September 12 – Happy Birthday Nicholas Ephraim Young

220px-nicholas_youngI remember actually feeling a bit disappointed when it became common knowledge that Abner Doubleday was in fact not the inventor of baseball. Why? Well there was that beautiful Baseball Hall of Fame ballpark down in Cooperstown named after the guy, which I always thought was about as perfect a tribute as possible for the person who invented my all-time favorite sport, even if it no longer is “Our National Pastime.

But Doubleday doesn’t need credit for inventing the game to go down in history. After all, he had a pretty distinguished Army career and fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter which is where the Civil War began. Then during the battle of Gettysburg, it was Doubleday’s division of 9,500 men who held off 16,000 Confederates in one of the fiercest defenses of ground in US Military history.

It was during the Civil War that the soon-to-soar flame of Doubleday’s role in the beginning of baseball probably got its fuel. By the time the War began, early versions of the game were already being played throughout the North and especially here in New York State. That’s why baseball games became a favorite pastime for Union Army troops, waiting to march into their next battle. And it is at this point of my story that I get to introduce today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Nicholas Ephraim Young.

Born in Amsterdam, NY on September 12, 1840, Young’s family had taken up residence in Old Fort Johnson almost 100 years after Sir William Johnson had built the two story stone structure a mile west of this city. Young’s father, an owner of an Amsterdam mill was evidently well-to-do, affording his boy the opportunity to attend Amsterdam Academy and to have enough spare time available to learn to play the game of Cricket and become quite good at it. But when the War between the States reared its ugly head, Young did not avail himself of the rich folks’ option of purchasing a substitute to fight for him. Instead, he enlisted in New York’s 32nd Regiment, eventually landing with the Signal Corps, where he became in-the-field tent mates with John F. Dwyer, an Amsterdam, NY plumber who would one day become Mayor of his hometown.

Both soldiers had become fond of baseball during their Army hitch and would often participate in games while in between marches and battles. It was during one such lull in the action, while bivouacked in Virginia that Young and Dwyer decided to organize a game between soldiers from New York and troops from other states. They called the team of Empire Stater’s the “New York’s” and the other squad the “United States.” Young pitched for the New York nine and Dwyer was the catcher. Though I cannot locate a final score, it was reported that 15,000 spectators showed up for this contest including generals and a bunch of newspaper reporters and the event got nationwide publicity. As both captain and manager of the New York team and an organizer of the game, Young’s name was prominently mentioned in these accounts. Thus began his public affiliation with the sport that would end up getting him elected as the fourth-ever President of the National League.

After the war, Young secured a position with the US Treasury Department in Washington DC. In his spare time there, he joined an amateur baseball team called the Washington Olympics and became the club’s starting right fielder.  It was Young’s suggestion that a group of baseball enthusiasts representing teams from major Northeast and Midwest US cities meet to discuss forming a national league of teams in 1871. The meeting was successful and it resulted in the formation of the National Association. At first the rules of the Association were very informal. Any professional team was permitted to join simply by paying dues. Teams created their own schedules and played against opponents of their choice. The only other requirement of membership besides the dues provision was that each team had to schedule a certain number of games against each other ball club in the Association.

Young became owner and manager of the Washington team as well as the first ever secretary of the National Association. When the National League was formed in 1876, Young became its very first secretary and treasurer as well and then served as the NL’s third President from 1881 until 1903.

He was well-liked and nicknamed Uncle Nick but he had a tendency to let the owners of the league’s most prosperous franchises dictate. He also wasn’t strong enough to stop the fighting and rowdiness that was marring many of the league’s games during the 1890s. When the rival American League formed in 1901, many of the NL’s best players, tired of this violence, jumped to the new league whose leaders had promised to enforce a cleaner style of play. The NL decided to follow suit and elect new leadership, forcing Young out as president. He then returned to his job at the Treasury Department. Young died in Washington DC at the age of 76 in October of 1916.

Young shares his September 12 Birthday with this former Amsterdam attorney who back in the 1960’s developed a reputation for being a non-conformist.

 

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