First Baseball Poem?

Ad for the new paper; Sporting Life, April 6, 1887

Ad for the new paper; Sporting Life, April 6, 1887

Rummaging through old files, I came upon this, from the April 20, 1887 issue of The National Daily Baseball Gazette, O.P. Caylor’s short-lived (two weeks) and now exceedingly rare New York sporting paper: “Walter Colton Abbott, of Reading, Hillsdale county, Michigan, sends to THE GAZETTE a copy of what he believes to be the first verse of rhyme inspired by the national game. It was published in the New York News and Courier about the year 1838 [almost surely a misnomer for the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, formed in 1829] and is as follows:

“Then dress, then dress, brave gallants all,
Don uniforms amain;
Remember fame and honor call
Us to the field again.
No shrewish tears shall fill our eye
When the ball club’s in our hand,
If we do lose we wil not sigh,
Nor plead a butter* hand.
Let piping swain and craven jay
Thus weep and puling cry,
Our business is like men to play,
Or know the reason why.

“*Hence the term “butter-fingers,” which, twenty years ago, was applied to a man or a boy who didn’t hold a ball.”

Masthead, National Daily Base Ball Gazette

Masthead, National Daily Base Ball Gazette

Two days later a letter to the editor (from “S. H. R.”) stated that the verse was adapted from “Song of the Cavalier” by William Motherwell (1797-1835), once a famous ditty but long since buried in the sands of time. For academicians’ possible interest, I offer it, with the Scottish poet’s antiquarian orthography, below.

If this parody indeed appeared in 1838, it would beat all the other early verse (Knickerbocker banquet ditties of 1854 and 1858) by plenty. See:



A steed! a steed! of matchlesse speed!
A sword of metal keene!
All else to noble heartes is drosse,
All else on earth is meane.
The neighyinge of the war-horse prowde,
The rowlinge of the drum,
The clangor of the trumpet lowde,
Be soundes from heaven that come;
And oh! the thundering presse of knightes,
Whenas their war-cryes swell,
May tole from heaven an angel bright,
And rouse a fiend from hell.

Then mounte! then mounte, brave gallants all,
And don your helmes amaine;
Deathe’s couriers, fame and honor, call
Us to the field againe.
No shrewish teares shall fill our eye
When the sword-hilt’s in our hand–
Heart-whole we’ll part, and no whit sighe
For the fayrest of the land;
Let piping swaine, and craven wight,
Thus weepe and puling crye;
Our business is like men to fight,
And hero-like to die!

The Motherwell poem, first published in Glasgow in 1832, was printed in the New-York Mirror of June 2, 1838, under the heading “Original Retrospective Reviews.” I suspect this may have prompted the parodist, whose production I am unable to locate in the archives.


Parody and baseball seem to go together. The parody of “Excelsior” which appeared in the New York Sunday Mercury on September 16, 1860, a delayed celebration of the Excelsior Club’s 23-4 thrashing of the champion Atlantic Club in July, may otherwise be the first verse, as opposed to the ditties.

Ball Days appears to date to 1854, anyhow, and the distinction between verse and ditty may be overly fine, IMHO.

Very very interesting to see a mention of “uniforms” if the poem indeed dates to 1838- over a decade before the Knickerbockers were the “first” to wear them. Uniforms also implies a very organized ball club, not some pickup game- reference again to Wheaton’s Gothams?

Who knows? It seems likely to me, though, that the several ball clubs that predated the Knickerbocker wore similar garb, as cricket clubs did.

Indeed, you should have whet the research appetites of many a baseball historian with this tantalizing find. Uniforms, imho speaks to a distinct group, playing regularly while the reminder not to “sigh” when making an error speaks to the game being to some degree competitive. No doubt a worthy research endeavor to substantiate its actual publication date

I wonder how representative the lexicon in this verse is of the everyday spoken English of the period? I have a fantasy that if I were to time-travel to 1838, I wouldn’t be able to understand most of what people were trying to say to me, and I’m pretty sure they’d think I was from an obscure foreign country (or planet).

The poem on which the baseballish parody is based is written in an odd, perhaps fanciful notion of how Scotsmen spoke ca. 1700.

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