Nicholas E. Young, one of the founders of baseball’s National League, was a native of Amsterdam.
Young was born in 1840, the son of Almarin and Mary Young. When he was 8 years old, Young’s family moved to Old Fort Johnson, the former home of Colonial period Indian agent Sir William Johnson.
Young attended school in Amsterdam and developed an interest in cricket, which he said had been brought to Amsterdam by British immigrants hired by the growing carpet industry.
Young recalled in a memoir at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, “The English weavers who were employed in our factories, introduced the English game of cricket and we young Americans took up their game to the exclusion of our former games, and in a very few years we had become, by constant practice, so proficient that we could beat them at their own game.”
The Youngs were upper middle class, and cricket was considered a game for the gentry. Although small in stature (his military papers are marked “5 feet 6 inches” and gray eyes) Young was a nimble player. During his teen years he competed against Canadian cricketers in this country and in Canada. In 1858, he was selected to play with the New York state cricket team against the New York City team in their annual match on a cricket field between Albany and Troy.
Young probably went to Albany to help his father’s grain and gristmill business at the age of 18, the year his mother died. Almarin Young, Nicholas’ father, was appointed Amsterdam postmaster by President Lincoln in 1861.
According to his New York Times obituary, Nicholas Young enlisted in the 32nd New York Infantry in 1862, and with that regiment and later with the United States Signal Corps served until the end of the Civil War and engaged in all the important battles of the Army of the Potomac.
After the war, Young worked for the U.S. Treasury Department but continued to be active in sports. Cricket had inspired a new American game, baseball. Young was a right fielder and official of an amateur baseball team in Washington, D.C., the Olympic Club.
In 1871, Young issued a call for the first meeting of professional baseball clubs. The meeting was held in New York, and the National Association was formed, with Young as its secretary.
Young later said, “From the seemingly little acorn we planted that night on St. Patrick’s Day, 1871, 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. He also managed the Washington team and was an umpire. In 1881, he was elected president of the National League and served until 1903.
Although he was called Uncle Nick and was a popular figure, Young’s term as league president was marked by conflicts. There were rowdy and violent incidents on the playing fields in the 1890s.
Many star players and top umpires went to the rival American League when it was formed in 1901. The turmoil led to Young withdrawing from consideration for a further term as president in 1903.
After his baseball career, Young 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.