Every once in awhile there is a new and important find that becomes available to the collecting community and is exceptionally important to the development of the game of baseball. On June 23rd just such an item will come up for auction at the SCP Sotheby's live auction in New York City. The nice thing about the artifacts here is that they have never been offered publicly before and they come directly from the family of one of the most important pitchers of their era. The pieces that I am focusing on for this "National Treasures" article are two hand scripted Official Scoring Reports that were used to score the match between the New York All Stars and the Brooklyn All Stars in 1858.
These Official Reports date from the second pivotal game of the very first All Star Game series held at the Fashion Race Course in Queens on August 17, 1858. The hand written Official Scorers Reports are enormously significant for two main reasons. First not only were the Fashion games the very first time ballplayers played in an All Star capacity but it was also the first series where patrons actually paid for the privilege of seeing a game of baseball. As such these gems represent the very awakening of the National Pastime as a business.
A Little Baseball History
For those of you are not as steeped in sometimes complex roots of baseball's formative years, let me talk a little history here. That will give you an idea of just how truly historical these gems really are. By 1858 New York City and its immediate environs was a hotbed of baseball activity. As most serious baseball fans know, the game initially began to take hold in the New York area as a sport over a decade prior to that time, in 1845, when Alexander Cartwright, an ball playing enthusiast who was by profession an engineer, proposed to other like minded ball players that the game they began to play with some frequency be organized. By the spring of that year, in quick order, the boys found a "suitable ground" in the Elysian Fields, in Hoboken, New Jersey, to play base ball. Their club would be called the Knickerbockers and on September 23, 1845, baseballs first set rules were crafted and adopted.
The following year, the first recorded base ball match occurred between the Knickerbockers and another New York based club and shortly thereafter other amateur clubs mushroomed up around the New York City area. Soon the players doffed colorful uniforms and special caps and by the early 1850's the game was so popular that the New York press began to take regular notice. "Base Ball" the Sunday Mercury exclaimed in 1853 "is not only healthful but it is played in the great outdoors…and excellent games are now at hand". At hand, indeed!
Baseball fever heightened. Certain pockets throughout the land were becoming baseball happy. Even the national press took notice as base ball fans (short for "fanatics") avidly followed their favorite teams and those players who seemed to excel on the ball field. Even the national press took notice. For the first time, Porters Spirit of the Times regularly covered base ball and gave the fans what they wanted to read, namely information about their favorite teams and players and routinely began to report on how teams fared against one another. It seemed that the baseball fans just could not get enough of the game that was quickly overtaking the genteel English game of cricket with its ties to the motherland. Soon base ball became the number one spectator sport in America.
By 1858, it was time to meet, organize and take stock of this game that was now capturing the hearts of men and women not only in New York City but seemingly everywhere in the rapidly developing United States! 1858 was a watershed year in the history of the game that would soon become known world wide as the National Pastime. By late January, when the New York winter still left a chill in the air, there was a call for a meeting of "all of the organized base ball clubs". A month later, representatives from well over two dozen New York City clubs met. There was even a group from outside of the metropolitan area, the Liberty Club of New Brunswick, giving the assemblage a "national" look and feel.
What the assemblage learned was quite exciting. Reports were rampant that organized base ball clubs were not confined only to New York and the immediate area but resided as far away as in Boston, Detroit, Chicago and even San Francisco! Excitement was in the air. Quickly, one Judge W.H Van Cott, a natural leader, ballplayer for the New York Gothams and organizer extraordinaire was elected President of the group. Also, equally important, one of the games premier players, Frank Pidgeon, founder and pitcher for the Brooklyn Eckfords was in attendance, lending to the gathering his considerable baseball prestige. Pidgeon was a wizard on the baseball diamond. Further, as historian John Thorn aptly notes, the pitcher was known for his brains and "headwork" as he honed his baseball skills as a mounds man. The man had it all. Off the field he was an inventor, a painter, and engineer, and a successful businessman. On the field he was simply one of the greatest pitchers of his era.
The group collectively did two things at their meeting that would be taking on enormous historical consequence. First, upon proper motion, after crafting and adopting rules and by-laws, the gentlemen organized and thereafter became known as the "National Association of Ball Players". Thus, they became the very first "officially constituted" organized group of "national" base ball clubs. By a unanimous vote and with a swift stroke of the pen, their action predated the formation of today's "senior circuit", the current major leagues National League, by almost two decades and the Association united a good half century before the American League was even thought of!
Baseballs First All Star Games: The Fashion Games
Second, the men also did something that would have a more far reaching and significant place in the annals of baseball history. For at that very meeting, the gauntlet was dropped and a challenge was made when the Brooklyn clubs challenged New York clubs to a series of contests where the "best nine" would be decided on the diamond. How? Each region was to "pick" their best nine to play against one those of the other region. In other words, these were to be no ordinary games…they were to match the most skilled of the Brooklyn ball players against those from the New Yorker ball clubs.
It was to be organized baseball's very first All Star Game. Better yet, there would not be just one game, there would be a series. What is also of supreme importance is that at some point, whether at the Convention gathering or soon thereafter, it was decided that to attend the games, the fans would be required to pay a then hefty fifty cent admission. Thus, for the first time ever, money would be charged for fans to see the game. Sure, the money derived from the first All Star games would benefit New York area fire departments, so the games had the air of charity attached to them. But put in its proper historical perspective, the mere fact that a charge was levied and collected for fans to enjoy the contests was unquestionably baseballs very first major step in its rapidly approaching status as a professional game!
The First Official Scorers Reports
It is against this backdrop that SCP Sotheby's unveils to the collecting community the extraordinary artifact of enormous historical significance, the key scorer's sheets from the pivotal game two of the series.
New York All-Stars
Newspaper coverage leading up to the summer series was heavy. The New York Clipper dutifully reported that the New York group would consist of top players from the Knickerbocker, Gotham, Eagle, Empire, Harlem and Union Clubs. Their counterparts in Brooklyn would consist of the best from the Atlantics, Excelsior's, Putnam's and Eckfords. The match would be staged in July at the famous Fashion Race Course near Flushing, in Queens, New York.
Baseball fever had never been as rampant as it was during the spring and summer leading up to the series. Because of the expected crowds, the New York Tribune posted that steamer ships would be poised to leave Fulton Market slip several times on the morning and into the afternoon of the days of the big games where horse drawn carriages would take the throngs of men, women and children to witness the contests. The "Great Base Ball Match" lived up to its billing on each occasion. There were three separate games spread over six weeks. Tens of thousands of men and women attended the series. Each game was a spectacular success and represented the pinnacle of baseball interest up to that time and for many years to come.
The first game on July 20, 1858 was a dandy. New York "edged" Brooklyn 22 to 18. The return match was played three weeks later on August 17, again at the Fashion Race Course. This one was likewise a smashing success. It is a scorecard from game two, the pivotal "middle game" in the series that we now offer to the public. It is unquestionably the earliest All Star game scorecard in existence and, of course, far outstrips any others for its historical significance.
It is amazing enough that the scorer's reports have been kept in tack for almost a century and a half but what is even more amazing is that it is scored , covered the second pivotal game, and until now has resided within the family of the great Frank Pidgeon himself! For this is the game that pitted twirler New York's Tom Van Cott, whose brother five, Judge W.H. Van Cott, months earlier was chosen to be the President of the National Association, against Frank Pidgeon, Brooklyn's own star pitcher and founder of their "pride", the Brooklyn Eckfords, and most impressive, the most dominant pitcher of the 1850's. His stature amongst his peers and fans of the day, both for the credibility he lent to the Convention earlier in the year and for the talents he displayed on the baseball diamond, was second to none. To complete the circle, Judge Van Cott himself would be the Official Scorer for the New York All Stars and J.B. Leggett would serve in that same capacity for the Brooklyn All Stars.
The contest itself was, according to the next days New York Times, "a lively affair". The Times recorded that when Brooklyn led off the first inning at bat, Van Cott made the games first out after a "speedy catch". However, our own Frank Pidgeon scored the games first run for the Brooklyn Nine. This would be the first of many runs his team would tally that day, all neatly noted in the offered scorecard, in what would be the closest thing to a blow out in the three game series.
The Official Score Reports themselves take us deeply into the game, virtually memorializing each and every at bat by both teams. By gazing at the relics, we see that the very first inning produced one of three runs accumulated by Mr. Pidgeon, the winning pitcher, for what would be considered a fine day's work under anyone's definition. His teammate, the legendary Dickie Pearce, who Albert Spalding called the greatest shortstop of the nineteenth century, would add four runs on his own. Ultimately, Pidgeon skills and talents as a batter, fielder and especially pitcher provided tonic to the Brooklyn All Stars as they evened the series by thrashing the New Yorkers, 29 to 8. This pivotal game, as The Times reported, set the stage for the series finale, the "the conquering game" to be played in September.
That three game series, pitting the Brooklyn Nine against the New York Nine, would a few years later in 1866 be fondly remembered as follows: "This celebrated 'home and home' match at base ball between the best of the picked players of the two cities…excited the greatest enthusiasm and spirit amongst the lovers of the sport… ever known in this vicinity. Indeed, we question if anything has occurred in baseball annals since to surpass it" That is why these items can proudly be called National Treasures.
As interesting and exciting as the official scorers reports are, that is not the end of the story for the Pidgeon family has also relinquished to the auction another great heirloom, a beautiful gold watch fob that his Brooklyn Eckford team gave to their Captain, Frank Pidgeon, when Pidgeon decided to retire from the game he loved in 1862.
The rarity and uniqueness of this base ball grouping cannot be overstated. They have never been offered nor seen publicly before. The Scorers Reports are unquestionably the earliest Official Scoring Report ever uncovered and, better yet, they belonged one of baseball's earliest and most impressive pioneers, Frank Pidgeon. And remember…they represent baseballs very first All Star Game and the very first time that there was an admission charge to the public. The Official Scorers Reports represent the beginning of baseball as a business. And along with the reports, Pidgeons own gold watch fob will be offered as well. That has impressive pedigree as well as it is the earliest "gifted jewelry" that has been uncovered as well. And collectors will have a chance to own these relics on June 23rd when they come to auction at Sotheby's.
Frank Ceresi and Carol McMains are principals of FC Associates, a business specializing in museum consulting, appraisals and legal services. If any readers have interesting ideas for other articles on the Negro Leagues, please email Frank at or Carol.