The Stealing Magnolias


It’s one of the ironies of history that the myth that Abner Doubleday invented our national pastime has been supplanted by another inaccuracy: that the game was the invention of a group of New York social-setters, the Knickerbockers, led by Alexander Cartwright. The Knickerbockers did contribute structure to the sport—what role Cartwright had is debatable—but theirs was more a matter of codification than flat-out invention. A few recent discoveries, as noted by the eminent John Thorn, expand the picture considerably. Pictured above may be the first “baseball card,” a souvenir invitation to a gathering of the Magnolia Ball Club, from 1843. The Magnolias appear to have predated the Knickerbockers, and were more proletarian in their makeup. The invitation is the earliest known image of grown men playing baseball, and the earliest physical artifact relating to the “New York Game,” the evolutionary precursor of modern baseball. A fitting bit of history on this Thanksgiving Weekend.

3 comments… add one
  • Doubleday? Cartwright? Knickerbocker? Magnolias? 1843? Pretenders, all.
    Dontcha know that the 1791 public records of Pittsfield, Mass. (where my father was born, and my ancestors have been for eons) included a local law prohibiting the playing baseball within 80 yards of the town meeting house?

    Hudson November 25, 2007, 3:27 pm
  • Of course, that was probably the Massachusetts Game, in all fairness. Not the New York Game, from which modern baseball derived… Still cool that the earliest known reference to baseball in America is in Massachusetts. Seems only fitting, considering so much of America’s history traces back there.

    Paul SF November 26, 2007, 12:50 am
  • Stumble upon just now. As much as I dislike Fenway, I do give mad props for this.

    Lar November 26, 2007, 1:19 pm

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