Base Ball and the Knickerbockers

Pushing the Doubleday myth aside, one might ask then "Where did baseball come from?" Baseball was a game not created but one from evolution of many ball and sticks games of the past. Many of these types of games had been played and recorded from as far back as the middle ages. In New York, by the 1830s and 40s, "ball games" were being played by gentlemen after a hard days work. Alexander Cartwright was one these men and one such club that played ball was his Knickerbocker club. They played 2 to 3 times a week and with the ever growing city of New York they had to travel across the river to continue to play and grow the game. Early on, almost all baseball games were thus played at the famous grounds known as Elysian Fields.

Soon, Cartwright and the Knickerbockers sat down to make the game official. They drafted rules in 1845, and then on June 19, 1846, the Knickerbockers played against another New York Base Ball Club, the New York Nine in a game now regarded as the first official baseball game. This game took place at Elysians Fields and the Nine won 23-1.
Baseball at this point was not the baseball we know now. It resembled a game more like softball. Pitchers threw underhand from a box roughled 50 feet away. Batters dictated where the pitches were to be thrown; either a high strike or low one. There were no gloves and catchers stood behind the plate some 10 to 15 feet. Before the Knickerbocker Rules came to be, runners were "soaked" or thrown at to be put out. Also, the ball needed to bounce in fair ground only once to be considered a fair ball. Early games did not consist of nine innings (although innings were tracked) and usually the first team to 21 was considered the victor. However, if someone today was transplanted back to the 1840s and saw a game, they would definitely recognize it as primitive Base Ball.


By the 1850s, baseball was spreading. In New York, the center of the baseball world at this time, many new clubs sprand to life. There were the Gothams (evolving from the New York Nine), Mutuals, Excelsiors, Eckfords, Atlantics and many more. These were the big clubs but there were so many more minor clubs. New York was not the only place where the baseball "fever" spread. Up and down the Eastern coast baseball began to grow popular, especially in the big cities of Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Baseball was spreading fast and players were gaining more and more skill with each passing year.

The Knickerbockers would soon give the reigns to these other clubs. It began with a three game, hotly contested series against the Gothams in 1854. The first two games (and most important games at that time) were played at Elysian Fields with the two teams each winning one. The third game was played at Red House and ended in a 12-12 tied. It was considered the most exciting game up until that point. Following the series, though, the torch was in essence passed and the Gothams and other clubs would take the lead throughout the rest of the decade.

But the Knickerbocker club did still have some influence. Another prominent Knick club member, Doc Adams, called a convention in December, 1856 and all the major baseball clubs were invited to partake. Two things came of it; first the nine inning game length rule was added and second, the convention became annual and thus these conventions reinforced the end of the Knickerbocker era.

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