It is richly ironic that Tom Gilbert’s home on North Henry Street lies in what was once the outfield of the Manor House, where Greenpoint’s legendary national championship team, the Eckford Club, once played. Gilbert—who was born and raised in North Carolina but has lived in Greenpoint since 1983—is passionate about baseball, especially its early history. He has written books about Roberto Clemente and Pete Rose, but I find his writing on early baseball most fascinating. Gilbert wrote an intriguing book about early baseball and its connections to Green-Wood Cemetery called Playing First. Many of the founders of baseball are buried in Green-Wood and reading Playing First makes a visit to Green-Wood so much more rewarding.
Tom is presently working on a book about how baseball evolved from a folk game played only in the NYC area to a national professional sport in a matter of 15 years. The Greenpoint-based Eckford club thirved for a time during that epoch, winning the national championship twice in 1862 and 1863, but they were forced out of existence by the professionalization of baseball. Gilbert has researched the life of the fascinating baseball poineer Greenpointer Frank Pidgeon and includes him in Playing First. Pidgeon was opposed to the professionalization of baseball, but he was on the losing side of history. One of his teammates, Al Reach, saw things differently. Reach wanted to become rich playing the sport and he did. Reach would become the first admitted professional baseball player in 1864 and he would later become a millionaire as the owner of the Philadelphia Phillies. Reach has been enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Even if you are not a huge baseball fan, Gilbert’s work is fascinating to read. He makes brilliant connections between the game and American culture and history. Reading Gilbert’s work not only gives his readers a deeper appreciation of baseball, but a fascinating treasure trove of facts and personages from American history. We cant wait to read his next book on the origins of the national past time.