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Atlantics vs. Excelsiors: The Thorny Idea of Onfield Supremacy

Salience Prominent
Location Greater New York City
City/State/Country: Brooklyn, NY, United States
Game Base Ball
Immediacy of Report Contemporary
Age of Players Adult

[A] "This match will create unusual interest, as it will decide which Club is entitled to the distinction of being perhaps the 'first nine in America."

[B] "The Atlantics now wear the 'belt,' and this contest will be a regular battle for the championship."




[A] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 13, 1860.

[B] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 16, 1860.

See also Craig B. Waff, "Atlantics and Excelsiors Compete for the 'Championship,'" Base Ball Journal, volume 5, number 1 (Special Issue on Origins), pages 139-142.

Craig Waff, "No Gentlemen's Game-- Excelsiors vs. Atlantics at the Putnam Grounds, Brooklyn", in Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the 19th Century (SABR, 2013), pp. 28-31


The naming of a championship base ball club was apparently not much considered when match games were first played frequently in the mid-1850s.  But as the 1860 season progressed, press accounts regularly speculated about what nine was the best. The teams split their first two games, setting the stage for a final showdown, and a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 assembled to see if the Excelsior could gain glory by toppling the storied Atlantic nine again. They led, 8-6 in the sixth inning, but Atlantic partisans in the crown became so rowdy that Excelsior captain Joe Leggett removed his club from the field for their safety, leaving the matter unresolved.

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In regard to the grounds, though we have heard several named, we know of but one which appears appropriate and suitable, and that is the East New York Parade Ground...There is here a beautiful level field of some thirty acres...twenty or thirty thousand spectators may enjoy an uninterrupted view...

               Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, Aug. 25, 1860


ATLANTIC VS. EXCELSIOR.—...It is to be regretted that East New York was not selected, as there are but poor accommodations on the Putnam ground for so large a crowd as will undoubtedly be present.

               Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 23, 1860


ATLANTIC VS. EXCELSIOR.—...There were fewer ladies present yesterday than on either of the previous occasions, some fear of the result that accrued being influential in keeping numbers away...The police were out in great force, there being over a hundred present, and they were not too many, considering the character of a large number of the spectators who were on the ground. We hope it will be the last great match that takes place, if such scenes as took place yesterday are to result from them. Such confusion and disorder, and such gross interference with a match by the spectators, we never witnessed.”

If the admirers of this manly pastime desire its future welfare, they should at once proceed to adopt stringent rules...against betting on the result of the matches played...for it was undoubtedly a regard for their pockets alone that led the majority of those peculiarly interested in the affair, to act in the blackguard manner they did.

...(in) the 5th inning...one of the decisions of the Umpire...gave rise to such loudly expressed terms of dissent from the friends of the Atlantic Club, or rather those who had bet on them...that it was sometime before the game could be proceeded with...the decision in question...would not have been noticed by the crowd but for the objectionable conduct of the (Atlantic) player who was decided out...

...the Excelsiors began their 6th innings (ahead by two runs), in which two separate misses at 1st base by Price of the Atlantics gave rise to another series of outside comments, and the expressions of dissent became so decided, and symptoms of bad feeling began to manifest itself to such a degree, that the Captain of the Excelsior nine...ordered his men to pick up their bats and retire from the field, much to the regret of the Atlantic nine, but greatly to the delight of the large crowd who had ‘bet high on the Atlantic’s,’ for they evidently, by their rejoicings afterwards, regarded the affair as one advantageous to their pockets, the result of the contest being a drawn game, all bets being off.

               Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 24, 1860


SIXTH INNINGS—THE ROW. Excelsiors—The members of the Atlantic Club tried to suppress the noise, but in vain...the crowd found fault with the umpire for deciding Russell not out, and loud cries of “foul” were raised. Their captain (Leggett of the Excelsior) was very indignant, and declaring that he would not suffer the umpire or his men to be insulted any longer, he ordered the ‘nine’ to leave the field...The Atlantics, when they found that the Excelsiors were determined not to finish the game, tried hard to pacify the crowd, but in vain...the ring was broken into and the area was filled with several thousand excited and unruly persons...Before parting, however, it was agreed between the captains that the game should be a ‘draw’, and that all bets should stand off. ..none perhaps felt more chagrined than the members of the Atlantic Club themselves...the Excelsiors vow they will never play with the Atlantics again.

               New York Herald, Aug. 24, 1860


 The only cause of regret on this occasion is that any body of men should so far forget themselves as to act in the shameful manner that characterized the conduct of those individuals that were instrumental in breaking up the game. It would not be entirely correct to say that this result was unlooked for, as statements have been openly made within the last few days that the Excelsiors would not be allowed to win in a close contest. That the Atlantic Nine were privy to any such plot, we are unwilling to believe, but a little stricter enforcement of order on their own ground would undoubtedly tend to greater quiet and more agreeable results when their hangers-on follow them to other grounds.

The rowdy element which had been excited by a fancied injustice to McMahon in the preceding innings, now (the sixth inning) became almost insupportable in its violence, and shouts from all parts of the field arose for a new Umpire; the hootings against the Excelsior Club were perfectly disgraceful. Mr. Leggett was supported by the Atlantic nine in his endeavors to secure order, and by their united exertions a temporary lull was secured, but, although Mr. Leggett distinctly stated that the Excelsiors would withdraw if the tumult was renewed, the hooting was again started with increased vigor, and the Excelsiors immediately left the field, followed by a crowd of roughs, alternately groaning the Excelsiors and cheering the Atlantics. The game is drawn, and, if ever played out, will take place in comparative privacy, on some inclosed ground. The determination shown by the Excelsior Club on this occasion is worthy of great praise, and meets the approval of the vast majority of the respectable portion of the base ball community... it is due to the Atlantics to state that they endeavored to preserve order, and are not to be implicated.

               New York Times, Aug. 24, 1860


Mr. LEGGETT, the captain of the Excelsiors, seeing, as he thought, a determination to break up the match unless the Atlantics were the victors, withdrew his men, offering the ball to the Atlantics, which they declined, and the match was declared to be drawn. All the bets are off. The match will be played privately at some future day.

               Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 24, 1860


UMPIRES FOR BROOKLYN MATCHES.—Twice during the past week have gentlemen from the New York clubs, who have been solicited and have consented to act as umpires for matches in Brooklyn, been subjected to sneers, insulting allusions, and ungentlemanly criticism. If this conduct is not repudiated by Brooklyn base ball players, New York gentlemen, we imagine, will be very scarce who will hereafter consent to act as umpires in such matches.

ATLANTIC VS. EXCELSIOR.-- ...Neither of these clubs can be held altogether responsible for the bad conduct of a crowd of outsiders who follow them. Both clubs this summer have been followed by crowds of dirty-faced roughs and half-grown ragged-tailed boys, who have made it very disagreeable for decent spectators to witness the games. Mr. Leggett, it is reported, however, has made commendable efforts to keep order, and repress noisy proceedings on the Excelsior grounds. It is said that the Atlantics cannot say as much...it is high time that influential base ball players should take steps to free matches from outbreaks of rowdyism and blackguardism...

               New York Atlas, Aug. 26, 1860


ATLANTIC VS. EXCELSIOR.-- ...on this occasion—the first time in the annals of base-ball in this vicinity—the game was interrupted by the scandalous behavior of an outside crowd of noisy vagabonds...The disorder manifested by these individuals was quickly imitated by unruly boys; till, finally, the captain of the Excelsior nine, finding there was a determination on the part of these outsiders to intimidate the umpire, and not feeling inclined to submit longer to their rude taunts and insults, closed the game...Their conduct would seem to indicate that they were friends—at least, betting friends—of the Atlantic Club, but we do not for a moment entertain the thought that their behavior was in any way countenanced by the members of that club, though we must say that the spirit exhibited by one of their players, in regard to a decision of the umpire, had the effect to spur on the outsiders...We hope the result has proved to their (the outsiders) satisfaction that gentlemen who voluntarily go out to play a game of base ball for their amusement and entertainment, are not bound to put up with gratuitous insult...

Mr. Leggett at once called his men together, declared the game at an end, and informed his opponents they could have the ball; for he should no longer submit to the treatment experienced by the umpire and by his associates. M. O’Brien, of the Atlantic side, objected to receiving the ball, and desired to finish the game; but Mr. Leggett was firm in his determination not to play; and M. O’Brien then proposed to call the game a draw, to which Leggett consented...We regret very much to add, that some of the rowdies...threatened to follow up their abuse by an attack upon the members of the Excelsior nine; (and) threw stones at the omnibus in which they left the ground.

We are pleased to say that both clubs parted amicably...We desire the se the game renewed, and played to a successful issue...The disappointment realized by the rowdies...will induce them, perhaps, in future, to have a better command of themselves...We believe that had McMahon, of the Atlantic calmly acquiesced in the decision of the umpire, in the fifth inning, the boisterousness of the crowd, on this occasion, could have been easily subdued, if not wholly smothered.

DECISION OF THE UMPIRE. AUGUST 25th, 1860. To the Editors of the Sunday Mercury: GENTLEMAN: In justice to the eighteen players, I must say that I heard no disputing of the decisions on their part that an umpire could take umbrage at...On the part of the outsiders...it made no difference to me how many remarks or how much noise there was made...I was sorry to see the game brought into disrepute by such an ungentlemanly and uncalled-for exhibition of feeling...My decision in the matter is, that the game was won by neither party, inasmuch as it was brought to an abrupt termination by influences entirely outside of the parties interested in the match. But as the stoppage of the game was not by mutual consent, I must, according to the rules, decide that the party refusing to play forfeits the ball to their opponents...R. H. THORN, Umpire.

NEW YORK, Aug. 24, 1860. To the Editors of the Sunday Mercury: ...I wish to make the following proposition, viz. That the officers of the Base Ball Association be requested to secure a ground...and send each club fifteen tickets of admission; and let no person be admitted without a ticket, nor without a badge to designate the club (of course, ladies can be admitted without tickets)...I think that fifteen is about the average attendance from the clubs...Yours, very respectfully, A DISAPPOINTED SPECTATOR OF THE GAME.

               New York Sunday Mercury, Aug. 26, 1860


BALL PLAY. EXCELSIOR VS. ATLANTIC.—(McMahon) rose up and lifted his hand off the base, seeing which, Whiting rapidly touched him with the ball a second time before he could again place his hand on the base, and he was decided out. McMahon said his foot was on the base, Whiting said not; the question is, if his foot did touch the base, whence the necessity of his putting his hand on it? At any rate, he had no right to dispute the decisions of the Umpire, and all who upheld him in the matter, acted equally wrong. This action of McMahon’s led to the commencement of the disturbance by the betting fraternity who, of course took advantage of so favorable an opportunity of gratifying their rowdy feelings, and the ill feeling was not diminished at all by the loss of the third hand by Price...successive errors in fielding (by the Atlantic in the Excelsior’s 6th inning)  did not, improve the temper either of the Atlantics or their very questionable friends...the crowd began to get uproarious in the extreme...Leggett decided to withdraw his forces from the field, and we certainly think that he acted wisely in so doing, and we only regret that he was not supported in his course by the Atlantic nine...

EXCELSIOR VS. ATLANTIC.—THE UMPIRE’S DECISION—Mr. Thorn declares it as his decision ‘that the game was won by neither party,’ consequently neither party is entitled to the ball...And again he states that ‘according to the rules’ the Excelsiors forfeit the ball to their opponents. How he reconciles this latter part of his decision with the former we cannot understand; and neither do we perceive how he does so according to the rules...nothing therein refers to the withdrawal of either of the contestants from the field...Had the Atlantics retained their positions in the field, or returned to them after remonstrating with the Excelsiors...and then asked the umpire for his decision on the withdrawal of their opponents from the game, matters would have been different...on the contrary, they agreed with the Excelsiors that the game should be considered as drawn...

               New York Clipper, Sep. 1, 1860


ATLANTIC CLUB.—An important meeting of the Club will be held this evening at butt’s hotel on Myrtle avenue, on which occasion some important business, connected with the late contest will be transacted.

               Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 28, 1860


Base Ball. The Secretary of the Atlantic Base Ball Club has published the following card in vindication of the action of the Atlantics in their recent match with the Excelsiors...(it) is deserving of consideration from those who hastily made up their minds as to who was right or wrong...’the Press (is) so unanimous in adjudging all the odium consequent upon the abrupt termination of the game on the Atlantic Club and their friends, we think that in simple justice to ourselves and them we are bound to make a frank record of the affair...In the first place, we used every possible effort to have ‘a clear field and no favor’...what more can we do? Can we restrain a burst of applause or indignation from an assemblage of more than 15,000 excited spectators...He who has witnessed the natural excitement which is ever the attendant of a vast miscellaneous assemblage...know full well that it is an utter impossibility...Mr. Thorn...expressed himself not at all annoyed by the exclamations of the spectators. The members of the Atlantic nine remarked to him at the most exciting period of the game, that they would sustain him in all his decisions. And requested and urged the continuance of the play. Then let us ask what caused its abrupt termination? Nothing, in our opinion...but the ungovernable temper of the friend of ours on the other side, who seems to be getting exceedingly nervous of late; and if the nine is to be called off the ground on all occasions where the pressure is rather high, we think ball playing will soon lose its most essential features...We think that such conduct by first clubs, as a precedent, will lead to similar occurrences by inferior clubs, and finally terminate in the ruin of the game as a national pastime, and how the press can uphold a club, or individual, in such an instance...is what the Atlantics cannot understand...We wish the public to understand that we do not win our battles in the newspaper, but on the green turf, and we are also firm in our faith that the Club is yet to be organized which can deprive us of our toil-earned championship...no one was more surprised or disappointed at the termination of the game then ourselves. We were confident of victory, and we wish the public to remember that the ‘old Atlantics’ are used to these exciting battles; and we would recommend those aspiring to the championship not to be too hasty in leaving the field, as it is a ‘poor road to travel,’ and does not lead to that enviable and coveted position.’ F. K. BOUGHTON, Secretary of Atlantic Base Ball Club.

               Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep. 1, 1860

THE ATLANTIC AND EXCELSIOR MATCH.— We presume that the Atlantic club had reference to other presses than the SUNDAY MERCURY, in their allusions to the ‘reflections’ cast upon them and their friends...We did not consider the Atlantic players, as a nine, open to censure...We did say, and now repeat, that the semi-rebellious action, of one of their players...had the effect of stimulating the noisy crowd to a greater degree of rudeness...this was plainly wrong, contrary to all rules...though we do not believe that the player referred to had any idea of causing the mischief which ensued...the only thing we regretted about the matter was that the Atlantics did not, in view of the facts of the case, not at once second the Excelsiors, and acquiesce in a discontinuance of the game...We nevertheless regret that the language of their card seems to convey an apology for the conduct of the parties who caused the disturbance...

               New York Sunday Mercury, Sep. 2, 1860


ATLANTIC VS. EXCELSIOR—The Atlantic Club have issued a card in the dailies, in which they undertake to defend the action of the rowdy crowd that broke up the late match, and unjustly charge the press with attaching all the odium of the affair on their club. Our reporter’s account of the match contains nothing that can at all be considered as casting reflections on the Atlantics...judging from the unanimity of the press...we think the Atlantics amenable to censure in not joining with their opponents in rebuking the disorderly action of the crowd. They are mistaken in supposing that it is not in the power of the contestants in a match like the one in question to repress such conduct as was there exhibited...for were it known that such actions on the part of spectators would put a stop the match, we should see no more of it...The reference to the press is in bad taste; for it is to the press that they are mainly indebted for the present popularity of the game. Once let the press be silent on the subject, and base ball would soon be obsolete, except as a boy’s game...There is a tone of braggadocia, too,...that is not characteristic of that modesty that we are led to expect from true merit. The reference to the ungovernable temper of one of their opponents is also very much out of place...the Atlantics themselves are anything but free from a similar charge. Take it altogether, we cannot admire this cartel, and we do not think it calculated to benefit the club in any respect.

               New York Clipper, Sep. 8, 1860


The decision of the umpire, Mr. Thorn...has given rise to some comment...We have received a number of communications...One correspondent writes as follow...to the Editors of the Sunday Mercury: ...the umpire in the late match for the championship awards the victory to neither, but the symbol of such (the game ball) to the Atlantic Club. Is not this an unwise decision?...MANY BALL-PLAYERS.

The decision of the umpire does seem to be rather a contradictory one on its face; still, we do not consider it so very unwise, for the case was a peculiar one. The Excelsiors had avowed their willingness, on the ground, to yield the ball to their opponents...in addition to the fact that the umpire believed the Excelsiors had forfeited it, by refusing to play...The umpire, however, by his distinct avowal that victory was achieved by neither club, dispossesses the ball of any of the supposed attributes of a trophy...(it) is, therefore, really nothing more or less than a plain ball...the umpire would have been perfectly justified  in holding the ball...The edict, however, has gone forth...and, like a true ball-player, we acquiesce in the decision.

               New York Sunday Mercury, Sep. 2, 1860


BASE BALL—ATLANTIC VS. EXCELSIOR—A SINGULAR AFFAIR. It will be remembered that the match...was not completed, the Excelsiors throwing up the game, which the Atlantics claim had conceded them the victory. A few days since a parcel was left with the Secretary of the Atlantic Club, which on opening was found to contain a ball that had evidently been used, with the following inscription:-- ‘Atlantic vs. Excelsior, august 23, 1860; six innings played; Atlantic 6, Excelsior 8; game unfinished.’ Whether this ball was sent by the Excelsiors or by some individual has not been ascertained; it is looked upon as a very discourteous act, but the Atlantics have chosen to recognize the ball as the one played with, and have placed it among their other trophies...The affair has created some feeling among base ball players.

               Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep. 5, 1860


The late match between the Atlantic and Excelsior Base-Ball Clubs.—The secretary of the Atlantic Base-Ball Club was called upon a few days since by a young man who delivered a parcel and then left without waiting for an answer. On opening the parcel it was found to contain a ball...It will be remembered that considerable feeling was manifested at the manner in which the game was broken up by the Excelsior club, and both parties claimed the victory. It is not definitely known whether the ball received by the Atlantic club is genuine or not, but they are determined to regard it as a trophy won fairly.

               New York Evening Post, Sep. 5, 1860


ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS. ATLANTIC VS. EXCELSIOR.—Base Ball—1. Who was the first to dispute the decision of the umpire in the last great match between the Atlantic and Excelsior Clubs? 2. Were not the Atlantics assailed with just as much, and as gross abuse by the ‘Excelsior crowd’ as were the Excelsiors by that of the Atlantics and had they not just as much cause to withdraw from the field as the Excelsiors?......1. Mr. Leggett was unquestionably the first to dispute the decision of the umpire, as the explanation he made in the 4th innings relative to his catch out of Joe Osborn after he had missed him from the fly tip, was de facto as much a disputing of the umpire’s decision as was McMahon’s in the following innings. 2. They were, and we think that if they had joined with the Excelsiors in rebuking the rowdyism that was evinced on the occasion, that being the motive of the Excelsiors in withdrawing from the field, that they would not have incurred the negative censure they have done, as would appear from the card they have issued; and they had just as much cause to withdraw from the field. We have seen it stated that the noise of the crowd was all that annoyed the players, but both parties were the recipients of the most gross abuse.

               New York Clipper, Sep. 8, 1860


HARLEM AND ATLANTIC.—The Atlantics turned out a very strong nine and played an excellent game. Some slight actions were noticed which would lead to the belief that this club are disposed to act ‘ugly’ toward the press. It is inferred that this course is pursued because they suppose that they have not been fairly treated by the press in relation to the Excelsior match. This kind of a game will be found not to pay, in the end.

               New York Atlas, Sep. 9, 1860


BASE BALL IN RHYME.—We have received the following excellent parody  on Longfellow’s ‘Excelsior,’ written by a ‘very modest young man’ immediately after the first contest between the Excelsior and Atlantic Clubs...We place it before our readers, subject to a rejoinder in the same strain:


The shades of night were falling fast,/When down through Bedford village passed/Nine pallid men, with heads down bent,/Who moaned and murmured as they went—Excelsior!/With clouded brown and bloodshot eyes,/They wandered on with groans and sighs,/With trembling footsteps, weak and slow,/Each murmuring in accents low—Excelsior!/’We told you so,’ the old man cried;/’We knew they’d do it if they tried’;/They answered not to what they heard,/But whispered still that dreadful word—Excelsior!/’Alas!’ the maidens said, ‘we knew/Those boys would put the screws to you’;/Eighteen big tears stood in their eyes/And painful now became their cries—Excelsior!/Small, ragged boys ran round about/With many a cruel yell and shout;/The tortured nine could bear no more,/They ran, and from them came a roar—Excelsior!/On, o’er they flew o’er hill and dale,/And none are left to tell the tale,/How by the gloomy turnpike’s side/They fell and gasped out as they died—Excelsior!/Just at the early dawn of day/A drowsy milkman passed that way,/And heard a sudden, stifled moan--/’Twas Peter’s last expiring groan—Excelsior!/There, in the morning cold and gray,/With faces turned to heaven they lay,/Each mouth fixed up in such a way,/The poor, pale lips would seem to say—Excelsior!/Twelve men of Bedford’s first and best,/Were summoned then to hold a ‘quest/It took not long to find the cause;/They sat awhile, the verdict was—Excelsior!/There in a melancholy line/They buried deep the ‘Champion Nine,’/And those who pass that mournful place/Read on a tombstone’s polished face—‘A. B. B. C.’

               New York Sunday Mercury, Sep. 16, 1860


MATCHES FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF BASE BALL CLUBS—The series of games between the Atlantic and Eckford clubs decides the question of the championship for this season...we candidly confess that we think these matches are anything but calculated to promote the interests of the game...generally speaking the excitement and spirit of rivalry attendant upon them has led to the conduct that was anything but of a friendly character...When the rivalry between clubs is carried to an extent that leads to mutual jealousy and ill-feeling, it is about time that matches should cease to be played...Outside influence has had a great deal to do with the difficulty, but...the cause of disturbance may be traced indirectly to the clubs themselves...

               New York Clipper, Nov. 3, 1860