Monday, March 31, 2008

An Unremarked Baseball Game of 1845

I wish to report a new find of some import while inviting interpretation and debate. In the New York Herald of November 11, 1845 appears the following squib, a trailing part of a larger article on trotting at the Centreveille Track on Long Island.

NEW YORK BASE BALL CLUB:--The second Anniversary of this Club came off yesterday, on the ground in the Elysian fields. The game was as follows:

Runs Runs
Murphy 4 Winslow 4
Johnson 4 Case 4
Lyon 3 Granger 1
Wheaton 3 Lalor 3
Sweet 3 Cone 1
Seaman 1 Sweet 4
Venn 2 Harold 3
Gilmore 1 Clair 2
Tucker 3 Wilson 1
- -
24 23

J.M. Marsh, Esq., Umpire and Scorer

After the match, the parties took dinner at Mr. McCarty’s, Hoboken, as a wind up for the season. The Club were honored by the presence of representatives from the Union Star Cricket Club, the Knickerbocker Clubs, senior and junior, and other gentlemen of note.

As others have noted, searching electronic databases may provide erratic results. When I ran “base ball” through the New York Herald of the 1840s some time back (using Gale’s 19th Century Newspapers as well as Newsbank’s Early American Newspapers) I failed to pick up the item above. It also did not emerge from searches for “New York base” or “ball club” or other plausible (and implausible) search terms.

However, last week I got lucky by searching for “Union Star Cricket Club,” whose members made up the Brooklyn Ball Club that played against the New York Base Ball Club in a home-and-home match on October 21 and 24, 1845. I call these games home-and-home though neither was played in New York. The first match was played at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken, home to the NYBBC since its formal founding under that name in November 1843 (the same month in which the Magnolia Ball Club of New York, as previously reported here, mustered its players for a ball game in Hoboken). The second match was played at the grounds of the Union Star Cricket Club on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn. Both games were played eight to the side, as depicted in the Magnolia Ball Club ticket [see:

Several interesting things emerge from this newfound notice of the game played on November 10.

Prominent Knickerbocker names are present—Wheaton, Tucker, Cone, Clair (Clare). So too are Gotham players of earlier prominence—Lalor, Ransom, Murphy, Johnson, Winslow, Case. The Davis who plays here and in the game of June 19, 1846 is likely not James Whyte Davis, who was elected a member in 1850 and marked his 25th anniversary with the club in 1875. Venn is Harry Venn, proprietor of the Gotham Cottage (a billiard and bowling saloon) at 298 Bowery, longtime clubhouse to the Gotham BBC. Gilmore is one of the cricketers who played baseball with the Brooklyns on October 21 and 24.

The game was played nine to the side, clearly to 21 runs or more in equal innings. The two sides were unnamed, and the game was an intramural one despite the presence of Knickerbockers (senior and junior, no less, possibly denoting a first nine and a muffin outfit, rather than being broken out by age, for a club that had organized not even two months before). While the New Yorks and their invited friends were celebrating their second year as an organized club, on another field in Hoboken the Knickerbockers were playing an intramural match all their own.

Playing with eight to the side, including a first appearance for Charles S. Debost, the squads lined up this way:

Turney Morgan
W. O'Brien


Van Nostrand
J. O'Brien

There is more work to be done with all this, certainly, but the NYBBC intramural match of November 10, 1845, seems to me to have more in common with the purported “first match game” of June 19, 1846, than with the “next” match against the Gotham club almost five years later (June 11, 1851, with the Knicks winning by a count of 21-11) ... which I believe to have been the true first.

Charles A. Peverelly wrote this in 1866, clearly fed his lines by a member of the Knickerbockers:

On June 5, 1846, the first honorary members were elected, viz. James Lee and Abraham Tucker. At the same meeting Curry, Adams and Tucker were appointed a committee to arrange the preliminaries, and conclude a match with the New York Base Ball Club. From all the information the writer has been able to gather, 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. However, the match was played at Hoboken on June 19, 1846, it being the first the Club engaged in, and the particulars are certainly not creditable as far as runs are concerned. But four innings were played, as it will be remembered the game was won by the parties making twenty-one aces, or over, on even innings.

The scoresheet from that game was written over and altered in later years, probably by James Whyte Davis, to give the game the appearance of a match between two distinct clubs. But was it viewed that way by the men who had played in it? John Bowman and Joel Zoss address this question in their brilliant book, Diamonds in the Rough.

William R. Wheaton, who umpired the game of October 24, 1845 between New York and Brooklyn, umpired as well the Knick game of October 6, 1845, and played in the game of November 10, 1845 for the New Yorks, also drew up the original Knickerbocker rules with William H. Tucker. Before that, he averred, he had drawn up the rules for the Gotham/NYBBC club of the 1830s, and these were adopted with little if any change by the Knicks.

In short, Wheaton is a man who ought to know. He left New York in the Gold Rush of 1849, never to return, but kept up his interest in the game he had helped to create. In 1887 he said to a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, in a piece titled “HOW BASEBALL BEGAN: A Member of the Gotham Club of Fifty Years Ago Tells About It” [note the implicit reference to 1837]:

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.... We played no exhibition or match games [emphasis mine—jt], 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.

--John Thorn


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