Posts Tagged ‘early baseball’

The Urban Gentleman

April 15, 2014
Newspaper drawing of one of the 1858 Brooklyn vs New York all-star games

Newspaper drawing of one of the 1858 Brooklyn vs New York all-star games

Folkert Rapelje Boerum was born in Brooklyn 26 October 1829. He was the eldest son of one of the most prominent old families of Brooklyn. The Rapelje’s went back to when New York was New Netherland. One of his ancestors was a member of the governing counsel of the Dutch colony. The Boerum’s came only slightly later, one family member serving the First Continental Congress of 1775. Their home was a big house set on a big lot. They were originally farmers, but by Folkert Boerum’s time the family was established as a “leading family” of Brooklyn. He is described in A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time (the “Present Time” being 1905) as “one of the best and most highly regarded citizens” of the borough. The work also uses words like “public-spirited” and “trusted” to describe him. He helped maintain the Bushwick and East Brooklyn Dispensary, The Good Samaritan Society, and the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, among other charitable work. He died 13 November 1903 and is buried in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. He is, unquestionably, the very definition of a mid-to late 19th Century American urban gentleman. I guess it’s fair to say he did have one vice. He was also a ballplayer.

When we first run across Boerum in connection with baseball, he’s the catcher and three hitter for the Harmony, one of the older Brooklyn teams. They weren’t all that good, but they did have a handful of quality players. Boerum was one of them. William Babcock, the man who ran the Atlantic, Brooklyn’s premier team, lured Boerum away from the Harmony where he became the team’s starting catcher. He remained there into 1858. He appears as the catcher in one of the 1858 “all-star” games held between Brooklyn’s best and New York City’s best (Brooklyn was an independent city in 1858). By 1859 he’d moved to third base where he was considered one of the finest third sackers of his day. He remained at third until 1861 when he retired from the game. I’m not sure why. I can find no evidence that he joined the Union Army after Fort Sumter. During 1858-1860 he served as club vice president.

Boerum is an extremely good example of an early baseball player. It was a world of amateurism and only men with a certain amount of leisure time could afford to take off time to play ball. Working stiffs simply couldn’t afford to lose the pay. Most of the early players were wealthy farmers or insurance men or doctors or some sort of other professional who received (for the time) a good paycheck and had free time to pursue the game in “gentlemen” clubs. That defines Boerum and most of his teammates and opponents. With the arrival of professionals like Jim Creighton (who played for the Excelsiors against Boerum) the game changed and we lost the Boerum’s of the game.


A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Early Baseball

January 10, 2011

Capitoline Grounds, Brooklyn (about 1870)

So far I’ve stayed away from questions of baseball’s origins or of its formative, non-professional years. The main reason for that is simply I don’t have the level of expertise to weigh in authoritatively. But with that caveat, I want to look at Paleolithic baseball in a few posts. Here’s a baker’s dozen of early thoughts on what I’ve found. Be aware that many of these comments are overly broad and are meant as general, rather than specific, in nature.

1. There seems to be general agreement that the Knickerbockers created a set of rules that became the basis for modern baseball, thus setting New York baseball apart from games with more informal rules. There is great disagreement as to who actually did them (Alexander Cartwright or someone else), how much impact they initially had, and when other teams began to use them as the basis for the way they played the game. The idea that the Knickerbockers invented the game is universally ridiculed as nonsense.

2. The best early teams were mostly centered around New York, with Brooklyn especially being a hotbed. And despite most being in the North, they were almost uniformly segregated by race.

3. Having said that, there were teams a lot of places from Boston to DC and further away from the coast.  Many had their own set of rules that differed greatly from what we might consider baseball.

4. By the mid-1850s the New York teams and rules were dominant and other teams were beginning to use the New York set of rules (founded in some degree on the Knickerbocker rules).

5. It was a hitters game. Even losing teams were scoring 25-30 runs.

6. Uniforms were already present and evolving, but neither ball parks nor equipment were particularly evolving.  Ball parks were in many ways simply large open spaces where someone stuck down some bases (That’s a bit overstated, but not by much.). There were no gloves and the primary difference between a bat and a table leg is that the latter came with a table top attached.

7. There were some genuinely excellent players and I plan to do a couple of posts on some of them.

8. There was already one great team, the Atlantic, and they also get a post.

9. The impulse to organize a league led to a loose confederation of teams and players that tried to set up a standard schedule and championship play without much success.

10. Professionalism was rearing its head as early as 1860 (and perhaps earlier) and would end up tearing apart the fabric of the earliest league and many of its teams. This would culminate with the Red Stockings, the Pike Case, and the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.

11. Rosters were extremely tiny and apparently flexible. In following one team through one year, I’ve discovered great shifts in players and it’s almost impossible to tell that a team one year is the same team the next by simply looking at the rosters; turn-over is that great. By about 1860 this begins to cease and rosters become more stable, but not significantly larger.

12. The Civil War did a job on a number of teams and players.

13. And no where in all this does the name Abner Doubleday appear (but you already knew that, right?).