The Spalding Collection

The New York Public Library has many remarkable things hidden away in its vast collection. There's a Gutenberg Bible and a Bay Psalm Book. There is Thomas Jefferson's hand written version of the Declaration of Independence. There is a 1687 edition of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica. And, for baseball people, there is the Spalding Collection.

Albert G. Spalding dominated the administration of baseball around the turn of the century. His desire that the national game have home grown origins led to the Mills Committee reporting, quite falsely, that Abner Doubleday invented baseball. His sporting goods corporation survives and thrives to this day. His feats on the playing field are still remembered. And his collected papers, photographs, and other baseball ephemera are a gold mine of baseball history.

So we went to check out some small corner of the Spalding Collection. We knew what we wanted: Henry Chadwick's own score books. And we found a couple of extra bonuses: Chadwick's scrapbooks of his newspaper articles, and the official book of scorecards from the games of the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn, 1855 to 1868.

Scrapbook browsing was greatly entertaining. Chadwick worked for over twenty years for the New York Clipper, as well as contributing to the Sunday Mercury, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the New York Herald, the Union, and his own paper, the Base Ball Chronicle. Articles were pasted in along with league standings, and various stabs at baseball statistics. One table showed leading hitters by different types of average: runs per game, hits per game, hits per at-bat. A report from an Atlantic-Mutual game of 1861, when the Atlantics scored 26 runs in the third inning en route to a 52 to 27 win, showed off some of Chadwick's remarkable prose style: The Atlantic have always had a reputation for superior batting; but never have they before displayed, nor, in fact, has there ever been witnessed on any field, in all our base ball experience -- which covers a period of ten years -- such a grand exhibition of splendid batting as was shown by them in the third inning of the match played on Wednesday last. It was a sight to see and to remember; for, we imagine, it will be a long time before its like is seen again.

The hallowed halls of the New York Public Library

Next, we saw the Atlantic score book. Printed at some point in the 1860s (the pages feature a pre-printed 186 for the date), it nonetheless contains a very nearly complete set of cards going all the way back from 1868 to the original 24 to 22 victory over the Harmony Club in 1855. Judging from the printing date and the immaculate copperplate handwriting, this book was intended as a permanent record- first loose cards in the club's collection were transcribed, then contemporary games soon after they were played. Through the book we could see scorekeeping methods become gradually more sophisticated, from recording nothing but runs and outs, to eventually keeping an exact play by play record. The cards range through all kinds of games: 107 runs amassed against the Tri-Mountain Club in Boston; ice base ball with the Charter Oak Club; the dramatic series loss to the Eckford Club in 1863; and two of the three games against Excelsior in 1860. The third, when Excelsior was leading 8 to 6 at the Putnam Grounds, and the raucous behavior of the pro-Atlantics crowd stopped the game, saving the championship for them, is (not so) strangely missing from their own official record. An absolutely superb example of an Atlantic card can be seen here.

Finally, the Spalding Collection features numerous volumes of Chadwick scorecards. The volume we saw is a collection of maybe fifteen patented Chadwick scorebooks, filled out at each game he attended. And, as the inventor of scoring and baseball writing, Chadwick attended a truly enormous number of games. But from all of those, we had one particular match in mind: Red Stockings and Atlantics at the Capitoline Grounds in 1870. It took a little finding, and a great deal of care not to have the book fall apart, but we found it. Chadwick's cards of 1870 are covered in a mass of fine detail- he was developing the whole scoring system as he went along. Looking at our favorite game, we saw the eleventh inning squeezed into the left hand margin, dreadfully messy handwriting, and almost indecipherable notation. But readable or not, it's still amazing to see how history was recorded as it happened (click here to do so).

Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, Newark

There's no way to finish a journey like that but to attend a ballgame. So off we went to Newark, to see the Bears of the Atlantic League defeat the Road Warriors 10 to 7. We kept two scorecards: one modern and one with runs and hands out. It's good to keep a record. Someone might want to see it one day. is brought to you by
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