Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Base Ball by Committee

While there were distinct on the field differences between the New York game and earlier versions of base ball there was an equally important difference off the field.  The New York version was far more organized since its development was interconnected with the formalized structure of the base ball club. Organizing a base ball club meant establishing procedures for what the participants both wanted to do and had to do.  In addition clubs needed a process to deal with anything not envisioned in their rules and regulations.

Like other early clubs the Hamilton Club of Jersey City, approved and printed by-laws and a constitution.  As we saw in the last post, this included a specific process for accepting, and sometimes rejecting, new members.  Since their first priority was “field exercise” or practice (what we would call inter-squad games), they also took the time to establish written guidelines for how practice days would work.

For example, they knew they would need an umpire and probably also knew it would not be a popular job.  So they included a provision in the by-laws that everyone had to take a turn and the responsibility would rotate in alphabetical order.  By doing so they established a requirement and a specific, objective means for meeting that requirement.  Similarly the by-laws also lay out how the day’s captains would be chosen, sides will be picked, which side will be “first in hand” (first at bat) , and a series of prohibited behaviors including expressing an opinion on a “doubtful play” before the umpire made  a call.  This and other inappropriate behavior would carry pecuniary penalties ranging from 10 to 25 cents (more on this in the next post).

While detailed guidelines were established for “field exercise,” the subject of match play is not even mentioned in the by-laws.  This may seem surprising, but as Richard Hershberger commented on a prior post, “field exercise” or “practice,” not match play was the first priority of early base ball clubs.  Since match play was not covered in the by-laws, all related issues had to be resolved on a case by case basis by majority vote.  As a result the minute books reflect votes on – whether to make or accept a challenge, how to a pick a “nine” for a match, whether to accept or offer a post match dinner, and even to appoint a score keeper (thank God the Flemington Neshanock don’t follow that practice).

Reading the minute book indicates the Hamilton Club members were seldom of one mind on anything.  Some motions to accept or offer a challenge were either defeated or tied forcing the club president to cast the deciding vote.  The members also appeared to lack confidence in the club president, defeating a motion authorizing him to pick the nine for one match, opting instead to have a committee make the decisions.  While the Hamiltons may have considered themselves to be gentlemen, they had more than their share of disagreements.  The club couldn’t even agree on using club funds to buy two bottles of brandy.  Perhaps a positive outcome on that one might have made them less contentious – at least for one meeting!


  1. Richard HershbergerApril 11, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    There was not intrinsic tie between the New York game and formally organized ball clubs. The Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia had a formal constitution long before the NY game ever developed.

    The apparent connection between the NY game and club constitutions is a matter of correlation, not causation. There was a general trend in the late 1850s for organized sports clubs of all sorts. This is also, not coincidentally, when the NY game began spreading beyond the metro NY area. So there are places (many, in fact) where the first organized ball club was playing the NY game, but there were also many places where there were organized ball clubs playing their local version. It was simply a question of which trend happened to hit any particular place first.

  2. Richard HershbergerApril 12, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    I just noticed that that challenge to the Knickerbockers was for the proposed match to use the fly game. This is very interesting. The Hamiltons attended the NABBP conventions of 1859 and 1860. I don't know how they voted on the fly game in 1859, though it would probably be possible to find out if we can identify their delegates to the convention. But I do know that in 1860 both delegates voted against the fly game. The Knickerbockers instituted a series of fly matches starting in 1859. It seems odd that the Hamiltons would vote against the fly game then propose playing a fly match. Perhaps they hoped to attract the Knickerbockers this way, and thereby gain prestige.

  3. I don't recall seeing anything in the Jersey City papers about their delegates either year, but I'll look again. Is there a listing any place of attendees in 1859 that I could search for Hamilton names?

    1. Richard HershbergerApril 13, 2012 at 11:22 AM

      I am looking through my notes. As an aside, I came across an NY Evening Express piece going into the 1859 season. It includes a list of about fifty "regular clubs" then extant, with dates of organization, play ground, and play days. For the Hamilton Club of Jersey City the entry is "organized May 28, 1858, plays at Hamilton Square, South 1st street, Jersey City, on Wednesday and Saturday."

      But back to the point: The Hamilton delegates at the March 1860 convention were H.A. Coursen and J. O. Shaffer, per the NY Sunday Mercury of 3/18/60. (Coursen's middle initial may be wrong: the copy is not perfectly clear.) The Sunday Mercury of 3/20/59 lists the delegates and their votes on the fly game, but does not state what clubs they represented. Coursen is among the nays. Shaffer is not listed. The two delegates on either side of the list are a Ludlow and a Green. At least some of the club delegates are listed together, so it is a reasonable guess that one of these was the other Hamilton delegate. (Of course it is also possible that the club sent only one delegate. This was not uncommon among out-of-town clubs.)