What is often referred to as the first recorded game played under the Knickerbocker Rules (now believed to be yet another intrasquad game), took place on June 19, 1846. The Knickerbockers lost to the New York Baseball Club (aka “the New York Nine”) 23–1 in four innings.
The enduring fame of this particular game and of its players is the product of circumstance and self-aware myth-making. As the official historian of Major League Baseball, John Thorn, has written: “The history of baseball is a lie from beginning to end, from its creation myth to its rosy models of commerce, community, and fair play.” The myths I recounted in the first paragraph endure on Cartwright’s Hall of Fame plaque, in a 1960 tome called Baseball: The Early Years, which its author calls “the first scholarly history of baseball’s early years by a professional historian,” and even on the official website of the State of New Jersey.
But there was a game played on June 19, 1846, it was in the Elysian Fields, and the team that beat the Knickerbockers 23-1 was named New York. If the game that is remembered best is not precisely the first game that they or any other team ever played, it is still perhaps the truest baseball myth of its era. The Knickerbockers did not invent modern baseball, but they did more than perhaps anyone else to midwife it.
A chief contribution that the Knickerbocker Club made, says historian John Husman, was to make what had been a children’s game more palatable to adults. “The club was a social club, and they had a ball team,” he says. The group who founded the club in 1842 were leisure-seekers, not athletes: in his book, Thorn describes the founder’s generation to a man as being “composed of flaccid professional men.” According to Husman, just as important as the game itself was how they celebrated afterwards: “eating and drinking and smoking cigars.”“Anniversary of a Myth: The Knickerbockers’ Most Famous Game“, The Hardball Times