Remington: Anniversary of a myth: The Knickerbockers’ most famous game

From Alex Remington at The Hardball Times on June 19, 2015, with mention of SABR members John Thorn, Peter Morris, John Husman, David Block, and Tom Shieber:

One hundred sixty-nine years ago today, the New York Knickerbockers played one of the most famous baseball games of all time. The team often credited with writing down the first formal set of baseball rules took on a club called the New York Nine at a pleasure park called the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J., and lost in a laugher, 23-1. For his role in this game and others, Knickerbockers co-founder Alexander Cartwright has a plaque at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown which names him “Father of Modern Base Ball.” For decades, historians believed that the June 19 match was the first organized baseball game ever played.

It wasn’t. In fact, almost none of that is strictly true: Cartwright wasn’t the most important Knickerbocker, the Knickerbockers probably didn’t write the first baseball rulebook, their victorious opponents were never called the New York Nine, the game itself may have been more intramural than a true match game, and in any event the Knicks played their first games in the fall of 1845 (and their first match games were probably in the 1850s).

The enduring fame of this particular game and of its players is the product of circumstance and self-aware myth-making. As the official historian of Major League Baseball, John Thorn, has written: “The history of baseball is a lie from beginning to end, from its creation myth to its rosy models of commerce, community, and fair play.” The myths I recounted in the first paragraph endure on Cartwright’s Hall of Fame plaque, in a 1960 tome called Baseball: The Early Years, which its author calls “the first scholarly history of baseball’s early years by a professional historian,” and even on the official website of the State of New Jersey.

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Originally published: June 19, 2015. Last Updated: June 19, 2015.