July 20, 1858 | LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK – It’s not significant by today’s standards, but it was monumental 150 years ago. According to Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, the first big crowd to watch a baseball game, “no fewer than 1,500″ paying spectators,” came out to a Race Course on Long Island on July 20, 1858 to watch an all-star game.
The best players of New York City took on the best Brooklyn had to offer. Back then they were two separate cities. New York won 22-18, and promoters saw dollar signs. The main reason admission was charged was to defray the cost of converting a field into a baseball diamond – there weren’t too many around back then. The gate receipts added up to over $700 dollars – a big chunk of change before the Civil War.
The event showed that if you put teams together with good players, fans will pay money to watch, and there will be more money to buy better players. The first big crowd had a ripple effect. As Leonard Koppett wrote,
“…those who would travel far and then pay 50 cents to watch a game would undoubtedly pay a penny or two to read about one.”
Newspapers soon found another way to attract readers; baseball scores, eventually box scores. And there were new ones every day.
Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, 2004, by Leonard Koppett, Carrol & Graf Publishers, New York