The Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia

From SABR member Richard Hershberger (via John Thorn’s “Our Game” blog) on September 18, 2011:

A small distance from the woods, I beheld a party of young men, (the majority of whom I afterwards distinguished to be Market street merchants,) and who styled themselves the “Olympic Club,” a title well answering to its name by the manner in which the party amused themselves in the recreant pleasure of town ball …

The Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia was by far the longest-lived baseball club of the amateur era. Its origins go as far back as 1831, when a group of Philadelphians in their twenties gathered to play ball. Two years later they merged with another group, which was loosely organized and went by the name “Olympic.” The combined group kept this name and adopted a formal constitution. The Olympics were still playing ball in the 1880s, with the last record of the club as a going concern dating to 1889.

The Olympics crossed the Delaware River to play in Camden, New Jersey. There is a persistent rumor that this was due to blue laws prohibiting ball play in Philadelphia, but there is no evidence for such an ordinance. It is more likely that they were driven by the same imperative that would have New York ballplayers crossing the Hudson River to Hoboken. There was not yet even rudimentary public transportation. Urban growth pushed open fields beyond easy reach of the center city. Camden was a rural village with ample open space, and conveniently accessible by ferry. There they would remain until just before the Civil War, by which time passenger railroads gave access to outlying regions.

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Originally published: September 19, 2011. Last Updated: September 19, 2011.