This article was written by William J. Ryczek
This article was published in Baseball’s 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900
Baseball had experienced tremendous growth during the 1859 playing season, and the third annual meeting of the National Association of Base Ball Players, held on the evening of Wednesday, March 15, 1860, reflected that enthusiasm. When the session was called to order in Room 24 at the Cooper Institute at 7:30 P.M., 60 clubs were represented, far more than the 37 of a year earlier.
Many new clubs had been formed in 1859, so many that it was becoming difficult to find a place to play, particularly in Manhattan, where recently opened Central Park was not available to baseball clubs. The venerable Knickerbockers, who began their existence in Manhattan, had been forced to move across the Hudson to Hoboken’s Elysian Fields when the building boom overtook them. In its March 11, 1860, edition, the Sunday Mercury urged owners of vacant land to consider leasing their sites to baseball clubs.
A letter written to the Sunday Mercury on February 29 urged the city to grant players use of public grounds. It suggested that if local rail companies were to lease grounds to baseball clubs, they could generate significant revenue not only from the lease but also from the fares of spectators who would come to watch the games.
Most of the delegates at the Cooper Union were from the New York City area, but there were several from upstate, one each from Baltimore and Washington, and one outlier from Detroit. “We especially allude to those clubs at a distance, and in other states,” the New York Clipper noted in a column a couple of weeks before the convention, “for it must not be forgotten that this association is national in every respect, and is intended to include delegates from every club in the Union.”1 The 1860 gathering was a small step toward making baseball a national game, but it was a step nonetheless. The 14 clubs that had formed the NA two years earlier were all from New York City or Brooklyn.
The NA was typically a parliamentary organization, but in a departure from its usual formal procedure, it was agreed that clubs that had come a good distance to present their credentials should not be rejected on technical grounds.
One of the first items on the agenda was the admission of new clubs, and 21 were added, as follows:
|Hudson River||Newburgh, NY|
|Morphy||New York, NY|
|Social||New York, NY|
|Champion||New York, NY|
|Quinnipiac||New Haven, CT|
Each new entry was required to pay a $5 admission fee and agree to pay annual dues of $5. Of the new clubs, 13 were from New York state, but the presence of eight from other states was encouraging. One club was denied admission. A gentleman on crutches indicated that he was from the Bunker Hill Club, but his club’s application was incomplete and was denied. At least one other application was withdrawn. The Forrest Club of New York had sent in an application prior to the meeting, but subsequently decided they were not ready and asked that it be withdrawn.2
After the business of admitting new clubs was disposed of, the delegates moved to the election of officers. After an inconclusive first ballot for president, Judge William Van Cott, who had served in the office for the organization’s first two years, withdrew his name from consideration, stating that he was honored to have served for two years but did not desire a third term. With Van Cott eliminated, Dr. Joseph B. Jones of the Excelsior Club received 54 votes, Thomas Dakin of the Putnam Club 35, and David Milliken of Morrisania 12. Dakin moved to make the vote unanimous, and Jones became the new president of the association.
Dakin was elected first vice president, Henry Shriver of Baltimore second vice president, J. Ross Postley recording secretary, Theodore F. Jackson corresponding secretary, and E.H. Brown of the Metropolitan Club treasurer. Postley, Jackson, and Brown had served in the same positions the previous year.
The next report came from the rules committee. Baseball was a relatively new game, and the rules evolved rapidly from year to year. The biggest controversy in 1860, as it was for several years, was whether to stay with the bound game, in which a ball caught on the first bounce was an out, or whether to change the rules to require that a fair ball be caught on the fly.
Before the convention, Henry Chadwick of the Clipper wrote, “[I]t is absolutely necessary that a few important alterations be made, prominent among which is the abolition of the catch on the bound, except in case of foul balls. We trust that there will be a large majority in favor of it, as it is the one thing needful to place the game on an equal footing with cricket.”3
The top teams generally favored the fly game, which required a greater degree of skill, while the less talented teams usually preferred the bound game. Many of the best teams, by mutual consent, played the fly game among themselves, but the standard rules of the game still allowed for an out if the ball was captured cleanly on the first bound.
The Rules Committee, chaired by Dr. Daniel Adams of the Knickerbockers, had met in February to make recommendations to the convention on rule changes, and Adams reported that the committee was unanimously in favor of the fly game. A debate then ensued, with Judge Van Cott supporting the bound version and Dakin and Frank Pidgeon of the Eckfords arguing in favor of the fly game. Thirty-seven delegates voted for the fly game while 55 voted against it. For another year, at least as far as the official rules were concerned, the bound game would be the game of National Association clubs.
There was much dissatisfaction with the result. The press was surprised, for they, particularly Chadwick, considered the fly game superior, “manly” versus the “childish” bound version.4“That it will ultimately be the rule of the game,” Chadwick wrote afterward, “we have not the slightest doubt, for the poor players cannot always be in the majority in the Convention.”5
Adams, a staunch champion of the fly game, was disappointed. One of the chief complaints of Adams and others was that the delegates who voted on the rules were not representative of the men who actually played the game. “One of our best ball players remarked,” reported the Spirit of the Times, “that if the clubs would send players to the convention instead the rules of the game would be made more satisfactory to the members of the Base Ball fraternity.”6
The battle over the fly game would rage for several years, as more and more clubs played it unofficially. The NA ruled by majority vote, and most of the delegates represented clubs that were not that skilled. They preferred the bound game, which was easier to play. If baseball was to become a more serious endeavor, however, its rules needed to require greater skill, and an organization consisting primarily of clubs that played for recreation was not going to bring the game to that level. It was not until 1865 that the fly game became the official standard for all NA clubs.
One of the recommendations of the Rules Committee, moving the date of the annual convention from March to December, was accepted. The committees were then populated, with the Rules Committee to consist of Adams, Dr. Jones, A.J. Bixby, T.G. Voorhis, and Pidgeon. The members of the Nominating Committee would be John W. Mott of the Eagle Club, J.H. Hill, W. Nicholas, and Milliken. After that final piece of business, the meeting was adjourned.
Despite the press of new clubs, the business had been conducted briskly. Apparently, the delegates had learned their lesson the previous year, when at 10 o’clock sharp, the gas in the Cooper Union had been turned off and the convention had to be adjourned with unfinished business still pending.
The delegates had done their duty and the meeting was over, but the entertainment was just beginning. Between 50 and 60 of the party went to Venn’s Racket Court in the Bowery, where they listened to speeches and drank champagne. Then Joe Leggett, star catcher of the Excelsior Club, took the group to the establishment of the Knickerbocker’s Mr. Welling, where they drank more champagne and heard more speeches, which were undoubtedly, by that point, much more interesting and tolerable.
Finally, at a late hour, the New York delegates escorted their Baltimore comrades to their hotel and brought the evening to an end. By that time, the animosity over the fly game had long been forgotten, and the only thought was of the great 1860 season that loomed on the horizon. That year was to be the most exciting in the brief history of baseball, but it was to be the last season before the Civil War, which put a serious damper on baseball activity; the number of delegates who attended the 1860 convention would not be equaled until after the war. The North and South were as divided over slavery and states’ rights as the National Association was over the fly game, and their rupture was to produce the bloodiest war in American history. The fly game would have to wait.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted numerous issues of the Sunday Mercury.
1 New York Clipper, March 3, 1860.
2 There were far more than 60 clubs in existence, but not all were members of the National Association. A number were junior clubs, comprised of youngsters, which did not send delegates.
3 New York Clipper, March 3, 1860.
4 The headline in the Clipper read “Re-Adoption of the Boy’s Rule of the Catch on the Bound!” (New York Clipper, March 24, 1860).
5 New York Clipper, March 24, 1860.
6 Spirit of the Times, March 24, 1860.