America's National Game/Chapter 5

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

America's National Game 0091.jpg

(——)DavisDe Bost(——)StevensHa(illegible text)

CHAPTER V.

FIRST ASSOCIATION OF BASE BALL CLUBS—SOME EARLY MATCHES—INTRODUCTION OF THE GAMBLING EVIL WITH ITS RESULTANT DEMORALIZATION—THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BASE BALL PLAYERS.

1855-60

IF it is true that the organization of the first Base Ball club, in the old Knickerbockers, marked the initial epoch in the history of the game, it must also be admitted that the coalition of numerous clubs, that they might work together for the advancement of common interests, inaugurated a second era of equal import.

For several years new clubs had been coming rapidly into existence. Thoughtful players of every team had views for the improvement of the game. It had long been apparent that some of the rules were inconsistent and prejudicial to the best development of the sport. All were agreed that certain modifications of the old Knickerbocker system ought to be introduced at as early a date as practicable. The need was pressing. Field contests were constantly increasing in numbers and interest, while misunderstandings, misinterpretations and dissensions on ball fields were multiplying in consequence.

Meanwhile, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, having served its important purpose of taking the initiative in organization, seemed to have outgrown its usefulness, and became an actual stumbling block in the path of progress. This silk-stocking aggregation, never able to play a very brilliant game, had been reluctant to accept challenges from shipwrights, boilermakers and other grades of "greasy mechanics." Not wishing to be drawn into too close fellowship with the rabble, and perhaps dreading the humiliation of defeat at the hands of plebian upstarts, the Knickerbockers held aloof, practicing occasionally—between banquets—usually among their own exclusive membership, satisfied with the mouldy laurels won before live competition had appeared, and resting upon the glory of their unquestioned title as the first, if not "greatest ever."

The attitude of the Knickerbockers was for some time quite embarrassing to the interests of Base Ball. It was important that this organization, whose playing rules had been very generally adopted, but which needed so many changes, should co-operate with other clubs to that end. But no. The "Knicks" were satisfied with the rules, which were good enough for them—for anybody, they thought. And thus the matter rested, the original club declining overtures for matches, for conferences or for association. They were it, and it they proposed to remain.

Perhaps we ought not too harshly to criticize the Knickerbockers for their attitude at this period in the history of the game. They had been present at the accouchement and had witnessed the birth of Base Ball. Ever, since that glad day, the Knickerbockers had rocked the cradle of the infant prodigy, until they had come to regard themselves as in every way its special guardian and caretaker. They could not be induced to look with any favor upon the efforts of the Excelsiors, the Atlantics, the Gothams, the Putnams and other remote, aspiring relatives, to butt in under claims of ties of consanguinity. Especially were the Knickerbockers jealous of any attempts on the part of these rank outsiders to assume the functions of formulating rules for the disciplinary government of their child. The Base Ball infant had come into the world under the most auspicious conditions. From the very beginning, its surroundings had been pre-eminently respectable, and all its leadings had been along lines most proper and decorous. If the Knickerbockers had, in their fondness for the youngster, over-fed it at times and withheld a due amount of exercise, their intentions at least had been sincere and solicitous.

And now, it was proposed by these interlopers to introduce the kidlet into society—and such society! How were the Knickerbockers to meet the influences for evil which they thought would surely assail their darling if it came in touch with coarse and vulgar people who lived over on Long Island?

But that was not all. The Knickerbockers had been organized after the pattern of the ancient Marylebone Cricket Club, of England, which for centuries, more or less, had made every rule for the government of Cricket in Great Britain and her colonies—and which does so still. To question the right of the Marylebone Club to dictate in all matters of the British national game, on the other side of the Atantic, was rank heresy. And who were these pretenders, anyhow, who were disputing the Knickerbockers' right, which had never been questioned until now,

America's National Game 0097.jpg

WILLIAM H. VAN COTT

to supervise and control Base Ball in America? And so the situation continued, full of embarrassments, full of disappointments, full of delays.

Finally a compromise was effected. It was agreed that the Great and Only Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, the First Base Ball Organization in all the Wide, Wide World, should, by reason of its seniority and lofty standing, call a convention in the interests of the game. This first convention was held in May, 1857, but, beyond adopting certain rules regulating matches for the ensuing year, no business affecting the game was transacted.

The second convention was also called by the Knickerbockers, on March 10th, 1858, but before this call was issued, the Knickerbockers, always refined and courteous, permitted the presidents of the Gotham, Eagle and Empire Clubs to add their signatures to the call.

Twenty-five clubs were represented at this convention by three delegates each, and the business transacted was of great importance to the future of Base Ball.

Hitherto the game had been controlled as to its playing rules largely by local prejudices. It was played under one set of rules in New York and another in New England, and other still widely different regulations were applied to the game elsewhere. In New York, batsmen were out on balls caught on the first bound; in New England, base runners were out by being "soaked" by thrown balls, and everywhere a batsman might wait all the afternoon for a strike ball, he alone being the judge of what he would strike at.

The organization of the National Association of Base Ball Players, in 1858, therefore marked a new era in the history of the game, for it was then that there was put in operation for the first time a code of rules, framed by a special committee of the new association for that express purpose.

The officers elected in 1858, when the National Association of Base Ball Players was formed, were: President, William H. Van Cott, of the Gothams; First Vice-President, L. B. Jones, of the Excelsiors; Second Vice-President, Thomas S. Dakin, of the Putnams; Recording Secretary, J. Ross Postley, of the Metropolitans; Corresponding Secretary, Theodore F. Jackson, of the Putnams; Treasurer, E. H. Brown, of the Metropolitans.

It will be observed that the Knickerbockers, despite their former greatness, had already begun to fade away. Representatives from that club were conspicuous by their absence in the official roster of the new association. Practical politics had entered the game.

The first season after the organization of the National Association of Base Ball Players saw several series of remarkable games between picked nines representing the foremost clubs of New York and Brooklyn. Prior to these contests, the regular matches of each recurring season had attracted assemblages numbering only a few hundreds; but these games, inviting local partisanship, proved to be great drawing cards, bringing out the largest crowds ever seen at ball games up to that year.

The contests were held on the Fashion Race Course, on Long Island, during July, August and September of 1858. The first of the series of three games was played on July 20th. On account of the expense incurred in putting the grounds in order—and it was very poor order at that—an admission fee of 50 cents was charged.

This was the first game of Base Ball on record where gate money was demanded and received from spectators. The difficulty of reaching the grounds was considerable. Most of those in attendance came by small steamer from the Fulton Ferry to Hunter's Point, and thence by the Flushing Railroad to the Fashion Course. This, of course, materially lessened the numbers of the crowd. Nevertheless, nearly 1,500 people saw the game, a great throng for those days.

In this contest, the Brooklyn nine opened with a lead of 3 to at the end of the first innings, and at the end of the second the score stood 5 to 1. Then the New Yorks struck a streak of luck and in the next three innings added thirteen to their score, to six added by the Brooklyns, showing a score at the end of the sixth of 16 to 13 in New York's favor. In the last three innings the Brooklyns made five runs to six for the New Yorks, the final score showing New York 22, Brooklyn 18.

Something of the nature of the game played at this time may be known from the fact that of the 27 Brooklyntes put out 13 were out on balls caught on a first bound, while the New Yorks lost 14 on similar catches. Eleven bases were made on passed balls, charged to Brooklyn's catcher, while New York's catcher lost only two.

The second match of the New York-Brooklyn series took place on August 19th. On this occasion the Brooklyns had considerably strengthened their nine. As in the

America's National Game 0101.jpg

OLD-TIME BASE BALL UNIFORMS
1. Pabor 2. Matt Yorston 3. "Deacon" Rogers

former game, Brooklyn took the lead in the start; but, unlike the previous game, the New Yorks failed to rally successfully. At the close of the sixth innings the Brooklyns led, 22 to 6, and at the end of the game were easy victors, having made 29 runs to 8 by their adversaries.

Another month elapsed before the final contest to decide the winner of two out of three matches came off. The date was September 10. By this time a widespread interest in the result had sprung up in both cities, and something of the spirit of local partisanship which characterizes league games at the present time was apparent. The crowd in attendance upon this event was the largest that had ever been seen on a ball field, numbering several thousands. In previous matches players from all the different clubs from each city were in the game; but in the final struggle, six players from the Atlantics and three from the Eckfords were on the Brooklyn team, while representatives from all of New York's quartet of clubs participated. The fight for supremacy in this game was very bitter. Both teams were on their mettle, every player feeling that the future welfare of the city represented by him depended upon the result. But it was apparent early in the game that the New Yorks were that day the better nine, and at the end of the ninth innings the score was 29 to 18 in favor of the boys from the big city.

In this game, a total of 27 men were out on balls caught on the first bound. In the entire contest no batsman was retired on strikes. During the three games only one home run was made, and on this run "hangs a tale" told by the late Henry Chadwick, in these words:

"Two Brooklyn cranks had a wager of $100 a side on John Holden's making a home run. One was an Atlantic rooter, the other an Excelsior fan. In this game I noticed that when Holden went to bat he was very particular in selecting his bat. It appears that the man who had bet on him went to him and told him that he would give him $25 of his bet if he made the hit; so Jack was very anxious. Matty O'Brien was pitching, and Jack, after waiting for a good ball, got one to suit him, and sent it flying over Harry Wright's head at right center, and made the round of the bases before the ball was returned, thus winning the $25."

Aside from the story itself, this tale is interesting as showing that already, almost at the inception of the playing of match games between organized teams in rival cities, betting on the result, which was to make so much for mischief in the future, was beginning to be in evidence.