excellency can confer this favor, you will lay me under great obligation.36

The request was promptly granted.

Baseball was more popular than ever in the summer of 1865. The recognized champions of the game were the Brooklyn clubs—the Excelsiors, Atlantics, and Eckfords. This was partly a matter of improved playing grounds. During the war several skating ponds had been drained and converted into enclosed ball fields. The Union and Capitoline Grounds not only accommodated more spectators than the Elysian Fields; the owners could also charge admission. Although professionals were officially banned, a share of the gate money helped the more successful clubs recruit new talent.

The Unknowns, the Monitors, and the Unique club of Williamsburgh were in the field that season, but little trace of their activities can be found in the papers of the day. Ball games were played on Emancipation Day, when, the Eagle admitted, “20,000 colored gathered in two suburban Brooklyn parks.”37

The local attitude was embodied by Hooley’s Minstrels, housed in a theater near the Brooklyn ball fields. Their specialty was a burlesque baseball game between the “Atlantics” and their current challenger. Star “Cool” White played the umpire, mimicking the style of Henry “Salt Chad” Chadwick. Like other professionals with afternoons off, the actors formed a baseball club and, on September 18, took on the Wood’s Minstrel nine at the Capitoline Grounds. “On account of the well known opposition to colored ball players,” the Eagle informed the public, “the nines will appear in white faces, returning to cork in the evening.”38

Baseball fever had spread down the eastern seaboard. The roster of 202 clubs in the National Association of Base Ball Players included 48 from Pennsylvania and 26 from New Jersey, as well as the National Club of Washington DC, which played on a field behind the White House.

The old townball clubs of Philadelphia—the Olympic and Athletic—had converted to the New York game, encouraged by a visit from the Excelsiors of Brooklyn in 1860. The Athletics had returned the favor during the war, challenging the Brooklyn clubs on their home turf.

The fight to end slavery became, for some, a struggle for civil rights—voting, education, equal accommodations. In Philadelphia, one “colored citizen” held a sit-in on a streetcar. “The conductor,” according to the New York Times, “ran the car off the track, detached the horses, and left the colored man to occupy the car all by himself. The matter created quite a sensation in the neighborhood where the car is standing, and crowds of sympathizers flocked around the colored man.”39

Some young people preferred to leaven their politics with social activities. Sporting events—once associated with occasional celebrations—had by now become an established institution in their own right. In Rochester, Frank Stewart and Charles Douglass organized the Unexpected Club, which challenged local rivals, including a club from the resort town of Niagara Falls.40

Like the first baseball clubs, the Bachelors of Albany and the Excelsior Club of Philadelphia enjoyed banquets and balls when not practicing in the field. At first, these respectable events received more coverage from the Christian Recorder than the ballgames themselves: “Jan. 27, 1866. A ball was given on Thanksgiving evening by the Bachelor Base Ball Club at Bleecker Hall—a great credit to the President, James C. Matthews and associates. It was their first effort and will undoubtedly be repeated.”41

With practice came confidence and a desire for tests of skill. On June 30, the clubs of Philadelphia were advised that:

The Bachelor’s Base Ball club of this Albany, comprising some of our best and most enterprising young townsmen, is making extensive arrangements to visit New York, Baltimore, and your city this Fall for the purpose of achieving a more perfect union between these cities in social games of the beautiful and manly sport of Base Ball.42

In Brooklyn, the Eagle carried on as usual. “The darkies are holding high festival today in the parks in this vicinity,” reported the paper of August 1, 1866. A highlight of the event at Myrtle Park was the presentation of “a silver cup to the Van Delken base ball club, the winners of a game played during the afternoon with a picked nine.” There was another rare mention of a colored club on September 8, when an item noted that “the Unknown Base Ball Club has changed their name to the Mutual Base Ball Club.”43

Some observers had been pleased to learn that former Confederates had formed baseball clubs of their own, hoping that Reconstruction would lead to healthy competition between Northern and Southern clubs. As it turned out, in September 1866, various gentlemen in Virginia expressed their political opinion by refusing challenges from pro-Union clubs. In response to the snub, a correspondent of the Clipper offered the following remarks:

Base Ball in Black. Among the clubs of Pennsylvania are the Monrovia Club, of Harrisburg, and the Shaw Club, of Carlisle, both composed of respectable colored men, who purpose playing a grand match together for the State championship of the colored clubs next month. There are several clubs in this state, also, composed of colored men, and they play a very good game. Now, as the Richmond and Old Dominion Clubs have declined to meet the Union Club, of Richmond, (an organization composed of loyal Southerners and Northerners), it has been suggested that a more suitable match might be arranged by pitting one of our colored nines against the flower of the Richmond and Old Dominion Clubs, providing the “boys in black” interpose no obstacle. What say the parties interested?44


31. Quarles 1968, 177–178.

32. Diary of William Oliffe: Harbor Ghosts, “The Civil War on Staten Island.”

33. New York Clipper: Aug. 1, 1863.

34. Frazier 2004, 81; Rochester Union and Advertiser: Sept. 14, 1871; New York Times: Mar. 6, 1864.

35. Brooklyn Eagle: Aug. 2, 1864.

36. McFeely, W. 1991. Frederick Douglass (p. 230).

37. Brooklyn Eagle: Aug. 2, 1865.

38. Ibid.: Sept. 18, 1865.

39. New York Times: May 18, 1865.

40. Astifan 2000, 8.

41. Christian Recorder: Jan. 27, 1866.

42. Ibid.: June 30, 1866.

43. Brooklyn Eagle: Aug. 1, 1866; Sept. 8, 1866.

44. New York Clipper: Oct. 13, 1866.

 [End of Part 3; part 4 tomorrow!]


Blood and Base Ball, Part 2

Blood and Base Ball, Part 2

Randall Brown

This important article first appeared in the journal Base Ball, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2009. It is reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher, McFarland & Co. Randall Brown majored in American Studies at Wesleyan and is still addicted to history. His discovery of an obscure 1887 interview with William Wheaton, the first umpire, led to an article, “How Baseball Began,” in the 2004 issue of The National Pastime. Brown’s articles on local history have appeared in The Staten Island Historian and the Santa Cruz History Journal, and he recently completed the documentary How Base Ball Was Born, featuring the story of Wheaton and the New York Base Ball Club. Part 1 of this article commenced yesterday and may be linked directly at:

In July 1858, the clubs of the National Association of Base Ball Players decided to promote the game by sponsoring a “Grand Base Ball Demonstration,” with the best New York players pitted against the elite of the Brooklyn clubs. The press release announced:

It was resolved to play a grand match on the Fashion Race Course, it being a neutral ground, and sufficiently large. No intoxicating liquors or gambling will be allowed. A nominal charge of 10 cents and fee of 20 cents for 1 horse and 40 for two horse vehicles to be collected. Surplus funds will be equally divided by New York and Brooklyn clubs and by them presented to the widows and orphans funds of the Fire Departments of the two cities.16

The demonstration was a grand success:

At an early hour, the roads leading to the Fashion Course exhibited unusual signs of animation, vehicles of every conceivable description being called into requisition to convey the thousands of spectators to the scene of contest. Many of the Base Ball Clubs had chartered large omnibuses, which were decorated in various ways. Pedestrians could be seen in hundreds and thousands making their way to the battle ground.17

Contingents from the nearby villages of Weeksville and Jamaica were most likely among those walking to the event. Separate accommodations for “colored” passengers on the streetcars and railroad were scarce even on less busy days.

Although the match went to the New York nine, it created a demand for more baseball in Brooklyn. In early August, while negotiations were underway for a rematch, notice of another new club was received by the Clipper and the Eagle. “A Base Ball Club,” noted the latter, “was organized Monday 9th inst. under the title of ‘Unknown Base Ball Club’, with the election of the following officers: Benjamin C. Poole, President, Silas Wright, V.P., J. Nelson Edgar, secretary, John Poole Jr., treasurer.” The Clipper also noted that the members would meet for practice three times a week, from 4:00–8:00 a.m. The club’s address was in the city itself, but the players were mostly residents of Weeksville.18

The various clubs relied on their corresponding secretaries to arrange matches and to keep the press aware of their activities. The April 1859 election of Silas Wright and other officers of the Unknown Club was duly noted in the Eagle, but the rest of the season was marked by silence from the various local papers and sporting journals. Had they learned that Wright, a weigher of grain, and his teammates were “men of color”?19

What if the Unknown Club had wanted to participate in the baseball convention held that spring at Cooper Institute? To join the National Association, a club was required “to present a written application, signed by its President and Secretary, setting forth the name, date of organization, days and place of playing, names of its officers and delegates, and the number of members composing it, which shall be immediately submitted to the Committee on Nominations.” The three-man committee was given the power to blackball applicants and used it freely in the early years.

When the Anglo-African, published by the Hamilton brothers, arrived on the scene in July 1859, the Unknown Club was developing a rivalry with the Henson Club of Jamaica, named for its founder, waiter Robert Henson. On November 15, the Abolitionist paper reported on a match between the two clubs in Jamaica, apparently the second of a home-and-home series, “which resulted in another victory for the Hensons.”21

Like the gentlemen of the Knickerbockers and Gothams, the Queens nine decided to celebrate their victory in style:

It was the intention of the club to give a ball but the prejudice is so strong here at present against colored people that they were denied the use of the hall for that purpose, but after obtaining it (for a banquet) some 2 or 3 young Anglo-Africans bent on having some fun for their money commenced whistling the Tiger Polker and availing themselves of the music, some of the gentlemen took partners and danced till the music ceased for want of an extra pair of bellows to keep it going.

Another club from Williamsburgh, known as the Union Club, challenged the Unknowns during the 1860 season. The two Brooklyn clubs traveled to the Elysian Fields in New Jersey to play their match, an 11–0 triumph for the Unknowns.22

The death of the editor of the weekly Anglo-African led to further obscurity for the Unknowns and Hensons, but they were soon joined by several similar clubs, including the Hamiltons of Newark and the Monitors.

It was not until October 17, 1862, that a reporter from the Brooklyn Eagle sent out to cover a postponed match in Bedford filed a story entitled: “A New Sensation in Base Ball Circles. Sambo as Ballplayer and Dinah as Emulator. Unknown of Weeksville vs. Monitor of Brooklyn.” 

Our reporter noticed a crowd assembled on the grounds in the vicinity of the Yukaton Skating Pond, and found a match in progress between the Unknown and Monitor Clubs, both of African descent. Quite a large assemblage encircled the contestants, who were every one as black as the ace of spades. Among the assemblage, we noticed several old and well-known players, who seemed to enjoy the game more heartily than if they had been the players themselves. The dusky contestants enjoyed the game hugely, and to use a common phrase, they “did the thing genteely”. It would have done Beecher, Greeley, or any other of the luminaries of the radical Republican party good to have been present. The playing was quite spirited, and fate decreed a victory for the Unknowns.23

The parents of the first free generation provided education with a vengeance, knowing its value from experience. Having been told by his master that “reading would make him unfit for a slave,” Frederick Douglass taught himself to read on the sly. William T. Catto, born in South Carolina, was allowed to read the Bible and to acquire sufficient mathematical skill to practice the trade of millwright. After buying his release, he studied theology and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Even slave-owner Charles Lee Younger, of Jackson County, Missouri, saw the need to secure liberty with education.

Born in Virginia in 1783, Younger fathered 18 acknowledged children by four women. He married the first two then left the second for a mistress. His last son and daughter resulted from an affair with his mulatto slave, Elizabeth. Having promised to emancipate his lover and her children, he called a lawyer to his deathbed to add a clause providing generously for their upbringing. Son Simpson and daughter Catherine were to live in a free state and, at the age of 12, be sent “to a college of high grade, at which they may receive a classical education.” Despite the objections of his second wife and first mistress, the will was upheld and his former property took up residence in Oberlin, Ohio.24

Reverend Catto left the South about 1840 with his wife and infant son, Octavius. The family settled in Philadelphia, where Catto, an inspiring speaker, became active in the antislavery fight. Like fellow conspirators Robert Purvis, Jacob White, and James Needham, he enrolled his son in the recently established Institute for Colored Youth. Housed in new brick buildings in the heart of the city, the Institute offered one high school and one preparatory school for each sex. Although some graduates pursued degrees in medicine or law, over half of the students became teachers. After graduation, prize pupil Octavius Catto was asked to return as an instructor.25

The Institute for Colored Youth agreed with the Clipper’s opinion that “it would be an addition to every school if each had a cricket or base ball club attached to it as in England.” During Catto’s school days (1854–1858), the sport of choice, as it was for most ballplaying Philadelphians before 1860, was cricket. The wealthy, half-Scottish Purvis family, benefactors of the ICY, were fond of the British pastime, a younger member having played with the local Pythian Cricket Club.26

As his five children—two girls and three boys—grew up in Rochester, Frederick Douglass tried various approaches to schooling. Finding the local colored facilities inadequate, he enrolled his daughter in boarding school, only to learn that she was being taught separately. Private tutors provided a temporary solution while he worked to integrate the city’s public schools. The campaign was successful in 1857, too late to fully benefit 17-year-old Louis and Frederick Jr., a year younger, who were apprentice printers at his newspaper office, but just in time for Charles at age 12. It is likely that he learned baseball as a high school student.

Rochester had been home to baseball clubs since the 1820s, and by the mid-1850s the city’s players were enthusiastically adopting the modern New York game. The elite Live Oak and Flour City clubs even played winter matches on the ice. Printers from the various local papers, idle during afternoon hours, challenged each other on the diamond. There were several old-style private clubs, whose members competed with each other. Frederick Douglass Jr. joined the integrated Charter Oak Juniors, serving as the club’s secretary. In 1859, Charles became a member along with Frank Stewart, a friend of his brother.27

The Douglass brothers were enlisted in the Underground Railroad at early ages. When fugitives arrived at the family home, the boys carried notes to those responsible for the next leg of their journeys to Canada. In December 1856, John Brown, a longtime friend of their father, came to visit. He stayed for the rest of the winter, insisting on paying rent, while he developed plans for a slave uprising. Frederick Douglass stated that he was usually too busy to listen, but his sons were fascinated by the veteran Abolitionist’s tales of fighting in Kansas and his idea of attacking slaveholders from strongholds in the Appalachians.

Brown was ready to act in the fall of 1859. During the months of preparation he stopped in Rochester from time to time, where Charles acted as a courier for the various conspirators. Just before the attack, Frederick Douglass met with his old friend at a hideout near the Maryland border. Abandoning his idea of mountain forts, Brown had fixed on seizing the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. To Douglass, the idea was suicidal and he said so, before heading back to Philadelphia.

When the raid failed, Frederick Douglass was warned that Brown had dropped his name to authorities (as well as that of Joshua Giddings). A sympathetic telegrapher held up an arrest warrant while he took the first train out of Philadelphia, fleeing through Hoboken to avoid New York City, stopping briefly at home before conducting himself to Canada.28

During the first two years of the Civil War, Douglass spoke out in favor of arming his people. He denounced those who “claimed in one breath that Negroes won’t fight, and in the next that if you arm them, they’ll become dangerous.”29

Philadelphians had personal experience in the matter. In 1859, a local colored militia unit had won permission to carry weapons, only to have them taken away “in consequence of the Harper’s Ferry affair.”30


16. Brooklyn Eagle: July 10, 1858.

17. New York Clipper: July 24, 1858.

18. Ibid.: Aug. 18, 1858; Brooklyn Eagle: Aug. 17, 1858.

19. Brooklyn Eagle: Apr. 12, 1859; 1860 US Census, Kings County N.Y. 9th Ward.

20. New York Times: Mar. 10, 1859; New York Clipper: Apr. 1859.

21. Weekly Anglo-African: Nov. 15, 1859.

22. Dixon and Hannigan. 1992. The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History.

23. Brooklyn Eagle: Oct. 17, 1862.

24. Frazier, H. 2004. Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those Who Helped Them (pp. 80–81).

25. Address by O. Catto, “Our Alma Mater,” May 10, 1864.

26. New York Clipper: Nov. 21, 1857.

27. Astifan, P. 2000. “Base Ball in the 19th Century, Part Two,” Rochester History (p. 7).

28. Chicago Defender: Dec. 4, 1920. Quarles, B. 1968. Frederick Douglass (p. 173).

29. Quarles 1968, 177–178.

30. Brooklyn Eagle: Oct. 22, 1859.

[End of Part 2; part 3 tomorrow!]

Blood and Base Ball

Blood and Base Ball

Randall Brown

This important article first appeared in the journal Base Ball, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2009. It is reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher, McFarland & Co. Randall Brown majored in American Studies at Wesleyan and is still addicted to history. His discovery of an obscure 1887 interview with William Wheaton, the first umpire, led to an article, “How Baseball Began,” in the 2004 issue of The National Pastime. Brown’s articles on local history have appeared in The Staten Island Historianand the Santa Cruz History Journal, and he recently completed the documentary How Base Ball Was Born, featuring the story of Wheaton and the New York Base Ball Club.

Before the Civil War, the most popular outdoor activity in New York City may have been fighting. The prize ring was popular, but rioting in streets and public squares attracted more participants. In fact, there was little distinction between professional pugilists and gang brawlers. Heavyweights like John Morrissey were also employed as “shoulder-hitters” by political gangs like the Empire Club, run by Captain Isaiah Rynders, a leading Democrat, or the Short Boys of Bill “the Butcher” Poole, hero of the Know-Nothings.

Rynders and his crew delighted in attacking abolitionist gatherings. In May 1850 they showed up in force at an antislavery convention at the Broadway Tabernacle. Speaker Frederick Douglass defused the attack by inviting a racist orator to share the platform. To the argument that Negroes were a kind of ape, Douglass, whose father was probably a slave-owner, responded:

“Captain Rynders, do you think I am a monkey?”

“Oh no,” replied Rynders, “you are half a white man.”

“Then I am half man and half monkey?”


“And half brother to Captain Rynders?”

With the audience “united in laughter and applause,” Douglass spoke his piece. It was a short-lived triumph, however. Threats of mayhem truncated the conference and, several days later, while walking with two white women in Battery Park, Douglass was assaulted.1

A year later, on May 27, 1851, the Elysian Fields in Hoboken was the scene of what the Brooklyn Eagle described as

…one of the most earnest and angry promiscuous fights that has ever occurred in this country. The Germans of this city, with their families, assembled in large numbers in Hoboken, for the celebration of their Maifest. Scarcely two hours had elapsed when they were set upon by a party of rascals called “Short Boys.” 

At first the Germans were disposed to avoid a conflict, but finding it impossible to do so, they sallied out against them, and drove them to the Elysian Fields. The Short Boys took refuge in a house kept by one McCarthy, which was attacked by the Germans, and greatly injured. McCarthy, in defense of himself and his house, shot two of the Germans with a double barreled gun, killing them, it is said.2

Fortunately, this incident did not disrupt the plans of the tenants of the Club Room at McCarty’s Colonnade House. The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club had been challenged to play a home-and-home series by the recently formed Washington Club. After a promising start, the Knickerbockers had been, in the words of D. L. Adams, in “pursuit of pleasure under difficulties.” “There was then no rivalry,” he recalled, “as no other club was formed until 1850, and during these five years baseball had a desperate struggle for existence.”3

It happened that the first match, on June 3, was an away game at the Red House Grounds in Harlem. Down 7–3 after two innings, the Knickerbockers rallied to win 21–11. Two weeks later, the clubs met for a thrilling return match at the Elysian Fields, with the home club managing a 22–20 victory. As usual, “an entertainment was given after play at McCarty’s Hotel.”

Since 1844, the waiters at the Colonnade House had been privy to the world of the New York and Knickerbocker Base Ball clubs, had watched their game develop in the neighboring fields, and were a fixture at the convivial dinners when plays and points were reviewed. The Stevens family, like many upper-class New Yorkers, employed colored help. Michael McCarty, born inIreland, employed his countrymen as barkeepers but conformed to the expectations of his gentlemen patrons by hiring black servants (including live-in waiter Jeremiah Jackson).

This link between early baseball and black New Yorkers was soon severed, however. On March 7, 1852, the Brooklyn Eagle reported that “Mr. McCarty of the Elysian Fields Hotel, was accidentally shot and killed by his own act yesterday.” Sarah McCarty, 27 years old with four children under the age of nine, was left in charge. Persuaded to change her hiring policies in the spring, she soon regretted her decision. The Eagle described the July 4 incident in the following terms:

Another fatal affray occurred at the Elysian Fields. It appears that Mrs. McCarthy has of late discharged all her old waiters, who were colored men, and employed white ones, who were principally Irish, in their places; but not being satisfied with them, she discharged them, and recalled the colored ones. This gave great offence to the white waiters; and while four of the colored men were sent on an errand, they were attacked by a large number of white waiters, and one of the white men, named Robert Canton, plunged a knife into the left breast of Williams, who exclaimed as he was falling—“Oh my God, I am a dead man”. He was immediately carried to the hotel, and every attention paid to him by Mrs. McCarthy, but he died in twenty minutes after.4

The following day, the Knickerbocker Base Ball club hired a boat for a field trip. As noted by Charles Peverelly, “The members celebrated the 4th of July, 1852 by proceeding to Bath, L. I., on the 5th of July to enjoy a dinner and a game of ball.”5

Slaves and freemen alike were familiar with variations of the old-fashioned game of base ball from which the New York Game evolved. For most members of either group, leisure time was a rare and valued commodity. In his “Narrative,” Frederick Douglass observed that “the days between Christmas and New Year’s day are allowed as holidays. This time we regarded as our own, and we therefore used or abused it nearly as we pleased.”

To Douglass, writing in 1845, there was something dubious about holiday pastimes. He noted that while “the staid, sober, thinking and industrious ones” found time for constructive activities,

…by far the larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as playing ball, wrestling, running foot-races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whisky. A slave who would work during the holidays was considered as scarcely deserving them. It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas.”6

In New York City, where slavery had ended in 1827, Sunday was the usual day off. Some attended church while others spent their time playing. To the dismay of the serious-minded, the fields near Madison Square—home of the Gotham Base Ball Club and the St. George Cricket Club—also attracted black ballplayers from Greenwich Village. On October 24, 1840, the editor of the Colored American spoke out on the subject of “Sabbath Intruders”:

We wish to call attention to the practice of the lads of our City, who, in great numbers, are resorting to the suburbs of the city, as high as 25th or 30th street, for the purpose of ball playing. And we wish the parents of our people to look well to their boys, some of who[m], we are informed by a friend, as well as by the Journal of Commerce, have been seen in those sections of the City, on the Sabbath, playing ball.7

Serious matters concerned the elders of Long Island, where slaves had helped establish prosperous farms. The crossroads town of Jamaica, Queens, housed a variety of neighborhoods. In 1853, “a number of colored people” there petitioned the village trustees, “praying that we may be protected by the law from being beaten by a certain body or club of men. If you cannot protect us we must protect ourselves for we cannot be beaten.”

On the outskirts of Brooklyn, part of the Lefferts farm had been purchased in 1838 by stevedore James Weeks, who subdivided the property into lots and sold them to fellow blacks. Education was a primary concern of these residents. One of the first buildings in Weeksville was a school, which doubled as a house of worship on Sundays. Commencement Day at Public School #1 was a big event, celebrated with orations. In February 1856, the schoolhouse burned down. “It is supposed,” commented the Eagle, “to have been set on fire.”8

Many felt it was a duty to help those still in bondage. The Abolitionists actively sought public support. Douglass was the best-known spokesman, but Jacob White, Charles Lenox Remond, Rev. William T. Catto, and others promoted the antislavery cause wherever they found an audience. In Philadelphia, home of the nation’s largest free black population, Robert Purvis, Jacob White, James Needham, and a score of others were actively involved in helping escapees.

When the Fugitive Slave Act allowed posses to track fleeing property to the Canadian border, leaders of the Underground Railroad stationed themselves on the northern edges of New York and Ohio. Douglass, in Rochester, was joined as a conductor by white sympathizers including New Yorkers Gerrit Smith of Peterboro, Thurlow Weed at Albany, John Brown at North Elba, and Hon. Joshua Giddings of Jefferson, Ohio. Congressman Giddings, enjoying his immunity from prosecution, told his colleagues in Washington: “I have seen as many as nine fugitives dining at one time in my house. I fed them. I clothed them, gave them money for their journey, and sent them on their way rejoicing.”9

Giddings believed in mixing work and play. As 19th century biographer G.W. Julian observed:

The summer adjournment of Congress was always the signal at Jefferson for the opening of the base ball season. The game was then played with a soft ball, which was thrown at the player on the run. Being left-handed, Giddings usually took the boys at a disadvantage, as the ball often came where it was not looked for. It was hard to tell which was the more boyish, he or those with whom he played, who generally ranged from 15 to 25 “without distinction as to race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”10

On July 30, 1859, the Anglo-African of New York described one of these games, noting that “the venerable Joshua R. Giddings made the highest score, never missing the ball when it came to him.”11

The initial outbreak of baseball fever began in 1853 when the Knickerbockers answered the challenge of the revived Gotham Club, successors to the Washingtons. The rivalry was a satisfying one. In November a new club, the Eagles, asked for a committee to clarify the 1845 rules. When the work was done, the clubs offered copies to the Spirit of the Times and other sporting papers.

The matches of 1854 showcased baseball brilliantly. The Gothams took the first game of the series 21–16 but lost at Elysian Fields in September. Intended as a tiebreaker, the game on October 26 lasted 12 innings, with each club scoring 12 runs. Spectators came in increasing numbers to see what W. H. Van Cott of the Gothams called “friendly, but spirited trials of skill.”12

The game spread rapidly during the next two years. New clubs—the Excelsior, the Putnam, the Eckford, the Star, the Harmonic, the Baltic, the Empire—occupied fields in Brooklyn, upper Manhattan, and the Elysian Fields. In January 1857, Adamsand the Knickerbockers called for a convention of baseball clubs. “Fourteen separate and independent organizations,” noted the New York Herald, “were represented last evening, and it was stated that others would have been present but for distance, or the impossibility of getting home the same night.”13

A second convention was held in March 1858. The 22 clubs voted “to declare the Convention a permanent organization.” Article 1 of the new constitution established the title “National Association of Base Ball Players.”14

“National indeed!” sniffed the Clipper.

Why the association is a mere local organization. If the real lovers of the beautiful and health-provoking game of base ball wish to see the sport diffuse itself over the country—as Cricket is fast doing—they must cut loose from those parties who wish to arrogate to themselves the right to act for, and dictate to all who participate in the game. These few dictators wish to ape the New York Yacht Club in their feelings of exclusiveness—we presume.15


1. Holland, F. 1891. Frederick Douglass, the Colored Orator (1970 reprint) (p. 182).

2. Brooklyn Eagle:May 27, 1851.

3. Sporting News: Feb. 1896.

4. Brooklyn Eagle: July 5, 1852.

5. Peverelly, C. 1866. Book of American Pastimes (p. 345).

6. Douglass, F. 1845. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1995 reprint) (p. 44).

7. The Colored American: Oct. 24, 1840.

8. Brooklyn Eagle: Feb. 18, 1856.

9. Blackson, C. The Underground Railroad.

10. Julian, G. 1892. Life of Joshua R. Giddings.

11. Weekly Anglo-African: July 30, 1859.

12. Spirit of the Times: Dec. 23, 1854.

13. Ibid.: Jan. 31, 1857.

14. New York Clipper: Apr. 24, 1858.

15. Ibid.: Apr. 3, 1858.

[End of Part 1; part 2 tomorrow!]

Atlantics and Excelsiors Compete for the “Championship,” 1860

This is the sixteenth and final article republished from the Protoball number of Base Ball (Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 201). Thanks to scholars of baseball’s earliest period, a picture has begun to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. (For regular readers of the Our Game blog, my own contributions will be interspersed with these excerpts from Base Ball.) Craig B. Waff, author of the article below, holds a doctorate in the history of science and is the originator and compiler of the Protoball website’s “Games Tabulation,” a detailed directory of all known games of base ball—numbering over 1500 contests—up to 1860.

These articles constitute only a portion of the complete special issue and appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger Protoball Chronology appearing at; for example, the article below, indexed as 1860.60, reflects that it is the sixtieth Protoball entry for the year 1860.

1860.60 Atlantics and Excelsiors Compete for the “Championship,” July 19, August 9, and August 23, 1860

Craig B. Waff

This match will create unusual interest, as it will decide which Club is entitled to the distinction of being perhaps the “first nine in America.”1—Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 13, 1860

The Atlantics now wear the “belt,” and this contest will be a regular battle for the championship.2—Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 16, 1860

The above quotations were part of the buildup to a series of games in the summer of 1860 that many at the time considered would definitively determine the first true “champion” among the senior clubs in the Greater New York City region. Such a determination would, alas, not come to pass, as will be related later in this essay, but it is perhaps worthwhile to explore how the concept of a champion, or top-ranked, team evolved in the early history of the game.

The idea of designating a “champion” team was not even considered by the earliest ball players in the 1840s and the early 1850s, who envisioned the game as being played primarily for physical exercise. But as the number of formally organized club teams, as well as the number of baseball games played between them, increased greatly in the mid and late 1850s, the urge to declare unilaterally, if somewhat informally and unofficially, one or more teams as top-ranked occasionally became irresistible to club secretaries and independent reporters who sent accounts of games to various daily newspapers and sports weeklies. One of the earliest examples is in an account of the game between the Knickerbockers and the Gothams (both New York teams) played on September 13, 1855, that appeared in the Spirit of the Times weekly. The writer observed that “the Knickerbockers came upon the ground with a determination to maintain the first rank among the ball clubs.”3 Nearly two years later, when the Gothams encountered the Atlantics of Brooklyn, a reporter for the New York Clipper, another sports weekly, argued that “the reputation of both clubs, standing so high among the fraternity, had brought together quite a number of critics and adepts.”4 And in November 1858, when the Atlantics and the Excelsiors of Brooklyn met for the first time, the game was characterized as a “match between the best players of these leading and rival clubs of Brooklyn.”5

By mid–1859, however, after the Atlantics had compiled an unbeaten record for nearly two years (their last game loss had come at the hands of the Gothams on October 30, 1857), expressions regarding their overall dominance in the Greater New York City region became more explicit and universally expressed. A reporter for Porter’s Spirit of the Times, on the occasion of an Atlantic defeat of the Eckfords of Brooklyn in early July, felt compelled to state that “we candidly think that they now stand at the head of the list of ball clubs, no other being able to present as effective a nine as they can.”6 In late August a New York Times reporter similarly remarked that “the Atlantics are now looked upon as the most successful Club of New-York or Brooklyn, they having gone on from one victory to another over a long period.” The reporter attributed this dominance to constant practice and “having played for a great while together.”7

The winning streak of the Atlantics came to a halt on September 8, 1859, when the Eckfords of Brooklyn defeated them 22–16 in the second, or return, game of a three-game match. When the two teams met for a third, or home-and-home, game on October 12 (won by the Atlantics) to determine the match winner, the Porter’s reporter observed that “this game was the chief talk of the city of Brooklyn, and it was evident from the immense gathering that an extraordinary interest was felt in the deciding game for the local championship.”8 This statement possibly marked the first occasion when the term championship was used to describe a match between senior clubs in the Greater New York City region.9 A week later, when the Atlantics narrowly defeated the Stars of Brooklyn, an Eagle reporter similarly remarked that “the champion colors are still held by the Atlantic,” and encouraged the Brooklyn club to “give one of the best New York clubs another chance” to wrest such colors from them.”10

Reporters used the words champion and championship more frequently in 1860, especially in accounts of games involving the Atlantics. When the team played its first match of the year, a return game against the Stars on May 25 that they easily won 30–11, the Eagle reporter remarked that “It is now claimed for the Atlantics that they are the champion club of Brooklyn as they have never been beaten in a series of home and home matches since their organization.”11

The Eagle reporter predicted that “doubtless this title [of “champion”] will soon be contested by some one of our crack clubs.” The Excelsiors stepped forward first, playing the first of a series of home-and-home games against the Atlantics on July 19. As the opening quotations indicate, an Eagle reporter argued that the outcome of the series of Atlantic–Excelsior games would determine at least a local, if not national, “champion,” even though the National Association of Base Ball Players, the only existing organization governing the game, did not recognize such a title. Why such a “champion” distinction might indeed be placed upon the winner was explained by a Clipper reporter: the Atlantics were “known as the champion club in the State, from never having been defeated in any series of matches since their organization,” while the latter was “equally prominent from the result of their tour through the western part of the State, during which they successfully encountered the strongest clubs of Albany, Troy, Buffalo, Rochester, and Newburg[h], playing and winning six matches, and traveling over a thousand miles within ten days, a feat unequalled in the annals of the game.”12 That tour had occurred in early July, and although most of the games were not very competitive (the Excelsiors winning by large margins with a style of play not seen upstate before), they nevertheless gave the Excelsiors plenty of “practice” in preparation for the forthcoming match with the Atlantics.

In contrast, the Atlantics, although winning all of their early 1860 games, were a team that reporters were noticing was currently not as competitive as they had been the previous season.13 This weakening of the competitive fire of the Atlantics may have been partly due to the absence of Folkert Rapelje Boerum, their captain and regular catcher, who had been on an extended trip to Europe since the spring, and to injuries that had been suffered by Matty O’Brien, their pitcher, and at least one other unidentified player.

These circumstances may help to explain the Excelsiors’ overwhelming victory, by a score of 23–4, in the first game of the match. Nevertheless, as the Eagle reminded its readers in reporting the Atlantics’ easy 34–15 victory over the Mutuals on July 30, “The Atlantic Club still holds the champion belt of this city.”14

By the time the Mutuals and Atlantics met again, on August 20, the latter had rekindled their competitive fire. Reporting on their 26–24 victory, Porter’s observed:

The playing of the Atlantics, both in fielding and batting, was that superior character which has won for them, for so many years, the right and title to the Base Ball Championship. In batting, particularly, their playing was of the No. 1 style, and of such a character that the players of few clubs could withstand.15

This closely contested victory, and another one, 15–14, over the Excelsiors in their return game on August 9, set the stage for the highly anticipated home-and-home game between the Atlantics and the Excelsiors. Two days before the game, Porter’s caught the mood of the baseball community in the metropolitan area:

As the time draws near for these clubs to again do battle for the championship, the interest and excitement in the trial waxes warmer and warmer, and in base ball circles it is the absorbing topic of conversation. It is now generally admitted that it will be witnessed by the greatest gathering of spectators ever assembled on any base ball field.16

And indeed it was—estimates of the crowd at the neutral Putnam grounds ranged from 15,000 to 20,000, including, according to the Eagle, delegations from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Albany, Troy, Buffalo, Rochester, Poughkeepsie, and other cities.17 As expected, it was another closely contested contest—perhaps too close for a crowd that seemed to favor the Atlantics. With the Excelsiors leading 8–6 in the top of the sixth inning, “a desperate party of rowdies, who were determined that the Excelsiors should not win,” became so annoying that Excelsior captain Joe Leggett took his team off the field and thus gave up the opportunity it had to take the “championship” title from the Atlantics.18

Thus what, with some legitimacy, had been billed to be the first true “base ball championship” match (at least among senior amateur clubs in the Greater NYC region) came to an unsatisfactory end, and engendered the first of many 1860s disputes as to which club was champion, stuck throughout the decade within the existing challenge system.



1. “City News and Gossip: Base Ball—The Excelsiors,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle: July 13, 1860, p. 3, col. 2.

2. “City News and Gossip: Base Ball—Atlantic vs. Excelsior—Grand Match of the Season,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle: July 16, 1860, p. 3, col. 2.

3. “Base Ball: Knickerbocker vs. Gotham Club,” Spirit of the Times: Sept. 22, 1855, p. 373, col. 3.

4. “Match between the Gothams and Atlantics,” New York Clipper: Sept. 5, 1857, p. 159.

5. “Out-Door Sports: Base-Ball: Atlantic vs. Excelsior,” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Nov. 20, 1858, p. 180, col. 3.

6. “Out-Door Sports: Base-Ball: Eckford vs. Atlantic,” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: July 16, 1859, p. 308, col. 3, p. 309, col. 1.

7. “Base Ball: Baltic, of New-York, vs. Atlantic, of Brooklyn,” New-York Times: Aug. 24, 1859, p. 8, col. 3.

8. “Out-Door Sports: Base-Ball: Atlantic vs. Eckford,” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Oct. 22, 1859, p. 117, cols. 2–3.

9. The term may have been first used in print in the Greater New York City region a month earlier, however, when an Eagle reporter or correspondent described a forthcoming game between the Enterprise and Oakland junior clubs as a “match … for the championship.” “City News and Gossip: Base Ball,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Sept. 10, 1859, p. 3, col. 2.

10. “City News and Gossip: Base Ball—Match between the Atlantic and Star Clubs,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Oct. 20, 1859, p. 3, col. 1.

11. “City News and Gossip: Base Ball,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle: May 26, 1860, p. 3, col. 1. This claim was not quite true. The Atlantics and the Empires of New York played a series of three games on November 29, 1855, and July 24 and August 13, 1856, in which neither team, prior to darkness or rain falling, attained the then-required minimum of 21 runs to win. Before playing a fourth game on August 20, 1856 (won by the Empires, 24–14 in 12 innings), the teams agreed that the winner of this game would be declared the match winner as well.

12. “Grand Match of the Season: Excelsior vs. Atlantic,” New York Clipper: July 28, 1860, p. 116.

13. In an account of a game played against the Putnams of Brooklyn on June 29, the Eagle reporter observed that “the Atlantics were far below their proverbial style of play.” The Clipper reporter likewise observed a few weeks later that “this season the general play of the [Atlantics] has not been as good as that of last year, and we have noticed occasionally of late, a perceptible falling off in the ability that has hitherto been characteristic of their play.” Only the Putnam game had been competitive, and thus “a relaxed state of discipline has been induced that has had an unnerving effect.” See “City News and Gossip: Base Ball—Atlantic vs. Putnam,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle: June 30, 1860, p. 3, col. 2; “Excelsior vs. Atlantic: The Match for the Championship,” New York Clipper: July 21, 1860, p. 108.

14. “Base Ball: Atlantic vs. Mutual,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle: July 31, 1860, p. 2, col. 5.

15. “Out-Door Sports: Base-Ball: Atlantic vs. Mutual,” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Aug. 28, 1860, p. 420, col. 3, p. 421, col. 1.

16. “Out-Door Sports: Base-Ball: Excelsior vs. Atlantic,” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Aug. 21, 1860, p. 408, col. 3.

17. “Base Ball: Atlantic vs. Excelsior,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Aug. 22, 1860, p. 3, col. 3.

18. “Grand Base Ball Match: Excelsior vs. Atlantic—Game Drawn Owing to the Riotous Conduct of a Portion of the Spectators,” New York Times: Aug. 24, 1860, p. 8, col. 5.

The Hot Stove League

I delivered this brief talk the other day at the Beattie-Powers House in the New York village where I reside, Catskill. I thought you might like it.

Hello. I am Major League Baseball’s official historian and, more importantly today, your neighbor. I was fortunate enough to attend all seven games of this year’s World Series, and by most any measure it was one of the all-time greats.

After Game Six, I walked back to my hotel in St. Louis surrounded by Cardinal revelers raucous and giddy in a way that I, as a Mets fan, could not be. Yet I woke the next morning still struck with the improbability — no, the impossibility — of what I had just witnessed. One strike away from World Series defeat, in two successive innings, yet pulled back from the brink each time. Game Seven could not live up to this standard, and the Cards won in humdrum style. The following morning I came home, subdued and a bit sad that the game would now be mothballed for a long while.

But baseball is never quite over and done with. Every day since the World Series I have devoured every crumb of baseball news I could find, and have daily swapped stories of the game in distant days with a legion of likeminded friends in distant places. The web is our century’s general store and electronic messages its equivalent of spitting tobacco juice on the hot stove in the general store.

Soon, pitchers and catchers will report to camps in Florida and Arizona, and American hearts and minds, even those so recently in thrall to the rites of the oblate spheroid, will spring to attention. But for some months we can still swap cracker-barrel wisdom and bask in the wintry glow of the game that connects us with our past, that races through us like blood.

Baseball has always had an active hot-stove league in which today’s stars might be matched against those of the past. Ruth and Cobb, DiMaggio and Williams, Mathewson and Johnson — they cavort like colts every winter and are content to be idle when spring rolls around. But there is no summer stadium where Grange and Nagurski, Thorpe and Baugh, Brown and Huff square off. In football there is no air-conditioner league. When was the last time you played a game of football trivia? Or basketball trivia? Or hockey trivia?

Willie, Mickey, or the Duke? The Babe, Hammerin’ Hank, or Barry Bonds? Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, or Roger Clemens? If there were incontrovertible answers to these questions, wouldn’t we have stopped asking them long ago?

Who’s going into the Hall of Fame from the Veterans Committee ballot early next month? Ron Santo? Luis Tiant? Gil Hodges? I’ll be in Dallas for baseball’s winter meetings when the announcement is made but I have neither a vote nor a crystal ball. In January we’ll see who the beat writers put in—maybe Barry Larkin or Jack Morris, though to me it seems Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell might well have been elected already.

Why is it that the past and present mingle so agreeably in baseball? In football, no one imagines that Red Grange would star in today’s NFL. In basketball, who thinks that George Mikan, the greatest player of the 1940s, would even start for an NBA team in 2012 (right now it appears in fact that no one will). When pressed, most of us will acknowledge that Johnny Weissmuller won an Olympic gold medal in 1924 with a time that wouldn’t get him onto the girls’ varsity in Catskill’s high school today. Yet everyone believes that Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson, if teleported Jetson-style to the present day, would dominate the game as they did in the days of yore.

What accounts for this? Baseball is a backwards-looking institution, like the Bible or the law, where the precedents of old shine like beacons to the future; it pleases us to think that in America’s game giants once strode the earth and their like will not be seen again. This is baloney of course. The best baseball players one might ever see are playing for us, here and now.

Statistics help to create this illusion of a past age of marvels. A .300 hitter signified excellence in 1911 as he might in 2011, though the average level of skill is much, much greater today. In the 100-yard dash, times get lower every generation. In baseball, we move the finish line ever so slightly so as to maintain the balance of the game and, as a by-product, the stats.

I could go on, but for grownups of a certain age, baseball embodies the paradox of progress: we know the game on the field is better today, yet somehow it feels worse. Why is that?

Because we are older. The golden age of baseball was not the 1920s, or the 1950s, or the 1970s. It coincides perfectly with when we were twelve.

The Changes Wrought by the Great Base Ball Match of 1858

With this fifteenth of sixteen articles by scholars of baseball’s earliest period, a picture will begin to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. (For regular readers of the Our Game blog, my own contributions will be interspersed with these excerpts from Base Ball.) The article below, by Robert H. Schaefer, appears in print in a new special issue of the journal Base Ball. Bob is the author of three articles covering 19th century baseball that have won the McFarland–SABR award for baseball research. The most recent of these was “The Great Base Ball Match of 1858: Base Ball’s First All-Star Game.” His work has appeared in NINE, The National Pastime, and the Baseball Research Journal.

These articles constitute only a portion of the complete special issue and appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger Protoball Chronology appearing at; for example, the article below, indexed as 1858.2, reflects that it is the second Protoball entry for the year 1858.

1858.2 The Changes Wrought by the Great Base Ball Match of 1858

Robert H. Schaefer

Tuesday last, the day fixed upon for the great match at Base Ball between the Brooklyn and New York players, was as fine a day as the most ardent lover of the game could desire, either for play or for the drive out to witness the match. An immense concourse of people were upon the course before the time announced for commencing the game, and the cry was “still they come!” … Every imaginable kind of vehicle had been enlisted in the service, milk carts and wagons, beer wagons, express wagons, stages, and the most stylish private and public carriages. The Excelsior Club figured in a large stage drawn by fourteen handsomely caparisoned horses; the Eagle Club, of Jersey City, boasted an eight horse team, with a band of music; the Pastime eight horses; the Empire two stages, each drawn by six horse; the Putnams and St. Nicholas, each with four-in-hand, while several other Clubs were represented in a more unpretending, but not less enthusiastic manner.1

The Great Base Ball Match of 1858 paired a picked nine from the city of Brooklyn with a picked nine from the city of New York.2 Just which city threw down the gauntlet has been lost to history, but the captains of the clubs determined that the match—a best-of-three-game series—be played on a neutral site equally accessible by enthusiasts from both cities. Another requirement was that the site be adequately served by public transportation. Those charged with making this decision settled on a horse track called the Fashion Course located in West Flushing between the villages of Newtown and Flushing in what is now Queens.

Fashion Course was accessible by rail, omnibus, and trolley lines, many of which connected with the ferries that linked Brooklyn to Manhattan. It had a grandstand so the spectators could view the match in comfort. A baseball diamond was installed on the track’s infield—the grassy area enclosed by the perimeter of the race course’s interior fence. It was decided to remove the turf covering this area and lay out a diamond on the bare dirt. The dirt had to be leveled and rolled to provide a proper playing surface. Critics observed that it would have been better if the turf had been left in place and rolled to smooth it out.

Stripping the turf and converting the racetrack infield to a diamond required spending money the clubs didn’t have. In addition, there was a rental fee for using the Fashion Course. They had not planned on spending any money and there was no budget for these expenditures. The clubs had to find a method to fund the enterprise. Someone realized that the racecourse was already structured to regulate the admission of patrons explicitly for the purpose of collecting an entrance fee. Therein lay a novel solution to the clubs’ money problem—for the first time, baseball patrons would be charged a fee for the privilege of witnessing a match. If it had not been for the fact that the clubs had to pay for the expenses associated with putting on the match, they would have thrown open the gates and allowed free access to the racecourse.

The picked nine from New York won the honors and bested Brooklyn, two games to one. Attendance figures for each game are unreliable, but most sources agree that, following the first game, attendance was disappointing. But after deducting all expenses the treasury had a surplus of $71.10. It was divided into two equal parts and contributed to the Fire Department’s Widow and Orphans Fund in Brooklyn and New York. Although not planned as a fundraiser, the match was a financial success. The seed had been planted.

The concept of baseball as a commercial venture lay fallow for several years. The enclosed park movement began in 1860 when the Brooklyn Excelsior Club enclosed their grounds for the expressed purpose of keeping out unwanted and rowdy spectators.3 In 1861 William Cammeyer established an enclosed area for winter ice-skating in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. He then sought a yearly source of income and converted his fenced-in pond to a baseball field. Cammeyer’s Union Grounds were completely enclosed with an eight-foot-high fence.4 Seating was provided with a grandstand and a “bleaching boards” section.5 Every effort was expended to create the best possible playing surface. Cammeyer’s labors resulted in a high-class venue. Ball grounds of this caliber did not exist and so Cammeyer had no difficulty in getting three Brooklyn clubs—the Eckford, Putman, and Constellation—to call Union Park their home.

By May 15, 1862, the grounds were complete. Cammeyer arranged for an exhibition game between two nines picked from the three tenant clubs and advertised it widely. He also arranged for pregame entertainment, which was provided by a regimental military band. They struck up “The Star Spangled Banner,” the first known instance of it being played prior to a ballgame.6

Cammeyer did not impose an admission fee for this initial contest, but allowed the curious public to wander in and out and around his new facility without restriction. The Brooklyn Eagle estimated that more than 3,000 people had ambled into Cammeyer’s place. Seating was provided for 2,000 people, with ample room for more people to stand or to seat themselves on the fringe of the playing area.7

The “free show” lasted for just one game as Cammeyer then imposed a 10-cent admission fee. The clubs demanded a portion of this “gate money” and Cammeyer had to accommodate them. By 1867 the Atlantics received 60 percent of the gate money, less expenses.8 Suddenly, clubs had a source of income beyond the meager dues they collected from members. Flush with money, a novel item—a salary for players—was added to the club’s budget.

In the 1850s club membership was required in order to play organized baseball. Formal games were played between the various clubs. Most of the players joined chiefly for manly exercise and social interaction. The fraternal recreation was more important than the outcome of the game. The players were from the middle class and had leisure time to devote to this new form of vigorous exercise. This is reflected in the occupational distribution of the New York–Brooklyn area ballplayers 1855–1860. Melvin Adelman reports that 20.2 percent were professionals, 40.5 percent were low white-collar proprietors, 36.9 percent were skilled craftsman, and only 2.4 percent were unskilled workers.9

Club members paid dues and attended practice on a regular basis. Fines were imposed on those who missed practice, and missing an excessive number of practices was grounds for dismissal. Membership in the club was based as much on social credentials as on ballplaying skill. Indeed, one had to be a gentleman in order to be considered for membership.

Payment for a ballplayer’s services had long been a contentious issue. Direct financial compensation was prohibited by the rules agreed to at the 1858 Convention. Clubs regularly circumvented this ban. A common technique was to provide a “star” player with a job in a business owned by one of the club members. The only duty associated with such a job was to show up on payday.

The rapid expansion of baseball following the Civil War caused a high demand for top ballplayers. The Philadelphia club lured two players from Brooklyn—Alfred Reach and Lipman Pike—each for a handsome salary. Very likely they were the first openly professional ballplayers. With the advent of enclosed ball grounds and the resulting income, a club could afford to pay selected players a substantial wage.

Creating the salaried class of player caused a dramatic change in the clubs. The emphasis of the game had shifted so that winning became all important. The desire to obtain the “best” ballplayers removed all social considerations from the equation. This factor spelled the death of the baseball club as a gentleman’s refuge. Clubs now hired players based exclusively on their athletic ability.

The Union Grounds increased the admission fee to 25 cents for first-class matches in 1867. This move was endorsed as it would keep out the “roughs” who formed a “hooting assemblage that indulged in blasphemy and obscenity.”10 However, no steps were taken to restrict or limit the activity of gamblers, who set up shop in plain sight on the grounds. Failure to control this evil would ultimately contribute to the downfall of the first organization of professional baseball players at the conclusion of the 1875 season.

The financial success of the Union Grounds spawned imitators. The first of these was the Capitoline Grounds,11 located in the Bedford section of Brooklyn, less than two miles from the Union Grounds. The owners of the new ball grounds, Messrs. Weed and Decker, induced the Brooklyn Atlantics to become the resident club by offering them use of their facility free of all charges. May 5, 1864, saw the first match on the Capitoline Grounds. This contest pitted the Atlantics against a nine selected by Henry Chadwick from other Brooklyn Clubs. Chadwick’s nine was roundly defeated by a score of 45–11. The powerful Atlantics underscored their dominance by destroying their next opponent, the Nassau of Princeton, by a score of 42–7.

The enclosed grounds movement provided the financial foundation for the emergence of a new category of club—the professional. Unable to stem this trend, in 1868 the National Association of Base Ball Players elected to permit clubs to pay players for their services. In 1869, led by president Aaron B. Champion and directed by captain Harry Wright, the Cincinnati Red Stockings assembled the first all professional touring team. They played against clubs across the country, taking on all comers. Games played against amateur teams were won by lopsided scores, highlighting the disparity in skill level. For example, the Reds triumphed over a Chicago amateur nine by a score of 56–19, and shortly afterward humiliated the Kekiongas of Fort Wayne 70–1.12

When the still undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings arrived in Brooklyn on June 14, 1870, to play the Atlantics, the Capitoline Grounds instituted an admission fee of 50 cents. Attendance reports ranged from 9,000 to 20,000. The Brooklyn “cranks” got their money’s worth as the Atlantics carried the day.13 The gate money realized from this match approached $5,000.

A team of amateurs could not compete with a professional one. Little was gained by a professional team playing an amateur one, either in dollars or reputation. The talent gap between them forced the creation of the first organization of professional baseball players in 1871. The face of baseball was forever changed. The Great Base Ball Match of 1858 set in motion a sequence of events that ultimately, after many incremental steps, produced the structure of major league baseball that we know today.

The practice of charging admission and paying players was spurned by the club that had provided the genesis of the sport—the Knickerbockers. Their playing grounds were not amenable to charging admission. This fact mattered not to the Knickerbockers. They were above such practices and continued to play the game for the pure sport of it. By the time the 1870s ended the Knicks were no longer relevant to the development of the game and played no further role in its evolution. All of the important games that paired the best clubs against each other were played in Brooklyn on enclosed grounds—the ones that charged admission. The Elysian Fields, along with the Knicks, had become obsolete.

1. Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Mar. 20, 1858.
2. These two cities were separate and independent political entities up until 1898 when New York City—which up until that date had consisted entirely of the island of Manhattan—annexed the city of Brooklyn along with Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island to form the greater New York metropolitan complex.
3. Pastier, J. 2007. Ball Parks Yesterday and Today (p. 10).
4. The Union Grounds were opened at the height of the War of the Rebellion and patriotic feelings ran high. The choice of its name reflected those feelings.
5. The “bleaching boards” were a seating area consisting of uncovered boards, exposed to the rain and sun. Long-term exposure to the sun bleached the boards, hence the name. By the 20th century the name for this section of the ballparks had morphed into “the bleachers.”
6. This discovery was made by the late Fred Ivor-Campbell.
7. Lowry, P. 2006. Green Cathedrals (p. 34).
8. Adelman, M. 1990. A Sporting Time (p. 159).
9. Ibid., 140.
10. Evolution of the Ball Park (
11. Originally known as K. N. Skating Club, its name was changed when it converted to a ball ground. On May 19, 1862, the Brooklyn Eagle reported: “They have changed their name to one that admits of the enjoyment of moral and intellectual as well as physical amusements. Amongst the most favorite of the pastimes of the Romans were the ‘Capitoline Games’ which were held annually in commemoration of the protection of the capitol from the assaults of the Gauls; they were established by Camitlus in honor of Jupiter Capitolonus and also to perpetuate the games founded by Dominitian. From this is derived the name Capitoline….”
12. Rhodes, G., and J. Erardi. The First Boys of Summer (p. 107).
13. The term “crank” (sometimes rendered as “krank”) was the 19th century term equivalent to today’s “fan.”

Old Well-Well

Back in the day, when Fred Flintstone and I were young, boys who were baseball mad would tend to read about the game as well as play it, watch it, and listen to it. Before I hit my teen years I had devoured the once inspiring if today naive baseball tales of such authors as Clair Bee, John R. Tunis, Owen Johnson, and Zane Grey. The last named author may come as a surprise, in that while most everyone has heard of him (his 85 books sold more than 100 million copies and inspired 111 films, all of them Westerns), few recall that his first success came as a writer of baseball stories, most of them between 1909 and 1911.

Born in 1872, Pearl Zane Gray — that was the name he was born with, not changing it until his twenties — grew up in Zanesville, Ohio, a dentist’s son who found school confining; fishing, woodsmanship, and baseball were his life. When he was eighteen the family moved to the state’s capital, Columbus, where his pitching skills on behalf of the amateur Capitol club drew the attentions of an ivory hunter for the University of Pennsylvania.

Enrolling at the rather advanced age of twenty, Grey struggled through four years to earn his degree in dentistry, distinguishing himself on the varsity ball field far more than in class. He shifted from the pitcher’s box to the outfield in 1893, his sophomore year, when the lengthened distance to home plate of sixty feet, six inches straightened his curveball. During his four years of varsity ball, his many exploits included a great catch at New York’s Polo Grounds to help Penn defeat the New York Giants in a spring exhibition contest, and a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning to vanquish the University of Virginia.

While still enrolled at Penn, he even played professional ball for Wheeling in the Iron and Oil League of 1895, under a false name to maintain his college eligibility for 1896; this maneuver was so common at the time that even a player as prominent as Eddie Collins, Hall of Fame second baseman, began his career with the Philadelphia A’s as a moonlighting collegian, playing under the name of Sullivan. Over the next four years Grey played in such minor leagues as the Interstate, the Atlantic, and the Eastern. Even after setting up his dentistry practice in New York City in 1899, Grey continued to play on weekends for the powerhouse Orange Athletic Club of Orange, New Jersey, a semipro outfit that played Sunday exhibitions against big-league clubs and frequently defeated them.

Zane’s red-haired brother Romer “Reddy” Gray, with whom he had played back in Columbus, was an even better ballplayer, playing a single game with the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates of 1903. Reddy and his buddies in the Buffalo Bisons’ outfield of 1897, Billy Clymer and Red Gilboy, formed the basis of brother Zane’s most famous baseball story, “The Redheaded Outfield.” But I get ahead of myself: that story appeared in Grey’s last baseball opus in 1920.

It was in 1902, at the age of thirty, dispirited about his lack of success as a dentist, that Zane Grey determined to become a writer. His not yet fertile imagination produced Betty Zane, a historical potboiler about his great-great aunt that no commercial publisher would touch; he borrowed money to have it printed and in 1903 issued it himself. A sequel to this book, featuring one of the subordinate characters, appeared in 1906 (The Spirit of the Border).

So when Grey wrote The Short-stop in 1909, he was neither famous nor successful. Despairing of ever making his mark in the writing trade, he tried his hand at a tale for “all the girls and boys who love the grand old American game.” Of course Grey needed the money that his publisher was willing to advance for a book about the national pastime, then at its apex of success, but more importantly, he had come to realize that his work would have to be grounded in personal experience, and he knew baseball as no other American novelist has.

The Short-stop proved a hit, going through three printings in its first six months after publication. Its success inspired Grey to embark upon a personally grounded series of juvenile books featuring hero Ken Ward, including The Young Pitcher (1911). Before completing the boy-hero cycle with Ken Ward in the Jungle and publishing his landmark Riders of the Purple Sage, both in 1912, Grey wrote a bundle of baseball stories for various magazines, which years later were collected in The Redheaded Outfield and Other Stories.

Among these was “Old Well-Well,” which appeared in the July 1910 issue of Success. The author went to New York’s Polo Grounds in search of the man who was “famous from Boston to Baltimore as the greatest baseball fan in the East.” The author went to the ballpark on a Saturday afternoon hoping to meet up with Old Well-Well:

His singular yell had pealed into the ears of five hundred thousand worshippers of the national game and would never be forgotten.

At sight of him I recalled a friend’s baseball talk. ‘You remember Old Well-Well? He’s all in — dying, poor old fellow! It seems young Burt, whom the Phillies are trying out this spring, is Old Well-Well’s nephew and protégé. Used to play on the Murray Hill team; a speedy youngster. When the Philadelphia team was here last, Manager Crestline announced his intention to play Burt in center field. Old Well-Well was too ill to see the lad get his tryout. He was heart-broken and said: “If I could only see one more game!”

The recollection of this random baseball gossip and the fact that Philadelphia was scheduled to play New York that very day, gave me a sudden desire to see the game with Old Well-Well. I did not know him, but where on earth were introductions as superfluous as on the bleachers? It was a very easy matter to catch up with him. He walked slowly, leaning hard on a cane and his wide shoulders sagged as he puffed along. I was about to make some pleasant remark concerning the prospects of a fine game, when the sight of his face shocked me and I drew back. If ever I had seen shadow of pain and shade of death they hovered darkly around Old Well-Well.

Old Well-Well was no invention, as I have learned rather recently. Zane Grey had been a Polo Grounds regular from 1892 to the middle of the following decade, and many times must he have heard the booming cry “Well! Well!! WELL!!!” with which Giants rooter Frank B. Wood annotated the tensest moments of a game. But Grey was eerily prescient in returning his character to the Polo Grounds after a long absence, to emit one last, near-fatal whoop. In fact Wood had been barred from the Polo Grounds since 1906 and, at the time Grey wrote his story, had not been permitted to return.

More than four years after Grey had concluded his story by packing his prostrate protagonist into an ambulance after emitting one final cry, death in fact came to Frank B. Wood, fan, age sixty-nine, on December 9, 1914. In an obituary in the New York Tribune two days later, Heywood Broun wrote:

Fans of the modern Brush Stadium [another name for the Polo Grounds, reconstructed after a fire in 1911] have forgotten him, but fifteen years ago every rooter knew Frank B. Wood, who died yesterday at his home, 259 Hudson st. They did not know him by that name, though, but as “Old Well, Well”! …

So regular was “Well, Well!” in his attendance at the Polo Grounds that he was known to all the players on the circuit.

Wood was a Giant rooter at a time when the fortunes of the team were at their lowest. Nothing could dampen his optimism. Often he would seek to root his team home against leads of anywhere from 8 to 10 runs….

With the coming of better teams came finicky fans. To them the loyal rooting of Wood seemed just so much tireless reiteration. His catchwords remained unchanged and the sudden and ear piercing shout of ‘Well, Well, Well!’ did not always please strangers who sat close at hand. In fact, complaints were made and Wood was barred from the park for many years.

One day last year Tom Foley, the Polo Grounds chief of police, saw a man hanging about the gate disconsolately. Every cheer from the field inside seemed to give him acute physical pain, and at length Foley passed him in. Mike Donlin stepped to the plate as Wood reached his seat, and for the first time in seven years the Polo Grounders heard the “Well, Well, Well!” slogan.

It was not so loud now, but Mike heard and he remembered the call for it had come to him tagged with abuse back in the days when he was a foe and played with the Reds. He waved his cap to the bleacherite, and then struck out.

For the rest of the game Wood was silent. Not only his voice had weakened, but his optimism, too. He left in the seventh inning because the Giants were four runs behind. He did not come back all season, and no one heard his call again.

The New York Game in 1856

With this fourteenth of sixteen articles by scholars of baseball’s earliest period, a picture will begin to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. (For regular readers of the Our Game blog, my own contributions will be interspersed with these excerpts from Base Ball.) The article below, by Craig B. Waff and Larry McCray, appears in print in a new special issue of the journal Base Ball. Craig holds a doctorate in the history of science, and is the originator and compiler of the Protoball website’s “Games Tabulation,” a detailed directory of all known games of baseball—numbering over 1500 contest—up to 1860. Larry is guest editor of this special number of Base Ball. He designed and developed the Protoball Project to help researchers and writers locate and refine primary data on the evolution of ballplaying up to 1870. He serves on the MLB origins committee.

These articles constitute only a portion of the complete special issue and appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger Protoball Chronology appearing at; for example, the article below, indexed as 1856.4, reflects that it is the fourth Protoball entry for the year 1856.

1856.4 The New York Game in 1856: Poised for National Launch
Craig B. Waff and Larry McCray

In the summer of 1856 … there were fifty-three games in New York and the metropolitan area.1

One senses that Harold Seymour, in the above remark, was moved to highlight the number of games played in 1856 because it showed that, more than a decade after the Knickerbocker Club had codified rules for baseball, the game was actually taking root. Merely two years earlier, the entire known playing season had involved only three Manhattan-based clubs (Knickerbocker, Gotham, and Eagle) and they played a modest sum of seven interclub games at two locations—the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, and grounds near the Red House in Harlem. In comparison, the 53 games then known for 1856 show impressive growth.

The Game on the Field
A recently launched online data compilation, the Protoball Games Tabulation compiled by Craig B. Waff,2 allows us to profile the facts of the 1856 season and the nature of the mid–1850s style of play. The tabulation reflects all of the published accounts of games that had come to light by 2008, when the Protoball Project uploaded version 1.0 of the tables. They profile over 1,500 games reported from 1845 to the Civil War.

For the 1856 season 70 games are listed (including several played by junior clubs and second nines).3 About half were played at either the Elysian Fields or the Red House sites, but the city of Brooklyn had now already bypassed both of their totals, hosting 21 games, with seven other games reported at sites in New Jersey towns and in what is now the Bronx. No game was reported for any Manhattan location south of Harlem. For the season, games involving 26 distinct clubs are displayed, including eleven from Brooklyn and eight from Manhattan. Another five active clubs had formed in New Jersey localities, and two more to the north of Manhattan Island.

At this juncture, baseball seemed more aptly termed the Fall Game than the Summer Game; the season’s first recorded interclub game took place only on July 1. Only half of these games had been played by October 1, and the year’s play concluded with several bracing Thanksgiving Day games. Games were distributed fairly evenly among the days of the work week, except that only two games took place on Mondays. No Sunday play is listed.

The 47 games that were reported as completed contests averaged about 36 total runs—24 runs for the winning club and 12 runs for the loser. This was the last year that games were played to 21 runs, with both teams being assured the same number of complete half-innings to score.4

The length of completed games ranged from two to twelve innings, with an average duration of slightly more than six innings. It is thus interesting that a year later the nine-inning game would be chosen as the official standard; in fact, only about 10 percent of 1856 games had reached nine innings. About one game in every five was suspended, most frequently because of encroaching darkness, and this resulted in a relatively high proportion of drawn games. The earlier sunset experienced in the fall months seems a likely a factor in the proportion of unfinished games.

Notable Historical Trends
Two key developments in 1856 vitally affected baseball’s future. First, the 1856 season marked an abrupt decline in play of the pioneering Knickerbocker Club. Portrayed in newspaper accounts as one of the strongest of all teams early in the season, the 1856 Club had a losing record, and in fact the club stood among the least successful of the eight most active teams. The club may have anticipated this decline: it had, for the first time, required prospective team members to undergo actual tryouts for the 1856 season.5

Off the field, too, the Knickerbockers seem to have lost stature. In the prior offseason, they had tried to head off the growing practice of “revolving”—the movement of the ablest players from weaker club to stronger ones—but failed to induce other clubs to go along.6 Tom Melville suggests that some clubs, at least, declined to comply with some of the playing rules that the Knickerbockers had set down,7 as later modified marginally in 1854 in an agreement with the only other clubs playing then—the Eagle and Gotham clubs. At season’s end, however, there were almost ten times as many clubs playing, and by October 1856 it was suggested, in print, that a new baseball convention was needed to reconsider existing playing rules.8

Two months later, the Knickerbocker Club met and agreed to make a call for a general convocation of clubs. When it took place in January 1857, each of the attending 14 clubs was given three votes to cast, thus instantly democratizing the game. The Knickerbocker Club was not fated to steer the game the way that the Marylebone Cricket Club so long has governed cricket. Some key Knickerbocker proposals were turned down at the meeting, which produced a much more complete code of playing rules. In 1858, the officer slate of the new National Association of Base Ball Players, devoid of Knickerbocker representatives, was dominated by men from the diverse new Brooklyn clubs. Thus the “New York game” was passing out of the hands of New Yorkers (Brooklyn was not to become a borough of New York until 1898).

The second of two 1856 trends was the identification of the New York game with the United States as a nation. What may be the first reference to baseball as a national game had been written in the Knickerbocker Club minutes in August 1855.9 The description of the New York game as being a “national” game in 1855 and 1856 was a stretch; at the time, interclub games in America were to be regularly seen at perhaps no more than eight sites, all in the New York City area.10

But we should perhaps see the term “National Game” less as geographical description and more as aspiration that the United States have its own unique pastime. In 1856 the aspiration was irresistible to many commentators. In mid–August, the New York Clipper pronounced baseball “thoroughly established as an American game, equal, to a certain extent, to the English game of Cricket.”11 Four weeks later, Porter’s Spirit of the Times stated, “This fine American game seems to be progressing in all parts of the United States with new spirit, while in New York and its neighborhood its revival seems to have been taken up almost as a matter of national pride.”12 And in mid–November the same newspaper confessed that “we feel a degree of old Knickerbocker pride, at the continued prevalence of Base Ball as the National game of the region of the Manhattanese of these diggings.”13 By December, aspirants had arrived at the perfect term for the game when a Sunday Mercury correspondent used the now-traditional term “national pastime” for the game.14

Henry Chadwick, baseball’s great promoter/journalist, was later to state, oddly, that “It may be truly said that the year of 1856 was the birth year of the evolution of base ball.”15 Given the 150 years of prior evidence of baseball’s predecessor games that is detailed in this issue of Base Ball, it is hard to know what he was trying to convey with this assertion. Perhaps he wrote “evolution” where he meant to write “diffusion”? By the end of 1856, intramural forms of the New York game had appeared in Trenton to the south, Albany and Newburgh to the north, and Rochester and Chicago to the west.16

The geographical explosion of enthusiasm for the game was clearly under way. During the next season it would reach Detroit, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Princeton, and even Boston. Pastimes that might have competed with baseball, including cricket, wicket, and the regional ball game in the northeast that would be codified a year and a half later as the Massachusetts Game, were not expanding. Much of America was turning to baseball now, and Chadwick was not wrong if he merely meant to suggest that the fuse had been lit in 1856.

1. Seymour, H. 1960. Baseball: The Early Years (p. 24). A list of precisely 53 games, attributed to the (New York) Sunday Mercury, was reprinted in Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Dec. 27, 1856, p. 277.
2. The “Games Tabulation” can be found at: The 261-page compilation of game summaries for the New York area is found at: Version 1 of the Games Tabulation lists over 1,500 games played through 1860, and includes key details and comments for each.
3. These 70 interclub games, representing only about three games per week over the five-month playing season, must have been supplanted with ubiquitous intra-club games and, perhaps, pick-up games. One reporter observed that “Matches are being made all around us, and games are being played on every available green plot within a ten mile circuit of the city.” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Sept. 13, 1856, p. 28.
4. Games in 1856 where both teams scored 21 or more runs were played on August 15, when the Continental club defeated the Putnam club (two Brooklyn nines) in eight innings by a score of 23–22, and on August 30, when the Knickerbocker and Empire clubs of New York played eight innings to a 21–21 tie.
5. Ryczek, W. 2009. Baseball’s First Inning (p. 48).
6. Gilbert, T. 1995. Elysian Fields (p. 38).
7. Melville, T. 2001. Early Baseball and the Rise of the National League (p. 12).
8. Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Oct. 11, 1856, p. 93, reported that “It is said that a Convention of all the Base Ball Clubs of this city and suburbs will be held this fall, for the purpose of considering whether any and what amendments to the rules and laws governing this game should be made.”
9. Knickerbocker Club Books, Minutes of August 22, 1855, as cited in Ryczek 2009, 242.
10. The eight sites include Hoboken (Elysian Fields), East Newark (near the depot), Jersey City (on a field part way toward Hoboken), Harlem (near the Red House), Morrisania (in the present-day Bronx), East Brooklyn (Wheat Hill), Bedford (Brooklyn: opposite Holder’s), and South Brooklyn (at the foot of Court Street). See data from the Protoball Games Tabulation (ref. 2).
11. New York Clipper: Aug. 16, 1856.
12. Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Sept. 13, 1856, p. 28.
13. “Out Door Sports,” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Nov. 15, 1856, p. 176.
14. Letter signed by “A Lover of Base Ball” and dated Dec. 5, 1856, originally published in the (New York) Sunday Mercury, Dec. 7 or 14, 1856, and reprinted in “Base Ball, Cricket, and Skating,” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Dec. 20, 1856, p. 260.
15. Chadwick, H. 1904. “On the Evolution of Base Ball,” in Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide (p. 7).
16. The SABR Committee on the Origins of Base Ball sponsors an open database on these and other incursions of the New York game. Early games and early clubs in U.S. localities are compiled at:

Baseball’s Lost Chalice, Part 3

Part 2 ran in this space previously, and may be linked directly at

This article from the forthcoming Fall 2011 number of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game appears here with the courtesy of the publisher. For more information about purchase or subscription, see:

Helen Dauvray returned to the stage in 1890 in The Whirlwind, a play written for her by Sydney Rosenfeld and based on the incidents of a real financial drama in Wall Street a year or two prior. It failed. In 1894 she starred in a “farcical comedy,” That Sister of His, at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, with no better results. The itch to appear before the public did not entirely leave until she was 45. On June 29, 1901, The New York Dramatic Mirror ran this rather depressing ad, which at last marked the end of the trail for the actress who had begun her career as Little Nell:

Will Support Male Star, or for Leading Comedy Roles in Productions.
Permanent Address, Lock Box 1479, General Post Office, New York, N. Y.

John Ward never spoke publicly of his dissatisfaction with the marriage. The couple reconciled in Europe in early 1891, but soon broke apart again. (His teammate, pitcher Tim Keefe, who had married Helen Dauvray’s sister, the widow Clara A. Helm, enjoyed better luck with the Gibson clan; that marriage lasted for a while.) When an absolute divorce was decreed on November 30, 1893, the former Mrs. Ward was declared free to marry again—and she did, in 1896 to then Navy Lieutenant and later Rear Admiral Albert G. Winterhalter, alongside whom she is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Her former husband, however, whose alleged infidelities created the basis of her action, was barred from remarriage during her lifetime. This draconian ruling Ward appealed successfully in 1903, and he made an enduring marriage to Kate Waas of New York.33

In the month before the Wards’ divorce decree was issued, newspapers all across the country ran this small notice:

Boston Defeats All-America.
Kansas City, Mo., Oct. 8.—At the end of the first inning in today’s game between the Boston and All-America teams, the Dauvray cup was formally presented to the Bostons and became their personal property, having been won three times.34

No mention was made of the promised badges for the players on the club that retired the cup; by this time Helen Dauvray Ward had lost interest not only in her husband but also in baseball.

The Bostons, who were custodians of the cup by virtue of their championships in 1891 and 1892, had taken it with them on their final western swing of the season, which commenced on September 11.35 They were coasting to the flag, having torn up the NL in July and August with a record of 40–14. The World Series had died with the failure of the American Association after the 1891 campaign; the Temple Cup, awarded to the winner of a postseason contest between the top two clubs in the sole surviving league, would not be instituted until 1894.

So what happened to the Dauvray Cup after its formal presentation on October 8, 1893? It appears that various Boston players carted it around, as has long been the custom among hockey players with Lord Stanley’s Cup. On November 4, Sporting Life’s Pittsburgh correspondent reported that “Harry Staley is still here, a, guest of Jimmy Galvin. “You can bet Staley is having a good time in Pittsburg. He always has. Staley brought the Dauvray Cup with him. It is on exhibition in a Sixth street show window.” One week later, the same paper reported:

Cincinnati Welcomes the Once Rejected Pitcher of the Champion Team. Cincinnati, O., Nov. 7. Sir Henri Gastright has returned to his home in Newport across the river after a tour through the West with the Bostons and All-Americas. Sir Henri received a warm welcome from his townsmen, and he promised them a glimpse of the Helen Dauvray cup, and the famous trophy will be exhibited here before the call to duty is heard in the spring.

On November 12 the Boston Globe confirmed that “Henry Gastright, the Boston pitcher, is at his home in Newport, Ky., where he has the Dauvray cup on exhibition.”

This is the last confirmed sighting of the Dauvray Cup, which presumably continued to wend its way circuitously to the offices of the Boston Base Ball Club. I believe it never made it there and was lost along the way. On June 19, 1894, Sporting Life noted: “The Temple cup is now on exhibition in a Fifth avenue store. It is certainly a massive trophy. It is to be hoped that it will not be lugged around as carelessly as the Dauvray cup. By the way, what has become of the latter?”


33. “The Once Famous Player, Now a Peaceful Lawyer, Makes the Matrimonial Plunge Once More,” Sporting Life: Sept. 26, 1903.
34. E.g., “Dauvray Cup Retired,” Morning Oregonian: Oct. 9, 1893.
35. New York Clipper: Sept. 23, 1893.

Baseball’s Lost Chalice, Part 2

Part I ran in this space yesterday, and may be linked directly at

This article from the forthcoming Fall 2011 number of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game appears here with the courtesy of the publisher. For more information about purchase or subscription, see:

In Paris Dauvray, perhaps through the courtesy of sister Clara, had the money to commission a play, hire a hall, and reinvent herself. Returning to New York, she applied the same template, commissioning Felix Morris to write a drama for her: Mona, which opened on April 27, 1885, to poor notices. One theater critic candidly stated that “she returns to the stage purely for the purpose of satisfying her ambition.” Another was brutal:

The play is handsomely placed upon the stage and excellently acted; but it fell as flat as a pancake, without syrup, on the first night, and will probably die of inanition before the three weeks for which Miss Dauvray has hired the theatre are over. It is gossiped that Miss Dauvray is a lady of fortune: the play-bill assures us that she must return to Paris, in June, to fill another engagement at the Folies Dramatiques; consequently we are justified in regarding her as a theatrical angel, who comes here just to show herself and expend about $10,000 upon the profession, and then flutters back to France again.18

Next, Helen tried her hand at comedy, as Bronson Howard wrote for her One of Our Girls, which ran for several months. This was the only true success of her career. Howard then prepared for her Met by Chance, which was first played on January 11, 1887. The San Francisco Chronicle acidly observed:

“Met by Chance,” written for Helen Dauvray, primarily known as Little Nell, the California Diamond, was withdrawn after five or six weeks at the Lyceum, the actress not liking the character she filled, and which was expressly designed for her. She is not versatile, as she seems to think. She is devoid of emotional power; she is hard, unsympathetic, uninteresting, being far better fitted to the line of parts she sustained as a girl than those she now undertakes. The story is that she made $300,000 by a lucky investment in a Pacific slope mine, and some years later, returned to the stage from which she had withdrawn. She will not believe it; but she would not have been an irreparable loss to the theater had her withdrawal been lasting.19

After this Helen indeed withdrew from the stage, ostensibly because of nervous prostration from over-study. She was, according to the New York World of October 16, 1887, one of many actors and actresses for whom “the iteration and reiteration of exhausting parts, night after night, have produced either actual insanity, softening of the brain, spinal difficulties of a nervous nature,” and other mental ailments. This condition did not prevent her from embarking upon a romance with John Ward, or in dreaming up the stunt of the Dauvray Cup to keep her name before the public while she awaited the next turn in her dramatic career. The New York Times reported, some months after the romance became public knowledge:

All through the earlier part of the Summer she was a regular attendant at the Polo Grounds, and always aggressively and enthusiastically championed the home team. Her tiny hands beat each other rapturously at every victory of the Giants and her dark eyes were bedewed at every defeat. But the thousands of spectators who observed Miss Dauvray’s emotions little suspected that one of the Giants had any precedence over the others so far as her affections were concerned.20

Helen’s intent to commission a “Grecian loving cup,” valued at $500, to be competed for by the winning clubs of the League and the Association, was announced in the press on May 20. Hers was not baseball’s first self-promotional trophy; one year earlier Erastus Wiman, owner of the New York Metropolitans of the American Association, had offered a self-named cup for the champions of the AA that, incidentally, would promote his own club all season long. He said:

Naturally, I place this trophy for the current season in the custody of our club, the Mets, being confident that they will endeavor to hold it by winning the pennant. You will please instruct the Mets to carry the trophy from city to city where they play with our association clubs, and place it on exhibition during the games, in order that all contending clubs may see the prize for which they are playing.21

On June 1, 1887, the Gorham Silver Company—not Tiffany, as was sometimes reported—designed her trophy. The first step was modeling those portions requiring to be cast: bats, masks, and ribbons. Modeling required 20 hours, charged at $12. From this modeling a casting pattern was made. Casting took five hours, 20 minutes, and was charged at $2.75. The castings were then chased for seven hours at a charge of $3.50. The prepared silver then went to the silversmith, who devoted 120 hours—two working weeks—to fashioning the cup. Next came the polishing: stoning, bobbing, and applying “green rouge” to bring the silver to its final luster, and 36 hours for etching to letter the inscription:



Miss Helen Dauvray





Materials and labor came to $164.76, including $83.36 in silver, to which Gorham added 20 percent for overhead and 30 percent for profit, yielding a final bill of $247.14, which the company rounded up to $250, the amount of the estimate it had originally provided.22

At her suggestion and with the later concurrence of the NL and AA, the Dauvray Cup was to be held by the winner of the World Series, and would remain in that club’s possession until a new champion was crowned. When a club won three championships, it would claim permanent possession and retire the trophy.

After announcement of the cup and the terms of its award, complaints arose that while it served to honor the victorious club’s owners, the players would have no commemorative of their role. To this Dauvray responded by arranging for gold medals to be struck for the players of the winning team, and for the umpire designated by the winning league. Writing to Nick Young, NL president, on June 12:

Your favor of the 9th inst. was received, for which accept my thanks. As I have already explained to Mr. Ward, I fear I have gone too far with the “cup” to retract my word, but recognizing the justice and force of your argument I have decided to give with the cup gold badges to the players composing the club that first wins the trophy and also to the club that wins it for the third and last time.23

Young replied four days later to express his concurrence and appreciation. By August 5 the Cup and the badges were completed (absent the engraving of the latter, which depended on the World Series outcome), and on August 23 they began to be displayed in the window of Gorham’s establishment on Broadway and 19th Street.  But the press had long before determined that the whole affair was a publicity stunt. On June 11 the Brooklyn Eagle had noted, “Helen Dauvray’s offer of a silver cup to the champion baseball nine has been worth twice the amount in advertising.” The Police Gazette had added on July 2:

What is wrong with Helen Dauvray? Is she not of sufficient importance in the theatrical world, that she is seeking notoriety and cheap advertising in baseball circles by offering a costly “loving cup” as a trophy for the world’s championship, to be competed for by the winners of the League and Association pennants?

Helen of course had hoped that her beau’s Giants would contend for the cup, but the World Series would match the Detroit Wolverines of the NL against the AA champion St. Louis Browns in a best of 15 (!) traveling circus, with games scheduled for 11 parks in 10 different cities. The Series started and ended at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Other venues included not only Detroit but also Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, and Baltimore. But after the Browns took Game 1, Detroit went to work, winning seven of the next eight. By the time the contestants got back to St. Louis, Detroit had a whopping lead of 10 games to four; no wonder only 659 folks showed up for the October 26 finale, called after six innings.

On September 20, not quite three weeks before the World Series would open, Dauvray had written to Detroit president Frederick K. Stearns:

The Dauvray cup and medals are quite finished, and I thought perhaps it would be agreeable to yourself and President Von der Ahe to have the trophies accompany the two teams on their travels during the series of games to be played for the world championship. If so, I will be pleased to give them into your custody. I take great interest in the series and hope to have the pleasure of witnessing the New York game to congratulate you and the Detroit team on their fine play. I hope no accident will cripple the team at an inopportune moment….24

Of this proposal the Boston Globe offered: “The fair Helen is bound to get all there is out of the ‘ad.’”25 Before each game of the World Series, Detroit’s Dan Brouthers—who indeed injured himself in the final days of the season and played only once in the World Series—would set the cup on home plate, where it would stay during pregame activity, and then bring it back to safety.26 The account in the Detroit Tribune of the World Series game between St. Louis and Detroit on October 17, 1887, played at the Phillies’ park, says this of the crowd:

One was John M. Ward, the ball player, and the other Helen Dauvray, his bride, an actress of some renown. They haven’t been married a week, but they didn’t seem particularly affectionate…. She is rather pretty, with strong Hebraic features, and evidently Ward’s senior. Ward shouted for the Detroits and Mrs. Ward applauded the Browns [her brother Adolph had been born in St. Louis]. They occupied opposite ends of the box, and hardly spoke to each other during the contest. Before the game began the Dauvray Cup sat on the home plate and winked at the sun. Hanlon threw in a ball that upset the cup and Mrs. Dauvray Ward’s feelings simultaneously. “How disgusting,”she exclaimed to her husband. “What is the matter with Hanlon, anyhow?”27

By this date the Wards had been married for five days, as far as anyone knew. If there was already a visible froideur between them, this may be the reason: Helen, relentlessly exploiting baseball and the cup to keep her fading star before the public, had concocted a mid–Series marriage for the delectation of the press. On October 12—a day when Detroit would win Game 3 at home, 2–1, in 13 innings—The New York Times broke the news that the baseball couple would be wed that morning:

Miss Dauvray had just returned from an extended stay in the country, when a TIMES reporter called on her last night, at her residence, 49 Park-avenue. When asked as to her approaching marriage, she seemed dumfounded [sic] and denied that she had any such intention. She could not imagine how such a story could have been circulated.

But Mr. Keller, the Times’ theatrical reporter, persisted. Miss Dauvray admitted that she was getting married in the morning, in Philadelphia. Once this cat was let out of the bag, Ward immediately made the rounds of the other New York City papers,

…so that they should have the news as well as the Times, and on Wednesday morning the couple came to Philadelphia, accompanied by a married sister of the bride. Here they were joined at the Lafayette Hotel by another married sister from Baltimore. Then Ward betook himself to Clerk Bell, of the Orphans Court, and obtained marriage license No. 13,960. Mr. Ward, with this official document, rejoined Miss Dauvray and then drove to the parsonage of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church, 110 South Seventeenth Street. Here they were married by the Rev. Mr. Chapman.28

Why might Ward have been visibly upset only five days later? First, there was the charade on the evening of October 11 involving the Timesreporter, which compelled the baseball player to become an actor. Second was the public but fraudulent marriage in Philadelphia; in fact the couple had run up to New Haven, Connecticut, on August 31 and tied the knot then and there. This fact was revealed in their divorce decree six years later.29 After playing in the Giants’ league game against Indianapolis at the Polo Grounds on Tuesday, August 30, Ward was replaced at shortstop in Wednesday’s exhibition game against the same club. He was in New Haven. While he took the field once more on September 1, in a game against Detroit, his secret bride was not in her accustomed spot in the stands. Her sister told a World reporter at the Polo Grounds:

“Helen is very ill, but I hope she soon will be well…. She dearly wanted to see to-day’s game, but her doctor forbade her leaving the house.”30

The Wards’ marriage was contentious from the start, and no wonder. Helen leaked to the press that the reason for the couple’s multiple separations and failed reconciliations was that she wished to return to the stage and her Johnny would not allow it. In the fall of 1889 the Daily Graphic reported that “Helen Dauvray’s reason for retirement is that her husband, the eminent shortstop, does not approve of her stage career and wishes to stop it as he would a hot ball.”31 The following spring, after the Wards had parted ways, the San Francisco Call reported that “Miss Dauvray is about to essay the stage again, and resuming her career without divided interest, but with a sole purpose to make a histrionic success.” Recalling her past efforts, the paper added hopefully, “Future reports of her artistic ability will no doubt have a warmer and more encouraging tone than those we have heard heretofore.”32

[End of Part II; more tomorrow!]


18. Spirit of the Times: May 2, 1885, p. 422.

19. San Francisco Chronicle: Aug. 7, 1887.

20. “Helen Dauvray’s Choice,” The New York Times: Oct. 12, 1887, p. 1.

21. Brooklyn Eagle: Apr. 25, 1886; from Bob Schaefer’s fine article in Base Ball 1:2.

22. Gorham Costing Book, Vol. 35, p. 118, B815 Prize Vase; Gorham Company Records, John Hay Library, Brown University Library.

23. Sporting Life: June 22, 1887.

24. The Sun (N.Y.): Sept. 25, 1887.

25. Boston Globe: Sept. 26, 1887.

26. Auburn Citizen: Jan. 9, 1908.

27. Thanks to Don Jensen for bringing this passage to my attention. His fine article in Base Ball 3:1, “Everyone Went to Nick’s,” was an inspiration for mine.

28. “Ward Dauvray Marriage of Two Noted Professionals,” Sporting Life: Oct. 19, 1887.

29. The Sun (N.Y.): Nov. 30, 1893, p. 5.

30. New York World: Sept. 2, 1887.

31. Daily Graphic: Sept. 9, 1889.

32. San Francisco Call: Apr. 20, 1890.