Just as Major League Baseball opened its parks to fans across the nation to start the 2018 season, Green-Wood Cemetery also opened its gates for its annual “Baseball Greats of Green-Wood” tour hosted by Brooklyn Baseball Historian Tom Gilbert.
Stopping at the gravesites of Henry Chadwick, the Father of baseball, Jim Creighton, baseball’s first star and Charlie Ebbets, the innovative Dodgers owner, Gilbert explained these pioneers’ early contributions to the game as we know it today.
According to Gilbert, as an alternative to cricket the game of “base ball” involving a bat, ball and bases was played with a lot of variations throughout an emerging America; first by children in the 1820s and then by adults during the 1840s.
However, it would be the brand of baseball known as “The New York Game” — that emerged from Brooklyn and Manhattan and which grew in popularity — that would eventually become the nation’s standard.
Initially the game of “base ball” was a “pickup” style game that evolved into an amateur game where players formed baseball clubs with financial backers much like today’s Olympic sponsored athletes. Players were often lawyers, merchants and politicians who had to have enough free time to play and travel.
By the 1850s, regional competition was well underway as Brooklyn’s premiere team, the Excelsiors, hosted Manhattan’s Knickerbockers in a game that attracted over 1,000 fans at present-day Carroll Park on Court Street in Carroll Gardens.
Big games like that caught the attention of Chadwick, a sports journalist who featured game results in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Chadwick would go beyond reporting to codify the game eventually with rules for teams to follow in his handbook, The Game of Base Ball. He was the chair of the National Rules Committee and drew up such innovations as the box score, batting average and earned run average, just to name a few measurements for players’ performance.
Among those whose name appeared often in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was Creighton from the Brooklyn Excelsiors. Creighton is known as the game’s first superstar having developed baseball’s first fastball.
At that time, the pitcher threw underhanded with the idea of watching the artistry of the fielders throw a runner out. However without breaking the rules, Creighton revolutionized the game by throwing his underhanded “speed pitch” to strike out batters instead of serving up an easy pitch for batters to hit.
Bringing baseball into the 20th century, the young Ebbets rose from ticket taker to shareowner and then to the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers to become one the innovators of the modern game.
Replacing the always fire-prone wooden ballparks of the time, Ebbets built Ebbets Field, one of the game’s first steel and concrete stadiums. He also introduced, the rain check, “Ladies Day” and numbered uniforms, and built one of the first clubhouses for visiting teams.
Although the wrecking ball took down Ebbets Field in 1960 after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, a little-known surviving relic to Brooklyn baseball still stands near Green-Wood Cemetery.
As part of the Con Edison parking lot perimeter at the corner of First Street and Third Avenue, the inconspicuous 1899 brick outfield wall of Washington Park still stands at the site where the Dodgers played before they moved to Ebbets Field in 1913.
According to historians, it is believed that the Washington Park Wall is oldest standing piece of a major league ballpark in the country.