Initially published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Number 8, 2000, this article–here published in the third of three parts–helped lay the foundation for the golden age of early baseball research that was to follow. Tom Altherr is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. He has continued to make valuable contributions all along the way. “Basepaths and Baselines” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. The present article won that same award in 2001. The second part was published yesterday at: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/01/29/a-place-leavel-enough-to-play-ball-part-2/
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic (continued)
Thomas L. Altherr
At the turn of the century, baseball-type games continued to provoke clashes in cities, towns, and villages. Some of their governments responded with prohibitions on such games, much as did the province of New Hampshire for Christmas Day in 1771. At its town meeting in March, 1795, Portsmouth, New Hampshire attempted to abolish cricket and any games played with a ball. The ordinance read as follows:
VOTED III, That if any person or persons shall after the thirty-first day of May next, within the compact part of the town of Portsmouth, . . . play at cricket or any game wherein a ball is used, . . . he, she, or they, so offending, on conviction thereof shall forfeit and pay to the overseers of the porr of said town for the time being, for each and every offence, a sum not exceeding three dollars and thirty cents, nor less than fifty cents, and costs of prosecution,….
By the 1830s, however, players consumed egg-nog “between intervals of base-ball playing” on nearby Shapleigh’s Island and taunted the temperance forces. Down the coast, Newburyport, Massachusetts passed a similar restriction in 1797, adding soccer to its list of offending games: “12th. Voted and ordered, that if any person shall play at foot-ball, cricket or any other play or game with a ball or balls in any of the streets, lanes, or, alleys of this town, such person shall forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding one dollar nor less than twenty-five cents.” In 1805 the town of Portland, Maine promulgated a more detailed prohibition entitled “A By Law to check the practice of playing at Bat and Ball in the Streets”: “. . . [N]o person shall play at the game of bat and ball, or shall strike any ball with a bat or other machine in the streets, lanes, or squares of the town, on penalty of Fifty Cents for each offense.” By 1828, however, a Portland newspaper referred to boys playing at “bat-and-ball.” Twelve years earlier and fifty miles inland, Worcester, Massachusetts considered outlawing playing ball because of numerous complaints.
At a legal meeting May 6, 1816:
To see if the said Inhabitants will adopt any mode, or make such regulations as will in future prevent the playing Ball and Hoops in the public Streets in said Town, a practice so frequent and dangerous, that has occasioned many great and repeated complaints.
Note that the town council characterized ball playing as frequent. Troy, New York restricted baseball-type games in 1816: “[N]o person or persons shall play ball, beat, knock or drive any ball or hoop, in, through or along any street or alley in the first, second, third or fourth wards of said city; and every person who shall violate either of the prohibitions . . . shall, for each and every such offence, forfeit and pay the penalty of ten dollars.” Down the Hudson, New York City outlawed ball play in the Park, Battery, and Bowling-Green in 1817. The crowning irony to all of this came a month later in, of all places, Cooperstown, when that village promulgated an ordinance forbidding the playing of ball in the center of town fully twenty-three years before Abner Doubleday supposedly drew up his diamond and rules! The June, 1816 ordinance read as follows: “Be it ordained, That no person shall play at Ball in Second or West street, in this village, under a penalty of one dollar, for each and every offence.” Tom Heitz has suggested that the one dollar fine was equivalent to the cost of replacing a window in those days, so perhaps the law was setting up an insurance program of sorts to cover breakage and had little hope of completely discouraging players from playing.
Still boys and men continued to play ball. Keene, New Hampshire farmer Abner Sanger noted in his journal entry for April 27, 1782: “Caleb Washburn, young Benjamin Hall, Tom Wells, the younger and El play ball before my barn.” Ball games were familiar enough in northern New England that Vermonter Levi Allen could write to his brother Ira from Quebec on July 7, 1787: “Three times is Out at wicket, next year if Something is not done I will retire to the Green Mountains . . . “ The games went on at the private academies. At the turn of the century ball-playing at Exeter Academy was commonplace, according to a historian of that school: “The only games seem to have been old-fashioned ‘bat and ball,’ which, in the spring, was played on the grounds around the Academy building, and football. The former differed widely from the modern game of base ball, which was introduced later. The old game had fewer rules, and was played with a soft leather ball.” Note, however, the author’s characterization of the game as old-fashioned, implying a longevity of familiarity. In 1836 Albert Ware Paine recalled playing in Bangor, Maine in the 1810s and 1820s: “But a day seems to have elapsed since meeting with our neighboring boys, we took delight in flying our kite and prancing our horses on the green or engaged ourselves in the more active sports of ‘playing ball’ or ‘goal.’” New York City octogenarian Charles Haswell reminisced that if “a base-ball was required, the boy of 1816 founded it with a bit of cork, or, if he were singularly fortunate, with some shreds of india-rubber; then it was wound with yarn from a ravelled stocking, and some feminine member of his family covered it with patches from a soiled glove.” By the late 1830s, Buffalo, New York boys were even using fish noses for the ball cores, according to Samuel L. Welch: ” . .. the fish I bought as a small boy at that time, at one cent per pound, mainly to gets its noses for cores for our balls, to make them bound, to play the present National Game,” he wrote in 1891.
Sometimes memoirists mentioned baseball only to say that they avoided the game or regretted what they considered a waste of time and industry. Thus Wilmington, Delaware ship captain John Hamilton wrote about his boyhood in the 1790s that reading about foreign countries “took precedence [over] Kites, Marbles, Balls, Shinny Sticks, and all other Boyish Sports.” Similarly, Cannon’s Ferry, Delaware doctor William Morgan remarked about his adolescence in the 1790s, “My sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth yeares were spent in youthfull folley. Fidling, frolicking, ball playing and hunting as far as I could be spared by my father from his employ. These are called inocent amusements and ware not caried very far by me.” Sometimes, however, ball games led to further adventures. Jonathan Mason, Jr, a Boston merchant, remembered a special game of ball on the Boston Commons in the 1790s or early 1800s:
Another early remembrance of the common besets me. one morning, the day after what was called the Negro election, Benj Green, Martin Brimmer, George E Head, Franklin Dexter and myself were playing ball on the common before breakfast: and the ball fell into a hole where one of the booth’s stakes had been driven the day before, which was filled up with paper, rubbage etc. putting the hand down something jingled and we found several dollars in silver which had probably been put there for safety and the owner becoming intoxicated late in the day had gone off and forgotten them. I can’t recollect that we advertised them. We were small boys then all of us, and I was the youngest.
And even though he claimed he had never heard the word “baseball” in the 1820s, Middletown, Connecticut resident John Howard Redfield remembered that baseball-type games were pervasive:
The remainder of Election week was given more or less to relaxation and amusement. This period usually coincided with the vacation, or gap between the winter and summer terms of school. Ball was the chief amusement, and if weather permitted (and my impression is that it generally did permit) the open green about the meeting-house and the school-house was constantly occupied by the players, little boys, big boys, and even men (for such we considered the biggest boys who condescended to join the game), . . . These grown-up players usually devoted themselves to a game called “wicket,” in which the ball was impelled along the ground by a wide, peculiarly-shaped bat, over, under, or through a wicket, made by a slender stick resting on two supports. I never heard of baseball in those days.
Clearly, as these prohibitions, depictions in children’s books, and remembrances indicate, baseball and its predecessors were entrenched in the young republic’s athletic repertoire by 1820.
Other evidence hints that the games had spread to the South and to Canada. John Drayton, a South Carolina politician and historian, referred to ball playing in his state about 1802: “[A]musements are few; consisting of dancing, horse racing, ball playing, and rifle shooting.” Another South Carolinian, Charles Fraser, recalled, in 1854, how vibrant were the sports of his childhood in Charleston in the early art of the century: “The manly sports of ball, shinee, jumping, running, wrestling, and swimming, are now laid aside as unworthy of modern refinement. But they were as common among the elder boys of my time, as marbles, tops and kites were among the little ones.” Ely Playter, a York, Ontario tavernkeeper, may have meant baseball or a baseball-type game when he wrote in his diary for April 13, 1803: “I went to Town . . . walk’d out and joined a number of men jumping & playing Ball, perceived a Mr. Joseph Randall to be the most active . . . “ Incipient commercialism may also have been invading the games. The New York Evening Post for September 20, 1811 contained an advertisement for “Trap Ball, Quoits, Cricket, &c.” at Dyde’s Military Ground.
The most bizarre bit of evidence of baseball’s spread may have occurred in conjunction with a tragic incident just after the close of the War of 1812. The British were still housing numerous American prisoners at Dartmoor Prison in England, awaiting repatriation arrangements. Needless to say, tempers ran high, and the British officers occasionally tormented the Americans. As had other prisoners-of-war before them, some of the Americans whiled away their incarceration by playing baseball. For example, American prisoners-of-war back in North America at Cornwall, Ontario mixed ball with their boxing. Wrote one prisoner, “The men remained in the gaol yard and fought several times and in fact played [ball –the editor mistakenly translated the word as “hell”] all day.” Similarly one prisoner, Benjamin Waterhouse, recalled the Americans at Dartmoor were in “high spirits and good humour” about going home and reflected it in their play: “I distinctly remember that the prisoners appeared to enjoy their amusements, such as playing ball and the like, beyond what I had before observed.” The previous June, the British commander had opened the yards on the south side of the enclosure, which, according to prisoner Charles Andrews, “would admit of many amusements which that of No. 4 would not, such as playing ball, &c.”
On April 6, 1815, some of the prisoners were at such play. As inmate Nathaniel Pierce recalled, ” . . . first part of this day the Prisoners divirting themselves Gambling playing Ball &c.” During the afternoon, however, things went awry. A batter hit the ball over one of the interior walls and the British sentries would not allow the players to retrieve it. As prisoner Andrews later wrote, ” . . . some boys who were playing ball in No. 7 yard, knocked their ball over into the barrack-yard, and on the sentry in that yard refusing to throw it back to them, they picked a hole in the wall to get in after it.” Another inmate, Joseph Valpey, Jr., described the scenario in more detail:
On the 6th day of April 1815 as a small party of prisoners were amusing themselves at a game at ball, some of the number striking it with too much violence it went over the wall fronting the prison the Centinals on the opposite side of the same were requested to heave the ball back, but refused, on which the party threataned to brake through and regain the ball and immediately put their threats in execution, a hole was made in the wall sufficently large enough for a man to pass through….
The “Judicial Report of the Massacre at Dartmoor Prison” concluded indeed that ball playing figured in the incident: “It unfortunately happened, that in the afternoon of the 6th of April, some boys who were playing ball in No. 7 yard, knocked their ball over into the barrack yard: on the sentry in that yard refusing to throw it back to them, they picked a hole in the wall to get in after it.”97 The British officers misconstrued this breach of the interior wall as some sort of riot and ordered troops to fire at the ball players. By the end of the melee there were seven dead and thirty-one wounded prisoners. A poem by John Hunter Waddell, which ran in New York and Boston newspapers in June, 1815, referred to the ball playing as commonplace and summed up the tragedy:
Forsooth, there was great fear to dread, he [the British captain]’d search’d and found in wall
A hole was made for boy to creep, and get again a ball,
Which oft was thrown by boys at play, their usual daily sport,
In pastime who at prison wall, did ev’ry day resort;
And frequent would their balls bounce o’er out of the prison yard,
To get again their balls for sport, their pastime and their play,
And so their joy, was oft times spoilt, and ended for the day.
The boys thus baulk’d, and being griev’d to lose their balls and play,
Contriv’d to make a hole to gain, and get their balls again.
By the 1820s, the games were taking on the more organized form of clubs. In his autobiography, New York politician Thurlow Weed claimed to have been a member of a town ball club in Rochester in 1825:
Though an industrious and busy place, its citizens found leisure for rational and healthy recreation. A base-ball club, numbering nearly fifty members, met every afternoon during the ball-playing season. Though the members of the club embraced persons between eighteen and forty, it attracted the young and the old. The ball-ground, containing some eight or ten acres, known as Mumford’s meadow, by the side of the river above the falls, is now a compact part of the city.
Weed went on to list ten of the better players on that club and point out that a couple of them rose to prominence as lawyers in New York City. Although some historians think that the mounting popularity of baseball in the intervening decades may have colored Weed’s memoir, Samuel Hopkins Adams, in the story, “Baseball in Mumford’s Pasture Lot,” in his book, Grandfather Stories, corroborated Weed with a scene in which Grandpa Adams informed his grandson and friends that he had played baseball back in Rochester in 1827. “When I first came here, the Rochester Baseball Club met four afternoons a week. We had fifty members. That was in 1827,” the old man recounted. The club played in “Mumford’s pasture lot, off Lake Avenue.” Furthermore, he told them, “The cream of Rochester’s Third Ward ruffleshirts participated in the pastime,” which was clearly baseball, not town ball, as the old man described the positioning of the fielders and mentioned that it took three outs to retire the batting side.
Yet it would be a mistake to see baseball and baseball-type games as very modern by the 1820s, at least not in the sense that sport historians such as Allen Guttmann have stipulated. Presumably there was an equity in the rules, that each player played under the same conditions, but there may have been exceptions to that. There was certainly no bureaucratization overseeing baseball-type games. There may or may not have been specialization; players most likely played nonspecific positions on the playing field and probably the pitcher, or “feeder,” was not a very important position yet. How much players were experimenting to perfect the rules or methods of playing the game is also unclear. Quantification, at least in the form of statistics that carried over time, was nonexistent, and if there were any “records,” they didn’t make it into any “recordbook.” Local players may have kept up an oral memory of great players and great plays, but it is just as likely that the emphasis was on play, spontaneity, and communal recreation. Baseball and similar games were still folk games, with all their rubbery aspects and irregular patterns. That does not mean, however, that they were any less important to the populace than are modern sports today. Baseball and baseball-type games existed with some degree of frequency, because they filled a cultural hunger for physical play and communal recreation, a yearning of time immemorial. The above sources, and probably others still undiscovered in the record, attest to the American phase of this long process. Henry Dearborn and his fellow soldiers deserve thanks not only for helping to convince the British to lose the war, but for marching four miles that day in April, 1779 “to find a place leavel enough to play ball,” and all the ball-playing students merit our remembrances as well.
Finally though, the origins of the game may have to remain shrouded in mystery. Perhaps, as Harold Seymour wrote, “To ascertain who invented baseball would be equivalent to trying to locate the discoverer of fire.” Perhaps it was an entirely “natural” occurrence. As James D’Wolf Lovett stated, “It seems to be the natural instinct of a boy as soon as he finds the use of his arms, to want to ‘bat’ something.” Possibly the instinct is quite deep-seated and the Freudians and other psychoanalysts can weigh in with theories such as Adrian Stokes’ provocative interpretation that cricket developed as a form of sexual sublimation. Or maybe Kenneth Patchen’s explanation in his poem, “The Origin of Baseball,” comes as close as any:
Someone had been walking in and out
Of the world without coming
To much decision about anything.
The sun seemed too hot most of the time.
There weren’t enough birds around
And the hills had a silly look
When he got on top of one.
The girls in heaven, however, thought
Nothing of asking to see his watch
Like you would want someone to tell
A joke –’Time,’ they’d say, ‘what’s
That mean –time?’, laughing with the edges
Of their white mouths, like a flutter of paper
In a madhouse. And he’d stumble over
General Sherman or Elizabeth B.
Browning, muttering, “Can’t you keep
Your big wings out of the aisle?” But down
Again, there’d be millions of people without
Enough to eat and men with guns just
Standing there shooting each other.
So he wanted to throw something
And he picked up a baseball.
67. By-Laws of the Town of Portsmouth, Passed at their Annual Meeting Held March 25, 1795 (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: John Melcher, 1795), 5-6.
68. Charles W. Brewster, Rambles About Portsmouth, Second Series (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Lewis W. Brewster, 1869), 269.
69. Bye-Laws of Newburyport; Passed by the Town at Regular Meetings, and Approved by the Court of General Justice of the Peace for the County of Essex, Agreeably to a Law of this
Commonwealth (Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1797), 1.
70. The By Laws of the Town of Portland, in the County of Cumberland, Second Ed. (Portland, Maine: John McKown, 1805), 15. Italics in the original source. The 1817 town by-laws still contained this prohibition. “By Law to check the practice of playing at Bat and Ball in the Streets, &c.,” in The By-Laws of the Town of Portland, in the County of Cumberland (Portland, Maine: A. and J. Shirley, 1817), 12.
71. Will Anderson, Was Baseball Really Invented In Maine? (Portland, Maine: pvt. ptg., 1992), .
72. Worcester, Massachusetts Town Records, 6 May 1816, reprinted in Franklin P. Rice, ed., Worcester Town Records, 1801-1816, Vol. X (Worcester, Massachusetts: The Worcester Society of Antiquity, 1891), 337.
73. Laws and Ordinances of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty, of the City of Troy. Passed the Ninth Day of December, 1816 (Troy, New York: Parker and Bliss, 1816), 42.
74. “A Law relative to the Park, Battery, and Bowling-Green,” in Laws and Ordinances Ordained and Established by the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of New York (New York: T. and J. Swords, 1817), 118.
75. Cooperstown, New York village ordinance, 13 June 1816, reprinted in the Cooperstown, New York Otsego Herald, n. 1107, 13 June 1816, 3.
76. Tom Heitz, conversations with the author, June and August, 1996.
77. Lois K. Stabler, ed., Very Poor and of a Lo Make: the Journal of Abner Sanger (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter E. Randall, 1986), 416.
78. Levi Allen to Ira Allen, July 7, 1787, in John J. Duffy, ed., Ethan Allen and His Kin, Correspondence, 1772-1819, 2 vols. (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1998), v. 1, 244.
79. Frank H. Cunningham, Familiar Sketches of the Phillips Exeter Academy and Surroundings (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883), 281.
80. Albert Ware Paine, “Auto-Biography,” reprinted in Lydia Augusta Paine Carter, The Discovery of a Grandmother (Newtonville, Massachusetts: Henry H. Carter, 1920), 240.
81. Charles Haswell, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian 1816 to 1860 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1896), 77.
82. Samuel. L. Welch, Home History. Recollections of Buffalo during the Decade from 1830 to 1840, or Fifty Years Since (Buffalo, New York: Peter Paul and Brother, 1891), 353.
83. John Hamilton, “Some Reminiscences of Wilm’t’n and My Youthful Days –&c., &c.” Delaware History, v. 1, n. 2 (July 1946), 91.
84. Harold B. Hancock, ed., “William Morgan’s Autobiography and Diary [:] Life in Sussex County, 1780-1857,” Delaware History, v. 19, n. 1 (Spring-Summer 1980), 43-44.
85. Jonathan Mason, Jr., “Recollections of a Septuagenarian,” 3 vols., Downs Special Collections, Winterthur Library, Document 30, v. 1, 20-21.
86. Edmund Delaney, ed., Life in the Connecticut River Valley 1800-1840 from the Recollections of John Howard Redfield (Essex, Connecticut: Connecticut River Museum, 1988), 35. Italics in the original source.
87. John Drayton, A View of South-Carolina, As Respects Her Natural and Civil Concerns (Charleston, South Carolina: W. P. Young, 1802), 225.
88. Charles Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston, Lately Published in the Charleston Courier, and Now Revised and Enlarged by the Author (Charleston, South Carolina: John Russell, 1854), 88.
89. [Ely Playter], “Extracts from Ely Playter’s Diary,” April 13, 1803, reprinted in Edith G. Firth, ed., The Town of York 1793-1815: A Collection of Documents of Early Toronto (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1962), 248.
90. New York Evening Post, n. 2867, September 20, 1811, 2.
91. G.M. Fairchild, Jr., ed., Journal of an American Prisoner at Fort Malden and Quebec in the War of 1812 (Quebec: pvt. ptg., 1090), no pagination.
92. [Benjamin Waterhouse], A Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts, Late a Surgeon on Board an American Privateer, Who Was Captured at Sea by the British, in May, Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen, and Was Confined First, at Melville Island, Halifax, then at Chatham, in England, and Last, at Dartmoor Prison (Boston: Rowe and Hooper, 1816), 186.
93. [Charles Andrews], The Prisoners’ Memoirs, or Dartmoor Prison (New York: pvt. ptg. 1815), 92.
94. “Journal of Nathaniel Pierce of Newburyport, Kept at Dartmoor Prison, 1814-1815,” Historical Collections of Essex Institute, v. 73, n. 1 (January 1937), 40.
95. [Andrews], The Prisoners’ Memoirs, or Dartmoor Prison, 110. In another memoir, prisoner Josiah Cobb referred to the ball being thrown over the wall by accident, something that happened somewhat frequently. [Cobb], A Green Hand’s First Cruise, Roughed Out from the Log-Book of Memory, of Twenty-Five Years Standing: Together with a Residence of Five Months in Dartmoor, 2 vols. (Boston: Otis, Broaders, and Company, 1841, v. 2, 213-214. For the testimony of other prisoners, see John Hunter Waddell, Dartmoor Massacre (Pittsfield, Massachusetts: Phinehas Allen, 1815), 6-21.
96. [Joseph Valpey, Jr.], Journal of Joseph Valpey, Jr. of Salem, November, 1813-April, 1815 (Detroit: Michigan Society of Colonial Wars, 1922), 60.
97. “The Judicial Report of the Massacre at Dartmoor Prison,” reprinted in John Melish, Description of Dartmoor Prison, with an Account of the Massacre of the Prisoners (Philadelphia: J. Bioren, 1816), 7.
98. [John Hunter Waddell], The Dartmoor Massacre (Boston?: pvt. ptg., 1815?), 5.
99. Harriet A. Weed, ed., Life of Thurlow Weed, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1883), v. 1, 203. That same year, residents of Hamden, New York placed a challenge in the Delhi, New York Gazette of July 12th to any men of Delaware County to form a team and play a baseball match See Sullivan, comp. and ed., Early Innings, 1-2.
100. Samuel Hopkins Adams, Grandfather Stories (New York: Random House, 1955 ), 146-149.
101. Allen Guttmann, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), chapter 2, and Guttmann, A Whole New Ball Game: An Interpretation of American Sports (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 6.
102. Seymour, “How Baseball Began,” 376.
103. Lovett, Old Boston Boys, 125.
104. Adrian Stokes, “Psycho-analytic Reflections on the Development of Ball Games, Particularly Cricket,” The International Journal of Psycho-analysis, v. 37 (1956), 185-192.
105. Kenneth Patchen, “The Origin of Baseball,” in Patchen, Selected Poems (New York: New Directions, 1957), 15-16.
Initially published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Number 8, 2000, this article–here published in the second of three parts–helped lay the foundation for the golden age of early baseball research that was to follow. Tom Altherr is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. He has continued to make valuable contributions all along the way. “Basepaths and Baselines” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. The present article won that same award in 2001. The first part was published yesterday at: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/01/28/a-place-leavel-enough-to-play-ball/.
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic (continued)
Thomas L. Altherr
It is unclear whether or not the Revolutionary War accelerated the familiarity of baseball in North America, as the Civil War clearly did eighty some years later. It would be useful to ascertain if prisoners-of-war taught their captors how to play the games and learned from each other during those incarcerations. Similarly, did officers play the games more often than enlisted men, or vice versa? Were the officers’ games more formalized than those of the troops? The sources indicate that both sets of soldiers played, but don’t make any detailed distinctions. What is discernible is that during the war, baseball-type games provided needed recreation for troops within a matrix of other sports. As Montague, Massachusetts farmer Joel Shepard recalled baseball at a bivouac near Albany, New York, late in the war, about 1782: “We passed muster and layed in Albany about six weeks and we fared tolerable well, and not much to doo, but each class had his amusement. The officers would bee a playing at Ball on the comon, their would be an other class piching quaits, an other set a wrestling, . . . “
Like the soldiers, students at the academies and colleges took a shine to the ball games. Students probably played the games, taking advantages of study breaks and lapses in college discipline to pour out onto the common for a match or two. The practice apparently could get quite rowdy. Some colleges attempted to ban the ball games because of potential property damage to windows and buildings. As early as 1764, Yale College tried to restrict hand and foot ball games. The statute, in Latin at first, and in later laws in English, read: “9. If any Scholar fhall play at Hand-Ball, or Foot-Ball, or Bowls in the College-Yard, or throw any Thing against [the] Colege by which the Glass may be endangerd, . . . he shall be punished six Pence, and make good the Damages.” Later renditions changed the monetary amount to eight cents and this restriction carried into the next century with little change. Dartmouth College followed suit with its own ordinance in 1780: “If any student shall play at ball or use any other diversion the College or Hall windows within 6 rods of either he shall be fined two shilling for the first offence 4 for the 2d and so no [on] at the discretion of the President or Tutors–“. In 1784, the University of Pennsylvania acknowledged that the yard was “intended for the exercise and recreation of the youth,” but forbid them to “play ball against any of the walls of the University, whilst the windows are open.” Williams College followed suit in 1805: ” . . . the students in the College and scholars in the Grammar School, shall not be permitted to play at ball, or use any other sport or diversion, in or near the College Edifice, by which the same may be exposed to injury.” Violations would result in fines and possibly dismissal. Bowdoin College added its own prohibition in 1817: “No Student shall, in or near any College building, play at ball, or use any sport or diversion, by which such building may be exposed to injury, on penalty of being fined not exceeding twenty cents, or of being suspended, if the offence be often repeated.”
Students continued to play, however, as Sidney Willard, son of Harvard president Joseph Willard, and himself later a Harvard professor, remembered in two passages in his 1855 memoirs. Referring to the campus Buttery of the 1760s, Willard wrote, “Besides eatables, everything necessary for a student was there sold, and articles used in the play-grounds, as bats, balls, &c.” Then recalling the campus play fields of the last decade of the century, he noted, “Here it was that we wrestled and ran, played at quoits, at cricket, and various games of bat and ball, whose names perhaps are obsolete, and leaped and jumped in rivalry.” Diarist John Rhea Smith recorded at least one baseball game at Princeton College in March, 1786: “A fine day, play baste ball in the campus but am beaten for I miss both catching and striking the ball.” Daniel Webster referred to “playing at ball” during his Dartmouth College years at the turn of the century. Baltimore poet Garrett Barry placed ball play in verse lament about college days, “On Leaving College”:
I’ll fondly trace, with fancy’s aid,
The spot where all our sports were made,
When in our gay…..our infant years,
While strangers yet to pain and tears,
When toil had “lent its turn to play,”
The little train forever gay,
With joy obey’d the pleasing call,
And nimbly urged the flying ball.
On April 11, 1824, Bowdoin College student and future poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote to his father, who was in Washington, about a surge in ball playing on the campus:
This has been a very sickly term in college. However, within the last week, the government, seeing that something must be done to induce the students to exercise, recommended a game of ball every now and then; which communicated such an impulse to our limbs and joints, that there is nothing now heard of, in our leisure hours, but ball, ball, ball. I cannot prophesy with any degree of accuracy concerning the continuance of this rage for play, but the effect is good, since there has been a thorough-going reformation from inactivity and torpitude.
Williams Latham played at Brown in the mid-1820s. On March 22, 1827, he declared, “We had a great play at ball to day noon.” But a couple of weeks later, on April 9, he was complaining about the quality of the play and pitching: “We this morning . . . have been playing ball, But I never have received so much pleasure from it as I have in Bridgewater They do not have more than 6 or 7 on a side, so that a great deal of time is spent runing after the ball, Neither do they throw so fair ball, They are affraid the fellow in the middle will hit it with his bat-stick.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. played at Harvard in 1829. Yale was not to be outdone, as a March, 1837 letter from student Josiah Dwight Whitney, later an eminent geologist in the American West, showed: “It is about the time now for playing ball, and the whole green is covered with students engaged in that fine game: for my part, I could never make a ball player. I can’t see where the ball is coming soon enough to put the ball-club in its way.” Anson Phelps Stokes, who also reprinted the letter in a book on Yale students, dismissed the game as “merely ‘one-old-cat’ or ‘two-old-cat’,” because he believed in the Doubleday origins story. But the game in which Whitney had such trouble placing the bat on the ball, a problem recognizable to us moderns, could have as easily been baseball. Older scholars may have had some interest in the game as well. Connecticut lexicographer and writer Noah Webster may have been referring to a baseball-type game when wrote his journal entry for March 24-25, 1788: “Take a long walk. Play at Nines at Mr Brandons. Very much indisposed.”
Indeed, the sabbath restrictions against ball playing were breaking down. In 1836, a Georgetown University student wrote to a friend, ” . . . the Catholics think it no harm to play Ball, Draughts or play the Fiddle and dance of a Sunday, . . . “ Such was the case apparently even in Rhode Island, according to James B. Angell: “[Sunday] was the day for visiting relatives and friends and largely for fishing and hunting and ball-playing. At least one minister played the game. In his diary, Rev. Thomas Robbins detailed his ball play and that of local boys, while a divinity student at Williams College and during his teaching days. “I exercise considerable, playing ball,” he wrote on April 22, 1796. In February and March, 1797, he noted that the Sheffield, Connecticut boys were playing ball, apparently “smartly” on one occasion. The April 24 entry recorded: “Play ball some. The spring as yet rather backward.” Three years later, at Danbury, Connecticut, on an unseasonably warm January day, Robbins remarked, “My boys play ball freely.” And right around Christmas that same year, in another warm spell, the boys were at it again. For December 27, Robbins wrote: “Boys play at ball till night without the least inconvenience.”
There was some dissent about the moral uses of the game. On August 19, 1785, Thomas Jefferson urged his nephew Peter Carr to avoid ball games and take up hunting as recreation. “Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind,” the future president counseled. Despite Jefferson’s opinion, however, children’s books continued to recommend or at least document baseball-type games for youths. Edgar and Jane, the protagonists of a British children’s book, published in Baltimore in 1806, The Children in the Wood, wandered into a British town where some children “were playing at trap and ball.” In an 1806 book of poems for children, Ann Gilbert described some sort of ball play as common on the village commons:
The Village Green
Then ascends the worsted ball;
High it rises in the air;
Or against the cottage wall,
Up and down it bounces there.
In a sequel volume published the next year, Gilbert included one warning boys about breaking windows during ball play:
MY good little fellow, don’t throw your ball there,
You’ll break neighbour’s windows I know;
On the end of the house there is room and to spare;
Go round, you can have a delightful game there,
Without fearing for where you may throw.
Harry thought he might safely continue his play,
With a little more care than before;
So, forgetful of all that his father could say,
As soon as he saw he was out of the way,
He resolved to have fifty throws more.
Already as far as to forty he rose,
And no mischief happen’d at all;
One more, and one more, he successfully throws,
But when, as he thought, just arriv’d at the close,
In popp’d his unfortunate ball.
Poor Harry stood frighten’d, and turning about,
Was gazing at what he had done;
As the ball had popp’d in, so neighbour popp’d out,
And with a good horsewhip he beat him about,
Till Harry repented his fun.
When little folks think they know better than great,
And what is forbidden them do;
We must always expect to see, sooner or late,
That such wise little fools have a similar fate,
And that one of the fifty goes through.
In an 1807 edition of The Prize for Youthful Obedience, a hermit who had been watching some children playing ball games approved of their play and promised “to provide bats, balls, &c.” at his next visit.” An 1802 volume, Youthful Sports, actually touted cricket as a sport superior to what it called “bat and ball”:
THIS play requires more strength than some boys possess, to manage the ball in a proper manner; it must therefore be left to the more robust lads, who are fitter for such athletic exercises. It must be allowed to be good diversion, and is of such note, that even men very frequently divert themselves with it. 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.
Two succeeding children’s recreation manuals in 1810 painted a rosier picture of trap ball. Youthful Amusements recommended it highly:
Without any exception, this is one of the most pleasing sports that youth can exercise themselves in. It strengthens the arms, exercises the legs, and adds pleasure to the mind. If every time the ball be bowled to the trap, the striker be permitted to guess the number of bat’s lengths from the trap, it greatly contributes to teach lads the rule of addition. And should he be so covetous as to overguess the distance, he will, as he deserves to do, forfeit his right to the bat, and give it to another playmate.
Youthful Recreations went even further, offering that it should be the right of every child to have an hour of recreation each day with sports, among bat and ball-type games: “To play with battledore and shuttlecock or with a trap and ball, is good exercise; and if we had it in our power to grant, not only to the children of the affluent, but even such of the poor as are impelled by necessity to pick cotton, card wool, to sit and spin or reel all day, should have at least one hour, morning and evening, for some youthful recreation; and if they could obtain neither battledore nor shuttlecock, trap, bat, nor ball, they should at least play at Hop-Scotch.” The next year, The Book of Games, a look at sports at a British academy, gave a ringing endorsement to trap ball and supplied the most detailed description of it in the period. Remarks on Children’s Play, in 1819, repeated the same comments of the 1810 Youthful Amusements book. By the time The Boy’s Own Book and Robin Carver’s The Book of Sports appeared in 1829 and 1834 respectively, with their descriptions of baseball, the game was probably quite familiar to the youth of the Early Republic.
Part Three, tomorrow.
38. John A. Spear, ed., “Joel Shepard Goes to the War,” New England Quarterly, v. 1, n. 3 (July 1928), 344.
39. Collegii Yalensis, Quod est Novo-Portus Connecticutensium, Statuta, a Præside et Sociis Sancita (New Haven, Connecticut: Benjamin Mecom, 1764), 9; and The Laws of Yale-College, in New-Haven, in Connecticut, Enacted by the President and Fellows (New Haven, Connecticut: Thomas and Samuel Green, 1774), 11.
40. Dartmouth College Laws and Regulations, 1780, Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections MS 782415.
41. RULES for the Good Government and Discipline of the SCHOOL in the UNIVERSITY of PENNSYLVANIA (Philadelphia: Francis Bailey, 1784).
42. The Laws of Williams College (Stockbridge, Massachusetts: H. Willard, 1805), 40.
43. “Of Misdemeanors and Criminal Offences,” in Laws of Bowdoin College (Hallowell, Maine: E. Goodale, 1817), 12.
44. Sidney Willard, Memories of Youth and Manhood, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Bartlett, 1855), v. 1, 31 and 316.
45. John Rhea Smith, 22 March 1786, in “Journal at Nassau Hall,” Princeton Library MSS, AM 12800. Smith’s use of “baste” instead of “base” is quite intriguing, suggesting a linguistic connection to striking the ball rather running to a base. Smith was quite literate and an excellent speller. An examination of the rest of his diary reveals no misspelled words. For more on Smith, see Ruth L. Woodward, “Diary at Nassau Hall: The Diary of John Rhea Smith, 1786,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, v. 46 , n. 3 (1985), 269-291 and v. 47, n. 1 (1985), 48-70.
46. Daniel Webster, Private Correspondence, Fletcher Webster, ed., 2 vols. (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1857), v. 1, 66. See also Vernon Bartlett, The Past of Pastimes (London: Chatto and Windus, 1969), 45.
47. Garrett Barry, “On Leaving College,” in Barry, Poems, On Several Occasions (Baltimore: Cole and I. Bonsal and John Vance and Company, 1807)
48. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Stephen Longfellow, April 11, 1824, in Samuel Longfellow, ed., Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with Extracts from His Journals and Correspondence, 2 vols. (Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1886), v. 1, 51.
49. Williams Latham, “The Diary of Williams Latham, 1823-1827″ (unpublished), quoted in Walter C. Bronson, The History of Brown University, 1764-1914 (Providence: Brown University, 1914), 245. James D’Wolf Lovett remembered that Boston boys in that era didn’t find the shortage of players so problematic. If his crowd couldn’t summon up enough players for town ball or baseball, the boys reverted to playing the simpler games of one old cat, two old cat, three old cat, or whatever configuration fit. Lovett, Old Boston Boys (Boston: Riverside Press, 1906), 127-128.
50. John A. Krout, Annals of American Sport (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1929), 115.
51. Josiah Dwight Whitney to his sister, Elizabeth Whitney, March, 1837, reprinted in Edwin Tenney Brewster, Life and Letters of Josiah Dwight Whitney (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1909), 20; and Anson Phelps Stokes, Memorials of Eminent Yale Men, 2 vols. (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1914), v. 2, 38.
52. [Noah Webster], “Diary,” reprinted in Emily Ellsworth Fowler Ford, ed., Notes on the Life of Noah Webster, 2 vols. (New York: pvt. ptg., 1912), v. 1, 227.
53. Georgetown student letter, August 27, 1836, Georgetown University Library, quoted in Betty Spears and Richard Swanson, History of Sport and Physical Activity in the United States,
Second Ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown Company, 1983), 85.
54. James B. Angell, The Reminiscences of James Burrill Angell (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1912), 14.
55. Increase N. Tarbox, ed., Diary of Thomas Robbins, D.D. 1796-1854, 2 vols. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1886, v. 1, 8, 29, 32, 106, and 128.
56. Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785, in Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 23 vols. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1953-), v.8, 407.
57. Clara English, The Children in the Wood, An Instructive Tale (Baltimore: Warner and Hanna, 1806), 29.
58. [Ann Gilbert], Original Poems, for Infant Minds, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Kimber, Conrad, and Company, 1806), v. 2, 120. Gilbert’s verse reappeared in several later editions and other children’s books, and in an 1840 pamphlet, The Village Green, or Sports of Youth (New Haven, Connecticut: S. Babcock), 5, with the word “worsted” changed to “favorite” and with an accompanying woodcut showing four boys playing baseball.
59. [Gilbert], Original Poems, for Infant Minds, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Kimber, Conrad, and Company, 1807), vol, 1, 88-89.
60. The Prize for Youthful Obedience (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1807), Part II, .
61. Youthful Sports, (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1802), 47-48.
62. Youthful Amusements (Philadelphia: Johnson and Warner, 1810), 37 and 40.
63. Youthful Recreations (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1810), no pagination.
64. The Book of Games; or, a History of the Juvenile Sports Practised at Kingston Academy (Philadelphia: Johnson and Warner, 1811), 15-20. The full text reads as follows:
WELL, young men, said the doctor, addressing himself to his two youngest sons, what think you of a game at trap-ball before you go to bed? there is plenty of time, and it is a fine evening for the purpose. Will you not, my dear Thomas, said he, turning to his new guest, accompany them; a little play will do you good after your long ride.
Thomas readily consented, and accompanied the boys into an field, adjoining the house.
“This is our play-place in fine weather,” said George Benson, “and a nice one it is. Well what is the game to-night? Trap-ball I believe my father proposed. Do you play at trap-ball, White?” “No,” replied White, “I know but little about it.”
George Benson. I suppose you know the rules of the game, however, and can join in our party. Who has got the trap?
James Benson. Here it is; but I think I had rather have a game at fives. If you and Price will play at trap-ball, and give White a lesson, Jackson and Seymore, and I, will go the high wall, and have a good game at fives.
George Benson. Very well. Away with you then, and I will hold you both, Price and White. Who has a half-penny, to toss up for the first innings? O, here is one; heads or tails? Tails did you say? Well then I have it, for it is heads. Now, are you ready?
Thomas White. What are we to do? I have forgot what little I have heard of the game; I never played at it but once.
George. Well then I will tell you; you know, of course, that when I hit the trigger, the ball flies up, and that I must then give it a good stroke with the bat. If I strike at the ball and miss my aim, or if, when I have struck it, either you or Price catch it before it has touched the ground, or if I hit the trigger more than twice, without striking the ball, I am out, and one of you take the bat, and come in, as it is called.
White. And we are to try to hit the trap, with the ball, are we not? and you will be out, as soon as we have done so? And do not you reckon one, every time we bowl without being able to hit the trap?
George. Yes, that is the way, we usually play: but I believe sometimes the person who is in, guesses how many bats length off the ball was stopped, and reckons as many as he guesses, if that is less than the real number; but if he guesses more than there really are, he is cast.
White. I do not clearly understand you.
George. Perhaps I do not clearly explain myself. Indeed I have never played the game in that manner: but Seymore says that they always did at the school he used to go to. Suppose now that I am in, and you bowl, and the ball stops there, just where I point, I guess that it is five times the length of the bat from the trap; if you think there are not so many, and order me to measure, should there be only four times, I am out; but if there should happen to be six or eight times, I may reckon them all though I had only guessed five. Now do you understand what I mean; though, it does not signify, as we play the other way?
White. I believe I do. What have you stuck those two sticks in the ground for?
George. To mark the bounds. You know the batsman is out if he does not strike the ball between them, or if it stops short of them; and he reckons one every time the other party miss the trap in throwing the ball. We have three innings a-piece, and he wins who gets most. But as you do not know so much of the game, and as Price is such a little fellow, I will play against you both. Now for it then; but I must take my coat off, for it is so hot. Now I am ready. There catch the ball, boys. Ay, you have missed it.
Price. I thought White would have caught it. Now I will bowl. Oh, it has not hit the trap.
White. Let me bowl this time. There you are out, I think, master George.
George. Upon my word, you bowl well. I am only one. It is your turn to go in now.
White took the bat, but as he was unused to the management of one, he held it very awkwardly, and struck repeatedly at the ball without being able to hit it. George, very good humouredly, shewed him the best method of holding the bat, and let him practise striking the ball several times before they continued their game. When they again began to play, White gave a noble stroke, and sent the ball to such a distance, that George could not, with all his strength, bowl it quite home; and Tom, with great pleasure, counted one.
But the next time he hit it so feebly, that George had no difficulty in bowling him out. It was then Price’s turn to come in, he also counted only one; for the next time, he drove it outside the boundary sticks.
“Ah, I shall beat you both, I dare say,” cried George, good humouredly taking the trap. “There, I think you will not bowl me out this time, White. You have indeed,” continued he, as he threw down the bat. “Why, how wonderfully you do bowl. You must have been used to that, I am sure.”
White. Yes, my father is fond of playing at bowls. We have got a bowling green, and I have often practised.
The peculiar skill which White possessed in bowling, made him a tolerable match for George Benson, and Tom felt no small degree of pleasure, when victory declared in favour of the two novices.
“You have won, I declare,” cried George, as he was bowled out by Thomas, after he had been twice in. “I did not expect to be beat by you, as you said you knew nothing of the game. Shall we go now and see what the fives players are about?”
65. Remarks on Children’s Play (New York: Samuel Wood and Sons, 1819), 32.
66. The Boy’s Own Book (Boston: Munroe and Francis, 1829), 18-19, and Robin Carver, The Book of Sports (Boston: Lily, Wait, Colman, and Holden). For a convenient reprinting of Carver’s section on “Base, or Goal Ball,” see Sullivan, comp. and ed., Early Innings, 3.
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic
Initially published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Number 8, 2000, this article–here published in three parts–helped lay the foundation for the golden age of early baseball research that was to follow. Tom Altherr is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. He has continued to make valuable contributions all along the way. “Basepaths and Baselines” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. The present article won that same award in 2001.
In his second footnote below, Tom offers: “For a fuller sampling of documentary evidence, see Thomas L. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America: A Documentary History, Volume I, Parts I and II, Early American Sports to 1820 (Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press, 1997). The research for that encyclopedia provided the impetus for this article, with the sincere hopes that other baseball historians and scholars will locate additional pre-1839 evidence of baseball and baseball-type games.” Tom has not only applauded the efforts of others, but has continued to blaze his own bright path. His other articles reprinted at Our Game are linked below.
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic
Thomas L. Altherr
In the spring of 1779, Henry Dearborn, a New Hampshire officer, was a member of the American expedition in north centralPennsylvania, heading northwards to attack the Iroquois tribal peoples. In his journal for April 3rd,Dearborn jotted down something quite different than the typical notations of military activities: “all the Officers of the Brigade turn’d out & Play’d a game at ball the first we have had this yeare.–” Two weeks later he entered something equally eye-catching. On April 17th, he wrote: “we are oblige’d to walk 4 miles to day to find a place leavel enough to play ball.” On the face of it, the two journal entries might not seem all that startling, but to baseball historians they should be sort of front-page news. For Henry Dearborn was one of several, if not more, soldiers who played baseball, or an early variant of it, during the Revolutionary War, a good sixty years before another military man, one Abner Doubleday allegedly invented the game in the sleepy east central New York village of Cooperstown.
Dearborn’s two notations, meager as they were, suggest that the game of ball they played was more than whimsical recreation. Tom Heitz, the longtime historian and librarian at the National Baseball Library at the Hall of Fame, has speculated that baseball-type games at this stage were like pulling a hacky-sack out of a backpack and kicking it around or playing frisbee on the college quad. But what if the game was more serious, more important than that? Indeed Dearborn’s writings warrant a second look. First, the earlier one reveals that the men were familiar with the game, having played it before, at least during some previous year. Moreover the remark hints that they were eager to play again, that the weather or other circumstances had delayed their “opening day,” if you will. The second entry also reflects on the place of the game in their lives. Any historian of the Revolution knows that average soldiers, and even some of the officers, despite their well-known heroism, grumbled about carrying out daily duties. In this case, however, the prospect of playing ball was so important that they hoofed it four miles, during a time when a good day’s march might have been fifteen miles, to locate a spot flat enough to get in the game. Clearly this game meant something more to Henry Dearborn and his assemblage.
Although most current Americans probably still believe in the “immaculate conception” theory of baseball’s origins, that one June day in 1839 in Elihu Phinney’s farm field in Cooperstown, Abner Doubleday drew up the rules, laid out the diamond, and taught the villagers his new game, Americans had been playing baseball and its variants long before then. In fact, bat and ball games are actually quite ancient and in spite of Albert Spalding’s fervid wishes, not even particularly American. In his 1947 book, Ball, Bat, and Bishop, Robert Henderson demolished the Cooperstown origins story by pointing to numerous examples of bat and ball-type games in medieval Europe and Great Britain before and during colonization of the Americas. Soon Denver historian Phil Goodstein will place another nail in the coffin with more evidence about the unreliability of the Mills Commission’s “star witness,” Abner Graves, whose unsavory connections in the West were many. Folklorist Erwin Mehl pushed the antiquity of baseball back even further than Henderson would. In a 1948 article, “Baseball in the Stone Age,” Mehl located evidence of ancient bat and ball games not only in western Europe, but also in North Africa, Asia Minor, India, Afghanistan, and northern Scandinavia. “The spectators at an American baseball game, cheering a Ty Cobb or a Babe Ruth, may have had counterparts in the Stone Age,” he surmised. The terminology for baseball may also be quite more ancient than expected. English vicar Robert Crowley, in his 1550s poem “The Scholar’s Lesson,” may have referred to baseball in his advice to pupils on the advantages of healthful recreation:
To shote, to bowle, or caste the barre,
To play tenise, or tosse the ball,
Or to rene base, like men of war,
Shal hurt thy study nought at al.
English professor Robert Moynihan has suggested other examples of the antic linguistic derivations of baseball terms dating to ancient, medieval, and Shakespearean times. Along with other fragmentary evidence such as a hieroglyphic scene of a bat and ball game in ancient Egypt, a 1344 French illustration of nuns and monks lined up for a ball game, a 1400s Flemish painting showing women playing a bat and ball game, eighteenth-century English diary writers’ references to the game, and mention of “baseball” in Jane Austen’s novel, Northanger Abbey, Henderson and Mehl’s writings make it clear that baseball existed long before and outside an American context. So, then, why not the probability of the existence of the game and its variants within the American context?
Problems of definition arise. As O. Paul Mockton pointed out in Pastimes in Time Past, “The very fact that so many early pastimes were all played with balls, causes great confusion, in attempting to investigate the history of these old games. Old historians were very loose in their descriptions of the way the different games were played in mediæval times.” Some of the “ball games” may have been actually soccer or a combination of foot-and-hand ball sports, but in the absence of firm proof, it is just as reasonable to assume that “ball play” among Euroamericans involved a stick and a ball. Indeed, in my research for an encyclopedia of pre-1820 North American primary source sports documents, I found that the sources made distinct references to football, cricket, bandy (a type of field hockey), and fives (a forerunner of modern handball) when they meant those sports. In a couple of instances they referred to “base,” “baste ball,” or “baseball,” leaving the possibility that the term “ball” or “to play ball” referred fairly regularly to baseball-type games.
Certainly Europeans, perhaps mostly the children, but probably even adult men and women, took a swing at a variety of pre-baseball folk games: stool ball, trap ball, catapult ball, which became one o’cat (and two o’cat, three o’cat, etc.), kit-cat, munchets, tip cat, round ball, sting ball, soak ball, burn ball, barn ball, rounders, town ball, and base, or baste, ball, and possibly others called whirl and chermany. Balls were easy to make out of rags and leather and wood and feathers, and bats were paddles or tree branches. Farm fields or the cozier confines of streets and alleys sufficed for the playing field. Bases were trees, chairs (hence “stool ball”), stones, and stakes. Rules were immensely flexible. For example, sources described trap ball as a “simple batting game,” in which a batter hit a ball resting on a stake, much like in modern T-ball, and fielders attempted to catch the ball in order to come to bat themselves, much as in the modern game of work-up. Yet other sources, namely children’s books in the 1810s, depicted trap ball as a much more elaborate game in which batters tried to outhit their opponents over a series of consecutive hits, guess the lengths of their opponent’s hits, or hit or pitch the ball into a special trap. The games then were mostly spontaneous. There were no long, grueling playing seasons nor extended tournaments. But the quality of spontaneity and irregularity did not signify whimsicality. The games held importance for the players and the community. These folk games fit into the interstices of work patterns, ceremonial days, and longer leisure stretches.
The first recorded instance of a baseball-type game in Anglo-America took place in 1621, in, of all places, Plymouth, Massachusetts, on, of all days, Christmas Day. Plymouth may have a spurious claim to being the starting place of “American” history, but it may have a solid claim on the start of baseball in the English colonies. The Separatists, as with many other English Reformation dissenters, did not celebrate Christmas, but rather saw it as just another day. Thus the governor, William Bradford, took a work crew out that morning. The non-Separatist English in the group begged off and Bradford relented, only to find them hard at play, playing stool ball among other sports. Bradford scolded them and recalled the episode in his journal:
One the day called Chrismasday, the Governor caled them out to worke, (as was used,) but the most of this new-company excused them selves and said it wente against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor tould them that if they made it a mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away the rest and left them; but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found them in the streete at play, openly; some pitching the barr, & some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports. So he went to them, and took away their implements, and tould them that if they made the keeping a mater of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in the streets. Since which time nothing has been atempted that way, at least openly.
Bradford and his successors may have had some success in curtailing ball games, but probably never totally suppressed them. The Dutch also played, according to Esther Singleton, in her book, Dutch New York, “all varieties of ball games” in New Netherlands. After the turn of the century, Boston magistrate Samuel Sewall reported games of “wicket” and made one tantalizing reference to trap ball in 1713: “The Rain-water grievously runs into my son Joseph’s Chamber from the N. Window above. As went out to the Barber’s I observ’d the water to run trickling down a great pace from the Coving. I went on the Roof, and found the Spout next Salter’s stop’d, but could not free it with my Stick. Boston went up, and found his pole too big, which I warn’d him of before; came down a Spit, and clear’d the Leaden-throat, by thrusting out a Trap-Ball that stuck there.” Caesar Rodeney, an East Dover, Delaware resident, mentioned playing trap ball, indeed quite well, twice in his journal for August, 1728. On August 24, he scribbled, “Hart and I & James Gordon went to a Trabbal [trap ball} Match In John Willsons old feild I out Plaid them all” and, a week later, he noted, “To Tim Harons: Where James Gordon & I Plaid at Trabbal against John Horon and Th Horon for an anker of Syder We woun We drunk our Syder.” Clearly the British were familiar with these games, as evidenced in Irish doctor John Brickell’s comment about a bat and ball game that indigenous people in North Carolina were playing about 1737: “They [indigenous peoples] have another Game which is managed with a Battoon, and very much resembles our Trap-Ball; . . . “ It is tempting to wonder if this was a pre-contact game or the tribal people adapted it from early European Carolinians. Farther north, in Scarborough, Maine, and in later decades, indigenous people played against Euroamericans, according to town historian William Southgate: “The game of ‘base’ was a peculiar favorite with our young townsmen, and the friendly Indians, and the hard beach of ‘Garrison Cove’ afforded a fine ground for it.”
About midcentury, however, the frequency of references to baseball and baseball-type games increased. Three groups in particular, children’s book writers, soldiers, and students, seem to have made the most major contributions to spreading the game. In his study of sport in colonial and Revolutionary era New England, Bruce Daniels contended that ball sports gained less acceptance than other sports such as horseracing, but that due to “soldiers in the militia, mischievous adolescents, and the students at Harvard and Yale,” the games “were on the verge of legitimacy.” Daniels did not refer specifically to baseball and its variants, but mentioned wicket, bowling, shinny, fives, and football. Baseball-type games were definitely in the mix. Future Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush played so much that it caused him to lament all the time spent: “I have been ashemed likewise, in recollecting how much time I wasted when a boy in playing cat and fives….”
Indeed it was a children’s book that gave Americans their first American visual expression of the games of stool ball, baseball, and trap ball. A 1767 revised edition of a 1744 book, A Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly, featured engravings of scenes of boys playing each of the three games and appended the following moral verses below them:
THE Ball once struck with Art and Care,
And drove impetuous through the Air,
Swift round his Course the Gamester flies,
Or his Stool’s taken by Surprise.
RULE of LIFE
Bestow your Alms whene’er you see
An Object in Necessity.
THE Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin’d Post,
And then Home with Joy.
Thus Britons for Lucre
Fly over the Main;
But, with Pleasure transported,
Return back again.
TOUCH lightly the Trap,
And strike low the Ball;
Let none catch you out,
And you’ll beat them all.
Learn hence, my dear Boy,
To avoid ev’ry Snare,
Contriv’d to involve you
In Sorrow and Care.
It is impossible to gauge just what effect a children’s book had on the growth of baseball-type games, but by 1771 the province of New Hampshire felt compelled to prohibit boys and adolescents playing ball in the streets on Christmas Day for fear of damage to windows. The law, as opposed to William Bradford’s 1621 remonstrances in Plymouth, did not outlaw the game, but rather asked the players to remove to a safer location. Ball playing had apparently become an accepted Christmastide recreation. The New Hampshire law read as follows:
An Act to prevent and punish Disorders usually committed on the twenty-fifth Day of December, commonly called Christmas- Day, the Evening preceding and following said Day, and to prevent other Irregularities committed at other Times. WHEREAS as it often happens that many disorders are occasioned within the town of Portsmouth, . . . by boys and fellows playing with balls in the public streets: . . . And any boys playing with balls in any streets, whereby there is danger of breaking the windows of any building, public or private, may be ordered to remove to any place where there shall be no such danger.
Yet it would be inaccurate to assume that only children, lazy adults, and indigenous people played baseball-type games. Revolutionary War troops were apparently enthusiasts for ball, even walking for miles to find a place level enough to play, as did Henry Dearborn and his compatriots. The Revolutionary War contained, as do most, long stretches of boredom and busywork, camp duty and drill for the troops. They sought out recreation to alleviate this tedium. As long as a game did not involve gambling, which George Washington prohibited and prosecuted, or trample on public safety, soldiers could resort to such exercises. Presumably, as their diaries and memoirs show, baseball was in that category. The level of formality to the games was probably low.
Certainly there were no organized teams nor leagues, but the embryonic pattern for such may have lain behind what soldiers saw played and played themselves at Valley Forge, in the Wyoming valley of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.
The notations were often simple, as in the case of Sharon, Connecticut soldier Simeon Lyman, who recorded his ball playing in New London on September 6, 1775 quite tersely: “Wednesday the 6. We played ball all day.” Even a quick entry, however, is revealing in its information that they played all day. Similarly, Joseph Joslin, Jr., a South Killingly, Connecticut teamster, observed ball playing, on April 21, 1778, while carrying out his duties for the army: “I took care of my oxen & then I went to Capt grinnels after oats and for a load of goods and then S W Some cloudy and I See them play ball . . . “ In like manner, Samuel Shute, a New Jersey lieutenant, jotted down his reference to playing ball in central Pennsylvania sometime between July 9 and 22, 1779: ” . . ., until the 22nd, the time was spent in playing Shinny and Ball.” Incidentally Shute distinguished among various sports, referring elsewhere in his journal to “Bandy Wicket.” He did not confuse baseball with types of field hockey and cricket that the soldiers also played.
Other soldiers made several references to playing. For example, Lieutenant Ebenezer Elmer, a New Jersey officer, chronicled ball playing in New York state, in September, 1776 and in New Jersey, in May, 1777. On September 18, 1776, he wrote: ” . . . The Regiment exercised ‘fore and afternoon, and in the afternoon the Colonel, Parsons, and a number of us played whirl . . . ” Two days later the troops played again and Elmer suffered a jaw injury: “At 9 o’clock, A. M., the Regiment was paraded, and grounded their arms to clear the parade; after which we had a game or two more at whirl; at which Dr. Dunham gave me a severe blow on my mouth which cut my lip, and came near to dislocating my under jaw. . . . ” “In the afternoon again had exercise, . . . Played ball again.” A week later Elmer returned to the theme in his September 28 entry: “We had after exercise a considerable ball play–Colonel, Parsons and all. Parade again at 2 o’clock, but soon dismissed.” Two days later, the ball play resulted in a rhubarb: “The day was so bad and so much labor going on, that we had no exercise, but some ball play–at which some dispute arose among the officers, but was quelled without rising high.” The next spring, Elmer was playing ball again. His diary citation for May 14, 1777 noted: “Played ball, &c., till some time in the afternoon, when I walked up to Mr. DeCamp’s, where I tarried all night.”
Benjamin Gilbert played ball with about the same frequency. Gilbert, a Brookfield, Massachusetts sergeant who ironically settled later near Cooperstown, recounted ball playing in the lower Hudson River valley in the Aprils of 1778 and 1779. On April 28, 1778, he entered in his journal: “In the fore noon the Serjt went Down the hill and plaid Ball.” Two days later, duty hindered his desire to play: “In the Morning I went Down the Hill to play Ball and was Called up immediately to Gather watch coats.” The next April, however, found him hard at play. On April 5, 1779, he wrote: “Our Regt Mustered at 3 oClock after noon. After Muster went to the store and plaid Ball with serjt. Wheeler.” And the next day: “In the after noon the serjt. of our Regt. Went to the Comsy. store to play Ball.” A week later, on the 14th, Gilbert wrote about ball again: “Fair and Clear. In the afternoon we went to the Comissary Store and Plaid Ball.” Three years later, on April 7, 1782, Gilbert noted once again: plaid at Ball severely.” Whatever “severely” meant is anyone’s guess; it may have been a misspelling for “severally.”
Indeed baseball is associated with the heights of patriotism in the war. In 1778, at Valley Forge, after that terrible winter of deprivation, George Ewing, a New Jersey ensign, recorded that the troops played baseball. In what might have been the first written use of the term “base” in North America, Ewing wrote that April: “Attested to my Muster Rolls and delivered them to the Muster Master excersisd in the afternoon in the intervals playd at base . . . “ Even the commander of the whole Continental Army apparently had a penchant for throwing the old horsehide around. Commenting on George Washington’s character while observing him at camp at Fishkill in September, 1779, the newly-arrived secretary to the French legation, François, Comte de Barbé-Marbois, wrote, “To-day he sometimes throws and catches a ball for whole hours with his aides-de-camp.”
The patriots, however, did not have a monopoly on baseball; even loyalists played. Enos Stevens, a Charlestown, New Hampshire loyalist lieutenant serving near New Utrecht on Long Island, mentioned baseball several times in his journal. On May 2, 1778 he penned: “at hom all day play ball sum.” On May 31: “Lords dy. I omit puting down every dy when their is nothing meteriel happens good weather for ball Play.” Apparently Stevens saw ball play, even when the Sabbath prevented it, as more important than “nothing meteriel.” On June 2: “fine plesent weather play ball.” On June 5th: “play ball” And on June 8: “play ball in afternoon.” The next May 3, he recorded “in the after noon [illegible words] play ball.” And in 1781, he returned to the game. On March 22, the entry read: “in the after noon played Wickett.” And a week later, Stevens wrote “playd ball.”
Some of the soldiers and officers observed ball playing while they were prisoners-of-war. Lieutenant Jabez Fitch, a Connecticut officer, witnessed ball playing during his imprisonment in the New York city area in March and April, 1777. On March 14, he wrote: “In the Morning Lt: Blackleach made us a short Visit; this forenoon I went with Capt: Bissell down to Capt: Wells’s Quarters where I procured some paper &c; on our way we lit of a number of our Offrs: who were Zealously Engaged at playing Ball, with whom we staid some time; We came home to our Quarters at about one.” The next day the scene was much the same: “This Forenoon Col. Hart & Majr: Wells came to our Quarters, & we went with them down Street as far as Johanes Lotts, where there was a large number of our Offrs: collected, & spent some Time at playing Ball.” About a month later, on April 12th, Fitch again saw the officers at play: “Toward Night I took a walk with Lt: Brewster down as far as Capt: Johnsons Quarters, where there was a number of our Offrs: Assembled for playing Ball; I came home a little after Sunset.” Some Americans watched or played the game while imprisoned in England. Charles Herbert, a Newburyport, Massachusetts sailor, thus referred to ball playing as a prisoner-of-war in Plymouth, England on April 2, 1777: “Warm, and something pleasant, and the yard begins to be dry again, so that we can return to our former sports; these are ball and quoits, which exercise we make use of to circulate our blood and keep us from things that are worse.” Jonathan Haskins, a Connecticut surgeon who was also in an English prison, witnessed one of the odder occurrences of a baseball-type game. On May 23, 1778, a game of ball took an odd and potentially deadly twist. Haskins wrote in his journal for that day: “23rd. This forenoon as some of the prisoners was playing ball, it by chance happened to lodge in the eave spout. One climbed up to take the ball out, and a sentry without the wall seeing him, fired at him, but did no harm.” Note that it was the prisoners, that is, the Americans who were playing the ball game, not their colonial overlords.
Perhaps the most intriguing evidence about soldiers playing during the Revolution came from the memoirs of Samuel Dewees, a Pennsylvania captain, who in 1781 and 1782 was a teenager guarding the British prisoners-of-war at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Dewees recalled that the Convention Army officers had a passion for ball playing:
These officers were full of cash, and frolicked and gamed much. One amusement in which they indulged much, was playing at ball. A Ball-Alley was fitted up at the Court-House, where some of them were to be seen at almost all hours of the day. When I could beg or buy a couple of old stockings, or two or three old stocking-feet, I would set to work and make a ball. After winding the yarn into a ball, I went to a skin-dressers and got a piece of white leather, with which I covered it. When finished, I carried it to the British officers, who would ‘jump at it’ at a quarter of a dollar. Whilst they remained at Lancaster, I made many balls in this way, and sold them to the British officers, and always received a quarter a-piece.
Dewees’s passage is remarkable for a number of reasons. It suggested that ball playing was quite common and an activity that players could invest with a passionate intensity. Second, skill in making balls was also apparently commonplace, as a fifteen-year-old boy easily knew how to fashion them. And it is astonishing to find out that players were playing with white leather balls as early as 1781 or 1782! Dewees also recorded a brouhaha among the officers during a ball game: “Whilst the game of ball was coming off one day at the Court House, an American officer and a British officer, who were among the spectators, became embroiled in a dispute.”
Part Two, tomorrow.
1. Lloyd A. Brown and Howard H. Peckham, eds., Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn 1775-1783, (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1969 ), 149-150.
2. Baseball historians have generally neglected or glossed over the pre-1845 period of baseball history, giving great emphasis to the developments of the New York Knickerbockers. Dean A. Sullivan, in Early Innings, did provide a few examples of pre-1845 baseball activities, but even that barely suggests the older lineage and frequency of baseball and baseball-type games. See Sullivan, comp. and ed., Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995). For a fuller sampling of documentary evidence, see Thomas L. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America: A Documentary History, Volume I, Parts I and II, Early American Sports to 1820 (Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press, 1997). The research for that encyclopedia provided the impetus for this article, with the sincere hopes that other baseball historians and scholars will locate additional pre-1839 evidence of baseball and baseball-type games.
3. Tom Heitz, conversations with the author, June and August, 1996.
4. Robert W. Henderson, Ball, Bat, and Bishop (New York: Rockport Press, 1947).
5. Goodstein, a Denver historian who is not particularly a baseball scholar, has uncovered evidence of Graves’ involvement in financial misdealings and shooting a spouse, as well as committals for mental illness, in years prior to his testimony for the Mills Commission. The Mills Commission also ignored testimony that baseball existed before 1839, especially a letter from a man who had played the game in Portsmouth, New Hampshire as a school child in 1830. See also “Origins of Baseball” in Jonathan Fraser Light, ed., The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1997), 530; Harold Seymour, “How Baseball Began,” New York Historical Society Quarterly, v. 40, n. 1 (October 1956), 369-385; and Uriel Simri’s little-known dissertation, “The Religious and Magical Function of Ball Games in Various Cultures,” West Virginia University, 1966.
6. Erwin Mehl, “Baseball in the Stone Age,” Western Folklore, v. 7, n. 2 (April 1948), 145-161 (quotation is from page 161), and Mehl, “Notes on ‘Baseball in the Stone Age’,” Western Folklore, v. 8, n. 2 (April 1949), 152-156.
7. Robert Crowley, “The Scholars Lesson,” in J. M. Cowper, ed., The Select Works of Robert Crowley (London: N. Trubner and Company, 1872), 73.
8. Robert Moynihan, “Shakespeare at Bat, Euclid on the Field,” in Alvin L. Hall, ed., Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and the American Culture (1989) (Westport, Connecticut: Meckler Publishing Company, 1991), 319-323.
9. See Mark Alvarez, The Old Ball Game (Alexandria, Virginia: Redefiniton, 1992), 10-12. See also “Origins of Baseball,” in Light, ed., The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, 528-531.
10. O. Paul Monckton, Pastimes in Times Past (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1913), 52.
11. Altherr, ed., Sports in North America.
12. Ron MCulloch, How Baseball Began (Los Angeles: Warwick Publishing Company, 1995), 4 and 6; and Per Maigaard, “Battingball Games,” Genus, v. 5, n 1-2 (December 1941), 67. An 1866 book on outdoor games also refers to a game called “ball-stock,” which is German in origin and resembles town ball. There is no way of ascertaining, however, from the book, if the game existed before 1839. The Play Ground; or, Out-Door Games for Boys (New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1866), 112-113.
13. McCulloch, How Baseball Began, 3. Ann McGovern, in a book targeted for adolescents, If You Lived in Colonial Times (New York: Scholastic Incorporated, 1992 ), stated on page 52, without documentation, “Most of all, boys liked to play ball. They played with a leather ball filled with feathers.”
14. Mehl, “Baseball in the Stone Age,” 147.
15. For an excellent discussion of the place and role of folk games and sports in pre-colonial and colonial English culture, see Nancy Struna, People of Prowess: Sport, Leisure, and Labor in Early Anglo-America (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1996), passim, but especially chapter 1.
16. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Harvey Wish, ed. (New York: Capricorn Books, 1962), 82-83.
17. Esther Singleton, Dutch New York (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1909), 290.
18. M. Halsey Thomas, ed., The Diary of Samuel Sewall 1674-1729, Volume II: 1709-1729 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973), 718.
19. Harold B. Hancock, ed., “‘Fare Weather and Good Helth’: The Journal of Caesar Rodeney, 1727-1729,” Delaware History, v. 10. n. 1 (April 1962), 64.
20. John Brickell, The Natural History of North-Carolina (Dublin: James Carson, 1737), 336.
21. William S. Southgate, “The History of Scarborough, from 1633 to 1783,” Collections of the Maine Historical Society, v. 3 (Portland, Maine: Maine Historical Society, 1853), 148-149.
22. Bruce C. Daniels, Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 174.
23. Benjamin Rush to Benjamin Rush Floyd, April 21, 1812, in Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., “Further Letters of Benjamin Rush,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, v. 78, n. 1 (January 1954), 43.
24. A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Amusement and Instruction of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly (London: J. Newbery, 1767), 88, 90, and 91.
25. “An Act to prevent and punish Disorders usually committed on the twenty-fifth Day of December,….,” 23 December 1771, New Hampshire (Colony) Temporary Laws, 1773 (Portsmouth, New Hampshire, [1773-1774]), 53.
26. [Simeon Lyman], “Journal of Simeon Lyman of Sharon Aug. 10 to Dec. 28, 1775,” in “Orderly Book and Journals Kept by Connecticut Men While Taking Part in the American Revolution 1775-1778,” Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, v. 7 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1899), 117.
27. [Joseph Joslin, Jr.], “Journal of Joseph Joslin Jr. of South Killingly A Teamster in the Continental Service March 1777–August 1778,” in “Orderly Book and Journals Kept by Connecticut Men While Taking part in the American Revolution 1775-1778,” Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, v. 7 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1899), 353-354.
28. [Samuel Shute], “Journal of Lt. Samuel Shute,” in Frederick Cook, ed., Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, reprint of 1885 ed.), 268.
29. [Ebenezer Elmer], “Journal of Lieutenant Ebenezer Elmer, of the Third Regiment of New Jersey Troops in the Continental Service,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, v. 1, n. 1 (1848), 26, 27, 30, and 31, and v. 3, n. 2 (1848), 98.
30. Rebecca D. Symmes, ed., A Citizen-Soldier in the American Revolution: The Diary of Benjamin Gilbert in Massachusetts and New York, (Cooperstown, New York: New York State Historical Association, 1980), 30 and 49; and “Benjamin Gilbert Diaries 1782-1786,” G372, New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, New York.
31. [George Ewing], The Military Journal of George Ewing (1754-1824) a Soldier of Valley Forge (Yonkers, New York: Thomas Ewing, 1928), 35.
32. Eugene Parker Chase, ed., Our Revolutionary Forefathers: The Letters of François, Marquis de Barbé-Marbois during His Residence in the United States as Secretary of the French Legation 1779-1785 (New York: Duffield and Company, 1929), 114.
33. Charles Knowlton Bolton, ed., “A Fragment of the Diary of Lieutenant Enos Stevens, Tory, 1777-1778,” New England Quarterly, v. 11, n. 2 (June 1938), 384-385, but the original, more accurate journal, from which the above notations come, is at the Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier, Vermont.
34. William H. W. Sabine, ed., The New-York Diary of Lieutenant Jabez Fitch of the 17th (Connecticut) Regiment from August 22, 1776 to December 15,1777 (New York: pvt. ptg., 1954), 126, 127, and 162.
35. [Charles Herbert], A Relic of the Revolution, Containing a Full and Particular Account of the Sufferings and Privations of All the American Prisoners Captured on the High Seas, and Carried into Plymouth, England, During the Revolution of 1776 (Boston: Charles H. Peirce, 1847), 109.
36. Marion S. Coan, ed., “A Revolutionary Prison Diary[:] The Journal of Dr. Jonathan Haskins,” New England Quarterly, v. 17, n. 2 (June 1944), 308.
37. John Smith Hanna, ed., A History of the Life and Services of Captain Samuel Dewees, A Native of Pennsylvania, and Soldier of the Revolutionary and Last Wars, (Baltimore: Robert Neilson, 1844), 265 and 266.
I wrote this article last winter, following the 2012 season, so the national-origin counts published at that time have been updated to reflect the current demography.
Except among old fogies, it is commonplace wisdom that baseball and its players improve with each generation.
Drawing from ever wider pools of talent, our game has seen an advance in the average level of skill that is undeniable, even if it may be hard to pinpoint without the use of advanced statistics. Here is not the place for that, so consider this old-timer’s contention that fielding plays were visible every day last year that were not made at any time in the 1950s. Today’s game is better because its players are better, and much of the reason for that will be found in the Dominican Republic.
The numbers are simply astonishing, telling a story all by themselves. Since 1956, when Ossie Virgil broke in with the New York Giants, 563 Dominicans have played Major League Baseball; of these, 128 played last year (California, with a population four times as large, supplied not twice the players).
Roughly a quarter of the 7,000 Minor League players in the U.S. are Dominican, too–so this trend shows no sign of slowing.
In only 57 years, this half-island nation–sharing the former Hispaniola with Haiti, which has yet to send one player to the big leagues–has delivered more of its young men to MLB than any other nation or territory ever has. Venezuela is a distant second, with 286, followed by Canada (239), Puerto Rico (234), Cuba (173), and Mexico (114). Only seven states in the union can top, in the years since 1876, the DR’s success since 1956.
Baseball is everywhere in the DR now, as it was in the U.S. in 1956, when Virgil cracked the Giants’ roster. Other sports are played, but baseball is the national pastime and passion. “It’s more than a game,” Dominican Winter League general manager Winston Llenas once remarked. “It’s a national fever. It’s almost our way of life.”
There are six clubs in the Dominican Winter League: Tigres del Licey and Leones de Escogido, both in Santo Domingo; Estrellas Orientales in San Pedro de Macorís; Aguilas del Cibao in Santiago; Gigantes del Cibao in San Francisco de Macorís; and Azucareros del Este in La Romana. Each represents not merely a different constituency, but also a different culture.
The most intense rivalry is Licey-Aguilas. Licey, the winningest franchise, is also the nation’s oldest, dating to 1907. Aguilas was established in 1936. Their competition for respect and bragging rights makes the old wars between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants seem as polite as cricket matches.
Cubans, who had been the first in the region to play the game, back in the 1860s, brought it to the Dominican Republic in the 1890s as they did to other parts of Latin America. An American occupation in 1916-24 spurred interest in the game, as Licey became so dominant that an All-Star rival had to be crafted from the other clubs (Leones de Escogido, or “the chosen Lions”). The fervent baseball interest and boundless ego of dictator Rafael Trujillo culminated in 1937 with the recruitment of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell to his Ciudad Trujillo club, making it for a brief moment perhaps the best baseball club anywhere. Unfortunately, the aftermath of their hasty retreat to home ground was a 14-year gap in Dominican professional baseball, leaving native-born baseball stars such as Tetelo Vargas and Horacio Martinez to find their employment elsewhere.
The banana region along the northwest border with Haiti had produced the first contingent of Dominican professionals. There the Grenada Company, a United Fruit subsidiary, began two teams for its workers and their sons in the 1940s. Pitcher Juan Marichal, the nation’s only Hall of Famer to date–there will be more–took this route to the big leagues in 1960, as did the ageless wonder, 41-year-old rookie Dimodes Olivo.
In the southeast, during the six-month tiempo muerto, or dead season, when nothing could be done about the sugarcane and workers found themselves with time on their hands, ball play entered the picture — at first cricket and then baseball. In the milltowns of the San Pedro de Macorís municipality, the descendants of the original cricket-playing migrants from the British West Indies demonstrated a special aptitude for playing baseball.
San Pedro, despite its small size, became the world’s great baseball incubator, having to date sent 86 of its sons to MLB. The capital city of Santo Domingo, ten times the size of San Pedro, has provided only 44 more. Amado Samuel and Manny Jiminez were the first from San Pedro to hit the Majors, both in 1962.
After the Cuban Revolution of 1959 the International League moved the Havana Sugar Kings club to Jersey City. Baseball in Cuba was left to continue independently and, even though it went on to dominate international competition, stopped producing new Major Leaguers. The DR was poised to fill the void. After sending only Ossie Virgil and Felipe Alou to MLB in the 1950s, it has sent more with each succeeding decade.
Today every Major League club maintains a full-time base of operations in the DR, including a 32-team Dominican Summer League (DSL) with 35 players on each roster, as well as an infrastructure of baseball academies. These instruments of progress and promise — the social, educational, and financial elevators from poverty — embrace the hopes and dreams of countless young men in the DR, even if, as they know, only a handful will step onto a Major League field.
In 1964, Felipe Alou had called for a “Latin-American Ballplayers’ Bill of Rights.” Like Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente, he understood the unique problems faced by Latin ballplayers in the United States: the language barrier, xenophobia, racism, the fear of “not making it” and being returned to poverty at home. Both the U.S. and the DR have come a long way since then, and Dominican players today are heroes to fans of both countries, regardless of national or ethnic origin.
Progress comes with problems. As a promised land of fame and fortune, MLB has enriched the Dominican Republic, but it has not entirely supplanted the Dominican Winter League, still a dreamed destination for native sons and a proving ground for young North American players.
But to think only of MLB influence on the DR is to miss the exciting reciprocal: the Dominican influence on MLB. Since 1956 there has been a steady stream of first-rank players, so many that by naming some, one must unfairly neglect others: Felipe Alou; Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Jose Rijo, Vladimir Guerrero, Tony Fernandez, Julio Franco, Cesar Cedeno, Rico Carty, Adrian Beltre, Joaquin Andujar, David Ortiz … we could go on. Just for the fun of argument, we’ll offer up an all-time Dominican team.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ALL-TIME TEAM
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Robinson Cano
SS: Tony Fernandez
3B: Adrian Beltre
OF: Sammy Sosa
OF: Manny Ramirez
OF: Vladimir Guerrero
C: Tony Pena
DH: David Ortiz
UT: Julio Franco
P: Juan Marichal
P: Pedro Martinez
P: Bartolo Colon
RP: Armando Benitez
MGR: Felipe Alou
The Dominican influence on MLB extends beyond the quality of its players to an invigorating style of play–a new infusion of speed and power and grace and joy–that has changed the face of the game as well as the way it is played. This new alloy of cultures points the way to baseball becoming truly the international pastime–the game that defines national heritage and aspirations around the globe, even when local cultures seem radically different.
When it comes time to consider the greatest catchers of all time, few today summon up the name of Charles Leo “Gabby” Hartnett, though he played 20 years in the big leagues and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. There were great catchers before him–Buck Ewing, King Kelly, Roger Bresnahan–and he was roughly contemporary with Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane. Yet when he retired, Gabby was the first catcher to have reached the 200-homer and 1,000-RBI marks. Hartnett was also behind the plate for the NL in the first All-Star Game in 1933, and for the next four All-Star teams as well. He was a formidable defensive catcher, too, with a feared throwing arm. In eight of the ten years between 1926 and 1935 he led the league in caught-stealing percentage. Even today, only Campy has a higher slugging percentage than Hartnett among Hall of Fame catchers.
During the 1938 season Cubs management ousted “Jolly Cholly” Grimm as the team’s manager when they were in third place. The 37-year-old Hartnett was given the job. Under the new manager, the Cubs went on a tear to challenge the league-leading Pirates. The Cub pitching staff was wearing thin by September 18, with the Pirates holding onto a 3½-game lead. But a hurricane struck the East Coast, and three Chicago games were rained out.
The rested hurlers were able to narrow the gap to 1½ games by September 27, when the Pirates came to Chicago for a three 3-game set. Stuck for a starter, Hartnett pulled one out of his hat. The sore-armed DizzyDean, who had been used fewer than a dozen times since being obtained from the Cards in April, started and held the Bucs in check for a vital 2-1 Cubs win. The next day would provide Hartnett’s biggest thrill in baseball, as he told Hal Totten in 1939.
Do you know how you feel when you’re real scared, or when something big is going to happen? Well, that’s the way I felt for one terrific minute of my biggest day in baseball–and I don’t believe you’ll have to guess very much as to just which day that was.
It was in 1938, September 28, the day of “the home run in the dark.” But as a matter of fact, that day–that one big moment–was the climax of a series of things that had gone on for a week or more. And every one of those incidents helped to make it the biggest day in all my years in the major leagues.
The week before–on Sunday–we had played a doubleheader in Brooklyn. We lost the first game 4-3, and we were leading the second game by two runs along about the fifth inning. It was muddy and raining and was getting dark fast. Then big Fred Sington came up with a man on base and hit a home run to tie the score.
It was too dark to play anymore, so they called the game and it ended in a tie. Now every game meant a lot to us just then. We were three and a half games behind. Winning was the only way we could hope to catch the Pirates. We were scheduled to play in Philadelphia the next day, so we couldn’t complete the game then.
But Larry MacPhail wanted to play it. We had an open date for travel at the end of the series in Philly, and he wanted us to go back to Brooklyn and play off the tie. The boys wanted to play it, too. They figured we could win it and gain on the Pirates.
Well, I couldn’t make up my mind right away, so I asked MacPhail to give me twenty-four hours to decide. He said he would. But I’d been figuring–you see, we had to win all three games in the series with Pittsburgh if we were to win the pennant. And I had to think of my pitchers. I had to argue with the whole ballclub–they wanted to play.
But I stuck my neck out and turned it down. I’ll admit that I didn’t feel any too easy about it. But I had to make the decision. And I felt that we might lose that game just as easy as we could win it. So I took that chance.
Well, we sat for three days in Philly and watched it rain. Of course, Pittsburgh wasn’t able to play in Brooklyn, either, and they were three and a half games in front of us. On Thursday we played the Phils twice and beat ’em both times, 4-0 and 2-1. Big Bill Lee won his twentieth game of the season in that first one–and his fourth straight shutout. Clay Bryant was the pitcher in the second. But Pittsburgh beat Brooklyn twice, so we were still three and a half back.
The next day we won two again–and we had to come from behind to do it. Rip Collins put the second one on ice by doubling in the ninth with the bases full to drive in three runs just as they posted the score showing that Cincinnati had beaten the Pirates. That put us within two games of the leaders. We were really rollin’.
Then we came home and on Saturday we played the Cardinals–and beat ’em 9-3. But the Pirates won, too. On Sunday it was the same thing–we both won. Monday Pittsburgh wasn’t scheduled, so the Pirates were in the stands at Wrigley Field as we played the finale of the series with St. Louis. Bill Lee was scored on for the first time in five games, but he won 6-3. Then came the big series–with the lead cut to a game and a half.
I stuck my neck out in the very first game of the series. Several times, in fact. I started Dizzy Dean on the mound. He hadn’t pitched since September 13 and hadn’t started a game since August 13. But how he pitched! Just a slow ball, control, and a world of heart.
We got him out in front in the third when Collins tripled and Billy Jurges drove him in with a single. For five innings Dean was great. Then he seemed to tire. Lloyd Waner grounded out in that inning, and Paul Waner fouled out. Johnny Rizzo singled, but Arky Vaughan popped to Billy Herman. Still, I noticed that Diz didn’t have as much on the ball.
Probably I was the only one to notice it–except maybe Diz himself. I began to worry a bit, and I made up my mind right then and there that no matter how anything else was going, the minute Dean got in trouble, I was going to get him out of there. We got another run the last half of that inning. And Diz got through the seventh and eighth, although it took a great play by Dean himself to cut down a run at the plate in the eighth.
When the ninth came around I decided to play safe and started Lee warming up in the bullpen. Bill wasn’t usually a good relief pitcher, but he was the best pitcher in the league, and that was a spot for the best we had.
Dean hit Vaughan to start the ninth and I was plenty uneasy. But Gus Suhr popped out, and Woody Jensen batted for Young and forced Arky at second. Then came little “Jeep” Handley, and he hit one clear to the wall in left-center for a double. That put the tying runs on second and third, and that was my cue.
Al Todd was up. He always hit Dean pretty good, even when Diz had his stuff–and Diz didn’t have a thing then. Not only that, but Todd didn’t hit Lee very well. So even though Lee hadn’t been a steady relief pitcher, I called him in. My neck was out again. What if Todd hit one? What if Lee had trouble getting started–after all, he’d been working day after day. But when it gets to the place where it means a ballgame, you’ve got to make a change,even if the hitter socks one into the bleachers.
I’ll say this for Dean–he never complained about that. He walked right in the dugout and said I’d done the right thing–that he’d lost his stuff and his arm didn’t feel so good. So Lee came in. The first pitch was a strike. Todd fouled the next one off. Then Lee cut loose with as wild a pitch as I ever saw and Jensen scored. Handley went to third with the tying run. My hunch didn’t look so good. But Lee wound up again; he pitched; and Todd swung and struck out. We’d won the game and were only a half game out of first place.
That brings us up to the big day. We scored in the second inning on a couple of errors. But Pittsburgh went ahead with three in the sixth. We tied it up in our half. But the Pirates got two in the eighth and led, 5-3. In our half Collins opened with a single and Jurges walked.
Tony Lazzeri batted for Lee, who had gone in again that day, and doubled, scoring Rip. They walked Stan Hack. Then Herman drove in Jurges to tie it up again, but Joe Marty–who had run for Tony–was thrown out at the plate by Paul Waner. A double play ended that round.
It was very dark by then. But the umpires decided to let us go one more. Charlie Root got through the first half of the ninth all right. In our half Phil Cavarretta hit one a country mile to center, but Lloyd Waner pulled it down. Carl Reynolds grounded out. And it was my turn.
Well, I swung once–and missed; I swung again and got a piece of it, but that was all. A foul and strike two. I had one more chance. Mace Brown wound up and let fly; I swung with everything I had, and then I got that feeling I was talking about–the kind of feeling you get when the blood rushes out of your head and you get dizzy.
A lot of people have told me they didn’t know the ball was in the bleachers. Well, I did–maybe I was the only one in the park who did. I knew it the minute I hit it. When I got to second base I couldn’t see third for the players and fans there. I don’t think I walked a step to the plate–I was carried in. But when I got there, I saw umpire George Barr taking a good look–he was going to make sure I touched that platter.
Clark Griffith broke into baseball in 1887 with Bloomington, Illinois, of the Central-Interstate League. In the following year, at age 18, he joined Milwaukee of the Western Association. Griffith began his big-league career with the St Louis Browns and Boston Reds in 1891, the final year of the American Association.He spent the better part of the next two seasons out west, landing finally with Pop Anson’s Chicago Nationals near the end of the 1893 campaign. There he won twenty or more games six successive times. Griffith’s arsenal of pitches featured a sneaky and effective quick pitch and six different deliveries in which he mixed in spitters and outshoots. The Old Fox also took credit for the scuffball, proudly hacking the ball with his spikes.
In 1901 he helped to organize the American League as a major circuit, managing Charles Comiskey’s White Sox while continuing to toe the slab, as they said back in the day. He later managed the new York entry of 1903, today known as the Yankees, and the Cincinnati Reds of the National League. Griffith returned to the AL in 1912 as manager of the Washington Senators. He led the club to second-place finishes in 1912 and 1913 while purchasing 10 percent of the team’s stock for $27,000.
When Griffith’s managerial tenure ended in 1920, he bought out Washington’s old ownership. He and Philadelphia grain exporter William Richardson purchased 80 percent of the bedraggled team–in Charles Dryden’s immortal phrase, “first in war, first in peace, and last in the Ameican League”– for $290,000. Three times during Griffith’s long tenure as owner, the Senators went to the World Series. Once they won it, and that occasion is the subject of this reminiscence by the “Old Fox,” as told to Shirley Povich in 1944.
The day, bless it, was October 10, 1924. Of all the 10,000 afternoons I have spent in a ballpark during sixty-seven years as a player, manager, and club owner, that afternoon is my pet.
Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States, and incidentally, he was setting a new record for White House attendance at a World Series. Only a mild baseball fan up to that point, Mr. Coolidge was in a Griffith Stadium box seat for the third time during the Series. He was caught up in the excitement that swept on the heels of Bucky Harris’s pennant victory with my Senators, the first pennant ever won by Washington.
It was the day the Senators were battling John McGraw’s Giants in the seventh game of the World Series. Bucky Harris, a great manager, had pulled the sixth game out of the fire by singling in the tying and winning runs.
The baseball writers had called it “Griffith’s Folly” when I named the 27-year-old Harris manager of my club before the start of the 1924 season. He had only been a minor league manager for two years and he was rated as only an ordinary second baseman. But I liked his fight. He had showed ’em a lot of fire. I liked Harris from the day I first saw him at Buffalo, where I scouted him personally. He knew I was in the stands watching him and he made eight hits in a doubleheader that afternoon, although he wasn’t supposed to be much of a hitter. But he was aching to get a chance in the big leagues.
I knew Bucky could take care of himself in the Series, even when he had to match wits with John McGraw. I liked his cockiness. He told me he thought he knew as much baseball “as that old buzzard McGraw,” even if it was his first year as a manager. Bucky didn’t ask his team to go out and win for him. He showed ’em how.
Here’s the kind of a competitor Harris was: He had hit only one home run all season, because he wasn’t a home run hitter. Yet in the World Series he clouted two homers that won ballgames for us. He had hit only .268 in the summer and batted in only 58 runs in 544 times at bat, yet in 33 times at bat in the Series he hit .333 and drove in 7 runs.
Despite the fact that we had tied up the Series with the Giants in that sixth game, there was sadness in Washington because Walter Johnson, finally getting his chance in a World Series, had been beaten in two starts.
The afternoon before the final game, Johnson came to my office to pick up some seventh-game tickets. He was depressed. I tried to cheer him up by telling him we were counting on him to pull us through in the seventh game if we needed a relief pitcher. I made him promise to go home to his farm and rest overnight, to get away from the handshaking he always had to do when he stayed downtown. Walter said he would swap his World Series share for one more crack at the Giants.
Incidentally I never knew until after the Series that it had cost Walter Johnson $500 to get into the park for the Series game. Before the Series “friends” from all over the country had asked Johnson to buy Series tickets for them. He bought about $2,000 worth to accommodate them. A lot of those persons didn’t show up to claim the tickets Walter bought. When he went out to the mound to pitch the opening game, he had $500 worth of tickets to the games in his locker. He was so kindhearted, he had kept them right up to game time and was stuck with ’em despite the fact they would have brought him five times what he had paid.
Well, to get up to the seventh game with the Giants, Bucky Harris had come to my house the night before with the plan that made baseball history.
“Tell me, if you think I’m crazy,” Bucky said, “but I’ve got an idea of how we can get a big edge on the Giants tomorrow.” And then he explained his idea. “That Bill Terry is murdering us,” said Bucky, “and McGraw is sure-pop to have him in there at first base if we start a right-hander. Terry loves righthanded pitching. He’s got 6 hits in 12 times at bat so far against our righthanders. Against lefthanded pitching McGraw will play George Kelly at first base.
“Here’s my idea,” recited Harris. “George Mogridge is the fellow who figures to beat the Giants tomorrow, but if we start him and have to shift to a righthander, McGraw will switch on us and bench Kelly and put Terry in there. I’m going to start Curly Ogden, a righthander, and that will get Terry in their line-up, and then I’m going to lift Ogden after he pitches to one batter and put in Mogridge. McGraw won’t leave Terry in there against Mogridge, and we ought to be rid of him for the day.”
That strategy sounded logical enough to me, even if it was a bit radical at first glance. I told Bucky I liked the idea. If he had nerve enough to try it, I was going along with him.
The trick worked. McGraw did let Terry stay in there and take two turns at bat against the lefthanded Mogridge, but in the sixth inning, after he failed to get a hit, McGraw put in Bob Meusel to pinch hit for Terry, despite the fact that Terry at the time was the leading hitter of the series with a .429 average. That got Terry out of the way, and Kelly was at first base for the rest of the game.
For three innings it was 0-0, and then Bucky Harris homered. The 31,667 fans went hysterical, but in the sixth the Giants got three runs off Mogridge and Fred Marberry. Going into the eighth, we were still behind 3 to 1. Jess Barnes, the Giants’ big right-hander, was doing a job on us, holding us to four hits, and the two runs we needed looked impossible.
I left my box seat to be ready to escort President Coolidge from the park and had just reached the steps near the Washington dugout when things began to happen. With one gone, Nemo Leibold, pinch-hitting for Tommy Taylor, doubled. I watched the rest of the inning from the steps, too superstitious to move. Muddy Ruel, who up to that point in the Series hadn’t made a hit, singled down his pet third-base alley to put the tying run on base, Leibold holding up at third. Bennie Tate, hitting for Marberry, walked. Earl McNeely flied out and Harris was next up.
If any World Series ever belonged to one man, this one belonged to Harris. He banged Barnes’s first pitch for a clean single to left and tied up the ballgame at 3-3. Those fans wanted to tear my stadium down.
The ovation for Harris, though, was nothing compared to what happened a few minutes later after the Giants finally got us out. As the Giants went to bat in the ninth, the park was in a fearful uproar because Walter Johnson was walking to the mound. Utter strangers were hugging each other in the stands because Walter was getting one more chance in the Series. It was his ballgame now, with the score tied at 3-3 going into the ninth.
I never saw such a grim face as Johnson’s when Harris gave him the ball and patted him on the back. Walter couldn’t talk. I actually saw him gritting his teeth. He grabbed that ball so hard the white showed through his knuckles. I was still watching the game from the dugout steps, still too superstitious to move. For four innings I stood there as Johnson, always in trouble, pulled out by fanning Giants in the clutch–he struck out five in four innings. Up to the twelfth we couldn’t score either. What happened then is the high spot of all my years in baseball.
Muddy Ruel, batting .050 with 1 hit in 20 times at bat, popped a high foul in back of the plate. As Hank Gowdy, the Giants catcher, reached for it, he stepped on his mask and went down in a heap, dropping the ball. Muddy expressed his gratitude by immediately doubling to left.
Bucky let Johnson hit for himself, and Travis Jackson fumbled Walter’s grounder, putting Johnson on first. But Ruel was held at second. Then along came Earl McNeely, for whom I had paid Sacramento $50,000 earlier in the season. McNeely then contributed the famous “pebble hit.” I can still see third baseman Freddie Lindstrom poised to take McNeely’s grounder on a nice big hop for the second out. And I can still see the
panic on Lindstrom’s face when the ball took a devilish hop high over his head for a freak single.
That was the hit that won the World Series, with Muddy Ruel scoring from second after what seemed an eternity of running the 180 feet from second base to the plate. Muddy was no speed demon.
“I’ll always think of the 1912 season as one of the greatest in major league history,” Tris Speaker said some seventy years ago. And he is still right. We just celebrated the centennial of perhaps the greatest World Series ever, and who better to tell you about it than the man at the center of its climactic moment. Elected to Hall of Fame in 1937, the Grey Eagle compiled a batting average of .345 for 2,789 games. Not a home-run hitter (in the deadball era hardly anyone was), Speaker nonetheless led the American League in 1912 by walloping 10. And he was a power hitter by any standard: his 792 doubles are first all-time, and his 222 triples place him sixth.
Spoke, as he was nicknamed, was the first whose glove was termed, “The place where triples go to die.” Among outfielders he ranks first in lifetime outfield assists, second in putouts. He took part in 139 double plays, a record–and six of these were unassisted ( no one else has had even three). In 1909 and 1912 he set the American League record with 35 assists in a season. Even in his later years, when the lively ball came in, he still played a shallow center field. Joe Sewell, who patrolled shortstop for Speaker’s Cleveland Indians starting in 1920, said, “I played seven years with him right behind me in shallow center field. You know how an infielder gets down for the pitch? Well, you’d get down and the ball would be hit—a shot. You’d turn, and in all that time I never did see him turn. He’d be turned and gone with his back to the plate, the ball, the infield, and when he’d turn around again, there would be the ball.”
Here is Tris Speaker’s recollection of his greatest day in baseball, as told to Francis J. Powers in 1944.
I’ll always think of the 1912 season as one of the greatest in major league history. That’s natural for it was in 1912 that I first played with a pennant winner and world’s championship team, and there are no greater thrills for a young player. Our Boston Red Sox, managed by Jake Stahl, a former University of Illinois star, won the American League pennant while the New York Giants were the winners on the National League side.
There were a couple of great teams. The Red Sox won 105 games that season for a league record that stood until the Yankees won 110 in 1926. And the Giants came home with 103 victories and no other National League winner since touched that total until the Cardinals won 106 in 1942. Joe Wood won 34 games for us, almost one-third of our total, and 10 of them were shutouts.
Many a time I have heard “Smoke” say in our clubhouse meetings, “get me two runs today and we’ll win this one.” Woody won 16 in a row and beat Walter Johnson after the Big Train had won a similar string and no one has beaten those marks [in the American League] although they have been tied. We had Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper in the outfield and there never were any better, Larry Gardner at third, Heinie Wagner at short and Buck O’Brien and Hugh Bedient on the pitching staff, just to mention some of our stars.
While Wood (and Johnson) made pitching history in the American League that summer Rube Marquard was writing an unequaled chapter in the National. The gangling, wry-necked left-hander won 19 straight and no one has come along to wipe out that performance. Those Giants were a hard hitting, fast running team with the likes of Josh Devore, Red Murray, Buck Herzog, Chief Meyers and Fred Merkle and had great pitchers in Christy Mathewson, Marquard, Jeff Tesreau and Red Ames.
In the opening game of the World Series Woody beat Tesreau, 4 to 3. I guess maybe John McGraw figured “Smoke” would beat any of his pitchers so he held Marquard and Mathewson back; although Tesreau was a great pitcher. The second game went 11 innings to a six-all tie with Matty pitching for the Giants and Bedient, Ray Collins and Charlie Hall, who died a few weeks ago, working for Boston. In the third game the Giants made it all even with Marquard getting a 2-1 decision over O’Brien. Then Wood and Bedient beat Tesreau and Mathewson in terrific 3-1 and 2-1 duels and we were ahead three games to one and it looked as if the series was about finished.
But the Giants weren’t through by any means. In the sixth game, Marquard beat O’Brien and Collins and in the seventh, the Giants took a toe hold and pounded Wood out of the box and kept on hammering O’Brien and Collins to win 11-4. So the series went into its eighth game on October 16 and that’s where I had my biggest day.
McGraw called on Christie Mathewson with the chips down and that was natural for Matty still was in his prime; his fadeaway was tough to hit and he knew every angle of the pitching business. Since Wood already had worked three games, and had been beaten the day before Stahl couldn’t send him back, so he started Bedient.
The game quickly took the form of a magnificent pitcher’s battle and I don’t think Matty ever was much better than that autumn afternoon. He turned us back with machine-like precision for six innings and by that time the one run the Giants had scored in the third began to look awful big. I got a double into right field in the first inning but through six innings that was about our only scoring chance. The Giants got their run when Devore walked, advanced on two outs and scored when “Red” Murray hit a long double. That the Giants weren’t another run to the good in the fifth was due to one of the greatest catches I ever saw. Larry Doyle hit a terrific drive to right that appeared headed for a home run but Harry Hooper cut it off with a running, leaping catch that was easily the outstanding play of the series.
Boston tied the score in the seventh due to confusion among the Giants. Stahl hit a Texas leaguer toward left and it fell safe when Murray, Fred Snodgrass and Art Fletcher couldn’t agree on who was to make the catch. Wagner walked and then Stahl sent Olaf Hendrickson up to bat for Bedient. Now Hendrickson was one of the greatest pinch hitters ever in the game; like Moose McCormick of the Giants. He was one of those rare fellows who could go up cold and hit any sort of pitching.
Matty worked hard on Hendrickson but the Swede belted a long double that scored Stahl. Then Joe Wood came in to pitch for us.
The score still was one-one going into the 10th and the Giants tried their best to put the game away in their half. Murray doubled again and he was the tough man for us all through the series and raced home on Merkle’s single. So there we were behind again with the last chance coming up.
Once more the breaks and big breaks went our way. Clyde Engle batted for Woody and reached second when Snodgrass muffed his fly in center field. Hooper flied out and Yerkes worked Matty for a pass. And I was the next batter.
It looked as if I was out when I cut one of Matty’s fadeaways and lifted a high foul between the plate and first base. The ball was drifting toward first and would have been an easy catch for Merkle. I was going to yell for Meyers to make the catch for I didn’t think he could, but before I could open my mouth I heard Matty calling: “Meyers, Meyers.”
Meyers chased the ball but it was going away from him and finally Merkle charged in but he was too late and couldn’t hold the ball. Fred was blamed for not making the catch and the term “bonehead” was thrown at him again, recalling his failure to touch second base in 1908. I never thought Merkle deserved any blame at all. It was Matty who made the blunder in calling for Meyers to try for the catch.
That gave me a reprieve and I didn’t miss the second chance. I got a good hold of a pitch for a single to right that scored Engle and the game was tied again. Then Matty walked Lewis, purposely, for Duffy always was a
money hitter, filling the bases. With Gardner at bat the Giant infield played in close on the chance of cutting Yerkes off at the plate. But Gardner was another who did his best when the chips were on the table and crashed a long fly that sent Yerkes home with the deciding run.
Yes, I am on a bit of a jag here, presenting deadball-era stars’ memories of their greatest day in baseball. The sources for these interviews are John Carmichael’s columns in the Chicago Daily News, plus a handful of other reminiscences added to his book collection, My Greatest Day in Baseball (Barnes, 1945). Below is one of these additions. George Sisler was an undeniably great ballplayer, starring for the St. Louis Browns from 1915 to 1927 and finishing with the Boston Braves in 1930. His lifetime batting average was .340, and his .420 mark in 1922 is still tops for American League batters since Nap Lajoie’s mark in the circuit’s first season; in that 1920 campaign he struck out only 14 times in 655 plate appearances. Sisler also hit .407 in 1920, the year he set a record with 257 hits, which survived until Ichiro Suzuki collected 262 hits (in 70 more plate appearances) in 2004.
In my youth there was still a debate among oldtimers whether he or Lou Gehrig deserved the accolade of best first baseman all-time. Yet in the sabermetric era, with its emphasis on slugging and on base percentage, Sisler’s star dimmed. In 1999, when MLB created its all-century team, the fans voted in two first basemen, Gehrig and Mark McGwire. Here is the unfairly neglected George Sisler, as interviewed by Lyall Smith.
Every American kid has a baseball idol. Mine was Walter Johnson, the “Big Train.” Come to think about it, Walter still is my idea of the real baseball player. He was graceful. He had rhythm and when he heaved that ball in to the plate he threw with his whole body just so easy-like that you’d think the ball was flowing off his arm and hand.
I was just a husky kid in Akron (Ohio) High School back around 1910-11 when Johnson began making a name for himself with the Senators and I was so crazy about the man that I’d read every line and kept every picture of him I could get my hands on.
Naturally, admiring Johnson as I did, I decided to be a pitcher and even though I wound up as a first baseman my biggest day in baseball was a hot muggy afternoon in St. Louis when I pitched against him and beat him. Never knew that, did you? Most fans don’t. But it’s right. Me, a kid just out of the University of Michigan beat the great Walter Johnson. It was on August 29, 1915, my first year as a baseball player, the first time I ever was in a game against the man who I thought was the greatest pitcher in the world.
I guess I was a pretty fair pitcher myself at Central High in Akron. I had a strong left arm and I could throw them in there all day long and never have an ache or pain. Anyway, I got a lot of publicity in my last year in high school and when I was still a student I signed up one day to play with Akron.
I didn’t know at the time I signed that contract I was stepping into a rumpus that went on and on until it finally involved the National Baseball Commission, the owners of two big league clubs and Judge Landis.
I was only 17 years old when I wrote my name on the slip of paper that made me property of Akron, a club in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League and a farm club of Columbus in the Association. After I signed it I got scared and didn’t even tell my dad or anybody ’cause I knew my folks wanted me to go on to college and I figured they’d be sore if they knew I wanted to be a ballplayer.
In a way, that’s what saved me, I guess. For by not telling my dad he never had a chance to okay my signature and in that way the contract didn’t hold. The way it worked out Akron sold me to Columbus and Columbus sold me to Pittsburgh and all the time I was still in high school and hadn’t even reported to the team I signed with! Wasn’t even legally signed the way it turned out.
They wanted me to join the club when I graduated from high school but I was all set to go to Michigan so I said “no” and went up to Ann Arbor. Well, to make a long story short the story came out in the open there and when the whole thing was over I had been made a free agent by the old National Commission and signed up with Branch Rickey who at that time was manager of the St. Louis Browns.
I pitched three years of varsity ball up at Michigan and when I graduated on June 10, 1915, Rickey wired me to join the Browns in Chicago. Now, all this time I was up at school I still had my sights set on Walter Johnson. When he pitched his 56 consecutive scoreless innings in 1912 I was as proud as though I’d done it myself. After all, I felt as though I had adopted him. He was my hero. He won 36 games and lost only seven in 1913 and he came back the next season to win 28 more and lose 18. He was really getting the headlines in those days and I was keeping all of them in my scrapbook.
Well, then I left Michigan in 1915 and came down to Chicago where I officially became a professional ballplayer. I hit town one morning and that same day we were getting beat pretty bad so Rickey called me over to the dugout.
“George,” he said, “I know you just got in town and that you don’t know any of the players and you’re probably tired and nervous. But I want to see what you have in that left arm of yours. Let’s see what you can do in these last three innings.”
I gulped hard a couple of times, muttered something that sounded like “thanks” and went out and pitched those last three innings. Did pretty good, too. I gave up one hit but the Sox didn’t get any runs so I figured that I was all right.
Next day, though, I was out warming up and meeting more of the Browns when Rickey came over to me. He was carrying a first baseman’s glove. “Here,” he said. “Put this on and get over there on first base.”
Well, nothing much happened between the time I joined the club in June until long about the last part of August. Rickey would pitch me one day, stick me in the outfield the next and then put me over on first the next three or four. I was hitting pretty good and by the time we got back to St. Louis the sports writers were saying some nice things about me.
They were saying it chiefly because of my hitting. I’d only won two-three games up to then. I still remember the first one. I beat Cleveland and struck out nine men. Some clothing store gave me a pair of white flannels for winning and I was right proud of them. Didn’t even wear them for a long time, figured they were too fancy.
As I was saying, we got back to St. Louis late in August. Early one week I picked up a paper and saw that a St. Louis writer, Billy Murphy, had written a story about Washington coming to town the following Sunday and that Walter Johnson was going to pitch.
I was still a Johnson fan and I guess Murphy knew it, for when I got about halfway through the story I found out that he had me pitching against Johnson on the big day, Sunday, August 29.
That was the first I knew about it and I figured it was the first Manager Rickey knew about it, for here it was only Tuesday and Murphy had the pitchers all lined up for the following Sunday.
Well, he knew what he was talking about, because after the Saturday game Rickey stuck his head in the locker room and told me I was going to pitch against Johnson the next day. I went back to my hotel that night but I couldn’t eat. I was really nervous. I went to bed but I couldn’t sleep. At 4:00 A.M. I was tossing and rolling around and finally got up and just sat there, waiting for daylight and the big game.
I managed to stick it out, got some breakfast in me and was out at Sportsman’s Park before the gates opened. It was one of those typical August days in St. Louis and when game time finally rolled around it was so hot that the sweat ran down your face even when you were standing in the shadow of the stands.
All the time I was warming up I’d steal a look over at Johnson in the Washington bull pen. When he’d stretch ‘way out and throw in a fast ball I’d try to do the same thing. Even when I went over to the dugout just before the game started I was still watching him as he signed autographs and laughed with the photographers and writers.
Well, the game finally started and I tried to be calm. First man to face me was Moeller, Washington’s left fielder. I didn’t waste any time and stuck three fast ones in there to strike him out. Eddie Foster was up next and he singled to right field. Charley [sic; actual name Clyde] Milan singled to right center and I was really scared. I could see Mr. Rickey leaning out of the dugout watching me real close so I kept them high to Shanks and got him to fly out to Walker in center field. He hit it back pretty far though and Foster, a fast man, started out for third base. Walker made a perfect peg into the infield but Johnny Lavan, our shortstop, fumbled the relay and Foster kept right on going to score. That was all they got in that inning, but I wasn’t feeling too sure when I came in to the bench. I figured we weren’t going to get many runs off Johnson and I knew I couldn’t be giving up many runs myself.
Then Johnson went out to face us and I really got a thrill out of watching him pitch. He struck out the first two Brownies and made Del Pratt fly to short center. Then I had to go out again and I got by all right. In the second inning, Walker led off with a single to center field and Baby Doll Jacobson dumped a bunt in front of the plate. Otto Williams, Washington catcher, scooped it up and threw it 10 feet over the first baseman’s head. Walker already was around second and he came in and scored while the Baby Doll reached third.
I think I actually felt sorry for Johnson. I knew just how he felt because after all, the same thing had happened to me in the first inning. Del Howard was next up for us and he singled Jacobson home to give us two runs and give me a 2-1 lead.
Well, that was all the scoring for the day, although I gave up five more hits over the route. Johnson got one in the first of the fifth, a blooper over second. I was up in the last of the same inning and I’ll be darned if I didn’t get the same kind. So he and I were even up anyway. We each hit one man, too.
There wasn’t much more to the game. Only one man reached third on me after the first inning and only two got that far on Johnson.
When I got the last man out in the first of the ninth and went off the field I looked down at the Washington bench hoping to get another look at Johnson. But he already had ducked down to the locker room.
I don’t know what I expected to do if I had seen him. For a minute I thought maybe I’d go over and shake his hand and tell him that I was sorry I beat him but I guess that was just the silly idea of a young kid who had just come face to face with his idol and beaten him.
This may be my favorite ballgame of all. It is not baseball’s greatest (think Game 3 of the 1951 NL playoff, or June 14, 1870, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings finally lost a game), but it is the one I wish I had attended in person. I included it in my book Baseball’s Ten Greatest Games, more than thirty years ago. But instead of my reprising that piece for you now, why not let Ty Cobb tell you all about it? He was there, on that 30th day of September in 1907.
If I were asked to reassess my ten greatest games today, some of those games I chose for that book would drop off the list–how else to work in Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris and David Freese?
But not this one. Come along with me now: the Tigers of Crawford and Cobb are about to do battle with the Athletics of Plank and Waddell, and the lines at the ticket booths are long.
Ty Cobb, as told to Francis J. Powers
There was little brotherly love toward the Detroit Tigers when our club arrived in Philadelphia on the morning of September 27, 1907. That old city was baseball mad; it was mad at the Tigers and, judging from my mail, very mad at me. The wildest race the six-year-old American League had then produced was nearing an end, and the Athletics were leading the Tigers by a half game. It had been a four-way race all summer, with the defending White Sox, Athletics, Tigers, and Cleveland jumping in and out of first place. Now the chase had boiled down to a fight between the Tigers and Athletics, and it would be settled, practically, in the three-game series which was to open the next afternoon. There were only two series remaining for each club.
The Tigers had come on fast that year to be pennant contenders. Hughie Jennings, the famous shortstop of the old National League Baltimore Orioles, had been brought up to manage the team and his “E-yah!” cry and grass-picking had made him a popular figure. I was on my way to winning my first batting championship and was running the bases well. We had tremendous power, with Claude Rossman on first and Sam Crawford in center field, and I think those Tigers really were the first of the great slugging teams that later made the American League synonymous with power. We had some great pitchers, particularly Wild Bill Donovan, one of the finest men ever in the game, who won 25 games and lost only 4 that season. Ours was a fighting, snarling team that neither asked nor gave quarter–patterned after the old Orioles of Jennings and John McGraw.
Philadelphia resented us as upstarts, for Connie Mack still had much of the same team that had won the 1905 championship and then had lost to the Giants in that famous World Series where every game was a shutout. The Mackmen had sensational pitchers in Chief Bender, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, and Jack Coombs, and were a solid defensive team. They were hot to reclaim the championship they had lost to the White Sox the previous season.
We won the first game of the series on September 28, when George Mullin outpitched Chief Bender, and went into first place by a half game. Then it rained and a doubleheader was scheduled for September 30. There was the pennant. If we won, we had only Washington and St. Louis ahead, while the Mackmen had a series with Cleveland, which stayed in the race until September 27, before getting to the Senators. The “Naps,” as Cleveland was called in those days, were certain to give Philadelphia trouble.
When we went on the field to start play there were 30,000 fans looking on. There were 25,000 packed into old Columbia Park, which supposedly had a capacity of only 18,000, and the rest were crowded into windows and on the roofs of houses overlooking the field. There were fans, several rows deep, around the outfield, restrained by ropes and mounted police, and they weren’t the least bit friendly. Before that afternoon was finished and we left the park in the autumn dusk with streetlights aglow, I had experienced about every thrill that can come in baseball . . . or so it seemed to a 19-year-old boy.
Jennings picked Donovan to pitch for the Tigers, leading with our ace, while Mr. Mack started Jimmy Dygert, a spitballer. Mack had Eddie Plank, the southpaw who always was tough to beat, ready but decided to save him for the second game. You never saw and maybe never heard of another game like this one. It went seventeen innings and took three hours and fifty minutes to play. It produced great pitching and poor pitching, long crashing hits, and some of the most unusual incidents to be found outside the realm of fiction.
At the end of five innings, Philadelphia led us 7-1. The Athletics wasted no time in pounding Donovan. Topsy Hartsel opened with a single and stole second. Socks Seybold walked and Kid Nicholls sacrificed. Harry Davis’s hit bounced off Charlie O’Leary’s leg and into “Germany” Schaefer’s hands, but Seybold was safe at second and Hartsel scored. Danny Murphy beat out an infield hit, and then Seybold scored on Jimmy Collins’s fly and Rube Oldring sent Davis home with a double into the crowd.
Jennings would have had any pitcher other than Donovan out of the game before that inning finished, but Philadelphia was Bill’s hometown and his dad and relatives always came out to see him work, so Hughie never took him out there. It looked like foolish sentiment at that moment, but proved to be a good policy three hours later.
For a few minutes in the second inning it seemed as if we would get them all back. Rossman singled and was safe at second when Dygert threw wild, after fielding Bill Coughlin’s smash. Charlie Schmidt sacrificed and then O’Leary hit to the box. Dygert chased Rossman almost to the plate before throwing to Ossie Schreck, and then Claude hit the Athletics’ catcher so hard he dropped the ball. Dygert walked Donovan but then Rube Waddell came in and, with a pitch that broke from your waist to the ground, fanned the next two batters.
The Athletics got two more in the third, Davis hit a home run in the fifth and Collins and Oldring hit into the crowd for another score. So there we were, behind six runs. But as I said before, this Tiger team was a fighting team and we moved back into the game with four runs in the seventh. Two walks and an error filled the bases, and then Crawford drove one into the left field crowd for two bases. Another run scored on my infield out, and Crawford raced home while Murphy was making a great play on Rossman. Then we were only two runs behind. The Athletics scored one in their half, but we scored in the eighth and went into the ninth still two runs behind.
That ninth is one inning that always will remain bright in my memory. Crawford was on first when I came to bat, and I hit a home run over the right fence to tie the score. Right then and there Mr. Mack forgot about saving Plank for the second game and Eddie rushed to the box and retired the next three batters. We went out in front in the eleventh when I hit into the crowd after Rossman’s single, but we couldn’t hold the lead and the Athletics tied it, largely because of a wild pitch, at 9-all.
Then the game settled down to a brilliant duel between Donovan and Plank but at the same time produced some of the greatest confusion ever seen on any field. In the fourteenth inning, Harry Davis hit a long fly to center field which Sam Crawford muffed; it was good for two bases. Our team claimed interference, because a policeman had stepped in front of Crawford as he was following the ball along the ropes. “Silk” O’Loughlin was umpiring behind the plate (there were only two umpires in a game at that time), and it was his play. Both teams gathered around O’Loughlin, arguing and snarling. Finally O’Loughlin called to Tommy Connolly, umpiring at first base, “Was there interference?” Without hesitation Tommy called, “There was.” So Davis was out and that was lucky for us, since Murphy followed with a single after a would-be two-bagger had gone foul by inches.
During the argument with the umpires, Rossman and Monte Cross, one of the Athletics’ reserve infielders, threw some punches, and soon there were players and policemen all over the field. Rossman was tossed out of the game, and that started a new argument. Ed Killian, a lefthanded pitcher, finished the inning at first base and later Sam Crawford came in from the outfield to play the bag. After the game Connie Mack was bitter in his denunciation of O’Loughlin. It was one of the few times when he really roasted an umpire.
There was no further scoring, although I got as far as third in our half of the seventeenth, and at the end of that inning the game was called with the score still 9-all. There was no second game that day; it never was played, and the tie meant the championship for us. We left Philadelphia a half game in front and swept through Washington. The Athletics lost one to Cleveland and another to the Senators, and we clinched the pennant in St. Louis . . . Detroit’s first since 1887, when it was in the old National League.
Although I had the thrill of hitting the homer that finally tied the score and making two runs, the star of that game was Bill Donovan. I don’t recall a similar exhibition of pitching in my twenty-five years in the American League. Bill allowed eight runs in seven innings and only one in the next ten and he fanned eleven. The modern generation doesn’t remember Donovan, but there was a pitcher with great speed, a great curve, and a great heart. I’d like to have been half as good a hurler myself. I used to practice pitching and imagine myself out there in a tight spot.
The Athletics made twenty hits that day to our fifteen and we had seventeen runners left on base to their thirteen. They made six errors, so during that one long afternoon there was just about everything to be found in baseball.