The Momentous Baseball Convention of 1857

Daniel Lucious "Doc" Adams

Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams

With the newly discovered “Laws of Base Ball” coming to auction this weekend (http://scpauctions.com/), I thought it might be a fine time to post the text of contemporary news coverage. While the source is Porter’s  Spirit of the Times, January 31, 1857, the report of the New York Herald, published the morning after the convention of January 22, is incorporated. Note the use of the phrase “national pastime” in connection with the rising sport of baseball, and the difficulty that the sport’s proponents had in securing equal standing with cricket in the laying out of the new Central Park. For a great deal more about the proposal by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York to modify and standardize the rules, see “The Making of Baseball’s Magna Carta” (http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2016/02/28/the-making-of-baseballs-magna-carta/).

OUR NATIONAL SPORTS.

A convention of the Base Ball Clubs of this city and the vicinity was held on Thursday evening, 22nd inst., at Smith’s Hotel, Broome street, for the purpose of discussing and deciding upon a code of laws which shall hereafter be recognized as authoritative in the game.  Base ball has been known in the Northern States as far back as the memory of the oldest inhabitant reacheth, and must be regarded as a national pastime, the same as cricket is by the English.  It is a manly and healthful exercise, and if generally known would become popular, being full of excitement and rendering the body lithe and hardy.  It is played in most of the New England schools, and those who have once engaged in it never lose their interest in the game.  We should hail it as a favorable omen for the next generation if that bright specimen of humanity, yclept Young New York, would join the base ball or cricket clubs and quit his bar rooms, and other night amusements, and seek the open air.  The following account is copied from the “Herald” of the 23rd:–

The Knickerbocker is the oldest base ball club now existing in this city, and seems to be the most influential.  The present convention was called by that club, and is composed of three delegates appointed by the various associations.  Fourteen separate and independent organizations were represented last evening by the following gentlemen, and it was stated that others would have been present but for distance, or the impossibility of getting home the same night.

Knickerbocker–Messrs. D.L. Adams, Wm. H. Grinnell [Grenelle–jt], L.F. Wadsworth.

Gotham–Messrs. Wm. H. Van Cott, R.H. Cudlip, Geo. H. Franklin.

Eagle–Messrs. W.W. Armfield, A.J. Bixby, John W. Mott. Empire–Messrs. R.H. Thorn, Walter Scott, Thomas Leary.

Putnam–Messrs. Theo. F. Jackson, Jas. W. Smith, Edw. A. Walton.

Baltic–Messrs. Phillip Weeks, Robt. Cornell, Dr. Chas. W. Cooper. Excelsior–Messrs. Jas. W. Andrews, Jas. Rogers, P.R. Chadwick.

Atlantic–Messrs. C. Sniffen, W. Babcock, T. Tassie.

Harmony–Messrs. R. Justin, Jr., G.M. Phelps, Frank D. Carr. Harlem–Messrs. E.H. Brown, John L. Riker, C.M. Van Voorhis.

Eckford–Messrs. Chas. M. Welling, Francis Pidgeon, James M. Gray.

Bedford–Messrs. John Constant, Chas. Osborn, Thos. Bagot.

Nassau–Messrs. Wm. P. Howell, J.R. Rosenquest, Eph. Miller.

Continental–Messrs. John Silsby, Nath. B. Law, Jas. B. Brown.

Porter's Spirit of the Times, September 12, 1857

From Porter’s Spirit of the Times, September 12, 1857

The Convention met together shortly after the hour appointed, and being satisfied with each other’s personal appearance, (justily [sic] so, for most of them were splendid looking fellows,) the delegates proceeded to elect a President and officers, when the following were appointed:-

President–Dr. D.L. Adams, of the Knickerbocker.

Vice President–Reuben H. Cudlip, Gotham; John W. Mott, Eagle.

Secretary–Jas. W. Andrews, Excelsior.

Assistant Secretary–Walter Scott, Empire.

Treasurer–E.H. Brown, Harlem.

Porter's Spirit, January 31, 1857

Porter’s Spirit, January 31, 1857

After some remarks from the President, a brisk discussion ensued on the motion that a committee of five be appointed to prepare a code of laws which shall be authoritative on the game.  An amendment was offered, that twenty should form such committee; and, again, that the Convention should go into Committee of the Whole upon the laws.  The various propositions were sweated down to two, and, being put to the vote, it was finally determined that the delegates from each club should appoint one member to sit on said committee.  The gentlemen so appointed are as follows:–

Committee to Draft a Code of Laws on the Game of Base Ball, to be Submitted to the Convention–Messrs. L.F. Wadsworth, W.H. Van Cott, W.W. Armfield, Thos. Leavy, Thos. F. Jackson, Dr. Chas. W. Cooper, P.R. Chadwick, T. Tassie, F.D. Carr, E.H. Brown, Francis Pidgeon, John Constant, Wm. P. Howell and Nathaniel B. Law.  This committee will meet next Wednesday.

Mr. Armfield moved that an assessment of $2 be made from each club, in order to defray incidental expenses, and referred to the proposed Central Park as a most suitable spot for playing matches. Provision had been made there by the Commissioners for the English national pastime of cricket, but none for base ball,* and he trusted that this convention would put itself in communication with the authorities on this subject.

Mr. R.G. Cornell submitted three specimen balls of various sizes, 6 1/3 oz., 6 1/2 oz., and 6 3/4 oz.; the convention will eventually be called upon to decide which is orthodox of the trio.

Mr. Francis Pidgeon proposed that a committee of five be appointed by the Chair to confer with the Central Park Commissioners in relation to a grant of public lands for base ball purposes.  This being carried, the Chair named the following:–

Committee to treat with the Commissioners for a plot of ground in the Central Park–Francis Pidgeon, E.H. Brown, George F. Franklin, John W. Mott, L.F. Wadsworth.

A motion was then made and carried that each club forthwith pay the Treasurer $2, when that officer remarked, “I shall be under the necessity of notifying that I don’t take Spanish quarters.”  The Secretary read over the names of the clubs, the money was forthcoming, and the Convention adjourned at 9 1/2 o’clock until the third Wednesday in February.

Base ball is about becoming a great national institution.  The gentlemen assembled last evening at Smith’s Hotel were engaged in a work not of that trifling importance which a casual observer might suppose.  Mens sana in corpore sano is a maxim worthy of notice in this age, when young men are forsaking the fields and out door exercise for the fumes of cellars and the dissipation of the gaming table. Let us have base ball clubs organized by the spring all over the country, rivalling in their beneficent effects the games of Roman and Grecian republics.  Schoolmasters and clergymen, lend a helping hand.

*Mr. Armfield and the Convention seems to us to labor under a mistake; the Commissioners recommend that a space be set apart for “a Cricket Ground, for the encouragement of, and indulgence in, athletic and manly sports.”  This, we should suppose, would include Base Ball, Quoits, &c., &c.–Editor “Spirit.”

2 Comments

My bucket list includes using the word “yclept” in a sentence. Wait—I just did!

Popular back in English Lit grad school days. I use it around the house, but the wife ignores me.

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