Nick Young, one of the men who founded what has become Major League Baseball, was a native of Amsterdam. Born in 1840, Young was the son of Almarin and Mary Young. His father had prospered in the grain and gristmill business.
When Young was eight years old, his family moved to Old Fort Johnson, which had been built west of Amsterdam by prominent Colonial figure Sir William Johnson.
Young learned to play cricket which had been brought to Amsterdam by English immigrants hired by the growing textile industry.
Young recalled that he and other young Americans became so “proficient” playing cricket that they soon were able to beat the English carpet and knitting mill workers “at their own game.”
A short, nimble player (he was five foot six), Young played on New York’s top cricket team.
Young moved to Albany to help his father’s business in 1858, the year his mother died. His father Almarin was appointed Amsterdam postmaster by President Lincoln in 1861.
Young enlisted in the Union Army in 1862 and first with a New York regiment and later with the Signal Corps, he participated in many battles in the Civil War.
Young and another Amsterdam soldier named John Dwyer also took part in an early version of the new sport of baseball while in the Union Army.
During a lull in the fighting, Dwyer was the catcher and Young the pitcher on a pioneer ball team they organized called the New Yorks. The New Yorks played a game against non-New Yorkers who called themselves the United States as a reported fifteen thousand people watched.
When the war ended Dwyer, an Irish immigrant, went back to Amsterdam and eventually was elected mayor. Young went to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Treasury Department but continued to be active in baseball.
He was a right fielder and official of an amateur baseball team he helped organize in in Washington, the Olympic Club. He officiated as an umpire in many championship games.
However, rowdiness on and off the field and rampant gambling turned the public against baseball.
With reform in mind, in 1871 Young issued a call for the first nationwide meeting of professional baseball club owners. Delegates met in a large room over Collier’s Restaurant at the corner of 10th Street and Broadway in New York City. The National Association was formed at that meeting with Young chosen as the association’s secretary.
“From the seemingly little acorn we planted that night on St. Patrick’s Day, 1871,” Young wrote, “what a giant oak has grown, spreading its branches over this greatest of all lands, and furnishing clean, honest, healthful amusement for millions of people.”
Young and Mary E. Cross of Washington married in 1872. They had four children.
In 1876 baseball’s National Association became the National League and Young continued as secretary. In 1881 he was elected president of the National League.
Although he was called Uncle Nick and was a popular figure, Young’s years as league president was marked by continued conflicts. There were rowdy and violent incidents on the baseball playing fields.
Many star players bolted to the rival American League when it was formed in 1901. The turmoil led to Young withdrawing from consideration for a further term as National League president in 1903.
He returned to the Treasury Department. He died in 1916 at age 76 at the home of one of his sons in Washington.
Walter C. Barnes of the Boston Globe wrote in 1937, “No person ever connected with baseball did more for making the game what it is today than Nick Young.”
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].