Battingball Games

In his landmark book Baseball Before We Knew It, David Block reprinted this seminal article by Per Maigaard of Denmark among several primary-source appendixes. We reprint it here with David’s kind permission. Maigaard’s “Battingball Games” was, David wrote, “the first modern attempt to compare, classify and trace the origins of games played with bat and ball. The author’s command of written English was somewhat awkward, and the following article is presented in its original, unedited form.” It was initially published in Genus, journal of the Comitato Italiano per lo Studio dei Problemi Della Popolazione, Rome, Italy, Vol. 5, N. 1-2, 1941, pp. 57-72. Maigaard’s 1941 article is important, but for a current understanding of how baseball arose from other bat and ball games, one must read Baseball Before We Knew It. For but one example, Block has demonstrated that baseball did not derive from rounders but is in fact the older of the two games.

Much of Maigaard’s article below takes issue with the earlier findings of Corrado Gini, editor of Genus. From Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Jan., 1939):

Professor Corrado Gini, president of the Italian Committee for the studyof population problems, presented a study on the remains of blondness still found among the Berbers of Libya. He concentrated on the tribes of Jadum and its neighbourhood in the Gebel Nefusa and examined the individuals according to a demographic questionnaire for each family and by two cards, one for anthropometric and the other for medico-biological data. Detailed information of an ethnographical and economic description was also collected. A game, Om el-Mahag, amazed the students on account of its similarity to base-ball, being originally an Anglo-Saxon game. This similarity may be of significance in ascertaining the ethnical relations of the Berbers.

Battingball Games

by Per Maigaard

Only a few students of games have in a greater degree taken up the study of Battingball‑games and some are of opinion that these games are of comparatively recent date. Nobody knew that such a game was played in Africa. Now Professor Corrado Gini, chief of an Italian expedition for demographic investigation in Libya, has brought to light a Berber Battingball-game, which proves that the games in question date a long way back.[1] In the following paper I shall give a short account of these games specially as played in N. Europe, their home.

The implements used in the games in question are the bat and the ball (fig. 1). A bat may be simply a round stick, 30 to 115 cms. long,2 to 6cms. thick, but often flattened below the handle, and then as a rule broader there. Generally a curved bat is not used. It is held with one hand or with both.

The ball, now as a rule made of leather or rubber, has a size of 6 to 8 cms. Formerly a ball of woollen yarn was generally used or instead of that a billet or a “cat” (a double conical piece of wood) or a piece of horn.

Plain batting consists in striking the ball with the bat, the ball being held in the left hand, then tossed into the air and struck with the bat when it is falling, but before it reaches the ground, or, still more simply, the ball is struck at the moment the left hand leaves hold of it, as used also in Tipcat.[2] In other cases a special player, the “pitcher” tosses the ball, the batsman only strikes at it. In others again the pitcher stands at a distance and throws the ball for batting or to get it into a hole in the ground or to hit a goal which the batter has to defend.

Batting has become an important element in a multitude of games, in all the Tipcat‑games, in the Hole‑games, and in the real Battingball‑games, in very plain games and in the most composite and developed games.

The real composite Battingball‑games will here be spoken of:

1) Longball, including Om el mahag

2) Rounders, incl. Baseball

3) Cricket.

I. Longball.

In the common form Longball is a team‑game with 4 to 20 players, divided into two teams. As a rule this division takes place as follows:

First two captains are appointed, then as a rule the captains in turn pick out one player at a time for their teams. In some places, as the island of Anholt in the Kattegat, all the players divide themselves, or are divided into pairs, usually two players of equal age or ability making a pair, then each team gets one of them.

The playing‑ground is 20 to 70 metres long by 6 to 30 metres in breadth, a road or street was formerly often used, side‑lines thus being unnecessary. Goal‑ or base‑lines were not generally used, only the “homes” or “goals” were marked out by stones or the like, ‑-at one end of the ground the batting or in‑goal (or home), at the other the running or out‑goal (fig. 2 ‑ I and II).

The ball and the bat are described above.

The two teams decide by lot who has the right of first innings. The home‑ or batting‑team take up its position in the batting‑home. The fielding team spread all over the field, only one player, the pitcher, with the ball in his hand stands at the batting‑home facing the batsman, who stands near the home‑line with his left side towards the field. The pitcher standing just at a safe distance from the batsman now must deliver the ball so that it falls in front of the batsman, convenient for him to bat. If not so the batter may refuse to strike. But if he strikes, the ball is “fair.” The batter holds the bat with both his hands or with his right hand only, this according to the local customs (A one‑hand‑bat is 30 to 70 cms. long, a two‑hands‑bat 80 to 115 cms.) When missing the stroke he usually is allowed a second and a third stroke. But after the last stroke allowed he drops the bat to the ground. If succeeding in a good stroke, either the first or the second or third, he immediately starts running for the running-home. If not making a good stroke, in most cases he is allowed to wait for a good stroke made by one of his team‑mates. When running to the out‑goal he may return at once to the batting‑home, or he may remain there waiting for another good stroke, and then run back and again take up his position behind the row of his team‑mates, and now he is allowed to bat again in his turn.

The batting‑team can lose its positions in two manners: by being “caught out” or by “hit out.” If a striker’s ball is caught by a fielder, this fielder drops the ball to the ground–in a manner agreed on–and the fielders run to the homes, each to the one nearest. The batters run out into the field, pick up the ball as quickly as pos­sible and throw it at an adversary who has not yet reached a home. The team hit last is always allowed retaliation until the opponents are all in the homes and they are now the batting‑team.

When a batted ball is not caught, but falls to the ground, one of the fielders picks it up quickly. If one or more batters are now running, he has to throw the ball to hit a runner. If he thinks it is too difficult to do so, as a rule he is not allowed to run with the ball in his hand for a better place, but he may throw the ball to a team‑mate in a better position. If somebody hits a runner, the batting‑team is hit out, but has the right of retaliation as above described.

In the case that all the batters are in the running‑home, a chance is usually given them to get back to the batting‑home. In many places this is done by “lyring,” i.e. the pitcher tosses the ball into the air, at least a few metres, and catches it again. It must be repeated several times, and in the meantime the batting‑team or some of its members have to run back to the batting‑home. At the moment, however, when they leave the running‑home, the pitcher finishes his “lyring” and throws the ball to hit one of the runners or passes it to a fielder. If he or a mate succeeds in hitting a runner, the runners team is out (if retaliation is not made). If not, the batters are still batters.

In former days the object of the batters was to go on batting as long as possible. Runs were not scored as is now in use at schools.

This is an account of the common traditional team‑game. But there are (or were) many variations with small differences. It is not possible here to describe them all.

Some peculiar variations it is however necessary to deal with.

In a great many variations especially in the North there are be­sides the two ordinary homes a third near the batting‑home in which the batters having batted, but not run, may stay waiting for running (fig. 2–II and III). In some places in Sweden this home is situated about 8 paces forward as a mark or as a line across the playground (fig. 2–IV and V). In a great many Slavonic variations this home is found still more forward about the middle of the ground (fig. 2–VIII). The same is the case in some Northern variations but here not as a place of refuge but as a running‑borderline, as also known among the Slavs (fig. 2–VI and VII). In France the middle home is common. Here we also find variations with more than three homes. But here we are at the borderland of the rounders‑games (fig. 2–IX).

An account of Om el mahag is certainly unnecessary here in view of Professor Gini’s excellent account [describing a bat and ball game, with bases, played by blond Berbers in a remote region of North Africa; for more, see Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, pp. 95-99]. The peculiar traits in that variation of Longball are only two:

1) When a runner is hit, the fielding party runs to the running-home, the captain only to the batting‑home.

2) When all the batters are in the running‑home, the captain takes a three‑step lead and tries to steal home (I suppose the pitcher with the ball standing at the running‑goal).

As far as I know, the first is unknown elsewhere. To the second we have relations in the North.

Besides the team‑games spoken of hitherto there were played individual variations for two, three etc., to 12 to 14 players. In these games the common rule was that when a batter was caught or hit out, he and he alone became a fielder, while a fielder became batsman after he was caught or hit. These games are found especially in Denmark and N. E. Germany.

Rounders.

Rounders is very much like Longball. No doubt it is Longball mixed with some details from W. European games. But let me describe the ordinary form of Rounders.

[Folklorist George Laurence] Gomme has:

A round area is marked out by boundary sticks, and a chosen point of the boundary, the base, is fixed (fig. 2–XII). This is marked out independently of the boundary, but inside it, sides are chosen. One side are the “ins” and strike the ball, the other side are the “outs” and deliver the ball, and endeavour to get their opponents, the “ins,” out as soon as possible. The ball (an india rubber one) is delivered by the “feeder,” by pitching it to the player who stands inside the base armed with a short stick. The player endeavours to strike the ball as far away as possible from the fielders or scouts. As soon as the ball is struck away he runs from the base to the first boundary stick, then to the second, and so on. His opponents in the meantime secure the ball and endeavour to hit him with it as he is running from stage to stage. If he succeeds in running completely round the boundary before the ball is returned it counts as one rounder. If he is hit, he is out of the game. He can stay at any stage of the boundary as soon as the ball is in hand, getting home again when the next player of his own side has in turn hit the ball away. When a ball is returned the “feeder” can bounce it within the base, and the player cannot then run to any new stage of the boundary until after the ball has again been hit away by another player. If a player misses a ball when endeavouring to strike at it, he has two more chances, but at the third failure he runs to the first boundary stick and takes his chance of being hit with the ball. If a ball is caught, the whole side is out at once, otherwise the side keeps in until either all the players have been hit out with the ball or until the base is “crowned.” This can be done by bouncing the ball in the base whenever there is no player there to receive the delivery from the feeder. When a complete rounder is obtained, the player has the privilege either of counting the rounder to the credit of his side or of ransoming one of the players who has been hit out, who then takes his part in the game as before. When all but one of the players are out, this last player in hitting the ball must hit it aways so as to be able to make a rounder, and return to the base before his opponents get back the ball to crown the base.

Gomme’s account although quite clear is not sufficient. He doesn’t tell how many boundary sticks there are in use, where the “feeder” is standing while pitching, or how the bat and the base are formed.

In Pick and Aflalos Encyclopaedia of Sport (about 1900) the article about Rounders says that the bases are arranged 15 to 20 yards apart and that the feeder stands in the middle of the ground, the fielders outside the bases, and one behind the batter. The pitcher is allowed to feign a toss. The batter has one or three strikes. If he misses, he is out. There is counted one point for each base. The batsman only, not his team, is out when the ball is caught. In case of a long strike the ball going outside the border, into trees or so, there must not be counted more than four points. The number of players are 10 to 30. Nor do we here hear anything about the number of bases.

Gutsmuths [Johann Christoph Friedrich Gutsmuths, educator and pioneer in gymnastics] tells us (1796) that as a rule there are as many bases as there are players in one party. He doesn’t mention his source, but generally he is well informed and is surely right. His account is the oldest we possess. The bat he says is for one hand, flattened below the handle, length 45 cms., breadth 10 cms. thickness about 2.5 cms. The bases were sticks 10 to 15 paces apart, arranged casually (but probably forming a round). The pitcher stands 5 to 6 paces from the batsman and pitches in a flat curve. The batsman can get out of play in three manners:

1) His ball is caught by the fielders (and then his team too, is out).

2) He is hit by the ball when outside the bases.

3) He forgets to touch a base. Then this can be “burnt,” i.e. the ball is thrown on it.

Moreover it should be noted that no more than one player is allowed to stand safe on one base. In the contrary case the fielders may hit the players or “burn” the base. When the teams are changing, retaliation‑hit is allowed.

Gutsmuths mentions the game as Baseball. Gomme has in addition to Rounders also the names Baseball, Cuckball, Pizeball and Tutball. Baseball he mentions as a Suffolk‑game.

In France several variations of Rounders are played and several transitional forms of Rounders‑Longball. The best known Rounders-game is La grand thèque. In Flanders too is found a Rounders-game in plain form, played without bat, the Cerkelspelen (fig. 2–XIV).

The famous American form of Rounders has got the name Baseball (fig. 2–XV). It is a game with four homes or bases, modernized and reorganized in the last century. It has hard and rather flat pitching from a distance of about 15 metres. The bat is about 106 cms. long, round and about 7 cms. in diam. The bases are situated in a square with sides of about 30 metres. There are 9 players each side. The batsman can be played out in three manners, as well as for infringement of the rules:

1) The fielders catch the batted ball in the air.

2) A fielder picks up the ball and reaches the base before the batsman.

3) The running batsman is touched with the ball in a fielders hand outside the bases.

Townball is no doubt a younger brother of Baseball.

Two variations of Rounders or Baseball are recorded from two Indian tribes, the Navaho in Arizona and the Thompson Indians in Br. Columbia, both with four bases.

The Navaho game was played with an inverted Hockey‑stick like a walking‑stick with curved handle. The players were allowed four strikes in each round. But the batter stood in the middle of the ground and there were two pitchers, the batter standing between them. The ball might be struck in any direction. The batter had to run in one direction, the opposite of the manner in Baseball. One circuit meant a point, the runner might run in curves, dodge, jump, indeed he might knock the ball out of his opponent’s hand. If the runner, however, was hit or touched with the ball, his whole team was out.

The Thompson Indians used a flattened straight bat for one hand only, four bases marked out with stones about 20 yards apart. The pitcher stood in the middle of the ground. Each player had one stroke only at one round. The description is however insufficient, but it is recorded that the base runner was out when struck with the ball.

A Hawaiian Rounders‑game is recorded by [folklorist Stewart] Culin as a game similar to Baseball but without bat.

Cricket.

As Baseball, Cricket has become a modernized game within the last century and a half, it is scarcely necessary to explain the game all through.

The most peculiar traits in Cricket are the two batting homes and the two batsmen, at the same time running in opposite direction (fig. 2–XVI). Moreover a “wicket” in each batting‑home which the batsman has to defend against the ball. The bat is long, broad and heavy, and throwing from about 20 metres is hard and flat. The ball is rather hard, and the runners are not to be struck or touched with it. But the batter can be caught out, or the ball can be thrown at the wicket by a fielder while the runner is out from home, besides be can be put out for infringment of the rules.

Comparison.

Longball, Rounders and Cricket are the most complicated games of ball ever seen. They evidently make one common group, typologic and also genetic. The similarities are too many to the justify belief in an independent origin for any of them.

The similarities are:

The batsman is the central player of the game.

He has to strike the ball in the air and then to run to one or more spots agreed on.

If the batted ball is caught, the batsman or his party is “out.”

If he himself is hit or touched with the ball outside his safe places, he or his party is out, or in a few cases: if his safe places, when he himself is, outside them, are touched with the ball, he is out.

The differences between the variations are:

I.–The pitching is short and high, a toss only, in Longball. In Rounders it is longer but still curved, while in Baseball and Cricket it is flat and hard and 15 to 20 metres long.

II.–Numbers and situation of the homes are different. In. Longball there are two homes, in some cases three. In Cricket two. In Rounders four or more.

III.–The runner’s route is in Longball (and Cricket) right forward and back. In Rounders it goes in a circle or a polygon.

IV.–In some Rounders‑games (Baseball) and Cricket the runners may not be hit with the ball, instead their homes may be touched. In some cases the runners are to be touched with the ball in the fielders hand.

V.–In Cricket the batter may strike the ball in any direction. In most Rounders‑games and in Longball the ball must be struck in a forward direction within the side borderlines of the playing ground.

VI.–In Longball retaliation throws are allowed, in Rounders this is not the rule, except in a few cases.

VII.–In Longball the task is to keep the bat and bat as often as possible by means of the runs. In Rounders on the contrary the task is by means of the batting to run as often as possible, each run counting a point.

History and Development.

The rules of Battingball games tell us something about their development.

The games centre round the batting. Next comes the catching of the ball. Then the run and the throwing for hitting the runners. The retaliation, the “lyring” and the like rules, and the want of hitting in some games, tell us that this last detail was once new and not taken as so important a detail as the catching which invariably gets the batter out, and consequently must be taken for older. In reality we find games consisting of batting only, as Trap‑ball in England in which the players compete for the longest stroke. We find moreover games consisting of batting and catching only, in Europe, Persia and India. At that stage the games probably met with Hitting games. These are specially known in Germany, Poland and the North in numerous forms. A very simple form consists of the runners moving within the limits of the playing ground, and the throwers standing around this place and throwing at the runners. In a single variation in Denmark the throwers mix with the runners, the last defending themselves each with a short broad bat (Rotten and Fresh‑Jutland). Here we have the retaliation detail in Longball as an independent game. Furthermore a catchplay with runs between two places of refuge is very well known in Denmark and probably elsewhere. So the principles of all the details of Longball were present.

In Great Britain and Flanders a group of games are known, the essential stamp of which is much like that of Rounders and Cricket: Cudgels, Kit‑Cat, Stool‑ball, Munchets, etc. and O’Cat in U.S.A. A similar game in Flanders is Keitslaen. As an instance I shall explain Cat and Dog.

There are three players, two of these have small clubs and each a hole in the ground 8 to 9 metres apart. The third player has a “cat” i. e. a double‑conical billet, about 10 cms. long, 2 to 3 cms. in diam. He stands at the one hole and throws the cat at the other which the owner has to defend with his club. If the cat goes into the hole, the defender has lost it to the pitcher and becomes the pitcher himself.

But if the defender strikes the cat away, he and the second batsman change holes as many times as possible while the pitcher goes for the cat, each run counting for a point.

In other similar games there are more players, all but one with and the runs going in a circle.

But is not Cat and Dog, Cricket in miniature?

And what does the game need but more players in order to become Rounders? The number of clubs reduced to one, the “Cat” changed with a ball, the batting stronger, the fielders added. In reality it is quite likely that a meeting between those probably Celtic games and Longball gave rise to Rounders and Cricket. Cricket has got only the stronger batting, Rounders also the hitting of the runners, the burning of the bases being known in the Hole-games. The touching too is known in such a game as Munshet, or it has come into use on account of the drawbacks of being hit with a hard ball.

History.

The Battingball games are European games. Plain batting as used in Tipcat had reached N. America in Precolumbian times as Hockey, Football and some Shuttlegames had. Connection or not with Precolumbian American culture is one of the few good data for determining the age of the games. But fully developed Battingball‑games are not to be found outside Europe–save the Om el mahag which is described by Professor Gini (fig. 3). The few instances of such games among Red Indians and in Hawaii must be taken as imported from Europe. In Persia, India and perhaps China and Japan plain batting with ball is, or was, surely known, but no developed game, except the Russian importation of Longball to Siberia and E. Turkestan. After all, the games in question are European, probably Northern and Central‑European. But as those parts of the continent in former times were rather isolated, Battingball may very well have existed there without reaching the great highways of culture along the Southern coasts of Eurasia, or the Nomadic route from Persia‑Turan toward E. Asia and the Bering sea. So Battingball games may be of rather ancient date.

Hitherto I have supposed them not to be more than some 1500 years old. Professor Jusserand, France, was of opinion that they were not known before the 13th to 14th centuries in France. The occurence of the Om el mahag tells us however they must be older. Professor Gini is right: it is not probable that Om el mahag is a recent importation. Thus it must be either a survival from a greater area of Battingball or an earlier importation. The first theory is not probable, because if the game had been known around the Medi­terranean sea in the time of the ancient civilizations it would be strange that it had not spread to the Negroes and the Arabs, to E. Asia and America as did other games, and none of the ancient Greek or Roman authors tell anything about the game. It is true that they say nothing about Hockey, and Hockey, we learn from archeologists, was known. But we also know that Hockey spread all over the world, Battingball games did not–as far as we know. Until we possess evidence to the contrary we must stick to Europe the present home of the games as their ancient home. As a comparison between Longball and Rounders (fig. 4) make it probable that Longball is the older, we must take the Teutonic or Slavonic peoples or their ancestors as the inventors of the game. But as the German Slavs seem to play German variations of Longball, and as the East Baltic peoples do not seem to know the game, it would seem that the Slavs are not the inventors but more probably the blond North‑European Race.

If this is so then the blond peoples would have imported the game to North‑Africa. When did that take place? We don’t know, but all probability goes to show that the migration of tribes southwards from Northern Europe took place in cold or rainy periods, after the last glacial period, in the Atlantic period (6th to 3rd millennniums b.o.e,) in the subatlantic period in the last centuries b.o.e., and during the great migrations of nations. Nothing goes to show that migrations towards Africa have taken place in periods of dry climate.

The blond strain among the Berbers, the Guanchos, the capsien culture, the megalitic culture, etc. make it probable that from the oldest times connection between the two continents has taken place, and surely migrations too, the directions of which were particularly determined by changing climatic conditions. The last migration from Europe to Africa by people from N. Europe, and the only one about which we know anything definite, is that of the Vandals in the 5th century. From the point of view above spoken of, it is not probable that Longball is a very ancient game in Africa. The most probable conclusion would then be that the Vandals brought the game to Africa, and that some Berber tribes learnt it.

The Vandals primeval home no doubt was the North. They settled on the stretches of the Vistula near the Goths, and afterward they went westward through Germany and France to S.E. Spain and at last to Africa, some of them probably settling down on the way.

One might ask why the Goths did not bring Longball to N. Spain and S. France, the Lombards to Italy.

Perhaps they did. We don’t know whether the game was known in those countries and later became extinct. Games do not easily become extinct among their own peoples and in their own country with its own customs and traditions. But when a nation migrates and mixes with other nations in a higher stage of culture, it is another matter.

At any rate, as Om el mahag was included in ritual festivals it can hardly have come to Africa later than the time of the Vandals. The Berbers’ way of dividing the players into teams is identical with the manner known in the North. The term “rotten” applied to the players who have batted but not run, is also known, at any rate, in Denmark and surely not elsewhere. In the North too the game was used in festivals connected with the cults of fertility in the spring. In Denmark we have instances of the game being played in the rural churchyard at Easter, probably a tradition from preChristian times.

So it is probable that this Berber-Longball came to Africa with the Vandals at the latest. The form of the game and the terms used, lead us to consider it probable that the game came from Northern Europe.

Jusserand’s theory that the game came into existence at the French universities in the 13th to 14th centuries can not be correct. Neither can Dr. Schnell’s theory of the game being a special German game, only known in the neighborhood of Germany. In Germany there are no variations with the middle home as in France, among the Slavs and in the North. There exists only one where all the peculiar details are found and it is in the North, i.e. Denmark and Sweden. In view of the general inclination of authors who have written about these games to attribute their origin to their own country, I am not very glad to draw this conclusion. I am also sorry to be co-responsible for the Vandals. But facts are facts. With the knowledge we so far posess we must conclude that Longball came into existence in the North and that is has gone southwards with Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, etc., brought from the Goths to the Slavs from the Vandals or Burgundians to the Alemans, Franks, etc. With the Angles and Saxons it went to England, mixed with Celtic games, and became Rounders and Cricket. Rounders again crossed the Atlantic and became Baseball in America.

The oldest complete account of a Battingball-game is that of Gutsmuths in 1796. From older times we only hear about Batting without further explanation, the oldest from the 11th century in Germany. Not until the 19th century did the folklorists take up the matter. And still now we want further investigations in many places before we can know all the variations, the terminology, etc.

Longball and Rounders are now in Europe as a rule children’s games. Formerly they were the most considerable games of ball among the Teutonic and Slavonic peoples, although they were never fashionable games played by kings and “the upper ten” as were Tennis, Golf, Maill, etc. But when Football, Hockey, etc. were modernized in England and became very well organized games, easy to learn and with dramatic events, Battingball-games were frequently superceded in their own countries, and either went out of use altogether, or led a languishing existence.

But in modernized athletic form as Cricket and Baseball and as Bo-ball in Finnland they are still very much alive.


            [1]. C. Gini, “Rural Ritual Games in Libya,” Rural Sociology, Vol. 4, No. 3, (1939)

            [2]. Tipcat is the English name for a group of games, similar to primitive Battingball‑games. Instead of a ball a billet or a “cat” is used, in a few cases a ball of wood. The batsman has to play the billet out from the home‑base, i. e. a hole in the ground or a pair of flat stones. There are usually several divisions in the game, one of these only is common batting. The batsman has to defend his home against the billet, thrown back by a fielder, and gets points in proportion to the distance from the home in which the billet falls to the ground. If the fielders catch the billet in the air, the batsman is out. If they in a return‑throw hit the home (in the first part of the game) or (in the second part) get the billet to stop within a bat’s length from the home, he is out too. Tipcat has many variations and is known almost in the same countries where the Battingball-games are known, and moreover in Precolumbian America. Games with a “cat” were known, for instance, in Europe, India and America.

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