Baseball in New York in 1823

From SABR member George A. Thompson (via John Thorn’s “Our Game” blog) on August 27:

COMMUNICATION. I was last Saturday much pleased in witnessing a company of active young men playing the manly and athletic game of “base ball” at the Retreat in Broadway (Jones’). I am informed they are an organized association, and that a very interesting game will be played on Saturday next at the above place, to commence at half past 3 o’clock, P.M. Any person fond of witnessing this game may avail himself of seeing it played with consummate skill and wonderful dexterity. It is surprising, and to be regretted that the young men of our city do not engage more in this manual sport; it is innocent amusement, and healthy exercise, attended with but little expense, and has no demoralizing tendency.— A SPECTATOR.1 

Finding this note—roughly 10 years ago—made me famous for about 72 hours. I hit the front page (above the fold) of The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune; the story was reprinted by newspapers in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and elsewhere; I was interviewed by telephone by a sports-talk jock in Cincinnati and by the BBC, where I followed a discussion of the Kyoto Accord. Since then, of course, I have sunk back into obscurity.


If the notice was sent to other papers, it was ignored: I have looked in several for that week without finding it. The letter was published on Friday, the day before the game. There was no later report on the outcome of the game. The newspapers of that era did not employ reporters, and depended on letters like this one for their coverage of local events that the editor did not himself witness. The editors seem to have felt more responsible for telling their readers that an interesting event was going to take place than for describing it afterwards. For example, shipbuilding was the most highly organized industry in New York at that time, and the launch of a full-sized ship was a spectacular event. Newspapers regularly printed one-sentence notes telling their readers that a ship was to be launched the next morning from some yard on the East River, but rarely ran an account of the event afterwards.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: August 29, 2011. Last Updated: August 29, 2011.