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How Baseball Happened by Thomas W. Gilbert

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  • How Baseball Happened by Thomas W. Gilbert

    The above 2020 reference drives some significant points home:


    The facts pertaining to the beginnings of the game are clouded by our available references. More precisely the unavailability of potential information due to the indifference or bias of newspaper reporting in the 1830s, ‘40s and ‘50s. That is, reporting on baseball clubs and games may not have been deemed noteworthy as they occurred in the early years.

    As Mr. Gilbert demonstrates, New York newspaper editors overlooked the social drive to play ball by men in an organized fashion until and outside a certain class of individuals took up the sport. He dubs the class the Emerging Urban Bourgeoisie or EUB. Basically, editors were not interested in the game or didn’t think their readers would be until members of the EUB like the Knickerbockers took up playing. For example, we know the Magnolia club existed but they were ignored in print because they were deemed outside the EUB.

    I found that this may related to my research in early baseball history in Baltimore. I found an early reference to a club called Urche but little else.


    Brooklyn is often overlooked for its role in the formation of the modern game relating to competitiveness, enclosing ballparks and professionalism.


    The role the Civil War played in the growth of the game is complicated and in large part unknown.

    For one, the early spread of the game occurred as New Yorkers and Brooklynites traveled the country for personal and business matters. Travel was never more prevalent than during the war, as over 400,000 New Yorkers joined the war effort far and wide. Common sense tells us that they, and others, spread baseball along the way. However, there is little evidence of this as, well, there were more important things happening – a nation in turmoil.

    Likewise, focus on the war leaves us with relatively few references to the game being played during the war years. Common sense says that it was, albeit less so than the pre-war years, but was perhaps deemed unimportant to newspaper editors and readers.

    Mr. Gilbert also hit upon the point that southerners may have rejected baseball for a time simply because it was favored by northerners.

    Also, the spread of baseball (often sparked by the competitiveness of intercity rivalries) in the south was retarded for a decade or more by the destruction of the southern railroad system and other infrastructures by Union troops. These rifts, hard feelings and perhaps cultural divide may have led in one way or another to the failure to field a southern team in the majors until 1962, Houston.


    Mr. Gilbert points out that historians and readers have, for the most part, mistaken the issue of professionalism in the 1860s. It was not the mere issue of compensation that drove the rifts between supposed amateurism and professionalism. Even the ideal of the amateur era, the Knickerbockers, compensated a player(s).

    In truth, clubs routinely compensated players. The divide rests in why, or more precisely how it affected competitive balance – an issue that is not unique to the era. It was okay that clubs doled out jobs, benefits or perhaps cash to ballplayers as long as they were homegrown talent. The issue centered on revolving, that is, luring the best talent from one club to another. It is not hard to understand the animosity created by pulling in ringers to gain advantage for a contest, series or championship season.

    The issue led directly to the collapse of the NABBP, the first salvo in a 150+ year struggle that continues today in the form of the resentment between small-market and large-market teams.


    In much the same way that the Knickerbockers are often deemed as the originators of the game, the Red Stockings of Cincinnati are dubbed the first professional club. The Knickerbockers were not the first club but we often start the history of the game with a discussion of them. There are reasons for this:
    • they lasted a long time
    • were often promoted as the first club, the ideal of the amateur era
    • they were often deferred to as the game’s elder statemen
    • their written rules were published far and wide
    Likewise, the Red Stockings were not by any measurable account the sport’s first professionals. They did justifiably have a huge influence on the sport based on their win streak, coast to coast barnstorming and consequential press coverage.

  • #2
    this is so good to know, like there are things that people dont really know


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