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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 14.1 (2005) 47-66

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The Great Base Ball Match of 1858

Base Ball's First All-Star Game

The Great Base Ball Match of 1858, which was a best 2 out of 3 games series, embodies four landmark events that are pivotal to the game's history:

  1. It was organized base ball's very first all-star game.
  2. It was the first base ball game in the New York metropolitan area to be played on an enclosed ground.
  3. It marked the first time that spectators paid for the privilege of attending a base ball game.
  4. The game played on September 10, 1858, is at present the earliest known instance of an umpire calling strikes on a batter. [End Page 47]

Beyond these milestones the well-publicized and widely reported match helped popularize the new game immeasurably. The overwhelming popularity and success of this match paved the way for subsequent events that brought the emerging game to the forefront of the public's consciousness.

In the 1850s the sporting world was dominated by such events as horse races, aquatic events (yacht races and rowing matches), canine events (dogs killing rats), cockfighting, pugilism (boxing matches, with and without gloves), and pedestrianism (walking contests, such as a one-against-one match or a single contestant against the clock). Scottish games were very popular and featured such events as the heavy hammer throw, the standing jump, the long race, and the broad sword dance. In addition to these sports, a variety of shooting matches were popular, including rifle, pistol, and live pigeon shoots.1

Games that used a bat and ball included one old cat, town ball, stool ball, rounders, and several versions of "base." The playing rules were informal and varied from one locale to another. Town ball had a fairly limited following, but it was one of the oldest games played in Philadelphia. The Ol Town Ball Club was organized there in 1831.2 The game was also popular in Cincinnati as well [End Page 48] as other western cities. However, town ball was comparatively unknown and seldom practiced in and near New York. Similarly, the Massachusetts style of base ball was restricted to that geographical region. The version of base ball played almost exclusively in the greater New York metropolitan area was termed "the New York game" to distinguish it from the Massachusetts game.

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Figure 1
New York Gotham vs. Brooklyn Eagle, Elysian Fields, New York Clipper, September 8, 1857. (Image courtesy of the University of Georgia.)

Cricket was far and away the most popular game played with a bat and a ball. The New York Clipper of August 7, 1858, characterized cricket as "this truly 'noble' game." The same issue of the Clipper stated that in 1856 a Grand International cricket match had been played between the United States and Canada on the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, "where not less than 10 or 15,000 persons were present." This International series had originated in 1853 and had been played every year since. The New York Clipper of July 24, 1858, underscored cricket's popularity: "And we are happy to be able to say that within the last three years Young America has taken this game into such serious consideration, that ere long it will be ranked as a National Gameā€”and why should it not?"

Base Ball

The emerging game of base ball had an uphill battle to overcome the popularity advantage held by cricket. But events were in motion to change the status [End Page 48] quo. A sensational best 2 out of 3 games match between the New York Gotham and the Brooklyn Eagle base ball clubs was played in September 1857. The game played on September 8, 1857, is shown in figure 1. The view is looking east toward Manhattan. The configuration and layout of the open ball ground are typical of the era. Note that proper seating...