Ball Days, a Song of 1858
In the amateur era, particular before 1860, postgame banquets and postprandial toasts seemed more important to players and club members than the outcome of the contests. On August 20, 1858, at a supper given for the Brooklyn Excelsiors by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York, James Whyte Davis, nicknamed “The Fiend” for his voracious appetite for baseball, sang the following song of his own composition to the tune of the well-known “Uncle Sam’s Farm.” Who won the game of August 20, 1858, played at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields? The Excelsiors, by the narrow score of 15-14. The New York Times said of the contest, which was the return in the three-game match between the clubs, that it was played in the “presence of the largest number of spectators that have been present at any match in that locality for some time … one of the finest and most exciting contests which has occurred in Base-ball annals….”
Henry Chadwick reprinted the lyrics twice in 1868, once in his book The Game of Base Ball, and again in his weekly sporting paper, The Ball Players’ Chronicle: A Weekly Journal Devoted to the Interests of the American Game of Base Ball and Kindred Sports of the Field. Charles A. Peverelly, in his classic 1866 Book of American Pastimes, revealed that Davis had composed the ballad for another such feast , four years earlier.
A grand dinner was given on the 15th of December, at Fijux’s 11 Barclay street, by the Knickerbocker, Eagle and Gotham Clubs. An equal delegation was present, and an excellent bill of fare presented. The utmost hilarity prevailed, and everything passed off in a happy manner. A song, composed for the occasion by J.W. Davis, of the Knickerbocker Club, was so well received that the Eagle Club had it printed. It was entitled “Ball Days,” and abounded in witty allusions to the principal players of the three Clubs.
The closing reference to the telegraph is to the great transatlantic cable, a project begun in 1857 and completed on August 5, 1858. The cable functioned for only three weeks. The first official telegram to pass between two continents was a letter of congratulation from Queen Victoria of he United Kingdom to President James Buchanan of the U.S. on August 16. Telegraphic communication between Europe an America was not restored until 1866. But that’s another story.
Source: Henry Chadwick, The Game of Base Ball (New York: Munro, 1868), pp. 178-80.
“BALL DAYS” IN THE YEAR A.D. 1858
Come, base ball players all and listen to the song
About our manly Yankee game, and pardon what is wrong;
If the verses do not suit you, I hope the chorus will,
So join with us, one and all, and sing it with a will.
Then shout, shout for joy, and let the welkin ring,
In praises of our noble game, for health ’tis sure to bring;
Come, my brave Yankee boys, there’s room enough for all,
So join in Uncle Samuel’s sport–the pastime of base ball.
First a welcome to our guests, the brave Excelsior boys,
They play a strong and lively game, and make a lively noise;
They buck at every club, without breaking any bones,
Assisted by their president, the witty Doctor Jones.
They well deserve their motto, and may they ever keep
Their men from slumbering, till their score “foots up a heap”;
And their name will resound through village and through town,
Especially by older clubs, who’ve been by them done brown.
They have Leggett for a catcher, and who is always there,
A gentleman in every sense, whose play is always square;
Then Russell, Reynolds, Dayton, and also Johnny Holder,
And the infantile “phenomenon,” who’ll play when he gets older.
But if I should go on singing of each and every one,
‘Twould require another day, till the setting of the sun;
But they need no voice of mine to glorify their name,
Their motto’s “Ever Onward,” and may it never wane.
The Nestors and the parents of this our noble game,
May repose on laurels gathered and on records of their fame;
But all honor and all glory to their ever fostering hand,
That is multiplying ball clubs in towns throughout the land.
Then treat the fathers kindly, and please respect their age,
Their last appearance is not announced, as yet, on any stage;
Some vigor yet remains, as you very well must know–
It shines out like a star in our agile Charles De Bost.
Now we’ll sing to the Gothams–they hold a foremost rank;
They have taken many prizes, and they seldom draw a blank;
Their players are hard to beat, with Van Cott in the race,
And Wadsworth is bound to die on the very first base.
There’s a club that’s called the Eagle, and it soars very high;
It clipped the parent’s wing, and caught them on the fly;
Little Gelston plays behind, and Bixby pitches well,
And Hercules he bats the ball–oh! dreadfully to tell.
And here we have the Putnams–they bear a gallant name;
They are jovial, good fellows, as every one will claim–
For Dakin is a trump, as the Brooklyn boys well know,
And with Masten for a catcher, they have a right to crow.
See the conquering hero comes from the broad Atlantic’s ocean,
And the Nestors’ hearts do swell with grateful, glad emotion;
They’ve so many star players, you can hardly name the lions,
But I think you’ll all agree they are the O’Briens.
But we’ll cross to the westward, where Empire takes its way,
At our home, the Elysian Fields, this club enjoys its play;
They’ve Benson, Hoyt, and Miller, Leavy, Thorne, and Fay,
And are noted for their even play on every practice day.
There’s the aspiring Eckford boys, justly considered some;
When they send a challenge, that club looks very Grum;
Their Pidgeon’s ne’er caught napping, and they never are cast down,
With such splendid fielders as Manolt and Ed. Brown.
There’s a club at Morrisania, that’s a very strong bulwark;
It forms a solid “Union” ‘twixt Brooklyn and New York–
They’ve Gifford for their pitcher, and Booth plays well behind,
And Pinckney, on the second base, is hard to beat you’ll find.
The young clubs, one and all, with a welcome we will greet,
On the field or festive hall, whenever we may meet;
And their praises we will sing at some future time;
But now we’ll pledge their health in a glass of rosy wine.
Your pardon now I crave–this yarn is spun too long–
The Knickerbocker’s “fiend,” you know, he always goes it strong;
On America’s game of base ball he will shout his loud acclaim,
And his “tiger” shall be telegraphed to Britain’s broad domain.