In 2013, Citi Field hosted the All-Star
Game, the first time the home of the Mets
had held this honor since 1964, when the
site was the brand new Shea Stadium.
Most fans can tell you that baseball’s first
Midsummer Classic was held in Chicago in
1933 (even if there is not a soul alive who
attended it). Yet precisely 75 years before
that, there had been another, even by that
time forgotten All-Star Game. Its location,
within walking distance from Citi Field,
is today unknown to all but a handful of
The adage that there is “nothing new under
the sun” certainly applies to baseball, for
which an earlier date may generally be found
for any phenomenon, recent or distant, for
which someone proclaims a “first.” To the
historian, the Performance Enhancing Drug
scandals of 2013 will recall the ingestion
by Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin, in
1889, of a monkey-gland serum designed
to boost strength and endurance. But the
shade in which baseball’s all-star game had
long languished was a particularly grievous
state of affairs.
On July 20, 1858, nearly 10,000 fans
gathered at the Fashion Race Course in
Queens to watch what may have been the
most important game in all of baseball
history. That is a bold assertion, so let me
back it up. In 1858, competitive baseball
was barely a decade old. Despite rumors
of payments or favors to some key players,
baseball was governed by the rules
and practices of an amateur association
formed only the year before. Although this
body called itself the National Association
of Base Ball Players (NABBP), in truth, the
new game was an exceedingly local affair,
little played outside what is today the New
York metropolitan area.
Indeed, New York City at that time consisted
only of Manhattan. Brooklyn was a
separate city, and it as well as the Bronx,
Queens, and Staten Island were not to
be unified as New York City for another 40
years. We cannot identify an individual (like
Arch Ward in 1933) whose bright idea it was
to set the best (“picked”) nine of New York
against the best nine of rival city Brooklyn.
But the idea won immediate backing from
the NABBP. A neutral site was selected not
far from Flushing, at the recently established
Fashion Race Course, where a ballfield was
laid out within the enclosed grandstand area.
The Fashion Course had been the property
of Samuel Willets; fans going to the 2013
All-Star Game by elevated subway arrive at
the Willets Point station.
The match (a series of three games
with one each in July, August and, if necessary,
September) was to be played for
civic bragging rights. It became clear that
to cover expenses, admission would have to
be charged—to that point all games could
be attended for free—with surpluses to be
presented to the widows and orphans funds
of the fire departments of the two cities.
Today, little is left of the city that was, let
alone its favorite game. Shea Stadium and
the House That Ruth Built are gone, as are
Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and several
other sites of big-league games. A baseballhistory
tourist in New York walks in four dimensions
rather than three, the fourth being
that of stories and stats.
The Fashion Course began life as the
National Race Course, in 1853. In that year,
the Flushing Railroad established a station
at what is today’s Corona stop on the Long
Island Rail Road, at 45th Street and National
Street (named for the original race course,
a fact known to few). In 1856, ownership
of the race course changed hands, and
the grounds were renamed for the horse
Fashion, who in an intersectional race of
1842 had defeated a horse from the South
named, oddly, Boston.
Then as now, the selection of players was
a delicate matter. Several initial picks were
not seen after the first game, as the cast of
characters changed from game to game. The
underdog New York stars—who in a prior
exhibition contest had lost to Hoboken’s
finest—won the first game by a score of
22–18; among the winners was future Hall
of Famer Harry Wright. For the second
game, played on August 17th, Brooklyn
moved pitcher Matty O’Brien to third base.
Frank Pidgeon, the Brooklyn shortstop in
game one, became the pitcher, with Dickey
Pearce of the Atlantics taking over at short.
Brooklyn won easily, 29–8. New York’s
pitcher Tom Van Cott, who had thrown
198 pitches in game one, came back to toss
270 in a losing cause. Pidgeon threw 290.
(Wide balls would not count against the
pitcher until 1864.)
For the third and deciding game, played
on September 10th, Brooklyn was the heavy
favorite, based on their easy triumph in the
second game. Yet New York won handily,
29–18, with the Eagles’ Joe Gelston hitting
a leadoff home run that was followed by six
more runs before the side was retired. Of
Pidgeon’s eventual 436 pitches (!), 87 came
in this first inning alone.
Among the firsts in baseball history that
the opening Fashion Course game might
claim were: first All-Star contest, first paid
admission, and first baseball game played
in an enclosed park. In the third (rubber)
game of the series, umpire Doc Adams of
the Knickerbockers called three men out
on non-swinging strikes, the first time that
new rule was applied.
How do we locate the site of the grandstand
entrance of the Fashion Race Course?
Streets have been rerouted and their names
have changed over the years, but the lordly
brick entrance to the race course was at
37th Avenue and 103rd Street, a mere 1.5
miles from Citi Field.
||John Thorn is the author
and editor of many
books, including Baseball
in the Garden of
Eden (New York: Simon
and Schuster, 2011). He
lives in Catskill, New
York. Copyright © John
This column appeared in Voices Vol. 39, Spring-Summer 2013. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.
TO PURCHASE A BACK ISSUE of Voices, visit our online book store.
TO PURCHASE A SINGLE ARTICLE from Voices, use the form below:
|Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore
PURCHASE A SINGLE ARTICLE
To order a single article, please enter volume number, issue (“fall-winter” or “spring-summer”), and title of the article you wish and click on an order button below to purchase through Paypal or with your credit card. We will send you a PDF of the article via e-mail upon receipt of your order.
|ITEM #603 |
Single Article $3.00
|Member Price $2.00||