The “New York game” referred to baseball under the Knickerbocker rules of 1845. This was the birth of modern baseball, in comparison to the “town ball” then played in New England (“the Massachusetts game”). The term “New York game” is of historical interest today.
The first team to play baseball under modern rules were the New York Knickerbockers. The club was founded on September 23, 1845, as a social club for the upper middle classes of New York City, and was strictly amateur until its disbandment. The club members, led by Alexander Cartwright, formulated the “Knickerbocker Rules”, which in large part deal with organizational matters but which also lay out rules for playing the game. One of the significant rules was the prohibition of “soaking” or “plugging” the runner; under older rules, a fielder could put a runner out by hitting the runner with the thrown ball. The Knickerbocker Rules required fielders to tag or force the runner, as is done today, and avoided a lot of the arguments and fistfights that resulted from the earlier practice.
Writing the rules didn’t help the Knickerbockers in the first known competitive game between two clubs under the new rules, played at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 19, 1846. The self-styled “New York Nine” humbled the Knickerbockers by a score of 23 to 1. Nevertheless, the Knickerbocker Rules were rapidly adopted by teams in the New York area and their version of baseball became known as the “New York Game” (as opposed to the “Massachusetts Game”, played by clubs in the Boston area).
18 December 1904, Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, Neb.), pg. 11:
FATHER OF BASEBALL
GIVES HISTORY OF THE GAME
In his weekly letter to the St. Louis Sporting News, Henry Chadwick, the “Father of Baseball,” writing from Brooklyn, tells of the evolution of the national game during the past seventy years:...
The old game of “town ball” was simply an Americanized edition of the English game of rounders, which I used to play sixty-five years ago, when a schoolboy in England. “Town ball” was in vogue in the New England states during the ‘30s. The players used a square field instead of a diamond, as now.
This town ball game was in vogue until the decade of the ‘40s, when the old Knickerbocker baseball club of New York modified the rules of play and formulated a new game entirely, which, for several years was known as “the New York game,” in contradistinction to “town ball,” then known as “the Massachusetts game.” The Knickerbocker club changed the form of the town ball square field to that of the “diamond” field; and introduced base bags in the place of posts; they also enlarged the size of the ball to 6 1/4 ounces in weight and ten inches in circumference and added 2 1/2 ounces of rubber to the composition of the ball. They also prohibited throwing the ball to the bat and substituted the square pitch, and they made nine innings a full game. They also allowed a catch of a fair ball on the bound to put the batsman out.
These crude rules governed the New York game up to the time of the organization of the first National association in 1868, just forty-six years ago. Then it was that baseball of that period was played under an authorized code of rules.