This article was written by Eric Miklich
This article was published in the Baseball’s 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900
As the Civil War continued to impact America, the population pressed forward with daily and seasonal routines including recreations like baseball. The top clubs in the Northeast continued to slowly increase the number of games they played each season, which had dwindled since the onset of the conflict. The game was steadily overtaking cricket as the preferred sport in America as evidenced by the amount of newspaper coverage baseball matches received and the increased number of spectators appearing at matches between the strongest clubs. According to some publications, baseball was now the national pastime. The Sunday Mercury wrote, “(T)here was no falling off in the degree of interest manifested in the progress and welfare of our national game. …”1 and Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times said, “(B)ase ball being the outdoor sport of America…”2 prior to their report on the 1863 convention.
The 1863 meeting of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) was unique. The convention produced the first elected president not from a New York or Brooklyn club, introduced no changes in the playing rules for the only time in the NABBP’s existence, and paid homage to one of the first legends of pioneering baseball.
Blustery, cold winds filled the streets of New York on Wednesday, December 10, 1862. Inside the Lecture Room of the Mercantile Library Association at Clinton Hall, the sweet smell of cigar smoke, low murmurs, and occasional outbursts of laughter filled the air. Since 1860, the former Opera House on the corner of Astor Place and Eighth Streets had been the venue for the yearly meeting of the NABBP. The delegates, most wearing their best suits, exchanged stories about their clubs for the season just concluded. Some spoke lightly about the possibilities of meeting on the field in 1863 and others spoke about the meeting that was to soon take place, “the seventh of the National Association of Base-Ball Players.”3
President D. Milliken, esq., of the Union Club (Morrisania, New York) called the meeting to order at 7:30 P.M. and “after the minutes from the previous year’s meetings were read aloud,”4 the attending clubs and their representatives were announced. Those included the following.
- Knickerbocker — Dr. Adams, W.H. Grenelle
- Gotham — W.H. Van Cott, J.P. Dupignac
- Eagle — W.M. Pease, J.W. Mott
- Empire — T. Miller, W. Caylor
- Baltic — E. Kingsland, J. Martin
- Metropolitan — E.H. Brown, J.P. Lacour
- Mutual — P. Smith, J. McConnell
- Independent — W.V. Bryne, W. Steel
- Henry Eckford — Dr. Bell, H. Dalton
- Jefferson — J.R. Postley, E.W. Kirby
- New York — W. Brower, G.T. Hewlet5
- Harlem — G.W. Thomson, A.G. Armour6
- Eckford — W.A. Brown, R. Ketchum
- Excelsior — Dr. Jones, J.B. Leggett
- Atlantic — F.R. Boughton, S.A. Smith
- Star — J. Mitchell, T. F Jones
- Charter Oak — J.O. Oswald, T.H. Vanderhoef
- Continental — N.B. Law, J. Silsby
- Olympic — L. Fenn, H.K. Hotchkiss
- Resolute — F. Cowperthwaite, R.S. Canfield
- Constellation — J.L. Smith, J. Foster
- Brooklyn — A. Robbins
- Favorita — C.W. Cooper
- Hamilton — C.J. Bergen, E.L. Wilbur
- Morrisania, N.Y. — (Union) — D. Milliken, W. Cauldwell
- Newark, N.J. — (Eureka) — J.W. Dawson, C.J. Thomas
- Newark, N.J. — (Newark) — H.T. Dusenberry, E.H. Dawson
- Newburgh — N.Y. — (Hudson River) — J.C. Adams, S.W. Miller
- Troy, N.Y. — (Victory) — R. Green, J. Adams
- Philadelphia, Pa. — (Athletic) — T. Fitzgerald, D.W.C. Moore
Wilkes’ printed the following on the attendance of the 1863 convention. “We were a little surprised that the Bowdoin and Tri-Mountain clubs of Boston, the Pioneer of Springfield, the Olympic and Adriatic of Philadelphia, the Poughkeepsie and Kingston clubs, together with those of Rochester and Detroit were not represented. But a moment’s reflection taught us that many of their members were performing patriotic duty in the Union army, and, in consequence, many of the clubs enumerated were temporarily disbanded.”7 Although the war may have provided a hurdle for clubs not in the immediate region, no club outside that area, except one from Michigan in 1859, had attended any convention to that point.
A fair number of ballplayers enlisted in the Union army. It was understood that if a player lived in the New York-Brooklyn-New Jersey area, for example, the North was the army that should be joined. That was not the case with Andrew T. Pearsall, who was the regular first baseman for the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn in 1859-1860. He graduated from Columbia’s medical school in 1861 and since the Excelsior Club did not play any matches in 1861 — reportedly 91 of its members had joined the Union army8 — Pearsall became a physician in Brooklyn. He disappeared during the winter of 1862, without leaving a forwarding address to friends or his former baseball club. Mr. Pearsall turned up as a brigade surgeon on Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s staff. “While leading Union prisoners through the streets of Richmond, Va., he reportedly recognized one of the prisoners as a former member of the Excelsiors.9 The two spoke and Pearsall asked about Leggett, Flanley, Creighton, and Brainard.”10 Pearsall’s whereabouts made its way to back to the Excelsiors and he was immediately and unanimously expelled from the club.
E.H. Brown (Metropolitan) was called on to provide the Treasury report and announced a balance of $314.97,11 after expenses of $179.40.12 Annual dues for registration to the NABBP was $2 per club. New clubs were required to pay a $5 initiation fee.13
Three amendments to the rules were proposed and received by Dr. Jones (Excelsior), the chairman of the Rules Committee; however, because the committee did not present these to the convention committee prior to the 1862 meeting, no changes to the playing rules could officially be made. Two events had resulted in the Rules Committee being unable to forward its recommended changes before the convention. In March of 1862, Dr. Adams (Knickerbocker) resigned from the Knickerbocker Club as well as the Rules Committee, married, and moved to Connecticut. Judge William Van Cott (Gotham) traveled to Centerville, Virginia, in the middle of November to be with his 18-year-old son, Leonard, who had contracted typhoid fever 2½ months after enlisting in the 119th New York Regiment. Leonard died on December 3.14 Both Adams and Van Cott were important to the growth of baseball during its infancy.
Daniel “Doc” Adams joined the Knickerbockers in October of 1845, one month after they officially formed, and quickly became respected not only with the Knickerbockers, but with the baseball-playing community. He was elected vice president of the Knickerbockers seven months after joining. On June 5, 1846, he and two others were appointed to organize a match with the New York Base Ball Club.15 Adams was elected president of the Knickerbockers in April of 1847 and re-elected in 1848 and 1849. He is credited, initially by his own admission, with creating the position of shortstop. He recalled that he did not position himself there to plug a hole in the infield but to aid the outfield in getting the ball back into the infield. Adams made the baseballs that the Knicks used in the late 1840s and early 1850s.
On November 19, 1853, Adams, Duncan Curry, and William Tucker were appointed to codify a set of playing rules at the invitation of the Eagle Club.16 Adams was a director of the Knickerbockers in 1854 and 1855 and returned as the elected president in 1856 and 1857. At a Knickerbocker meeting in 1856, Adams and Louis F. Wadsworth proposed that nonmembers be allowed to participate in Knickerbocker intramural games.17 Their motion was defeated, but the event showed that some players wanted to explore other avenues of membership possibilities. During that 1856 meeting, Adams was appointed to chair a committee to organize a baseball convention for New York and surrounding clubs.18
Adams represented the Knickerbockers at the first meeting of the amateur clubs in January 1857 and was the chairman of the Committee on Rules and Regulations. At this meeting the distance between bases was standardized to 30 yards and the distance from the pitcher’s line to the center of home base was set at 45 feet. Adams also proposed that the “fly game” (fair hit batted balls required to be caught before hitting the ground to retire the batter) be used for all matches; however, that was rejected.
Adams umpired the third and deciding match of the New York vs. Brooklyn All-Star series, held at the Fashion Race Course in Queens, and called three batters out on strikes, the first year umpires were empowered to do so.
He returned as the Knickerbockers president in 1861 and left the club in March of 1862 after getting married and moving to Connecticut.
William H. Van Cott began in 1845 with the Washington Club of New York, one of the first organized clubs in the area. He became the founder and first president of the Gotham Club of New York in 1850. He remained president until 186019 and was elected the first president of the NABBP in March of 1858. He played in the first two historic Fashion Race Course matches in 1858, in Queens. Van Cott was highly respected by the New York/Brooklyn baseball fraternity. He was a lawyer and a New York City judge, serving 16 years. Three of his sons served in the Union army.
This was the only time in the 19th century that the playing rules were not altered. As a result, Beadle’s Dime Base Ball Player, the yearly baseball publication, was not printed for the only time in its history. The publication enjoyed a run from 1860 through 1881.
On recommendation of the Committee on Nominations, three new clubs be admitted to the Association:
- Keystone of Philadelphia, Pa. — J. Duffy, F.A. Frazer
- Knickerbocker of Albany, N.Y. — W.V.B. Wynne, C. Corey
- Mystic of Yorkville, N.Y. — C.W. Glover, W.H. Kelly20
It was announced that the Favorita Club and the Brooklyn Club, both from Brooklyn, had merged and become the Union Club. They would be recognized as such by the Association from 1863 on; however, they were required to pay dues for the 1862 convention as single clubs.21
Roll call was asked for a second time; the New York Times listed only 27 clubs and their delegates as responding.22 This was clearly a misprint due to the number of clubs that voted for the vice president’s seat. The number of votes, two per club except the Favorita Club and Brooklyn Club, which had one delegate each, is short by three votes. The following clubs, and their number of votes, were not reported by the Times as responding to the second roll call: Mutual (2), Harlem (2), Brooklyn (1), Hamilton (2), Morrisania (2), and Eureka (2). No initial roll-call roster was printed by the Times.
Officer elections were held next. Col. Thomas Fitzgerald of the Athletic of Philadelphia Club, the editor of the City Item, was unanimously elected president.23 He was nominated by W.A. Brown (Eckford) and no one was put forth to oppose him. Fitzgerald was brought to the chair by Jones (Excelsior) and Milliken (Union), where he received a resounding applause and made a well-received speech.24 This was the first time the president-elect was not from either a Brooklyn or New York club, demonstrating the popularity of baseball, at least from an East Coast standpoint.
Officers elected for 1863
- President — T. Fitzgerald (Athletic, Pa.)
- First Vice President — J.W. Dawson (Eureka, N.J.)
- Second Vice President — F.R. Boughton (Atlantic)
- Corresponding Secretary — J.W. Willet (Eagle)
- Recording Secretary — J.R. Postley (Jefferson) re-elected. (Postley was not only re-elected for 1863, he was reinstated to the position he had held since the inception of the NABBP.25)
- Treasurer — E.H. Brown (Metropolitan) re-elected
Two vice presidents were elected after three votes. The first run-off between Dawson and Boughton resulted in 28 votes for each. The second produced 27 votes each. Boughton won the third election 30 to 27, with J.C. Adams (Hudson River) receiving a vote.26
The Printing Committee retained its membership.27
The following were elected to the Committee on Rules and Regulations:
- J.B. Jones (Excelsior); W. Cauldwell (Morrisania); W.A. Brown (Eckford); W.H. Grenelle (Knickerbocker); W.H. Bell (Henry Eckford); T. Miller (Empire); H.J. Dusenberry (Newark); J.S. Mitchell (Star); and W.H. Van Cott (Gotham).28
Delegates of the Empire Club presented a protest against the Mutual Club, accusing the Mutuals of violating the rules of the game by using ineligible players during the 1861 season.29 It was decided that E.H. Brown (Metropolitan), J.B. Jones (Excelsior), and J.W. Mott (Eagle) would render a decision.30
The players in question, Ward and Dewey, were formerly of the Empire Club and joined the Mutuals for the 1862 season. The only reason for the Empire Club’s assertion, since no club was able to claim ownership over any player, was that these two players must have been in arrears regarding fine money owed to the Empire Club. Ward played for the Empire Club from 1857 through 1861. Dewey started with the Hoboken Club in 1859, then joined the Empire Club in 1860 and continued until the conclusion of the 1861 season. Ward appeared in six of the 11 matches for the Mutuals’ first nine and Dewey appeared in seven. Newspaper accounts of the games each appeared in never made any mention that they were ineligible, nor was any protest reported by any of the Mutuals’ opponents. Both players made the trip to Philadelphia in August.31
According to the Mercury, the committee met on December 17 at the Eagles room on Wooster Street,32 and “after a full hearing of the statements made by both clubs, finally deciding that the charges preferred having been proved, the games wherein Messes. Ward and Dewey took part are null and void, and consequently the balls lost or won must be returned.”33 No further evidence indicating that the Mutuals actually complied with the ruling was published, and it is doubtful that they did. Neither Ward nor Dewey played, at least under those names, in 1863. Ward continued with the Empire Club in 1864 until he “retired” in 1866. Dewey’s name never turned up again.
- Committee on Nominations: J. McConnell (Mutual); E. Kingsland (Baltic); J.P. Dupignac (Gotham).34
The business of the rules was addressed for a second time. “A communication received by the Committee on Rules was read by the Secretary, the Chairman of the Committee, Dr. Jones, previously stating that, though the suggestions made were indorsed by the Committee, owing to their not being received in time, and no meeting having been held, no official action could be taken in reference in the matter.”35
The first suggested amendment was to remove the words “or moves” from Section 6, changing the definition of how the pitcher balks, solely basing the infraction on his arm movement and eliminating body movement.36 The second referred to Sections 17, 18, 19, and 21. The words “touch,” “touched,” and “touching,” would replace “made,” “make,” and “making” regarding the bases. The reasoning was that in order to make a “base,” it must be “touched.”37 The final proposal concerned how runners might advance after a foul ball was struck. The phrase “and shall remain upon them” was to follow “and shall return to them” in Section 16.38 Now after a foul ball was struck and the pitcher held the ball anywhere on the playing grounds and the baserunner or runners were touching their original base, the ball and play was considered live, allowing all runners the chance to advance, at their own risk. Specifically, the proposal stated, “(I)n order that players running bases on foul balls shall not be allowed to move off their bases after returning to them, until the ball is settled in the hands of the pitcher, as they do in the cases of fly-catches, when a player can leave his base — if on it at the time — the moment the ball is caught, or immediately after he has return to it, provided the base is touched after the ball is caught.”39
Even though the amendments could not be officially accepted and implemented, the Mercury reported differently: “Every match next season will be played according to the above amendments, as the same having been endorsed by the Committee, only required the mere formalities of the by-laws, in relation to their reception, to have been gone through with to make them legal.”40 Wilkes’ reported that, even though the rules were approved, “it is optional with clubs to be governed by them.”41
The convention voted to have its proceedings published in the New York Sunday Mercury and the City Item (Philadelphia) among the numerous “obscure and unimportant papers” proposed by those in attendance.42
A mention of the death of Jim Creighton of the Excelsior Club seven weeks earlier was made and, on a motion from W.A. Brown (Eckford), the delegates voted to have a letter expressing the Association’s feelings sent to the Creighton family.43 Dr. Jones (Excelsior) spoke and denied that Creighton suffered his fatal injury during a baseball match. He said it was during a cricket match.44
The initial issue of the New York Clipper in 1863 printed a synopsis of Creighton’s career accompanied by statistical charts of his yearly baseball and cricket performances. Although he was listed as a regular member of the St. George Cricket Club, the Clipper reported, “We regret to say that not only was there not a solitary member of that club present at his funeral, save their worthy professional, Harry Wright, but to our knowledge, not the least action has been taken by the club, in reference to his death, in the way of resolutions of condolence to his relatives.”45 The Clipper continued, “The least that could have been done in the case was to hold a special meeting, as the Excelsior Club did, and adopt some resolutions in regard to the sudden loss of so valuable a member of their club.”46
One of the first legends of baseball, Jim Creighton died on October 22, 1862, about seven weeks before the Association’s meeting. His skill as a baseball pitcher and cricket bowler, coupled with his youth, vaulted him to iconic status. He appeared for three clubs in two seasons, Niagara Club and Star Club in 1859 and the Excelsior Club in 1860, almost certainly making him one of the first paid baseball players, if not the first.
The death of catcher Guysbert Vandenbroeck Holt (Henry Eckford) was announced. It was reported that he was accidentally killed while on duty with the Union Army.47 According to the Clipper, he “was shot while on picket duty in Virginia, while attached to the 18th Regt. of Brooklyn.”48 Holt was 21 years and 5 months old. He played for the Pastime Club of Brooklyn in 1858 and 1859, the Hamilton Club of Brooklyn in 1860, and the Henry Eckford Club of New York in 1861.49 He played his last baseball game on July 20 for the 13th Regiment, New York State Militia, against the 4th Regiment, New York State Volunteers. Holt played second base in the 13th Regiment’s 16-11 victory at Camp Crooke in Suffolk, Virginia.50 Holt was accidentally shot August 11 by the same 4th Regiment while returning to camp after a 24-hour guard-duty stint.51
The National Association of Base Ball Players was anything but when compared with the number of clubs existing in 1862. It served the East Coast and only a limited number of clubs at that. The East Coast, specifically New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey, continued to be the heart of baseball’s pulse. The most heavily attended matches, the most print coverage and the best players all were from this area. Changes in playing rules originated in the area and were taken up by clubs elsewhere in the country.
1 Sunday Mercury; December 14, 1862.
2 Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862.
3 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862, Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862.
4 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862.
5 According to Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862. These clubs were not reported in other sources.
7 Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862.
8 William J. Ryczek, When Johnny Came Sliding Home (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1998).
9 Mears Base Ball Scrapbooks, Vol. 4, 1856-1868.
11 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862.
12 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 11, 1862.
13 Mears Base Ball Scrapbooks Vol. 4, 1856-1868.
15 Charles A. Peverelly, The Book of American Pastimes (1866).
17 John Thorn, Baseball In the Garden of Eden (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).
18 William J. Ryczek, Baseball’s First Innings (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009).
20 Information printed in Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862.
21 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862.
22 New York Times, December 12, 1862.
23 Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862.
24 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862.
25 Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862.
26 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862; Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862. Mears Base Ball Scrapbook, Vol. 4, 1856-1868 reported that Adams (Hudson River) was the person who opposed Boughton.
27 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862.
28 Ibid.; Mears Base Ball Scrapbook, Vol 4, 1856-1868.
29 New York Times, December 12, 1862.
30 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862; Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862. New York Times,, December 12, 1862, listed only Jones and Mott as being on the committee.
31 The statistical information in for this paragraph is derived from multiple sources. Marshall D. Wright, The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2000), seems to be the standard many authors refer to when listing club’s seasonal records and playing members. But the more I research total club matches per year and the players appearing in matches for a club, the less I consider this book as even marginally accurate. In this instance, the 1862 Mutuals are reported by Wright to have compiled an 8-5 record. The July 19 match against the Gotham Club and the July 28 match against the Jefferson Club, both wins, were actually second-nine matches. The Mutuals’ first-nine record for 1862 should be 6-5. Of the 13 matches Wright lists, he footnotes that in eight of those matches the box scores were not available. All are in fact available. Wright also states that Ward played in three matches and Dewey in five. I found contrary information and report so in this paragraph.
32 Sunday Mercury, December 21, 1862.
34 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862; Mears Base Ball Scrapbook, Vol 4, 1856-1868.
35 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862.
41 Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862.
42 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862.
43 Ibid.; Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862.
44 New York Times, December 12, 1862.
45 New York Clipper, January 3, 1863.
47 Sunday Mercury, December 14, 1862; Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, December 20, 1862.
48 New York Clipper, December 12, 1862. Holt was actually with the 13th Regiment, New York State Militia.
49 This information was extracted from Mears Base Ball Scrapbooks, Vol. 1a, 1853-1859, Mears Base Ball Scrapbooks Vol. 1, 1860-1861, Mears Base Ball Scrapbooks Vol. 1, 1862-1863.
50 Mears Base Ball Scrapbooks Vol. 1, 1862-1863.