On June 19, 1846, the first officially recognized baseball game took place. It was on this day that the New York Knickerbockers played against the New York Nine club at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. Though variations and disputes exist as to the claim of when baseball began, this game served as major steppingstone in the evolution of the sport. Games were also recorded before this one, but it has been said this one was the first under the rules of the game's inventor Alexander Cartwright, too.
The two teams were to play in Manhattan, but found the softer grounds at Elysian Fields to be more suitable. The field was run by Colonel John Stevens, and it cost $75 a year at the time to rent it across the Hudson River.
Alexander Cartwright founded the Knickerbocker club(named after the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company) in 1842 and he led a group to form his version of the rules for the game. Prior to finding the club, he was a bookseller and volunteer firefighter in Manhattan. Though it is disputed by some historians, he was officially credited as the game's inventor by Congress in 1953.
The Knickerbockers actually played a stick-and-ball game called the town game in their early years. President Duncan F. Curry, Vice President William R. Wheaton, and secretary-treasurer William H. Tucker were the officers for the club. They would later be the first team to wear uniforms in 1849.
The New York Nine was founded after players from the Knickerbocker club had chosen not to use the ferries to cross the Hudson River because of the distance away from home. Under the 20 Cartwright rules of the game, the two met for the first time in 1846.
With Cartwright as the umpire for this game, he made the calls under his rules for both teams. The conduct for the contest was strictly enforced, too.
The game itself was not a competitive one as the Nine beat the Knickerbockers 23-1 in four innings. Murphy and Case, the No. 4 and No. 5 hitters for the Nine, scored four runs a piece and never recorded an out. Birney, the No. 4 hitter for the Knickerbockers, scored the only run for his team.
Much of the reason for the lopsided score in favor of the Nine had to do with the unwillingness of Cartwright's players to cross the Hudson River to play this game. Another was that many of the Nine players were from the Knickerbockers team, and they formed their own for not wanting to go the distance into New Jersey.
During the contest, James Whyte Davis was fined six cents by Cartwright for swearing after what he thought was a bad call. Davis was a Wall Street broker when not playing the game, and the official scoreboard notes his fine. He did score three runs in the contest.
Curry was in attendance for the landmark game, and described what he saw that day.
"An awful beating, you say, at our own game, but, you see the majority of the New York Club’s players were cricketeers, and clever ones at that game, and their batting was the feature of their work" said Curry. "The pitcher of the New York nine was a cricket bowler of some note, and while one could use only a straight arm delivery he could pitch an awfully speedy ball. The game was in a crude state. No balls were called on the pitcher, which was a great advantage to him, and when he did get them over the plate they came in so fast our batsmen could not see them."
The origin of baseball is possibly disputed more than other sport when you consider that it was thought that Abner Doubleday was the game's inventor in 1839. However, no evidence exists as of now to give him that title. Even Cartwright's role in the invention of the game is still in dispute as well especially with rules.
Some historians actually don't credit the Knickerbockers of playing their first game on this day simply because players of the club formed their own team. Historians note their first actual game against a completely different club was in 1851. The first game that is recorded in 1845 involved the New York and Brooklyn teams and not the Knickerbocker club. However, it is not known if that game was actually played under Cartwright rules which many state is the reason the Knickerbocker-Nine game is recognized as the first official modern-day baseball game.
Rules such as a ball being in the hands of fielder while touching base as well as foul balls outside first and third base were indeed used for the first time in this game. Previously, fielders could throw the ball at the runners for an out.
Other rules that allowed a batter to be out if the ball is caught on a first bounce existed. Eventually, a fielder had to catch the ball in the air for an out which meant it was still in play if it wasn't.
Baseball was catching on across the northeast part of the country after this game, and the formation of the first professional league was soon behind. Cricket was a popular sport that baseball competed with, but the National Association of Base Ball Players were established in 1857. The new league caused the Knickerbocker club to fold around that time.
The game's growth slowed during the early 1860s due to the Civil War, but picked up steam again after it ended in 1865.
The NABBP consisted of amateur and professional teams when it first formed, but a succeeding league under the same name was formed in 1871 establishing itself as the first professional baseball league. Because of gambling, lack of a central authority figure, and teams failing to finish their schedules, it folded by 1875.
In 1876, the National League formed, and it currently exists as the oldest professional sports league in the United States. Rival leagues came and went in the latter part of the 19th century. It wasn't until the American League formed in 1901 that Major League Baseball began what it resembles what the game looks more like today. The two leagues now play in the modern World Series as champions of both compete for the league's pennant.
The game really first peaked in the 1920s when Babe Ruth was an American icon that drew strong fan support everywhere he went in a time when the home run was popularized. Though work stoppages have existed(most notably in 1981 and 1994), the National Pastime is still one of America's top watched sports. Integration and international players have helped the game's popularity, too. Other countries in central America as well as southeast Asia(Japan is the most well known of those countries) have established baseball in their country.
According to the Hauls of Shame website, score sheets from this game were stolen in April. On their Top 10 Most Wanted List, the score sheets to this game are listed at the top spot.
Games similar to baseball had long existed before this time including before the American Revolution. It was during this time in the 1840s that the game planted its roots for the modern game that exists today. Though baseball has been handed its share of negative publicity such as the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, 1994 strike, and steroid scandal, the history of the game is rich and plentiful. Baseball has forever etched its mark on American society and has reached far beyond what anyone expected over 150 years ago. Baseball is still our National Pastime.
First photo of Elysian Field in 1866 courtesy of Wikipedia.
Second photo is of the score sheet from the New York Nine club for this game which is courtesy of Ball State University