I offered these remarks, slightly edited here, at the 2007 Seymour Medal Conference in Cleveland. The medal, awarded each year to the best book of baseball history, is named for Dorothy Seymour Mills and her late husband, Dr. Harold Seymour, for their joint accomplishment in the epic three-volume history, Baseball (Oxford University Press).
Geoffrey C. Ward, with whom I worked happily on Ken Burns’s 1994 documentary Baseball, said in later years that “Working on the film and book taught me [that] … while most Americans care too little about their history, the baseball community is different. The real meaning of all those apparently impenetrable stats is that the past matters. Without them no player would know where he stood, no fan could measure his or her heroes against those who have gone before. That fact alone should endear the game to any historian.” That it had not, until Dr. Seymour’s 1956 dissertation at Cornell, is a fact that may seem puzzling to attendees of this conference.1 Because the academy still looks askance at baseball history as a merely descriptive exercise, despite a proliferation of theses and credit courses related to the game, we have an opportunity at this conference to ask the worthwhile question that forms our presentation theme, “How did we come to understand baseball history?”
This formulation is parallel but not identical with other questions that will concern us this afternoon: “What is baseball history good for?” “How has baseball history been practiced?” And “How might it be better going forward?”
As to the first —”What is baseball history good for?”—some in the audience might reply with umbrage that history, like art, is for its own sake and must serve neither master nor cause; that while it offers tools for discovery, it is itself imperiled when held up to a standard of utility. This is a position with which I will agree … and disagree … if I may be permitted to make a perhaps old-fashioned distinction between History and The Past, the former being rooted in what happened, the latter in what some annalist thought might be useful to the game or even to the nation. So much of what today passes muster as history was created as propaganda or simple cheerleading, from the fibs of Henry Chadwick and Albert Spalding,2 to the pinning of Jim Creighton’s death on cricket rather than baseball, to the heart-rending tale of the Babe and little Johnny Sylvester. This is the sort of history that Henry Ford described in 1916 as bunk. What he actually said was even more incendiary: “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history that we make today.”3 George Santayana, take that!
Another description of The Past might be “what binds and sustains,” or mythology. History is what we at this gathering practice, but what we meet, out in the world, sometimes with astonishing rapidity, is this notion of The Past, in the form of that word heavy with nothing but trouble: heritage. At its best, acknowledging a common heritage allows us to form communities and maintain vital traditions, Henry Ford notwithstanding. At its worst, it abuses real history for chauvinistic gain. In a personal example, within hours of the May 2004 press conference in which I revealed that baseball was played by that name in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1791, well-meaning but benighted locals were celebrating their city’s usurpation of Cooperstown as the game’s Garden of Eden.4 As David Lowenthal notes in Possessed by the Past, history “differs from heritage not, as people generally supposed, in telling the truth, but in trying to do so despite being aware that truth is a chameleon and its chroniclers fallible beings. The most crucial distinction is that truth in heritage commits us to some present creed [or need]; truth in history is a flawed effort to understand the past on its own terms.”5
In the hands of nearly all its practitioners today, baseball history is a moated activity, in which “what happened” is all that matters. Only occasionally will the drawbridge drop down to connect with not only “what it might be good for” but also with what it might mean in some larger analytical or social context. Finding Walter Johnson’s missing strikeout from 1913; revoking Roger Maris’s bogus RBI in 1961; getting Ty Cobb’s hit totals and batting average right once and for all … these are not means to an end but ends in themselves. I attest to having spent many years in such pursuits: getting things right simply because with effort one could, and because “cleaning up” seemed morally superior to “going along,” accepting what was wrong. Besides, it was fun to debunk the notion, held for generations, that the pitching distance had retreated ten and a half feet in 1893 when it had only moved back five. Or to deny that the width of home plate had been expanded from 12 inches to 17 inches when it became a pentagonal shape, or to affirm neither Abner Doubleday nor Alexander Cartwright had much if anything to do with inventing baseball. It was pleasant to accumulate and sort baseball facts, like some dotty lepidopterist, and it was sometimes useful to others if we published our research, now matter how trivial and disconnected it might be from larger themes in American life, from analysis, from interpretation.
Historian Kenneth Stampp, author of The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (1956), once said of a colleague in an interview: “Carl [Bridenbaugh] was very sensitive about his brand of social history. It was rather old-fashioned social history. Somebody once called it pots-and-pans social history. He probably felt that emerging American intellectual history was in some way a negative commentary on his kind of history.”6 By “pots and pans,” Stampp explained, he meant “the kind of social history where you talk about things like baseball and recreation—it was not analytical social history…. It was descriptive … and I suppose some people thought that Bridenbaugh’s history was rather old-fashioned, some mod social historians. Every generation has [its new approach].”7
Myth and mythmaking are far more useful to the public understanding than mere findings of fact. And from the perspective of the historian of ideas and attitudes, what a man believes to be true, or purports to be true (including willful lies) may reveal more about himself and his era than the truth itself. So in trying get the facts straight about what really happened in baseball (Cartwright, Doubleday, or who?) or to slow the rush to judgment (Pittsfield), baseball’s historians may feel that they are bailing against the tide with a teacup. Who cares about their pursuit of truth? Give us a simple story, the people cry.
However the history of baseball may begin, the history of baseball history begins for most of us with Henry Chadwick. He recalled his first experience of playing baseball as taking some hard hits in the ribs in 1848—if true, his remark reveals that the Knickerbocker rules did not sweep aside all that had gone before—and he dated to 1856 his realization that this game might become to America what cricket was to England.8 Today most of us think of Father Chadwick cavorting at the Elysian Fields with the Knickerbockers, pausing only to invent the scoring system and the box score or to cluck about the pernicious influence of gamblers and rotters. But as Will Rankin would point out in the first years of the next century, Chadwick had for decades, while elevating the game to the status of national metaphor, elevated himself as well, campaigning on a platform of Le jeu c’est moi.9 He was not baseball’s first reporter—that distinction goes to the little known William H. Bray, like Chadwick an Englishman who covered baseball and cricket for the Clipper from early 1854 to May 1858 (Chadwick succeeded him on both beats and never threw him a nod afterward). Isolated game accounts had been penned in 1853 by William Cauldwell of the Mercury and Frank Queen of the Clipper, who with William Trotter Porter of Spirit of the Times may be said to have been baseball’s pioneer promoters. Credit for the shorthand scoring system belongs not to Chadwick but to Michael J. Kelly of the Herald. The box score—beyond the recording of outs and runs—may be his invention as well, but cricket had supplied the model.
Chadwick had the good fortune to team up with Irwin P. Beadle and his Dime publication series, penning the Base-Ball Guide for 1860 on up to 1881. He also had the good fortune to outlive his contemporary sporting scribes. Today we call him a historian—along with Charles Peverelly, Jacob Morse, Al Spink, Francis Richter, and Tim Murnane—but in his own day he and they were journalists, sometimes given to gauzy reminiscences or club-supplied copy when deadlines neared and space yawned. These writers possess the advantage of having been witnesses to events that interest us today but that ought not to accord to their writing a blanket credence. As Dixon Wecter wrote some fifty years ago:
A readable historian of his own times will be accepted as the foremost witness par excellence, generation after generation. But by way of compensation, the historian who arrives on the scene long afterwards enjoys advantages too. Though a million details, important and unimportant, will be lost for lack of recording or proper preservation, the disclosure of diaries and secret archives, the fitting together of broken pieces from the mosaic, the settling of controversial dust and cooling of old feuds, and the broad perspective down the avenues of time, all make it possible for him to know an era in its grand design better than most men who lived through it.10
Baseball’s tradition of mixing—and confusing—contemporary journalism with ex post facto history continued into the mid-twentieth century, with working-press types from Fred Lieb and Frank Menke to Tom Meany and Lee Allen working both sides of the street. In recent years we have labeled some outstanding baseball journalists and statisticians as historians—I won’t mention names so as not to give offense—but then again the term “baseball historian” is an odd one, a diminutive on the order of Billy Joel’s “real-estate novelist.” Even those who have made great contributions to the appreciation of baseball’s history—I think of Larry Ritter and Donald Honig—are not themselves historians of the game in its entirety as Jules Tygiel or Charles Alexander or David Voigt or Ben Rader have been. And then there are the “boutique baseball historians”—Milwaukee Brewers historian, Ty Cobb historian, and so on—who are what used to be called, more accurately, experts.
At the dawn of the last century, baseball’s origins were already too old to be remembered, so stories were devised to rationalize what was otherwise baffling. Baseball history then was in the hands of folklorists, not historians. Members of the Mills Commission, lacking the mundane primary documents that typically aid historians of everyday life in the reconstruction of events and the tenor of the times, looked to octogenarian reminiscences of events witnessed long ago if at all; the most celebrated of these implanted memories was, of course, that of Abner Graves. Thus was the history of baseball supplied with a starting point, a crucial requirement for being viewed seriously. (A similar sense of necessity led to the creation of baseball’s statistical record and its rapid and vertiginous climb to its current ascendancy.)
A century later we find ourselves still in the realm of eyewitnesses, as history is a term now awarded to events very recently transpired, and today’s scribes may accord more importance to documents. Baseball’s historians have largely—and thankfully—been unmoved by post-structuralist, post-Marxist, and post-Freudian siren songs, content to stay in the kitchen with the pots and pans of descriptive history, oblivious to the catcalls of political and intellectual historians. The respectable cousin of pots ’n’ pans, the “bottom up” (i.e., not “top down”) approach to history, based its claim to legitimacy, and in some measure hipness, on quantification and purported social relevance. Baseball-player studies certainly could be described as coming up from the bottom, but the continued emphasis was on story—what happened; and biography—about whom and by whom. There is some evidence of late, however, that baseball history may finally run aground in this generation’s perfect storm of race, class, and gender, so perilous to frail, tentative, hopeful insight. Styles blow through the corridors of history no less than on Seventh Avenue; if we can wait it out, this too shall pass.
Where the American Studies movement has long provided a big tent to those who sought to describe American life as it was lived by those outside the political, military, and intellectual elites, it has also come under fire from the academy for its perceived lack of social relevance and scholarly rigor, if not outright triviality (I exclude statistically based studies, which get a pass on the rigor test but not when it comes to relevance). As Daniel Boorstin and Russel Nye, household gods of mine, demonstrated forty and fifty years ago, a fella could learn a thing or two aboutAmerica through its media, its advertising, and its patterns of consumption.11
The perspectives of Larry Ritter and Dr. Seymour were similarly revelations to many of us in this room. And in other approaches to the game, in the 1970s Roger Angell, Bob Creamer, Roger Kahn, Tom Boswell, and Jim Bouton proved that baseball is the Trojan Horse by which we come to understand ourselves. Knock on the door and say, “I’ve got history for you,” and that door does not budge. Offer baseball and the door swings open wide; once inside, a little history and useful knowledge may be imparted.
Baseball history is not so different from other forms, in the end. Solid research and command of the evidence underlie all of it. Dixon Wecter, not yet a household god but new in my experience and highly congenial in his approach—wrote:
Industry minus art, accumulation lacking charm, data without digestion—such shortcomings explain this popular allergy against American history as written…. The re-creation of a dominant personality, or daily life of an era, or the power generated by its ideas, calls for exact knowledge fired by historical imagination…. If the author’s saturation in his subject is so real that he develops affections and dislikes, his writing is sure to be more warm and vigorous than if he strikes the attitude of a biologist dissecting a frog.12
My friend and protoball pioneer Larry McCray, with his taxonomic bent, likes to say that he is a tree person and I am a forest person, and sometimes we just cannot see the other, cannot grasp one another’s perspective. Wecter clearly believes that a first-rate historian must be a forest person—it is the leap of imagination that makes him a big leaguer—but he has to have a lot of tree to him too.
It seems to me that what is lacking in baseball history is its last five letters. Even more than in general American historical writing, baseball history, because it is the toy shop of history departments (the baseball beat at a newspaper used to be called the toy department), must be pushed by event, driven by character, and have a freight-train narrative drive. As with a novel, there must be a truth of fact and a truth of feeling, illuminated by sensibility. In short, we may not, in the name of accuracy, neglect the speculative and aesthetic possibilities in baseball history. Issue-driven baseball history is simply baseball history unread.
Rather than depersonalize the writing of history, we should fess up to its intrinsically subjective element—the historian—and make way for passion, for intimations of sentiment if not sentimentality—itself a lesser crime, it seems me now, than before the current age of irony. Tell us what it felt like to be alive then, in that distant age. Insert yourself and your tale of the hunt into the story.
There may be no “I” in “team””—nor in “research”—but there is one in “history” … and there ought to be one in the writing of it.
1. Seymour, Harold, Phd. The Rise of Major League Baseball to 1891.Cornell University, 1956 (unpublished dissertation). 659 pp.
2. For more on this, see “Four Fathers of Baseball,” a speech the author delivered at the Smithsonian Institution on July 14, 2005, at
3. Interview in Chicago Tribune,May 25, 1916
4. For more on this subject, see the author’s “1791 and All That: Baseball and the Berksires” in Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, Vol. I, No. 1, Spring 2007, pp. 119-126.
5. Lowenthal, David. Possessed by the Past: The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History.New York: Free Press, 1996, p. 119.
6. “Historian of Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, University of California, Berkeley, 1946-1983: Kenneth M. Stampp,” with an Introduction by John G. Sproat. Interviews conducted by Ann Lage in 1996, p. 162.
7. Ibid, p. 163.
8. From Henry Chadwick, The Game of Base Ball (New York: Munro, 1868), pp. 9-10: “About twenty odd years ago [i.e., 1848] I used to frequently visit Hoboken with base ball parties, and, on these occasions, formed one of the contesting sides; and I remember getting some hard hits in the ribs, occasionally, from an accurately thrown ball. Some years afterwards the rule of throwing the ball at the player was superseded by that requiring it to be thrown to the base player, and this was the first step towards our now National game.”
9. Rankled by Rankin’s challenges to his recollection and veracity in several Sporting News articles in 1904-5, Chadwick wrote to his friend “Joe” (Vila?) in April 1907: “Reference will show you that I knew of base ball in the sixties when – according to ‘mine enemy’ – I knew nothing about any game but cricket. Although in November 1848 I played as short stop in a field adjoining the old Knickerbocker grounds at Hoboken.” Per photocopy in the Giamatti Center “Origins” file.
10. Wecter, Dixon. “History and How to Write It,” American Heritage, Volume 8, Issue 5, August 1957, p. 87.
11. Among many notable works, I take pains to cite Boorstin’s The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (originally published by Athenaeum Press in 1962 as The Image or What Happened to the American Dream) and Nye’s The Unembarrassed Muse: The Popular Arts in America (New York Dial Press, 1970).
12. Wecter, op. cit., pp. 25-26.
With this fifth of sixteen articles by scholars of baseball’s earliest period, a picture will begin to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. (For regular readers of the Our Game blog, my own contributions will be interspersed with these excerpts from Base Ball.) The article below, by David Block, appears in print in a new special issue of the journal Base Ball. David is the author of the pathbreaking Baseball Before We Knew It (University of Nebraska, 2005), a research-intensive investigation of baseball’s English roots. He is a member of the MLB committee on baseball’s origins chaired by the editor of this blog.
These articles constitute only a portion of the complete special issue and appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger Protoball Chronology appearing at
; for example, the article below, indexed as 1796.1, reflects that it is the second Protoball entry for the year 1796.
1796.1 German Book Describes das englische Base-ball: But Was It Baseball or Rounders?
One plays the game with two teams, of which one is serving the ball and the other batting…. Likewise the process is as in the German ball game: hitting, running, etc.
It was one of the most satisfying moments of my hunt for the roots of baseball, and one of the most unexpected. In 2001, while searching for other pastimes within an old German book on games and sports, I came across seven pages describing a game called das englische Base-ball.1 Written by the physical education pioneer J. C. F. Gutsmuths, the 1796 book offers the earliest known detailed explanation for how baseball was played.
In my own book, published in 2005, I cited Gutsmuths’ description while making my case that the 18th century game of English baseball was the immediate forerunner of American baseball.2 At the time, I interpreted Gutsmuths’ use of the term English baseball as an indication that he was describing the same form of baseball that occasionally appeared by name in English works of the 18th and 19th centuries. Because Gutsmuths described a bat as being part of the game, I extrapolated that English baseball was generally played with a bat, even though that fact had not been detailed elsewhere.
In my book I also theorized on the origin of the English game of rounders. When rounders first appeared in the early 19th century, it seemed to share the same basic characteristics as English baseball, or at least the way I understood English baseball to be from Gutsmuths’ description; i.e., a game played with a bat. From this I postulated that rounders and English baseball were one and the same, with the name rounders replacing the older name of baseball in the 1800s.
In the years since my book was released, researchers, including myself, have made new discoveries about both English baseball and rounders. The knowledge gained from these findings has caused me to revise some of my earlier thinking regarding the relationship between the two. The new information shows that English baseball had a much longer lifespan in the 19th century than was previously believed; that it was played as late as the 1890s; and that it coexisted with rounders for seven decades or longer.3 Except for one doubtful example, none of the new references to English baseball indicates, or even suggests, that the pastime was played with a bat. By contrast, the newest discoveries about rounders only confirm what has been long documented about it—that it is always played with a bat. Taking into account the total body of evidence available, I now believe that English baseball and rounders were separate games, distinguished principally by the use of a bat in the latter. Furthermore, a strong gender division characterized the two pastimes throughout much of the 19th century, with English baseball having been played predominantly by girls and young women, and rounders by boys and men.4
Because of their similarities, it seems probable that rounders was a direct offshoot of baseball. It may have been a natural and obvious thing for boys in the late 18th century to experiment using a bat to strike a baseball instead of using their bare hands. Bats were certainly very familiar and available to them from the popular games of trapball and cricket. (A parallel process may well have transpired in North America, where bat use seems to have been adapted to baseball during the colonial era.) I speculate that it was during this stage, when youngsters were introducing bat play to baseball and beginning to form incipient rounders, that Gutsmuths captured his information about English baseball and memorialized it in his book.
Coincidence or not, at this same time a game called simply “bat and ball” began to appear in English writings. A 1790 book listed a young man’s amusements as including “marbles, bat and ball [and] hop-step-and-jump.”5 A 1797 newspaper article, praising the layout of a new school ground, noted “it affords ample space for cricket, for bat and ball, or any other school-boy exercise.”6 An 1801 children’s book, Youthful Sports, explained that “bat and ball is an inferior kind of cricket, and more suitable for little children, who may safely play at it, if they will be careful not to break windows.”7 Two decades later, an 1824 journal article observed that: “on Sunday, after afternoon service, the young people joined in foot-ball and hurling, bat and ball, or cricket.”8
So what was this “bat and ball”? The citations make clear that it was something different from cricket. Nor was it likely that “bat and ball” denoted any other well known game, such as trap-ball or stool-ball, as these were nearly always cited by name. Quite possibly, “bat and ball” was a convenient label for the evolving game that would soon become known as rounders.
It was in 1828 that the term “rounders” made its first known appearance in The Boy’s Own Book, a popular new British anthology of games and sports. Rounders, as described in that book, appears similar to what early American baseball must have looked like in the era, featuring the familiar elements of batting (with a bat), baserunning, fielding, soaking, etc.9 In fact, when authors of American children’s books in the 1830s began writing descriptions of the young game of baseball, they borrowed freely from the rounders section of The Boy’s Own Book.10 Does this prove that rounders was the forerunner of American baseball, as many historians such as Henry Chadwick and Robert Henderson have suggested over the years? This is unlikely, as evidence abounds that baseball took root in North America long before rounders came into existence. But American baseball and rounders, clearly, are closely linked, with both deriving from a common ancestor, the early English baseball of the mid–18th century.
Following the publication of The Boy’s Own Book in 1828, only two further references to the game are found until the 1840s. From then onward, though, the name rounders shows up with ever increasing frequency in British books and newspapers. Boys, it seems, were the main practitioners at first, but mentions of college students and other young men playing rounders began appearing in the late 1840s, and by the 1850s there are multiple indications of adult men taking up the pastime. The Glasgow Herald of June 1, 1855 printed a letter from a British soldier on deployment in the Crimea telling of playing rounders with his comrades near Sebastopol. An 1858 London newspaper reported that 11 men representing a pub in Cheltenham were challenging any neighboring pub to a rounders match for a stake of not less than 20 pounds.11 By 1869, it was evident that the pastime had grown even further in dimension and popularity. Descriptions of rounders in earlier guidebooks indicated that the bases be placed 12 to 20 yards apart, but a July 7, 1869, article in the Western Mail of Cardiff reported that the bases for a local match between two teams of men were set 25 yards distant from each other. The article also announced that “some thousands of persons of all classes [were] present, all of whom seemed to take much interest in the game.” The same paper reported a “large number of spectators” at another match a year later.
By the 1870s, the expanding coverage of rounders in British literature and newspapers made clear that the pastime was a masculine preserve, only rarely hinting that girls were trying their hands at the game. The front cover of the August 16, 1873, issue of The Graphic newspaper pictures soldiers of the 42nd Highlanders — the famous “Black Watch”—all dressed up in regimental tartan and kilts for a game of rounders. The accompanying story states: “We have no doubt that most of our male readers have at some time or other taken part in a game of ‘rounders’ so that they will feel no need of an explanation of it from us. And if the ladies feel curious we must refer them to the gentlemen.”12 But within three years of this article’s publication, two new books for “young ladies” were moving to satisfy that curiosity without any help from the gentlemen. The books proposed a somewhat gentler form of the game than the men were playing at the time, advising young women to equip themselves with a battledore or tennis racket, and a rubber ball. One mentioned that instead of a racket, “sometimes the ball is struck by hand.”13 This suggests a link to the game of English baseball that may have still been familiar to the young ladies. One of the books was especially enthusiastic about rounders:
Perhaps this is more properly a boy’s game, but it is admirable exercise for a bright fresh morning; and there is no reason why bright young girls in the fresh morning of their lives should not indulge in it; and much less fatigued and languid would they feel after a good game of rounders, than on the morning after a ball, when they have danced till the dawn of day.14
Imagine, rounders more healthy than dancing! Apparently so, because over the next couple of decades, thousands of English schoolgirls embraced the game with great enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the men kept playing at it too, with the 1880s seeing the formation of rounders associations in Wales, Scotland, and England. In Liverpool, a weekly rounders newspaper reported on the dozens of matches (or fixtures) that were contested each week.15 The men’s version of the game had evolved into a highly physical and competitive sport, and some of its fanciers — perhaps feeling their manhood threatened — began grumbling over the fact that their rugged sport had to share its name with the gentler pastime that girls were playing in the schoolyards. One had this to say in 1892:
In the old game … hitting of a player, or the vain attempt to make a target of the flowing skirts of a young girl running around the bases, usually provokes hilarity, and is considered the comedy episode of picnic fun-making…. It is to be regretted that modern rounders suffers by association of name, at least, from its progenitor.16
About this time, the men’s associations were making major revisions to their form of rounders. Soaking was done away with in favor of tagging runners at the bases, and the short, traditional, one-handed rounders bat gave way to a longer, two-handed implement that was something of a cross between a cricket bat and an American baseball bat. In 1892, as a crowning touch, the associations in both Liverpool and South Wales discarded the old name rounders in favor of a new name: baseball! Conjecture arose that this move was made to tie the sport more closely to American baseball, though both associations denied it and fended off outside entreaties that they adopt the American rules. A May 24, 1892, Cardiff newspaper article explained the local association’s decision:
A meeting was held on Saturday to consider the desirability of changing the name of the game of rounders to English baseball.—A letter was read … from Mr. Henry, of Liverpool, saying that, in view of the prejudice that had always existed against the game of rounders, many considering it, not knowing the rules under which the game was now played, to be something childish, to be played by girls or at a pic-nic, and not fit to be ranked as one of the manly sports, it had been decided by the National Rounders’ Association to change the name to the English Baseball Association, stress being laid on its being “English” baseball, so as not to be confounded with the American code…. Following the example of the Liverpool men, it was practically decided to substitute the name of English baseball for rounders in this district.17
Thus, full ownership of the name rounders was conceded to children on the playgrounds of Britain, where the game today remains the most widely played of all school sports for girls. As for the new “English baseball” (the pastime formerly known as rounders), it is now more familiarly known as Welsh baseball and endures as an organized sport in both Cardiff and Liverpool.
And so the long and winding road of English baseball and rounders has wound its way to the 21st century, carrying along two games whose histories are totally intertwined. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter whether Gutsmuths back in 1796 was accurately reporting the state of English baseball or foreshadowing the rise of rounders. What matters is that he did write about baseball, as did John Newbery in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, and a precious few other contributors. We owe them a great debt, because without them we might not know anything at all about the simple English game that was the ancestor of our American National Pastime.
1. Gutsmuths, J. 1796. Spiele zur Uebung und Erholung des Körpers und Geistes für die Jugend, ihre Erzieher und alle Freunde Unschuldiger Jugendfreuden (p. 78).
2. Block, D. 2005. Baseball before We Knew It.
3. Recently I have uncovered a dozen or more newspaper articles from the 1870s to 1890s that mention English baseball, showing that it survived longer than previously believed. In one example, a letter printed in the Daily News (London) of March 28, 1887, complained about new park regulations: “Rounders, base ball, bat and trap, games as old as cricket, will be forbidden, or practised under irksome regulations and rules by which thousands of children will be deprived of that pure innocent pleasure which these games afford.” The “doubtful example” to which I refer is a mock letter published in the humor magazine Punch in August, 1874. It suggested that a batter in English baseball could hit the ball “with a stick or his hand.”
4. The gender division between the two sports was not absolute. Books and newspapers from the period document rare instances of females playing rounders and males playing baseball prior to the 1870s.
5. Incidents of Youthful Life; or, the True History of William Langley (1790, p. 94).
6. “Westminster School,” The Oracle and Public Advertiser (London): Jan. 14, 1797.
7. Youthful Sports (1801).
8. Monthly Repository of Theolog y and General Literature (London): Aug., 1824, p. 500.
9. Clarke, W. 1828. The Boy’s Own Book (2nd ed.) (p. 20).
10. These included “base or goal ball” from Robin Carver’s The Book of Sports (1834, pp. 37–38); “base or goal ball” from The Boy’s and Girl’s Book of Sports (1835, p. 18); and “base ball” from The Boy’s Book of Sports (1835).
11. Bell’s Life and Sporting Chronicle (London): May 9, 1858.
12. The Graphic (London): Aug. 16, 1873, pp. 1–2.
13. Valentine, L. 1876. The Home Book for Young Ladies (p. 4).
14. Mackarness, Mrs. H. 1876. The Young Lady’s Book (p. 459).
15. The newspaper was entitled The Rounders Reporter and Liverpool Athletic News and it appears to have been published only in 1885.
16. Walker, J. 1892. Rounders, Quoits, Bowls, Skittles and Curling (p. 10).
17. Western Mail (Cardiff ): May 24, 1892.
Everything about baseball is borrowed, not invented—all of it comes from some other place—even though our national pastime is an undeniably unique collage. As I detailed in Baseball in the Garden of Eden, the 90-foot basepath was neither a stroke of genius nor a bit of divine intervention, even though pundits have long been fond of declaring that the game would have been radically different if some ingenious lad had chosen another distance. Batting averages would be higher today if the basepaths had been only a few feet shorter, they observe; pitchers would dominate if the basepaths had been a few feet longer, and so on. At one point in the 1890s when batting averages were soaring, Harry Wright seriously proposed increasing the basepaths to 93 feet.
Anyway, over lunch today I fell into one of my antiquarian reveries and got to thinking about why Doc Adams or Alex Cartwright or William R. Wheaton chose 15 paces as the pitching distance—why not 12 or 20 or any other number? Then I got to thinking about duels with pistols, and how Hamilton and Burr had fired at each other on Weehawken’s Heights in 1804, just spitting distance from the later Elysian Fields (and appallingly close to the site of today’s Alexander Hamilton rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike). What might the prescribed distance for a potentially fatal test of honor have been in 1845, when dueling (at least in the Northeast) was very nearly an archaism? Seeing as pitcher and batter are armed antagonists—one with a bat, the other with a ball, but each potentially deadly to the interests of the other—the metaphor just might be apt, I mused.
Bear with me as I descend into my nerdy rabbit hole.
Checking a standard work on the subject, Essai sur le duel, par le Comte de Chatauvillard (Paris, 1836), and straining my schoolboy French to its limit, I read on page 33 that Il y a plusieurs duels au pistolet; mais une règle, commune à tous, est que la distance la plus rapprochée doit être de quinze pas (“There are many duels with pistols, but one rule, common to all, was that the nearest distance should be fifteen paces….”). For fixed firing devices, the author allowed that the distance might be increased to as much as 33 paces.
While I have no, er, smoking gun to prove that baseball’s original pitching distance derived from the standard for pistol duels, such a deduction strikes me as plausible. Baseball’s field was not originally measured by its basepaths but by a distance from home to second base (and first to third bases) of 42 paces. In my book I argue that in the 1840s the pace would have been understood as either an imprecise measure, depending upon who was doing the pacing, or the classic Roman pace of 2.5 feet; the 3-foot pace would not be conventional until significantly later. Thus the Knickerbocker basepaths appear to have been closer to 75 feet than to 90; given the level of play by men new to the game, this stands to reason.
A schoolboy might wonder why that distance should be 42 paces rather than some other number. Douglas Adams proposed, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that the number 42 was The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything, but he declined to provide the question.
OK, back to the land of ancient baseball. It turns out that a square with sides of 42 paces (at the classic 2.5-foot measure, producing 105 feet or 35 yards) is a quarter-acre, very nearly on the button. An American or English statute square of a full acre is almost 4,900 square yards—with equal sides of 70 yards, which equates to 84 paces, or twice 42. In other words, this dimension would have been exceedingly familiar in America’s antebellum period.
Agriculture and everyday life also inspired the distance for the cricket pitch of 22 yards, which is precisely equal to an “Edmund Gunter chain,” as devised in 1620 and which distance was, according to John Nyren, precisely that of the cricket pitch as far back as 1682. The larger point is that playing-field measures derive from agrarian roots, and that these vestiges of the country survived in the city in its ball games, cricket and baseball, both of them vibrant anachronisms more popular than ever.
That’s my idle speculation for today.
John Newbery Publishes A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, and with It Our First Glimpse of the Game of English Baseball
With this fourth of sixteen articles by scholars of baseball’s earliest period, a picture will begin to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. (For regular readers of the Our Game blog, my own contributions will be interspersed with these excerpts from Base Ball.) The article below, by David Block, appears in print in a new special issue of the journal Base Ball. David is the author of the pathbreaking Baseball Before We Knew It (University of Nebraska, 2005), a research-intensive investigation of baseball’s English roots. He is a member of the MLB committee on baseball’s origins chaired by the editor of this blog.
These articles constitute only a portion of the complete special issue and appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger Protoball Chronology appearing at
; for example, the article below, indexed as 1744.2, reflects that it is the second Protoball entry for the year 1744.
1744.2 John Newbery Publishes A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, and with It Our First Glimpse of the Game of English Baseball
“Away Flies the Boy”1
We know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that American baseball derived from an earlier 18th century English game that was also called baseball. True, we don’t have any smoking-gun proof of this; no diary entry from, say, the 1750s, detailing how little Johnny settler brought baseball over here from England and introduced it to his chums on the village green. Such a discovery would be lovely to find, and I’m still on the hunt for it, but even without it we have a strong case based upon circumstantial evidence alone. The game in England was called baseball and here it is called the same.2 In both countries, a pitcher serves a ball to a batter, baserunners circle the bases, and fielders do what they can to catch the ball and get the runners out. In my view, the inherent similarities between American baseball and its earlier English namesake negate the possibility that our game could have somehow sprung up all on its own.
Once implanted in North America, we pretty much know how things turned out. Baseball eventually evolved from being a rustic folk game to becoming the fullblown American national pastime. But the story of English baseball is another matter. Its history was never carefully recorded, and to this day remains largely elusive. Yet, in recent years, researchers including myself have uncovered a modest number of new references that have added to our pool of knowledge about English baseball. These findings have prompted me to reappraise some of my previous assumptions about the game.
Our earliest evidence for English “base-ball” dates from 1744, when the iconic children’s book A Little Pretty Pocket-Book was first issued. Publisher John Newbery devoted a full page of his pioneering juvenile work to the game, giving us our first clues of how it looked and how it was played. Newbery’s page includes a simple engraving of the pastime that depicts three young gents at play, one holding a ball in his hand and another waiting to strike it with his bare hand. The bases, three of them, are shown as posts in the ground. An accompanying snippet of verse reads as follows:
The Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin’d Post,
And then Home with Joy.3
Three other references to English baseball from the 1740s and ’50s add texture to Newbery’s introductory lesson on the game. The first of these, Lady Hervey’s letter of 1748, describes the family of the Prince of Wales enjoying the pastime. She wrote that they played it “in a large room,” and that “the ladies, as well as gentlemen, join in this amusement.”4 Another work from Newbery’s press, The Card, published early in 1755, refers to “the younger part” of a family retiring to play “base-ball,” an activity that the author described as an “infant game” when compared to either fives (a form of handball) or tennis.5 Also from 1755, an entry in the diary of 19-year-old William Bray notes he played “base ball” at a friend’s home as part of a mixed party of young men and women.6
These four sources give us a glimpse of what English baseball was like in the mid–18th century, a time, presumably, not many decades removed from when the pastime first came into being.7 Baseball of that era appears to have been more of a social diversion than an athletic sport, and quite clearly an appropriate activity for both sexes. As to what the game looked like, we don’t really know for sure. But it is difficult to deny that those four little lines of verse in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book conjure a mental image that is uncannily familiar. Even now, 250 years later, one would be hard pressed to come up with a more charming and economical allusion to baseball, save for the fact, of course, that there’s no indication of a bat.
Following 1755 we enter the “dark ages” of English baseball history. No further references to the game can be found in English writings until the late 1780s, and thus we lack any evidence telling us of the progress of the pastime, who was playing it, or what changes it might have been undergoing during those decades. But then the 19th century dawned, and with it a steady stream of fresh sightings of English baseball in books and newspapers. Most of these mentions of the game are brief and provide little detail about how it was actually played, but taken together they provide important new insights into its role in the nation’s culture.
English baseball back in the mid–18th century may have been a suitable activity for mixed company, but by the early 19th century that was no longer the case. Baseball had become a girls’ game, a reality that was demonstrated in the literature of the era. Jane Austen wrote in Northanger Abbey, published in 1818, that baseball was one of the favored diversions of her heroine Catherine Morland.8 The following year baseball appeared in a science textbook for girls called Conversations on Natural Philosophy. In it, a female student explains the principle of inertia: “In playing at base-ball, I am obliged to use all my strength to give a rapid motion to the ball; and when I have to catch it, I am sure I feel the resistance it makes to being stopped.”9 It is unlikely the author would have used baseball in her example had she not been confident it would be familiar to her female readers. In 1820, another girl-oriented book, entitled Early Education, mentions “base ball” among a footnoted list of appropriate “old-fashioned” amusements that also includes “hunt the slipper” and “my lady’s toilette.”10
The novelist and short story writer Mary Russell Mitford referred to baseball on at least four occasions in her writings of the 1820s and ’30s. In each of these instances her ballplayers were girls. Boys, in Miss Mitford’s stories, pursued cricket, marbles, and other pastimes, but never baseball. William Newnham, in his Principles of Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Religious Education of 1827, recommended cricket and football as suitable activities for boys, and added: “with regard to girls, these amusements may be advantageously supplanted by bass-ball [sic], battledore and shuttlecock.”11
Further references to English baseball in books and newspapers continued to appear throughout the 19th century before finally fading out in the 1890s.12 Of particular note is a substantive explanation of the pastime that appeared in a children’s book, Jolly Games for Happy Homes, written by Georgiana Clark and published in 1876. Curiously, the book contains not one but two detailed accounts of how English baseball was played. The two are written in very different styles and include different particulars about the game, but seem to agree on its basic makeup. Both begin by saying that the players divide into two equal parties and choose which is “in” and which is “out.” The first description continues as follows:
The one who is “out” throws the ball, which the one who is in receives “in” her hand as if it were a bat, bats it away and starts for the first base, or station. The garden or field has previously been divided into bases or stations, duly marked at convenient distances.
The business of the followers of the leader who is “out” is to act as scouts, to catch up the ball thrown—after which, they can all start if they like—and hit the runner with it as she passes from base to base. If she is so hit she is “out,” and must remain dormant till there is a change in the ministry of the game. Her business is to make good her passage from base to base without being hit, and for this purpose to keep an eye on the enemy and the flying ball. If she is hit on reaching, or whilst stationary at a base, it counts for nothing. Each member of a party runs in turn. When all the members of a party are out, the game recommences, passing into the hands of the other party, and so on.13
The second description adds further details about “base-ball,” and provides a diagram of a diamond-shaped infield. It mentions that the striker “receives the ball on the flat of the palm of her hand, as with a bat.” She is out “if she misses three times,” if the ball falls behind home plate, if it is caught by any of the “out” party, or if she is struck while running.14
Both of these accounts include the practices of soaking and the “all-out, side-out” method of play, and in many respects are not unlike other portrayals of early baseball-like pastimes, such as those of the English game of rounders or of pre–1845 games played in the United States. Two notable exceptions to these stand out, however. The first is that the players in Jolly Games for Happy Homes are girls, a fact strongly suggesting that this twice-described form of baseball is none other than what Jane Austen, Mary Russell Mitford, and other authors of the early 19th century had in mind when they mentioned their characters playing the game.
A second exception is of greater significance. Both descriptions in the book make clear that when a player at the plate strikes the ball she does so without using a bat, utilizing only her bare hand. Then again, this is not really an exception at all. Of the nearly forty authentic references to English baseball to appear in English books, newspapers, diaries, or letters during the recorded lifespan of the game, from 1744 to the 1890s, not one mentions the presence of a bat.15 From this it seems natural to conclude that, contrary to previous thinking, use of a bat was never an essential element of the game.
Of course, there is a fly in this ointment. Astute readers will recall that evidence does, in fact, exist suggesting that English baseball was played with a bat. This is evidence I uncovered myself nearly a decade ago, when I came across a German-language book from 1796 that purports to explain how a pastime called das englische Base-ball was practiced. The author, J. C. F. Gutsmuths, somehow managed to obtain this information despite being situated in a small town in central Germany more than 500 miles from London. Gutsmuths not only specified that English baseball was played with a bat, he explicitly described its shape and dimensions.16
So, how do I account for these seemingly contradictory indications? Since we don’t know how Gutsmuths came to learn about English baseball, it is hard to evaluate the accuracy of his description, especially since his assertion that the game included a bat is not corroborated by a single English source. But, if he was correct, and some form of baseball was being played with a bat in England in the 1790s, it could mean one of several things. One possibility is that English baseball utilized a bat for at least part of its history, and that it is just coincidental that Gutsmuths happened to be the only one ever to mention it. A more likely interpretation, in my view, is one that delves into the complicated relationship between English baseball and a related pastime that may have been entering its embryonic stage at the same time that Gutsmuths was writing—the English game of rounders. Stay tuned, because I will be exploring this very question—the relationship between baseball and rounders—in another essay (Item 1796.1) next.
1. Newbery, J. 1763. A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly (11th ed.).
2. Actually, in England, the early game of baseball was usually spelled with a hyphen: base-ball.
3. Newbery 1763.
4. Letters of Mary Lepel, Lady Hervey (1821) (pp. 139–140). The letter containing the baseball quote is dated November 13, 1748. The whereabouts of the original letter are unknown, and it may not have survived. An archive in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk County, England, holds a hand copy of the letter dating from the late 18th century.
5. Anon. (John Kidgell). 1755. The Card (1.9). This book may be the oldest surviving baseball artifact. No copies of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book earlier than 1760 have been located; nor has the original Lady Hervey letter of 1748. Evidence shows that The Card was in print several months prior to the William Bray diary entry.
6. Handwritten diary of William Bray, entry for Easter Monday, March 31, 1755. Privately owned.
7. No one knows for sure when baseball first materialized, but my analysis of evidence from the period leads me to guess it was sometime between the 1690s and 1730s.
8. Austen, J. 1818. Northanger Abbey: and Persuasion (1.7).
9. Mrs. Marcet (Jane Haldemand). 1819. Conversations on Natural Philosophy (p. 13).
10. Appleton, E. 1821. Early Education (2nd ed.) (p. 384).
11. Newnham, W. 1827. Principles of Physical, Intellectual, Moral and Religious Education (1:123).
12. It has long been believed that English baseball reached extinction by 1870, but I have found new evidence showing that the game endured into the 1890s. For more about this see note 3 in my essay in this issue “Item 1796.1—German Book Describes das englische Base-ball; but Was It Baseball or Rounders?”
13. Clark, G. 1876. Jolly Games for Happy Homes, to amuse our girls and boys; the dear little babies and the grown-up ladies (p. 110).
14. Ibid., 247.
15. One questionable source, a mock letter published in the humor magazine Punch in August 1874, suggested the possibility of bat use in English baseball, but it is difficult to know whether the information is valid or invented.
16. Gutsmuths, J. 1796. Spiele zur Uebung und Erholung des Körpers und Geistes für die Jugend, ihre Erzieher und alle Freunde Unschuldiger Jugendfreuden (p. 78).
This story originally appeared in the 2011 Official Major League Baseball All-Star Game Program, which is available at mlb.com.
Major League Baseball’s first All-Star Game was staged in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. The idea of Arch Ward, sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, it was intended to be a one-time exhibition matching the best eighteen of each league against each other. But the game, an American League victory marked by a Babe Ruth home run, proved such a success that it has been followed every year since, except when wartime travel restrictions scratched it in 1945.
In an idle moment, it struck me that all but a handful of the great players of MLB’s first fifty years never got a chance to play in an All-Star Game. Cy Young, King Kelly, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, and so many more—what if they were given a chance to play against the best of their own era? Further, what if they were to play against some of the best all-star teams actually assembled?
Hitching a ride on baseball’s time machine, I created a tourney of eight all-star squads, six of them actual and two as they might have been selected in their day. I then established a bracket that paralleled today’s three rounds of postseason play. (Rosters for the fantasy all-star teams of 1889 and 1908 appear at the end of the article; for rosters of actual NL and AL all-star teams cited below, see:
Cross-era competition provides some puzzling points of comparison, which I have attempted to resolve fairly. Players selected for the 1889 and 1908 squads reflect not those whom we might pick today (most RBIs or a high OPS, for example) but instead those who were regarded as the best in their day, and not merely in the first halves of those particular seasons.
Other personally imposed ground rules: For post-1933 teams, if men were selected for their actual game but did not play, whether ruled out for injury or in-game managerial decision, they will not play here. Also, because all-star roster sizes changed over time, the 1889 and 1908 clubs are set at 25, in line with the most frequently used historical number (the range has been from 18 in 1933 to the current 34). Finally, the home team selects the playing rules of its period. Now, on to the quarterfinals!
Game One: 1889 National League vs. 1998 American League; site, South End Grounds, Boston.
The All-Star Fantasy Series begins with an upset. AL pitchers struggle to adjust to the 50-foot pitching distance, the absence of a slab or a mound, and the extra pitches required because foul balls are not counted as strikes. They walk nine men, many of whom come around to score. The AL’s inability to use a designated hitter was not a factor, as pitchers in today’s All-Star Game rarely bat anyway.
NL pitchers, on the other hand, go about their business in their accustomed style. Boston’s star hurlers, John Clarkson (on his way to 49 wins this year) and Hoss Radbourn (winner of 59 five years earlier) befuddle AL sluggers with their changes of speed and arm angle, as the shorter distance makes them seem as speedy as if they were transported to the future. Each hurls three innings, by which time Dan Brouthers and Buck Ewing have hit bases-clearing triples to put the game out of reach.
Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr., of Seattle, Juan Gonzalez of Texas, and Rafael Palmeiro of Baltimore are all held hitless, put off their rhythm by the old-style pitching deliveries. Roberto Alomar and Kenny Lofton lead the AL with two hits each, and Derek Jeter hits a late two-run double. New York Giants outfielder Silent Mike Tiernan leads the winning squad with three hits.
With the issue settled, in the eighth inning Cap Anson, increasingly immobile at first base after two decades of professional play, brings the crowd to its feet with a diving grab of a liner off the bat of Darin Erstad. One-inning pitching cameos by Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch, and Bill Hutchinson bring the game to its surprising conclusion, a 9-4 win for the National League all-stars of 1889.
Game Two: 1950 National League vs. 1933 American League; site, Comiskey Park, Chicago.
In what may have been the most anticipated of the quarterfinal matchups, the AL club that won the inaugural midsummer classic squared off against a postwar NL aggregation that featured three African American stars—Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Don Newcombe. The 1950 Nationals sent Robin Roberts to the mound, just as they had back in the day; the AL countered with Lefty Grove, who had finished up with three scoreless frames in 1933, preserving the 4-2 lead he had inherited.
No longer a fireballer at age 33, Grove now relied upon his curve and keeping the hitters off balance. In his three innings of work he was roughed up for seven hits and four runs, including homers by Pittsburgh’s Ralph Kiner and the Cardinals’ Stan Musial.
Meanwhile Roberts cruised through the AL order, allowing only a double to Charlie Gehringer in his three innings of work. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin went down almost as meekly as they had for Carl Hubbell in 1934.
But, trailing by 4-0, the AL turned on its power switch after that, roughing up, in turn, Ewell Blackwell, Larry Jansen, and Jim Konstanty. Ruth and Gehrig hit back to back homers, while Simmons registered a pair of two-run doubles. Robinson and Hank Sauer of the Cubs drove in a couple of runs off Washington’s General Crowder to keep things close, but going into the seventh inning the AL held a slim lead at 7-6. Adding a run on a single by Cronin, they hung on as Lefty Gomez earned the three-inning save, allowing only a solo home run by Brooklyn’s Duke Snider.
Game Three: 1961 National League vs. 1941 American League; site, Candlestick Park, San Francisco
Ruth, Gehrig, and Simmons were gone from the squad that had won the original All-Star Game, but for 1941 they were replaced by men who would dominate baseball for years to come: Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Likewise the two lefty aces, Grove and Gomez, were on their way out but now the AL had the unhittable Bob Feller.
For star power the Nationals boasted two awesome tandems: the Milwaukee Braves Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews, and the San Francisco Giants Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda. Stan Musial and Warren Spahn were still formidable as the last of the NL’s 1940s stars. Additionally for this fantasy contest, the NL had the home-field advantage of windy Candlestick Park.
All the same, the AL cannons came out firing, with Detroit’s Rudy York as well as Williams hitting home runs. After Feller mowed down the opposition through the first three frames, Thornton Lee and Sid Hudson struggled to hold the lead. Little Dom DiMaggio of the Boston Red Sox hit an uncharacteristic seventh-inning home run after replacing brother Joe, who went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles.
After eight innings the Americans held onto a slim 5-4 lead. The Nationals loaded the bases in the ninth against Eddie Smith but with two outs Robert Clemente lined to third baseman Ken Keltner and the game was in the books.
Game Four: 1908 American League vs. 1970 National League; site, Hilltop Park, New York
The playing rules of 1908 differed little from those of today, except for the legal spitball thrown by several AL moundsmen. Indeed, pitching was the deciding factor in this game as neither league’s hitters warmed to the task. Ten men fanned for each side in a 2-1 nail-biter at New York’s rickety old Hilltop Park, home of the Highlanders, soon to be renamed the Yankees. In the end, Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente, who had made the final out in the fantasy loss of the 1961 NL, hit a home run in the ninth inning and Claude Osteen held the lead with a scoreless bottom of the ninth.
Spitballer Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox, who would win 40 games in this year, took the hill for the AL. Their opponents countered with a spitballer of their own, Gaylord Perry, whose now pointless fidgeting proved no mystery, as singles by Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Nap Lajoie plated a first-inning run. However, this would be the last run scored by the dead-ball stars, as the NL followed Perry’s two innings with three each by Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver, who allowed only one AL hit apiece.
The NL was equally mystified by the AL parade of mound stars, from Walsh and Addie Joss to Walter Johnson and Cy Young, the last named surrendering the tying run in the seventh on a double by Willie McCovey and a single by Joe Morgan. Rube Waddell came in to pitch the ninth and was greeted by Clemente’s shot to left-center, sailing over the fence toward the Hudson River when last seen.
Game Five: 1933 American League vs. 1889 National League; site, Comiskey Park, Chicago.
With the the 1933 Americans having won on the road and the 1889 Nationals at home, the scene for their semifinal game shifted to Chicago. Now the rule advantages enjoyed by the 1889 squad in their first-round game evaporated as their pitchers found they could not extend their curveballs to break properly at 60’6”. Pitching off the mound, a mysterious innovation, left their fastballs appetizingly up. The AL coasted to a 17-4 verdict that was never in doubt.
Oldtime sluggers Dan Brouthers and Roger Connor reached the seats, and John Ward and Jimmy Ryan each slapped a pair of singles, but the rout was on early. Clarkson and Keefe were treated rudely, as each surrendered six runs while laboring through two frames. By the time Charlie Buffinton followed them in the fifth, the NL trailed 12-2.
The AL kept its stars in, though, because they only had 18 men, and that’s who the fans had come to see. The result was a further shellacking as Ruth, Gehrig, Simmons, and Earl Averill each belted a home run in his final time at bat. In the eighth and ninth innings substitution was rampant, and the fans at Comiskey Park got to see some of the heroes their fathers had told them about, especially old Chicago stars Anson, Kelly, Clarkson, Ryan, Hutchinson, and Tommy Burns.
The 1933 AL, winners of the first actual All-Star Game, now had defeated two NL aggregations 61 years apart. They would compete for the fantasy title against either the 1970 NL all-stars or those of the AL of 1941. The latter case would present a dilemma worthy of Back to the Future, as Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, and Jimmie Foxx were named to both squads!
Game Six: 1970 National League vs. 1941 American League; site, Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati
Thankfully, the dilemma was averted. Because both teams had won their first-round games on the road, a coin flip yielded home-field advantage to the 1970 NL. As things turned out, the speed of their team and that of the Astroturf playing surface proved crucial.
The 1941 AL broke from the gate fast through the power of Williams, DiMaggio, and Jeff Heath of Cleveland, as each drove in runs to stake the AL to a 4-1 lead through five frames. AL pitchers Bob Feller, followed by Thornton Lee of the White Sox, were frequently in trouble but held the NL at bay. But in the sixth Lee faltered as the NL tied the score, on a three-run homer by hometown hero Johnny Bench, and then never looked back. Fellow Reds Tony Perez and Pete Rose provided key hits in a seventh-inning flurry against Sid Hudson as Rusty Staub and Joe Torre hit cue-shot singles through the AL infield to drive in the deciding runs.
Tom Seaver, closing hero of the earlier fantasy game, started this one for the NL, but was batted freely. Bob Gibson kept things steady as his mates clawed back into a tie. Gaylord Perry and Claude Osteen combined to surrender a run between them, but local hero Jim Merritt pitched a scoreless ninth to save the NL’s 6-5 win.
The stage was now set for the Fantasy All-Star Game finale.
Game Seven: 1970 National League vs. 1933 American League; site, Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati
A coin flip again settled home field in favor of the 1970 NL, and the confrontation once more was between its speed and pitching and the superior power of their opponents. The Americans’ veteran manager, Connie Mack, knew how to play the game either way but, apart from center fielder Ben Chapman, who could steal a base, his roster was a base-to-base bunch.
Mack’s counterpart, Gil Hodges of the Mets, had won the 1969 World Series with little firepower so he was content to rely upon pitching and defense, especially on Cincinnati’s superfast playing surface. Hodges handed the ball to Tom Seaver, hoping to get three innings but intending to follow with as many pitchers as the situation might dictate. He had the advantage over Mack in carrying more pitchers as part of his 28-man roster; Connie would have to make do with 18. Determined to mirror the pitching sequence of his inaugural victory in 1933, Mack named Lefty Gomez as his starter. He intended to follow with Crowder for the middle three innings and Lefty Grove, his own ace from the Philadelphia A’s, as his finisher.
Gomez and Seaver more than met expectations, keeping the game scoreless through three. But Crowder and Perry were hit freely, and by the bottom of the sixth the score was tied at two. Hank Aaron then hit a two-run homer to put the NL on top.
In the top of the seventh Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig greeted Bob Gibson with solo shots to tie the score, but Hodges, a hunch-playing helmsman, did not pull him. Gibson rewarded his confidence by pitching a scoreless eighth and ninth.
Grove, meanwhile had retired eight consecutive batters until, with two out in the ninth, he faced Willie Mays for the first and only time. A long drive over the left-field wall gave the NL a 5-4 victory in this first-ever time-travel all-star tourney.
1889 NL (25 roster) Starters in bold
Name, Team, Position
Cap Anson, Chi, 1B
Henry Boyle, Ind, P
Dan Brouthers, Bos, 1B
Charlie Buffinton, Phi, P
Tommy Burns, Chi, 3B
John Clarkson, Bos, P
Roger Connor, NY, 1B
Fred Dunlap, Pit, 2B
Buck Ewing, NY, C
Jack Glasscock, Ind, SS
Bill Hutchinson, Chi, P
Tim Keefe, NY, P
King Kelly, Bos, OF
Ed McKean, Cle, SS
Jim O’Rourke, NY, OF
Fred Pfeffer, Chi, 2B
Hoss Radbourn, Bos, P
Jimmy Ryan, Chi, OF
Ben Sanders, Phi, P
Patsy Tebeau, Cle, 3B
Sam Thompson, Phi OF
Mike Tiernan, NY, OF
John Ward, NY, SS
Mickey Welch, NY, P
Chief Zimmer, Cle, C
1908 AL (25 roster) Starters in bold
Bill Bradley, Cle, 3B
Ty Cobb, Det, OF
Sam Crawford, Det, OF
Bill Donovan, Det, P
Doc Gessler, Bos, OF
Walter Johnson, Was, P
Addie Joss, Cle, P
Willie Keeler, N,Y OF
Nap Lajoie, Cle, 2B
George McBride, Was, SS
Amby McConnell, Bos, 3B
Matty McIntyre, Det, OF
Clyde Milan, Was, OF
Eddie Plank, Phi, P
Claude Rossman, Det, 1B
Germany Schaefer, Det, 2B
Boss Schmidt, Det, C
Billy Sullivan, Chi, C
George Stovall, Cle, 1B
George Stone, StL, OF
Rube Wadddell, StL, P
Bobby Wallace, StL, SS
Ed Walsh, Chi, P
Doc White, Chi, P
Cy Young, Bos, P
“How Is It, Umpire?” The 1744 Laws of Cricket and Their Influence on the Development of Baseball in America
With this third of sixteen articles by scholars of baseball’s earliest period, a picture will begin to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. (For regular readers of the Our Game blog, my own contributions will be interspersed with these excerpts from Base Ball.) The article below, by Beth Hise, appears in print in a new special issue of the journal Base Ball. Ms. Hise is a top authority on the commonalities of and contrasts between baseball and cricket. Her 2010 book on the subject is Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect (Scala Publishing). A social history museum curator trained at Yale, Beth curated special exhibits on the two games in recent months at both the MCC Museum in London and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
These articles constitute only a portion of the complete special issue and appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger Protoball Chronology appearing at
; for example, the article below, indexed as 1744.1, reflects that it is the first Protoball entry for the year 1744.
1744.1 “How Is It, Umpire?” The 1744 Laws of Cricket and Their Influence on the Development of Baseball in America
Last Monday afternoon, a match at cricket was play’d on our Common for a considerable Wager, by eleven Londoners, against eleven New Yorkers: The game was play’d according to the London Method; and those who got most notches in two Hands, to be the Winners.1
The earliest surviving laws of cricket are preserved on the edge of a handkerchief titled “The Laws of the Game of Cricket.” In small crowded text, the laws frame a picturesque scene of an early cricket match. The batsmen wield archaic curved bats in front of two-stump wickets, the bowler is poised to release an underhand delivery, and two umpires stand on the field.2 Clearly modeled after one of cricket’s most enduring paintings, Francis Hayman’s Cricket in the Mary-le-bone Fields,3 the handkerchief also shows scorers with their tally sticks in the foreground.4 Eight and a half years later in November 1752, these same laws were typeset for the first time in the New Universal Magazine as “The Game at Cricket, as settled by the Cricket-Club, in 1744, and play’d at the Artillery Ground, London.” And finally, these same laws were printed in pamphlet form in 1755 as The Game at Cricket, as Settled by the Several Cricket-Clubs, Particularly That of the Star and Garter in Pall-Mall.5
From 1744–1755 the wording of the laws remained largely the same, apart from modernizing “ye” to “the,” and dropping the older practice of referring to the ball as “she.” Thus all three versions represent the first recognized laws of the game. While the laws themselves may not have altered, other changes are telling. The titles, for instance, show a progressive adoption of this code, at least among London clubs. The three different formats—from decorative handkerchief to London periodical to portable printed pamphlet—also reflect a growing desire to standardize the competitive game. The 1755 pamphlet was clearly produced for distribution to those interested in a more regulated and formal game.
These developments are of most interest to a baseball readership when compared to equivalent measures in baseball a century or so later. There are similarities. The most obvious and fundamental is that the earliest laws of cricket, like their counterparts in baseball, are nowhere near sufficient to play the game from scratch; they simply prescribe a few elements (probably the ones most disputed) of an otherwise known custom of play.
In September 1743, London’s widely read Gentleman’s Magazine was sourly critical of the increasing popularity of cricket, observing that “noblemen, gentlemen and clergy” had made “butchers, coblers [sic] or tinkers their companions in the game.”6 Newspaper references to the game are plentiful around this time even before its first laws were formalized. For example, in a “great Cricket-Match,” attended by the Prince of Wales in 1733, “11 Surrey Men and 11 of Middlesex … were very hard match’d: the Surrey Men beat only by three Notches.”7 In another example, a “great Cricket-Match” in July 1740 between the Gentlemen of London and the Gentlemen of Chislehurst took place at the popular “Artillery-Grounds.”8 The game was sufficiently familiar in 1738 for the London Daily Post and General Advertiser to describe “large Balls of Fat” in a butchered sheep’s caul as “round like a Cricket-Ball.”9
In general, cricket in southeast England in the 1740s was far more uniform and more widely played than baseball was in America in the 1840s. Indeed it had been played by commonly accepted rules for decades. Why then did it take so long to codify the game formally?
The signed “Articles of Agreement by & between His Grace the Duke of Richmond and Mr. Brodrick” for two cricket matches in 1727 provide a partial answer. This was a time when formally organized cricket matches, as opposed to village matches, were played on private enclosed fields. Wealthy patrons fielded a mix of gentlemen and paid talent (employees or recruits from local villages) and indulged in large wagers on the matches. Articles of agreement helped to avoid disputes, perhaps delaying the need for more widespread standardization.10 In fact, the 16 specific articles agreed to by Richmond and Broderick are in no way idiosyncratic. Rather, they illustrate a game in the process of codification, already settled upon many modern, or near modern, features. Even the two umpires already enjoy a modern authority, for if a player “shall speak or give their opinion, on any point of the Game, they are to be turned out & voided in the Match.”11
Just how remarkably uniform this early cricket was is apparent in a 1751 newspaper report of a match “play’d according to the London Method” by “eleven Londoners, against eleven New Yorkers” for a considerable wager on the New York Commons.12 The match was played in the standard two innings (“those who got most notches in two Hands, to be the Winners”) and with the customary 11 a side. The specific mention of the “London Method” highlights just how recognizable and increasingly widespread the formalized 1744 version of the game had become; yet it would be another full year before the laws were printed in the New Universal Magazine and another four before they would become available in pamphlet form.
Both cricket and baseball (more specifically the “New York” game) were first codified by single clubs in urban hubs—London for cricket, New York for baseball. Yet, neither the Knickerbockers nor the unnamed London “Cricket-Club” (the Marylebone Cricket Club being formed many years later) invented their respective games. Nor were they the first, or only, clubs, but their decisions to “get serious” had lasting effects. They printed their laws and rules in small, easily portable pamphlets that you could slip in your pocket and take to the field, or with you on your travels. And just as the Gotham and Eagle clubs joined the Knickerbockers in 1854 to revise and issue baseball rules to govern them all, so too did several cricket clubs align themselves with an early London club, the Star and Garter, in 1755, setting the stage for fundamental transformations in both sports.
Yet for all the similarities, there are also differences. For a start, large stakes were openly gambled on cricket matches in the 18th century, and newspapers often asked spectators to stay off the field as “several large Bets depend[ed]” on the outcome.13 By the 1790s, specific laws were even introduced to regulate wagering on matches. Gamblers required clarity, and cricket’s first laws of 1744 are significantly more detailed and specific than baseball’s equivalents.14 They are organized in six categories: 1. General; 2. Bowlers (“Laws for Ye Bowlers 4 Balls and Over”); 3. Batters (“Laws for Ye Strikers, or those that are in”); 4. Batters behavior at crease (“Batt Foot or Hand over Ye Crease”); 5. Keepers (“Laws for Wicket Keepers”); 6. Umpires (“Laws for Umpires”).
Comparing these 1744 laws (using the 1755 version’s modernized language) to the first Knickerbocker rules published in 1848 shows some similarities:
Baseball: All disputes and differences relative to the game, to be decided by the Umpire, from which there is no appeal.
Cricket: [Umpires] are sole Judges of all Out and Inns; of all fair and unfair Play; of all frivolous Delays; of all Hurts, whether real or pretended … and his Determination shall be absolute.
Baseball: … the choice of sides to be then tossed for and the first in hand to be decided in like manner.
Cricket: The Pitching the first Wicket is to be determined by the Toss of a Piece of Money … the Party that wins the Toss-up, may order which Side shall go inn first.
Others regulations are surprisingly different:
Baseball: A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base, is a hand out.
Cricket: When the Ball is hit up, either of the Strikers may hinder the Catch in his running Ground; or if it is hit directly across the Wickets, the other player may place his Body anywhere within the Swing of the Bat so as to hinder the Bowler from catching it; but he must neither strike at it, nor touch it with his Hands.
Neither specifies the number of players per side but both go into some detail about how a player is given out. Cricket still retains the ruling that umpires “are not to order any Man out, unless appealed to by one of the Players.” Early baseball also followed this practice until the 1870s.15
The Knickerbocker rules directed that the “Ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat,” but the first laws of cricket make no mention of a bowler’s action (aside from foot placement). This would soon change as bowlers began to assert themselves more competitively into the game. John Willes of Kent, apparently influenced by his sister whose large skirts made underarm bowling impossible, is credited with raising his arm straight out to the side before releasing the ball in 1807. This so-called roundarm bowling, common by 1816, provoked fierce debate. Bowlers felt it redressed the balance in what had become a batsman’s game, but opponents called it “throwing.” From 1810–1835, almost all revisions to the laws concerned round-arm bowling before the law was finally changed to allow round-arm deliveries on May 14, 1835. By then, bowlers preferred the modern over-arm bowling style and the new law was almost immediately flouted. Many more years of controversy followed before over-arm bowling was finally legalized in 1864.
It is interesting that baseball put itself through this same torturous process. The perception that pitchers fed the ball to the batter was common in both early baseball and cricket. Starting in the 1850s, baseball pitchers likewise circumvented rules designed to restrict their actions. As with cricket, more rules and on-field controversy followed, until the rules on pitching actions were finally liberalized for baseball in 1885.
From 1755–1787, cricket grew rapidly as a competitive game centered around clubs in London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and, most of all, Hampshire, where the influential Hambledon club did much over the next 40 years to lift and standardize the game. An expanded committee of “Noblemen and Gentlemen of Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex and London” revised the laws on February 25, 1774,17 and in 1788 the newly formed Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) first issued the laws. Even then, the MCC merely revised the existing laws and reissued them under their own name. It could be argued that the Knickerbockers did much the same but with a far more nascent game in 1845.
All the same, 1788 marks a significant milestone, as cricket historian Colonel R. S. Rait Kerr observed, “from an epoch in which the revisions were carried out at irregular intervals by committees appointed for the occasion, to one during which a single authority has been in continuous session.”18 It took 44 years, and in truth happened more by chance than design. Baseball was far quicker and far more purposeful. A mere nine years after the first Knickerbocker rules were published in pamphlet form, the newly formed National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) held a convention “for the purpose of discussing and deciding upon a code of laws which shall hereafter be recognised as authoritative in the game.”19
The NABBP and subsequent associations and leagues continued this role and the rules today are revised and reissued every season by Major League Baseball. While equivalent administrative bodies gradually took over national and international cricket, the MCC, a private club based at Lord’s Ground in London, continues to this day to be the custodian of the Laws of Cricket, regularly reviewing them and issuing international updates.
In both cricket and baseball, the first formalized laws define the adult competitive game and distinguish it from earlier carefree days of “whatever goes.” They are the building blocks of the official game, and as such, the few surviving 1744 handkerchiefs, like 1848 copies of the Knickerbocker rules, are amongst the treasures of the early game. But perhaps it is appropriate that they survive today on something as unofficial as a large handkerchief—almost unreadable and pushed to the edges around a large picture of a perfect cricket match in progress. It is far
more about the joy of the game than the dry language of the laws, which is as it should be.
1. New York Gazette Revived: May 6, 1751, p. 2, col. 2.
2. Many 18th century paintings of cricket matches show umpires with bats. It is presumed that this is a holdover from the older practice of batsmen needing to touch a stick, or bat, held by the umpires at each wicket to score a run. By 1744, this had been superseded by the “Popping-Crease,” a horizontal line drawn “exactly Three Feet Ten Inches from the Wicket.”
3. Francis Hayman R.A., Cricket as Played in the Mary-le-bone Fields, c. 1744, oil on canvas, Collection of Marylebone Cricket Club, London.
4. Only five or six original handkerchiefs survive today including one each in the Marylebone and Melbourne Cricket Club collections.
5. Printed in London for M. Read and sold by W. Reeve in Fleet-Street, 1755, this publication was offered for sale May 15, 1755. The MCC Library holds an original copy.
6. Gentlemen’s Magazine: Sept. 1743, quoted in full in: Ford, J. 1972. Cricket: A Social History 1700–1835 (pp. 36–38).
7. St. James’s Evening Post (London, England): July 19, 1733.
8. Daily Post (London, England): July 1, 1740.
9. London Daily Post and General Advertiser (London, England): Jan. 16, 1739. This news was repeated a few days later in Old Common Sense: Or, the Englishman’s Journal and Country Journal or The Craftman.
10. Although only this one set of articles has survived, it is logical to assume others existed amongst the early aristocrats organizing matches.
11. The 1727 articles are reproduced in full in: Major, J. 2007. More Than a Game: The Story of Cricket’s Early Years (pp. 399–400).
12. New York Gazette Revived: May 6, 1751, p. 2, col. 2. See item 1751.1 on Protoball’s “Cricket in the United States: a working chronology.”
13. This particular request is from a press announcement of a match at the Artillery Grounds in the Daily Post (July 2, 1740).
14. Interestingly, the club rules issued in the 1780s by the White Conduit cricket club are more akin to the original Knickerbocker regulations, with their concern for dinner punctuality, gentlemen-only membership, and other such off-field decorum.
15. See: Morris, P., 2006. A Game of Inches: The Stories behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball (pp. 32–35). In baseball only a few remnant appeal categories remain where an umpire will not make a judgment unless asked: a batter hitting out of order, a runner failing to touch base on a long hit, a player leaving base too soon after the catch of a sacrifice fly, and the checked swing, which the catcher can appeal to the home plate umpire as a strike.
16. “The Winning Run—‘How is it, Umpire?’” drawn by T. Thulstrup, Harper’s Weekly: Aug. 22, 1885. Collection of Tom Shieber.
17. The Articles of the Game of Cricket, as Settled by the Several Cricket Clubs, Particularly That of the Star and Garter, in Pall-mall…. J. Williams, 39 Fleet Street, 1774.
18. Rait Kerr, The Laws of Cricket, 24.
19. Spirit of the Times: Jan. 31, 1857.