Yankee Doodling

Milton Gross, Yankee Doodles, 1948.

Milton Gross, Yankee Doodles, 1948.

Ever wonder how the New York Yankees got their name? Some of my correspondents have speculated that the name would have made a better fit for a Boston club, and they are right. When the National Football League placed a franchise in Boston in 1933 it was nicknamed the Braves, after the baseball team, or the Redskins. The club took the latter with it when it relocated to Washington, D.C. A subsequent NFL reentry into the Boston market in 1944-1948 was named the Boston Yanks. But the Yankees name goes way back, in a serpentine story with not a blessed thing about sports, let alone baseball. And yet, dear reader, you may like it anyway. A portion of this ran originally in Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore.

***

In September 2009 Tom Brady and the New England Patriots opened their NFL season at home on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. I had been worried about him. A nagging injury, cloaked in mystery in the typical Belichick style of the club, had kept him out of all four preseason games. Leaks to the press had localized the problem in his right foot but I had come to suspect that Brady had in fact hurt himself at a midsummer photo shoot for Esquire magazine, when the play calling may have stretched the quarterback beyond his natural limits.

For the cover of the magazine poor Tom was poured into a wasp-waisted wool suit by Gucci which forced him to hold his breath dangerously. The tightness of the two-button jacket was rakishly offset by an unbuttoned collar and a tie positioned strategically askew. His shoes were credited—and I’m not making this up—to a cobbler named A. Testoni. Brady’s raging five o’clock shadow was not credited to Richard Nixon, but his close-cropped hair was ascribed to “Pini Swissa for Pini Swissa Salon.” (This was clearly the head guy at the shop on Newbury Street in Boston—he even traveled with Brady to the Super Bowl and, ignoring Delilah’s cautionary model, cut his locks the night before the game. The Giants are properly grateful.)

Esquire, September 2009

Esquire, September 2009

Two crotch-focused shots offset the crotch-focused prose of the story inside, ostensibly the inside story about Tom Brady, superstar. “A big man. Taller, thinner, slower, quieter, and—it must be said—a little more milky white than one might expect. In the glinting angle of a limousine-crafted profile, he brings to mind someone beautiful and iconically male—Tyrone Power, perhaps.” Really.

Further into the story the writer, Tom Chiarella, quotes Tom as saying, “I like home magazines.” … “It’s hard,” Chiarella smarmily continues, “to think of the Brady all squoogie at the sight of a duvet cover or a teak spice rack.”

Is this male impersonator in Esquire the stoic quarterback whom sports fans had cast in the mold of Gary Cooper in Pride of the Yankees? Or is he truly a Yankee Doodle Dandy, a mincing cartoon? Before we hit the table of contents of the September issue we are made to run a gauntlet of 34 pages of soft-porn ads, from the glowering ambisexual models promoting Hugo Boss or Prada to the glistening torso of David Beckham to the artfully moussed Roger Federer.

What is going on here? Have our sports heroes and our media culture gone metrosexual? The unexpectedly high viewership of the Summer Olympics on NBC owed much to the record performances of swimmer Michael Phelps, but maybe even more, in this new age of spornography, to his Speedo.

Oh, why should I grumble? Has it not been ever thus? In the years before the Revolution made it America’s patriotic anthem, “Yankee Doodle” was a song of derision that the British heaped upon ignorant colonists hoping to attain foppish stature by aping English gentlemen. The first verse and refrain, as generally sung by children today, run thus:

Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-riding on a pony.
He stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni.
Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy.
Yankee Doodle round the world,
As sweet as sugar candy.

This seems a mild enough if not fully fathomable jest—hardly a slander. How then to account for the eponymous hero’s enduring power as a figure of fun? What precisely was a Yankee, or a Doodle, or most intriguingly, a macaroni?

Game of Yankee Doodle, McLoughlin, 1899.

Game of Yankee Doodle, McLoughlin, 1899.

Some savants trace the history of “Yankee Doodle” back to a harvesting song of fifteenth century Holland, “Yanker dudel doodle down,” sung by laborers who were paid with a tenth of the grain they harvested and all the buttermilk they could drink. Others find echoes of the melody in the equally old English rhyme “Lucy Locket” (“Lucy Locket lost her pocket, / Kitty Fisher found it; / Nothing in it, nothing in it, / But the binding round it”). In the days of Oliver Cromwell, one of the nicknames that the Cavaliers bestowed upon the Puritans was “Nankee Doodle.” An Albany-area tradition attributes a 1758 incarnation of “Yankee Doodle” to Dr. Richard Shuckburgh–a British army surgeon, wit, and musician who is said to have written it at Fort Crailo to mock the ragtag New England militia serving alongside the redcoats.

Yankee Doodle, a humor magazine

Yankee Doodle, a humor magazine

No matter; the essence is that it is a song of insult. The Yankee—as Captain Yankey (the Dutch pirate), or Jan (pronounced “Yan”) Kees (the Dutch for John Cheese), or James Fenimore Cooper’s Algonquian Yengeese, or Washington Irving’s fanciful tribe of yanokies—was a strong, silent sharpster who was after your money. A doodle was simply a fool, and so we may fairly term Yankee Doodle a sophomore, which translates from Greek to a wise fool.

Although earlier clues abound, we need look back no farther than 1775, when after the battle of Bunker Hill, the Continental army, under General Washington’s command, was encamped in the vicinity of Boston. The Tories were then singing to the old tune of “Lucy Locket” these lines:

Yankee Doodle came to town
For to buy a firelock;
We will tar and feather him,
And so we will John Hancock.

Thomas Ditson, of Billerica, Massachusetts, was the one actually tarred and feathered for attempting to buy a musket in Boston in March 1775. The Battle of Bunker Hill in June turned the tables, however, as “Yankee Doodle” came to be sung by the patriots. The complete Americanization of the song ensued as Harvard student Edward Bangs penned the following during George Washington’s presence at the provincial camp in Cambridge in 1775:

Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we seed the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.
Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle Dandy;
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

Following General Burgoyne’s surrender of British troops to the Continental Army on October 17, 1777, British officer Thomas Anburey wrote:

The name [of Yankee] has been more prevalent since the commencement of hostilities…. The soldiers at Boston used it as a term of reproach, but after the affair at Bunker’s Hill, the Americans gloried in it. “Yankee Doodle” is now their paean, a favorite of favorites, played in their army, esteemed as warlike as the “Grenadier’s March”—it is the lover’s spell, the nurse’s lullaby … it was not a little mortifying to hear them play this tune, when their army marched down to our surrender.

A Macaroni, 1773

The Macaroni, 1773

Although musicologists have not found an 18th-century version of Yankee Doodle with the immortal line “He stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni,” the jibe may well have originated about the time of the Macaroni Club, established in London in the 1760s for men of polymorphous sexuality. By 1772 the macaroni was a national infatuation, even spawning a magazine not unlike the current Esquire (it was called The Macaroni and Theatrical Magazine). According to contemporary Thomas Wright, “the macaronis were distinguished especially by an immense knot of artificial hair behind, by a very small cock-hat, by an enormous walking-stick, with long tassels, and by jacket, waistcoat, and breeches of very close cut…. Macaronis were the most attractive objects in the ball, or at the theatre. Macaronis abounded everywhere. There were macaroni songs; the most popular of these latter was the following: —

Ye belles and beaux of London town,
Come listen to my ditty;
The muse, in prancing up and down,
Has found out something pretty;
With little hat, and hair dressed high,
And whip to ride a pony,
If you but take a right survey.
Denotes a macaroni.”

Although musicologists have not found an eighteenth-century version of “Yankee Doodle” with the immortal line “He stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni,” that jibe may well have originated about the time of the Macaroni Club, established in London in the 1760s by men of polymorphous sexuality. By 1772 the macaroni was a national infatuation, even spawning . According to contemporary Thomas Wright:

The macaronis were distinguished especially by an immense knot of artificial hair behind, by a very small cock-hat, by an enormous walking-stick, with long tassels, and by jacket, waistcoat, and breeches of very close cut. . . . Macaronis were the most attractive objects in the ball, or at the theatre. Macaronis abounded everywhere.

Two macaronis, ridiculed as "la mode Anglaise"

Two macaronis, “a la mode Anglaise,” ca. 1820

Named for the vermicelli-based pasta enjoyed by cultivated young Englishmen of the 1760s on their tours of Italy—a nation thought by the English to be a particular den of perversion, even more so than France or Spain—the macaroni embodied the consumption of continental fare in intellectual and moral spheres, as well. Old-fashioned Englishmen came to identify macaroni culture with all that was outlandish and effeminate.

As “The Macaroni; A New Song” put it in 1772:

His taper waist, so strait and long,
His spindle shanks, like pitchfork prong,
To what sex does the thing belong?
‘Tis call’d a Macaroni. 

Between yesterday’s macaroni and today’s metrosexual there may not be much to choose. Mark Simpson coined the term in a 1994 article in the Independent titled “Here Come the Mirror Men.” Eight years later, in Salon, he wrote:

For some time now, old-fashioned (re)productive, repressed, unmoisturized heterosexuality has been given the pink slip by consumer capitalism. The stoic, self-denying, modest straight male didn’t shop enough (his role was to earn money for his wife to spend), and so he had to be replaced by a new kind of man, one less certain of his identity and much more interested in his image….

A Yankee Doodle Dandy indeed.

The New York Base Ball Club (a.k.a. Washington BBC, Gotham BBC), Part 3

Base Ball Founders, 2013

Base Ball Founders, 2013

This biographical section concludes the essay, commenced here: http://goo.gl/WQEVTR and continued here: http://goo.gl/7ySYpO. It was published in print in Base Ball Founders: The Clubs, Players and Cities of the Northeast That Established the Game. (McFarland, 2013). The aid of editor Peter Morris in this section was invaluable.

Cornelius V. Anderson: President of the Washington Club in the early 1850s after being the chief engineer of the Volunteer Firemen from 1837 to 1848. His portrait was prominently displayed at Harry Venn’s Gotham Cottage at 298 Bowery, the ballclub’s headquarters after 1845. Born in New York City on April 1, 1809, Anderson was a mason by trade. In 1852 he became the first president of the Lorillard Fire Insurance Company. His health began to fail in 1856 and he died on November 22, 1858. He was revered among the city’s firemen, who erected an elaborate tombstone in his honor at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

Charles H. Beadle: First baseman and officer of the Gotham Club during and after the Civil War, into the 1870s. Charles’s brother, Edward Beadle, was also involved in the club and both brothers later moved to Cranford, New Jersey, where Edward served as mayor in 1885.

Edward Bonnell: Edward Bonnell was recalled by George Zettlein as “one of the players” on the Gothams. Born around 1825, Bonnell was a liquor dealer before becoming a member of the New York Board of Fire Commissioners in 1865. Zettlein reported that Bonnell was living in Philadelphia in 1887.[39]

William F. Burns: A Gotham catcher in 1855–56. According to the Clipper article quoted in the profile of Venn, Burns died in the 1857 sinking of the SS Central America. Contemporary coverage of that tragedy does indeed list him among the missing: “William Burns of New York City. Had been in California about a year.”[40]

C[larence] A. Burtis: The leading Gotham player of 1860, in which his runs-per-game ratio was the third best in the National Association, behind only Grum of the Eckfords and Leggett of the Excelsiors. In a game against the Mutuals on September 4, 1860, Burtis hit two home runs. After playing for the Gotham Club in 1859 and 1860, Burtis was absent from the lineup in 1861. He was back by the summer of 1862 and played through at least 1865. He also played in an 1888 oldtimers benefit game for John Zeller, crippled by a gruesome baseball injury. George Zettlein described Burtis (though recalling him as Bustis) as a “boss painter in the Ninth ward,” so he can only be Clarence A. Burtis, a painter who was born around 1835 and died in Manhattan on May 16, 1894. Burtis enlisted in the 83rd Regiment, New York Infantry, on May 26, 1861, and was a sergeant-major by the time of his discharge in June of 1862. Like many of his fellow club members, Burtis was also very active in the fire department.

Charles L. Case, passport application, 1850

Charles L. Case, passport application, 1850

Charles Ludlow Case: Born in Newburgh, New York, in 1818, he was a NYBBC player in the contest of November 10, 1845, when he resided at 7 Murray and was a merchant at 101 Front. He was at one time a butcher at Washington Market. He also played for the New York Club in the two games against the cricketers from the Union Star of Brooklyn on October 21 and 24, 1845. In the game of June 19, 1846, he played with the club designated as the New Yorks. Case arrived in San Francisco for the Gold Rush on February 27, 1849. At a meeting of January 6, 1851, he became a member of the Finance Committee of the newly formed Knickerbocker Association, composed of New York residents living in San Francisco. He was joined on that committee by Edward A. Ebbets and Frank Turk, who had been members of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York. It is reasonable to think that they were among the unnamed men reported to have played baseball in Portsmouth Square in 1851.[41] Case returned east and died in Newburgh on March 25, 1857.

Leonard G. Cohen: Officer of the Gotham Club during and after the Civil War; catcher for the ballclub. As of 1869 he was a fruit dealer in Washington Market and living at 144 West Street. Cohen was born around 1839 in New York to a Polish-born father (though one census had Germany). He later moved to New Jersey and served as the first postmaster in Garwood, part of Westfield township, where he was still living as late as 1910.

Charles C. Commerford

Charles C. Commerford

Charles C. Commerford: Born in New York City, June 2, 1833; died in Waterbury, Connecticut, February 6, 1920. Played shortstop with Gothams and later the Eagles. Moved from New York to Waterbury in 1864, where he continued to play ball. After some political successes, he was appointed postmaster in Waterbury by President Grover Cleveland in 1886. His father, the chair-maker John Commerford of New York City, was an Abolitionist prominently identified with labor interests, and was a candidate for Congress on the Republican ticket in 1860. [See the entry on the Bridgeport Club in Base Ball Pioneers, 1850–1870 for more details on his life.]

John Connell: George Zettlein described this man as a member of the Gothams and added that he “was on the Herald for some time, and is still [in 1887] a writer.”

Reuben Henry Cudlipp: Reuben Cudlipp was a Nassau Street lawyer who served as vice president of the Gotham Club in 1856 and as one of the vice presidents of the NABBP in 1857. He also played for the first nine until 1858. One of the Gothams’ better players, he was proposed for membership in the Knickerbockers on April 1, 1854, the same date as that of Louis F. Wadsworth’s similar move.[42] Still active as a New York attorney in 1894, he resided at that time in Plainfield, New Jersey, as did Wadsworth. Cudlipp was 78 when he died at his daughter’s home in Yonkers, New York, on December 5, 1899.

C[harles?] Davis: a frequent entrant in the NYBBC box scores, he has been mistaken in print for the celebrated Knickerbocker James Whyte Davis, against whom he played.

William W. De Milt: Like Harry Venn and Seaman Lichtenstein, he was a member of the Columbian engine company, Number 14. As a carpenter and machinist for the Union Square, Brougham’s Lyceum (where fellow Gotham George W. Smith worked in 1850) and other New York theatres, he was responsible for producing a wide variety of stage apparatus and special effects. Born 1814, died 1875. Buried at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

Patsy Dockney: Born in Ireland ca. 1844. Catcher with Gotham in 1864–65. Paid under the table to move to Philadelphia Athletics in 1866; according to the Philadelphia Times, Dockney “used to play ball every afternoon and fight and drink every night. He was a tough of the toughs.”

Andrew J. Dupignac: Andrew Dupignac, Gotham Club secretary in 1860 and 1861, was born around 1828. He later became the president of the New York Skating Club and in 1903 was described as “the oldest living amateur skater.”[43] Dupignac died in Brooklyn on November 27, 1908.

298 Bowery, Old Gotham Cottage In The Bowery, May 25, 1878,  Leslie's.

298 Bowery, Old Gotham Cottage in the Bowery, May 25, 1878, Leslie’s.

James Fisher: Identity not known for certain but after thorough review of the New York City directories and considering other factors, I tentatively conclude that this early player, according to Peverelly, was James H. Fisher. Roughly the same age as the two other prominent players who were named honorary Knickerbockers in June 1846—Col. James Lee and Abraham Tucker (the former born in 1796, the latter in 1793)—Fisher was born in 1798. Like Lee, he had made his fortune by 1850 and in the census lists his occupation as “gentleman.” Previously he had listed his profession, with subtlety, as “agent.” In 1847, the year of his death, his address was 134 Allen Street, the neighborhood from which Wheaton and his mates had begun their search for lively recreation.

Robert Forsyth: In 1855, the year after the death of the affluent patron of this independent military company, the Herald reported: “The Forsyth Cadets, a well drilled company, composed chiefly of butchers belonging to Washington Market, will make their annual parade on the 18th inst.”[44] Shortly before his death, the Clipper observed: “This organization is named in honor of Robert Forsyth, Esq., a gentleman whose name is a ‘Household Word’ to all those who have occasion to visit Washington Market, being one of the most extensive dealers connected with that place. He must indeed feel honored at the compliment paid him by the ‘Cadets.’”[45] Robert Forsyth was also a member of the Washington Market Chowder Club at the time of his death, which was reported in the New York Herald on March 23, 1854. His sons, Joseph and James, were both Gotham Club members. According to the 1887 New York Sun article, Joseph was already dead while James was an oyster dealer.

View of Washington Market, from the Southeast corner of Fulton and Washington Streets, 1859. Weingartner_Valentine Manual

Washington Market, from S.E. corner of Fulton and Washington Streets, 1859. Weingartner, Valentine’s Manual.

George H. Franklin: George H. Franklin was one of the club’s representatives at the 1857 NABBP convention.

Andrew Gibney: Started with Gotham Juniors in 1863, graduated to senior club the following year. Played second base with the Gothams in 1865, then center field with the Nationals of Washington in 1866. Played professionally with Olympics of Washington in 1870. Alfred W. “Count” Gedney played as Gibney with the Keystone club in Philadelphia in his early years, but these two are not the same individual.

John V(an) B(uskirk) Hatfield: Widely regarded as one of the best players of the 1860s, with the Eckford and Mutual clubs, he also played one year with the Gothams, in 1865. See the [entry for the] Active Club of New York for more details.

NYBBC game of November 10, 1845

NYBBC game of November 10, 1845

Johnson: Played in the NYBBC anniversary contest of November 10, 1845. Harold Peterson, in his book The Man Who Invented Baseball, names him as a Knickerbocker and calls him F.C. Johnson. However, Francis Upton Johnston was a member of the Knickerbocker and the New-York Academy of Medicine, as were D.L. Adams and Franklin Ransom. One of his sons also practiced medicine for many years at Hyde Park, where he is buried. The NYBBC Johnson may, however, be neither man but instead William Johnson, named in a reminiscence of the Gotham Cottage by Colonel Thomas Picton in 1878, and a player for the club in the 1850s.

John Lalor: This sturdy New York and Gotham player is surely the Jonathan (“Jno.”) Lalor listed in the box score published in Spirit of the Times on July 9, 1853, detailing a match game between the Knicks and Gothams. He also played in the NYBBC second-anniversary game of November 10, 1845. Harold Peterson, in his book The Man Who Invented Baseball, instead identifies the player as Michael Lalor, “Segar Seller.” I think it is constable John Lalor, who umpired the Knickerbocker intramural game of June 26, 1846, and signed his name in full this way. This fellow was an up-and-comer in the Whig party in the Fifteenth Ward in 1845, and later its leader in the Seventh Ward. A lawyer by profession, he served in the Civil War, organizing the 15th Regiment, known as McLeod Murphy’s Engineers. John Lalor was born in 1819 and died on February 21, 1884. His obituary in the Herald noted that he was “a member of the Gotham club.” At his death he was chief clerk at Castle Garden.

Spirit of the Times, July 9, 1853; note Lalor

Spirit of the Times, July 9, 1853; note Lalor

Col. James Lee: According to Wheaton, he was one of the original Gotham Club members of 1837. Born December 3, 1796, he was a prominent businessman and sportsman. President of the New York Chamber of Commerce, he claimed to have played baseball in New York City ca. 1800. John Ward wrote, in How to Become a Base-Ball Player (1888), “Colonel Jas. Lee, elected an honorary member of the Knickerbocker Club in 1846, said that he had often played the same game when a boy, and at that time he was a man of sixty or more years. [In fact he was fifty.] Mr. Wm. F. Ladd, my informant, one of the original members of the Knickerbockers, says that he never in any way doubted Colonel Lee’s declaration, because he was a gentleman eminently worthy of belief.” In 1907 Ward added to his remarks about Lee a sentence that echoes editor Porter’s reason for establishing the New York Cricket Club: “Another interesting tale told me by Mr. Ladd was that the reason they chose the game of Base Ball instead of—and in fact in opposition to—cricket was because they regarded Base Ball as a purely American game; and it appears that there was at that time some considerable prejudice against adopting any game of foreign invention.”[46] Lee died on June 16, 1874.

Seaman Lichtenstein: A candidate for the first Jewish player, Lichtenstein began to run with Columbian Engine No. 14 at the age of 15, becoming a member of the company in 1849, at age 24. He began his business career salvaging scraps from the butchers at Washington Market, selling the meat to the Indians who lived in Hoboken and the bones to a manufacturer of glue (Peter Cooper). In the 1880s he owned a trotter named for Gotham Cottage proprietor and archetypal Bowery B’hoy Harry Venn. He died at age 77 on December 24, 1902.[47]

John McCosker: A third baseman, he began play with the Gothams in 1856. Played in Fashion Race Course Game 3 and in many games for the Gothams of the 1850s. Tom Shieber reported in the 1997 National Pastime: In a match game played between the Gotham and Empire clubs in September of 1857, McCosker hit a home run with the bases full. While he was most probably not the first to accomplish the feat, the description in the New York Clipper is the earliest known recounting of what would later be termed a grand slam: “The Gothamites … scored 4 beautifully in their last innings, chiefly owing to a tremendous ground strike by Mr. McCosker, bringing each man home as well as himself.” George Zettlein described McCosker (“McClosky”) as an engineer of the Fire Department, so there can be no question that the ballplayer was John A. McCosker, who was born around 1829 and was a fire department engineer prior to the war. When the war started, McCosker was one of the organizers of the 73rd Infantry—the Second Fire Zouaves—in which he served as a quartermaster until being discharged on August 4, 1862. His whereabouts become much harder to trace after that, but he may have died in 1881.

Dr. John Miller: According to Wheaton, he was one of the original Gotham BBC members of 1837. In 1842 John Miller, physician, is at 74 James Street. In 1845 he is at 186 East Broadway.

James B. Mingay: Entered the poultry business in Jefferson Market in his youth and remained in it until age 72. For 14 years a member of the Volunteer Fire Department with Hose Company 40, the Empire. A member of the Jefferson Market Guard and a judge of its target excursion on Christmas Day 1857. An officer of the Gotham club 1861–64. In 1876 a director of the North River Insurance Company. Born January 6, 1818. Died April 27, 1893, at his 19 Christopher Street residence.

John M. Murphy: According to Wheaton, he was a “hotel-keeper” and one of the original Gotham BBC members of 1837. He played in NYBBC anniversary contest of November 10, 1845, in Hoboken. Murphy’s establishment is the Fulton Hotel at 164 East Broadway.

Joseph Conselyea Pinckney

Joseph Conselyea Pinckney

Joseph Conselyea Pinckney: In a celebrated early instance of revolving, or seeming professionalism, Pinckney played a game with the Gothams in 1856 while still nominally a member of the Union of Morrisania. Both the Unions and the Knickerbockers objected publicly. Along with Knickerbocker defector Louis F. Wadsworth, he played with the Gotham in 1857. The next year, back with the Unions, he was one of only three New York players selected for the Fashion Race Course match to play in all three games. Enlisting at the outbreak of the Civil War, he was colonel of the 6th New York Militia. In 1863 he was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers for war service. Afterward he served in New York City politics as an alderman. Born and died in New York City (November 5, 1821–March 11, 1881).

Henry Mortimer Platt: Born July 7, 1822, died December 8, 1898. Played match game in 1854 but otherwise served Gotham Club as scorekeeper. He merits mention because in 1939 his daughter donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame the sole surviving badge of the Gotham Base Ball Club, featuring three men at sea in a tub.

Gotham Base Ball Club Pin

Gotham Base Ball Club Pin

Dr. Franklin Ransom: In the game of June 19, 1846, Dr. Ransom played with the club designated as the New Yorks. In 1838 Dr. Ransom resided at 44 Wall Street. He was in a medical partnership with Dr. Lucius Comstock but also found time to invent a fire engine with a modified hydraulic system. Dr. Ransom exhibited his fire engine to the City Council in 1841 but came to believe that the city had stolen his design. In 1858 he took a patent infringement lawsuit against the mayor of New York all the way to the United States Supreme Court, but did not prevail. Ransom was born near Buffalo in 1805 and earned his medical degree in 1832 from what was then known simply as the University of New York. He eventually returned to Buffalo, where he continued to file new patents but slipped into obscurity. He died there on March 25, 1873.

Edward G. Saltzman (Salzman, Salzmann, Saltzmann): Born about 1830 in Jefferson County, New York, he was schooled in Hoboken, New Jersey. Saltzman played second base for the Gotham club of New York for five seasons, from 1852 through 1856. Helped to bring the New York Game to Massachusetts via the Tri-Mountain Club. Brought baseball to Savannah, Georgia, in 1865, forming the Pioneer Club. Returned to Boston two years later and resided there until his final year. Died August 14, 1883, in Brooklyn.[48]

T. Seaman(s): Played in NYBBC anniversary match of November 10, 1845. He may be a billiard-room proprietor of that name or, more likely, he is one and the same as the later Gotham player and treasurer Seaman Lichtenstein, discussed earlier.

James Shepard: Played with Gotham, then Alpine BBC in 1860. Pioneer in establishing baseball in San Francisco, beginning in 1861.

William Shepard: Played with Gotham, then Alpine BBC in 1860. Pioneer in establishing baseball in San Francisco, beginning in 1861.

Philip Sheridan: Joined the Gothams in 1854. Frequently umpired. Said by Peter Nash in Baseball Legends of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery to have been buried in Green-Wood
Cemetery in Brooklyn, but the Philip Sheridan interred there is not the Gotham player.

George Wshington Smith

George Washington Smith

George Washington Smith: A member of the Gotham Club after 1845, he was born and raised in Philadelphia. Smith was considered the only male American ballet star of the 19th century. He went on to become ballet master at Fox’s American Theater. He also served in this capacity at the Hippodrome, where the costume of a dancer under his instruction caught fire with fatal consequence. In his later years he opened a dancing school in Philadelphia. Born ca. 1820, died February 18, 1899.

Milton B. Sweet: See Excelsior Base Ball Club.

Oscar Teed: Oscar Teed, a celebrated ship’s fastener and oarsman as well as a Gotham player. Born in 1828, he died November 4, 1866. A boat named in his honor ca. 1860 continued to race.

Austin D. Thompson: Born in 1820, Austin Thompson was described in his obituary as “a Connecticut Yankee, who came to New York when a youth and opened a coffee house in Pine street, near the old Custom House…. The coffee house, which was called the Phoenix, was frequented by the notabilities of the neighborhood, politicians as well as business men, particularly Democratic politicians, for Mr. Thompson was a Jeffersonian Democrat of the old school.” As its proprietor, Thompson was the successor to the famed Edward Windust, 149 Water Street (Wall, corner Water). In 1851 his coffee rooms and restaurant relocated from 13 Pine to 25 Pine. It moved again in 1860, this time to 292 Broadway, where it remained until Thompson’s death on June 7, 1892. By then Thompson was “probably the oldest eating-house keeper in the city,” which made him “a man who knew nearly everybody and nearly everybody knew him.”[49]

Thorn & Co., 1874

Thorn & Co., 1874

Richard H. “Dick” Thorn: Played with Empire Base Ball Club in 1856, yet was a representative of the Enterprise Base Ball Club at the convention of January 22, 1857. With Gotham in 1858; pitched for New York in Game 3 of Fashion Race Course Match that September. Returned to Empire 1859–61. With Gotham again 1862. With Mutual 1865–68. From about 1850 a prominent member and revenue collector of the Washington Market Association, Thorn partnered with Lathrop and then Marcley in his produce business in the 1860s. In 1870s he wholly owned Thorn & Co., 11–13 DeVoe Avenue, west of Washington Street. On January 26, 1889, rode on horseback, with Seaman Lichtenstein, in a parade to mark the opening of the West Washington Market. In that year lived at 233 West 13th Street. Does not appear in New York City directories thereafter, though he did testify at a hearing in 1890. On May 2, 1892, however, the Riverside (California) Daily Press published a notice that Thorn had purchased a substantial piece of land in the locality. One year later, he is described as an orange grower. He died in Riverside County on May 4, 1901 at the age of 71.

Tooker: Played outfield in Fashion Race Course Game 3. Later played with Henry Eckford Club. In 1871 was a director of the Athletic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn. Possibly this is Theodore, son of William Tooker, ship’s carpenter, who joined his brother-in-law George Steers in the shipyards that built the America.

Trenchard: Could be Samuel Trenchard, constable or marshal in various years from 1835 until 1861. In 1846 he resided at 86 Ludlow. Played with the club designated as the New Yorks on June 19, 1846. Also played with Washingtons against Knickerbockers in match game of June 17, 1851. Born 1791, died February 15, 1865, in his 75th year. This would make him a bit of a graybeard for active play in the 1840s and 1850s, so perhaps he is billiard-hall proprietor Alexander H. Trenchard, at 139 Crosby Street in 1855.

Tuche: After the 1856 season, Porter’s Spirit of the Times reported that the Gotham Club had been organized in the early summer of 1852 with “old ballplayer Mr. Tuche” at its head.[50] Other accounts also name Tuche as one of the principals, but his name soon disappeared from the club’s annals and nothing more is known about him.

Abraham W. Tucker: Born in 1793, he was named an honorary member of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in June 1846, along with another New York Ball Club player, Col. James Lee. In 1822 he operated a “segarstore” at 205 Bowery. In 1837 he resided at 48 Delancey Street. Tucker died in Morristown, New Jersey, on September 10, 1868.

William H. Tucker was a tobacconist in business with his father, Abraham, who was also a player with the New Yorks. They operated at 8 Peck Slip and lived at 56 East Broadway. In 1849–50 he lived in San Francisco. In Alexander Cartwright’s journal/address book he is listed as: “Wm. H. Tucker 271 Montgomery st. upstairs, San Francisco, Cal.” Tucker appears to have died in Brooklyn, at the home of his son-in-law, on December 5, 1894, in his 76th year, which would conform to a birth year of 1819 recorded in the 1850 census.

Nicholas “Nick” Turner: Played left field in Fashion Race Course Game 2. A shoemaker residing in the Tenth Ward in 1860. Born 1831 in Bavaria. First name supplied by Waller Wallace and Henry Chadwick in Sporting Life in 1889.[51]

William Vail: Known affectionately as “Stay where you am, Wail,” for his often disastrous derring-do on the basepaths. In later years played with Knickerbocker. There are several candidates by this name, but based upon his age, the most likely one appears to be a tobacconist who was born in 1817 or 1818 and was living at 179 Prince Street in 1849. His wife, Mary, was born in 1822–23, and their children as of 1850 were all sons: William, Francis, Martin, Daniel, George, in descending order of age. This man died on December 12, 1881, age 63, and was described in his obituary as a member of the Exempt Fireman’s Association, a good sign that he was our pioneer ballplayer.[52]

Gabriel Van Cott: Acted as umpire for Gothams rather than player. There were a few Gabriels in the Van Cott family, but it appears most likely that this one was a cousin of Thomas and William. Another member of the family, Cornelius C. Van Cott (1838–1904), was the owner of the New York Giants of the National League from 1893 through 1895.

Theodore S. Van Cott: The son of Thomas, Teddy Van Cott later served in the Civil War and died in a home for old soldiers on August 23, 1905.

Thomas Van Cott: Thomas G. (1817–1894), who married Harriet Murphy, was the Gothams’ best player in the 1850s, and the great pitcher of all New York ballclubs. The Elmira Gazette obituary of December 19, 1894, called him “The Father of Baseball” and the first man to pitch a curved ball. He was a bookmaker in later years, at the Saratoga Track.

Judge William H. Van Cott

Judge William H. Van Cott

William H(athaway) Van Cott: Brother of Thomas; born September 26, 1821, in New York City, died June 30, 1908, in Mount Vernon, New York. Played in Fashion Race Course Games 1 and 2. Elected first president of the National Association of Base Ball Players when it formally organized in 1858. Van Cott, who was a lawyer and justice by profession, continued his family’s interest in trotters and began in the stabling business before entering the law. As Justice Van Cott he served 16 years on the bench. His New York Times obituary reported that his efforts to rid New York of gangs led to two attempts to burn down his house.[53]

Harry B. Venn: Played in NYBBC anniversary match of November 10, 1845. A noted fireman with Columbian 14 and the proprietor of the venerable (1778) Gotham Saloon beginning in 1830, when he left his porterhouse at 13 Ann Street and took his first lease at the property. His successor in the lease, S.W. Bryham, transformed the cottage in 1836 to become the Bowery Steam Confectionary and Saloon. By 1842, under new ownership, it was renamed the “Bowery Cottage,” and was the headquarters for firemen, sporting types, and Bowery B’Hoys. Venn resumed his proprietorship sometime before 1845. Behind the bar at the Gotham was a case with the gilded trophy balls from victorious Gotham Base Ball Club matches. (These survived, amazingly, and were sold to collectors in the 1980s; it would be pleasant to think that the Gotham rules survived too!) The back bar also featured a big gilt “6” taken from the Americus engine (the inspiration for Christy Mathewson’s nickname, Big Six). Boss Tweed was a regular patron at the bar. The Gotham Cottage was demolished in 1878, and Venn died a year later, on March 15, 1879. A contemporary wrote that his memorial might be inscribed: “Here lies one whose name was writ in whisky.” Much more could be written about Venn and the Gotham Cottage, but suffice for now this snippet from a long paean to the demolished house by Col. Thomas Picton in the Clipper on June 1, 1878:

Gotham Ball, 1869

Gotham Ball, 1869

“The Gotham” became, moreover, extensively known in connection with our national pastime, as beneath its roof was held the first general convention of baseball players, one of the earliest clubs in existence deriving its significant title from this snuggery in the Bowery. “The Gotham” Club [as re-formed in 1852] was a large association from the hour of its inception, organized through the election of Judge William H. Van Cott as president, and Gabriel Van Cott as secretary, with a roll of influential members, principally business men, embracing Harry B. Venn, Seaman Senchenstein [sic], James Forsyth, Joseph Foss, John Baum, George Montjoy, William Johnson, Edward Turner, E. Bonnell, Bates, Tooker, and a host of other notables. Its first playing members distinguishing themselves were Tom Van Cott, Sheridan, McCluskey [McClosky, “an engineer of the Fire Department,” as George Zettlein recalled, in fact John McCosker, who played catcher with the Gothams in 1858], Cudliffe [Cudlipp], and William Burns, its pitcher [catcher?], afterwards lost at sea upon the Central America, wrecked in the Pacific [sic].

Louis F. Wadsworth: Born in Connecticut in 1825, he commenced to play baseball with the Washingtons/Gothams in 1852. After a few years with the Knickerbockers (1854–57) he returned to the Gothams, whom he represented in Fashion Race Course Games 1 and 3. One of the veteran Knicks, in recalling some of his old teammates for the New York Sun in 1887, said:
I had almost forgotten the most important man on the team and that is Lew Wadsworth. He was the life of the club. Part of his club suit consisted of a white shirt on the back of which was stamped a black devil. It makes me laugh still when I recall how he used to go after a ball. His hands were very large and when he went for a ball they looked like the tongs of an oyster rake. He got there all the same and but few balls passed him.[54]

His time with the Knickerbockers, and his crucial role in affixing nine innings and nine men to the rules of baseball, are covered at length in Baseball in the Garden of Eden. Dissipating riches and fame, he died a pauper in the Plainfield Industrial Home in 1908.

William Rufus Wheaton: Discussed amply above.

Robert F. Winslow: Robert F. Winslow, a lawyer, played in the NYBBC anniversary game of November 10, 1845, Hoboken. In the game of June 19, 1846, Winslow played with the club designated as the New Yorks. Played center field for Gothams in mid–1850s. He and his son Robert, Jr., played for the Gotham in the match against the Knickerbockers commenced on July 1, 1853 and, after a rain interruption, concluded on July 5. In 1854, an Albert Winslow played with the Knickerbockers. Some evidence points to Robert, Jr.’s earlier demise, but the Robert Winslows are the only father-son pairing of that surname in New York at the time.

George Wright, 1863.

George Wright, 1863.

George Wright: He joined the Gotham juniors when he was 16, in 1863. One year later he graduated to the senior team and was the club’s regular catcher. He also caught for the club in 1866 under the name of “George” before transferring his allegiance to the Union of Morrisania, where he converted to left field and then shortstop. Born in 1847, George Wright was perhaps the greatest player of the 19th century and certainly its first national hero. He died in 1937, four months before his election to the nascent Baseball Hall of Fame. See the Union of Morrisania entry for more on his life.

Harry Wright: The Civil War so decimated the Knickerbockers’ schedule that Wright (1835–95) decided to leave them and join the Gothams in 1863–64. But by the next year he had tired of baseball and resumed his 1850s career, as a cricketer, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He had to wait longer than brother George to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame (1953). Leaving his post as the Cincinnati Cricket Club professional in 1867, he was persuaded to take the helm of the Cincinnati Base Ball Club. The rest is history; see the Cincinnati Base Ball Club entry in Base Ball Pioneers, 1850–1870 for more details.

William P. Wright: With Gothams in 1865, played in five games. Not related to Harry and George. Appears to have gone to Cincinnati with Harry Wright at year’s end. With that city’s Buckeye club in 1868–69, Live Oak in 1870.

Other Club Members: John Drohan, Joseph E. Ebling, Hackett, J.A.P. Hopkins, N.W. Redmond, Charles S. Riblet, Peter Roe, Albert Squires, Cornelius Stokem, Andrew Whiteside.

Notes

39. New York Sun, February 6, 1887, 6.

40. New York Daily Tribune, September 21, 1857, 7.

41. Angus Macfarlane, “The Knickerbockers: San Francisco’s First Baseball Team?” Base Ball 1:1 (Spring 2007), 7–21.

42. Albert Spalding Baseball Collections, Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York, Club Books 1854–1868, New York Public Library.

43. New York Herald, March 20, 1903, 12.

44. New York Herald, October 14, 1855, 1.

45. New York Clipper, December 31, 1853.

46. Letter from John M. Ward to A.G. Spalding, stating his “opinion as to the origin of base ball,” as Spalding submitted to the Mills Commission, June 19, 1907.

47. New York Times, December 25, 1902.

48. New York Clipper, August 25, 1883, 365.

49. New York Sun, June 8, 1892, 4.

50. Porter’s Spirit of the Times, January 3, 1857.

51. Sporting Life, January 16, 1889, 3.

52. New York Herald, December 14, 1881, 8.

53. New York Times and New York Tribune, July 1, 1908.

54. “Ball Players of the Past,” New York Sun, January 16, 1887, 10.

The New York Base Ball Club (a.k.a. Washington BBC, Gotham BBC), Part 2

Base Ball Founders, 2013

Base Ball Founders, 2013

This continues from http://goo.gl/WQEVTR. It was first published in Base Ball Founders: The Clubs, Players and Cities of the Northeast That Established the Game (McFarland 2013).

Admittedly, this has been a serpentine path. Let me now bring in William Rufus Wheaton to help fill in the story. Born in 1814, Wheaton attended New York’s Union Hall Academy, at the corner of Prince and Oliver streets, near Chatham Square and the racket court and handball alley at Allen Street, which he appears to have frequented. He read law with the notable attorney John Leveridge, passed the bar in 1836, was active in the New York 7th Regiment, and in 1841 was admitted to practice in the Court of Chancery and the Supreme Court of New York. His legal training, more than that of any other original Knick mentioned as a “father of baseball,” equipped him to codify the venerable if still anecdotal playing rules.

Wheaton was a solid cricketer as well as a baseballist. He umpired two baseball games played between the New York and Brooklyn clubs on October 21 and 24, 1845, both of which were played eight to the side and reported in the press, with accompanying box scores. He recruited members for the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, as Peverelly noted. He was the club’s first vice president. Although paired with the tobacconist William H. Tucker as the entirety of the Knickerbocker Committee on By-Laws, Wheaton appears to have been the one who truly wrote the rules that were formalized on September 23, 1845. Before that, by his own account, he drew up the rules for the Gotham club of the 1830s, which the Knickerbockers adopted with little change aside from repealing the Gotham provision for an out to be recorded by a catch on the fly.

By the spring of 1846, however, barely six months after the founding of the Knickerbocker Club, Wheaton resigned. We do not know the circumstances. On June 5 of that year, the Knickerbockers, not yet one year old, elected their first honorary members, 49-year-old James Lee and 53-year-old Abraham Tucker, both of whom had been Gothams. Wheaton was not accorded such an honor.[26] He left the Knickerbockers and returned to active play at cricket, going on to win a trophy bat for highest score in a match of the New York Cricket Club in October 1848.[27]

On January 28, 1849, a month before Alexander Cartwright’s departure from New York, Wheaton embarked for California in a speculative venture called the New York Mining Company, in which he was one of a hundred gold-besotted souls who purchased and outfitted a ship, the Strafford, for what would be a 213-day journey to San Francisco around Cape Horn. Although he returned east upon occasion thereafter, he made his substantial business and political career in the West.

Wheaton Remembers,:SF Examiner, 1887

Wheaton Remembers: SF Examiner, 1887

On Sunday, November 27, 1887, an “interesting history” appeared on page 14 of the San Francisco Examiner. It was entitled “How Baseball Began—a Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It.” This interview with an unnamed “old pioneer,” undoubtedly Wheaton, lay buried in the microfilm archives until 2004, when Randall Brown published extensive excerpts from it in his landmark article, “How Baseball Began,” in SABR’s National Pastime.[28] Here is the entirety of the Examiner piece, with variant spellings and styles intact.

HOW BASEBALL BEGAN
A Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It.
PLAYED FOR FUN THEN.
The Game Was the Outgrowth of Three-Cornered Cat, Which Had Become Too Tame.

Baseball to-day is not by any means the game from which it sprang. Old men can recollect the time when the only characteristic American ball sport was three-cornered cat, played with a yarn ball and flat paddles.

The game had an humble beginning. An old pioneer, formerly a well-known lawyer and politician, now living in Oakland, related the following interesting history of how it originated to an Examiner reporter:

“In the thirties I lived at the corner of Rutgers street and East Broadway in New York. I was admitted to the bar in ’36, and was very fond of physical exercise. In fact we all were in those days, and we sought it wherever it could be found. There were at that time two cricket clubs in New York city, the St. George and the New York, and one in Brooklyn called the ‘Star,’ of which Alexander Campbell, who afterwards became well known as a criminal lawyer in ‘Frisco, was a member. There was a racket club in Allen street with an enclosed court. [A note in the New York Clipper on October 23, 1880 evokes the period: “In olden times Chatham square used to be an open meadow or common, and was the play-ground of the boys of this city. Baseball was the favorite game played on the square, but it was then a simple pastime, with flat sticks or axe-handles for bats, and yarn balls. Occasionally a boy, more lucky than the rest, would bring on the ground a ball made of a sturgeon’s nose, procured from the racket court in Allen street, where it had been driven over the wall by a rash blow.”]

[“]Myself and intimates, young merchants, lawyers and physicians, found cricket to[o] slow and lazy a game. We couldn’t get enough exercise out of it. Only the bowler and the batter had anything to do, and the rest of the players might stand around all the afternoon without getting a chance to stretch their legs. Racket was lively enough, but it was expensive and not in an open field where we could have full swing and plenty of fresh air with a chance to roll on the grass. Three-cornered cat was a boy’s game, and did well enough for slight youngsters, but it was a dangerous game for powerful men, because the ball was thrown to put out a man between bases, and it had to hit the runner to put him out. The ball was made of a hard rubber center, tightly wrapped with yarn, and in the hands of a strong-armed man it was a terrible missile, and sometimes had fatal results when it came in contact with a delicate part of the player’s anatomy.”

THE GOTHAM BASEBALL CLUB.

“We had to have a good outdoor game, and as the games then in vogue didn’t suit us we decided to remodel three-cornered cat and make a new game. We first organized what we called the Gotham Baseball Club. This was the first ball organization in the United States, and it was completed in 1837. Among the members were Dr. John Miller, a popular physician of that day; John Murphy, a well-known hotel-keeper; and James Lee, President of the New York Chamber of Commerce. To show the difference between times then and now, it is enough to say that you would as soon expect to find a Bishop or Chief Justice playing ball as the present President of the Chamber of Commerce. Yet in old times everybody was fond of outdoor exercise, and sober merchants and practitioners played ball till their joints got so stiff with age they couldn’t run. It is to the oft-repeated and vigorous open-air exercise of my early manhood that I owe my vigor at the age of 73.wheaton_autograph

“The first step we took in making baseball was to abolish the rule of throwing the ball at the runner and order that it should be thrown to the baseman instead, who had to touch the runner with it before he reached the base. During the regime of three-cornered cat there were no regular bases, but only such permanent objects as a bedded boulder or an old stump, and often the diamond looked strangely like an irregular polygon. We laid out the ground at Madison square in the form of an accurate diamond, with home-plate and sand-bags for bases. You must remember that what is now called Madison square, opposite the Fifth Avenue Hotel, in the thirties was out in the country, far from the city limits. We had no short-stop, and often played with only six or seven men on a side. The scorer kept the game in a book we had made for that purpose, and it was he who decided all disputed points. The modern umpire and his tribulations were unknown to us.”

October 25, 1845: New York vs. Brooklyn; Wheaton, umpire

October 25, 1845: New York vs. Brooklyn; Wheaton, umpire

HOW THEY PLAYED THEN.

“We played for fun and health, and won every time. The pitcher really pitched the ball and underhand throwing was forbidden. Moreover he pitched the ball so the batsman could strike it and give some work to the fielders. The men outside the diamond always placed themselves where they could do the most good and take part in the game. Nowadays the game seems to be played almost entirely by the pitcher and catcher. The pitcher sends his ball purposely in a baffling way, so that the batsman half the time can’t get a strike [meaning “a hit”] or reach a base. After the Gotham club had been in existence a few months it was found necessary to reduce the rules of the new game to writing. This work fell to my hands, and the code I then formulated is substantially that in use to-day. We abandoned the old rule of putting out on the first bound and confined it to fly catching. The Gothams played a game of ball with the Star Cricket Club of Brooklyn and beat the Englishmen out of sight, of course. That game and the return were the only two matches [i.e., games with other clubs] ever played by the first baseball club. [NOTE: These undoubtedly refer to the contests of October 1845.]

“The new game quickly became very popular with New Yorkers, and the numbers of the club soon swelled beyond the fastidious notions of some of us, and we decided to withdraw and found a new organization, which we called the Knickerbocker. For a playground we chose the Elysian fields of Hoboken, just across the Hudson river. And those fields were truly Elysian to us in those days. There was a broad, firm, greensward, fringed with fine shady trees, where we could recline during intervals, when waiting for a strike [i.e., a turn at bat], and take a refreshing rest.”

LOTS OF EXERCISE AND FUN.

“We played no exhibition or match games, but often our families would come over and look on with much enjoyment. Then we used to have dinner in the middle of the day, and twice a week we would spend the whole afternoon in ball play. We were all mature men and in business, but we didn’t have too much of it as they do nowadays. There was none of that hurry and worry so characteristic of the present New York. We enjoyed life and didn’t wear out so fast. In the old game when a man struck out[,] those of his side who happened to be on the bases had to come in and lose that chance of making a run. We changed that and made the rule which holds good now. The difference between cricket and baseball illustrates the difference between our lively people and the phlegmatic English. Before the new game was made we all played cricket, and I was so proficient as to win the prize bat and ball with a score of 60 in a match cricket game in New York of 1848, the year before I came to this Coast. But I never liked cricket as well as our game. When I saw the game between the Unions and the Bohemians the other day, I said to myself if some of my old playmates who have been dead forty years could arise and see this game they would declare it was the same old game we used to play in the Elysian Fields, with the exception of the short-stop, the umpire, and such slight variations as the swift underhand throw, the masked catcher and the uniforms of the players. We started out to make a game simply for safe and healthy recreation. Now, it seems, baseball is played for money and has become a regular business, and, doubtless, the hope of beholding a head or limb broken is no small part of the attraction to many onlookers.”

***

The scorebook that Wheaton referenced, along with the Gotham bylaws and playing rules, was not a figment of his aged imagination. Gotham shortstop Charles C. Commerford wrote to Henry Chadwick in 1905 that the first baseball game he saw (he played in the 1840s and 1850s) was played by the New York Club, which “had its grounds on a field bounded by 23rd and 24th streets and 5th and 6th avenues.” Commerford would have seen this game just prior to the fall of 1843, when the New York Ball Club moved its playing grounds to Hoboken. “There was a roadside resort nearby [the Madison Cottage] and a trotting track in the locality. I remember very well that the constitution and by-laws of the old Gotham club, of which I became a member in 1849, stated that the Gotham Club was the successor of the old New York City Club.”[29]

Corporal Thompson's Madison Cottage ca. 1850.

Corporal Thompson’s Madison Cottage ca. 1850.

Commerford added, in a 1911 letter to the New York World: “There was always some little contention between the Knickerbocker Club and the Gotham Club as to the date of organization. The Knickerbockers claimed that they were the first to organize and the Gothams claimed priority, as the New York Club was merged into the Gotham and the former (New York) always insisted that they were the first to organize as such.”[30]

To provide additional gloss on Wheaton’s reminiscence, the games cited above, in which the Gothams “beat the Englishmen out of sight,” were the very same games recorded in the press as pitting New York against Brooklyn in late October 1845. These were the last two of three games played between representatives of the two cities in that month, although we cannot say for certain that the first game was played by the same clubs as the latter two, as no box score survives to identify its contestants.

The Knickerbockers played their first recorded game, an intrasquad contest, in that month as well. On October 6, seven Knicks won by a count of 11–8 over seven of their fellows in three innings. Wheaton was the umpire. William H. Tucker scored three of the losing squad’s eight runs.[31] Like Wheaton and other Knickerbockers, he had been a player with the New York Base Ball Club and maintained his tie to them, indeed playing in the two formal matches of the New Yorks with the Brooklyn Club on October 21 and 24 of 1845, a month after he had helped to form the Knicks. In The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America, author Tom Melville pointed to an even earlier contest between Brooklyn and New York clubs, played on October 10 and reported in the New York Morning News.[32] Research more than a decade later has revealed a somewhat fuller account in the obscure and short-lived newspaper the True Sun:

The Base Ball match between eight Brooklyn players, and eight players of New York, came off on Friday on the grounds of the Union Star Cricket Club. The Yorkers were singularly unfortunate in scoring but one run in their three innings. Brooklyn scored 22 and of course came off winners.[33]

True Sun, October 13, 1845

True Sun, October 13, 1845

Many of the early New York baseballists had cut their teeth on cricket, and this was true of the Brooklyn players as well. In the game of October 21, conducted at the Elysian Fields, the eight players of the New York club won handily. They did so again in the game three days later, played at the grounds of the Union Star Cricket Club, opposite Sharp’s Hotel, at the corner of Myrtle and Portland avenues near Fort Greene. The scores were, respectively, 24–4 and 37–19. On both these occasions the Brooklyn baseballists included established cricketers John Hines, William Gilmore, John Hardy, William H. Sharp, and Theodore Forman.[34] Their lineup appears to have been identical for the two games, as the Ayers in the October 21 box score and the Meyers of October 24 may be alternative renderings of the same individual. The other seven Brooklynites match up.

For me, the New York Base Ball Club second-anniversary game of November 10, 1845, reported in the New York Herald on the following day, has much in common with the purported “first match game” of June 19, 1846, while the games of October 1845, particularly the latter two, seem to be true match games between wholly differentiated clubs. It could be argued—I certainly would—that the Knickerbockers played no match games until they met the Washington club on June 3, 1851, a game the Knicks won by a count of 21–11. Look at the cast of characters in the Herald’s account of the game.

NYBBC

Several interesting things emerge from this notice of the game. Prominent Knickerbocker names are present—Wheaton, Tucker, Cone, Clair (Clare). So too are Gotham players of prominence—Lalor, Murphy, Johnson, Winslow, Case. The Davis who plays here and in the game of June 19, 1846, is not the Knickerbocker James Whyte Davis, who played opposite him in at least one contest after J.W. Davis’s entrance on the scene in 1850. Venn is Harry Venn, celebrated Bowery icon and proprietor of the Gotham Cottage (a billiard and bowling saloon) at 298 Bowery, longtime clubhouse to the Gotham BBC. Gilmore may well be the Union Star cricketer who played baseball with the Brooklyns on October 21 and 24.

The game of November 10 was played nine to the side, clearly to 21 runs or more in equal innings, a rule that may have been invoked only for formalized contests. The two sides were unnamed. While the New Yorks were celebrating their second year as an organized club, on another field in Hoboken, that very same day, the Knickerbockers were playing an intramural match all their own, eight to the side. So who were these mysterious NYBBC players, so important to baseball’s development yet nearly invisible in the shadow of the Knickerbocker Club? Let me supply a brief record with identifications for a few major figures. An addendum to this essay will portray, in a more perfunctory manner than it deserves, the reconstituted Gotham Club from 1852 until it drifted into inconsequence after the professionals formed their league in 1871. Someone ought to write a book.

The Gotham Base Ball Club of 1855: the first surviving photograph of a baseball team.

The Gotham Base Ball Club of 1855: the earliest surviving photograph of a baseball team.

According to Peverelly, the Gotham Base Ball Club of New York was organized early in 1852, with a mysterious Mr. Tuche as its first president. In his Book of American Pastimes he treated the Washington Base Ball Club as a separate entity, supplying slim details of their two matches with the Knickerbockers on June 3 and 17, 1851. For the first, which the Knicks won by a count of 21–11 in eight innings at the Red House Grounds, all that he had was a line score (both games went unreported in the press). For the second game, which the Knicks won 22–20 in ten innings, he listed the Washington players, several of whom we recognize as New York Base Ball Club players from the 1845 anniversary game and the purported match game of June 19, 1846: William. H. Van Cott, Trenchard, Barnes, William Burns, C[harles] Davis, Robert Winslow, Charles L. Case, Jackson, Thomas Van Cott. Peverelly also lists the officers of the Gotham Club since 1856 and describes the club uniform of ten years after as “a blue merino cap, with a white star in the centre; white flannel shirt, with red cord binding; blue flannel pants, red belt, and white buckskin shoes.”

When the Gothams met the Knicks on July 1, 1853, a game interrupted by rain and resumed on the 5th, their players included (William) Vail, W.H. Van Cott, Thomas Van Cott, (Robert) Winslow, Sr., (Robert) Winslow, Jr., Jonathan ( John) Lalor, Reuben H. Cudlipp, and two highly skilled new players—Joseph C. Pinckney and Louis F. Wadsworth, both of whom would soon leave the club for greener pastures, perhaps lured by emoluments. Another Gotham with a vagabond temperament was second baseman Edward G. Saltzman, who in the spring of 1856 relocated his jewelry trade to Boston. With Brooklynites Augustus P. Margot and Richard Busteed, Saltzman organized the Tri-Mountain Club to play baseball by New York rules.

On November 7, 1857, correspondent “X” wrote of that year’s edition of the club in Porter’s Spirit of the Times:

Their best men are: Messrs. Vail, Van Cott, Cudlipp, [William] Johnson, [John] McCosker, Wadsworth, Sheriden [Phil Sheridan], Turner, and [Charles] Commerford. Mr. Vail, one of the oldest players in this city, and one of the original members, has had great experience; he has filled the position of catcher since Mr. Burns left (the club miss this player very much). He is a strong bat, and plays with good judgment. Mr. Van Cott stands very high as pitcher, combining speed with an even ball. Mr. Wadsworth formerly belonged to the Knickerbocker [which he joined in 1854, coming from the Gotham], and until the last year or so played in all their matches, but left them through some misunderstanding. It is claimed by his friends that he is the best first base man in any club, perfectly fearless—he will stop any ball that may come within reach—is a good player in any position, as his fielding last Friday will show. McCosker and Johnson are both fine catchers, and remarkably strong batsmen; and of the others it may be said, that if not powerful batters, they are what is termed sure ones, and good catchers…. The Gotham formerly played on the grounds of the Red House, and would probably have played there to this day, had there not some difficulty sprung up with the proprietor or lessee. They play at Hoboken, on grounds but slightly inferior to their old locality.[36]

298 Bowery, the Gotham Inn, a.k.a. Gotham Cottage or Gotham Saloon

298 Bowery, the Gotham Inn, a.k.a. Gotham Cottage or Gotham Saloon

The Gothams believed they were direct descendants from not only the Washington Club (which they averred to have organized in 1849, not 1850 as Peverelly had it), but also from the primal New York Club. The club limped along through the 1870s as the professionals took hold of the game. In 1871, following the formation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional league, the Gothams joined with 32 other clubs, including the venerable Knickerbocker and Eagle clubs, hoping to keep top-level amateur play alive. In a last-gasp member-recruitment circular issued at the opening of the centennial year of 1876, the club’s directors wrote, “The Gotham Base Ball Club dates its existence from the year 1849; it is, therefore, one of the oldest—if not the oldest—organization of its kind in the country.”[37]

A few weeks later, the New York Times reported on the meeting of old Gotham players that resulted. It was noted that this club had “turned out more professional players than any other,” which oddly may have been true. Buried in the notice was the still, to this day, not fully fathomed heritage of the club—like that of the game itself— in the rough and rowdy crowd that populated Washington Market long before.

The meeting on Monday evening was a large and very harmonious one. Old times were talked over, and a unanimous feeling prevailed in favor of reorganizing and keeping up the old club. Mr. James B. Mingay, a gentleman who has done business in Jefferson Market for over thirty years past, was elected president and Mr. Abraham H. Hummel, of the law firm of Howe & Hummel, at No. 89 Centre street, was made Vice President. [Hummel was the notorious underworld lawyer of his day.] The Secretary is Mr. Melchior B. Mason of No. 32 Chambers Street and the treasurer, Mr. Leonard Cohen, of Washington Market. There were about forty of the old members present; and among those who will take an active part in the new organization are Mr. Seaman Lichtenstein, of No. 83 Barclay street, who has been in business over thirty-five years … Mr. John Drohan, Mr. James Forsyth, and Mr. Richard H. Thorn, all merchants of Washington Market, of between twenty and thirty years’ standing.[38]

[Next, a concluding section of biographical profiles of NYBBC / Washington BBC / Gotham BBC players.]

Notes

26. Albert Spalding Baseball Collections, Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York, Club Books 1854–1868, New York Public Library.

27. Spirit of the Times, October 21, 1848, 414.

28. Randall Brown, “How Baseball Began,” The National Pastime 24, 51–54.

29. “The Old Atlantics of Fifty Years Ago,” 1905 clipped article, perhaps from Brooklyn Eagle, otherwise undated. Albert Spalding Baseball Collections, Chadwick Scrapbooks, vol. 5. Chadwick quotes from a letter he received from Commerford. Also Auburn Citizen, September 22, 1911, reprinted from New York World.

30. Auburn Citizen, September 22, 1911.

31. Albert Spalding Baseball Collections, Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York, Game Books 1845–1856, New York Public Library.

32. Tom Melville, The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1998), 168. Melville erroneously cited the game date as October 11.

33. True Sun, October 13, 1845, 2.

34. First names were located in Picton, “Among the Cricketers,” Fun and Fancy in Old New York.

35. “Sporting Intelligence,” New York Herald, November 11, 1845, 2.

36. Porter’s Spirit of the Times, November 7, 1857, 148.

37. New York Herald, January 7, 1876, 8.

38. New York Times, January 23, 1876, 7.

 

The New York Base Ball Club (a.k.a. Washington BBC, Gotham BBC)

Base Ball Founders, 2013

Base Ball Founders, 2013

This essay first appeared in a wonderfully valuable book, Base Ball Founders: The Clubs, Players and Cities of the Northeast That Established the Game. Published by McFarland in 2013, it was edited by Peter Morris, Bill Ryczek, Jan Finkel, Leonard Levin, and Richard Malatzky–friends and colleagues all. This is one of my three contributions to that volume.

Recent study has revealed the claim of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York to pioneer status, as well as that of Alexander Cartwright to be the game’s inventor, to be suspect if not altogether baseless. I have taken up the latter claim at length in Baseball in the Garden of Eden and will not do so here, except to reiterate my view that baseball was not invented but instead evolved. All the same, however, it had many fathers—prime among them William Rufus Wheaton, Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, and Louis F. Wadsworth—each of whom may be credited with specific innovations that were previously credited to Cartwright.[1]

Adams played ball as early as 1839, the year he came to New York after earning his M.D. at Harvard.[2] As he declared to an interviewer in 1896, when he was 81:

I was always interested in athletics while in college and afterward and soon after going to New York I began to play base ball just for exercise, with a number of other young medical men. Before that [i.e., before 1839] there had been a club called the New York Base Ball Club, but it had no very definite organization and did not last long. Some of the younger members of that club got together and formed the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, September 24, 1845 [actually September 23]…. About a month after the organization of this club, several of us medical fellows joined it, myself among the number.[3]

Wheaton testified to an interviewer in 1887, when he was 73, that he had written the rules for that New York Base Ball Club in 1837.[4] And Wadsworth, who in 1857 gave to baseball the key features of nine innings and nine men to the side, began to play baseball with the Gotham Club, successor to the New Yorks, in 1852 or 1853.[5]

William Rufus Wheaton

William Rufus Wheaton

While the Knickerbocker was the most enduringly influential of the baseball clubs that sprang up prior to the Civil War, it was not the first to play the game, or the first to be organized, or the first to play a “match game” (one contested be tween two distinct clubs), or the first to play by written rules that we might regard as governing the “New York Game.” This regional variant, in which we may detect the seeds of baseball as we know it today, was distinct from the Massachusetts or New England Game, also called round ball or, with justice, simply “base ball,” a descriptive name that applies, in my view, to all games of bat and ball with bases that are run in the round—and thus not only to the New York Game but also to the versions played in Massachusetts, Philadelphia, and elsewhere.

If the Knickerbockers were not the first to play the New York Game, what clubs preceded them? Perhaps it was the Gymnastics and the Sons of Diagoras, clubs associated with Columbia College who played a game of “Bace” in 1805, which the former won by a score of 41–34.[6] Perhaps it was the unnamed clubs that contested at Jones’ Retreat in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1823.[7] It may have been the men of the Eagle Ball Club, organized in 1840 to play by rules similar if not identical to those of the KBBC.[8] Or it may have been the Magnolia Ball Club or the New York Club, each of which played baseball among themselves at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken in the autumn of 1843 and, like Doc Adams’ medical fellows, had played in New York City before then.

So, it must be said, had many other men who would become Knickerbockers. They were playing ball at Madison Square and Murray Hill in the early 1840s. Charles A. Peverelly, in his Book of American Pastimes (1866), wrote:

Elysian Fields 1830s, with Colonnade Hotel (McCarty's).

Elysian Fields 1830s, with Colonnade Hotel (McCarty’s).

At a preliminary meeting, it was suggested that as it was apparent they would soon be driven from Murray Hill, some suitable place should be obtained in New Jersey, where their stay could be permanent; accordingly, a day or two afterwards, enough to make a game assembled at Barclay street ferry, crossed over, marched up the road, prospecting for ground on each side, until they reached the Elysian Fields, where they “settled.” Thus it occurred that a party of gentlemen formed an organization, combining together health, recreation, and social enjoyment, which was the nucleus of the now great American game of Base Ball so popular in all parts of the United States, than which there is none more manly or more health-giving.[9]

The Knickerbocker party of course did not wander about northern New Jersey looking for a place to play. They had been preceded by other clubs, both baseball and cricket, in selecting the Elysian Fields; proprietor Edwin Augustus Stevens (in conjunction with his brothers) had already donated the use of his grounds to the New York Cricket Club and the New York Yacht Club, and had offered liberal lease terms to the Magnolia and New York baseball clubs.[10]

In this support of sport, Stevens was of course encouraging traffic to the Elysian Fields: he controlled the ferries as well as the resort, which included the Beacon Course, a horse-racing track opened in 1834. By encouraging play (and gambling) on his turf and along his waters he created a longstanding model for “traction magnates” to own baseball clubs. Of less interest to scholars have been the naming precedents from clubs in sports that captured the public fancy earlier than baseball, but these provide archaeological hints at how baseball developed within pre-established models.

Both the Knickerbocker and New York names were attached to boating clubs in the early years of the century. Rowing was America’s first modern sport, in that competitions were marked by record- keeping, prizes, and wagers, yet also provided spectator interest for those with no pecuniary interest. The first boat club to be organized in the United States was named the Knickerbocker, in 1811.[11] As reported in the New-York Mirror of July 15, 1837, by boating veteran “Jacob Faithful,” who borrowed his nom de plume from an 1834 novel by Frederick Marryat:

This club suffered a suspension during the war [that of 1812], and for many years subsequently the boat which bore its name was hung up in the New-York Museum, as a model of the finest race-boat ever launched in this port. Subsequent attempts to revive the association fell through; and though many exertions to form new ones were made, yet the first effort that succeeded in establishing the clubs upon their present footing—viz., building their own boats, wearing a regular uniform, and observing rigid navy discipline, was made in the year 1830, by the owners of the barge Sea- drift, a club consisting of one hundred persons, which could boast of one no less distinguished in aquatick and sporting matters than Robert L. Stevens for its first president, with Ogden Hoffman, Charles L. Livingston, Robert Emmet, John Stevens, and other good men and true for his successors. To this club the rudder of the old Knickerbocker was bequeathed, with the archives thereto pertaining: nor was anything spared by the members, during the first years of their existence as a club, to give spirit to its doings.[12]

Dedicated to New York Boat Club

Dedicated to New York Boat Club

Baseball historians, take note. Jacob Faithful was attempting to counter a recent assertion in the New York Evening Star that the Wave Club had been the first “to introduce the amusement.” The new organization of 1830 referenced above was named the “New York Boat Club.”[13] The Knickerbocker Boat Club—whose very existence had already, by 1837, been cast into oblivion—did not disappear immediately after the War of 1812. It was still conducting boat races and theatrical benefits in 1820. For its celebrated race of November 1820 against the British-born boat builder John Chambers’ American Star, the Knickerbocker Club’s John Baptis built a replacement for his dry-docked Knickerbocker rowboat of 1811 and called it the New York. The New York was characterized in the press as “having the real Knickerbocker [i.e., American] stamp.”[14]

Boat racing was nothing short of a craze in the 1820s and ’30s, as recalled by Colonel Thomas Picton in Spirit of the Times, July 7, 1883:

After them [the New York and American Star] came the Atalanta, manned by dry-goods clerks; the Seadrift, by bakers; the Neptune, by Fulton Market butchers; the Fairy, by law students; the Columbia and the Halcyon, by city collegians; the Water Witch, by engine runners; the Red Rover, by Ninth Ward firemen, and so on to the end of a miraculous chapter, utterly exhausting the catalogue of seagods, nereids and hamadryads, deified in pagan mythology. Boat-builders toiled night and day in the production of racing novelties, and one fair of the American Institute, appropriately held at Castle Garden, was almost entirely consecrated to specimens of their art, painted in all the colors of the rainbow, and in others, emanating from overtaxed imaginations, any man inventing a previously-unknown hue being tolerably certain of immediate canonization.

To my eyes, the boating craze, with its attachment of clubs to specific occupations and classes, parallels intriguingly the baseball craze of the 1850s and ’60s.

New York Yacht Club, Hoboken; Clipper, May 21, 1859

New York Yacht Club, Elysian Fields, Hoboken; Clipper, May 21, 1859.

The New York Cricket Club that has come down in history was organized at McCarty’s Hotel (the Colonnade) in Hoboken on October 11, 1843, as an American- based answer to the St. George Cricket Club, which filled its playing ranks with English nationals. The first 12 members of the NYCC were drawn from the staff of William T. Porter’s Spirit of the Times, with elected members coming from the sporting set that swirled about that weekly journal, including Edward Clark, a lawyer; William Tylee Ranney, a celebrated painter who lived in Hoboken; and James F. Cuppaidge, an accountant who played as “Cuyp the bowler.”[15] Some have speculated on a connection between the New York Cricket Club and the New York Base Ball Club, founded in the same year, but firm evidence has not yet emerged. Picton, the NYCC secretary, wrote in the Clipper: “The New York, with commendable foresight … established their grounds at Hoboken, to the rear of the Elysian Fields. For a couple of years they played upon a section of the domain of Mr. Edwin A. Stevens but subsequently they removed to a more spacious and accessible locality [the Fox Hill Cricket Ground], just beyond the upper end of the old race track [the Beacon, which closed after the 1845 season].”[16]

The NYCC continued until 1873, but it had stood on the shoulders of earlier cricket clubs bearing the same name. A club of that name had formed in 1837, the same year as the Gotham or New York Base Ball Club, as referenced in the Wheaton reminiscences below. In 1838 it played a match with the Long Island Cricket Club for $500. One year later it played an anniversary match at its grounds on 42nd Street, near the Bloomingdale Road (today’s Broadway). Coexisting with the St. George Cricket Club for a while, ultimately the NYCC merged with it under the latter’s name, a move that inspired Porter to a nationalistic response in 1843.[17]

According to Chadwick, a “New York Cricket Club” had been founded in 1808 at the Old Shakespeare in Nassau Street; it lasted but one year. But another one predated that by at least six years, meeting at the Bunch of Grapes, at No. 11 Nassau (corner of Cedar and Pine) in 1802.[18] A bit of newspaper digging for this essay has revealed an even earlier New York Cricket Club, going back to 1788.[19]

A New York Sporting Club for the preservation of game within city limits had been created in 1806.[20] Members of the Hoboken Turtle Club—New York’s first club, founded at Fraunces Tavern at the corner of Broad and Pearl streets in 1796—were called to order in June 1820 for “Spoon Exercise.” In sum, the notion of a New York Club devoted to baseball did not arise from nothing.

Hoboken Turtle Club medal

Hoboken Turtle Club medal

Accordingly, a series of questions confronts us. If baseball was played by organized clubs prior to the Knickerbockers, which of these might lay fair claim to being the true first—that is, first to organize, first to draft rules for play, and first not only to play a match game but also to endure long enough to influence the game’s development? Reflect that the Knickerbockers are credited with playing the first match game, on June 19, 1846 … yet history has not accorded an equivalent laurel to their opponents, the New Yorks, who defeated the “pioneers” by a score of 23–1. If the Knicks could not defeat them on the field, however, they were more successful in eradicating them from the historical record, dismissing the victors as unfairly advantaged “cricketers” or, even worse, “disorganized,” a slap at any purposeful aggregation in the rising age of system.

Peverelly offered this capsule portrait of the New York Nine: “It appears that this was not an organized club, but merely a party of gentlemen who played together frequently, and styled themselves the New York Club.”[21] Henry Chadwick, who may have fed Peverelly his line, had written in the Beadle Guide in 1860,”we shall not be far wrong if we award to the [Knickerbockers] the honor of being the pioneer of the present game of Base Ball.”[22]

In fact, the New York Club not only preceded the Knickerbocker in every innovation cited above, but was also its progenitor. The process by which they became two separate clubs may not have been an altogether amicable split. The understanding of veteran baseball players at the turn of the 20th century was exceedingly hazy as to who had been a Knickerbocker and who a member of the New Yorks. A widely syndicated article by Albert G. Spalding (it appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal on April 1, 1905) announced the formation of an investigative body to examine the origins of baseball; this has come to be known as the Mills Commission. (This article was read by Abner Graves, who responded to the editor of the newspaper and lifted Abner Doubleday to inventor status.) Extracting from the materials he had received from Chadwick, Spalding named 11 men as Knickerbocker Base Ball Club founders, including: “Colonel James Lee, Dr. Ransom, Abraham Tucker, James Fisher, W. Vail, Alexander J. Cartwright, William R. Wheaton, Duncan F. Curry, E. R. Dupignac, Jr., William H. Tucker, and Daniel L. Adams.” The first four of these played with the New York or Gotham club, as did Wheaton and Tucker. The last named, Adams, did not join the Knickerbocker until one month after its founding.

Known as the New York or Gotham or Washington from the 1830s through the 1860s, these clubs were lineally the same, and appear to have gone by several names at the same time. The murky relationship between the original Gothams of 1837, the Washingtons, the New Yorks, the Knickerbockers, and the later Gothams may be summarized below.

1818 Washington Market Chowder Club

1818 Washington Market Chowder Club Token

Because they regarded themselves as the first organized club, the Gotham Club was also called the Washington. A matter of custom, this practice was said to denote that they were, like the father of our country, first. Another explanation, personally alluring but not yet proved, is that the Gotham’s alternative name referred to its origins with the influential merchant class—mostly butchers and produce brokers—of Washington Market, founded in 1812. Some of these men organized in 1818 as New York City’s first target company (for archery and riflery), which they named the Washington Market Chowder Club.[23] It survived all the way through the Mexican War into the next decade. The Tribune reported on November 29, 1850:

Washington Market Chowder Club. A company bearing the above name, composed, we understand of the butchers of Washington Market, passed our office yesterday morning on a target excursion, accompanied by Dodsworth’s Band. They were very numerous, and fine looking body of men. And it would be indeed surprising that any company composed of butchers should be anything else than fine looking; that occupation embraces the most robust and hardy men in the city.

Many in the meat trade went on to become political wheeler-dealers and sporting men (not sportsmen), from Bill “the Butcher” Poole—whose father had been a Washington Market butcher before him, with his stand occupying the same place—to James McCloud, the butcher and pool-seller who facilitated the Louisville game-fixing scandal of 1877.

The weekly New York Illustrated offered a colorful capsule of the Washington Market in 1870:

1818 Washington Market Chowder Club Token, obverse

1818 Washington Market Chowder Club Token, obverse

Flour, meal, butter, eggs, cheese, meats, poultry, fish, cram the tall warehouses and rude sheds, teeming at the water’s edge, to their fullest capacity. Fruit-famed, vegetable-renowned Jersey pours four-fifths of its products into this lap of distributive commerce; the river- hugging counties above contribute their share, and car- loads come trundling in from the West to feed this perpetually hungry maw of the Empire City. The concentration of this great and stirring trade is to be met with at Washington Market. This vast wooden structure, with its numerous outbuildings and sheds, is an irregular and unsightly one, but presents a most novel and interesting scene within and without. The sheds are mainly devoted to smaller stands and smaller sales. Women with baskets of fish and tubs of tripe on their heads, lusty butcher-boys lugging halves and quarters of beef or mutton into their carts, pedlars of every description, etc., tend to amuse and bewilder at the same time. Some of the produce dealers and brokers, who occupy the little box-like shanties facing the market from the river, do a business almost as large as any of the neighboring merchants boasting their five-story warehouses.[24]

At some point in the early 1840s the Gotham club was renamed the New York Ball Club, retaining most if not all of its Gotham members. The New Yorks then spun off the Knickerbockers, as Wheaton relates in the 1887 interview offered verbatim below. The Gotham, meanwhile, continued to play ball among themselves from 1845 to 1849, just as the Knickerbocker and Eagle clubs appear to have done. In 1850 those Gotham and New York members who had not attached to the Knickerbockers in Hoboken reconstituted themselves as, yet again, the Washingtons, playing at the Red House Grounds (“a most comfortable ‘asylum for distressed husbands,’” offered Spirit of the Times) at Second Avenue and 105th Street in New York.

In 1851 this Washington Base Ball Club challenged the Knickerbockers to match games that have been preserved in the historical record. In 1852 the club reverted to its old name of Gothams, “consolidating with” the Washingtons.[25]

[More tomorrow!]

Notes
1. For a full discussion of these three individuals, see the present writer’s Baseball in the Garden of Eden (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).

2. His degree from Yale is reported in an untitled article in the Connecticut Courant, August 24, 1835, 3. His medical degree is reported in “Harvard University,” The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, September 26, 1838, 127. His work as an attending physician in New York is reported in “New York Dispensary,” The New-York Spectator, February 27, 1840, 1.

3. “Dr. D. L. Adams; Memoirs of the Father of Base Ball; He Resides in New Haven and Retains an Interest in the Game,” The Sporting News, February 29, 1896, 3.

4. “How Baseball Began: A Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It,” anonymous journalist interviews William Rufus Wheaton, San Francisco Examiner, November 27, 1887, 14.

5. “City Intelligence,” New York Herald, March 2, 1857, 8; Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, 51–53.

6. New-York Evening Post, April 13, 1805, 3.

7. National Advocate, April 25, 1823, 2.

8. Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, 80–81.

9. Charles A. Peverelly, The Book of American Pastimes (New York: Published by the Author, 1866), 340.

10. Col. Thomas Picton, “Among the Cricketers,” Fun and Fancy in Old New York: Reminiscences of a Man About Town, ed.William L. Slout (San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 2007), 140.

11. New-York Mirror, July 15, 1837, 23.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Commercial Advertiser [from New-York Gazette of that morning], November 13, 1820, 2.

15. Cuyp Obituary, New York Herald, July 13, 1871. Also Picton, “The New York Cricket Club,” Fun and Fancy in Old New York, 133–143.

16. Picton, “Among the Cricketers,” Fun and Fancy in Old New York, 140.

17. Spirit of the Times, March 16, 1844, 37.

18. New-York Gazette, March 3, 1803.

19. New-York Morning Post, September 19, 1788. Also New-York Daily Gazette, April 20, 1789.

20. American Citizen, March 7, 1806.

21. Peverelly, The Book of American Pastimes, 342–343.

22. Henry Chadwick, Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player: A Compendium of the Game, etc. (New York: Irwin P. Beadle and Co., 1860), 6.

23. “The Military Spirit in New York. The Target Companies on Thanksgiving Day,” New York Weekly Herald, December 14, 1850, 397; also The Subterranean, October 25, 1845, 2.

24. New York Illustrated (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1870), 40–41.

25. Peverelly, The Book of American Pastimes, 346.

[Second part, of three, tomorrow.] 

Where Do Cat Games Come From?

Cat-Stick, 1890s–a 2000-year-old survivor game

Peter Morris asked on Facebook: Does the name of the cat ball games derive from catapult, kaetzen, or something else? Are they of American, English, or other origin? I answered: Cat and dog was the primal ball game in England; the Scots say it was the progenitor of cricket. But those Scots will say things. Deriving from ancient fertility rites, the cat (a wooden spindle) represented the female principle–and the dog (a stick), the male–just as in cricket or baseball, where the ball is is a female symbol and the bat a male one. Kaat in Dutch means “ball.” An old Dutch hamlet five miles from my hometown of Catskill (Kaatskill, Kaaterskill) is named Kaatsbaan (Ballcourt), given its name because Indians played lacrosse here when the settlers came in. But I do go on.

#AskTheHistorian

National League Ball, 1883

National League Ball, 1883

Let’s try something new that could be fun and maybe even useful. I get a lot of questions about baseball, which may be unsurprising to you. I have been pleased to provide answers, lately on Twitter, and almost always on the fly–“pants pressed while u wait.” Sometimes I need to take a bit of a spin through my archives. And if I don’t know an answer or can’t quickly locate it in my files, I know who will; it is good to have so many clever colleagues in SABR, that “College of Baseball Knowledge.” I like posting odd facts and seldom seen images, too, as my Twitter followers and Facebook friends will have noticed.

Starting today, I will add a hashtag of #AskTheHistorian to such posts (and to my @thorn_john Twitter avatar). The intent is to encourage more questions and comments, and especially more dialogue. I like to talk baseball, and I suspect you do too.

Cramped replies on Twitter are sometimes unsatisfying; now and then I’d like to say a bit more. On such occasions I’ll expand upon my tweets with “The Rest of the Story” at Our Game, or ask that we move into a private conversation in email. Realtime chats might be down the road a bit.

What does this mean to my fellow tweeps, who have already posed such interesting questions? Keep ‘em coming. To those who like this idea and would like to join in, I ask only that you genuinely wish to know something you don’t know already. The very best sort of question is, I think, “Where might I go to find this, on the web or in an archive?” or “Who is the expert in this field, and how might I reach him or her?”

Here’s just a sampling of the questions that have come my way in recent days:

Where did the lone survivor of the USS Maine baseball team come from?

Do you think Maury Wills belongs in the HOF?

Who had the lowest RBI/AB ratio ever?

What was Amos Rusie’s influence on the game?

Is this picture of Christy Mathewson really from 1911, as it is labeled?

What was the starting time of the first game played in New York by its NL club?

Did Babe Ruth truly save baseball after the Black Sox Scandal?

Do we know what the rationale was for walks being counted as hits in 1887?

Is Cool Papa Bell in this picture of the 1945 Kansas City Monarchs?

With the Chicago White Stockings playing ball in 1870, does that make the Cubs the oldest continuous major league franchise, or do the Atlanta Braves hold that record? Or the Cincinnati Reds?

Is the Sky Falling? Where Are the Baserunners?

A "vinegar valentine" ca. 1910.

A “vinegar valentine” ca. 1910.

Before going on MLB Network’s High Heat with Brian Kenny today I rummaged through a piece I wrote eight years ago that focused on the death of the triple. I noted the startling consistency of runs per game (measured by the totals of both teams) over more than a century–until 2014–and, similarly, the ratio of hits to runs, which also has undergone a tectonic-plate shift. I have, for your possible interest, updated my numbers to 2014. I also provide figures from the nadir of the deadball era (1908), the Year of the Hitter (1930), the Year of the Pitcher (1968), and the first year of Major League Baseball (1876). This table provides a handy guide, I believe, not only to how many runs were scored or how few, but how. The devil is in the detail.

Something is happening today that certainly bears watching, and may require action. I am reminded of the frog set in a pot of water which is then, unbothered, brought to a boil.

While run scoring is not yet as minimal as in 1908, we will not wish to test that rock. Let the numbers speak. Sabermetrics need not enter here.

Home Runs

1876: 0.15 per game

1908: 0.21 per game

1911: 0.40 per game

1930: 1.27 per game

1961: 1.90 per game

1968: 1.23 per game

2005: 2.06 per game

2014: 1.72 per game

Triples

1876: 0.70 per game

1908: 0.80 per game

1911: 1.06 per game

1930: 1.04 per game

1961: 0.53 per game

1968: 0.43 per game

2005: 0.37 per game

2014: 0.35 per game

Doubles

1876: 2.43 per game

1908: 2.03 per game

1911: 2.61 per game

1930: 3.85 per game

1961: 2.78 per game

1968: 2.38 per game

2005: 3.65 per game

2014: 3.35 per game

Singles

1876: 17.25 per game

1908: 12.45 per game

1911: 13.59 per game

1930: 14.58 per game

1961: 12.31 per game

1968: 11.78 per game

2005: 12.02 per game

2014: 11.70 per game

Errors:

1876: 12.01 per game

1908: 3.41 per game

1911: 3.66 per game

1930: 2.46 per game

1961: 1.82 per game

1968: 1.70 per game

2005: 1.22 per game

2014: 1.20 per game

Walks:

1876: 1.29 per game

1908: 4.71 per game

1911: 6.34 per game

1930: 6.20 per game

1961: 6.92 per game

1968: 5.63 per game

2005: 6.26 per game

2014: 5.77 per game

Strikeouts:

1876: 2.27 per game

1908: 7.30 per game

1911: 7.98 per game

1930: 6.43 per game

1961: 10.45 per game

1968: 11.78 per game

2005: 12.61 per game

2014: 15.41 per game

Runs

1876: 11.79 per game

1908: 6.77 per game

1911: 9.03 per game

1930: 11.10 per game

1961: 9.05 per game

1968: 6.84 per game

2005: 9.18 per game

2014: 8.13 per game

Hit/Run ratio:

1876: 1.74

1908: 2.29

1911: 1.96

1930: 1.87

1961: 1.94

1968: 2.31

2005: 1.97

2014: 2.10

The Babe Comes Back

The Babe, by Paolo Garretto, 1929.

The Babe, by Paolo Garretto, 1929.

This piece, like its predecessor, “I Dreamed I Saw Babe Ruth Last Night,” is from 2006. See: http://goo.gl/rJoorV. I was going to ask him, “What was the real story behind the famous called shot?” I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, but he laid it out plain for me anyway. Will we hear more from the Babe, or other fascinating figures from baseball’s past? I sure hope so. Once upon a distant time I did get a visit from Abner Doubleday. I will try to locate the audio cassette, but my office is a bit of a Granny’s Attic of trash and treasures, diamonds and dust.

As I suspected he might, George Herman Ruth paid me another nocturnal visit after Barry Bonds hit home run number 715 and consigned him to third place on the all-time list. I had questions ready for him, but he knew what he wanted to say and would brook no interruption from this mere mortal.

“You know, this Barry Bonds thing didn’t bother me a bit. Not before he hit 715, not now. Henry Aaron already had my record, and I didn’t exactly disappear after he passed me, did I? There will be others to come, too, maybe Alex Rodriguez or this Pujols kid. Folks are missing the point here: Henry wasn’t really chasing me, no more than Barry’s now chasing him. Barry is being chased — by Father Time, like I was.

“I was through as a ballplayer by 1934, when I thought I was 40 (later on somebody dug up my birth certificate and it turned out I was I was born a year later). I had 708 home runs by the end of that season, my last with the Yankees, and that was enough for me; the home run record had been mine since mid-1921, when I hit my 139th to pass Roger Connor. Oh, I could still hit better than most — I probably could have socked 800 home runs if that designated-hitter rule had been around, and I could have hit for a batting average of .600 if all I wanted was to be a dinky singles hitter like Cobb — but I couldn’t cover ground in the outfield any more. I wanted to stay in baseball more than I ever wanted anything in my life. But in 1935 there was no job for me, unless I agreed to play. That’s why I took to the field that one last time for the Boston Braves: I thought the deal was that if I brought the fans to the ballpark by playing every now and then, they’d name me the manager soon enough. Didn’t work out that way, though and, I’ve got to admit, it embittered me. I would sit by the phone, waiting for the call that never came.

Babe Ruth as a Boston Brave, last at  bat, 1935

Babe Ruth as a Boston Brave, last at bat, 1935

“I hit six home runs in that spring of 1935, before I walked away. The final three came in the same game, at Pittsburgh in late May. I really caught that last one, number 714, sent it clear over the roof at Forbes Field, and no one had ever done that. Guy Bush was on the mound for the Pirates, the same pitcher that we’d just clobbered when he pitched for the Cubs in the last World Series I played in. Now I didn’t much like anyone on that Cubs team, the way they shortchanged Mark Koenig, who used to be our shortstop, and the way they razzed me. So when I hit this ball over the roof in Pittsburgh, it kinda tickled me that I hit it off Bush. In fact, I hit my second home run that day off him too, cause he was just a relief pitcher, on the skids in 1935 like I was. But as I hobbled around third base, I looked over there at him and he kind of looked at me. He tipped his cap, sort of to say, ‘I’ve seen everything now, Babe.’ I looked back at him and saluted and smiled. Let bygones be bygones, I say. I’ve got nothing against Bush, nor against Charlie Root, the Cubs pitcher when I called the shot.

Guy Bush with Cubs.

Guy Bush with Cubs.

“Aw, everybody knows that game — October 1, the third game of the 1932 World Series. But right now I want to settle all arguments: I didn’t exactly point to any one spot, like the flagpole. Anyway, I didn’t mean to. I just sorta waved at the whole fence, but that was foolish enough. All I wanted to do was give that thing a ride … outta the park … anywhere.

“I’d had a lot of trouble in ’32, and we weren’t any cinches to win that pennant, either, because Lefty Grove was trying to keep the Athletics up there for their fourth straight flag, and sometime in June I pulled a muscle in my right leg chasing a fly ball. I was on the bench about three weeks, and when I started to play again, I had to wear a rubber bandage from my hip to my knee. You know, the ol’ Babe wasn’t getting any younger and Jimmie Foxx was ahead of me in homers. I was eleven behind him early in September and never did catch up. I wouldn’t get one good ball a series to swing at. I remember one whole week when I’ll bet I was walked four times in every game. Believe me, Barry Bonds wasn’t the first one they pitched around.

“Anyway, we got into Chicago for the third game — we’d taken the first two in New York. They were in front of their home folks, and I guess they’d thought they better act tough: that’s where those Cubs decided to really get on us. Then in the very first inning I got a hold of one with two on and parked it in the stands for a three-run lead and that shut ’em up pretty well. But they came back with some runs and we were tied 4-4 going into the fifth frame.

“I told Hartnett, ‘If that bum, Root, throws me in here, I’ll hit it over the fence again.’ Gabby, didn’t answer, but those other guys were standing up in the dugout, cocky because they’d got four runs back and everybody hollering. So I just changed my mind. I took two strikes and after each one I held up my finger and said, ‘That’s one’ and ‘that’s two.’ Gabby could hear me. That’s when I waved to the fence.

“No, I didn’t point to any spot, but as long as I’d called the first two strikes on myself, I hadda go through with it. It was damned foolishness, sure, but I just felt like doing it, and I felt pretty sure Root would put one close enough for me to cut at, because I was showing him up.

1932 World Series Game 3 Ticket Stub

1932 WS Game 3 Ticket Stub

“Gosh, that was a great feeling … getting a hold of that ball and I knew it was going someplace … yessir, you can feel it in your hands when you’ve laid wood on one. How that mob howled. Me? I just laughed … laughed to myself going around the bases and thinking, ‘You lucky bum … you lucky, lucky bum.’

“Yeah, it was silly. I was a blankety-blank fool. But I got away with it and after Lou Gehrig homered, behind me, their backs were broken. That was a day to talk about. In batting practice before the game, I had whacked out homer after homer. I hollered to some fans , ‘I’d play for half my salary if I could hit in this dump all the time.’ You see, Yankee Stadium wasn’t a slugger’s park for me or for Gehrig — we weren’t dead-pull hitters. I’ll tell you, I cried when they took me out of the Polo Grounds after 1922. That was some park. I’d hit only 9 home runs at Fenway my last year with the Red Sox, in 1919, with 20 more on the road, but when the Polo Grounds became my home park, I hit 29 of my 54 there, and 32 of 59 the next year.

“I hit my 60 home runs in 1927 — only 28 in Yankee Stadium — before many of the parks had been changed so as to favor the home-run hitter. I hit them into the same parks where, only a decade before, ten or twelve homers were good enough to win the league title. They said they livened up the ball for me, and some of the writers called it the jack-rabbit ball. Well, if they put some of the jack in it around the 1927 period, they put the entire rabbit into it in 1961 and at the same time shortened a lot of fences. And most of these new parks they’ve built recently are smaller than the ones they replaced, so I wasn’t surprised one bit when McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds blew past Roger Maris’s 61.

Henry Aaron

Henry Aaron

“But make no mistake about San Francisco. This new park may be better for hitters than Candlestick was (Willie Mays sure caught a bad break when the Giants moved there, just as fortune smiled on Aaron when the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta). But Pac Bell is still tough — no one except Barry consistently hits the long ball there.

“As to the lifetime mark, Henry has held it for 32 years now, since 1974. I held it for 53 years. If Barry wants to hit 756, he should copy what Henry and I did: we extended our careers by shifting leagues. I hit my last six in the National League, and Henry hit his last 20 in the American League.

“Take my advice, Barry. You cover the outfield now about as well as I did in 1935, which ain’t sayin’ much. And gee, it’s lonesome in the outfield. It’s hard to keep awake with nothing much to do, and then have to accelerate like a racecar when a ball is hit in your direction. Do what Henry did and what I wished I coulda done: become a DH.

“And I have just the place for you: Yankee Stadium. Wear the pinstripes — not next year but this summer. Waive your no-trade clause and reward the Giants by letting them get a prospect or two in a trade to New York. While you’re at it, get a two-year extension of your current contract from the Yankees, whose corner outfielders may not come back healthy this year.

“Do this, Barry, and you’ll win the World Series, which you’ve always wanted to do.”

And then I woke up.

I Dreamed I Saw Babe Ruth Last Night

Babe Ruth, 1920.

Babe Ruth, 1920.

I wrote this on May 10, 2006, as Barry Bonds was nearing Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714. Hadn’t given it a thought in the nearly eight years since until this morning. I was surprised and pleased to still like it. Maybe you will too.

I dreamed I saw Babe Ruth last night
Alive as you and me,
Says I “But Babe, you’re so long dead!”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

Barry Bonds is at this writing closing in on Babe Ruth’s longtime record of 714 home runs, the last signpost on the rocky road to his ultimate destination, Henry Aaron’s mark of 755. By declaring that Major League Baseball would not commemorate Bonds’ 715th, whenever it came, as that would only create a new entrant into second place, Commissioner Bud Selig was not being unfair, but he may have been engaging in early-warning damage control. If performance-enhancing drugs are determined to have fueled the Giant star’s assault on the record books, the Commissioner will be sure to authorize a rather subdued celebration if and when he hits No. 756.

Last night as I drifted off to sleep, my mind was spinning about the journalists’ umbrage, the fans’ moralistic contempt, and the startling level of venom that follows Barry from one city to the next, as if Hitler were playing left field for San Francisco. What would the Babe feel about all this, I wondered? What would he say to Barry, and to you?

And in an instant, there he was, ready to reveal all without so much as a question from me.

“Hot as hell, ain’t it, kid? Hot for everybody in baseball, hot for the game itself. Sometimes I look down on all this hubbub and wonder whether anyone can come out of this all right. Me? I’m past reckoning with, but if I all I am today is that number, 714, then I sure made a mistake in the way I lived my life. Henry Aaron didn’t take anything away from me when he hit more home runs. He just achieved something great that was all his own, and he did it under terrible pressures that I never had to face. See, I’d had the home run record ever since 1921, when I hit my 139th, so 714 meant nothing to me except that it was the first ball to fly out of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and the last I would hit as a big leaguer. Playing ball was a nonstop joyride for me, even with the fusses now and then with Judge Landis or Miller Huggins. My heartaches came earlier and later than my baseball days, that’s why I hate to see Barry trudging forward, having no fun when this should be the greatest time of his life.

Babe Ruth, St. Mary's,  1913.

Babe Ruth, St. Mary’s, 1913.

“Looking back on my boyhood, I honestly don’t remember being aware of the difference between right and wrong. I was a bad kid. My parents tossed me into an orphanage in Baltimore — St. Mary’s Industrial Home — when I was seven and they never came to visit, not one Sunday in twelve years. Well, I guess I was just too big and ugly for anyone to come see me. It wasn’t until I signed a baseball contract with the Orioles that I left St. Mary’s, at age nineteen. Mind you, I’m not complaining about the school or the way the Xavierian Brothers treated me. Brother Matthias was the man who introduced me to baseball and gave me my life’s calling — though it wasn’t much compared to his, that’s for certain. What I became, what I had, what I left behind me — all this I owe to the game of baseball, without which I would have come out of St. Mary’s a tailor, and a pretty bad one, at that.

“Barry, you seem to have led a charmed life early, but maybe your troubles were just waiting for you to reach the top so that the tumble would be more bruising. I don’t know what you did that made you become so great a home run hitter in your late years, when all the rest of us players would be winding down. Life may begin at forty for people in other lines of work, but that’s where it ends, more or less, for the baseball player. For me, I knew it was time to quit when it started to feel as if all the baselines ran uphill. Maybe what you did to stay in peak condition wrinkled somebody’s nose, maybe it upset the Commissioner or broke some rule, or maybe you even broke the law. I did the same, in my own day and in my own way, so I’m not one to judge. We had a thing called the Volstead Act and I broke it every day until it was repealed. I’ll tell you, Barry, I admire your God-given ability, your work habits and conditioning (these were not exactly priorities for me), your dedication to being the best, and not letting the bastards get you down.

“When I was a ballplayer, if I made a home run every time I came to bat, the fans would think I was all right. If I didn’t, they thought they could call me anything they liked. They had vile mouths then, those bums in the stands, even worse than today’s boo-birds, and I charged in after them more than once I’m sorry to say.

“Barry, don’t ever forget two things I’m going to tell you. One, don’t believe everything that’s written about you. Two, don’t pick up too many checks. Even with today’s big paychecks, a guy could go broke. Oh, and I guess there’s a third thing: scallions. Flaxseed oil may be great stuff, but scallions are the sure cure for any batting slump.

“To the fans I would say baseball was, is, and always will be to me the best game in the world. It’s bigger than the players, the owners, and the fans. As I once said of Ty Cobb, who later became my friendly golf partner, you might say about Barry Bonds—that he is a *****. But he sure can hit. God Almighty, that man can hit. Give him his due.

Barry Bonds, hero.

Barry Bonds, hero.

“I’ve heard people say that the trouble with the world is that we haven’t enough great leaders. I think we haven’t enough great followers. I have stood side by side with great thinkers — surgeons, engineers, economists, men who deserve a great following — and have heard the crowd cheer me instead. If there’s a mess in baseball right now, you fans don’t exactly have clean hands. You wanted home runs from all spots up and down the lineup, and you cheered as the ballparks became smaller and the ballplayers grew larger. Didn’t some Boston writer once say, ‘Beware of what you want … you just might get it?’

“I honestly don’t know anybody who wanted to live more than I did. It was a driving wish that was always with me in those days after I left baseball, a wish that only a person who has been close to death can know and understand. It was hell to get older. But now I see that I get to live forever. Every home run recalls my name. I hope it will for Barry too, and Henry Aaron, and Maris, McGwire, Sosa, and more.”

And then Babe faded from view. I had more questions for him, about his own life, his legendary feats, how he thought he would fare as a player today, what his stats would look like. And I really wanted to know what he thought about baseball’s future, as a national pastime and an increasingly international one.

Maybe he’ll check in again after Bonds hits No. 715.

 

Super Bowl Sunday Special: The Birth of the NFL Championship

Ticket to Super Bowl I.

Ticket to Super Bowl I.

Thorn’s the name and baseball’s the game, certainly at this blog, now nearing 300 entries. But I confess to having written rather a lot about pro football, too, over the past 35 years, and loving the game. On this Super Bowl Sunday, I am thinking that some of you–even the most diehard of baseball fans, who see this day as a welcome milepost on the road to spring training–may enjoy knowing the origins of the Super Bowl, more distant than 1967. This essay appeared in The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book (Grand Central Publishing, 2012; http://goo.gl/87smeb).

Throughout the 1920s the National Football League was a single entity, without subordinate divisions or conferences. In this the NFL modeled itself on the rise of professional baseball’s league structure, going back to 1871, when the championship was decided by the best record in the league season. Baseball did not have a postseason championship contest until an upstart league in its third campaign, the American Association, challenged the National League to meet in a World Series in 1884.

In the NFL’s first decade, the number of clubs in a given season ranged from a high of 22 in 1926 to a low of 10 only three years later, with no requirement that clubs contending for the championship play an equal number of games. In 1928, for example, the Providence Steam Roller (8–1–2) was named the champion despite having played five fewer games than the Frankford Yellow Jackets (11–3–2). The NFL awarded its championship to the club with the highest winning percentage, disregarding ties—which were plentiful, as were the disputed titles.

But these were not the only issues threatening the continued existence of the NFL. After a brief flurry of prosperity in the wake of the Red Grange tour of 1925, which prompted the formation of a rival American Football League for the following season, pro football sank back into a morass of low-scoring thumb-twiddlers played largely by fly-by-night franchises in second-tier cities. In 1931, half of the league’s teams averaged less than seven points per game.

1926 Red Grange, by  Louis Van Oeyen.

1926 Red Grange, by Louis Van Oeyen.

A relaxing of the substitution rules for 1932, allowing a replaced player to return in a subsequent quarter, failed to boost scoring. In 1932, NFL games averaged only 16.4 points for both teams. Of the 14 games played by the champion Chicago Bears that season, six ended in ties. By this time the league had franchises in New York, Brooklyn, and Boston, and two in Chicago—as well as that hardy ex-urban outlier, Green Bay—but it also had clubs in Staten Island and Portsmouth, Ohio. Along the way, franchises had failed in major cities such as Philadelphia, St. Louis, Detroit, and Cleveland, not to mention Akron, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Louisville, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Newark, Providence, and Toledo.

With the Depression settling in, it seemed that the prospects for professional football were growing dimmer with each passing year. The number of league clubs declined in each year between 1929 and 1932, until only eight teams lined up for play. Competitive imbalance left two-thirds of the NFL’s clubs to play out the string before the frost was on the punkin. The league had neither parity nor a plan for achieving it: the first draft of collegiate players would not come until 1936.

What saved the NFL was a series of happy accidents in the season finales of 1932 and 1933; the first was a playoff game to break a tie for the pennant, while the next was the league’s first championship game, the direct ancestor of our great national festival, the Super Bowl. Rules innovations born of desperation opened up the stodgy old game to the dormant capabilities of the forward pass; innovative play calling and increased scoring came to the rescue just as the lights were about to be shut off.

Coming into the 1932 season the Green Bay Packers, who had won the last three championships, were once again counted as the favorite. However, a midseason tie with the Bears and upset losses to the New York Giants and Portsmouth Spartans left them on the outside looking in despite their record, going into the final weekend, of 10–2–1. Portsmouth had already completed its schedule at 6–1–4, but the 5–1–6 Bears still had one more game to play and, with a win over the defending champions, could pull into a tie.

On December 11 the punchless Bears struggled to a 0–0 tie with the Packers through three snowy quarters in Chicago. In the final period, however, the Bears put up nine points to create the NFL’s first deadlocked season. Had the league compiled its standings then as it does now, and has since 1974—counting each tie as half a win and half a loss—the title would have gone to Green Bay with ten-and-one-half “wins” to Chicago’s nine and Portsmouth’s eight. But in 1932 ties were non-events.

NFL Championship Game, December 18, 1932.

NFL Championship Game, December 18, 1932.

The NFL had no policy for dealing with a season-ending tie for first place; in fact the league didn’t even handle scheduling—that was up to the teams themselves. The Bears and Spartans agreed to hold a showdown game at Chicago on December 18. But Sunday’s snow showed no sign of letting up as the days wore on and paralyzing cold gripped the city. It would be impossible to host the game at Wrigley Field even for the hardiest fans.

This was not to be a postseason championship game, but an additional regular-season game that would be counted in the standings. Whichever team lost would slip to third place behind the Packers!

George Halas, recalling a charity game that the Bears and Cardinals had played only two years before, suggested that the contest be moved indoors to Chicago Stadium. The Spartans, hoping for a change in the weather, waited to commit but on Friday finally relented.

Chicago Stadium, NHL game, February 19, 1930.

Chicago Stadium, NHL game, February 19, 1930.

This indoor facility, built in 1929 to host civic events, hockey games, boxing matches, and circuses, was not meant for football, at 45 yards wide and 80 yards long. Rounded corners further cut into the athletes’ space. With two half-moon end zones, the normal playing surface of 100 yards would somehow have to be shoehorned into 60. Bob Carroll observed:

A circus was scheduled into the stadium a few days later so a six-inch layer of dirt covered the floor. Apparently the dirt was recycled from an earlier circus; several of the players who appeared in the game insisted that years later they still had the smell of elephant manure in their nostrils.

Here necessity proved the mother of invention, as it had for the 1930 exhibition game. The ball was kicked off from the 10-yard line. Only one set of goalposts was used, and that was placed at the goal line, not at the end line. When a team crossed midfield, it immediately was set back twenty yards. Because the 12-foot-high hockey dasher boards surrounded the whole field only a few feet from the sidelines, the ball was moved in ten yards after each out-of-bounds play instead of starting the next play right at the edge, as was the normal practice. The offensive team sacrificed a down each time the ball was thus moved. College football, whose rules the NFL almost universally adopted, had legalized this use of “hash marks” a year earlier, but this was its first use in the pro game. Another special rule dictated that touchbacks were brought out to only the ten. Field goals were banned.

Dutch Clark, 1935 National Chicle card

Dutch Clark, 1935 National Chicle card

Portsmouth had been led all season by quarterback Dutch Clark, but he could not play in the playoff game because, anticipating a December 11 end to the NFL season, he had committed himself to coach basketball at his alma mater, Colorado College, which would permit no delay. Tailback Glenn Presnell picked up the slack, losing a certain touchdown on a fourth-and-goal play from the six-yard line when he slipped on the suspect turf.

The Bears were led by the veteran Red Grange, no longer elusive after injuries to his knees but still a heady runner, and Bronko Nagurski, a 238-pound fullback who trampled would-be tacklers with his head down and his knees pumping, as well as a fearsome linebacker. Although the Spartans had the best of play through three quarters and might well have jumped out on top had field goals been permitted, the score was—yet again in this dismal season for scoring—tied at 0–0. The 12,000 fans that had left their hearths for this indoor novelty game began to wonder why.

Then Chicago halfback Dick Nesbitt intercepted an Ace Gutowsky pass and returned it ten yards before being knocked out of bounds at the Portsmouth seven. The ball was brought into the field ten yards, costing the Bears a down. On second down, Nagurski burst through the line for six yards. On his next try, he lost a yard. Fourth and two! Nagurski faked a plunge into the line, retreated a few steps, and fired a jump pass to Grange for the go-ahead touchdown.

NFL rules allowed a forward pass only if it was thrown five or more yards behind the line of scrimmage. The Spartans protested that Nagurski had not stepped back far enough. The officials disagreed. The Bears added the conversion and, a few moments later, a safety.

Bronko Nagurski, 1935 National Chicle card

Bronko Nagurski, 1935 National Chicle card

Who emerged as the champion of this struggling eight-team league was not the central fact about this game. At their meeting in Pittsburgh in February 1933, NFL owners adopted three rules changes inspired by the playoff confines: (1) the ball was to be moved 10 yards in from the sideline after going out of bounds, without costing the offensive team a down, and hashmarks were placed on the field; (2) goalposts were moved from the end line to the goal line to increase scoring; and (3) a forward pass was allowed from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage, since the previous rule was observed largely in the breach.

These changes began to thaw the game from its defensive deep freeze, increasing scoring and cutting the number of ties in half. George Preston Marshall, owner of the Boston Braves (now the Washington Redskins), seeing that the playoff game of 1932 had won unprecedented coverage for the NFL, urged his fellow magnates to reorganize the league (restored to ten teams for 1933) into Eastern and Western Divisions, with a postseason championship game.

Soon wide-sweeping runs and passes would provide the points that power, endurance, and off-tackle runs had not; the tricky blocking schemes of the single wing soon would seem dowdy compared to the passing plays possible out of the T formation. The forward pass itself was not new. It had entered the game with the collegiate rule changes of 1906, designed to blunt the impact of mass-momentum plays and reduce injury. Brad Robinson, playing for St. Louis University coach Eddie Cochems, is said to have thrown the first legal pass in a September 5, 1906 game against Carroll College at Waukesha, Wisconsin. Notre Dame quarterback Gus Dorais, who is sometimes credited with this innovation himself, entered football lore with his passing exploits against Army in 1913, completing 14 of his 17 heaves of the oblate spheroid, many to end Knute Rockne, in an 35-13 upset victory.

The 1933 championship game, between the defending titlist Bears and the New York Giants, building upon the new rules, pointed the way to the NFL’s future. A razzle-dazzle display rarely if ever equaled since, it retains its status as one of the most exciting football games ever played.

Before the season the Giants, who ran a single-wing offense as did every other NFL club except the Bears, brought in triple-threat quarterback Harry Newman from the University of Michigan. From the dissolved Staten Island Stapletons, they added sturdy halfback Ken Strong. The Giants finished the regular season 11–3, first in the new Eastern Division. Newman, center Mel Hein, and end Red Badgro were named first team All-NFL. The daring Newman led the league in passes completed (53), passing yards (973), and touchdown passes (11), despite completing under 40 percent of his attempts. (The league average that year barely topped 35 percent; Sammy Baugh’s standard of accuracy was still a few years off.) Newman also led his team in rushing.

Harry Newman, Giants QB.

Harry Newman, Giants QB.

The Bears went 10–2–1 and won the Western Division, led again by Grange and Nagurski and a T-formation backfield in which everyone was a threat to throw the ball. Halfback Keith Molesworth, for example, threw more passes than quarterback Carl Brumbaugh. Speedy left end Bill Hewitt, who had caught passes from Harry Newman at Michigan, threw three touchdown passes off end-around plays. The Bears and Giants split their regular-season contests and looked to be evenly matched for the championship game, played on December 17 before 26,000 fans at Wrigley Field.

Expectations of a high-powered offensive display were foiled at the outset as the teams retreated to caveman football, each running the ball three times and punting on its first two possessions. Despite the liberalized passing rule, in 1933 it still borders on heresy to throw the ball inside your own 40-yard line. So teams will run and punt, run and punt—often kicking away on early downs—until a break comes along.

At last it did. Keith Molesworth, the Bears’ diminutive halfback, lofted a punt to Newman, who found a crack straight up the center and scooted to midfield. On third down, four yards to go, with the ball still at the left hashmark, the Giants lined up unbalanced to the right, with the left tackle Len Grant standing to the right of center Hein. Next came a surprise the Giants had cooked up especially for this game: in a simultaneous shift, left end Badgro pulled back from the line, wingback Dale Burnett stepped up alongside right end Ray Flaherty, and Newman moved in behind center, just as a T quarterback would. Thus Burnett became the right end, Flaherty was no longer an eligible receiver, Badgro became a back, and the left end was … Hein! This center-eligible play very nearly providedthe game’s first score, as Hein took a flip from Newman that traveled no more than six inches in the air and hid the ball under his jersey as he jogged downfield. But then he got nervous and began really to run. Hein was tackled short of the goal line, and instead Chicago broke out on top with a couple of Jack Manders field goals. In the second period Newman found Badgro for a ten-yard touchdown and the Giants led at the half, 7–6.

Ken Strong #50,;Harry Newman making tackle; Dale Burnett #18.

Ken Strong #50; Harry Newman making tackle; Dale Burnett #18.

The game warmed up in the second half, as the Giants recorded another touchdown and Manders added a third field goal. Nagurski dusted off his jump pass from the indoor playoff completed a touchdown to Bill Karr. The score was still 16-14, Bears, when the third quarter came to an end with the Giants on the Chicago eight yard line. In this period alone, Newman completed 9 of 10 passes for 131 yards. To appreciate the magnitude of this aerial display, consider that for the entire season, fourteen games, he passed for only 69 yards per contest—and established a new pro record at that!

It is dawning upon those in attendance that this is a different sort of football.

On the first play of the final period, with the ball spotted at the right hashmark, the Giants lined up unbalanced to the right, a formation that seemed to indicate either a pass or an inside run. Yet, at the snap, Strong looped behind Newman, took a short pitch, and motored toward the left end. The play was slow to develop, however, and the right side of the Bear line closed off the outside. About to swallow a loss, Strong heaved an overhand lateral back across the field. Newman juggled the ball, then scrambled right, dodging tacklers while giving up ground to the 15. As the Bears focused their energies on corralling Newman, Strong drifted unaccompanied into the left portion of the end zone and waved for the ball. Newman heaved it nearly 50 yards across the field to Strong, who stumbled into the end zone. This sandlot hocus-pocus is pure inspiration, though in later years it will find its way into the Giants’ playbook (it will never work again). Strong provided the extra point, and the Giants went ahead 21-16.

The fans could scarcely believe what they were seeing.

Then, with most of the final period left to play, the Giants turned conservative in an effort to protect their lead. Time wound down until Strong shanked a punt that gave the Bears the ball barely inside New York territory. With less than two minutes remaining, Brumbaugh took the snap, faked a handoff to Grange, then slapped the ball into Nagurski’s belly. Bronko lowered his head, but instead of proceeding through the hole, he straightened up, leapt, and lobbed the ball to Hewitt some 10 yards downfield. Hewitt takes two steps, with Burnett on his heels. But before Hewitt could be thrown down he lateraled to Karr, who raced into the end zone. After the kick, the Bears led 23–21 with one minute to play.

Strong returned the kickoff to the Giants’ 40; a long field goal will win the game. Newman tried the center-eligible play that had bedeviled the Bears in the first period. It did not work.

The famous Bill Hewitt lateral, 1933 NFL Championship.

The Bill Hewitt lateral, 1933 NFL Championship.

Time for just one more desperation play. Returning to the single wing, Newman faked to Strong while Badgro and Flaherty ran patterns to the left side of the field. Then he flipped a little pass off to the right to halfback Burnett, who ran straight at Grange, playing some 20 yards off the line of scrimmage in a 1930s version of the “prevent” defense. Trailing alongside Burnett is Hein, undefended and ready to receive a lateral the moment Grange makes a move for Burnett. But Red looked in Burnett’s eyes, sensed his own dilemma and, with the instincts of a truly exceptional player, made what George Halas in years to come would describe as “the greatest defensive play I ever saw.” Grange tackled Burnett around the chest, pinning his arms so he could not flip the ball to Hein. Grange didn’t even try to bring Burnett down; he was content to lock him in a bear hug as Hein pled for the ball and time ran out. Whew!

The Bears have won the first NFL championship game, but the real victor is the league itself, which has shown the nation the brand of ball the pros can play. The college coaches will derisively call it basketball, but soon they will imitate it. The future of football has been glimpsed on this day.

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