The Evolution of the New York Game

From Randall Brown at SABR member John Thorn’s “Our Game” blog on September 29, 2011:

We first organized what we called the Gotham Base Ball club … in 1837. Among the members were Dr. John Miller, a popular physician of that day; John Murphy, a well-known hotelkeeper, and James Lee, president of the New York Chamber of Commerce.*

Creation or evolution? Baseball historians have argued a similar question for a century and a half. American invention or grownup English children’s game? The extensive 1887 testimony of William R. Wheaton, the game’s first umpire, provides satisfaction to both sides.

Wheaton turned 23 in the spring of 1837. He was newly married and had been practicing law for a year. According to John M. Ward, “Colonel James Lee, elected an honorary member of the Knickerbocker Club in 1846, said that he had often played the same game when a boy.”

The members of the club soon swelled beyond the fastidious notions of some of us, and we decided to withdraw and form a new organization we called the Knickerbocker.

The 1887 narrative leaps ahead eight years to the fall of 1845. Wheaton and W. H. Tucker were delegated to draft the rules and bylaws of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. On the occasion of the club’s first game at Elysian Fields, on October 6, Wheaton served as umpire, endorsing the score in the Knickerbocker game book.

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