In trying to decide who I’d like to put into My Own Little Hall of Fame, I have from the beginning considered pioneers, owners, and team founders as legitimate candidates. So I’ve written down a bunch of names, some of which will be familiar to you, others utterly obscure. While on the phone with my son one day I ran down the list for him. He almost immediately asked, “Who’s William V. Babcock?” Here’s an answer to his question, and most likely the question you’re currently asking.
The great pre-National Association of Professional Base Ball Players team was the Atlantic of Brooklyn (hereafter the Atlantics). They were formed in 1855 and dominated New York baseball through the 1860s. Their primary founder was William V. Babcock.
Babcock was born in 1833. He was an engraver and printer who happened to like baseball. In August 1855 he was the primary force in forming the Atlantics (Thomas Tassie, who did much of the administrative work for the club and Caleb Sniffen, the original pitcher were the other men who helped Babcock form the club). Initially the team was, like many of the better teams in New York and Brooklyn, a gentleman’s club formed to promote recreation among the businessmen of the area (this time Brooklyn). The most significant form of recreation and exercise was baseball so they formed a ball team. Babcock was initially a shortstop who did a little pitching.
By 1857 he was vice president of the club but was looking for new opportunities. In late 1857 he moved to California, setting up shop in San Francisco. He is credited with forming in 1858 the first team on the West Coast to play baseball using the National Association of Base Ball Players rules. The game was played in November 1858 with Babcock, who knew the rules better than anyone else, acting as umpire.
By 1859 he’d had enough of California and returned to New York (there’s a joke there, but I’ll let you write your own) where he again hooked up with the Atlantics. He served as vice president and later club president during much of the 1860s. During that period the Atlantics established themselves as the best team in baseball. They won pennants in 1859, 1860, 1861, 1864, 1865, 1866, and 1869 (a record to make even the Yankees proud). The 1860 pennant was controversial as the Atlantics were losing to Jim Creighton and the Excelsiors when a crowd stormed the field and play was cancelled. The game was not rescheduled and the Atlantics, as defending champions, were declared the new champs (try that today).
After the founding of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, Babcock went back to being strictly a printer, having little input into the team, which did not join the Association. He again drifted away from Brooklyn. He’s still there in 1887 (according to a city directory) but moved shortly thereafter. He settled in Washington, DC by 1888 (he shows up in a city directory) where he worked printing bank notes. By the 1905 New York state census he’s back in Brooklyn as a printer.
In the book Our Devoted Friend: The Dog there’s a story of Babcock embalming his 21-year-old pooch (named Dot), then getting a rosewood coffin and burying the dog in the Hillsdale Pet Cemetery. The dog was apparently a gift from his son. The book is from 1902. Babcock seems to have survived the dog by 13 years. He died in September 1915 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn (along with a number of other pioneers of baseball).
Babcock isn’t one of the first people you think of when you think of paleolithic baseball. But by creating the best team of the era, he formed the first great baseball dynasty. As such he should be remembered as a founder of the game.