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  • Adoption of the New York Game

    A modest summary of Chapter 3 of Peter Morris’ But Didn’t We Have Fun?

    The New York game was almost exclusively confined to the New York area as late as 1858. It swept throughout the nation by the end of 1861. How and Why?

    Of course, the nation was already playing and intimately familiar with bat and ball games; hence, the introduction of the game of base ball wasn’t anything strikingly new.

    REASONS FOR THE SPREAD OF THE NEW YORK VERSION

    A) The Knickerbocker rules were initially published in the dailies beginning in December 1856. Thus, the guidelines and subsequent modifications could be readily attained and reviewed by interested localities throughout the nation. Morris shows that in at least one city – Detroit – this is the method in which base ball was first undertaken.

    Newspapers also permitted one community to follow and judge their sport, its practices and competition and competitive talent across the nation, sweeping from east to west. But, to do so a single bat and ball game was need- not a slew of locally played varieties with varying rules and regulations.

    B) In addition to the print media, the push for the new game – often called the ‘regulation game’ because of its formalized rule structure – usually occurred because someone stood up and coaxed (and instructed) others to try it.

    Who were they?

    Initially:

    1) Displaced New York and New Jersey residents (or those who may have spent some time there) who were familiar with the game.

    2) College youths who played the New York version at school and then returned home or relocated, thus, fanning knowledge of base ball across the nation.

    Eventually:

    3) Any American who moved for personal, military or business reasons throughout the nation. This became much more common with the building of the transcontinental railroad system which reached as far west as San Francisco in 1858.

    What is surprisingly missing in Morris’ analysis is the traditional belief in the value of the Civil War in the quick adoption of the game. To this, he points out the fact that the transition had already taken place for the most part before the first shots of the war in 1861.

    The Civil War, in fact, did have some effect in much the same way as 1, 2 and 3 above; however, its effect just wasn’t in the pivotal first era of the game’s adoption which tradition has led us to believe.

    ATTRACTIVENESS OF THE RULES OF THE NEW YORK VERSION

    The attractiveness of the rules and structure of the Knickerbocker game and their auxiliary benefits hastened the adoption of base ball in communities far and wide.

    A) The formal structure of base ball, with its set rules and regulations, made it more acceptable for men to play this traditional children’s game. (As some might say in another of our forums, it’s all about the male ego)

    B) The elimination of soaking – throwing the ball at a runner – was in and of itself attractive. (The less black and blue, the better the game will do)

    C) Additionally, the elimination of soaking permitted the use of a firmer ball which as we know travels farther. (Chicks dig the long ball). Men also like the long ball and their own prowess in hitting it.

    In relation to (A) above, a firmer ball requires more skill, consequently displaying base ball as an acceptable manly endeavor. The softer ball (of the soaking era) showed the game to be more of a school yard hunt and chase with everyone running/milling about in a small area (due to the fact that a softer ball doesn’t travel as far).

    D) The inconsequential nature of the foul ball in base ball enabled play to take place on a smaller field (which is obviously easier to come by).

    E) Base ball broke from cricket and its parliamentary nature and its obvious English feel.

    ADVANTAGES OF FORMALIZED RULES

    A) Formalized rules cut down on pre-game hashing out of rules and other issues which could be tiresome and lends itself to bickering and confusion - not to mention save a good deal of time and aggrevation.

    B) Obviously, preset, formalized rules and regulations facilitate play between two clubs and, in the big picture, between differing communities that would otherwise play a vastly different game. In essence, formal rules eliminate much of the confusion and arguments that would typically hamper competition between clubs – especially between clubs from differing communities.

    C) Much of the country lacked a single formalized, engrained ball game (outside of the English cricket) outside Massachusetts (the Massachusetts game) and strong townball cities like Philadelphia, Cincinnati and St. Louis. Regional variants (and there could be a lot of them) prevailed in other areas; however, these games prohibit an area from identifying (thus relating and judging) their talents via competition against outlying others. How could Cincinnati and Baltimore compare/contrast themselves and compete on an even ground?

    Here is where the Civil War comes into play. Each community consisted of men who were adherents of their regional style of play – some that even formed and adhered to formal, established clubs and associations. The Civil War – as war does – pulls men from their community. This leaves a gap for others to fill. Without this patriarchal adherence to the traditional style of play, a new game – the regulation game – can grab a foothold.

    Thus, the war led to the virtual extinction of previous formed associations. The New York version was the replacement. By the end of the war every major urban center had made the transition for good. It would soon overtake the rural areas, Connecticut and the South.

    Comments, corrections, additions please.
    Last edited by Brian McKenna; 02-28-2008, 06:21 AM.

  • #2
    I haven't finished Morris's new book yet, so I am jumping the gun here. In particular, I haven't read the chapter on the Civil War. I am a fan of Morris's work, but my impression is that the spread of the New York game isn't his strongest area.

    The early New York game falls into four distinct periods, with different characters requiring different explanations.

    (1) The first period is from the origin of its unique characteristics (perhaps as early as 1837 or as late as 1845) through the 1854 season. During this period the number of clubs was small, all located in New York City or its immediate environs, and press attention was very limited. Following the 1854 season three clubs held a joint dinner and adopted uniform rules. These were published in The Spirit of the Times (earlier, by the way, than Morris mentions).

    (2) The second period is 1855-1856. The number of clubs in and immediately around New York City balloons. More newspapers start covering baseball, and more extensively than before. This creates a positive feedback loop, as more press attention stimulates interest, which stimulates more press attention. The game starts to expand slowly beyond the metropolitan area. The first club in Trenton, N.J., for example, dates from this period. Probably there is also expansion into upstate New York.

    (3) The third period is 1857-1860. The first "national" convention is held in 1857. The rules are further publicized, appearing in many local newspapers around the country. Clubs begin forming (or older clubs switch to the New York game) in most major cities during this period. Through most of the country, the NY game is not yet played in the smaller towns. It is an urban phenomenon, and not yet deeply rooted. Even large cities typically only had a handful of clubs. The first club tours occur in 1860. There are also signs of a conscious ideology of expansion, and of using the press to this end.

    The war years are an interregnum. There is little evidence of expansion. Some areas, such as Philadelphia, consolidate. Others, seem to withdraw (especially in the South, for obvious reasons). Traditional accounts claim that the game spread between soldiers, but the evidence for this is thin.

    (4) The fourth period is from the end of the war through the 1867 season. The game explodes nearly everywhere. Even quite modest towns were caught up in the fad. I have been looking at Frederick, Maryland. A back-of-the-envelope estimate is that by late summer of 1866 about three percent of the total population (men, women, and children of all ages and ethnicity) were members of baseball clubs. By the end of the decade baseball is established in all but the most backwoods parts of the country.

    The point is that I think we need to treat each phase seperately. We have a pretty good grasp on the third phase. We have several accounts of how the game was introduced into various cities. We know, for example, how the first club in Baltimore was created via a business contact with a member of the Excelsiors of Brooklyn.

    We know much less about the fourth phase. For all that baseball suddenly appears in so many places, there is little about how it got there. It is also unclear how the baseball fad became a permanent fixture in American culture, rather than going the way of the pet rock.

    But that's why the subject is fun, now isn't it?

    Comment


    • #3
      The explosion of baseball reminds me of crazes like hula hoops, slinkys, and cabbage patch dolls. No rhyme or reason why they suddenly became the "in thing", but once it began everybody had to play with one. Am I right in saying that it wasn't the kids who made baseball the "in thing?"

      I agree that 1858 is too late for the major burst in interest. I wish we could take a map of the Eastern US and mark down when towns or cities first played the NY version of baseball. Upstate NY had several cities with teams around 1855-1858. The area also had many towns with teams before 1860.
      "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
      "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by rrhersh View Post
        Even quite modest towns were caught up in the fad. I have been looking at Frederick, Maryland. A back-of-the-envelope estimate is that by late summer of 1866 about three percent of the total population (men, women, and children of all ages and ethnicity) were members of baseball clubs.
        Hmm. As someone with family roots in Frederick (back to 1730, before the official founding), I'm interested in what material you've found on this. I've been in the basement archives of the county historical society library--for family research--but it didn't occur to me to look up anything about baseball.

        I don't know that I'd call Frederick "quite modest." It was the second city of Maryland after Baltimore (still is, if you don't count the sprawl of the DC suburbs as a "city"), and it was there that the state legislature convened in that sorry month of April 1861.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by spark240 View Post
          Hmm. As someone with family roots in Frederick (back to 1730, before the official founding), I'm interested in what material you've found on this. I've been in the basement archives of the county historical society library--for family research--but it didn't occur to me to look up anything about baseball.

          I don't know that I'd call Frederick "quite modest." It was the second city of Maryland after Baltimore (still is, if you don't count the sprawl of the DC suburbs as a "city"), and it was there that the state legislature convened in that sorry month of April 1861.
          I live in Westminster, one county over from Frederick. I spent an afternoon in the local history room of the Frederick library looking at newspapers on microfilm and comparing names with old city directories. I've done a bit of similar work with Westminster, which saw similar activity on a smaller scale, if you want a more modest example. Some day I will do a full study, using census rolls and Civil War records, to more fully identify who was doing what.

          But the real point is that what town you are looking at doesn't really matter. I've done some similar work with Easton and with Lancaster, both in Pennsylvania. If baseball hadn't already been introduced, it appears around 1865 or 1866: 1867 at the latest, apart from seriously backwoods areas. Furthermore, it appears in a big way, with surprising uniformity.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by TonyK View Post
            Am I right in saying that it wasn't the kids who made baseball the "in thing?"
            That's the way I see it - any "regulation" game would need to be first introduced and then instructed - and encouraged to try again and again. I'm assuming kids took on the game at the same time but that's not what was driving the press to record it and the adults to play it. My guess is it was the other way around.

            Children, I would think, got the hand-me-down balls and bats. They also probably didn't need as large a playing area since they probably didn't have the firmest balls around.

            They also probably weren't as organized and thus more apt to play versions of ball that required fewer players; though, I sure there were plenty of interested parties at school time - assuming the school was large enough.

            For something to sweep the nation, it would need a medium to do so. I figure that medium was, for the most part, newspapers and young adults. I would think those two would funnel from the older to the younger.

            Comment


            • #7
              Have to take issue with a few things said on this subject. First, from what I've read about the New York game it was pretty much restricted to
              the New York city area and upstate New York up to the tiime of the Civil War. We do have
              some accounts of the game reaching some other big cities right on the
              eve of the Civil War (1860/61) but if you look closer at a lot of these
              baseball reports what you find is that they're NOT playing the New York game (this is also the case with Civil War soldiers. Most of the accounts
              show them playing the Massachusetts, not New York, form of baseball). In fact, it seems that when the New York game began catching on it
              incited people to play other versions that they were more familiar with such as townball and, in New England
              especially, the Massacussetts game. I don't believe there was a single club
              from Philadelphia represented at the National Convention in 1860. Even during the "boom years" just after the Civil War the game did not reach all areas of the country. In the South especially, outside of the larger cities, the game was slow to catch on. Other bat and ball sports also enjoyed
              growth during this period, such as cricket, wicket, and, as I mentioned, the
              Massachusetts game. It seems to me that it was a situation of "rising tide
              raises all boats." Rarely mentioned by historians is the fact that there
              was also some backlash to the New York game. We have reports that
              claimed the New York game was much inferior to the Massachusetts game
              or even cricket. Have to be very careful we don't read into the past what
              we know from the present.

              Comment


              • #8
                NABBP Conventions

                3/14/1860
                200 attendees representing 62 clubs from 6 states plus DC meet
                attendees from NY, NJ, New Haven, Detroit, DC, Baltimore, Boston present

                12/12/1860
                54 clubs represented from 5 states
                Philadelphia is represented

                http://baseball-fever.com/showthread.php?t=66830
                Last edited by Brian McKenna; 02-29-2008, 01:10 PM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by bkmckenna View Post
                  NABBP Conventions

                  3/14/1860
                  200 attendees representing 62 clubs from 6 states plus DC meet
                  attendees from NY, NJ, New Haven, Detroit, DC, Baltimore, Boston present

                  12/12/1860
                  54 clubs represented from 5 states
                  Philadelphia is represented


                  I take it theDecember 1860 meeting was effectively the 1861 meeting. Curious to see the number of
                  clubs/states represented at the December meeting less than the March
                  meeting. Noteworthy that except for Detroit no representatives from outside the mid-Atlantic area of the
                  country.
                  Last edited by timmyj51; 02-29-2008, 10:56 AM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Regarding antebellum spread of the NY game, this is much better understood today than it was just a few years ago, and much of the new material hasn't trickled down to the books you find in Borders and Barnes & Noble. There are unambigous NY games being played throughout the northeast corridor. There were established clubs in Washington and Baltimore and Philadelphia and New England. Taking Philadelphia, the first NY game played was in the fall of 1858, an intramural game. Several other clubs were formed in late 1859, but the first match game between clubs wasn't until June of 1860. This is unusually late, likely because of competition from the established local version. When the Excelsiors of Brooklyn toured in the summer of 1860, they were playing local clubs (or, in the case of Philly, a team of local all-stars). Further west, there are clubs playing the NY game before the war in St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit. In the south there were clubs in New Orleans and Macon.

                    How do we know they were playing the NY game? Because the local newspaper reports tell us, often explicitly. It was common to find the NY rules published in the paper, followed by accounts of local games. If there is a box score showing nine players on a side with their fielding positions designated, and playing nine innings, this is the New York game.

                    As for after the war, you are mistaken about the Massachusetts game showing growth. It was already dead. By this time newspapers routinely printed box scores, or at least line scores, and the vast majority of games, even in New England, were under the New York rules. The rare exceptions often have the air of old-timer games to them.

                    Cricket was in broad decline throughout the country. It was a slow death, dragging on well into the 20th century, but comparing the sheer volume of games played, cricket never recovered following the war.

                    Wicket is an interesting game, but we ought not get over-excited about it. It had deep-rooted popularity only within part of New England, while occasionally popping up elsewhere. There are games reported from after the war, but nothing that suggests it was expanding in popularity.

                    A really good argument for the rising tide theory can be made for the late 1850s. You can find clubs forming for several team sports throughout the country. But after the war, baseball in the specifically New York form overwhelming other games, with only cricket doing anything like holding its own.

                    As for the backlash, sure. There were complaints along the lines of "Everyone is playing regulation ball now. I liked the old-fashioned version better." The first sentence there is the key to what was going on. Imagine a researcher a century from now looking at how compact disks replaced vinyl albums in the 1980s. He could find any number of articles by self-proclaimed audiophiles explaining how much better LPs were than CDs. He could also find occasional articles claiming that LPs are making a comeback. If he really dug deep, he could find evidence of an ongoing market in used LPs, and even some new ones being issued. This would all be true. But how many LPs are sold in your local music store? When did you last buy one? How many people do you know who buy them? There is a niche market for them, but it is small (albeit vocal). The backlash against the New York game was like that, except less so: it was smaller and briefer.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      It was more than just "old timers" who were concerned about the course
                      American sports were taking as the New York game was sweeping all other
                      bat and ball sports aside.
                      We know some prominent sports observers, including Henry Chadwick,
                      the "father" of the New York game, felt that America's obsession with
                      just one bat and ball sport represented an impoverishment of the American sports scene. Can understand this view. Compared with what we have
                      today--just one, monolithic, summer team sport--Americans of the mid-
                      19th century could enjoy a much greater variety of bat and ball sports.
                      Kind of wonder if we're really better off.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        One regiment of more than 1,000 soldiers reportedly had 9 volunteers playing 9 volunteers from another regiment of more than 1,000 soldiers during the civil war. I assume they agreed on what rules to play by? A few thousand soldiers witness a New York game and talk about it for days afterward. I can see an influence there.
                        "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
                        "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by TonyK View Post
                          One regiment of more than 1,000 soldiers reportedly had 9 volunteers playing 9 volunteers from another regiment of more than 1,000 soldiers during the civil war. I assume they agreed on what rules to play by? A few thousand soldiers witness a New York game and talk about it for days afterward. I can see an influence there.
                          Sure: it is a plausible scenario. It could even be true. But there isn't much evidence that it actually happened. There are innumerable regimental histories and soldiers' diaries and like from the war. They often include incidental activities such as recreation.

                          There aren't many accounts of ballgames between regiments, many of those accounts that do exist are ambiguous about what form they played (remember that "base ball" did not necessarily mean the New York game), and some of those that are unambiguous are unambiguous that they were *not* playing the New York game. There is an account, for example, of a game between a Massachusetts and a Michigan regiment. It is explicit that the game featured plugging. I am very curious about what exact rules they used: did they use the codified Massachusetts game rules, or they negotiate the rules ahead of time? The account doesn't say.

                          Many of the mentions of baseball are more consistent with internal play within the regiment. The regiment is camped in place for a day or two, so some of the boy get up a game of ball. Regiments were raised from within a locality, so presumably they played whatever version they were used to.

                          Games in prison camps have some potential, since these camps mixed people up from different locations. There are records of play in both southern and northern camps. It is not clear how extensive it was, and as the war progressed and conditions worsened it seems unlikely that either space or energy was available for baseball. In any case, prison camps seem inadequate to explain the post-war baseball boom.

                          Approaching from the other direction, it isn't obvious that the early post-war clubs were disproportionately organized by veterans, as we would expect if soldiering was the vector through which it spread. But there is much work to be done on this.

                          The idea that the game spread via soldiers is intuitive, and meshes well with our association of baseball with American patriotism, but there really isn't much evidence to support it.

                          Comment

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