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THIS DAY IN NEW YORK HISTORY

This is a week of endings for New York baseball. The Yankees played their last game at Yankee Stadium last night and will move across the street to a new stadium next year. The Mets final season at Shea Stadium also seems also to be coming to its end, though (as of today) they remain in the hunt for both the division title and, failing that, a wild card berth. But when you have to start a rookie pitcher against the National League’s best team (the Chicago Cubs, who have already clinched the Central Division title) and that rookie gives up a grand slam to a pitcher; and when the governor of New York, David Patterson, jokes about the unreliability of the Mets’ relief pitchers (“The Mets bullpen is gonna kill me. It’s not the Fed, it’s not AIG, …it’s the Mets bullpen.”) . . . well, perhaps the handwriting is on the wall.

So it might be a good time for New York fans to find some cheer by remembering the city’s association with the beginnings of the game.

One hundred-sixty-five years ago today, on September 23, 1843, a bank clerk named Alexander Joy Cartwright (1820-1892) codified the constitution and by-laws of the New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. While still a member of Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12 during the previous year, Cartwright had been playing regular games of “town ball” on a vacant lot in Manhattan. The by-laws for the New York Knickerbocker were signed by the team’s Committee on By-Laws, which included Duncan Curry, the president; William Wheaton, the vice-president; and William Tucker, the secretary and treasurer. The by-laws also contained a set of 20 rules, written down by Cartwright, which were later published in pamphlet form. Many of the Knickerbockers had been members of the Gotham Base Ball Club, which had been formed in 1837, and it is thought that the Knickerbocker Club may have existed informally before its official founding moment.

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Members of the New York Knickerbockers baseball team. Alexander Cartwright is in the top row, center. [Source: www.19thcbaseball.com]

Something close to baseball was being played in the New York area since at least 1823. In 2001, George A. Thompson Jr., a research librarian at NYU, discovered two newspaper accounts of a game played in April 1823 in New York City on a site just west of Broadway between what is now Eighth Street and Washington Place (largely occupied, appropriately enough, by buildings belonging to NYU). It seems that both the National Advocate and the New-York Gazette and General Advertiser had