In front of SHI Stadium in Rutgers University in New Brunswick New Jersey (about an hour ride by train from NY Penn Station), there is a statue entitled ‘First Football Game’. It depicts a young man playing American football wearing a uniform seemingly from the Knute Rockne era, evoking the early history of perhaps America’s most popular sport today. The statue is touched by Rutgers players before their home games. It symbolizes a match played at the campus of Rutgers on this day 150 years ago against the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), which Rutgers won 6-4 (and odd score for a college football game). This match played on November 6, 1869 supposedly marks the birth of college football in the United States.
However, the match was not played under the rules of football Americans know today. It was played under rules derived from the 1863 rules set of the London Football Association, brought over from across the Atlantic.
In other words, they played soccer. Or something like it.
To be clear, there were a number of differences between this match and a modern soccer match. Among other things, players could bat the ball with their hands. Teams were 25 players each. There was no offside rule. And the game was extremely physical. More generally, standardization of rules for organized sports was still in its infancy. Matches for ‘football’ and other sports were often played according to rules agreed up on just before gametime. Almost no sports had a widely agreed upon rulesset that was followed universally.
The match originated out of a fierce rivalry between the two colleges located only 17 miles apart, both founded in the colonial era. Students at both colleges had been playing various pranks, including the theft of a revolutionary war-era cannon back a forth (now at Princeton, anchored in concrete to prevent further theft). In 1866 the two colleges played a baseball match with Princeton winning 40-2. Rutgers was desperate for revenge. Rutgers issued a challenge led by the captain William Leggett, who would go on to become a Dutch Reformed Church clergyman. Princeton answered. Their team was captained by William Gunmere, later Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.
A picked 25 of Rutgers students played the same number of Princeton a game of foot ball, on Saturday. After an exciting contest of one hour, Rutgers were declared the winners, the score standing 6 to 4. … On returning from the ball ground, the Princeton boys partook the hospitalities of the Rutgers.
New York Times, November 9th 1869, p. 8
A rematch was held later in the year, with Princeton gaining revenge 8-0. In this match, a rule allowing players to catch a ball and then receive a free kick was used. This was a rule also in use in English soccer at the time. It benefited the taller Princeton team.
The two teams would go on to have what could be called the oldest rivalry in college football (now of course played by very different rules). However, the last Rutgers-Princeton college football match was in 1980.
But if this famous game isn’t the origin of American football, what is? At the time, both in England and America, there was a rivalry of a kicking style of football and a carrying style, known as Rugby football. In 1874 McGill University (in Montreal) and Harvard University would play a match under the rugby-style rules. In 1875, Harvard and Tufts University would play another match under these rules (arguably the first US college football match). These games were still very distinct from modern American football, with no forward pass or line of scrimmage. That evolution would come later. But certainly this style of ‘football’ would become the more popular style played in North America.
A side note, the origin of the word ‘football’ is obscure and debated. Some claim it has no relation to kicking the ball. In any event, several sports which are called football involve carrying the ball, including rugby football (now simply ‘rugby’), Australian rules football, and Gaelic football. Outside the US these are sometimes known as football ‘codes’ and are often referred to locally as ‘football’ or ‘footy’.
Despite the historical inconstancies, Rutgers continues to claim their victory 150 years ago as the birth of college gridiron. Several events are being held to commemorate the anniversary. Princeton is playing a game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday November 9th against Dartmouth. In September students at Rutgers and Princeton held a re-enactment of the match (I don’t know if they played by the actual rules the match was played by). And the statue commemorating the match stands proudly in front of their home stadium.
Graves of stars of the fall classic buried in New York City or nearby, from Babe Ruth to Jackie Robinson.
The World Series is going on, and while neither New York team is currently in the competition, the city has a strong connection to the annual fall classic. Countless players who were born in New York City (such as Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, or Phil Rizzuto were born in New York. Of course far too many to mention have lived and played in New York. And many are buried in New York.
Visiting New York City cemeteries is a wonderful way to connect with the city’s past, and cemeteries like Woodlawn and Green-Wood provide some of the most stunning natural scenery you will see in the five boroughs. In this post I will list many World Series players who are buried in New York City and in cemeteries in the suburbs all accessible easily from the city. If you visit a former baseball player’s grave, consider bringing some baseball memorabilia to decorate the grave with–baseballs are common. In this article I’m including a handful of players who took part in the modern World Series’ predecessor. From 1882-1891, the National League Champion would play the champion of the now defunct American Association (there was no American League at that time). It was called the ‘World’s Championship’. Note that in this article I do speak about several teams that have changed their nickname over the years. For simplicity I will use the franchise’s current nickname only throughout the article.
All photographs of graves are mine; other images are from Wikicommons.
Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn
Jackie Robinason 1919-1972
Not only one baseball’s greatest players, he was almost certainly the sport’s most socially significant player. Robinson played in six World Series with the Dodgers, helping them win their first ever in 1955. He retired one year later and remained in New York as the Dodgers left for California. He was an area businessman and civil rights activist. When he died in 1972, his funeral was held at Riverside Church; tens of thousands of people lined up to see his body delivered to Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, the borough where he starred.
Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx
Frankie Frish 1898-1973
Known as the ‘Fordham Flash’ for his time at Fordham University, Frankie Frish was a player for the Giants from 1920-26 and the St. Louis Cardinals from 1927-37, and was a player manager for the Cardinals from 1933-37. He played in eight World Series and won four times. His most colorful appearance was as the player-manager of the ‘Gas House Gang’ 1934 Cardinals who edged his former team the Giants in the National League and then defeated the Detroit Tigers in seven games. The team also starred pitcher Dizzy Dean, his brother Daffy, outfielder Pepper Martin, slugger Ducky Medwick, and a shortstop named Leo Durocher. Frisch is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, not far from his Alma Mater.
Richard ‘Dick’ Rudolph 1887-1949
Rudolph had a 17 year career as a pitcher with the Giants and the Boston Braves. The pinnacle of his career was 1914 with the Braves, when the team when from last place in the National League in July to first place and then swept the Philadelphia As in four games. Rudolph, one of the last spitballers, won games 1 and 4 for Boston in that series. He would go on to manage a minor league team and coach at Fordham before dying at his residence on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx in 1949.
Joe Foy 1943-1989
Joe Foy grew up playing stickball 12 blocks from Yankee Stadium, and made a difficult climb up the rungs of organized baseball to the big leagues, starting at third base for the Boston Red Sox in 1966-68, and later for the Royals, the Mets, and the Senators. With the Red Sox he played six games in the World Series; his personal performance was unsuccessful, batting 133. After he retired he remained in his native city and council troubled children, and sadly died an early death at age 46.
Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn
Gil Hodges 1924-1972
In a city of so many great baseball characters, Gil Hodges was one of the most beloved. He has a bridge named after him, a public school, and a baseball field. A long-time Dodger, the first baseman appeared in one game in their 1947 loss to the Yankees before he became a regular starter in 1948. He would go on to appear in five more series. He would later play for the lovable 1962 Mets, and then went on to manage the “Miracle Mets” in their memorable 1969 win over Baltimore in 1969. He kept managing them for two more seasons, but died just after playing a round of golf in Florida before the 1972 season began. After a wake in Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Midwood, he was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush.
Calvary Cemetery, Queens
Mickey Welch 1859-1941
“Smiling” Mickey Welsh was born in Brooklyn to Irish immigrants. He was born Michael Walsh but adopted the spelling ‘Welch”–possibly due to a sportswriter’s error. He grew up in Williamsburg and played for the New York Giants from 1883-1892. Along with fellow pitcher Tim Keefe and shortstop John Montgomery Ward, the Giants dominated baseball in the late 1880s, winning two ‘World’s Championships’. Welch once struck out 9 batters in a row in 1884, still a record. In 1932 he was given lifetime Elks membership, presented at the ‘Mother Lodge #1”–then on 43rd Street. He is interred in Calvary Cemetery not far from fellow hall of famer Wee Willie Keeler, one of the game’s great early stars that never made it to the post-season.
Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island
James ‘Jim’ Mutrie 1851-1938
It’s hard to believe now but until the 1930s, the dominant Major League team in New York, and the nation for much of that period, was not the Yankees, only founded in 1901. The Dodgers have existed since 1883 but were mostly basement dwellers until the 1940s. The dominant team for much of early Major League baseball were the New York Giants. The co-founder of the club Jim Mutrie later became the manager; he assembled a team of stars and led the Giants to championships in 1888-89. In 1889 they faced the Brooklyn Dodgers who then played in the American Association; the Giants won this historic series six games to three. Mutrie is credited with coining the Giants nickname (they were originally the Gothams). After a brilliant play in the outfield, Mutrie exclaimed, “My big fellows! My giants!”. He would later live on Staten Island and died of cancer in City Hospital on Roosevelt Island, then Welfare Island. He is buried at the historic Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island, one of the city’s oldest cemeteries.
Outside New York City
The following graves of notable baseball players can be easily accessed by public transit or car from New York City:
Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Valhalla NY, accessible on the Harlem Line of Metro North
A short trip up the Harlem line from Grand Central Terminal takes you to Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County. Fans continue to make the pilgrimage to the grave of the greatest baseball player ever, Babe Ruth. But nearby are graves several other stars worth visiting.
George Herman “Babe” Ruth 1895-1948
Alfred ‘Billy’ Martin 1928-1989 New York Yankees 2nd baseman and later very volatile manager who led the Yankees back to a World Series Championships in 1977.
Ralph Branca 1926-2016 Branca had a fine career for the Dodgers and helped them win several pennants but is best known for his pitch to Bobby Thompson in 1951 which gave the NL title to the Giants.
Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla NY (adjacent to Gate of Heaven)
Lou Gehrig 1903-1941 The Upper East Side born Gehrig played at Columbia University before joining the New York Yankees, eventually dying of the disease that bears his name.
Andrew Coakley 1882-1963 Coakley had a 10-year Major League career as a pitcher with the As, Reds, Cubs, as well as one year with the Yankees in 1911. His lone World Series appearance was in 1905 for the As against the New York Giants, where he faced legend Christy Mathewson in Game 3 and lost 9-0, though remarkably he pitched a complete game.
Greenfield Cemetery, Hempstead, Long Island. Take LIRR to Rockport and NICE bus 41.
John Montgomery ‘Monte’ Ward 1860-1925 Pitcher and later shortstop for the New York Giants; later managed the Giants. He founded the first players union in 1885 and would become a lawyer after he retired from baseball and represent baseball players.
Walter ‘Arlie’ Latham 1860-1952. Played mostly 3rd base from 1880-1899, including 6 years with the St Louis Cardinals where they won the then American Association from 1885-88 and appeared in the then ‘World’s Championship’ against the National League champion. In the 1886 series against the Chicago Cubs Latham stole 12 bases and helped the Cardinals win the series 4 games to 2.
Gate of Heaven Cemetery, East Hanover New Jersey
Yogi Berra 1925-2015 Yogi Berra was arguably the most prolific World Series player in history. The Yankees catcher played in 22 series and won 13, and memorably caught Don Larson’s perfect game in 1956. We went on to serve as a coach for the Mets, helping them win the title in 1969. He then succeeded manager Gil Hodges and led the Mets to the Series again in 1973 after a hard-fought season, though they lost to the As.
In this Women’s History Month post, I’ll be writing about ten great female athletes from New York City. As in past posts about New York’s athletes, I apply a someone flexible definition as to who is ‘from’ New York. It’s not necessarily enough to be born in NYC. I look at women who developed their athletic careers here. I include women who performed for schools in New York, university teams in the five boroughs, and professional sports teams and clubs in New York. The list is not meant to be a definitive ‘Top 10″ list. This subject needs much more thorough research than that. Nor is the list in order.
The distribution of sports is affected by the sports women have been able to compete in as well as sports that are promoted to women in New York City. Of course, until very recently, women were not able to compete in many sports, and opportunities to compete professionally are still very limited. Several NYC high schools, one in particular, have produced talented female basketball players. Conversely, a number of metro-area schools in the suburbs have produced talented soccer players not listed here, such as former Rutgers star Carli Lloyd. Also, NYC boasted a professional women’s basketball team until 2018; however a women’s professional soccer team has yet to exist.
So here’s the list:
Althea Gibson–tennis player
Though born in Silver, South Carolina, Gibson grew up in Harlem and trained at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club in the Sugar Hill neighborhood. She would go on to win five major tennis tournaments, including Wimbledon twice. She was honored with a ticker-tape parade on Broadway (Gertrude Ederle is the only other individual athlete to receive that honor).
Chamique Holdsclaw–basketball player
Holdsclaw was born and raised in Queens and starred at the basketball powerhouse Christ the King High School in the Middle Village. She then led the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers to three straight NCAA titles from 1996-98 under coach Pat Summit. She had an 11 year career in the WNBA primarily with the Washington Mystics and the LA Sparks, winning numerous honors.
Natasha Hastings was born in Brooklyn and ran track at A Philip Randolph High School in Harlem. She then enrolled in the University of South Carolina and starred on the track team, earning the nickname “the 400M Diva”. She won Gold Medals in the 4×400 relays in the 2008 and 2016 Olympics and has won golds in numerous other competitions.
Carol Heiss–figure skater
Carol Heiss, later Carol Heiss Jenkins, is one of the most accomplished figures skaters ever. Born in Manhattan, she was competing by age six and coached by legend Pierre Brunet. She won her first title at age 11. In the 1956 Olympics in Rome she won Silver in the Ladies Singles. She then won five straight Ladies Singles World Championships, one of three women to do so. In the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley, she won the Gold Medal and was ranked first by all nine judges.
Nancy Lieberman–basketball player
Nancy Lieberman was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Far Rockaway and was a star player at Far Rockaway High School. She then attended and played basketball at Old Dominion University from 1976-1980. There she earned the nickname ‘Lady Magic’, a reference to Magic Johnson. She competed for the USA Women’s basketball team and won Gold Medals a the the 1975 Pan-Am games and the 1979 World Championships. After college, she competed in various leagues, including the men’s league USBL. At age 39 she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury and played a season.
Gertrude Ederle, known as ‘Trudy’, was one of the greatest female sports stars ever and one of the symbols of the Roaring 20s. She was born in Manhattan and began competing as a swimmer at an early age, swimming for the Women’s Swimming Association which produced many stars. She was expected to dominate women’s swimming at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, but surprisingly she only won two individual Bronze Medals and a Gold in the 4×100 relay. However, her great fame happened afterwards when she turned professional and prepared to swim the English Channel, still considered a daring feat. She failed in her first attempt. However, on August 6 1926 she swam across the channel in 14 hours and 34 minutes, setting the record for both men and women (she was the first woman). The news caused a sensation and she was greeted with a ticker-tape parade, a rare honor for an individual woman, in Manhattan.
Like Ederle, Ethelda Bleibtrey (later Ethelda Schlatke) learned to swim at the Women’s Swimming Association in Manhattan. In 1920 she won Gold Medals in all three women’s swimming events at the Amsterdam Olympics, despite there not being a backstroke race for women, which was her strongest event.
Tina Charles–basketball player
Tina Charles was born in Jamaica, Queens and became a star player at the famous Christ the King High School, which led her to be recruited by the NCAA powerhouse University of Connecticut. With Connecticut she won two NCAA championships in 2009 and 2010, and in 2010 she won the John Wooden Award for the best college player. She has since played in the WNBA, primarily with the New York Liberty, and also plays in league overseas. She has won many awards professionally including the 2012 WNBA Most Valuable Player. She has also won Gold Medals with the USA at the 2012 and the 2016 Olympic Games, starting in both finals.
Sue Bird–basketball player
Sue Bird is one of the most accomplished professional women’s athletes ever. She was born in Syosset on Long Island, New York, but she transferred to Christ the King High School in Queens to compete in basketball. She won the state title in 1998 and was chosen as the New York State Player of the Year. Since then she has played basketball for the University of Connecticut, the Seattle Storm in the WNBA, the USA Olympic team, and three professional Russian teams. She has won two NCAA championships, the Naismith College Player of the Year award, three WNBA championships, four Euroleague championships, and four Olympic Gold Medals, and countless other honors.
Teresa Weatherspoon–basketball player
Teresa Weatherspoon starred for the New York Liberty from 1997-2003, to date the club’s most successful period. She joined as an 11-year veteran of college and professional basketball and an Olympic Gold Medal winner with the USA in 1988. Between 1997-2002 she helped lead the team to four WNBA finals but they lost in each one. Her 50 foot shot at the buzzer to win game 2 of the 1999 final remains one the Liberty’s great moments. They have not reached the final since Weatherspoon’s departure. Despite only 8 years in the WNBA she remains 2nd in career assists and was the defensive player of the year twice.
This is a list of extras that I did give some consideration to. However, it is not a list of 11-15, and again is in no particular order.
Cristina Teuscher was a swimmer at Columbia University and the USA Olympic team, winning Gold in the 1996 Olympics in the 4×200 Freestyle relay. Born in the Bronx, she was an all NCAA athlete at Columbia for four straight years.
Rachel Daly is an English soccer player who played for the St. John’s University women’s soccer team from 2012-2015, setting most of the team’s records. She has since become a regular on the English National Team.
Kristine Lilly is the most capped international soccer player ever, having played for the US Women’s National Team 354 times. She played for the powerhouse University of North Carolina team and won two World Cups with the USA. She was born in New York City but grew up in Connecticut.
Genevieve Hecker, later Genevieve Stout, was golfer and won the US Women’s Amateur tournament in 1901 and 1902. She published a book Golf for Women, the first book ever for women golfers. Born in Darian Connecticut, she is buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.
Lucy Barnes Brown won the inaugural US Women’s Amateur golf tournament in 1895 representing the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. She was born in New York City.
Grete Waitz was a Norwegian long distance runner but became perhaps New York City’s most recognizable female athlete, winning the New York City Marathon a remarkable nine times. She fist won in 1978 when we competed at the personal invitation of marathon founder Frank Lebow. She set a world record.
On October 18th, 1842, Samuel Morse had a telegraph cable laid from the Battery in Lower Manhattan to Governor’s Island. From a booth at Castle Garden (today’s Castle Clinton) he successfully transmitted messages. It is believed to be the first successful submarine telegraph cable. Unfortunately, the next day the cable was inadvertently hauled up by the crew of a merchant ship and Morse’s experiment abruptly ended. However, the next year Morse would receive funding from Congress to build a telegraphic cable from Baltimore to Washington.
On this day on October 12th 1824, William Cauldwell was born. He would be the manage the New York Sunday-Mercury newspaper from 1850-1894. At at time when most newspapers didn’t publish on Sunday, he established the Mercury as one of the city’s most influential newspapers. The Mercury was the first newspaper to cover baseball regularly, starting with a match reported in 1853. The paper invented the phrase “national pastime.” Cauldwell hired journalist Henry Chadwick, the most famous promoter of baseball of the 19th Century, to cover the sport. During the Civil War, he found a cheap way to get extensive coverage from the front by inviting soldiers to send pieces and have them published, which was a regular feature. Under Cauldwell the newspaper published published writings of Mark Twain as early as 1864, as well as poems by Walt Whitman (and gave his Leaves of Grass a positive review), and actress Adah Menkin. The Mercury also published many writings of humorist Robert H. Newell, a favorite of Abraham Lincoln.
Cauldwell would eventually embark on a disastrous attempt to make the Mercury a daily paper and leave the paper. He had a career in politics as well in New York and Westchester County. He’s buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.