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The Nine-man Line-Up: History of Base Ball 1851 – 1855

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  • The Nine-man Line-Up: History of Base Ball 1851 – 1855

    Imagine being an 8-year old boy living in New York City in 1851. Your father is a carpenter earning $1.38 per day. You have a younger brother and sister, and your father just promised your mother that the family can take a trip over to Hoboken to get away from the everyday city life. The family tries to make the trip at least once a month during the summer months.
    Your father wakes you on June 17. It was a Tuesday and your mother was preparing a basket of food for a picnic. The five of you go down to the ferry to cross the Hudson over to Hoboken, New Jersey. The fare for the journey is 10 cents per head and fifty cents across and fifty cents back is nearly a day’s pay for your father. However, he sees it as quality time with his family and the family was to embark onto their journey to the resort area of Hoboken known as Elysian Fields.

    The family boards the steamship ferry Juliana owned by Colonel John Stevens who also owned the fabled Elysian Fields. Colonel Stevens purchased the acreage at auction for £18,360. He developed the waterfront into a resort area for the people of Manhattan in the early 19th century. According to Homer, Elysian Fields was a beautiful meadow in the Underworld where the favored of Zeus enjoy perfect happiness.

    The Juliana completes the journey across the Hudson and the family exits and heads to the Elysian Fields. As the day continues, the family witnesses a base ball game between the Knickerbocker Club of New York and the Washington Club of New York. These teams were not the first to play the sport at the Elysian Fields, in the 1830’s, another club, the Magnolia Base Ball Club played upon the grounds. The Knickerbocker club moved to the Elysian Fields after they were banished from their old grounds between 7th and 8th Avenues and 31st and 33rd Streets, now known as Madison Square Gardens. The Knickerbocker search ended in the early 1840’s at the Elysian Fields and it was perfect location to drive their fame and the advancement of base ball itself.

    The game of June 17th was actually the second match of the season between the clubs. An earlier match was played on June 3. The significance of 1851 for the history of the game is that it marked the game using a nine-man line-up and nine positions on the field for the first time. Sometime between the winter of 1850 and the spring of 1851, Doc Adams introduced the position of short fielder or shortstop to the game.

    So the early game was a gentleman’s game played between social clubs. Two games were played in 1851 referred to as matches. Through gentlemen’s agreement, the losing club would entertain the victors with food, wine and song after the game at a favorite establishment. Each of the social clubs had different teams of skilled players known as first teams and second teams. Occasionally, a member of the second teams could fill in for the absence of a member of the first team.

    The game was played to 21 aces regardless of the number of outs made in the game. If neither team scored 21 aces, it would either be scheduled for completion at another date or considered a draw. The equipment used in a game consisted of a bat and a ball. There were no gloves for fielders, no masks for catchers, very little grounds keeping. Each team provided an umpire and a referee was a neutral party who settle disputes between the umpires. The pitchers threw the ball underhanded and in a zone defined by the batter as his strike zone. There were no walks and no called strikes during the games. A strikeout could only occur when a batter fouled or missed the ball 3 times and only if the catcher caught the third strike cleanly without dropping it. It was the responsibility of the runners to score and NOT the responsibility of the batter to drive the base runners in. So there was rampant running on the bases at the risk of being put out. Players without the benefit of gloves had to cleanly handle the ball in order to get the runner and batters out. Outs were made by the defense fielding the balls and throwing to bases that were approached by runners, fielders tagging runners when they were not on base, balls being caught in the air, or plays caught on one bound. When a ball was caught on the fly, a base runner had to return to their previous base prior to advancing to the next base whereas balls caught on the bound, the runners could continue running without having to return to their previous base.
    The first match occurred at the Red House Grounds, Harlem, New York; where the Washington Club called their home grounds. The game lasted 8 innings and the Knickerbocker Club won 21 to 11. The date was June 3, 1851. The line-ups consisted of 9 men including the new position of shortstop. On June 17, the game was played at Elysian Fields, Hoboken, New Jersey; considered the home of the Knickerbocker Club. The Knickerbockers again won 23-20 in 10 innings. The score sheets and box scores showed the line-ups, positions, outs made by each player and the number of runs scored by each player.

    No record of matches was found in publications or the Knickerbockers score book in 1852. However, a new social club is listed as being formed by members of the Washington Club. It seems that this was actually a continuous social club that was either changing its name or reorganizing as a new club. The social club was to be known as the Gotham Base Ball Club. The Gothams had been around since the 1820’s. Many of the Knickerbocker members actually had belonged to the Gotham Club prior to the formation of the Knickerbocker Club.
    On July 5, 1853, the Knickerbockers defeated the Gothams 21-12 in 9 innings at the Elysian Fields. They followed up with another game October 14 at the Red House Grounds with another victory, 21-14. This would have been six consecutive victories for the Knickerbockers club over the Gothams.

    In April of 1854, the Knickerbocker club extended invitations to two members of the Gothams club to join the Knickerbockers. Both invitees were lawyers by trade. At this time, the Knickerbocker club was made up of doctors, engineers, lawyers, brokers, etc., and was considered a slightly higher class of individual than the Gothams were had a few individuals in the legal profession but mostly merchants and brokers. The Knickerbockers had invited Reuben Cudlipp and Lou Wadsworth to join them. It was most likely a social move and not a monetary move and it is unlikely a base ball move. Reuben Cudlipp declined the request, most likely because he was married to a sister of a member of the Gothams.

    A new club formed in 1854, the Eagle Base Ball Club. It was made up of firemen from the Eagle Cart & Hose Company #1. They asked the Knickerbockers for a meeting to learn the rules of the game and instructions about how to form a club. The Knickerbockers honored their request but also invited the Gotham Club to also attend to formalize the rules between the three clubs. The Knickerbockers agreed the first match played with the Eagles, they would only play 3 members of their first nine.

    The season opened with a game June 30, at Harlem Red House Grounds with the Gothams winning their first match against the Knickerbockers 21-16 in 16 innings. On September 20, the Knickerbockers returned the favor defeating the Gothams 24-13 in 9 innings at Elysian Fields. The Gothams played the Eagles in their first match October 24 defeating the Eagles 21-14 in 8 innings at Elysian Fields. The rubber match between the Knickerbockers and Gothams occurred October 26 at the Red House Grounds ending in a 12-12 tie through 12 innings. Many years later, several contemporaries spoke of this game as the most scientific game ever played. November 3, the Eagles defeated the Gothams 23-15 in 6 innings at Harlem Red House Grounds. The Eagles followed up with a 21- 4 victory over the Knickerbockers on November 10 at the Elysian Fields in 5 innings and finally again at Elysian Fields on November 17, the Eagles again, took down the Knickerbockers 22-21 in 5 innings. When all was said and done, the new team in town had the best record at 3 wins and 1 loss, followed by the Gothams with a record of 2 wins, 2 losses and one tie. The Knickerbockers were on the decline finishing at 1 win, 3 losses and 1 tie.

    After the season was over, the Knickerbockers declared they were still undefeated when they were at full strength. The writers and community saw the three best teams going into the 1855 season as the Knickerbockers first, the Gothams second followed by the Eagles.

    If Elysian Fields did anything for the Knickerbockers and base ball, it was the exposure of game and the team that was standardizing the rules. More people were visiting Elysian Fields for general relaxation and for the first 3 years could watch the Knickerbockers practice and play three days a week. The Knickerbockers leased the fields at $65 a year for the right to the grounds for those 3 days each week. In 1854, the Eagles joined the Knickerbockers at Elysian Fields and payed the same lease for three different days of the week.

    The game exploded with 13 teams in 1855. In New York were five teams: the Knickerbockers, Gothams, Eagles, Empires, and Astorias; Brooklyn added the Atlantics, Columbias, Putnams, and Harmony; New Jersey boasted four teams with Excelsiors and Pioneers of Jersey City and the Newarks and Olympics of Newark.

    Andrew Bixby, a third baseman for the Eagles in 1854, became the second player to move from one club to another as he played for the Jersey City Pioneers. It is unknown why he made the change but more than likely was for personal reasons than it was for base ball.

    The win-loss records of the thirteen teams for 1855 follow:
    Teams W L T Pct R OR pW pL
    Jersey City Excelsiors 5 0 0 1.000 162 78 58 14
    New York Gothams 6 1 0 .857 146 65 60 12
    Brooklyn Atlantics 2 0 2 .750 80 63 44 28
    New York Knickerbockers 3 1 0 .750 82 52 51 21
    Brooklyn Columbias 4 2 0 .667 113 116 35 37
    Brooklyn Putnams 1 1 0 .500 34 23 49 23
    New York Astorias 1 1 0 .500 23 34 23 49
    Jersey City Pioneers 2 4 0 .333 123 161 27 45
    New York Empires 1 3 2 .333 80 118 23 49
    New Jersey Newarks 1 3 0 .250 53 82 21 51
    New York Eagles 1 5 0 .167 78 127 20 52
    Newark Olympics 0 4 0 .000 63 99 21 51
    Brooklyn Harmony 0 2 0 .000 32 51 20 52
    The game was quickly growing and it was quickly moving from a game played between social clubs to clubs that were formed for the purpose of playing base ball. The new clubs were not following the traditions of the social clubs where the losing team would entertain the winners. They played the game and then moved on. When reading the accounts of the games, about sixty percent of the stories described who was in attendance at the games. Many times representatives of teams other than those participating would watch the games as well as local dignitaries and the reports always mentioned the ladies.

    The first double-header was played in 1855. It occurred August 8 on the field between Jersey City and Hoboken between the Excelsiors and Pioneers of Jersey City. The Excelsiors took both games in 8 innings, 21-16 and 46-19.

    Even though, the Knickerbockers still had a winning record in 1855 and a record of 8- 4- 1 since 1851, they began to feel as if their position in the game was slipping. They were not only the most experienced team on the field but they were also the oldest. The Knickerbocker roster included 3 players over the age of 40. The average age of the team was 31.

    With game growing as quickly as it was and a public interest wanting to see more as spectators, teams were becoming much more competitive. The social game was slipping away and money changing hands were just around the corner in many forms.

    I want to mention that originally I was going to include 1856 in this segment as a clean cut-off prior to the formation of the National Association of Base Ball Players but because of several events that occurred in 1856 that mostly have been overlooked as reasons for the formation of the Association, I decided to include that year grouped as 1856 to 1860 as the next segment.


    Last edited by SWCBaseball; 03-23-2019, 09:24 PM.

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