Archive for the ‘ origins ’ Category

Blood and Base Ball, Part 4

Blood and Base Ball, Part 4

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 3 of this article commenced yesterday and may be linked directly at:

jacob-white_cropDuring the summer of 1866, a club was formed by Octavius Catto, Jacob White Jr., and others. Catto, now the principal of the boys half of the Institute for Colored Youth, hosted the first practices at the school. The team soon found a home at the Pythian Hall, adopting the name of the fraternal organization.

At first, the Pythians played in nearby Camden, New Jersey, to avoid trouble in the Irish neighborhood near the local ball fields; but by the end of the season, they were able to hold matches at the local Parade Grounds. When the touring Bachelors visited on October 3, they schooled the newer club severely, winning 70–15.45

The election of 1866 turned the tide in favor of the Radical Republicans, who won control of the Congress thanks to black voters in the South, where former rebels were disenfranchised. For Charles Douglass, the change resulted in a job as a clerk in the Freedman’s Bureau in Washington.

The Excelsior Base Ball Club of Philadelphia inaugurated its 1867 season with a fundraising concert. “The music, both vocal and instrumental, was of a high order,” commented the Christian Recorder, “and all the artists acquitted themselves finely. A beautiful silk flag and 12 caps were presented to Mr. James Needham Jr. by the young ladies of Philadelphia.”46

On June 21, the Pythian club traveled to South Camden to meet the L’Overtures. Catto played second as the Philadelphians romped to a 62–7 fifth-inning lead before the admirers of the Haitian general surrendered the prize ball.47

In Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington DC, baseball clubs contended for various “colored championships.” The Monrovia and Shaw clubs once again battled for bragging rights, while the Bachelors of Albany traveled to Utica to take on the Fearless nine. “The Albanians,” admitted the local paper, “beat their Utica competitors badly.”48

The sporting papers that summer were enthusiastic about the tour of the (white) Nationals of Washington, orchestrated to take on the clubs in Ohio and points west. Like the Mutuals of New York, sponsored by “Boss” Tweed, the politically connected leaders of the club offered patronage jobs to entice players. It is likely that Charles Douglass spent more time at a desk than shortstop/treasury clerk George Wright, but he too found time to play. Frank Stewart was in Washington that summer and, as they had in Rochester, Stewart and Douglass helped organize a baseball club, known as the Alerts. Stewart was a particularly skillful player, hitting three home runs in a match with the Monumentals.49

Like Charles Remond Douglass, named for an antislavery activist, Octavius Catto and Jacob White Jr. had been reared in political households. Seeing an opportunity to gain positive publicity by playing the National Game, the Pythians agreed to take on two Washington clubs, the Alerts and the Mutuals, in home-and-home series. Friendly members of the mainstream Athletic club helped facilitate the plan.

The idea caught the attention of the public and press. “Fred. Douglass Sees a Colored Game,” reported the Clipper in July. 

The announcement that the Pythian, of Philadelphia, would play the Alert, of Washington, D. C. (both colored organizations) on the 15th inst., attracted quite a concourse of spectators on the grounds of the Athletic. The game progressed finely until the beginning of the fifth innings, when a heavy shower of rain set in, compelling the umpire, Mr. E. H. Hayhurst, of the Athletic, to call the game. The score stood at the end of the fourth innings: Alert 21, Pythian 16. Mr. Frederick Douglass was present and viewed the game from the reporters’ stand. His son is a member of the Alert.”50

The home nine was less successful in its second encounter, losing to the Mutual club by one run, 44–43. The Philadelphians returned the visits in August, triumphing over both Washington clubs.51

The Nationals returned to face the New York Mutuals and top-notch nines. Like the Atlantics of Brooklyn and the Gothams of New York, the Mutuals were strongly anti-Republican. They took advantage of their trip to the national capital to make a statement of their own. On August 27, the press was advised that:

The Mutual Ball Club of New York yesterday elected President Johnson as a member. The President, upon the presentation of the badge of the club, accepted the honor, commending base ball as a moral and national game. Subsequently the Mutuals beat the Nationals by 24 runs. The President, Secretary Seward, and many Government officials and some 5000 spectators witnessed the game.52

At the beginning of October, the Philadelphia Excelsiors embarked on a tour of the North. The Black baseballists of Brooklyn had temporarily found a home at the Satellite Grounds (formerly used by the burned-out cricket club mentioned above). Located near the popular Union Grounds, the venue had failed to bring in crowds and the management was open to experiment. One of Brooklyn’s premier players, John Grum, volunteered as umpire for the matches. Regrettably, the offer was not agreeable to all parties.

The October 3 match between the Philadelphians and the Uniques received thorough, if not flattering, coverage. Chadwick’s Ball Players’ Chronicle described the Excelsior Club as “the principal colored organization,” noting that the visitors had brought their “band of music and a large crowd of Philadelphia friends” and “a reputation as skilful experts on a par with that of the Athletic Club.” The Uniques, “a party of colored ball players familiar to the patrons of the Fulton Market,” were seen as “second-rate exponents,” but the contest was a lively one.

The Excelsiors took the lead at the start, and maintained it all the way through, the close of the sixth innings securing them in the van by the totals of 37 to 24. In the seventh innings, however, the Brooklyn players pulled up considerably, but, not finishing the innings before it became dark, the game was decided by the close of the sixth.53

According to the Clipper,

…the affair was decidedly unique, and afforded considerable merriment to several hundred of the “white trash” of New York and Brooklyn. The game was a “Comedy of Errors” from beginning to end, and the decisions of the umpire—a gentlemanly party from the Bachelor Club, of Albany—exceeded anything ever witnessed on the ball field. At 6 ½ o’clock, while the Brooklyn club was at the bat, with every prospect of winning the game, the Excelsiors, profiting by the example set them by their white brethren, declared that it was too dark to continue the game, and the umpire called it and awarded the ball to the Philadelphians.54

The Excelsiors left for Albany and a match with the Bachelors, returning a week later to play the Monitor Club. This time the laurels went to Brooklyn, as the Monitors “avenged their brethren by a handsome victory,” 32–18. “After the match,” the Chronicle noted, “the club marched to the ferry, headed by a band of music, and followed by a large and enthusiastic crowd.”55 

It seemed that “the colored element in the fraternity” was winning the acceptance and, occasionally, the respect of baseball audiences. The Pythians decided that the time was right to seek official recognition. The Pennsylvania State Association of Base Ball Players, a subsidiary of the national organization, held a convention in Harrisburg in the middle of October.

Although the famous Athletics, led by Hayhurst, their president, had agreed to sponsor the application of the Pythians, it soon became apparent that the idea was unpopular with most of the delegates. As Pythian secretary Jacob White Jr. later reported:

Whilst the Committee on Credentials were making up their report, the delegates clustered together in small groups to discuss what action should be taken. Sec. Domer stated although he, Mr. Hayhurst, and the President were in favor of our acceptance, still the majority of the delegates were opposed to it, and they would advise me to withdraw my application, as they thought it were better for us to withdraw than to have it on record that we were black balled.

Instructed to “fight if there was a chance,” White finally relented, as “there seemed no chance for any thing but being black balled.”

Your delegate feels bound to state that all the delegates seemed disposed to show their sympathy and respect for our club by showing him every possible courtesy and kindness.  While at dinner Messrs Hayhurst and Rogers and others invited him to attend the base ball match that was to be played that afternoon in company with them.

The rest of the Pythian club visited Harrisburg the following week, besting the local Monrovians 59–27.

On October 31, the Chronicle continued its coverage of “the championship of colored clubs,” this time between the Uniques and Monitors for the honors in Brooklyn.

This match has been the theme of comment for some time in colored circles. The play exhibited on both sides was very creditable at first, but afterwards the Uniques failed to play up their mark, and did some very bad muffing. The Monitors outplayed them at all points, but especially in batting, which, in the latter part of the match, they did in terrific style. The Monitors began to draw away from their opponents, who became demoralized, and their contest ceased, although play continued.56

The National Association of Base Ball Players met in Philadelphia for the first time that December. Mr. Arthur Pue Gorman, of the Nationals, presided. 

When the roll was called each prominent club was applauded. The Athletics, Quaker Citys, Keystones, Nationals, Mutuals, Atlantics, Unions, and other well-known clubs received an ovation, also the delegates from Oregon and Omaha. The report of the Nominating Committee in which they decided not to admit clubs with colored delegates, was adopted.57


45. Casway, J. 2007. “Octavius Catto and the Pythians of Philadephia,” Pennsylvania Legacies 7.1.

46. Christian Recorder: June 1, 1867.

47. Ball Players’ Chronicle: July 4, 1867.

48. Utica Morning Herald: Nov. 3, 1867.

49. Astifan 2000, 8.

50. New York Clipper: July 13, 1867.

51. Casway 2007.

52. Utica Morning Herald: Aug. 27, 1867.

53. Ball Players’ Chronicle: Oct. 10, 1867.

54. New York Clipper: Oct. 19, 1867.

55. Ball Players’ Chronicle: Oct. 17, 1867.

56. Ibid.: Oct. 31, 1867.

57. “Report of Delegate to President and Members of Pythian Club. Dec. 18, 1867.”

[End of Part 4; concluding part 5 tomorrow!]

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 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.”

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:

Professional Baseball’s First Championship

This story originally appeared in the 2011 Official Major League Baseball World Series Program, which is available at Now that the 2011 World Series is over—and it was one of the best in recent memory—permit me to share with you the story of a season finale like no other in baseball’s history. Today we date the modern World Series, between the pennant winners of the American and National Leagues, to 1903. However, students of the game will know that an earlier version of the World Series existed from 1884 to 1890, and that in all other years of professional league play, a champion was declared at the end of the regular season and that was that. (The Temple Cup Series of 1894–1897, held between the league’s top two finishers, did not convey a championship to the winner.)

Major League Baseball dates its inception to 1876, but nearly all of the men who played in the newly formed National League (NL) of that year had played in its predecessor circuit: the National Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs (NA), which operated from 1871 through 1875. In its final four years, the NA’s pennant winner was the Boston Red Stockings, who easily outdistanced the field. But in 1871, baseball’s first pennant race went down to the final day amid improbable and poignant circumstances that will never be equaled.

When the NA was founded in a meeting held at Collier’s Saloon in New York on March 17, 1871, it was ruled that each club would play five games with the other eight and the winner of three games will have won that “championship series.” This was a term designed to separate league contests from the many exhibition games that each club played along the way. The NA “whip pennant” would be awarded to the team winning the most series against the other league teams, not the most games (the rule until 1883) or the top winning percentage (ever since).

Of the nine clubs that paid a ten-dollar fee to enter the new league, three battled for the pennant from the outset: Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings took their name as well as several key players—including his brother George, the game’s greatest star—from his famous Cincinnati nine, undefeated in 1869 yet disbanded only a year later. Chicago had built its White Stocking club on the Cincinnati model, luring talented players from other clubs with rich offers. For 1871 the club officers would build a new ballpark at Randolph and Michigan on the lakefront‚ of which the New York Clipper opined, “They will have accommodations on their grounds to seat 6‚500 people. With the single exception of being somewhat narrow‚ they will have one of the finest ballparks in the country.” Philadelphia’s venerable Athletic Base Ball Club, founded in 1860 as an amateur organization, had paid their players since the Civil War in a more or less open secret. Despite the loss of third baseman Harry Schafer to the new Boston club, the Athletics reclaimed native son Levi Meyerle, a powerful hitter, from Chicago to take his place.

In this first year of league play, even teams that fell out of the pennant race (or out of the league itself, as with Fort Wayne’s Kekiongas) could point to enduring accomplishments. Troy’s Haymakers finished in the middle of the pack at 13–15 but provided professional baseball’s first Hispanic player in third baseman Esteban Bellán, as well as a Jewish slugger in Lipman Pike, who batted .377 and tied for the league lead in home runs.

Chicago broke from the gate with a rush, winning its first 19 games, including 7 league contests, before losing to the Mutuals in early June before 10,000 spectators at Brooklyn’s Union Grounds. The Athletics’ impressive array of hitters kept pace, taking a game from Troy on June 28 by a score of 49–33; each team scored in all 9 innings. However, on August 30, the Athletics succumbed to the visiting White Stockings by a score of 6–3‚ the club’s lowest run total since it started professional play. Chicago pitcher George “The Charmer” Zettlein held the Athletics to four hits.

On September 11, the White Stockings topped the standings with a record of 17–8, trailed closely by the Athletics at 17–9 and Boston at 15–9. (If these game totals seem low, reflect on the transportation difficulties of the era and each club’s copious scheduling of profitable exhibition contests.) Yet because games won and lost, and the resulting percentage, did not decide the champion, the important fact at this point of the season was that Boston and Chicago had each won three series from other clubs and lost none, while Philadelphia had won three but lost one, to Boston.

As the season wore on, the Athletics were increasingly hobbled by injury. Center fielder John “Count” Sensenderfer—any player who was a favorite of the ladies was invariably nicknamed thus—went out for the year with a knee injury. Second baseman Al Reach—who like Boston’s Al Spalding would go on to create a sporting goods empire—would sit out crucial contests in the final days. Pitcher Dick McBride missed three straight games in September.

Heading into the home stretch, Boston had only six games to play to complete all of its series and by sweeping them would take the championship. But they lost a critical game at Chicago on September 29 that gave the interclub series to the White Stockings. On October 7, Boston rebounded to defeat Troy to claim that series.

On the next day, Sunday, October 8 at about 9:00 p.m., the great Chicago Fire commenced, legendarily when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a kerosene lantern. As it continued to rage on October 9, ultimately killing hundreds and destroying four square miles of the city, the Athletics defeated Troy, 15–3. The White Stockings were still very much in the race, but the conflagration had cost them their ballpark, their equipment and uniforms and, it appeared, their very livelihoods. Certainly they had an awfully rough time, most were broke, and they may have been actually hungry as they made their way from one ballpark to another in search of a payday.

While benefit games were hastily arranged for the citizens of Chicago, and towns all across the nation organized relief committees, no one came forward to aid the White Stockings. Desperate, the Chicago players decided not only to play their scheduled National Association games in the east, but all of the exhibition games that could be hastily arranged. Wearing borrowed uniforms of varying hues and styles, they won often enough; however, they were clobbered in a penultimate game at Troy on October 23, one that might have secured the championship; at one point they had trailed by 15–0.

The weather was bad for the White Stockings’ eastern swing; most of their exhibitions had to be canceled, and the deciding game with the Athletics—scheduled for Brooklyn’s Union Grounds, a neutral site—was postponed several times before finally taking place on October 30. An Athletics win would give them the pennant outright; a Chicago win would throw the race into a disputed tie, with Boston reentering the computation.

Play was called at 3:10 p.m., with Marty Swandell of the Brooklyn Eckfords as the umpire. Because of the wind and damp, only 600 fans occupied the grounds that had welcomed 10,000 in June when the White Stockings had played the Mutuals. Chicago appeared in suits of various origins, ragtag in the extreme. Mike Brannock, a player picked up for this eastern trip to fill in at third base, wore a complete Mutual uniform, except for the belt which was that of the Eckfords. Center fielder Tom Foley was attired in a complete Eckford suit. Zettlein wore a huge shirt with a mammoth “A” on the bib, no doubt from the Brooklyn Atlantics. Shortstop Ed Duffy appeared in a uniform borrowed from the junior Fly Aways. Some Chicago players wore black hats, others were bareheaded.

The Athletics were not without problems of their own. Without the services of Reach, Sensenderfer, and reserve Tom Pratt, they fielded only eight men at first as first baseman Fisler took Reach’s spot at second base and outfielder George Heubel came in to play first base. Hurriedly the veteran Nate Berkenstock, who had not played in a game since 1867, was drafted into service from the audience. Positioned in right field, the 40-year-old former Athletic would make a fine running catch to save a run, and made two other catches without miscue to gain his entry in the baseball encyclopedias as its oldest “rookie” until Satchel Paige.

The Athletics’ batting star was, not surprisingly, Long Levi Meyerle, whose three hits gave him a season-ending batting average of .492, the high-water mark in professional baseball history. But the hero of the game was pitcher Dick McBride. Pitted against Chicago’s ace Zettlein, who allowed only two earned runs himself, McBride took a shutout into the final frame.

Battling to avert a “Chicago”—a blanking synonymous with their city through a famous 9–0 blanking by the Mutuals in 1870—Zettlein sent a hot grounder to Meyerle which he kicked over to shortstop John Radcliff. He picked up the ball and made a try for the putout at first but threw wild, Zettlein making second. Zettlein scored on an out, but that was all the offense Chicago could muster. When Fred Treacey flew out to Berkenstock to end the game, the applause was as much for the plucky fight of Chicago as the championship secured by the Athletics. The impoverished White Stockings played exhibition games into November, losing to the Mutuals in Brooklyn and the Haymakers in Troy, amid poor weather and slim attendance, just so they could earn their train fare home.

Baseball in Chicago, which had been built up with such great expectations and expenditures, would now be mothballed for the next two seasons; when the club returned in 1874 it would do so with a chip on its shoulder. Today we know this White Stocking franchise as the Chicago Cubs.

Boston regrouped to capture the flag in each of the National Association’s following four years, eventually becoming so proficient that fan interest in other cities began to wane. In 1875 the Red Stockings’ astounding proficiency—a season record of 71–8, including a 37–0 mark at home; a 26–game win streak to open the season—may have destroyed the competitive balance required to hold fan interest. But the club continued in the new National League of 1876; they are the lineal forebear of today’s Atlanta Braves.

And what of the champion Athletics of 1871, who began play before the Civil War? They too joined the NL of 1876 but were expelled at season’s end, along with the Mutuals of New York. They bear no relation to later clubs calling themselves the Athletics, either in Philadelphia or Kansas City or Oakland.


Born to DH

In the game that settled the 1871 championship, Levi Samuel Meyerle led his team at bat, going 3-for-5. With one more hit he would have hit .500for the season! He dominated his league as no one would—major or minor—for half a century, driving in 40 runs in 26 games while scoring 45. His .700 slugging percentage would stand until Babe Ruth’s 1920 campaign.

A local lad, Meyerle came to the Athletics in 1869 at age 19, following three years with Philadelphia amateur clubs. A gangly kid at 6’1”—at a time when the average height of an American male was 5’6”—Long Levi was tried at every position on the field, disappointing at each. For the 1871 champions he manned third base with jaw-droppingly awful results: more errors (45) than assists (39), and a fielding percentage of .646.

That may explain why, after one more year with the A’s, he went on to play for a new club each year from 1873 through 1877, despite a lifetime batting average of .356 across the National Association, National League, and a three game swan song in the Union Association of 1884. After many years in the construction trades, Levi Meyerle died in 1921, his passing unnoted in the sports pages.


The Baseball Press Emerges

With this thirteenth 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 yours truly, appears in print in a new special issue of the journal Base Ball.

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 1853.5, reflects that it is the fifth Protoball entry for the year 1853.

1853.5 The Baseball Press Emerges

John Thorn

“BASE BALL AT HOBOKEN: The first friendly game of the season, between the Gotham and Knickerbocker Base Ball Clubs was played on the grounds of the latter on the 5th inst. The game was commenced on Friday the 1st, but owing to the storm had to be postponed, the Knickerbockers making nine aces to two of the Gothams, the following is the score for both days.”

The Knicks won, 21–12, according to an abbreviated box score, which uses “No. of Outs” and not “Hands Lost” in the left-hand column, and “Runs,” not “Aces,” in the right-hand column. Paul Wendt estimates that this is the first certain Knick-rules box score known, and the first since the October 1845 games.1 Henry Chadwick may have been baseball’s most important writer in its early days, but he was not its first. That honor would go to William Cauldwell, who, like Chadwick, was born in 1824. “I can speak as a New York boy from away back,” Cauldwell told the Mills Commission in 1905, “and in an all my experiences I had no knowledge of the prominence of a ball game called ‘rounders.’ I played ball in my native city from the time I was (to use an old time phrase) ‘knee high to a mosquito’ dating back to a period when Fourteenth Street was considered out of town.”2

Cauldwell would have played ball in lower Manhattan, near Crosby Street, for he went to primary school at the “High School for Males,” at No. 36 Crosby near Broome Street. As editor of the weekly Sunday Mercury, Cauldwell made mention of baseball on May 1, 1853, and later that year devoted space to the Knickerbocker–Gotham match of July 5. These were the first press accounts of baseball games since various newspapers covered the three October 1845 contests between clubs from Brooklyn and New York.

As Chadwick was not the first to cover baseball, neither was the New York Clipper. For decades after its debut number of April 30, 1853, the Clipper was never all about baseball, or even primarily so.3 Yet more than any other publication, it may be said to have transformed a boys’ game into the national pastime. To place in context how the Clipper advanced the status of baseball, let’s look at the sporting papers that paved its way.

I suggest that three essential ingredients facilitate the growth of any localized game to national sport. First, gambling. Adults must care about the outcome, and their willingness to place a wager is a reasonable measure of their interest. As a game matures, investors and civic boosters may pool their interests in order to absorb a greater risk, placing their bets on the protracted success of a club or a ball grounds. Second, statistics. Whether merely game scores or primitive box scores, these numerical attachments to prose accounts accord a mantle of importance to the matches—an importance like that of trade or transport or government; in addition, quantifying the game’s constituent parts further fuels the first mover of sport, gambling. Third, publicity. Regular press coverage is a necessary development to waft the enthusiasm exhibited at a single contest, however it may have been fueled, to those only reading about it afterward, often at great distance from the event.

Before baseball came to dominate the sporting scene in the last quarter of the 19th century, these three elements had previously advanced the popularity of other sports: the turf, the ring, sculling, cricket, and the pit (blood sports such as ratting, baiting, cockfighting, and dog-fighting). Whether the crowd drawn by the activity was low or genteel, the ingredients and the progression were similar. American sporting papers, beginning in the 1820s, paved the way for each sport to mature by providing records and prognostications related to events of interest to the sporting set and—underlying it all—the basis of a potential wager.

Despite the nationwide surge of interest during the Jacksonian era in newspapers and magazines touching upon all topics—from politics to religion, from literature to commerce—sporting coverage lagged. Devotees of turf, ring, field, and stream had to await the arrival by packet ship of the weekly Bell’s Life in London, founded in 1822. Three years earlier, Baltimorean John Stuart Skinner had established The American Farmer, the first agricultural journal in this country; in 1823 he replaced it with the  monthly American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine, which became America’s first enduring sporting paper.

Skinner sought for his new publication an encyclopedic status, but while industrious in collecting material for his magazine, unfortunately he published whatever was sent to him relating to the horse, and just as it was sent. His indifference to fact and straying attentions would continue to plague sporting papers, as the standards of self-promotion and humbuggery were more readily met than those of journalism.

A competitor to Skinner’s magazine arose in 1831.4 Founded by the aptly named William Trotter Porter, the Spirit of the Times was a high-toned weekly of horse literature and southwestern wit. Under his aegis it became a landmark in its approach to sport and, with nationally distributed subscription, a significant part of American periodical history. Porter pitched his paper to “gentlemen of standing, wealth and intelligence, the very Corinthian columns of the community,” rather than the crowd attracted by sensationalistic sheets of the day like The Whip or the Police Gazette (of which outlaw Jesse James was a noteworthy subscriber).5

An early–1830s competitor to Skinner and Porter was the sumptuous (and thus not surprisingly short-lived) New York Sporting Magazine and Annals of the American and English Turf, published by Cadwallader R. Colden with colored aquatints. Colden had written for Skinner’s publication under the pseudonym “An Old Turfman.” His own venture, launched in March 1833, ceased publication a year later, but it presaged the illustrated sporting papers to come.

Spirit of the Times began to cover cricket in 1837 (a match between elevens from Schenectady and Albany). Not until July 9, 1853, however, did it give notice to a baseball match, the one played between the Knickerbocker and Gotham clubs on July 5—the same noted in the fledgling Clipper one week later. Over the next few years, however, the Spirit would cover baseball much more assiduously than the Clipper. For a long time after it launched, the Clipper was seen as a cheap cousin of the flash or racy weeklies rather than as a competitor to Spirit of the Times. In 1853 the Clipper sold for two cents per copy at the city’s newsstands; the Spirit, if available there (it sold primarily via annual subscription), went for six cents per copy.

Although Spirit of the Times attracted a widely dispersed circulation that peaked at 40,000, it struggled to break even, it was said, because of the profligate habits of its proprietor. Porter lost his publication to his former pressman, John Richards, and looked for employment to George Wilkes, who had sold the Police Gazette, which he had co-founded. Wilkes took him under his wing, and started a new sporting paper called Porter’s Spirit of the Times. Porter died in 1858 (his death was reported on the day of the first Fashion Race Course game, July 20), litigation arose, and Wilkes finally withdrew from Porter’s Spirit of the Times and in September 1859 started Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times. For a while there were three sporting papers all claiming to be the original and only legitimate Spirit.6

Frank Queen (1823–1882), who created the Clipper, was born of working-class parents in Philadelphia. Self-educated, he was influenced by Frank Adriance, a cheap-book dealer, to think that a man could make a living by giving the public what it wanted. After arriving in New York in 1850, with Adriance’s help he set up as an operator of newsstands in the Bowery. This experience aided Queen in determining “the material most in popular demand,” which “suggested an opportunity for venturing upon his long cherished project of starting a newspaper of his own.”7

Connecting with well heeled Harrison Trent, who took the position of publisher, Queen launched the Clipper from 150 Fulton Street as a four-page weekly with six columns to the page. After three months the sheet was enlarged and its price was raised to three cents, “to enable us to meet the extra expense attendant upon the enlargement, and to employ additional reporters in the news department. The Clipper will now be enabled to keep the public advised of all movements transpiring in the Sporting and Theatrical world….”7

For some time, boxing and aquatics continued to form the core of the Clipper’s sporting coverage, supplemented by cricket, shooting, rat-baiting, and pedestrianism. In 1854 the paper did assign a reporter to cover yachting, billiards, cricket, and baseball—the expatriate Briton William H. Bray. In 1855 Queen bought Trent out. In 1857 he hired Chadwick to replace Bray. A few other sporting papers appeared in the years before 1865, including the California Spirit of the Times (1854), the Horse Journal (1855), the Philadelphia Police Gazette and Sporting Chronicle (1856), Billiard Cue (1856), Sportsman (1863), and San Francisco’s Our Mazeppa (1864). The Ball Players’ Chronicle and the New England Base Ballist were baseball-only publications in the years after the Civil War. But with only Wilkes’ Spirit offering real competition, the Clipper was beginning to exert dominance.

On April 5, 1868, the paper began its baseball coverage for the season by crowing:

The Clipper, as the leading organ of all legitimate sports, was the first to recognize the game of base ball as a recreation that was destined to be the National Game of America. We fostered the incipient pastime, gave advice to clubs and players, and exerted our widespread influence to perpetuate it as a healthy and harmless amusement.


1. Letter, July 6, 1853, to The Spirit of the Times: July 9, 1853, p. 246, col. 1. Posted to 19CBB by David Block, Sept. 6, 2006. SOT facsimile provided by Craig Waff, Sept. 2008.

2. Jack M. Doyle, Albert Spalding Scrapbooks, BA SCR 42, National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.

3. This debut number does not survive, but an issue for May 7 bears the number “2.” Perplexingly, the Clipper for May 14 is listed in the page-one masthead as “Vol. I, No. 1.” Yet on page two of this issue the editor writes: “THE CLIPPER./ITS COURSE ONWARD./ITS PROSPECTS BRIGHT./We have now entered upon the third voyage of our Clipper, and bright skies shine upon us, and favoring gales still waft us onward to that point, we desire to reach, the approbation of an indulgent public, and the cheering smiles of kind friends, and well wishers.” Confirming this reconstruction, the Clipper of May 21 is numbered as “Vol. I, No. 4.”

4. Two short-lived predecessors were Annals of the Turf (1826), published by George W. Jeffreys in North Carolina, and the Farmer’s, Mechanic’s, Manufacturer’s and Sportsman’s Magazine, published briefly (March 1826–February 1827) in New York. Betts, J. 1953. “Sporting Journalism in Nineteenth-Century America,” American Quarterly 5.1, 39–56. See also the “Stuntz List”: Stuntz, S. 1941. List of the Agricultural periodicals of the United States and Canada Published during the Century July 1810–July 1910. 

5. Porter, Spirit of the Times: May 11, 1835.

6. Wallace, J. 1897. The Horse of America in His Derivation, History and Development (pp. 97 ff.).

7. “Frank Queen and His Contemporaries,” Clipper: Nov. 4, 1882.

The Knickerbocker Rules—and the Long History of the One-Bounce Fielding Rule

With this twelfth 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 Randall Brown, appears in print in a new special issue of the journal Base Ball.  The article below, by Larry McCray, appears in print in a new special issue of the journal Base Ball for which Larry served as guest editorHe is the founder of the invaluable Protoball Project, a website where many of the early game’s top scholars have shared their finds. He is also a panelist on Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee, which I chair.

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 1845.1, reflects that it is the first Protoball entry for the year 1845.

1845.1 The Knickerbocker Rules—and the Long History of the One-Bounce Fielding Rule 

Larry McCray1

If a ball be struck, or tipped, and caught, either flying or on the first bound, it is a hand out.2

The famous Knickerbocker rules of 1845 may not be comprehensive enough to fully define a playable game, and may not even be baseball’s first written rules,3 but they did indeed survive, and they give us the first coherent picture of the roots of the New York game.

At first taken as evidence of the Knickerbocker Club’s knack for inventive genius, the 13 playing rules have recently been freshly reconsidered in an evolutionary context, and their reputation for originality has taken several hits.4 At this point, it appears that only three rules that endure today lack clear precedent in prior safe-haven ballgames.5 These are (1) the tag-out rule, which supplanted the “plugging” of base-runners to put them out6; (2) the characteristic “90-degree” territory defining fair hits; and (3) the three-out inning. The three-strike rule, for example, was already in use in predecessor games—as was the dropped-third strike rule that freed the batter who whiffed to run the bases. (Such familiar modern icons as the nine-inning game, the nine-player team and the ninety-foot basepath came along more than a decade later.)

It seems ironic, when discussing rule innovations, that what may have been early game’s most contentious rule (the issue remained unsettled for four decades) was perhaps actually the most ancient aspect of ballplay. The basic fly rule for putting batters out seems to have been a part of ballplaying since, at least, the earliest accounts of English stoolball and cricket, centuries ago.

What We Know About the Prehistory of the Bound Rule

The Knickerbocker Club’s rule 12, cited above, includes a provision that to baseball fans seems quaint, if not alien, today; a batter could be retired if a fair or foul hit is caught after it bounces once.

There has been, until recently, reasonable speculation that this provision was another Knickerbocker innovation, and why it appeared. Over time, the weight and dimension of the ball had been evolving toward that of the cricket ball, making it heavier—and, reportedly, harder. One might surmise, then, that a fielder’s hands might be better protected from pain and injury if he were afforded the option of letting the ball bounce once, and then to field it once it was “spent.” A closer look, however, reveals some evidence that the one-bounce rule was known even before the New York game took shape.

The bound rule actually has a solid place in ball sports—and not just in the children’s game of jacks and in assorted playground fungo games. It is seen today mostly in tennis and related sports like handball and squash and table tennis, where the objective is to return a ball before it bounces twice, an event that would abruptly add one to the opponent’s score. For many centuries the bound rule has been an essential part of the old form of tennis, played long before modern lawn tennis was invented (keeping the bound rule) in 1873. Very early forms of collegiate football in the United States, and rugby-rules football in England, also included rules that specified what a player could and could not do when catching a ball on the bound.7

But was the bound rule also part of earlier safe-haven ballgames? One baseball pioneer certainly thought so. Describing the rules set for the new Gotham Base Ball Club in 1837, William Wheaton wrote, a half-century later: “We abandoned the old rule of putting out on the first bound and confined it to fly catching.”8 (If true, of course, this means that the Knickerbocker Club had actually decided to reverse the Gotham Club’s decision, and had reverted to the bound rule.) A second pioneer agrees: Knickerbocker mainstay Doc Adams seems to have suggested that one reason that players still liked the bound rule in 1860 was that it was a familiar feature of their boyhood ballgames.9

The direct evidence on broad prior use of a bound rule is suggestive, but it is not overwhelming. We have, as yet, only two contemporary references to its use before 1845. The earliest, found by David Block in a poem on stool-ball published in 1733, seems to imply the fielder’s objective was “To seize the ball before it grounds / Or take it when it first rebounds.”10 The other reference is in a public challenge in June 1841 to play a wicket match near Hartford, Connecticut; it specifies, as the second of four playing rules, “the ball to be fairly caught flying or at the first bound.”11 The standard early surveys of games—including Willughby, Gutsmuths, Strutt, Clarke—do refer to batters being put out by means of caught balls, but none actually defines a “catch” as being made on the fly.

Several other references to pre–1845 use of the bound rule appear in retrospective accounts. Historian Harold Seymour associates the practice with the old-cat games (but does not give a source),12 and a recollection of such games around 1840 in Illinois recalls a one-bounce rule.13 The rule is remembered for ballgames played in the 1820s in New York State, and in 1840 in accounts from Georgia and North Carolina.14 In New England, one account attributes the bound rule to the traditional ballgame called base.15

After the New York game had emerged, the bound rule was employed for wicket in Rochester, town ball in Ohio, and in Philadelphia Town Ball.16 It seems quite plausible that these practices were retained from earlier years, although the post–1845 adoption of the Knickerbocker rule 12 is another possibility. And as late as 1857, the rules of the Olympic Club of Boston listed the feature as a short-handed “scrub” variant of its own (non–New York) game.17 One Indianapolis writer, musing on ancient varieties of ballplaying, wrote that “[b]ecause the fielders were so helpless, it appears that even catches on two bounds were considered outs in games between younger players.”18

So the bound rule certainly was known before 1845. Whether it was the dominant form for “caught out” rules in early safe-haven games is not yet clear. We might speculate about the purposes for specifying bound outs in predecessor games—both to protect the hands of young or inexperienced players, and to extend the effective range of fielders when too few players were available. But in those early days, balls were apparently lighter and softer, and thus hits were shorter and damage to hands was a lesser risk.

The Slow Demise of the Bound Rule19

While it was their own club’s original rule, by the mid–1850s some prominent members of the Knickerbocker Club wanted to eliminate the bound rule. In this cause they were to be joined by the energetic reformer Henry Chadwick, who would call this campaign “one of the toughest I had.”20

In preparation for the 1857 convention that would revamp baseball’s rules, each of 16 New York area clubs were asked to send representatives to meetings to consider draft rules prepared by the Knickerbocker Club, and this draft eliminated bound catches. It was reported that the delegates were “pretty evenly divided” on this provision,21 but a compromise was reached, and unanimity thereby was achieved. The bound rule stayed, but a provision was fashioned as a new inducement for fielders to make fly catches whenever they could22: Although baserunners could still, as before, scamper ahead on all hit balls put in flight, for bound catches, runners could keep the bases they had gained on the play. If those balls were caught on the fly, however, the runners now were returned, with safe passage, to their original bases (the modern tag-up rule was to come later).

Thus began a reform campaign that gained press support but that failed, time after time, at Association rules conventions. Despite derision by Chadwick and others that the bound rule was merely a “boy’s rule,” delegates repeatedly voted to retain it, their majority buoyed by the growing numbers of new and distant clubs that were obviously more comfortable with it.

Meanwhile, more and more of the elite urban clubs—following the lead of the Knickerbockers—adopted the fly rule on their own. The manly game of cricket, using a ball as heavy and hard as a baseball, had no bound rule, a fact not unnoticed by proud cricketers, and this may have been a factor in the conversion. (Even today, cricketers make long fly catches without benefit of fielding gloves, while in baseball and softball, barehanded catches are largely reserved for spectators.)

Eventually, in December 1864, a fly rule for fair hits was voted in, as a one-year experiment for 1865 that stuck. But for foul balls, the bound rule lived on, and for two more decades, fielders outside the lines had the convenient option of grabbing the ball on one bounce.23


1. This essay benefited from several email exchanges with Richard Hershberger in early 2011.

2. Knickerbocker Rule 12.

3. Writing in 1887, William Wheaton recalls writing a set of rules for the Gotham Base Ball Club in 1837. See Protoball entry 1837.1, which carries the Wheaton article.

4. Rule-by-rule reviews of the Knickerbocker playing standards have been presented in: Block, D. 2005. Baseball before We Knew It (pp. 80–93); Thorn, J. 2011. Baseball in the Garden of  Eden (pp. 71–77).

5. Whether the balk rule was originated by New York’s pioneer clubs has not been evaluated carefully at this time.

6. Actually, Wheaton wrote that this was “the first step we took” in laying out Gotham Club rules in 1837, eight years earlier. However, a tag rule that replaced plugging is not found in accounts of predecessor games, and may have been a New York modification.

7. See, e.g.: Gems, G., et al. 2008. Sports in American History (p. 138).

8. See Protoball entry 1837.1, which includes the full text of the Wheaton article.

9. Sunday Mercury, 1860. The cited observation was quoted from the report of the NABBP rules committee. Adams is not specifically named as author, but he chaired the committee.

10. Block 2005, 86, 111–118. The poem, “Stool Ball, Or the Easter Diversion,” is a detailed account of a holiday game that involved hitting but no pitching or baserunning.

11. See Protoball entry 1841.10; the original source is the Hartford Daily Courant of June 23, 1841.

12. Seymour, H. 1989. Baseball: The Early Years (p. 7).

13. Jones, A. 1970. Representative Recreation Activities (pp. 100–101).

14. See Protoball entries 1823c.12, 1840.24, and 1840c.33, respectively.

15. See Protoball entry 1750s.3.

16. See, respectively, Protoball entries 1850s.16 and 1850s.20, and Hershberger, R. 2007. “A Reconstruction of Philadelphia Town Ball,” Base Ball 1.2 (pp. 36–37).

17. See Protoball entry 1857.20. Massachusetts Base Ball, formally codified in the following year, specified the fly rule for match play.

18. “Old Baseball,” Indianapolis Sentinel: Apr. 3, 1887; cited in Morris, P. 2010. A Game of Inches (revised ed.) (p. 120).

19. A nuanced and recent overview of the controversy appears in Ryczek, W. 2009. Baseball’s First Inning (pp. 174–178).

20. Chadwick, H. 1868. The Game of Base Ball (p. 11).

21. “Out-door Sports. Base Ball Convention,” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Mar. 7, 1857. Section 16 of the 1857 rules contains this provision.

22. There were already two competitive reasons for teams to prefer to try for fly catches. First, a fly catch reduces the time to return the ball to the infield, deterring advancing runners. Second, where playing surfaces were not well manicured, irregular bounces could prove uncatchable on the bound.

23. The shift in the vote may have been affected by the fact that membership in the NABBP had fallen off sharply. The number of member clubs fell from 62 in 1860 to 30 in 1864, according to Charles Peverelly in 1866. See Freyer and Rucker. 2005. Peverelly’s National Game (p. 117).