Academic journal article Base Ball

Not Likely to Flourish: A Survey of the New York Rules Base Ball Season of 1862

Academic journal article Base Ball

Not Likely to Flourish: A Survey of the New York Rules Base Ball Season of 1862

Article excerpt

Delayed Opening

Within a few short weeks our columns will again teem with the record of base ball and cricket matches. Again the green fields of Hoboken will be made lively and attractive by the voices of the participants in these manly outdoor exercises and sports. From present appearances, the approaching season bid fair to be one of the most brilliant that we have yet had.

-New York Clipper, March 15, 1862

The December National Association of Base Ball Players meeting that concluded the 1861 season had not provided any grounds for the Clipper's spring optimism. Attendance had dropped dramatically since the previous year. Out-of-town clubs stayed home, and many member clubs had disbanded or suspended play as their players went to war. The Clipper, explaining (in the same article) its rosy forecast, predicted:

The rebellion has culminated. Its rapid downfall is but a question of time. As a consequence, there is a feeling of hope of better times coming, that yields an exultation and joyousness that tells well for a thorough enjoyment of the ordinary sports and pastimes in which we are prone to indulge during the summer season.

A month later, even as the New York Sunday Mercury was proclaiming on April 13 that the New York and Brooklyn clubs were "full of life and vigor, and there is every prospect ahead of as lively a base ball season as has ever been witnessed," reports were coming in of the then-shocking casualties (13,000 on the Union side alone) at the inconclusive Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, leaving such prophecies in tatters, and renewing the question of what the new season would bring.

In the event, a more traditional roadblock-spring rains-set the season back, as the Sunday Mercury noted on May 4. It was notable that one of the cancelled matches was the opener for the Excelsior of South Brooklyn, championship contender of 1860, which played no matches at all in 1861 due to heavy losses to the military. Drier weather in May still produced only practices and intrasquad matches, and though the Powhatan and Star Clubs of Brooklyn kicked offthe season with a match on the 22nd, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle complained on May 23: "The season is well advanced and but few contests have taken place; it is high time that the ball should be opened." The Daily Eagle, however, blamed the slow start not on the war but on "the system of waiting until the summer months to play matches, which is getting out of date." The Sunday Mercury, too, on June 1 took a look around and noted the lessened impact of the war, at least on the supply of players: "...the hegira of warlike ball-players is nothing near as great as in 1861, the necessity not being as pressing as it was a year ago."

The Union Grounds

While the sporting press could be suspected of making rosy estimates of the health of all the various outdoor sports for the sake of their circulations, a group in Brooklyn was putting its money where its mouth was. In February, the "indomitable skaters" of the Union Skating Association (which operated Union Pond, a prime locale for the iceskating craze that had been gaining momentum over the past few winters) announced an ambitious project aimed at providing year-round revenue: the organization of the "Union Skating, Riding School, Base Ball, Gymnastic, and Boating Association."1 The Clipper of February 22 published a detailed description of the project:

The design is to construct a body of water on the site of the present pond, but at least three times its size in extent. In the centre of this, a large and commodious building will be erected, in the Swiss style of architecture, which will contain facilities for refreshments, retiring, dressing, reading, and conversation. This central building will be entirely surrounded by water, the communication with it being by handsome bridges from each end, to the streets opposite. By this means the surface of water will be much greater. Adjoining the lake there are to be two large ball grounds laid out, one for base ball-the largest-and the other for cricket clubs. …

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