Playing First! Early Baseball Lives at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery

Playing First! Early Baseball Lives at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery

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John Thorn, Official Historian, Major League Baseball:
A good idea has many fathers; baseball is such an idea, and an astonishing number of these pioneers came home at last to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Tom Gilbert’s Playing First pays them tribute, not only as ball players but as men in full. It is a brilliant, indispensable book.

Author Tom Gilbert writes about this book:
Call them baseball’s greatest generation. In the 1850s and 1860s they took a primitive local game and made it into a modern sport that was then exported to the rest of the country. They lived in and around New York City and Brooklyn. An astounding number of them are buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, including Henry Chadwick, pioneer journalist and creator of baseball statistics and the box score; James Creighton, who gave us modern pitching and the strike zone; and Asa Brainard, pitching star of the undefeated 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Why are so many important early baseball players buried in the same place? One answer is that in its early days, baseball was played almost exclusively in New York City and Brooklyn – it was once known as the “New York Game.” Another is that the men who built baseball were amateurs. The members of the first baseball clubs were friends, relatives and neighbors. Unlike today’s professional athletes, they had rich lives outside of the game. They ran businesses, practiced medicine, ran for political office, joined volunteer fire companies and fought in the Civil War. They are buried together because they lived, worked and played together. Their life stories tell us the story of the building of two great cities, New York City and Brooklyn, but they also tell us how baseball began, who played it, who watched it and why. Almost from the very beginning, baseball has debated the question of its origins. Who was the “Father of Baseball”: Abner Doubleday? Alexander Cartwright? Henry Chadwick? The truth is that baseball has many fathers. Today, hundreds of them lie together in Brooklyn’s Green- Wood Cemetery.

Thomas W. Gilbert writes on baseball, food, travel and politics. He is the author of Roberto Clemente, Baseball and the Color Line and several other books on baseball history. From his Greenpoint, Brooklyn stoop he can throw a baseball to the former site of the Manor House tavern, where members of the Eckford Baseball Club enjoyed a post game drink or two in the 1850s.

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