America's National Game/Chapter 4

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

America's National Game 0071.jpg





ALTHOUGH accepting the finding of the Commission of 1907 as definitely establishing the American origin of our national game, and that it was first put on record by the scheme devised by young Doubleday, in 1839, it is known that the game of Base Ball, in crude form, had been played for many years previous to that date, and it was doubtless from the fact of his familiarity with it in earlier years that the embryo Major General was inspired to formulate his system looking toward its perfection.

In his admirable little work, entitled "Base Bail," Mr. John Montgomery Ward, the famous old time player, and at present a member of the New York bar, declares that:

"Col. James Lee, elected an honorary member of the Knickerbocker Club in 1846, said that he had often played the game when a boy, and at that time he was a man of sixty or more years.

"Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Said to the reporter of a Boston paper that Base Ball was one of the sports of his college days at Harvard, and Dr. Holmes graduated in 1829.

"Mr. Charles DeBost, the catcher and captain of the old Knickerbockers, played Base Ball on Long Island fifty years ago, and it was the same game which the Knickerbockers afterward played."

No longer ago than last year, the following appeared in the columns of the Erie (Pa.) Tribune:

To the Editor of The Tribune.

Sir: I find this morning in The Tribune an article on the "Origin of Base Ball" quoted from another periodical. In this article it is said that Base Ball probably grew out of the English game of "rounders."

I am in my eighty-third year, and I know that seventy years ago, as a boy at school in a country school district in Erie County, Pa., I played Base Ball with my schoolmates; and I know it was a common game long before my time. It had just the same form as the Base Ball of to-day, and the rules of the game were nearly the same as they are now.

One bad feature of the old game, I am glad to say, is not now permitted. The catchers, both the one behind the batter and those on the field, could throw the ball and hit the runner between the bases with all the swiftness he could put into it—"burn him," it was called. That cruel part of the game has been abolished; the ball is now thrown to the base before the runner reaches it, if possible, and this puts him out.

I never heard of the game called "rounders." "One old cat" or "two old cat" was played then as now; but it was in nothing like the Base Ball of my boyhood day's. Real Base Ball, with some slight variation of the rules, as it has came down to the present day must be at least a hundred years old; it may be a thousand. Perhaps it has come down to us from the old times of the Greeks' and Romans, as many games and other good things have done.

Erie, Pa., April 8, 1910. Andrew H. Caughey.

At a Puritan banquets held at Detroit, Mich., December 17, 1908, among the speakers were Ray Stannard Baker, the Michigan author; R. F. Sutherland, of Windsor, Speaker of the Canadian Parliament, and Samuel J. Elder, the prominent Boston lawyer. Mr. Elder replied to the toast, "The Puritans," and treated the subject in a rather anecdotal way. He told a number of instances of the humor of the early Puritans, among other things mentioning Gov. Bradford's account of a ball game at Plymouth. It seemed that some of the newcomers refused to work on Christmas Day because it was "against their conscience" to work on that day, and were duly excused on account of their scruples. Returning from work, however, the Governor found them playing ball in the streets, and told them it was "against his conscience" that they should play and others work. He therefore took away their ball and bats, and thus broke up what may have been the first ball game in America.

However, for lack of any Organized clubs whose records were preserved, there is a dearth of information on the subject of Base Ball in its earlier years, save that which comes to us from the recollections of men such as gave utterance to the foregoing excerpts. But these were men of the past, not the present century, and it is so far a cry from 1911 to 1830, that memories of those now living who were old enough to play ball in the remote days referred to cannot be depended upon as a safe guide for the historian of to-day.

Nevertheless, it is of record that as early as the year 1842 a number of New York gentlemen—and I use the term "gentlemen" in its highest social significance—were accustomed to meet regularly for Base Ball practice games. It does not appear that any of these were world-beaters in the realm of athletic sports. Their records are not among those of famous athletes of their day. Indeed, there is reason to believe that these fine old fellows shone more resplendently in the banquet hall than on the diamond field. The records of the club, faithfully kept and most beautifully transcribed, indicate far less attention to achievements in the game of ball than to exploits in the realms of gastronomy.

The Knickerbockers! Dear old fellows! How the

America's National Game 0075.jpg


very name of their organization suggests respectability! There is no photo of the players of that team on the field, but one almost unconsciously uniforms them in white silk stockings, shoes with silver buckles, silk knee breeches, blue swallow-tail coats and powdered wigs, under hats with the white cockade! They did not put up much of a game of Base Ball as we understand it now, those nice old boys; the curved ball was not in evidence, the spit-ball had not put in an appearance; the base on balls was an unknown factor, and if any player of that club ever slid to base, it was on skates or a hand-sled in the games regularly played by them every winter on frozen ponds.

But, while they left us no records of 1-0 twenty-four innings games, let us ever hold in memory the stamp of respectability imparted to Base Ball by its earliest champions. Let us never forget that the men who first gave impetus to our national sport in the way of organization for that purpose were gentlemen "to the manor born," men of fine tastes, of high ability, of upright character. It was not until long after the days of the Knickerbockers that Base Ball was nearly ruined by the ascendancy of rowdies and gamblers. But of this more anon.

It was in the year 1845—although the Knickerbockers had been playing practice games since 1842—that the desirability of effecting a formal organization was first conceived. Previous to that time its members had been held together by ties of congeniality; now, the element of business system was to be injected.

To Alexander J. Cartwright, beyond doubt, belongs the honor of having been the first to move in the direction of securing an organization of Base Ball players. It is of record that in the spring of 1845 Mr. Cartwright, being present and participating in a practice game of ball, proposed to others the formal association of themselves together as a Base Ball club. His suggestion met approval, and a self-constituted committee, consisting of Alexander J. Cartwright, D. F. Curry, E. R. Dupignac, Jr., W. H. Tucker and W. R. Wheaton, at once set about securing signatures of those who were desirous of belonging to such an organization. The result of the efforts of this committee was the gaining of a nucleus for what soon became the famous Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, of New York, the first recorded association of Base Ball players in the world. The organization was perfected September 23, 1845.

Alexander J. Cartwright, whose portrait is presented in connection with this chapter, was born in New York City in the first decade of the Nineteenth Century. He left his native city in 1849 and crossed the plains to California, attracted by the gold craze of that sensational era. He remained in the Golden State for only one year, sailing for the Hawaiian (then Sandwich) Islands, in 1850. There he spent the remainder of his active life, dying at Honolulu in 1892.

From early boyhood, Mr. Cartwright was an enthusiastic devotee of Base Ball. Beginning as the originator of the first Base Ball association in the world, and continuing his connection with that club as player and office-bearer until the time of his departure in 1849, to seek his fortunes in the Far West, he never lost interest in the game. His son, Mr. Bruce Cartwright, a prominent citizen of Honolulu, in a personal letter to me, under date March 22, 1909, says:

"Although far removed from the field of his former activities, he never forgot Base Ball, and never missed an opportunity of being present whenever the game was played here."

Alexander J. Cartwright, among many other thousands, was one of the devotees of Base Ball disappointed by reason of the failure of the steamer "Alameda" to make schedule time, on the occasion of the visit of the "All America" and Chicago teams to Honolulu, on their world-tour in 1888-9.

This worthy man, whose loss was deeply mourned at the Hawaiian capital, where he was universally respected and beloved, had a life history contemporaneous with that of the birth and development of the game he so greatly admired. He had been present when the game was born. He had a part in its first organization. He had witnessed its progress throughout the years of its evolution and had seen it adopted not only as the national pastime of the land of his nativity, but had seen it become the favorite sport of the capital city of that far-off island of the Pacific which he had adopted as his home.

The first officers chosen by the Knickerbocker Club were Duncan F. Curry, President; William R. Wheaton, Vice-President; William H. Tucker, Secretary and Treasurer. The original playing grounds were on Manhattan Island and later on the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, New Jersey, at that time the city's most popular summer resort.

America's National Game 0079.jpg


The organization of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club was the beginning of a most important era in the history of the game, for it was the first recorded movement of that kind. The right and title to the distinction of being the first organized Base Ball club in the world belongs to the old Knickerbocker Club. That honor has never been called in question. For more than thirty years the Knickerbocker Club maintained an amateur organization, and as such was regarded as a model in every respect.

But the claim to be the "only" club of ball players, was not long to remain unchallenged. The organization of the Knickerbockers soon bore fruit. In 1846 a party of players, styling themselves "The New York Nine," issued a challenge to the Knickerbockers to play a match—for a dinner, of course. The event came off at Hoboken, N. J., on the 19th of June, and it was the first contest of the kind ever played on those grounds.

The Knickerbocker team included Messrs. Turney, Adams, Tucker, Birney, Avery, H. and D. Anthony, Tryon and Paulding. The New York Nine comprised Messrs. Davis, Winslow, Ransom, Murphy, Case, Johnson, Thompson, Trenchard and Lalor.

The contest was a very one-sided affair. The challengers won by a score of 23 to 1, only four innings being necessary to secure the required 21 runs, and to teach the Knickerbockers that Base Ball is a game not simply for the cultivation of the social amenities. It was five years before the Knickerbockers engaged in another Base Ball match, but the annual banquets and occasional practice games continued as before.

In 1850 another team, under the title "The Washington Club," put in an appearance at the Old Red House grounds at Yorkville. Subsequently, in June, 1851, the Washingtons challenged the Knickerbockers. The game took place June 3d of that year. The Knickerbockers, having profited by their defeat at the hands of the New York Nine, had been giving more attention to practice than to pastry, and had greatly improved their game. They appeared upon the grounds in new uniforms, composed of blue trousers, white shirts and straw hats, creating a profound sensation. The score of this game was 21 to 11 in favor of the Knickerbockers, in eight innings.

It may be well to explain that, at this stage of the development of our national game, the final result was contingent, not upon the score as it stood at the end of nine innings, as now, but upon the winning of 21 runs in any requisite number of innings.

The return game of this series was played on June 17th, 1851, on the Hoboken grounds of the Knickerbockers. It was also won by the latter by a score of 22 to 20, in a hotly contested game of ten innings, which was followed by the usual banquet.

The Washington Club met defeat well. Undaunted by their double drubbing at the hands of the Knickerbockers, the team continued its practice games regularly, and greatly strengthened its play by the reception of a large number of new members from whom players were selected.

In 1852, the Washington Club (of New York), recognizing the apparent inappropriateness of title, changed its name to "The Gotham Club," and at once became a strong rival of the Knickerbockers. For two years the Gothams sought in vain to defeat their metropolitan adversaries. On June 24th, 1852, however, they at last succeeded, but only at the end of a contest unprecedented up to that time. The game lasted sixteen innings, the score finally standing 21 to 16 in favor of the Gothams.

The game of Base Ball played at this time was known as "The New York Game." It was played according to the printed rules of the Knickerbocker Club, which were recognized throughout the Empire State as authority. In New England, however, another code for the playing of the game was in operation. It was a modification of the old "Town Ball," which had been played in different sections of the country for some years, and to which New England players had given the title of "Base Ball," which was clearly a misnomer, for it retained several of the features that had been eliminated by Doubleday's system, upon which the Knickerbocker rules were founded—notably the "soaking" of base runners with thrown balls.

About the time the Knickerbocker Club had been ten years in existence, the New York game had become quite generally established and widely accepted in New York and vicinity. Now, new clubs rapidly increased in numbers, and interest in the game became widespread.

Following the reorganization of the Gothams from the ranks of the Washingtons, in 1852, the Eagles, of New York, in 1854, began to soar. Next in order was the Empire Base Ball Club, in the fall of the same year, with Thomas G. Voorhis as President.

America's National Game 0083.jpg

  C.Willing   H. Manolt   E.Brown   P.Totisvan   F.Pidgeon   J.Vanderbilt   W.Webster   J. Grumm   A. Mills  
Dr. Bell, Umpire William Butts, Scorer

The City of New York had now a quartet of fully organized clubs, every one of which became famous in the decade in which all were born. The splendid work done by these pioneers of the nation's game was productive of far-reaching results. It attracted the attention of sport-loving people all over the eastern part of the land to the fact that the game as played in New York was a sport worthy of adoption throughout the entire country.

It was impossible that so fine a game should long be monopolized by any city, so it came about in the natural order of things that as early as December, 1854, the Excelsiors, of Brooklyn, were organized, with J. Nelson Tappan as President. The Excelsiors, while retaining their organization intact, and playing frequent practice games, did not do much in the way of contests until 1860, when they won fame and favor as we shall see later on.

In the following May, 1855, the Putnams, of Williamsburgh, a suburb of Brooklyn, were organized, and a little later, in June, of the same year, the Eckfords, of Greenpoint, also an outlying community of Brooklyn, adopted articles of association. One year later, in July, 1856, the Atlantics, of Jamaica, were organized. And now the Knickerbockers, Gothams, Eagles and Empires, of New York, were offset by a Brooklyn quartet, composed of the Excelsiors, Putnams, Eckfords and Atlantics.

It must not be understood that these eight clubs constituted all the Base Ball organizations of the time. There were others, many others, and numerous clubs in many smaller cities were engaged during the decade of the fifties in active competition.

A very interesting story of one of these matches is preserved in the files of Wilkes' Spirit of the Times. Writing for that old time popular sporting periodical, Captain Frank Pigeon, pitcher of the Eckfords, of Brooklyn, thus chronicles the first match game in which that organization participated, and which was played at the Old Red House grounds, September 27th, 1856, with the Unions, of Morrisania. It will be noted that up-to-date journalism had not "caught on" sixty years ago as it has to-day. The report of a game of Base Ball nearly a year and a half old would hardly be regarded as news in this century of the world's progress. Captain Pigeon wrote:

"A year ago last August a small number of young men of that part of the city known as 'The Island,' were accustomed to meet for the purpose of enjoying the game. Being shipwrights and mechanics, we could not make it convenient to practice more than once a week; and we labored under the impression that want of practice and our having so few players from whom to select a nine would make it almost impossible for us to win a match even if we engaged in one. However, we were willing to do the best we could if some club would give us an invitation to play. But, alas, no such invitation came, and we began to doubt seriously if we were worth taking notice of.

"Still, we had some merry times among ourselves; we would forget business and everything else on Tuesday afternoons, go out on the green fields, don our ball suits, and go at it with a rush. At such times we were boys again. Such sport as this brightens a man up, and improves him, both in mind and body. After longing for a match, yet so dreading (not a defeat—we were sure of that) a regular Waterloo, we finally, through sheer desperation, expressed a wish to play the winners in a match between the Baltic and Union Clubs of Morrisania.

"The Unions won, and signified their willingness to play us. Well, we had got what we wanted—a match; and then, what? Why, we would have to do the best we could. The day came at last, on which we were to meet the conquerors of the Baltic; and nine determined, but badly scared men, whistling to keep up their spirits, might have been seen wending their way to the Red House. It would be difficult to describe the sensations we felt that day—such an intense desire to win, and such a dread of defeat. We knew that, if badly beaten, we could never succeed in building up a club. Many of our friends would not go to see the match because they did not wish to witness our defeat. * * *

"But the game. 'We pulled off our coats, and rolled up our sleeves;' we stood up to the rack, but were very nervous—first appearance on any stage. Our first man took the bat; tipped out; great dependence placed on him. Good Heaven, how unfortunate. Next man got scared; caught out. No use trying to win. Do the best we can, however. Steady, boys, steady. Third man gave the ball a regular crusher. One desperate yell burst from eight throats and I am not sure that the striker did not yell with the rest. First base, go it. Second base, come up. Go again, stay there. Another fortunate strike; man on third base got home. Glory. One run. Oh, how proud the Eckford club were at that run." Some ran to the umpire's book to see how it looked on paper.

"The innings ended with three runs for the Eckford. The Union took the bat, and made two runs. Could it be possible? We could scarcely believe it. We did the best we could to keep our end up, and by that means we overdid the matter, and the result was: Eckford, 22; Union, 8. About seven o'clock that evening, nine peacocks might have been seen on their way home, with tail-feathers spread. Our friends were astonished, as well as ourselves, and all felt rejoiced at the result."

This victory had a remarkable effect on the welfare of the Eckford Club, for henceforth members came flocking in by scores, and its game was greatly strengthened thereby.

The late Henry Chadwick, writing of this club, says:

"I remember seeing the Eckfords play a game in the fifties at the Old Manor House grounds in Williamsburgh. Their opponents that day were the Atlantics. It was then I first saw Frank Pigeon pitch. The visitors had no warrant to defeat the Eckfords; but the

Atlantics had the prestige of success to help them, and the home team lacked confidence. Their captain saw what was the matter with them, and Frank said to them, 'Boys, just forget that you are playing the Atlantics, and go in as if you were facing a common nine.' There was philosophy in this advice, but the Eckfords could not get rid of the idea that they were playing against the champions, and, failing to play with confidence, they lost."

In an old copy of the Baltimore Sun, it is stated that

America's National Game 0087.jpg

Smith, l.f. Ketchum, 3b. Shelly, 3b. Pabor, p. Austin, c.f. Goldie, 1b.
Beals, r.f. Birdsall, c. Akin, s.s. Martin, 2b.

the first game of Base Ball played in Baltimore took place on a field located on ground that was later excavated for the bottom of a park lake. As to the inception of the game in Baltimore, the writer says: "Mr. George Beam, of Orendorf, Beam & Co., wholesale grocers, was invited in 1858 by Joseph Leggett to see a game in New York, in which the old Excelsiors of that city contested. Mr. Beam at once became an enthusiast, and returned to this city and organized the Excelsiors of Baltimore, in the wholesale trade on the wharf. Nearly all the players were business men. The Excelsiors lasted until 1861, and its members twice a week went to the diamond in an omnibus, which started from Exchange Place and Commerce Street. Large numbers of young men living on Madison Avenue would follow the bus to see the new game. The club soon moved to a lot at the southwest corner of Madison and North Avenues."

In 1860, the great Excelsiors, of New York, were invited over to give instructions in the game, and the Waverley Club, organized in 1860, offered its grounds, afterwards known as "Pastime Grounds," and there the games were played.

Among the New York players were Leggett, Creighton, Pearsall, Whiting, Flannery, Brainard, Polhemus. The Baltimore nine were Beam, Woods, Schriver, A. Woods, Mitchell, Pitman, Williams, Hank and Hazlett. The Excelsiors, of Baltimore, that night tendered to the Excelsiors, of New York, a regal banquet.

In addition to the New York and Brooklyn clubs composing the double quartet of which mention has been made, the names of the Mutuals, Harlems and Baltics, of New York, the Unions, of Morrisania, and the Continentals, of Brooklyn, might be quoted, but, with the exception of the Mutuals and Unions, none of these clubs ever attained that mark of excellence in play gained by the more famous organizations first referred to.

Before the decade of the fifties had ended, the game of Base Ball had reached a stage of popularity which called into being so many clubs—all of which, with the exception of the Libertys, of New Brunswick, N. J., were located within the present city limits of Greater New York—that a new epoch in the history of the game followed as a natural sequence in the order of development.

Following is a list of clubs organized up to and including 1857:

Clubs Organized Location of Grounds
Knickerbocker September 23, 1845 Hoboken
Gotham Spring of 1852 Harlem
Eagle April, 1854 Hoboken
Empire October 23, 1854 Hoboken
Excelsior December 8, 1854 South Brooklyn
Putnam May, 1855 Williamsburgh
Newark May 1, 1855 Newark
Baltic June 4, 1855 New York
Eckford June 27, 1855 Greenpoint
Union July 17, 1855 Morrisania
Atlantic August 14, 1855 Williamsburgh
Atlantic August, 1855 Jamaica, L. I.
Continental October, 1855 Williamsburgh
Harlem March, 1856 New York
Enterprise June 26, 1856 Williamsburgh
Active October, 1856 Hoboken
Star October, 1856 South Brooklyn
Independent January, 1857 New York
Liberty March 1, 1857 New Brunswick, N. J.
Metropolitan March 4, 1857 New York
Champion March 14, 1857 New York
Hamilton March 23, 1857 Brooklyn
St. Nicholas April 28, 1857 Hoboken
Mutual June 24, 1857 Williamsburgh