Paterson Daily Press - July 31, 1867
The 1860 charter clubs apparently faded out after their first year and it wasn't until 1863 that the first clubs with any real staying power were organized in Alexander Hamilton's model industrial city. All told, four clubs took the field for the first time that year, followed by another four in 1864, the most important of which was the Olympic Club which became the city's most competitive team of the pioneer period. Although the Olympics died out towards the end of the decade, they were re-incarnated in the 1870's and produced four future major leaguers, most notably Hall of Famer, Mike "King" Kelly. The biggest year of post war growth in Paterson was 1867 when the city was home to 26 different clubs in what one contemporary newspaper called the "base ball craze."
Yet what's of special interest in Paterson in 1867 is not this burst of enthusiasm for the New York game, but an equally strong surge of energy and enthusiasm for what at the time was called old-fashioned base ball. The first inkling that something different was up came in an article in the Paterson Daily Press of July 31, 1867 about an upcoming "great match" which promised to be "a rich affair" between the Unknown and Neversweat Clubs. The match took place the following day before a crowd estimated at more than a thousand, all watching a group of men who claimed they "never played the modern game," re-create the game of their youth.
Paterson Daily Press - August 2, 1867
Unfortunately the account of the match doesn't provide many details about the rules of the game, but does confirm 11 on a side, no foul territory and "plugging" as a means of recording outs in a game of six innings with three out per side. Some information was provided, however, about the field, which was described as having a first base, a rod (16.5 feet) to the right and a little in front of the batter, second base "about" 20 rods (330 feet) in front of the batter and a home plate 10 feet to the left of the batter. No mention is made of third base and the description of at least one play suggests runners came directly home from second. The distance between the batter and second base is far greater than the New York game, raising questions for me about the accuracy of either the account or the memory of the participants. In this particular match, the Neversweats trailed 28-20 going to their last at bat in the bottom of the sixth where they tallied 24 runs, to win 44-28 in one of the most deceiving final scores in the history of almost any kind of base ball.
Paterson Daily Press - August 8, 1867
By itself this match would have been interesting, but hardly unique since it's not a lot different than the annual matches played by the Antiquarian Knickerbocker Club of Newark from 1857 through the early 1870's. Although these Knickerbocker matches were also reportedly well attended, they were an annual event more or less limited to one group of participants. In Paterson's case, however, the game account in the Daily Press included a notice of numerous challenges for further old-fashioned matches and less than a week later a select eleven from Paterson traveled to nearby Little Falls where they lost, 63-57, to a select eleven from that community. Over the next two months four different departments at the Grant Locomotive works formed teams for inter-company matches while a team from the Erie Machine Shop took on another new club, the Michael Erle's. All told, ten different teams were organized in 1867 so that over 100 men played in at least one match of old-fashioned base ball. However this spurt of interest in the old game was short lived as no record has been found of additional matches in 1868 or thereafter, although periodic reports into the 1870's suggested that at least one club still existed and talked about getting back on to the field.
John Walden was captain of the Unknown old-fashioned club and his saloon hosted numerous post match gatherings in 1867
The most intriguing question of this summer of old-fashioned base ball is what prompted over 100 men to organize themselves to play the "old" game at just the time the "new" game reached its peak in this thriving industrial city. Since none of them left any explanation about their motives, all answers are speculative, but looking at the makeup of the first two clubs - the Unknowns and Neversweats offers at least some material for that speculation. John Garrabrant, the captain of the Neversweats and a number of the Unknown Club members were hotel or saloon operators including John Walden, who, not only operated an oyster saloon but, had just opened the Paterson Opera House, the city's first theater. This, and some comments in the game accounts, suggests something of a social or festive atmosphere which bears some similarity to the Knickerbocker experience in Newark indicating that perhaps entertainment was as important as competition.
Paterson Daily Press - August 26, 1867
Even more interesting is the age of the members of the initial clubs, an average of 35 in 1867 so that they were in their early 20's during the antebellum period when the New York game first spread into New Jersey. By the post war period of base ball expansion, when these "old-fashioned" players were in their 30's, the organized base ball clubs in Paterson consisted almost exclusively of youngsters in their teens or the older more proficient members of the Olympic Club. Faced with forming their own clubs to play a "new" game against players who were much younger, more proficient or both, they chose instead to return to a game of their youth. Unlike the Knickerbockers of Newark who formed one club to play amongst themselves, the Patersonians opted for two club providing some level of competition, probably not even thinking about anything beyond that. That first match was clearly appealing enough that others, some in their age group and some younger, decided to try their hand resulting an a two month flurry of old-fashioned base ball played at the same time 26 other clubs were playing the New York game.
Paterson Daily Press - August 28, 1867
It's not surprising this attempt at putting old wine in new wine skins didn't have any staying power as the combination of age and personal responsibilities for a group in their 30's, would have made it difficult to sustain the level of activity. While it's tempting to think of this as the first vintage base ball league or association, it's very different from vintage base ball where all the participants try to learn "new" rules while forgetting some of the "old" rules and practices they grew up with. The Paterson players resumed playing, as men, a game they played or knew, probably informally as boys, and hadn't played in years. Born too early to be part of the introduction of the New York game, they were part of the last generation of American youth to grow up without the opportunity to play organized base ball. Possibly part of their motivation was to show the younger generation that they had their own game, one that also required skill and talent.