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Hoboken’s History with Baseball

by Kevin Hurler
hoboken baseball

On June 19, 1846, the first recorded baseball game match was played in Hoboken, where the New York Base Ball Club defeated the Knickerbockers 23 to 1. While baseball had previously been played in various iterations throughout the late 18th and early 19th century, this game marked the first time a game had been played using rules resembling those of today. As such, one could argue that this particular game marked the birth of America’s beloved pastime. While the original field—Elysian Fields—no longer exists, the bones of this historic game still exist in uptown Hoboken.

The Doubleday Myth

The earliest history of baseball is still currently debated amongst historians, but some of the prevailing theories tie the birth of the sport back to New York and Manhattan. More specifically, a Civil War officer by the name of Abner Doubleday is credited as the father of the game. In 1893, Doubleday drew a schematic resembling a baseball field, as well as developed rules involving four bases and a pitcher tossing balls to batters. 

The rules were implemented in short games between local schools in Cooperstown, New York, where Doubleday resided. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the early history of baseball is shrouded in mystery, and the idea that Doubleday invented America’s pastime is widely held to be a myth by modern baseball historians. 

The New York Knickerbockers

At some point, baseball began to become more common through the American Northeast. How the game made its way to Manhattan is unclear, but in the early 1840s, a rivalry began to brew between baseball teams (called “clubs”) in the city. 

The Gotham Club of New York was first formed in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan as a baseball club and could be seen practicing on a vacant Army parade ground near Madison Square Park. There, they were known for practicing baseball drills instead of playing baseball games. Growing tired and bored of running exercises, Alexander Joy Cartwright led the formation of the New York Knickerbockers in 1845.

The Knickerbockers were known for their invitation-only membership and for being the first team to wear a baseball uniform: a white shirt, with a blue hat, and blue pants. The Knickerbockers operated under a set of basic rules, some of which promoted gentleman-like conduct and sportsmanship. Most of which, meanwhile, described the modern rules of baseball which cause some to believe Cartwright is the true father of baseball. New York City at the time was booming, and green space was quickly dwindling, leading Cartwright and the Knickerbockers to look elsewhere for a field to play in. Eventually, they decided on Elysian Fields in Hoboken. 

The First, Officially Recorded Ball Game

In June 1846, the Knickerbockers faced off against the New York Base Ball Club in what is the first recorded game of baseball in history. The New York Base Ball Club destroyed the Knickerbockers 23 to 1. The opposition was, however, fined for swearing by Cartwright who was serving as the game’s umpire. Interestingly enough, some of the players of the New York Base Ball Club were Knickerbocker defectors who grew tired of traveling across the Hudson to practice in Hoboken. 

While characterizing the true origins of baseball in America is a nearly impossible task, one thing is clear: the first, organized game played against two opposing teams occurred in New Jersey. 

Did you know about the significance of baseball in Hoboken? Let us know in the comments. 

Main image via Met Museum

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