Nine Innings, Nine Players, Ninety Feet, and Other Changes: The Recodification of Base Ball Rules in 1857
The article below, by Eric Miklich, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Eric is Historian of the Vintage Base Ball Association and maintains an extensive website on nineteenth century baseball at http://www.19cbaseball.com. There one may view his compendium of baseball rules from 1845–1900. An active vintage-game ballplayer, he maintains a special interest in playing styles and playing fields from 1854–1884.
His article, like others from the special Protoball issue, appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones at mlb.com. For example, the article below, indexed as 1857.1, reflects that it is the first entry for the year 1857. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
1857.1, Nine Innings, Nine Players, Ninety Feet, and Other Changes: The Recodification of Base Ball Rules in 1857
The game shall consist of nine innings to each side. . . . In playing all matches, nine players from each club shall constitute a full field. . . . The bases must be . . . fastened on the four corners of a square whose sides are respectively thirty yards.
Although the Knickerbocker Club had laid down baseball’s earliest surviving rules in 1845, some of the game’s canonical features had not yet appeared as of 13 years later. Only when the rules underwent a fairly thorough revision in 1857 did baseball’s distinguishing dimensions—teams of nine playing nine innings on a field with 90-foot basepaths—enter its list of rules.
The Knickerbocker Club was content to play intramurally for many years, for its primary objectives were exercise and good fellowship, and rival clubs were not to be seen. Its initial list of 14 playing rules—while falling well short of comprehensiveness—sufficed for this period, with one rule added and another modified in 1848. By April 1854, three clubs—the Knickerbocker, the Gotham, and the Eagle—were playing interclub matches, and they added two new rules for those matches, thus introducing the force-play and specifying the size and weight of the baseball itself.
Just two years later, however, the nature of match play had changed materially. The number of clubs had increased nearly ten-fold, and the emphasis was rapidly shifting toward winning, and away from mere fellowship. In this new environment, there was evidently some agitation for a rethinking of the rules. In December 1856 the Knickerbockers publicly invited interested clubs to send three delegates each to a rules convention in early 1857 (16 clubs would be invited and 14 would participate). Knickerbocker Club members then set about proposing a new set of rules for the assembled delegates to consider.
What emerged from this convention looked like a fairly thorough overhaul. The 17 playing rules expanded to 28 rules (plus seven others that related to umpiring and player eligibility), with fewer than half of the 1854 rules remaining essentially unchanged. One scholar estimates that the total volume of text was three times that found in the 1854 rules.
Some major changes and their implications
A close reading identifies over 20 substantive additions to the rulebook in the 1857 version; a few of the more prominent of them are described below. In addition, for modern readers the terminology in the official rules was becoming more familiar. Section 9, for example, defines the results of crossing the plate as “runs,” and the prior terms “counts, or aces” are less conspicuous. “Innings” makes its debut in section 25, and the original term “hand” declines. Section 11 uses the simple term “out” in place of “hand lost.”
Nine Innings. The Knickerbocker draft rules proposed having games end after seven innings (with extra innings if needed), instead of at the end of whatever inning saw one or both clubs reach a score of 21 aces. Convention delegates, however, decided on a nine inning game, with Knickerbocker Louis F. Wadsworth advocating this outcome contrary to his own Club’s recommendation. The rationale for a choice of nine frames was evidently not recorded. We now know that in 1856 the average game (still played to 21 aces) had lasted only about 6 innings, and thus the 1857 convention was defining a game that was to be 50 percent longer. A good many of the 1856 games were suspended due to darkness, and longer contests would arguably make things worse; however, history has certainly proved the nine-inning decision to be both workable and durable.
Nine Players. While earlier rules had not specified the number of players on a team, it is generally believed that a custom had already evolved that match games required nine-player teams. If so, this new rule was simply conforming to de facto standards. (The Knickerbocker Club had voted in 1856 that, for its intramural games, the presence of seven Club members per team was sufficient. If they felt that the number of players and number of innings should be identical, as some suggest, they may have felt bound to recommend seven-inning games to preserve such symmetry. However, there is as yet no known evidence that they proposed seven-player teams to the 1857 convention to match the seven-inning idea.
Ninety Feet (30 yards). The original 1845 rules had prescribed an infield layout that separated the four bases by a little less than 30 “paces.” Only if we knew how clubs actually defined a pace, would we know whether the 1857 rule was a significant change. A three-foot pace would have dictated a baseline of nearly modern length. However, a pace was formally defined as 30 inches in those days, not 36 inches, and if that pace was used, the distance between bases was about 75 feet, and the 1857 rule would extend the distance by 20 percent, and affect rates of scoring. (If the length of a pace was left to the discretion or natural gait of the marker, as some have speculated, the distance will have varied from one match to another and from one marker to another.) It would be natural for the baselines to lengthen, over time, as the weight of balls increased, thus allowing for longer hits and longer throws. But whether they did lengthen in 1857 remains uncertain. In any event, there was apparently no controversy about this provision.
The Ball. The ball specified in section 1 of the new rules was measurably heavier, and its maximum size reduced, compared with the 1854 standards. The maximum circumference was reduced from 11 inches to 10.25 inches. (The laws of cricket at this time called for a maximum circumference of 9 inches for a ball weighing about the same as the baseball.)
Pitching Restriction. The 1854 stipulation was that the ball be “pitched, not thrown.” Section 6 of the new rules read that the ball be “pitched, not jerked or thrown.”
Pitcher Placement. The pitching distance was changed from 15 paces to 15 yards (section 5). The pitcher’s position was defined by a 12-foot line, and he was not restricted as to his point of delivery along that line. A nine-inch circular quoit placed at the center of the 12’ line gave umpires a way to see if pitchers were delivering balls illegally.
Base Advancement on Fly Outs and Bound Outs. The new rule 16 prohibited baserunners from advancing on fly outs, but said that they “shall have the privilege of returning” to their base. For outs effected via one-bounce catches, runners could still advance freely.
The Bat. Section 2 specified that the bat be made of wood and not exceed 2.5 inches in diameter; its length was not restricted.
Substitution. Under section 27, player substitution was disallowed “unless for reason of illness or injury.”
Runner Interference. Runners who intentionally interfered with fielders “shall be declared out.”
Three-Foot Baselines. Runners were to not to evade tags by running more than three feet out of a direct line between bases.
Ground Rules. Clubs are permitted to adopt ground rules particular to their playing areas.
Controversy and failed proposals
The Knickerbocker proposal eliminated the old bound-out rule; a batter was not out unless a fly ball was caught in the air. This change was narrowly voted down, reportedly due to concern about to hand injury to fielders. The fly rule would not be part of base ball until the 1865 season, eight years later. In a compromise adopted unanimously, however, runners were to be prevented from advancing on caught flies, giving fielders a new incentive to attempt catches on the fly. (Another suggested inducement, made in Porter’s Spirit of the Times, was to award the fielding team two outs for a fly catch and one out for a bound catch, while giving the batting team six outs per half inning.)
To help speed up play, Porter’s also endorsed the idea of called strikes to spur overly picky batters. The idea was not accepted, but did enter the rule book the following year.
The Knickerbockers also suggested, in vain, that flat bats be permitted.
Some overall patterns in the new rules and the defeated proposals
Clarity for New Players. Many of the 1857 rule changes appear to have been made in order to help new players and clubs understand details of the game better. A few examples are found in fuller descriptions of the balk (section 6), of fair and foul balls (section 8), what constituted a run (section 9), and of the five distinct the ways that outs are accomplished (sections 11–15.) These improvements must have been particularly valuable for those with little direct access to experienced players for advice.
Closing Revealed Loopholes. Several modifications appear to be intended to limit prior attempts to bend or exploit gaps discovered in the original rules. It was in order to limit such “sharp practices,” one might surmise, that the new section 6 proscribed “jerked” pitches, section 18 introduced the 3-foot baseline, section 21 prevented runners from impeding fielders, section 22 disallowed the use of players’ caps in fielding balls hit in play, and section 35 dictated that clubs that arrived more than 15 minutes late must forfeit the match.
The Shadow of Cricket? Some rules, and proposed rules, appear to be intended to reinforce baseball’s standing as a game suitable for adults. The new inducement to discourage the bound out in section 16 had that character. More generally, one can discern the shadow of cricket—a manly game indeed—behind several of the items that were raised for consideration: the fly rule proposal, the heavier and smaller ball, the notion of using flat bats, the move toward a fixed number of innings, and even in the appointment of a “committee to draft a code of laws” (not “rules”) for baseball.
1. From sections 26, 27, and 3, Rules and Regulations of the Game of Base Ball Adopted by the Base Ball Players of New York, January 1857.
2. See essay 1845.1, Larry McCray, “The Knickerbocker Rules—and the Long History of the One-Bounce Fielding Rule,” http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/10/06/the-knickerbocker-rules/.
3. Many essential rules were left implicit. Take one example, of many: say that you are a baserunner at second base, with first base occupied, and the batter hits a low liner to left field. Should you run, or stay at second, go half way to third, or what? The original rules give you no clue, except that if the fielding team manages to get the ball to a fielder touching third base before you can get there, you will be out. Maybe you should stay put: there is no force rule, and the written rules don’t even say you will be sanctioned if you end up sharing a base with the runner from first, if he decides to advance. Clearly something beyond the original 17 rules was required to actually play the game in 1845.
4. The notable changes in 1848 were that only at first base could a runner be retired by a fielder’s throwing the ball to a base before the runner arrived there, and that with two outs, a run could not score if the batter was “caught out.”
5. See Ivor-Campbell, F. “Knickerbocker Base Ball,” Base Ball 1.2, p. 59.
6. Ibid., 60.
7. It remains unclear that “aces” was uniformly or extensively used from 1845–1857; in fact, the Knickerbocker game books, as early as 1846, show “runs,” not aces as the units of scoring. See, e.g., Ivor-Campbell, 57 (illustration).
8. See essay 1856.4.
9. John Thorn, email correspondence, 2009.
10. “Out-Door Sports. Base Ball,” Porter’s Spirit of the Times: Mar. 7, 1857, p. 5.
The article below, by David Dyte, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. David is a leading authority on early ballplaying in Brooklyn, his adopted home. One of his areas of expertise is the hundreds of Brooklyn playing fields from 1820 to the present, and his expansive website about Brooklyn’s historic ballparks, http://www.brooklynballparks.com, continues to accumulate data on Brooklyn hardball.
His article, like others from the special Protoball issue, appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones at mlb.com. For example, the article below, indexed as 1845.4, reflects that it is the fourth entry for the year 1845. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
1845.4, Base Ball in Brooklyn, 1845 to 1870: The Best There Was
The Base Ball match between eight Brooklyn players, and eight players of New York, came off on Friday [October 10] on the grounds of the Union Star Cricket Club. The Yorkers were singularly unfortunate in scoring but one run in their three innings. Brooklyn scored 22 and of course came off winners.
This short 1845 newspaper account, lacking any of the dramatic flair later brought to baseball writing by the likes of Henry Chadwick, represents the earliest record of an organized baseball game in Brooklyn. The result points to a game by the Knickerbocker Club’s rules, which called for a winning score of 21 runs, and it put Brooklyn ballplayers at the top of the new game at its very dawn.
We know less about earlier local forms of the game, but they had been played in Brooklyn for decades. Late in the century, a former mayor recalled that “I went to school in 1820–1, to one Samuel Seabury, on Hicks street . . . . I also attended Mr. Hunt’s school, over George Smith’s wheelwright shop in Fulton street, opposite High. Foot racing and base ball used to be favorite games in those days.”
Colonel John Oakey, who took his schooling at Erasmus Hall in Flatbush from 1837, recalled the ballplaying there:
Erasmus Hall academy had a fine play ground surrounding it. Here John Oakey and his school fellows played many a game of three base ball. The boys who played were called binders, pitchers, catchers, and outers, and in order to put a boy out it was necessary to strike him with the ball. On one occasion John Oakey threw the ball from the second base and put another boy out. The boy . . . went down in a heap, but instantly sprang to his feet and cried out, “It didn’t hit me; it didn’t hit me.” But John Oakey and all the boys knew better. For a week after that boy had a lame back, but he would never acknowledge that the ball did it.
While Brooklyn and New York sides played twice more in October 1845, records of organized base ball in Brooklyn disappear between these matches and the emergence in 1854 of the Excelsior Club of South Brooklyn, a baseball team organized by the members of the Jolly Young Bachelors social club. With the founding in 1855 of the Eckford Club of Greenpoint, and the Atlantic Club of Bedford, Brooklyn’s triumvirate of great baseball clubs was complete. These teams would dominate baseball for more than a decade.
In fact, by 1856 there were already more interclub games being played in Brooklyn than anywhere else in the New York area, and the “New York Game” had, in one sense, skipped town. (Brooklyn was a separate political entity until 1898.) During the years when baseball became America’s game, it was played best in Brooklyn.
When the National Association of Base Ball Players formed in 1857, the explosive rise of the game in Brooklyn was evident. Nine of the sixteen founding clubs were from that city, and Brooklyn men would soon take a large role in NABBP governance. When the Association first recognized a formal champion in 1859, the Atlantic Club claimed the title, sporting a record for the year of eleven wins against just one loss.
Over the next few years, Brooklyn teams would monopolize competition for the championship, which was passed along to a club that defeated the incumbent champion in a best-of-three match. In 1860, the Excelsiors, having poached the devastating pitching ability of young James Creighton from the Star Club, bid strongly to wrest the title from the Atlantics. On July 19, 1860, the South Brooklyn club hosted the Atlantic and took its signal victory in the first game of the series, 28–4. The Brooklyn Eagle described the spectacle the following day:
For a month or more the Base Ball public has been alive with interest concerning this great match . . . . There could not have been less than five or six thousand persons present. The greatest excitement prevailed, and betting stood at 10 to 8 on the Atlantic Club. The Atlantics were not up to their usual play in any one point, missing balls on the fly and bound, overthrowing and misbatting. The result of the game was an entire disappointment to the large crowd in attendance, judging from their moving away like a solemn funeral procession after the game was over.
On August 9, the Atlantic turned the tables at their own ground, scoring nine runs in the seventh inning and holding on for a 15–14 victory. The Eagle was again enthusiastic: “From one to three o’clock, yesterday afternoon, the avenues leading to the Atlantic ball ground, at Bedford, were thronged with pedestrians, en route to witness the great match at base ball that was to take place between these two clubs, who have no superiors in the country.”  The crowd was far more pleased with the result on this occasion: “The shout that rent the air from the stentorian lungs of the countless friends of the gallant Atlantics was terrific . . . so eager were all to congratulate them on such a victory as they had so manfully achieved.”
The concluding match of the series at the Putnam Grounds on August 23 was to be a disaster. With the Excelsior Club leading 8–6 in the sixth inning, the abusive behavior of the crowd, which again had a decidedly pro-Atlantic tone, became so bad that Excelsior captain Joe Leggett took his team from the field. With the game called off, the Atlantic Club retained the championship, in fact if not in spirit. The two Brooklyn foes would never play each other again.
Some clubs were forced temporarily to disband when the Civil War began, but baseball continued to be a focus of popular attention in Brooklyn. In 1862, William Cammeyer set out to convert his skating pond in Williamsburgh to a summer sports venue, and created the Union Base Ball and Cricket Grounds, the first enclosed baseball park. Rather than charging his tenant clubs rent, as had the owners of other fields, he let them play for free, instead taking ten cents from each spectator as the price of admission.
The Union Grounds proved to be instantly popular, as the Eckford, Putnam, and Constellation Clubs shifted their homes to the new field. The Eckford Club, a working class collection of shipbuilders and dockworkers, hosted the champion Atlantics for three matches at the Union Grounds, splitting the first two. On September 18, the finest day of the Eckford Club, they took the championship with an 8–3 victory.
Even in wartime, the game itself was constantly evolving. Henry Chadwick, a Brooklyn resident whose enthusiastic baseball writing and recordkeeping became the stuff of legend, organized regular prize matches at the beginning of each season. These matches, involving picked nines of players from various teams, would often try out new rules. The long-contested fly rule, which was exhibited in prize matches in Brooklyn in 1864, and had been a feature of regular games involving the Excelsior and Star Clubs as far back as 1859, was finally adopted for general use by the NABBP in December 1864. This rule ended the retirement of hitters by means of one-bounce “catches” in fair territory.
The Atlantic Club regained its title from the Eckford Club in 1864 and was undefeated in 1864–1865. Challenges now began to come from further afield. A visit to Boston in 1865 to play the Tri-Mountain Club on Boston Common seemed to cement the dominance of the champions from Brooklyn—the Atlantics scored 68 runs in the last two innings to cap a 107–16 win.
To the south, however, the Athletic Club in Philadelphia was making noise. The Atlantics finally visited Philadelphia on October 30, 1865. The Eagle reported a huge attendance—“not less than 15,000 spectators present”—at the Athletic Grounds. The Philadelphians would be disappointed, however, as the Atlantic Club finished strongly to win, 21–15. A week later, at the Capitoline Grounds, the Atlantic withstood a late comeback from their Quaker State foes, winning 27–24 to retain the championship.
But now the rest of the baseball world was catching up. The next few years in Brooklyn baseball were a story of gradual decay at the top level. Some of the best players on the top teams bickered over money shared from gate receipts, or left the city completely. The Atlantic Club remained strong, although no longer unbeatable, and retained the championship in 1866 before giving the title up to the Union Club of Morrisania (then in Westchester, now in the Bronx) in 1867. In 1868, the powerful Mutual Club moved from Hoboken to Brooklyn, and claimed the championship.
It was a club from the distant west that heralded the bitter end of Brooklyn’s preeminence in baseball. The Red Stockings of Cincinnati, stocked largely by players from the New York area, were the first club to be incorporated as a for-profit business, and the first openly to employ fully professional players under contract. In 1869, the Red Stockings traveled extensively and won 57 games while losing none. Their efforts vitiated the challenge system for crowning baseball’s champion, as the Cincinnati team chose not to schedule its games that way. The Atlantic Club, which won 40 of 48 games in 1869, finished as official champions for the seventh and last time—but now to general derision.
In 1870, the Red Stockings continued to take all before them, and in June the mighty club brought in an 89-match winning streak to meet the Atlantics, still the pride of Brooklyn. The Eagle was, as always, present with superlatives at hand:
The most remarkable game, in more respects than one, was played upon the Capitoline ground yesterday between the celebrated old Atlantics and the celebrated young Red Stockings. Notwithstanding the energetic protest of the Atlantics, they were compelled to charge fifty cents admission to the ground, and yet from nine to ten thousand people congregated there, and in the hot sun, watched with intense interest the progress of the game. The general impression previous to the game, was that the Atlantics would lose the game . . . . The result therefore was, that the most stubborn game ever played, was finished yesterday on the Capitoline ground.
History records that the Atlantics, by some miracle, scored three runs in the eleventh inning to win 8–7. One editorial was most effusive:
Eleven innings, a total score of fifteen, and that standing just eight to seven, tell a story to professional minds which sends the blood tingling in joy to their toes. It was the greatest game ever played between the greatest clubs that ever played and, as usual, when Brooklyn is pitted against the universe, the universe is number two.
But the incredible victory over the Red Stockings was the last gasp of the era. The universe would soon strike back.
The three great clubs of Brooklyn withered. The Excelsior had already disappeared, and the Atlantic and Eckford Clubs saw their best players leave when the new professional league, the National Association, opened for business in 1871. Brooklyn baseball was no longer the best baseball.
1. New York True Sun, Oct. 13, 1845, p. 2.
2. “School Days Recalled,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 22, 1887, page 8.
3. “Sports in Old Brooklyn,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 21, 1894, page 21.
4. Data from the Protoball Project’s Games Tabulation, compiled by Craig Waff. See http://retrosheet.org/Protoball/GT.NYC.pdf.
5. “Base Ball—Excelsiors vs Atlantic,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 20, 1860, p. 3.
6. “Base Ball—Grand Match at Bedford,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 0, 1860, p. 2.
8. “Our National Game—Atlantic versus Athletic,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 31, 1865, p. 2.
9. “The Atlantics Triumphant — A Glorious Victory for Brooklyn—The Local Nine Beat the ‘Picked Nine’ from the West,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 15, 1870, p. 2.
10. “The Atlantic’s Victory,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 15, 1870, p. 2.
The article below, by Larry McCray, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Larry designed and developed the Protoball Project to help researchers and writers locate and refine primary data on the evolution of ballplaying up to 1870. He long served as chair of the SABR Committee on the Origins of Base Ball and is a member of the MLB origins committee and a key participant in Early Baseball Milestones.
His article, like others from the special Protoball issue, appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones at mlb.com. For example, the article below, indexed as 1859.24, reflects that it is the twenty-fourth entry for the year 1859. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
1859.24, State Championship Wicket Game in Connecticut: a Hearty Hurrah for a Doomed Pastime
The most important game [of wicket] ever played in this town was…for the championship of the State. . . . Monday morning the whole town was afoot early and a holiday was practically declared. . . . It is estimated that when the game commenced there were fully 4000 people in and around the grounds . . . thousands stood in the hot sun watching for ten hours the contest that was to decide the supremacy.
The big game took place on an otherwise normal Monday (July 18, 1859) in Bristol, Connecticut, and the home team prevailed, 190–152, over the New Britain visitors. Bristol had issued a statewide challenge to play, and thus considered the match to be a contest for the state title. Fans from Hartford filled a railroad car in a special early morning train from the state capitol. By the time the train reached Bristol, four cars, each trimmed with flags and bunting, were filled with wicket fans, the New Britain players, and a brass band. For fans, the windows of the nearby Congregational Church provided crowded indoor vantage points all day long.
Writing in 1904, Connecticut governor Abiram Chamberlain, whose 26-year-old brother had scored five runs for New Britain in the 1859 contest, recalled the game as arousing interest “fully equal to that of baseball at the present time.” Largely overlooked until recently by sports historians, the American game of wicket appears to have been the dominant safe-haven ballgame in several parts of the United States, right up to the time that the New York form of baseball swept the nation.
Wicket was a batting-and-running game featuring two wickets that were defended by batsmen, and it thus bore an obvious resemblance to cricket. The ball, however, was considerably larger, and apparently softer, than the ball used for cricket and baseball, and the angled wicket club was generally depicted as much heftier than the bats used in those other sports. The wickets were low (only a few inches off the ground) and long—commonly described as five or six feet in length—and placed 25 yards apart. The bowler was required to keep the delivery to a batter very low, so that it struck the ground some minimum number of times before it reached the batting area. Teams commonly comprised up to 30 players; for the Bristol–New Britain game, each side fielded 27 men. Wicket was an all-out-side-out game, most commonly described as lasting three innings, with the side scoring the most runs (sometimes termed “crosses”) emerging as the victor. Baserunning on struck balls was optional, as it is in modern cricket. Retiring runners by means of plugging them with thrown balls is not mentioned in any of the surviving rules or game descriptions.
There are indications that wicket was not a game for wimps. Bowlers were reported to deliver the large ball with impressive speed, and it required strength and agility for a batter to defend a wicket as wide as he was tall. The heavy bats may have been a source of substantial risk, as well. Within 60 days in spring 1863, in fact, two Union soldiers were reported to have died from injuries sustained while playing wicket.
The Protoball Project had, as of 2010, assembled more than 75 references to wicket play in the United States from 1725 through the Civil War years. The earliest of these reports places the game on Boston Common in about 1725, and George Washington was reported to have played wicket during the Revolutionary War. However, most citations of wicket refer to play after 1830, and about half the accounts (as well as all of the lists of rules) refer to play from 1850 to 1860. Thus, the pastime remained strongly rooted until abruptly displaced by the New York form of baseball.
Wicket now appears to have been most warmly embraced in Connecticut (it was sometimes referred to as the Connecticut Game) and western Massachusetts, where annual town vs. town matches were reported. One account reports that the towns declared holidays on such occasions. Local variants of the game seem to have evolved within its western New England range, as it was necessary in some cases for rival teams to stipulate to the particular rules to be used for the big game.
We also have several reports of less formal games being played on university campuses. Yale and Amherst students played games of wicket—including one that pitted one college class against another. The game is also described at Harvard College, in an area where the Massachusetts Game was to emerge, as late as 1854. For pickup games near towns and villages, the use of roadways for informal contests was irresistible—as would be expected with a game featuring a bowled ball—and a few reports center on conflict between players and passing travelers. In New York State, pickup games were not unusual in available town lots, and we have accounts of such games in western New York towns. Accounts of juvenile play were not frequent.
While wicket’s original foothold may have been in western New England (nearly two-thirds of the references are from that area), the game spread westward from there, presumably carried by migrating New Englanders. Wicket was evidently strong in Rochesterand Buffalo, for example, and one Rochester account recalls it as the primary game played in that area before baseball arrived from downstate. We also now have more than 10 pre–Civil War accounts from Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin. There are solitary reports of wicket play in Hawaii and Baltimore, and of a wicket club forming in 1844 in New Orleans, as well.
The original source of American wicket is unclear. Noting the familiar shapes of the wicket and bat, some cricket historians have surmised that the game branched off from some form of cricket very early in America’s history; by 1744, English cricket had already developed the tall, narrow (six-inch) wicket format that we know today. However, there is no record of a pre-1744 variant of early cricket that displays the special traits of American wicket. Absent from the English record, it would seem, are accounts of the large ball, the very wide wicket, and teams numbering as many as 30 players. That leaves us to speculate that whatever the form of the game that arrived from abroad in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, wicket most likely evolved markedly once it had set down American roots.
Once the National Association rules for baseball were distributed nationally, and that game had become the national passion, wicket fell into decline. Of Protoball’s compilation of 150 ballplaying references in Civil War camps, only nine cite wicket as the game that was played; while this sum is greater than that of the known accounts of cricket play, it is far exceeded by accounts of baseball in the war camps. (Most of the military wicket play involved Union regiments recruited from westernMassachusetts, but four reports reflected wicket play among soldiers inWisconsin andMinnesota regiments.) After the war, it is only throwback games of wicket that appear, spottily, and chiefly in the area of Bristol, Connecticut.
Soon enough, wicket was forgotten. Baseball researchers, perhaps, interpreted the term “wicket” as just a mislabeled reference to English cricket, and thus scant attention was accorded to a game that was, in fact, the favorite safe-haven game for large swatches of the new nation in the 1800s. But everybody else had neglected the pastime too. Daniel Genovese, who devotes a full chapter to wicket in his 2004 book on ballplaying in Westfield, Connecticut, worked with many local historians in the area, and reports that none had ever heard of wicket. Genovese’s sad epitaph for wicket: “The point is clear, even among well-respected historians, the game is lost.”
1. Norton, F. 1907. “That Strange Yankee Game, Wicket,” in Bristol Connecticut (p. 295). Originally published in the Hartford Courant in 1904.
2. Ibid., 295–296. The estimation of the crowd of observers, in the absence of admission gates, must have been difficult. An estimate of 4,000 exceeds Bristol’s population of less than 3,500 souls in 1859, so the estimator must have believed that few locals stayed at home that day.
3. Ibid., 296.
4. Palmer, M. 1913. “Diary Entry of Captain Milo E. Palmer, 12th Wisconsin Regiment,” in History of Brown County Wisconsin (p. 216). Paxson, L. 1908. “Paxson Diary,” in Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota (part 2, vol. 2) (p. 132). These accounts are summarized as Cases 51 and 57 of the Protoball chronology, “Ballplaying in the Civil War Camps”: retrosheet.org/Protoball/CivilWar.htm
5. See: “Wicket: A Working Chronology,” at retrosheet.org/Protoball/Sub.Wicket.htm. References to wicket play in England are rare, but “wicket” was sometimes used as a term for English cricket, and we know of a few cases in which US players called wicket by the name of cricket.
6. Sewall, S. 1882. “Diary of Samuel Sewall,” in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (vol. 7) (p. 372). Summarized in Protoball entry 1725c.1.
7. Anderson, J., ed. 1896. The Town and City of Waterbury (vol. 3) (pp. 1102–1103). Summarized in Protoball entry 1858.52.
8. Wicket-playing at Yale is summarized in Protoball entries 1818.1 and 1843.4. Wicket at Amherst is summarized in entries 1846.7 and 1846.8. Wicket at Harvard is summarized in entries 1840c.39 and 1854.13.
9. “Baseball Half a Century Ago,” Rochester Union and Advertiser: Mar. 21, 1903. Summarized in Protoball entry 1850s.16.
10. “Ballplaying in the Civil War Camps,” retrosheet.org/Protoball/CivilWar.htm (accessed Oct. 7, 2010).
11. Genovese, D. 2004. “Wicket Ball: The Predecessor to the ‘New York Game,’” in The Old Ball Ground: The Chronological History of Westfield Baseball (pp. 9–25).
12. Ibid., 11.
OK, folks, now that we’ve posted Tom Altherr’s article “Barn Ball,” we may as well have an all-out Altherrfest. Below is his Fall 2011 article in the journal Base Ball, “Basepaths and Baselines: The Agricultural and Surveying Contexts of the Emergence of Baseball,” which won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. It is a bad pun but an accurate statement to call it pathbreaking. Tom is our field’s premier collector of primary data on all species of ballplaying. He is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. His article appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company.
Recent research has established that baseball and baseball-type games predate the 1840s. In other words, they predate the hoary but erroneous 1839 Abner Doubleday / Cooperstown / Immaculate Conception theory of baseball’s invention. Most notable among the books has been David Block’s definitive Baseball before We Knew It, and my own articles, “‘A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball’: Baseball and Baseball-Type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic” and “Chucking the Old Apple: Recent Discoveries about Pre–1839 North American Ball Games.” George Thompson’s discovery of 1823 accounts of baseball in New York City and John Thorn’s uncovering of a 1791 Pittsfield, Massachusetts, ordinance prohibiting baseball-playing, among other sports, have been two of the more exciting examples of this research. The energies of SABR’s Origins Committee, expanding to roughly 200 members under the leadership of Larry McCray, have resulted in a valuable database, Protoball, a Protoball glossary, and a monthly newsletter, Originals, updating the finds.
Baseball thus existed, but the question now arises: Why did baseball appeal to an increasing number of Americans in the early Republic? Why in those transitional decades, moving from the settlement of the Revolutionary ferment to the volatile Jacksonian trends, did Americans move toward allegiance to baseball-type games? What other American developments may have affected, modified, paralleled, or drawn along the expansion of baseball and baseball-type games? Certainly baseball did not emerge in a cultural vacuum, a total escape from the agricultural and commercial cares of the times.
To start down a path toward some sort of answer, it is necessary to revisit the Country Game thesis. According to this interpretation, baseball originated in rural environs and even as the sport exploded in urban locales by the 1840s and 1850s, players and spectators alike ever since have celebrated baseball as some sort of pastoral design, a pleasant recreation of the rural past fading before their eyes, a harkening back to some sort of golden age of rustic simplicity and harmony. Many commentators have celebrated the rural roots of the game, waxing eloquently about green fields as temporal heavens, barefoot boys with cheeks of tan whiling away summer afternoons, and rural virtues manifesting themselves in the practitioners of the game. Nevermind that once professionalism overtook the amateur game, most players did not hone their skills in cow pastures and the juggernaut of commercialism relegated small-town baseball to minor league, bush league, and farm team statuses. But longings for the rural origins have persisted so strongly that the creation myth of baseball—the Abner Doubleday “Immaculate Conception” scenario—involves Elihu Phinney’s pasture in Cooperstown.
These claims often rest heavily on nostalgia, an attractive but fundamentally false collection of sentiments, or on a Leo Marxian model of the pastoral middle landscape, rather than a closer understanding of the material and cultural connections of agriculture and the folk games that gave rise to baseball. As worthy as those emphases on the concept of the middle landscape are, in the end they fuel an idealized portrait of farming that most actual farmers themselves would not have recognized. But those same agriculturalists experienced a concrete specificity of objects in their work duties, tangible materials that provided a framework for their lives and also served as important ingredients for ballplaying.
The Agricultural Contexts of Baseball: Getting Good Wood on the Ball
The bat is, of course, one of the key instruments for bat-and-ball games. Today bats come in ceramic and aluminum versions, as well as the traditional wooden ones. For early Americans, wood was a constant reality in their lives. In the eastern woodlands colonists found a staggering abundance of forests, which allowed even the most amateur carpenter the choice of very prime wood and encouraged profligacy with wood supplies. As one writer from the Androscoggin River region of Maine recalled in 1800:
The richest and straightest trees were reserved for the frames of the new houses; shingles were rived from the clearest pine; baskets, chair bottoms, cattle bows, etc., were made from brown ash butts; all the rest of the timber cleared was piled and burned on the spot…. All the pine went first. Nothing else was fit for building purposes in those days. Tables were made 21.2 feet wide from a single board, without knot or blemish.
Most parts of furniture, some kitchenware, and many decorative items were all wooden. Wood construction dominated house-building and barn-raising, despite some use of stone and brick. Most outbuildings were wood construction. Fencing often depended on wood, posts and split rails. Wicket gates.a device replicated in wicket and cricket-style ball games.and stiles were wooden. Many a roadway and walkway consisted of wooden crossbeams or corduroy planking. Byproducts of wood, such as charcoal and potash, were important to home products and the burgeoning metallurgy.
As agriculturists, early Americans frequently wrapped their hands around a variety of wooden implement handles, plow handles (or hales), and similar tools. Indeed the employment of several common farm tools necessitated bodily motions very similar to swinging a bat. Many a major leaguer swung an axe or sledgehammer during the offseason to stay in shape. Longtime baseball man Charlie Metro and Hall of Famer Ted Williams discussed designing a bat with an oblong handle, such as those on farm tools, to improve swinging accuracy. The following comment by an Englishman watching cricket in England in 1825 could have as easily pertained to an American baseballist: “I have myself whiled away whole mornings in seeing him strike the ball (like a countryman mowing with a scythe) to the farthest extremity of the smooth, level, sunburnt ground….” Wooden team yokes and singletrees (or badikins, whippletrees, whiffletrees, or swingletrees) facilitated plowing and hauling. Other large wooden implements such as harrows, carts, cultivators, horsehoes, barrows, drills, drags, mouldbaerts, and sledges were all necessary for cultivation and harvest. Even many iron, and later steel, implements had wooden handles or grips. Indeed the swingle part of a flail owed its etymology to the root word for swinging.
Wood appeared in manifold additional manners. Harvesters filled many a wooden basket or trug. Processors packed many a wooden barrel, box, or crate. Wooden pails were ever present for carrying water, milk, or cider, as well as animal feed, slop, and silage to livestock who often fed at wooden troughs. Other wooden buckets and carts carried off the constant waste products. Rowers grasped wooden oars and rudders; canoeists propelled their crafts with wooden paddles, usually of ash. Wood was literally everywhere. As Lewis Mumford wrote about the ubiquity of wood in an eotechnic economy:
As for the common tools of the time, they were more often of wood than of any other material. The carpenter’s tools were of wood, but for the last cutting edge: the rake, the oxyoke, the cart, the wagon, were of wood: so was the washtub in the bathhouse: so was the bucket and so was the broom: so in certain parts of Europe was the poor man’s shoe. Wood served the farmer and the textile worker; the loom and the spinning-wheel, the oil presses and the wine presses were of wood, and even a hundred years after the printing press was invented, it was still made of wood. The very pipes that carried water in the cities were often tree-trunks, so were the cylinders or pumps. One rocked a wooden cradle; one slept on a wooden bed; and when one dined one “boarded.” One brewed beer in a wooden vat and put liquor in a wooden barrel. Stoppers of cork, introduced after the invention of the glass bottle, begin to be mentioned in the fifteenth century. The ships of course were made of wood and pegged together with wood; but to say that is only to say that the principal machines of industry were likewise made of wood: the lathe, the most important machine-tool of the period, was made entirely of wood—not merely the base but the moveable parts. Every part of the windmill and the water-mill except for the grinding and cutting elements was made of wood, even the gearing: the pumps were chiefly of wood, and even the steam engine, down to the nineteenth century, had a large number of wooden parts: the boiler itself might be of barrel construction, the metal being confined to the part exposed to the fire.
But these are simply categories. The variety within many of these tool types was impressive. For example, the woodworking process from forest to finishing could entail using twenty or more different types of axes alone.
Until Euroamericans reached the more barren prairies and plains, wood supplies were usually so plentiful that rarely did anyone forecast decline, scarcity, or deforestation. So when it came time to furnish an implement for bat-and-ball games, the natural choice understandably was wood. Wooden tools had been extensions of a person’s hands for so long that any other material would have probably seemed alien. Early bats ranged from stout tree branches to sturdy clubs to eventually the wood-turned cylindrical bats. Clifton Johnson surmised that when boys played ball games at early–19th century country schools, they appropriated a longer piece of firewood: “The club was a round stick selected from the woodpile.” Such a piece was available as woodcutters often cut firewood to manageable lengths for drying before they cut them to stovewood dimensions. Fashioning a favorite bat most likely occurred quickly, much as agriculturalists and woodworkers had devoted design and care to favorite wooden tools. Unlike British cricket bats, which were mostly flattish, early Americans probably relied on more simplistic designs of common woods, rather than the rarefied woods the British were fashioning into elaborate bats by the mid–18th century. Whatever the case, it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of wood in the quotidian experience of early Americans. Perhaps Steven Gelber’s insightful thesis that late–19th century baseball replicated work skills and patterns for players and spectators alike might have some application a century or so earlier, as baseball may have been a natural extension of the wooden workaday world. Wood-oriented terms occasionally carried right down to more modern times in baseball lingo. For example, when an overmatched batter swung wildly at a pitch, he “flailed” at it. Similarly “flail” was a slang word for a bat in the early 20th century. Did the several baseball uses of the word “hook” derive from some agricultural origin by way of vaudeville? How else would one understand the baseball phrase “to take a hack at the ball?”
Balls and Bases
Similarly, the making of balls was undoubtedly pretty easy. Livestock, especially cattle and horses, provided a ready supply of leather. By the 1770s at least, tanners had perfected the process of tanning leather white, by use of horse urine. If leather was not available, other fabrics familiar on the farm surely sufficed. Stuffings for balls ranged from feathers to rags to any similar filler. As Johnson wrote of the country school ball play, “The ball was a home-made affair of old stocking ravellings wound together and covered with sheepskin.” Occasionally the ball may have been all wood, carved and smoothed round, although evidence for those is scanty. For centers, ball-makers used wood, maybe rubber, and according to one source, cartilaginous fish noses. Early Americans who were used to crafting so many objects in their work certainly found fashioning a ball no hard chore.
Providing bases also fit the agricultural lifestyle fairly easily. There were always trees, stumps, or natural items that served conveniently as bases. Stones and boulders, or more artificially sculpted mileposts, also became bases. In the 1744 illustration about “Base-Ball” in John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, boys or young men played the game using what were apparently mile markers, survey corner markers, or possibly even gravestones. When town ball became more formalized, or perhaps even before, players easily found material for the four wooden stakes that demarcated the active portion of the playing surface. The proto-baseball game of stoolball used three-legged wooden stools, often known also as crickets. Milkmaids used such stools for their twice-daily milkings of livestock, and in the evenings or even in daylight, people sat on such stools near the fireplace. Some of the folk games also utilized stumps of trees, those stumps themselves often called stools, fallen to clear future crop fields. Even when players started using filled cloth sacks as bases, a practice whose exact incipience is still unknown, the connection was there, too, somewhat related to agriculture. In those days before differentiated packaging, customers and suppliers regularly bought or packed commodities in sewn cloth sacks. How many current non-agriculturalist Americans would make this association when they hear a phrase such as “the sacks are full” or “the bags are loaded?” Similarly how many modern Americans would make the connection of the word “basepath” to the prevalence of dirt paths in the lives of agricultural Americans, the paths that cattle trod from pen to barn to pasture, the paths that farmers stepped along to the fields and back, the lanes connecting the farmstead to a larger thoroughfare? To be sure, many were winding or curvilinear, following the contours of creeks, levels of the land, and animal meanderings. But paths they were, and they would conform to more rectilinear patterns later.
Pastures for the Pastime
Early Americans spent a lot of time working in pastures, herding livestock, mostly during the warmer seasons. Pasturing itself involved cycles of movement, transitions from field to field in a fairly systematic pattern to ensure even grazing. During a day it may not have been unusual to relocate grazing stock through three or four pastures, somewhat paralleling the crop rotation sequences in the fields. Worn pathways would appear as a result from these herding movements. In the morning farm people herded their stock out to morning pasture and by dusk usually had maneuvered them through the other pastures then home for milking or night-time protection. Agricultural people were accustomed to moving from base to base often in a cyclical pattern. Did baseball provide an echo of these transitions? Baseball speeded them up, but the basic patterns may have been similar.
As for playing space and fields, the agricultural lifestyle also accommodated the enthusiasm for games, but did not relegate certain patches of lands to permanent ball fields. In some areas pasture was dear or in need of fallowing and recovery, and thus off limits to animal and human trampling. But in each town in the North and South some crossroads had designated commons lands. Sometimes this common land was forested or a broken mosaic of small clearings, salt licks, breaks, and other irregularities that would probably not suit a full-scale baseball-type game. But the case of the central commons in most towns was different. Admittedly, the quaint, cozy village green of New England fashion arrived only in the mid- and late 19th century. But to the extent that commons existed, these multi-use sections of towns allowed for a variety of human uses—farming, grazing, militia trainings, sermons and speeches, public punishment and occasional executions, and, last but not least, recreation. Boys and men played a variety of ball games ranging from marbles to something called football, which actually resembled soccer, to bandy, a precursor of field hockey, to types of golf to baseball-type games. Referring to the village green in Norfolk, Connecticut, Frederic Dennis wrote in 1917, “It was an arena for all sorts of athletic sports, such as base ball, foot ball, wicket playing, jumping, wrestling, tugs of war, and foot and horse races.” But because the commons was just that, a commons, available to public usages, no one usage could usually monopolize the space.
Although it may be that the terminology for segments of the baseball field—the “infield” and “outfield”—derived more directly from cricket, farming peoples would have recognized the use of those words to refer to those more valuable fields closer to the village center and those less valuable further away. According to an agricultural dictionary, “Infield consisted of the best land, about one-third of the extent of the outfield, usually near the farm buildings. The infield received all the winter dung which was put on about one-third of the field and was ploughed three times and then sown with barley.” Outfield, on the other hand, “was the extension of arable cultivation beyond the infield, but within the head-dyke, and was cropped for a restricted period without the benefit of any manuring, and then rested until it regained its natural fertility.” British farmers had long characterized such field divisions, and early New Englanders carried on the custom. As historian Joseph Wood noted in his study, The New England Village, “large common fields were divided into rectangles and small common fields were widely dispersed in New England towns, and included infields and outfields,” and led to enclosure and dispersal to unified farmsteads.
Opening Days and Fall Classics
Perhaps surprisingly to today’s techno-driven American, agriculture also provided some stretches of leisure that could support some more formalized recreation such as baseball. A series of agriculturally oriented holidays, pre-industrial in scope and origin, as well as militia training days, punctuated the calendar. How often townspeople and rural residents congregated on these days for the express purpose of playing baseball is
uncertain, but much like the later Fourths of July, types of play became more and more integral to the celebrations and ceremonies.
Admittedly, farm people worked hard, perhaps women as much or more so than the men, but the rhythms of the agricultural cycles left some times where the main task was awaiting the maturation of the crops. Sabbath prohibitions most likely restricted this leisure and dampened some baseball-playing, but even then some boys such as the future Massachusetts reformer and Union officer Thomas Wentworth Higginson, found ways to steal away for clandestine ball games behind someone’s barn.
In an allied manner, early Americans had a deeper reliance on seasonality than do modern ones. As Michael Kammen and John Demos have demonstrated so eloquently, preindustrial Americans lived their lives according to cyclical patterns firmly rooted in sunlight and moonlight, weather cycles, natural phenomena, and agrarian bloomings and die-offs. Seasons were sharper for those generations as opposed to the more flattened or blurred seasonal experiences for modern Americans. Baseball may have had some similar delineations. Baseball’s playing season paralleled the agricultural one. Opening Day often occurred right about when many flowers were also opening for pollination or two or three weeks after Lady Day, March 25, one of the feasts of the Virgin Mary and the agrarian New Year. Until the calendar revisions of 1752, March 25 served as the conventional start of the agricultural year, and in rural areas lasted as that traditional demarcation between winter and spring. In later decades, the rural associations would persist in the notion of a seasoned veteran or sending a prospect back down to the farm team for more seasoning. Although several pundits have made much about the number three and its multiples in baseball—three outs per inning, three strikes, nine innings, 27 outs per game—the number four has also had its importance in the game. Four balls for a walk arrived later in the formalization of the sport, but much earlier baseball proponents settled on four bases—not the two from cricket or the various cat games, or the five from rounders, but four. No specific evidence exists to support the next speculation, but did early agriculturally oriented Americans sense a similarity in baseball with its four stations, mirroring the yearly cycle, suggesting the four directions and winds? Likewise it is important to recall the contemporaneity with the Second Great Awakening, which produced some evangelical religions that stressed the Foursquare gospel, not to mention the four gospel writers and four Apocalypse horsemen, among other celebrated cornerstones in Christianity. The concept of four, whether from seasonality or religion, likely resonated strongly for those generations, who found a numerical echo in baseball.
The Surveying Contexts of Baseball: Baselines and Squares
Thinking of the Early National period also suggests another possibly overlooked reason for baseball’s emergence. Writers who have cogitated on the structure of the field often declare the design as somehow divinely inspired, as if some angel descended with the mandate for 90-foot basepaths, or some Moses type appeared directly from the Big Commissioner in the Sky’s office with tablature laying out baseball’s commandments. Theories that posit that the ball field is hostile territory in which the hero must negotiate a dangerous traverse around four small outposts of safety in a quest to return to ultimate safety at home, to capture the Holy Grail of home base, or fourth stake in town ball, are all well and wonderful and provocative. But might not there be an alternative interpretation? One that turns the field of danger image inside out? That links the game to the national grid pattern of land-surveying and other surveying methodologies?
The profound impact of the national grid land-surveying system that Congress formalized in 1785 helped many Americans embrace an increasing rectangularity in measurements.  The ordinance enacted May 20 of that year stipulated that for land in the western territories “the surveyors shall proceed to divide the said territory into townships of 6 miles square, by lines running due north and south, and others crossing these at right angles, as near as may be….” Further subdivision into square-mile lots would facilitate land purchases and settlement. Thomas Jefferson was in many ways the chief architect of this plan. Jefferson sought to integrate a mathematically rational system of measurements into the codification of laws and weights and measures and coinage for the new republic based on metrical and decimal systems coalescing in Europe, especially France. Archaic and traditional means of measurement, often wildly variable and imprecise, would yield to the beauties of mathematics, the omnipresent square. The system had its critics, particularly Southerners more used to irregular patterns, and over the long run led to ecologically short-sighted settlement trends, but the federal determination to employ rectangularity had a long-running definitive impact on land distribution and settlement over the next couple of centuries as anyone who has driven through or flown above the Midwest and plains can attest. As Vernon Carstensen remarked, “The patterns imposed on the American land by the rectangular survey influenced enormously the economic, political, and social life of the people who came to make their farms and villages and cities on a land marked out in squares of townships and sections, quarter sections, and forties.” Eventually some 70 percent of land in the lower 48 states received such rectangular plotting. Carstensen thought also that the patterns specifically helped reduce the feuding and wrangling over irregularly surveyed parcels farther East. Perhaps the patterns also influenced recreational activities such as baseball.
Rectangularity was the main feature of the new surveying system used for the 1785 national grid ordinance, as illustrated by this plat map of the first seven ranges surveyed in what is now eastern Ohio (source: USGenWEB at http://www.tngenweb.org/tnland/seven-ranges/).
Rectangular surveying was not new in the 1780s. Romans had featured such shapes in their centuriation field patterns. As early as the early 1680s, William Penn had promulgated a grid system for the streets of the proposed city of Philadelphia. The towns of Savannah, New Haven, and Charleston had also developed along a grid pattern center. Pittsfield, Massachusetts, famous recently for its 1791 sports ordinance, contained some rectangular, even square, parcels in its landholding patterns in the early 18th century. The national grid system applied most directly at first to what became eastern Ohio, known then as the Virginia Military District. Much helter skelter, crazy quilt patterns of town and city development persisted in colonial and Revolutionary America as both center villages increased along with dispersal to unitary farmsteads some distance from village centers. But by the 1780s the federal government had envisioned a more orderly geometric plan that would rationalize American westward expansion. Rectangularity based on squarely surveyed sections would add a more consistent precision missing in previous decades. Second, from the colonial era onward, matters of surveying, mapping, and territorial ownership preoccupied Euroamericans. Surveyors were very important participants in these legalities, and many a colonist had some surveying skills. Indeed, scratch below the surface descriptions of many prominent Americans—Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Daniel Boone—and their relationship to surveying becomes obvious. Famous surveyors such as Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker carried on the federal mission of measuring the landscape. Third, some towns, especially in New England, had already created commons and town squares that reflected this rectangularity, sections they devoted to public uses such as communal grazing or school support. Fourth, farmers had long been performing one perennial task on the farm in relentlessly rectangular fashion, namely crossplowing, the process of plowing new or waste ground at right angles to make the soil more friable. Later, with the rectangular survey plots, farmers found encouragement to plow long, straight furrows.
Some terms from surveying vocabulary may have found a few echoes in baseball terminology. The most obvious example is “baseline.” Surveyors, seeking to establish a line from which to measure other lines and parcels, called that first or most important line a baseline. One dictionary of surveying terms defined it: “A surveyed line established with more than usual care, to which surveys are referred for coordination and correlation.” In baseball, of course, a baseline came to demarcate between fair and foul territories and designate a running path to which runners are technically supposed to hew from base to base. The baselines serve theoretically to confine the running actions in baseball. But, as such, a baseball baseline retains some of the importance of a surveying baseline. The very common surveying term “bound” served as a synonym for “base” in the Massachusetts Game, although in baseball the word was more likely to refer to the actual bouncing action of the ball. Similarly, various surveying uses of the word “corner” may have found an echo in the various meanings of the word in baseball. The use of a three-foot pace in surveying found implementation in stepping off the distances between bases later in the National Pastime.
Is it merely coincidental that baseball in America grew in the very years and decades that land expansion increasingly adhered to a grid pattern? Or did those first waves of baseball enthusiasts survey their own squares, laying out the fields, pacing out the basepaths, incorporating the right angles, marking those corners with bases, and then redesigning a game that would fit these fields—a contest that rewarded hitters with the privilege of running around this square, accumulating bases and by extension acquiring the described property? Many Americans would answer that the sport most identified with territorial acquisition would be American football, indeed a sport whose use of the term “gridiron” fairly shouts out rectangularity—first downs, 10 yards at a time demarcated by chainbearers and linesmen, ferocious marches to possess desirable acreage in the end zones. But the chronology does not match here; football did not develop contemporaneously with Early National and antebellum expansions. A version of an athletic contest answering to that name really was more of a shin-kicking free-for-all. The game gaining American favor as the rallying phrase of Manifest Destiny sounded as a clarion call by the mid–1840s was baseball, not football.
Rogations and Perambulations
Another type of surveying may have had some influence on the development of baseball and baseball-type games, namely the Christian observance of Rogation and one of its practices, a walking of the boundaries known as perambulation. Rogationtide was a moveable holiday because it depended on when Easter and Holy Week fell during the spring. Rogation week followed the fifth Sunday after Easter, contained Ascension Day, and was two weeks before Whitsunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter. Generally the message of this Christian rite was to emphasize the role of God as the great provider. One of the major parts of the ceremony was the perambulation. Simultaneously remembering and reaffirming older land claims and inspecting and protecting current ones, perambulation constituted an important procession for the congregation. Customs varied in England and other parts of Britain, but usually some group of parishioners accompanied by a religious official traversed the metes and bounds or in other cases paid a gang of persons to walk said boundaries and destroy or dismantle any encroachments. The custom was known by several different names: Cross-Week, Grass-Week, and Gang-Week; Scots referred to it as “riding the Marches.” The more Catholic aspects of the ceremonies came under criticism from Protestants, but generally the custom survived the Reformation, fading away in the 18th and 19th centuries due to land enclosures and expense. Christianity organized other processions throughout the year, including some that involved reviewing property boundaries in other seasons, but Rogationtide connected with other springtime rituals of renewal.
Colonial Americans did not always transfer homeland customs exactly, and even jettisoned some of them to make way for practices that they thought served better in the colonies. But apparently perambulation persisted, at least according to Charles MacLean Andrews in his study of colonial Connecticut River towns:
The ancient right of perambulation, or going the bounds, was in full operation in the Connecticut colony. The custom dates back very far in history, and was, in early Saxon times, attended with considerable ceremonial [sic]. The bounds of manors, and later of parishes, were fixed by trees, heaps of stones and natural marks, and the perambulation of half the parishioners from mark to mark was made yearly for the purpose of resetting the bounds if destroyed, or of reaffirming them and seeing that no encroachments had taken place. The Connecticut settlers were familiar with the old custom and early applied it, but in a less pretentious fashion than that which in the mother country.
Andrews then quoted from colonial records requirements that selectmen in adjoining towns had to appoint at least three persons to make such a collaborative walking inspection of boundary markers yearly. Colonial Virginians also observed their own landmarking processions, carrying the English practice across the ocean. Virginia courts frequently heard disputes over such perambulations and attempted to regularize the custom among the Anglican parish vestries. Even when the commonwealth of Virginia disestablished the Anglican church, perambulation phased into a secular custom in October 1785, not that long after Congress initiated the national grid-survey system. As William Seiler noted, “The regular enforcement of land processioning in eighteenth-century Virginia indicates that it was an accepted feature of the colony’s land policy and that it contributed in an essential way to the determination of property lines within the colony.”
Did baseball, as it developed in Europe and America, reflect some sort of connection with perambulations and other similar processions, some sublimated continuation of the rituals of property inspection and marking? To be sure, ballplayers ran around the bases at speeds faster than perambulators trekked around the boundaries. But whatever the speed, baseball may have been a symbolic act of running possession—a faster perambulation—whose purposeful circlings acquired bases at the corners of a rectangular plot, station to station until the closure of the square occurred.
Rounding the Square: Circularity Versus Linearity
Against this backdrop baseball emerged in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Even in town ball days, baseball-type games featured rectangularity, departing from whatever irregular patterns had existed in rounders, stoolball, trapball, wicket, cricket, and the like. Perhaps as important as the rectangularity are some of the uncanny similarities to surveying. The stakes that town ball employed resembled nothing so much as surveying stakes, marking so many rod-and-chain lengths. Baseball dispensed with the perpendicular stakes but continued the idea of boundedness. Although it is much easier to see a sport such as football as a war for territorial dominance—Demos classified baseball as the circular game and football as the linear game—it is just as likely that early Republic Americans saw in baseball and baseball-type games a reaffirmation of territorial possession, that the bases and baselines bounded a piece of territory that the runner and offensive team symbolically owned and the defense likewise competed for. Early settlers, at least in New England, even referred to a piece of potentially productive land as a “pitch.” In Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Vermont Tradition, for example, she recreated a probably typical conversation among would-be Connecticut emigrants in the 1760s eyeing land in what would later become Vermont: “Save a pitch for us. One with good fishing. We’ll be after you soon.” Every run around the bases presaged the later land runs and booms that energized Manifest Destiny, a phenomenon that coincided with the Knickerbockers and the concretization of baseball in Manhattan in the 1840s.
The notion of transition brings yet one other possibility. As fewer Americans were directly involved in farming, as the Industrial Revolution accelerated, and as a burgeoning middle class drew sustenance from service economy positions, several fundamental changes reverberated throughout American culture. One was a surge in sentimentalism and nostalgia about the agrarian lifestyle, following the typical pattern in America of glorifying groups and former lifestyles as they were disappearing or in decline. Second, urbanization, still small by modern ideas, undercut traditional family and church institutions, freeing up individuals who gloried in individualism or re-formed a sense of communitas with new organizational and associational forms. A third was, as Demos analyzed, a transition from “the logic of circularity” to linear, and rectangular, thinking. The old agricultural rhythms, diurnal, lunar, and seasonal in nature, gave way to unit time measurements, statistical thinking, mechanistic calibrations, mathematical calculations and numeracy.
Many commentators, especially Leo Marx in The Machine in the Garden, have documented the first trend, and baseball scholars have been assiduous in locating the pastoral imagery in baseball. Warren Goldstein showed in Playing for Keeps how the second development resulted in modern organized baseball coalescing in a city context, particularly in the urban environs of Manhattan, among such cohorts as the Knickerbockers and other early amateur baseball clubs. Cities, such as New York, provided ambitious middle-class groups who energized the former versions of baseball, speeded up and streamlined the game, and eventually sensed the commercial possibilities of city-based entertainment. Indeed shortly after more formalization, praises for baseball often championed it as a game whose action and pace matched the faster-paced rhythms of city life. Add onto that the American penchant for city boosterism—that the fortunes of one’s city found a mirror in the qualities of its baseball teams—and the connection of baseball and cities was firm.50 But Demos’s analysis and its possible connection to baseball remain unexplored.
Did baseball emerge as an attempt to reconcile the logic of circularity with increasingly linear and rectangular thinking? Runners circle the bases, which are resolutely rectangular in format. Baselines extend in a straight direction, but so much of the other action in baseball moves in more fluid, swooping, even circular motions. To return to the phrase “rounding the bases,” there is a similar phrase in carpentry and furniture-making whereby artisans would abrade or smooth off corners and edges for esthetic, safety, or comfort reasons. Did the very actions of baseball reflect this central tension of a traditional, agricultural, cyclical mentalité conflicting with the nexus of 90-degree angles forecasting the future?
1. Block, D. 2005. Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game; Altherr, T. 2000. “‘A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball’: Baseball and Baseball-Type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic,” NINE 8.2, 15–49; Altherr, T. 2008. “Chucking the Old Apple: Recent Discoveries of Pre–1839 North American Ball Games,” Base Ball 2.1, 29–43.
2. Thompson, G. 2001. “New York Baseball, 1823,” The National Pastime, 6–8; Thorn, J. 2007. “1791 and All That: Baseball and the Berkshires,” Base Ball 1.1, 119–126.
3. For a convenient exposition of this theme, see: Grella, G. 1975. “Baseball and the American Dream,” Massachusetts Review 16, 556–567.
4. For a historical analysis of these practices in New England, see: Cronon, W. 1983. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (ch. 6).
5. Cronon 1983, 111.
6. For a look at the extent of wood use in the construction of fences, see: Meredith, M. 1951. “The Nomenclature of American Pioneer Fences,” Southern Folklore Quarterly 15.2, 109–151.
7. See: Rasmussen, W. 1981. “Wood on the Farm,” in Material Culture of the Wooden Age, ed. B. Hindle, 15–34.
8. Metro, C., and T. Altherr. 2002. Safe by a Mile (pp. 480–481).
9. “Merry England,” Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction: Jan. 6, 1825, p. 557.
10. Mumford, L. 1934. Technics and Civilization (pp. 119–120).
11. For fuller descriptions and illustrations of many of these tools, see: Sloane, E. 1964. A Museum of Early American Tools; Partridge, M. 1973. Farm Tools through the Ages.
12. Johnson, C. 1907. The Country School (p. 16).
13. Green, H. 2006. Wood: Craft, Culture, History (pp. 337–338).
14. Gelber, S. 1983. “Working at Playing: the Culture of the Workplace and the Rise of Baseball,” Journal of Social History 16.4, 3–22.
15. Dickson, P. 2009. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Third Edition (p. 328).
16. Ibid., 431–432.
17. See the quotation by Samuel Dewees in Altherr 2000, 25.
18. Johnson 1907, 16.
19. Newbery, J. 1744. Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Amusement and Instruction of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly (p. 88).
20. Wood, J. 1997. The New England Village.
21. Dennis, F. 1917. The Norfolk Village Green (pp. 5–6).
22. Adams, I. 1976. Agrarian Landscape Terms: a Glossary for Historical Geography, Special Publication Number Nine (pp. 82–83).
23. For a detailed examination of the varieties of infield and outfield configurations in western and central Europe, see: Uhlig, H. 1961. “Old Hamlets with Infield and Outfield Systems in Western and Central
Europe,” Geografiska Annaler 43.1/2, 285–312.
24. Wood 1997, 47.
25. Higginson, T. 1898. Cheerful Yesterdays (p. 30).
26. Kammen, M. 2004. A Time to Every Purpose: the Four Seasons in American Culture; Demos, J. 2004. Circles and Lines: the Shape of Life in Early America (especially Chapter One).
27. For discussions of the customs linked to Lady Day, see: Hutton, R. 1996. The Stations of the Sun: a History of the Ritual Year in Britain (p. 173); Wright, A. 1938. British Calendar Customs, England, Volume II: Fixed Festivals January–May, Inclusive (pp. 166–168); Banks, M. 1939. British Calendar Customs, Scotland, Volume II: the Seasons, the Quarters, Hogmanay January to May (pp. 189–191).
28. See: Linklater, A. 2002. Measuring America: How the United States Was Shaped by the Greatest Land Sale in History; Stilgoe, J. 1982. Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845 (pp. 99–107).
29. Partial text of the ordinance quoted in Linklater 2002, 70. For the full text of the act and a concise commentary, see: White, C. 1982. A History of the Rectangular Survey System (pp. 11–15).
30. Linklater 2002, chapters 7–9.
31. Pattison, W. 1957. Beginnings of the Rectangular Land Survey System, 1784–1800, Department of Geography Research Paper No. 50 (ch. 12).
32. Carstensen, V. 1985. “Patterns on the American Land,” in Plotters and Patterns of American Land Surveying, ed. R. Minnick (pp. 94, 100).
33. Thrower, N. 1966. Original Survey and Land Subdivision: a Comparative Study of the Form and Effect of Contrasting Cadastral Surveys (pp. 8–11).
34. See the 1738 map of Pittsfield reproduced in Trewartha, G. 1946. “Types of Rural Settlement in Colonial America,” Geographical Review 36.4, p. 579.
35. Johnson, H. 1976. Order upon the Land: the U.S. Rectangular Land Survey and the Upper Mississippi Country (pp. 40–49).
36. Friis, H. 1985. “Highlights in the First Hundred Years of Surveying and Mapping and Geographical Exploration of the United States by the Federal Government 1775–1880,” in Minnick 1985, 109–118; Brown, J. 2000. The Years of the Life of Samuel Lane, 1718–1806 (pp. 49–55).
37. Bedini, S. 2001. With Compass and Chain: Early American Surveyors and Their Instruments (pp. 152–173).
38. Carstensen 1985, 98.
39. Definitions of Surveying and Associated Terms (1978, p. 17).
40. Dickson 2009, 129.
41. For further explanation of Rogation perambulations, see: Bushaway, B. 1982. By Rite: Custom, Ceremony and Community in England 1700–1880 (pp. 81–88).
42. For a detailed account of Rogationtide variations, see Hutton 1996, 277–287.
43. Andrews, C. 1889. The River Towns of Connecticut: a Study of Wethersfield, Hartford, and Windsor, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Seventh Series, VII–VIII–IX (p. 98).
44. Seiler, W. 1949. “Land Processioning in Colonial Virginia,” William and Mary Quarterly 6.3, 416–436. Quotation is on p. 435.
45. Demos 2004, 81–82.
46. Fisher, D. 1953. Vermont Tradition: the Biography of an Outlook on Life (pp. 35–36).
47. Demos 2004, especially ch. 2.
48. Ibid., 62. See also: Cassedy, J. 1969. Demography in Early America: Beginnings of the Statistical Mind, 1600–1800; Cohen, P. 1982. A Calculating People: the Spread of Numeracy in Early America.
49. Marx, L. 1964. The Machine in the Garden: the Pastoral Design in American Culture. See also Grella 1975, 556–567; Gaughran, R. 1989. “Baseball Literature’s Complex Pastoralism,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation,
50. Goldstein, W. 1989. Playing for Keeps: a History of Early Baseball (especially ch. 1).
The article below, by Tom Altherr, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball. Tom is our field’s premier collector of primary data on all species of ballplaying. His 2000 article in Nine on early ballplaying references won the McFarland-SABR Research Award in the following year, and he continues finding and reporting original references. His 2011 article in Base Ball, “Basepaths and Baselines: The Agricultural and Surveying Contexts of the Emergence of Baseball,” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. Tom is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991.
His article, like others from the special Protoball issue, appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones at mlb.com. For example, the article below, indexed as 1841.12, reflects that it is the twelfth entry for the year 1841. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
1841.12, Barn Ball
Thomas L. Altherr
Who has not played “barn ball” in his youth, and “wicket” in his manhood?
This question appeared in an 1841 New Orleans Daily Picayune reprint of a Cleveland Herald editorial defending boys’ ball games against charges by a local letter-writer complaining of “infantile sports.” Viewing barn ball as one of the common ball games of childhood, he added, “there is fun, and sport, and healthy exercise in a game of ball. We like it: for with it is associated with recollections of our earlier days, and we shall never be too old to feel and take delight in the amusements which interested us in our boyhood.” For a game designated as common, however, barn ball has always shown up only infrequently in early America. A New Hampshire farmer, Abner Sanger, may have been referring to barn ball when he wrote in his diary on April 27, 1782, “Caleb Washburn, young Benjamin Hall, Tom Wells the younger and El play before my barn.” The Knickerbocker magazine briefly mentioned barn ball in a January 1850 editorial column.
Most references to barn ball come from later in the 19th century. Some of the sources testify that barn ball was a common game. In 1877 a Portage, Wisconsin, newspaper reported that a new window for a store would crimp the local lads: “The boys will not be permitted to play barn ball against the new front.” Many of the remembrances are tinged with nostalgia. Referring to a younger brother, one writer declared in 1852, “If you wanted him, you would find him . . . playing barn-ball.” In 1855, a columnist for Burritt’s Citizen of the World wondered with some whimsy, “How is it with . . . Base-ball, and Barn-ball, and Long-ball. . . ?” Sometimes boys played barn ball against a rock ledge, as an 1874 story in The Youth’s Companion attested, describing an incident in which a lost ball, suspected as stolen, provoked a moral lesson. An 1882 Atchison, Kansas, piece surmised that politician Hannibal Hamlin, who had returned recently from Spain, had found “no bull fight that has any of the cheerful and healthful excitement of a game of barn ball.” In 1908, a New Hampshire writer recollected barn ball in his youth, especially one game in which he accidentally threw the ball over the roof and lost it. In 1874, a Cleveland writer answered the question, “What is a Sturgeon Good For?” by asserting, “A sturgeon is good for nothing, except his nose, and that’s good for a ball center, or core, to make the ball bound” for games including barn ball “in our ball-hood days.” An 1896 Christmas toys article reflected on how grandfathers had used a homemade sock ball for barn ball and other early ball games. In 1889 a reenactment of two-old-cat and barn ball in Bismarck, North Dakota, inspired one writer to gush:
The game was not one of these narrow stringy performances that close with a half-dozen runs, but was on the broad, old-time plan, which gives the audience the worth of its money in runs and shouts. The Burnt Creek team took the lead early in the game, and won by a score of 65 to 33. There were many exciting chases after the ball, and the way the sphere was pounded over the grounds was proof of the superiority of rural muscle and vim.
Additionally, a Brooklyn lawyer, J.H. Littlefield, who had read law in the same office with Abraham Lincoln, asserted that Abe was a fervent barn ball player: “As a relaxation from professional cares he would go out and play ball. The game was what was called barn ball, and it consisted of knocking the ball against the side of a building and then hitting it again on the rebound. I have seen Mr. Lincoln go into this sport with a great deal of zest.
Perhaps the most detailed expression of the nostalgic attitude toward barn ball appeared in an 1877 story, “Good-Will,” by prolific juvenile literature author John Townsend Trowbridge. In this piece—for St. Nicholas magazine—Trowbridge featured barn ball in a small morality play about unselfishness. Trowbridge started with a capsule description of the game:
In one of my walks, the other day, I saw two boys of my acquaintance, whom I shall call Orson and Robin, playing a game of barn-ball. I suppose every country boy knows what that is. The ball is thrown against the unclapboarded side of a barn, or any other suitable building, and as it rebounds, the thrower, who stands behind the knocker, tried to “catch him out.” Of course, there must be no windows to knock the ball through, or, the first you know, there will be a pane to pay for, and, quite likely, somebody very cross about it. A nice little game it is for two; and as I used to be fond of it when I was a boy, and am something of a boy still, I stopped to watch my young friends Orson and Robin.
The story then recounted how Orson refused to take his aunt’s letter to the post office and instead sulkily continued to play barn ball, even by himself for a bit, while his companion Robin, in the spirit of good will, took the aunt’s letter himself to the mail. Trowbridge then drew a didactic distinction about the value of unselfish behavior among good boys. As important here is the author’s offhanded presumption that every boy was familiar with barn ball and that the game had been a favorite for some time. Given that Trowbridge was born in 1827, that would extend the lineage of barn ball back to the 1830s.
An 1867 article in the Daily Cleveland Herald gave some additional detail about barn ball:
But Barn-Ball and Dutch-long, where are they? The first game was composed of three parts: two small boys and a barn. The side of a brick building without windows was the “bully” place, but that was not often attained in the rural districts. But a barn with smooth sideboards was next to best; a clapboarded side of a house would not do, for the ball would strike the edge of a clapboard and glance off, and besides, it need the firmness of plank for “bounding” purposes.
The thrower stood behind the striker; the distance from the barn being gauged by the power of the arm for throwing purposes, and the elasticity of the ball; the best bounding ball was wound around a sturgeon’s nose, or a bit of rubber. It was a great feat when the striker missed and the catcher caught the ball before it struck the ground, though it was an “out” if caught on the first bound. A “tick and a catch” was also “out,” and so it was “out” if the striker could not run from the bye, touch the barn with his club, and reach the bye again, before the catcher could recover a struck ball, and hit the striker or put it on the bye.
One article about tennis compared ancient tennis in Spain to the “modern game of ‘barn-ball,’ or ‘barn-door tick.’” The latter name could be a reference to catching a ball before it bounced twice, a tick.
But apparently barn ball kept some adherents in the late 19th century. An 1887 essay about handball play compared that more urban game to barn ball, “played by all boys in the country.” The writer thought that handball had simply added side walls to the front wall necessary in barn ball action. In an 1890 survey of several types of early ball games, Henry J. Philpott wrote, “It was much more fun [than playing some simpler games] to throw the ball against the barn, and standing behind the batter put him out by catching the ball when struck.” One scholar, however, analyzing the early American ball games, found them inferior to baseball. Edward B. Tylor wrote thus in 1879:
The old-fashioned ball of our fathers was very amateur, but required some enlargement of the field. Round-ball, barn-ball, and one and two old-cat were lively game in the hands of boys, but did not admit of the muscular precision, dexterity and nerve of the base-ball, with its inelastic projectile, swift pitching and expanded field.
Indeed some saw barn ball as a very rudimentary game. A travelogue in an 1885 Outing number labeled barn ball an “antiquated and humble game” and noted that onlookers “lay around in the hammocks and chaffed the players.” Albert Spalding wrote somewhat dismissively of barn ball in America’s National Game, suggesting that is was just a step in the evolution inexorably heading toward baseball because boys had increasingly less access to a barn and had to develop other forms of ball play. In Summer-Savory (1879), author Benjamin Taylor recalled a boy who “never got further than ‘barn-ball,’ which means throwing a ball at the gable and catching it when it returns,” because of his or his parents’ timidity. Perhaps, however, John Allen Krout’s summation in Annals of American Sport seems fairest. After including an illustration of boys playing barn ball and describing the play of barn ball along the lines of the 1867 Cleveland Herald article, Krout observed, “Here were the fundamentals of the game of baseball; the pitcher, the batter, the base hit, and the run.”
1. “Playing Ball,” The Daily Picayune: May 25, 1841, p. 2.
2. Stabler, L. ed. 1986. Very Poor and of a Lo Make: the Journal of Abner Sanger (p. 416).
3. “The Editor’s Table,” The Knickerbocker: Jan. 1850, p. 84.
4. “Here and Hereabouts,” The Wisconsin State Register: July 14, 1877.
5. “An Autobiography,” Water-Cure Journal: Aug. 1852, p. 33.
6. “Old Burchell’s Packet for the Children,” Burritt’s Citizen of the World: June, 1855, p. 85.
7. Rev. Theron Brown, “Aunt Huldah,” The Youth’s Companion: July 16, 1874, pp. 230–231.
8. “No Place Like Home,” The Atchison Globe: Nov. 4, 1882.
9. Walker, C. 1908. Early Days of “Squog.” Manchester [New Hampshire] Historic Association Collections, vol. 4, pt. 1, pp. 68–69.
10. “What is Sturgeon Good for?” Cleveland Daily Herald: Oct. 6, 1874.
11. “Merry Xmas to Our Lads and Lassies: Toys and Games of Our Grandparents,” Rocky Mountain News: Dec. 13, 1896.
12. “Bass Ball of Ye Olden days,” Bismarck Daily Tribune: Oct. 13, 1889.
13. “Memories of Lincoln,” Bismarck Daily Tribune: Dec. 2, 1887.
14. Trowbridge, J. 1877. “Good-Will,” St. Nicolas 4.6, pp. 389–391.
15. “Barn-Ball—Dutch-Long,” Cleveland Daily Herald: Apr. 24, 1867. The word “bye” could have referred to a base or a starting line from which the action proceeded. For the former sense, see: Dickson, P. 2009. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (3rd ed.) (pp. 153–154). For the latter connotation see: Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed., vol. 2) (p. 732).
16. Chace, M. 1893. “Tennis,” The Youth’s Companion, Aug. 17. See also: Dickson 2009, 873; Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed., vol. 18) (p. 54).
17. “Hand-Ball,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat: Nov. 27, 1887.
18. Philpott, H. 1890. “A Little Boys’ Game with a Ball,” Popular Science Monthly 37.5, p. 654.
19. “Base Ball Historically,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat: June 3, 1879.
20. Seely, L. 1885. “The Capital Outing,” Outing, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation 7.3, p. 333.
21. Spalding, A. 1911 (1991 reprint). America’s National Game: Historic Facts Concerning the Beginning, Evolution, Development and Popularity of Bass Ball (p. 23). See also Harold Seymour’s brief description of barn ball in his Baseball: The Early Years (1960) (p. 6).
22. Taylor, B. 1879. Summer-Savory, Gleaned from Rural Nooks in Pleasant Weather (p. 122).
23. Krout, J. 1929. Annals of American Sport (p. 115).
The article below, by Larry McCray, appeared in print in a special issue of the journal Base Ball for which Larry served as guest editor. He is the founder of the invaluable Protoball Project, a website where many of the early game’s top scholars have shared their finds. He is also a panelist on Major League Baseball’s Origins Committee, which I chair.
His article, like others from the special Protoball issue, appears courtesy of the publisher, McFarland and Company. Each article is keyed to the larger chronology appearing at Early Baseball Milestones at mlb.com. For example, the article below, indexed as 1672.1, reflects that it is the first entry for the approximate year 1672. As the journal’s editor, I encourage you to consider subscribing. For details, see: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/?page_id=934.
1672c.1, The Amazing Francis Willughby, and the Role of Stoolball in the Evolution of Baseball and Cricket
Hornebillets. Hornebillets is when they make 2 round holes in the ground, 7 or 8 yards asunder, or further or neerrer as they think good. They play 2 of a side, and have one Cat & a pare of Dogstaffes betweene them . . . . If 6 play they must have 3 holes, if 8, 4 &c, and the Cat must bee throwne round from one hole to another. [Francis Willughby]
Long before there was David Block, there was Joseph Strutt, whose own path-breaking book, on English sports up to 1800, is well known to sports historians. Long before there was Joseph Strutt, there was Francis Willughby, whose path-breaking manuscript on English “plaies” was lost for 10 generations, reaching print only in 2003.
The Willughby Catalog of Games
Willughby, born in 1635, was described by a friend as having been “bitten by the snake of knowledge.” He was a leading researcher on insects, and at age 26 became an original fellow of the scientific Royal Society. In the 1660s, he began his survey of games, or “plaies.” He had hoped to travel to America, where such a survey might have continued, but in June 1672 he contracted pleurisy, and he died a month later, leaving behind 192 folio pages of notes describing over 60 pastimes, including several games of ball. This trove then disappeared into long-term storage.
The first known cricket play had occurred a century before Willughby’s survey commenced (our first reference to English baseball only turns up 72 years after his death). But he has no description of cricket at all, which is likely why few today celebrate his ancient games collection, and perhaps why the manuscript, recovered in the 1940s, reached print only recently.
Willughby does, however, provide a detailed and comprehensible account of English stoolball, a game for which we have many dozens or references ranging from 1500–1700. Stoolball today has many strong resemblances to cricket: “Goals” are defended by batters, who then run bases until the ball is retrieved and returned. Still played vigorously in the south of England, the game—in which batters defend targets set at about shoulder level—is sometimes called “cricket in the air.”
But the game Willughby described in the 1660s bears a stronger similarity to a fungo game like “hit-the-bat” than to cricket. Standing near a stool placed with its seat facing the field, a member of the offense “posts” a ball—envision a volleyball-type serve—toward the defensive side. If the ball is caught on the fly, and the offense fails to catch a return post, “hee that [first] posted it must be out;” if it is not caught, however, the defense throws the ball back, trying to hit the stool, a feat that also will serve to retire the hitter. Willughby describes nothing resembling pitching, batting, or any attempt to defend the stool from the thrown ball. It’s not cricket-like at all.
But then, we find in Willughby the otherwise unrecorded game of hornebillets. Hornebillets play sounds familiar to us, even if its name doesn’t. A member of one team tries to throw the “billet” into a circular hole. A member of the opposing team, knowing that if the billet enters the hole “they are out,” hits it away with a staff and then runs from hole to hole, running up the score, until the billet can be retrieved and returned. A score of 63 wins the game. Running was apparently mandatory for all hits. A fly rule is not mentioned. The age range and genders of the players are not given.
It would be hard to miss the resemblance of this game to the early American “o’ cat” ballgames, which are sometimes rendered as “one-hole cat,” two-hole cat,” etc. It would also be hard to miss the central fact that a “billet” is not a ball; it is a short length of stick or animal horn. If the playing ground was not level, players may have much preferred to play with an object that was not forever rolling down a slope and away from them. Whether hornebillets has some relationship to primitive forms of cricket, or English stoolball, or to the game of English baseball that arose in the next century, awaits the research effort of some modern-day Willughby.
What features may stoolball have bestowed on cricket and baseball?
Stoolball is certainly one of the best-documented of early ballgames (the Protoball Project has more than a hundred references to its play prior to 1870), and many observers have thus seen it as an important early stage in the evolution of safe-haven games. It is not uncommon, for example, that cricket writers refer to stoolball as the likely father of cricket, and David Block cites stoolball as the game that may have contributed the most to English baseball.
But what particular elements of early cricket and baseball might have derived from ancient stoolball? In 2010 we took a hard look at the available evidence about stoolball before these other games had appeared on the scene. (As stoolball and cricket have been similar games for recent generations, we have supposed that they always were.)
The earliest known reference to cricket indicates that it was played in about 1550. Cricket scholars believe that the game had taken its essential shape by 1706, when a long poem depicted the game in enough detail to identify cricket’s central features, including baserunning, bowling, and the defense of wickets using bats.
Thus, our main question is what the evidence says about the nature of stoolball from 1550 to about 1700; such elements, and only such elements, might have influenced the early evolution of cricket. We examined each of the 70 stoolball entries Protoball has collected from that century and a half, many of them brief mentions in poetry, plays, scoldings by clerics, bans and ordinances, etc.
The general picture that emerges from those pre-1700 sources is that stoolball was easily the most frequently cited English ball game of the era, that it was an adult pastime, that it was played as often by women as men, and that not infrequently it was cited as a lusty game that led to somewhat unchaste interactions between the lads and lasses involved.
However, the evidence on the game’s actual playing rules is very thin, with the exacting Willughby survey itself by far the most complete and convincing description of the lot. We find in scattered evidence that pre-1700 stoolball involved (a) the propulsion of the ball by a member of the “in” team to a team of fielders who could register a score by catching it in the air; (b) fielded balls being thrown toward the stool; (c) score being kept and a winning side thereby determined; and—in Willughby, and no place else—(d) an all-out-side-out format for exchanging sides at the end of we now call innings.
Missing from all these pre-1700 accounts are any concrete depictions of (1) risky running among stools by the “in” players as the way to score “notches” (runs); (2) the presence of two or more bases (stools) on the playing field; (3) the use of a bat to put a ball in play; and (4) the idea that “in” players protected a stool or other target from being hit by the balls thrown toward the stool by the “out” side.
Thus, if these accounts are taken as the only evidence, one cannot attribute to 1700-era stoolball the central modern features of bowling/pitching, batting (with either a club or with a player’s hand), or baserunning. All three of these features were already part of cricket in 1700 and they were part of English baseball when it later emerged. They were found in stoolball itself in later years, but one could speculate that stoolball may have adopted them from cricket or other pastimes.
If bowling/pitching, batting, and risky baserunning didn’t come to cricket from stoolball, what were their sources? That’s still hard to say. Possibilities may include running games like European long-ball games, and assorted “cat” games like cat-and-dog and hornebillets, which were running games but not ball games. But even if stoolball has endowed to later games nothing but the ancient and familiar fly rule, that may be reason enough to celebrate its long history.
1. Cram, Forgeng, and Johnston. 2003. Francis Willughby’s Book of Games: A Seventeenth-Century Treatise on Sports, Games, and Pastimes.
2. Strutt, J. 1801. The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England.
3. Ibid., 7.
4. The sport is energetically promoted by Stoolball England: see www.stoolball.org.uk.
5. Ibid., 178.
6. Ibid., 175.
7. Stoolball’s leading scholar today is Martin Hoerchner, an American living in Kent, England. Martin has drafted a fine introductory history of stoolball.
8. For a compilation of about sixty references to stoolball, see: retrosheet.org/Protoball/Sub.Stoolball.htm.
9. Block, D. 2006. Baseball before We Knew It (p. 119).
10. See Protoball entry 1550C.2. In a 1598 trial record in Surrey a John Derrick, then aged 59, “stated that he had known the [disputed] ground for fifty years or more and that when he was a scholar in the free school of Guildford, he and several of his fellows did run and play there at cricket and other plays.” Brown, J. 1950. The Story of the Royal Grammar School, Guildford (p. 6).
11. Goldwin, W. 1706. “In Certamen Pilae,” Musae Juveniles, March 1706.
12. It is possible to perceive a reference to baserunning in a couplet from a sonnet by Elizabethan poet Phillip Sidney: “A time there is for all, my mother often sayes/ When she with skirts tuckt very hie, with gyrles at stoolball playes.” However, Sydney may here refer to his mother as a fielder, not a baserunner. Grosart, A. 1877. The Complete Poems of Sir Philip Sidney (p. 51). See Protoball entry 1586.1.
13. However, the use of a bat does appear before 1720. See “Stool-ball, or the Easter Diversion,” in Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy, 1719, reprinted by F. A. Praeger, 1967, p. 27.
This is the oft-referenced but little-read article by Italy’s Corrado Gini (1884-1965), a professor of sociology, statistics, and demography who was the editor of Genus, in which Per Maigaard’s article (the previous post in this space) appeared in 1941. Gini was also a leading Fascist theorist and ideologue who was a proponent of eugenics; his organicist theories of nations and their natality and degeneracy mirrored his belief in racialism. In 1927 he published The Scientific Basis of Fascism. Two years later, Gini founded the Italian Committee for the Study of Population Problems, for which Genus became the official journal. While Gini became best known for his statistical and demographic studies, it is this startling paper that has earned for him an enduring place in the study of baseball origins.
Rural Ritual Games in Libya (Berber Baseball and Shinny)
Source: Rural Sociology, Vol. 4, No. 3; Columbia, Mo.: Rural Sociological Society; September 1939, pp. 283-299.
The article gives detailed information about two games (Om el mahag and Kura) played by the Berber tribes of the Gebel Nefusa which were studied and filmed during a scientific expedition of the Italian Committee for the study of population problems. Om el mahag seems to be played only by the said Berber tribes and may be described as an elementary Baseball. Kura is played all over Libya, Algeria, and Morocco; and, when it is played with a stick, is very similar to the American Shinny; when played with the foot, it is like Football. The article establishes three series of analogous games: (1) Om el mahag, Rounders, Baseball, and O’ Cat; (2) Kura (played with a stick), Soule a la crosse, Hockey, and Shinny; (3) Kura (played with the foot), Soule au pied, Football, and Calcio, and examines the possible explanations of their similarities showing the difficulty of an explanation in terms of diffusion or autonomous evolution and suggesting a more plausible explanation in terms of vestigials. According to the latter explanation, the analogous games played now in North Africa and America would be survivals or local developments from ancient games prevailing over much larger areas of the old world, whence they have been later imported, in a more or less modified form, in the new one. Several circumstances and considerations suggest that Kura and Om el mahag were connected in the past with spring rain rites.
As President of the Italian Committee for the study of population problems, I directed in September-October of 1937 a first scientific expedition formed for studying the remains of blondness still found among the Berbers of Libya. The tribes of Jadum and neighborhood in the Gebel Nefusa were the objects of the inquiry. This expedition, like those previously organized by the same Italian Committee, made use, in studying the individuals examined, of a demographic questionnaire for each family and of two individual cards, one for anthroprometric and the other for medico-biological data, so drawn up as to allow for collecting in full detail all necessary information. Photographs in three positions were also taken of each subject examined, as well as the outline and imprints of hands and feet, a dental chart and a specimen of hair. For a certain number of individuals an examination was made of basic metabolism, blood pressure, vital capacity. Urine analyses and some plaster casts of faces were also taken.
Detailed information of an ethnographical and economic description was also collected. Some of the games played by the Berbers of the Gebel Nefusa are interesting and we took films of two of them [might these survive?–JT] . Both of these games are played with a ball. One is called Ta kurt na rrod (the ball of the goal) and is very similar to the American “Shinny.” The other is called Ta kurt om el mahag (the ball of the pilgrim’s mother) or, more commonly, Om el mahag (the pilgrim’s mother) and may be described as an elementary Baseball. Berber Shinny is played all over Libya, Algeria, and Morocco by the Arabophone and Berberophone populations. Berber Baseball, on the other hand, according to the statement of the Berbers of Jadum, is played only by the Berber tribes of the Gebel Nefusa. First, let me discuss baseball.
The playing field consists of a level space without special boundaries other than those designated by home and one other base. In a shady spot in the middle of one side, a home base consisting of a rectangle about twelve feet in length is marked by stone or other signposts at its external limits. In front of the home base, some seventy to ninety feet away, a running base, called El Mahag, is marked. The game uses only one base like American “One O’ Cat.”
The game is played by two teams of equal numbers, each under a captain (sciek). The players choose two captains. Then the other men distribute themselves by couples and a man is assigned from every couple to each captain by chance. The number of players may vary from three to twenty on each side, but the usual number is six. The batting team (A) strikes the ball in batting order with a bat, sending it as far off as possible, so that the other members of the team may have time to run from home to the mahag and, if possible, back again. The men of the fielding team (B) try to prevent this by catching the ball as it flies, or by picking it up from the ground and throwing it to hit a member of the batting team as he runs from the gate to the mahag or back. When a team bats, it is called “marksmen” (darraba), and when it fields it is called “hunters” (fajadah).
Lots are drawn at the beginning of the game to see which of the two teams bats first.
Figure 1 shows the arrangement of the teams when the game starts.
The batting team stands in full strength along the homebase; the batter in front, bat in hand, is faced at a distance of six to eight feet by the captain of the catching team who pitches the ball for his opponent to strike on the fly. The distance between pitcher and batter is such that the batter with outstretched arm can touch with the end of his bat the ball which the pitcher also holds at arm’s length. The mode of pitching makes it easy for the batter to hit the ball as it does not seem to be part of the game to strike out the batter. Before any batting is begun, the pitcher and the batter take the right distance and throw the ball back and forth several times, to make it easy for the batter to hit the ball. No catcher is used.
The leather covered ball is the size of the American baseball, but is not so hard. The bat is an olive branch which has been slightly curved by exposure to the heat of a fire, followed by slow drying. It is about three feet in length, somewhat flattened to about three fingers broad on the striking end.
In the batting order, the best batters are generally kept for the last and the captain ends the list of his team. The ball is always pitched by the captain of the fielding team. At first each member of the batting team is entitled to two strikes, the captain to three. When a batter misses all the strikes to which he is entitled, he withdraws to a corner, near one of the stones marking the limits of the home base, and hands the bat to the next man. He is then said to be “rotten” or to be set aside to “grow mouldy.” Should all the batters miss all the strikes to which they are entitled, the inning would be lost by the batting team (A), and the fielding team (B) goes to bat. It is, however, very unusual for all to miss. Like One O’Cat, no account of score is kept. The fun lies in keeping the bat as long as possible. As a matter of fact, a distinct advantage accrues to the batting team, as the members have much time to stand quiet in the shade, while the men in the field have to stand or run in the sun.
As soon as the ball is hit, all members of the batting team who have already batted (including also the “rotten” ones) run to the mahag. Sliding to the mahag is usual, as sliding into base in American Baseball. However, since the Berber merely has to avoid being hit by the ball and does not have to be touched by a baseman as in Baseball, he often slides and rolls into the mahag sideways. On reaching the mahag the men of the batting team generally stop, shouting out “mahag, mahag“; if, however, they have time, they run back to the home base, shouting all the time and mocking their opponents. The player who succeeds in running to the mahag and back is entitled, if he has not yet batted, to one more strike. Then a member of the batting team is entitled to three strikes and the captain to four. The batter does not always follow his comrades in making the run to the mahag. He must do so after the last strike to which he is entitled, but after other strikes he only runs when the blow he has given has been a very heavy one so that he thinks he has hit a “home run.”
Meantime the fielding team (B) has placed its men back or aside of the mahag or running base. They come nearer or spread out according to the strength of the batter. They try to catch the ball as it flies past or else pick it up from the ground as swiftly as possible. If the ball is caught in the air the inning finishes with the victory to the fielding team (B), which now goes to bat. If the ball is picked up, the picker tries to hit one of his opponents who is running to or from the mahag. If he succeeds, the fielding team run immediately to the home base, because a member of the batting team (A) may pick up the ball and hit one of the fielders with it. If he does so and saves himself on the mahag or on the home base, the earlier advantage to the fielding team (B) is forfeited. It is easier to reach the mahag than to make a home run in one hit. It generally requires two strikes for reaching the mahag and returning home. This explains why the batter only runs to the mahag either after the last hit to which he is entitled, or, in exceptional cases, after he has struck what he thinks is a home run. Sometimes the batter is mistaken in his estimate, so that, after having reached the mahag, he has insufficient time to return to home base. Then, if the batter is not the captain of the team, the next member of the batting team (A), takes the bat. If the batter is the captain, who always bats last, there is no following man to bat. In that circumstance, the captain of the batting team (A) takes a three-step lead from the mahag, and tries to steal home while a man of the fielding team (B), tries to hit him. If the captain of the batting team (A) is not touched by the ball, the inning is continued for the batting team (A), and the batting order begins again. If, on the contrary, the captain of the batting team (A) is touched by the ball, and no successful retaliation is made, as described above, the side is out and the fielding team (B) goes to bat.
The men do not use mitts, but catch the ball in their bare hands.
When a fielded ball is thrown and hits one of the members of the batting team (A), and the advantage is not forfeited, as above, the whole of the field team (B) gathers round the mahag, except the captain who goes to bat. The opposing team (A) then goes to the field and its captain pitches. Should the B captain who now has to hit the ball, miss it thrice, then the advantage accruing to the B team now gathered round the mahag is forfeited. In that case, the B team retires to the field while the A bats again. But should the B captain hit a fair ball, which is uncaught, his men, gathered round the mahag, try to run home. If they succeed without being hit by the ball which their opponents have picked up, the former fielding team (B) becomes the batting team. Should they not succeed in this, their advantage is forfeited and the teams resume their respective position.
If the pitcher, having the ball in his hand, or catching or picking it up in the neighborhood of the home base, sees one of the men of the batting team outside the home base and the mahag, he can throw the ball and, if he succeeds in touching the man off base and no successful retaliation is made, the inning is for the field team which now goes to bat.
When playing at ball, whether Om el mahag or Ta kurt na rrod, the Berbers take off their barracans. Does this have a ritual significance or is it merely a concession to the freedom of movements necessary to the play? The last explanation seems obvious; but it is advisable to remark that the Berbers otherwise never remove their barracans. It may be interesting also to note that, in the formation of the teams, words are used that have no meaning for the Berbers of today. Probably they represent ancient vestigial words of which only the sound is remembered. To the possible ritual significance of the game I shall return later.
As I have already said, Om el mahag, according to the Berbers of Jadum, is a traditional game characteristic of Gebel Nefusa, as it is not now played in any other part of North Africa. I have indeed found no reference to it in any of the publications I have been able to consult which speak of Arab and Berber games and more especially of Ta kurt na rrod. Not even the Arabophone tribes of the Malechite religion who surround the Berberophone and Hybadite tribes of Jadum, with whom they have most of their customs in common, and who would seem to have the same ethnical origin, seem to know Om el mahag.
Thus Om el mahagsubstantially resembles American Baseball. In both are found two opposing teams, each led by a captain; a base, the touching of which makes the player safe; the catching of the ball in mid-air; the throwing of the ball, by the men of the fielding team, when picked up from the ground, or by the pitcher, at the opponents who are not at the base. Innings, forced runs, base stealing, and most of the other key situations in American baseball are also found. The objects with which the game is played are similar, the ball and bat. The tasks assigned the two teams are fundamentally the same. Baseball is, in some respects, much more elaborate, but this, as is known, is due to relatively recent regulations. The chief differences from the structural point of view are the presence, in Baseball, of the catcher, who is lacking in Om el mahag, and the use of three bases–besides the home plate–instead of one. More important are the functional differences which make Baseball much more complicated and difficult to play, more violent and more strictly regulated than Om el mahag. Essential among these differences are the importance which pitching the ball has in Baseball, the effort to make it difficult for the batter to hit the ball, the consequent importance of the pitcher, and the fact that his function is independent of that of the captain of the team, and also, on the other hand, the difficulty of the task assigned to the batter, increased by the round shape of the bat. The greater violence of the game entails the need of masks, mitts and protectors, and the presence of umpires.
It should however be noted that at one time there was no umpire and no masks, mitts or protectors. And in many other particulars the old game of Baseball, before the introduction of the rules a century ago, was much more like Om el mahag. The bat was flat as in that game, no special tricks were used in throwing the ball so as to make it more difficult for the batter to strike it. The batter could hit the ball twice without running to the base; he was only required to run after the third hit. On the other hand, Om el mahag is complicated by the principle of retaliation which is not generally found in sand-lot and early Baseball.
How are these similarities to be explained? Three suppositions seem possible. The game may have been borrowed by one people from another. This hypothesis is not, however, easily acceptable. It is difficult to see how an American or an Anglo-Saxon can have imported the game from the Berbers of the Gebel Nefusa. It is no less difficult to suppose that the Berbers, of the Gebel Nefusa have in past centuries imported their game from America or Great Britain, The supposition of independent origin and the convergence of the two games also seems difficult to accept, in view of the marked and detailed similarities between the two complex games. If the games were simple they could more easily have an independent origin.
The remaining supposition is that of a common origin. I do not mean of course a common origin between Om el mahag and the present game of Baseball, which, it is known, was organized about a hundred years ago in America. Rather, the common origin would be between Om el mahag and an ancestor of baseball.
“Town-ball” is looked on as the immediate predecessor of Baseball, and some of the characteristic features of that game resemble Om el mahag even more than Baseball. One of these characteristics is the undetermined number of the members of the teams, which sometimes rose to fifteen or more on each side. Another is the position of the batter, who is placed in the middle of one side of the square, instead of in a corner of the so-called diamond.
A still more distant ancestor of Baseball is, in the opinion of some authorities, the game of “Rounders,” still played in England, but which is also held to be of comparatively recent origin, dating no further back than the eighteenth century, and not attaining any popularity before 1800.
In both Town-Ball and Rounders, the ball can be struck in all directions as in Cricket. So, from this point of view, Om el mahag resembles more closely the present game of Baseball than it does the games from which Baseball would be derived. Both in Town-Ball and Rounders the running bases are four, whereas in Om el mahagthere is one running base only. But, on the other hand, it is well known that in the early days of Baseball the number was not always fixed, and although when it was not four, it was generally a higher number, we cannot exclude the possibility that in a previous period it may have been a lower one. Some consider that Town-Ball is a development of a group of games called “O’ Cat,” still played by American boys, of which there are four kinds; “One O’ Cat,” “Two O’ Cat,” “Three O’ Cat,” and “Four O’ Cat,” according to the number of bases. At each base there is a batter and a catcher. Besides these, in early “One O’ Cat” there was also a pitcher, whereas in the others the catcher of one base also acts as pitcher to the others, and the men at each base form a team which plays on its own against the others. The closer analogies existing from many points of view between Town-Ball and Rounders than between Town-Ball and O’ Cat make it difficult however to accept the hypothesis which has perhaps arisen from the desire of Americans to trace back the origin of their national game to American rather than to English sources. The analogies found between Town-Ball, Rounders, and Om el mahag, make it seem still more likely that Town-Ball does not descend from O’ Cat, but rather that O’ Cat is a more simple form of Town-Ball which enabled boys to play the game.
It seems to me very likely that Baseball is the result of the development (and perhaps partly of the reorganization) of a preexisting Anglo-Saxon or Celtic game. If we are to accept its common origin with Om el mahag, we should therefore have to admit a common ancestor for both games, which had spread over a very wide area covering Great Britain and the Gebel Nefusa, and which then gradually became restricted to those two countries, or which, although at first spread over a smaller area, was afterwards imported in the Gebel Nefusa, in a form more or less closely resembling the present game, as it was also imported into America. To accept this hypothesis we should have to admit (and this is not difficult) that the game dates back to much earlier times than it is generally supposed.
As to the sub-hypothesis of importation, it will not be out of place to recall that there is a blond strain among the Berbers, more especially among the Berbers of the Gebel Nefusa. This blond strain probably descends from light-complexioned people who have gradually lost their characteristic pigmentation. Abundant documentary and other evidence bears witness to their existence and their increasing importance as we go backwards through the centuries up to some thousands of years before our era. The study of the remaining relics of this strain was indeed the purpose, as it has already been stated, of the expedition organized by the Italian Committee for the study of population problems. Many believed that the blond Libyans came from the North, or at least from Europe, and we might then inquire whether they brought with them this game, now known only to one of the strongholds of their race, where there are good reasons for believing that anthropological and ethnical miscegenation has been less important than elsewhere. In this case, we should have to admit that the game is a very ancient one, and that in recent times, through Rounders in England and subsequently Town-Ball and Baseball in America, it has been better organized and has acquired or, better, reacquired popularity.
In any case, the substantial analogies between Baseball and Om el mahag are undeniable. The reader can explain them, according to his inclination, by one or other of the suppositions above set forth.
Now some words on the other ball game: Ta kurt na rrod, or Berber Shinny. At Jadum the rules of the game are as follows: The playing field is an extensive level, 300 or 400 feet in length, rectangular in shape, the shorter sides of the rectangle forming the two gates or goals. Two teams, of equal strength, varying from ten to sixty players, compete. Each player is armed with a hooked stick twenty to thirty inches in length according to his stature.
The ball is the same as that used in Om el mahag.
At the beginning of the game, the ball is put in a hole at the center of the field and covered with sand. Two men, one from each team, play center, and, at a given signal, try with alternate strokes to extract the ball from the hole and send it towards the goal of the opponent team. The other men are scattered between the center and their own goal, each team striving to push the ball through the opponents’ goal. If one team succeeds, the inning is gained, and the teams change sides.
The winning team has the privilege of the first stroke in the following inning. In the initial inning, lots decide which of the two teams strikes first. The ball cannot be pushed by hand or feet, but only handled with the stick. It is permitted, however, to pick up the ball from the ground, throw it in the air and, when in the air, to bat it with the stick towards the opponents’ goal; but this possibility is not easy to realize and becomes more difficult as the players become more numerous.
There is no captain; a goalman or back (sometimes two or three of them) has charge of defending the goal for each team. Dribbling is practiced by experienced players. It is not permitted to turn the back to the men of the opponent team, thus preventing them from reaching the ball.
The play is not without danger: the stick often hits the legs instead of the ball. Therefore adults play only adults, and boys play those of their own ages. No leg protectors however are used. The positions of the teams at the starting of the game are represented by Figure 2.
As Om el mahag closely parallels the elaborate Baseball, so Ta kurt na nod parallels the elaborate Hockey. There is however the difference that Baseball developed in America, while Hockey had its rules established in England about half a century ago; though it attained its greatest achievements in recent times in Canada. As Om el mahag has a more modest parallel in the American O’ Cat, so Ta kurt na nod has also a more modest parallel in the American Shinny. The main differences are that in Shinny the ball is put in a hole, but not covered with sand, and that leg protectors are sometimes used.
French authors trace in direct line the ascendance of the original Hockey and of North-African Kura, as well as that of the Canadian Lacrosse and of the Anglo-Canadian Polo, to the ancient Soule a la crosse of Northern France. Imported in England during the One Hundred Years War (1338-1453) it would have developed into Hockey; imported in Canada by the colonists of Britain and Normandy, it would have developed into the national game of Lacrosse.
This theory seems a little tainted with nationalism. As a matter of fact, it seems well established that the game called Lacrosse is of Indian origin, and Polo is said to be a Thibetan name (pulu-ball) and sure to have been played a long time ago in Persia whence it spread westward and eastward from Constantinople to Japan. For Hockey, the French origin is equally doubtful. But a European origin is, in any case, certain for Hockey, as it is very probable for the ancestors of Baseball.
So, between Kura, Soule a la crosse, Hockey, and Shinny a parallel exists, very analogous to the parallel between Om el mahag, Rounders, Baseball, and O’ Cat. It is reasonable to give an analogous explanation to the two parallels.
The main difference between the two cases is that Kura is played all over North Africa, west of Egypt, while Om el mahag seems to be confined to Gebel Nefusa. A very plausible explanation of the difference is the greater complexity of Om el mahag. In a decadent population, as the Berbers have been for many centuries, the most elaborate intellectual achievements decay or disappear. Even at Jadum Ta kurt na nod is preferred, for the sake of its simplicity and relatively few rules, to the rigid and complicated Om el mahag. The people I succeeded in collecting for the games had a distinct propensity to discontinue Om el mahag and play Ta kurt na nod. The time is past when the adults used Om el mahag for training their muscles and developing their wind for sake of war; now the game is played mainly by boys. Probably, if no provision is taken, it will be extinct even at Jadum in the near future.
It is certain that the greater simplicity of the Kura makes the hypothesis of an independent origin less difficult to accept in this case, than in that of Om el mahag. But similar games with a ball and hooked sticks are known also for ancient Persia, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome. An independent origin in five places becomes obviously very difficult to admit. Diffusion may seem more plausible in this case: from Persia to Greece, from Greece to Rome, from Rome to France and North Africa. But an isolated explanation is not very satisfactory.
May I recall further in this connection, that also the Anglo-Saxon Association Foot-Ball, according to the same French authors, would descend from an ancient French game, the Soule au pied played in Britain and Normandy and also imported in England during the One Hundred Years War.
Here also the pedigree is far from being established.
Italians claim that Football is nothing else than their Giuoco del calcio (the game of the kicks) played in several places of Italy in the late Middle Age and ascended to great honor in Florence during the Medicean period, and they trace the origin of their Calcio to the Latins and hence to the Greeks. Englishmen maintain that the sort of Football as engaged in by ancients had no relation to the organized game which is played in modern times, but, in any case, they may cite an edict of 1349 in which a sort of Football was prohibited, with other popular games, in order to favor the progress of archery. What is important for us is that games analogous to Football were spread over Europe from ancient times.
But Football, Soule au pied, and Calcio have also their North-African parallel in another manner of playing the Kura, observed, like the preceding one, by Doutte, in the Rehamna tribes.
Then there are, not two, but three analogous parallels.
If I am not mistaken, these three analogous parallels demand analogous explanations. Then, if it seems difficult to explain with diffusion or independent origin the parallel between Om el mahag, Rounders, and Baseball or O’ Cat, even more difficult it is to explain with three cases of independent origin or diffusion the three parallels between Om el mahag, Rounders, and Baseball or O’ Cat, between Ta kurt na nod, Soule a la crosse, and Hockey or Shinny and between the other variant of Kura, Calcio, or Soule au pied and Association Football.
On the contrary, the parallels, as well as the minor differentiations between the analogous games, may well be in agreement with the hypothesis of survivals or local developments from ancient games prevailing over much larger areas of the old world whence they have been later imported, in a more or less modified form, in the new one. Like many other games, the Berber ball games have a paramount importance for Rural Sociology. They seem to play, or at least to have played, an important part in the magic rites for calling the rain. Certainly the American crowds which assist the exploits of the “White Sox” or the “Yankees” would not think of themselves as continuations of religious assemblies, and of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth as rain makers (except for the rains of dollars). Nevertheless the original games seem connected with religion and rain making.
The French scholars who have especially studied the Berber and Arab games, are very explicit in tracing this connection. Doutte says that the Kura is played in certain places of Morocco exclusively, or mainly, or with special and more rigid forms, by the tolba (students of the Koran) ; that it is played exclusively or mainly in the spring and sometimes as an essential part of spring festivities. He indicates that in France during the Middle Ages the ball games were played in the churches, and sometimes by Bishops and Canons on the shores at special epochs and with special rites. Thus he sees in the Berber and Arab Kura a survival of agrarian religious ceremonies made by a special caste.
Moreover, recalling the danger often connected with the field arguments about Kura, he associates it with the ceremonial battles–true or simulated–that, according to St. Augustine and Lion the African, were organized, at given seasons, in different places of North Africa. It would be from such ritual festivities that our carnival took its origin.
These rites would represent the conflict between the passing winter and the coming summer at the beginning of the spring, which was the seed season at one time in North Africa. The rites would have had originally the aim of insuring the crops, in the imminence of the sowing time. Bertholon and Chantre, endorsing Doutte unreservedly, connect the Kura furthermore with a ceremonial battle (described by Herodotus) engaged in by teams of Libyan girls in honor of Tanit (the Libyan Athena) to cause rain, as well as with other ancient and modern spring ceremonies in North Africa. Laoust and Mercier are equally affirmative in considering the Kura as a “rain rite.”
Now do Om el mahag and Ta kurt na rrod played at Jadum also have a religious significance? All the local people are in agreement in denying them any religious character, as well as any aim in causing rain. They declare that their original purpose was to keep the muscles supple and to accustom men to the long races entailed in warlike pursuits.
The season of playing is not early spring, but summer, when field work is over. In the part of the day when it is still hot, so that many people do not assemble, Om el mahag is played; later in the day, when the number of potential players grows, the time comes for Ta kurt na rrod, to which greater importance is given in Jadum. The variance in epoch may however be explained easily by the change of the sowing season. The prevalent season for seeding in North Africa was once the spring; now is the autumn. To-day, also, the games are, as a result, played before the seeding season.
Moreover, if the local people deny that the games have the aim of causing rain, they admit, however, that there is a superstitious belief that if they are played in summer the year will be prosperous. Since a prosperous or unprosperous year depends essentially in the Gebel Nefusa on abundant rain, this superstition comes very near to the belief that the game causes rain. So that we may find here a confirmation of the view that the Berber ball games are the vestigials of ancient ritual ceremonies for rain. The use of ancient words, without significance for the Berbers of to-day, and the taking off of the barracans, which was discussed earlier, may be considered perhaps two further proofs in favor of this conclusion.
If I am not mistaken, the facts discussed in this article are also important for General Sociology as well as for Rural Sociology. When a similarity in artifacts, customs, or institutions is observed in different places, two alternative explanations are considered: diffusion and autonomous evolution. The discussion here shows that sometimes a third explanation may be more valid: an explanation in terms of vestigials. The similar artifacts, customs, or institutions observed in the different places may represent vestigials (sometimes successively developed along parallel or more or less divergent lines) of institutions, customs or artifacts, prevailing, in a previous time, over a large area.
Explanations by vestigials and diffusion are not mutually exclusive. Vestigials presuppose diffusion in a previous stage. On the contrary, diffusion is not necessarily followed by vestigials. But in any case, there are essential differences between diffusion and vestigials. As a matter of fact, diffusion implies a common origin and a sequence of developments. Vestigials, on the contrary, imply a common origin and contemporary independent developments. Antonomous evolution, lastly, implies independent or at least different origins, and contemporary, independent developments. Thus, the hypothesis of vestigials is nearer to the hypothesis of diffusion for what concerns origin and nearer to the hypothesis of autonomous evolution for what concerns development. Other interesting points may be made on this subject. To exhaust the matter a special treatment would be necessary.
*. Professor of Statistics and Sociology, University of Rome.
1. For the organization and results of these expeditions, see the reports published in Genus, organ of the Italian Committee, I, 1/2 (June, 1934); II, 1/2 (June, 1936); II, 3/4 (June, 1937); and in Eugenical News, XVIII, 15 (September-October, 1933); XIX, 4 (July-August, 1934); XX, 4 (July-August, 1935).
2. A barracan is a kind of white toga which constitutes the principal garment of the Libyan male population.
3. The information on Baseball, Town-Ball, O’Cat, and Rounders is taken from the articles “Baseball” and “Rounders” in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and from A. G. Spalding, America’s National Game (New York, 1911).
4. In the English libraries there are drawings and illuminations of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries representing “Club-ball,” which is also mentioned in some edicts and documents of the time and is considered as the game from which Cricket originated. It is not possible to establish how the game was played and if it may be regarded also as an ancestor of Baseball; cf. “Cricket,” in the Encyclopedia Britannica; and J. Strutt, The Sports and Pastimes of the Peoples of England, new ed. W. Hone (London, 1830), pp. 104-05.
5. For the most ancient records of the Libyan population, see especially W. Holscher, Libyer und Agypter, Beitrage zur Ethnologie und Geschichte Libyscher Volkerschaften nach den Altagyptischer Quellen (Hamburg, 1937). For the Greek-Roman period, information may be found in my paper “La pigmentazione degli abitanti dell’ Egitto nell’ eta Greco-Romana,” Atti del Congtesso Internationale per gli studi sulla popolazione (Roma, 1931).
6. E. Doutte, who has studied the games of the Rehamna tribes of South Morocco, indicates that in Kura every team tries to pull the ball through its own goal instead of pushing it through the opponents’ goal. (Merrakech, Comite du Maroc [Paris, 1905], pp. 318 ff.) But the difference is purely a matter of words; it depends upon whether the goal is named after the offending or defending team.
7. At Jadum, women do not take part in the game. In other Berber places, it is related that either a team of women plays against a team of men, or both teams are composed of women who play naked among themselves. M. Laoust, Mots et cboses berberees (Paris, 1920), pp. 242 ff.
8. “Hockey,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
9 “Hockey,” Enciclopedia Italiana.
10. Laab el kura (game of the ball), or simply Kura (ball), is the Arabian name for the Berber Ta kurt na rrod.
11. S. Luce, La France pendant la Guerre de Cent ans (Paris, 1893), pp. 118-20; Doutte, op. cit., p. 315.
12. See the articles “Polo” and “Lacrosse” in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
13. “Hockey,” Encyclopedia Britannica; “Hurling,” in Strutt, op. cit., pp. 98-99.
14. Cf. Luce, op. cit., p, 117; and Doutte, op. cit., p. 315.
15. Cf. “Calcio,” Enciclopedia Italiana.The substantial difference is that in the Italian Calcio, the use of both feet and hands was permitted for all players and not only for the porter; but, as it is well known, only in the first half of the past century, from the English Football the two present forms (Association and Rugby) differentiated, in the first of which the players (except the porter) handle the ball only with feet, while in the second they use also and principally hands. Cf. “Football Association” and “Football Rugby,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
16. Cf. Vocabolario della Crusca, 1st ed. (Venice, 1612).
17. Cf. “Football,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
18. Cf. Strutt, op. cit., p. 100.
19 Op. cit., p. 315.
21. For this second point, see also Luce, op. cit., pp. 118-19.
22. L. Bertholon and E. Chantre, Recbercbes anthropologiques dans la Berberie Orientate, Tripolitaine, Tunisie et Algerie (Lyon, 1913), I, 635-37.
23. Loc. cit.
24. L. Mercier, La chasse et les sports chez les Arabes (Paris, 1927), pp. 174-77.
In his landmark book Baseball Before We Knew It, David Block reprinted this seminal article by Per Maigaard of Denmark among several primary-source appendixes. We reprint it here with David’s kind permission. Maigaard’s “Battingball Games” was, David wrote, “the first modern attempt to compare, classify and trace the origins of games played with bat and ball. The author’s command of written English was somewhat awkward, and the following article is presented in its original, unedited form.” It was initially published in Genus, journal of the Comitato Italiano per lo Studio dei Problemi Della Popolazione, Rome, Italy, Vol. 5, N. 1-2, 1941, pp. 57-72. Maigaard’s 1941 article is important, but for a current understanding of how baseball arose from other bat and ball games, one must read Baseball Before We Knew It. For but one example, Block has demonstrated that baseball did not derive from rounders but is in fact the older of the two games.
Much of Maigaard’s article below takes issue with the earlier findings of Corrado Gini, editor of Genus. From Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Jan., 1939):
Professor Corrado Gini, president of the Italian Committee for the studyof population problems, presented a study on the remains of blondness still found among the Berbers of Libya. He concentrated on the tribes of Jadum and its neighbourhood in the Gebel Nefusa and examined the individuals according to a demographic questionnaire for each family and by two cards, one for anthropometric and the other for medico-biological data. Detailed information of an ethnographical and economic description was also collected. A game, Om el-Mahag, amazed the students on account of its similarity to base-ball, being originally an Anglo-Saxon game. This similarity may be of significance in ascertaining the ethnical relations of the Berbers.
by Per Maigaard
Only a few students of games have in a greater degree taken up the study of Battingball‑games and some are of opinion that these games are of comparatively recent date. Nobody knew that such a game was played in Africa. Now Professor Corrado Gini, chief of an Italian expedition for demographic investigation in Libya, has brought to light a Berber Battingball-game, which proves that the games in question date a long way back. In the following paper I shall give a short account of these games specially as played in N. Europe, their home.
The implements used in the games in question are the bat and the ball (fig. 1). A bat may be simply a round stick, 30 to 115 cms. long,2 to 6cms. thick, but often flattened below the handle, and then as a rule broader there. Generally a curved bat is not used. It is held with one hand or with both.
The ball, now as a rule made of leather or rubber, has a size of 6 to 8 cms. Formerly a ball of woollen yarn was generally used or instead of that a billet or a “cat” (a double conical piece of wood) or a piece of horn.
Plain batting consists in striking the ball with the bat, the ball being held in the left hand, then tossed into the air and struck with the bat when it is falling, but before it reaches the ground, or, still more simply, the ball is struck at the moment the left hand leaves hold of it, as used also in Tipcat. In other cases a special player, the “pitcher” tosses the ball, the batsman only strikes at it. In others again the pitcher stands at a distance and throws the ball for batting or to get it into a hole in the ground or to hit a goal which the batter has to defend.
Batting has become an important element in a multitude of games, in all the Tipcat‑games, in the Hole‑games, and in the real Battingball‑games, in very plain games and in the most composite and developed games.
The real composite Battingball‑games will here be spoken of:
1) Longball, including Om el mahag
2) Rounders, incl. Baseball
In the common form Longball is a team‑game with 4 to 20 players, divided into two teams. As a rule this division takes place as follows:
First two captains are appointed, then as a rule the captains in turn pick out one player at a time for their teams. In some places, as the island of Anholt in the Kattegat, all the players divide themselves, or are divided into pairs, usually two players of equal age or ability making a pair, then each team gets one of them.
The playing‑ground is 20 to 70 metres long by 6 to 30 metres in breadth, a road or street was formerly often used, side‑lines thus being unnecessary. Goal‑ or base‑lines were not generally used, only the “homes” or “goals” were marked out by stones or the like, ‑-at one end of the ground the batting or in‑goal (or home), at the other the running or out‑goal (fig. 2 ‑ I and II).
The ball and the bat are described above.
The two teams decide by lot who has the right of first innings. The home‑ or batting‑team take up its position in the batting‑home. The fielding team spread all over the field, only one player, the pitcher, with the ball in his hand stands at the batting‑home facing the batsman, who stands near the home‑line with his left side towards the field. The pitcher standing just at a safe distance from the batsman now must deliver the ball so that it falls in front of the batsman, convenient for him to bat. If not so the batter may refuse to strike. But if he strikes, the ball is “fair.” The batter holds the bat with both his hands or with his right hand only, this according to the local customs (A one‑hand‑bat is 30 to 70 cms. long, a two‑hands‑bat 80 to 115 cms.) When missing the stroke he usually is allowed a second and a third stroke. But after the last stroke allowed he drops the bat to the ground. If succeeding in a good stroke, either the first or the second or third, he immediately starts running for the running-home. If not making a good stroke, in most cases he is allowed to wait for a good stroke made by one of his team‑mates. When running to the out‑goal he may return at once to the batting‑home, or he may remain there waiting for another good stroke, and then run back and again take up his position behind the row of his team‑mates, and now he is allowed to bat again in his turn.
The batting‑team can lose its positions in two manners: by being “caught out” or by “hit out.” If a striker’s ball is caught by a fielder, this fielder drops the ball to the ground–in a manner agreed on–and the fielders run to the homes, each to the one nearest. The batters run out into the field, pick up the ball as quickly as possible and throw it at an adversary who has not yet reached a home. The team hit last is always allowed retaliation until the opponents are all in the homes and they are now the batting‑team.
When a batted ball is not caught, but falls to the ground, one of the fielders picks it up quickly. If one or more batters are now running, he has to throw the ball to hit a runner. If he thinks it is too difficult to do so, as a rule he is not allowed to run with the ball in his hand for a better place, but he may throw the ball to a team‑mate in a better position. If somebody hits a runner, the batting‑team is hit out, but has the right of retaliation as above described.
In the case that all the batters are in the running‑home, a chance is usually given them to get back to the batting‑home. In many places this is done by “lyring,” i.e. the pitcher tosses the ball into the air, at least a few metres, and catches it again. It must be repeated several times, and in the meantime the batting‑team or some of its members have to run back to the batting‑home. At the moment, however, when they leave the running‑home, the pitcher finishes his “lyring” and throws the ball to hit one of the runners or passes it to a fielder. If he or a mate succeeds in hitting a runner, the runners team is out (if retaliation is not made). If not, the batters are still batters.
In former days the object of the batters was to go on batting as long as possible. Runs were not scored as is now in use at schools.
This is an account of the common traditional team‑game. But there are (or were) many variations with small differences. It is not possible here to describe them all.
Some peculiar variations it is however necessary to deal with.
In a great many variations especially in the North there are besides the two ordinary homes a third near the batting‑home in which the batters having batted, but not run, may stay waiting for running (fig. 2–II and III). In some places in Sweden this home is situated about 8 paces forward as a mark or as a line across the playground (fig. 2–IV and V). In a great many Slavonic variations this home is found still more forward about the middle of the ground (fig. 2–VIII). The same is the case in some Northern variations but here not as a place of refuge but as a running‑borderline, as also known among the Slavs (fig. 2–VI and VII). In France the middle home is common. Here we also find variations with more than three homes. But here we are at the borderland of the rounders‑games (fig. 2–IX).
An account of Om el mahag is certainly unnecessary here in view of Professor Gini’s excellent account [describing a bat and ball game, with bases, played by blond Berbers in a remote region of North Africa; for more, see Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, pp. 95-99]. The peculiar traits in that variation of Longball are only two:
1) When a runner is hit, the fielding party runs to the running-home, the captain only to the batting‑home.
2) When all the batters are in the running‑home, the captain takes a three‑step lead and tries to steal home (I suppose the pitcher with the ball standing at the running‑goal).
As far as I know, the first is unknown elsewhere. To the second we have relations in the North.
Besides the team‑games spoken of hitherto there were played individual variations for two, three etc., to 12 to 14 players. In these games the common rule was that when a batter was caught or hit out, he and he alone became a fielder, while a fielder became batsman after he was caught or hit. These games are found especially in Denmark and N. E. Germany.
Rounders is very much like Longball. No doubt it is Longball mixed with some details from W. European games. But let me describe the ordinary form of Rounders.
[Folklorist George Laurence] Gomme has:
A round area is marked out by boundary sticks, and a chosen point of the boundary, the base, is fixed (fig. 2–XII). This is marked out independently of the boundary, but inside it, sides are chosen. One side are the “ins” and strike the ball, the other side are the “outs” and deliver the ball, and endeavour to get their opponents, the “ins,” out as soon as possible. The ball (an india rubber one) is delivered by the “feeder,” by pitching it to the player who stands inside the base armed with a short stick. The player endeavours to strike the ball as far away as possible from the fielders or scouts. As soon as the ball is struck away he runs from the base to the first boundary stick, then to the second, and so on. His opponents in the meantime secure the ball and endeavour to hit him with it as he is running from stage to stage. If he succeeds in running completely round the boundary before the ball is returned it counts as one rounder. If he is hit, he is out of the game. He can stay at any stage of the boundary as soon as the ball is in hand, getting home again when the next player of his own side has in turn hit the ball away. When a ball is returned the “feeder” can bounce it within the base, and the player cannot then run to any new stage of the boundary until after the ball has again been hit away by another player. If a player misses a ball when endeavouring to strike at it, he has two more chances, but at the third failure he runs to the first boundary stick and takes his chance of being hit with the ball. If a ball is caught, the whole side is out at once, otherwise the side keeps in until either all the players have been hit out with the ball or until the base is “crowned.” This can be done by bouncing the ball in the base whenever there is no player there to receive the delivery from the feeder. When a complete rounder is obtained, the player has the privilege either of counting the rounder to the credit of his side or of ransoming one of the players who has been hit out, who then takes his part in the game as before. When all but one of the players are out, this last player in hitting the ball must hit it aways so as to be able to make a rounder, and return to the base before his opponents get back the ball to crown the base.
Gomme’s account although quite clear is not sufficient. He doesn’t tell how many boundary sticks there are in use, where the “feeder” is standing while pitching, or how the bat and the base are formed.
In Pick and Aflalos Encyclopaedia of Sport (about 1900) the article about Rounders says that the bases are arranged 15 to 20 yards apart and that the feeder stands in the middle of the ground, the fielders outside the bases, and one behind the batter. The pitcher is allowed to feign a toss. The batter has one or three strikes. If he misses, he is out. There is counted one point for each base. The batsman only, not his team, is out when the ball is caught. In case of a long strike the ball going outside the border, into trees or so, there must not be counted more than four points. The number of players are 10 to 30. Nor do we here hear anything about the number of bases.
Gutsmuths [Johann Christoph Friedrich Gutsmuths, educator and pioneer in gymnastics] tells us (1796) that as a rule there are as many bases as there are players in one party. He doesn’t mention his source, but generally he is well informed and is surely right. His account is the oldest we possess. The bat he says is for one hand, flattened below the handle, length 45 cms., breadth 10 cms. thickness about 2.5 cms. The bases were sticks 10 to 15 paces apart, arranged casually (but probably forming a round). The pitcher stands 5 to 6 paces from the batsman and pitches in a flat curve. The batsman can get out of play in three manners:
1) His ball is caught by the fielders (and then his team too, is out).
2) He is hit by the ball when outside the bases.
3) He forgets to touch a base. Then this can be “burnt,” i.e. the ball is thrown on it.
Moreover it should be noted that no more than one player is allowed to stand safe on one base. In the contrary case the fielders may hit the players or “burn” the base. When the teams are changing, retaliation‑hit is allowed.
Gutsmuths mentions the game as Baseball. Gomme has in addition to Rounders also the names Baseball, Cuckball, Pizeball and Tutball. Baseball he mentions as a Suffolk‑game.
In France several variations of Rounders are played and several transitional forms of Rounders‑Longball. The best known Rounders-game is La grand thèque. In Flanders too is found a Rounders-game in plain form, played without bat, the Cerkelspelen (fig. 2–XIV).
The famous American form of Rounders has got the name Baseball (fig. 2–XV). It is a game with four homes or bases, modernized and reorganized in the last century. It has hard and rather flat pitching from a distance of about 15 metres. The bat is about 106 cms. long, round and about 7 cms. in diam. The bases are situated in a square with sides of about 30 metres. There are 9 players each side. The batsman can be played out in three manners, as well as for infringement of the rules:
1) The fielders catch the batted ball in the air.
2) A fielder picks up the ball and reaches the base before the batsman.
3) The running batsman is touched with the ball in a fielders hand outside the bases.
Townball is no doubt a younger brother of Baseball.
Two variations of Rounders or Baseball are recorded from two Indian tribes, the Navaho in Arizona and the Thompson Indians in Br. Columbia, both with four bases.
The Navaho game was played with an inverted Hockey‑stick like a walking‑stick with curved handle. The players were allowed four strikes in each round. But the batter stood in the middle of the ground and there were two pitchers, the batter standing between them. The ball might be struck in any direction. The batter had to run in one direction, the opposite of the manner in Baseball. One circuit meant a point, the runner might run in curves, dodge, jump, indeed he might knock the ball out of his opponent’s hand. If the runner, however, was hit or touched with the ball, his whole team was out.
The Thompson Indians used a flattened straight bat for one hand only, four bases marked out with stones about 20 yards apart. The pitcher stood in the middle of the ground. Each player had one stroke only at one round. The description is however insufficient, but it is recorded that the base runner was out when struck with the ball.
A Hawaiian Rounders‑game is recorded by [folklorist Stewart] Culin as a game similar to Baseball but without bat.
As Baseball, Cricket has become a modernized game within the last century and a half, it is scarcely necessary to explain the game all through.
The most peculiar traits in Cricket are the two batting homes and the two batsmen, at the same time running in opposite direction (fig. 2–XVI). Moreover a “wicket” in each batting‑home which the batsman has to defend against the ball. The bat is long, broad and heavy, and throwing from about 20 metres is hard and flat. The ball is rather hard, and the runners are not to be struck or touched with it. But the batter can be caught out, or the ball can be thrown at the wicket by a fielder while the runner is out from home, besides be can be put out for infringment of the rules.
Longball, Rounders and Cricket are the most complicated games of ball ever seen. They evidently make one common group, typologic and also genetic. The similarities are too many to the justify belief in an independent origin for any of them.
The similarities are:
The batsman is the central player of the game.
He has to strike the ball in the air and then to run to one or more spots agreed on.
If the batted ball is caught, the batsman or his party is “out.”
If he himself is hit or touched with the ball outside his safe places, he or his party is out, or in a few cases: if his safe places, when he himself is, outside them, are touched with the ball, he is out.
The differences between the variations are:
I.–The pitching is short and high, a toss only, in Longball. In Rounders it is longer but still curved, while in Baseball and Cricket it is flat and hard and 15 to 20 metres long.
II.–Numbers and situation of the homes are different. In. Longball there are two homes, in some cases three. In Cricket two. In Rounders four or more.
III.–The runner’s route is in Longball (and Cricket) right forward and back. In Rounders it goes in a circle or a polygon.
IV.–In some Rounders‑games (Baseball) and Cricket the runners may not be hit with the ball, instead their homes may be touched. In some cases the runners are to be touched with the ball in the fielders hand.
V.–In Cricket the batter may strike the ball in any direction. In most Rounders‑games and in Longball the ball must be struck in a forward direction within the side borderlines of the playing ground.
VI.–In Longball retaliation throws are allowed, in Rounders this is not the rule, except in a few cases.
VII.–In Longball the task is to keep the bat and bat as often as possible by means of the runs. In Rounders on the contrary the task is by means of the batting to run as often as possible, each run counting a point.
The rules of Battingball games tell us something about their development.
The games centre round the batting. Next comes the catching of the ball. Then the run and the throwing for hitting the runners. The retaliation, the “lyring” and the like rules, and the want of hitting in some games, tell us that this last detail was once new and not taken as so important a detail as the catching which invariably gets the batter out, and consequently must be taken for older. In reality we find games consisting of batting only, as Trap‑ball in England in which the players compete for the longest stroke. We find moreover games consisting of batting and catching only, in Europe, Persia and India. At that stage the games probably met with Hitting games. These are specially known in Germany, Poland and the North in numerous forms. A very simple form consists of the runners moving within the limits of the playing ground, and the throwers standing around this place and throwing at the runners. In a single variation in Denmark the throwers mix with the runners, the last defending themselves each with a short broad bat (Rotten and Fresh‑Jutland). Here we have the retaliation detail in Longball as an independent game. Furthermore a catchplay with runs between two places of refuge is very well known in Denmark and probably elsewhere. So the principles of all the details of Longball were present.
In Great Britain and Flanders a group of games are known, the essential stamp of which is much like that of Rounders and Cricket: Cudgels, Kit‑Cat, Stool‑ball, Munchets, etc. and O’Cat in U.S.A. A similar game in Flanders is Keitslaen. As an instance I shall explain Cat and Dog.
There are three players, two of these have small clubs and each a hole in the ground 8 to 9 metres apart. The third player has a “cat” i. e. a double‑conical billet, about 10 cms. long, 2 to 3 cms. in diam. He stands at the one hole and throws the cat at the other which the owner has to defend with his club. If the cat goes into the hole, the defender has lost it to the pitcher and becomes the pitcher himself.
But if the defender strikes the cat away, he and the second batsman change holes as many times as possible while the pitcher goes for the cat, each run counting for a point.
In other similar games there are more players, all but one with and the runs going in a circle.
But is not Cat and Dog, Cricket in miniature?
And what does the game need but more players in order to become Rounders? The number of clubs reduced to one, the “Cat” changed with a ball, the batting stronger, the fielders added. In reality it is quite likely that a meeting between those probably Celtic games and Longball gave rise to Rounders and Cricket. Cricket has got only the stronger batting, Rounders also the hitting of the runners, the burning of the bases being known in the Hole-games. The touching too is known in such a game as Munshet, or it has come into use on account of the drawbacks of being hit with a hard ball.
The Battingball games are European games. Plain batting as used in Tipcat had reached N. America in Precolumbian times as Hockey, Football and some Shuttlegames had. Connection or not with Precolumbian American culture is one of the few good data for determining the age of the games. But fully developed Battingball‑games are not to be found outside Europe–save the Om el mahag which is described by Professor Gini (fig. 3). The few instances of such games among Red Indians and in Hawaii must be taken as imported from Europe. In Persia, India and perhaps China and Japan plain batting with ball is, or was, surely known, but no developed game, except the Russian importation of Longball to Siberia and E. Turkestan. After all, the games in question are European, probably Northern and Central‑European. But as those parts of the continent in former times were rather isolated, Battingball may very well have existed there without reaching the great highways of culture along the Southern coasts of Eurasia, or the Nomadic route from Persia‑Turan toward E. Asia and the Bering sea. So Battingball games may be of rather ancient date.
Hitherto I have supposed them not to be more than some 1500 years old. Professor Jusserand, France, was of opinion that they were not known before the 13th to 14th centuries in France. The occurence of the Om el mahag tells us however they must be older. Professor Gini is right: it is not probable that Om el mahag is a recent importation. Thus it must be either a survival from a greater area of Battingball or an earlier importation. The first theory is not probable, because if the game had been known around the Mediterranean sea in the time of the ancient civilizations it would be strange that it had not spread to the Negroes and the Arabs, to E. Asia and America as did other games, and none of the ancient Greek or Roman authors tell anything about the game. It is true that they say nothing about Hockey, and Hockey, we learn from archeologists, was known. But we also know that Hockey spread all over the world, Battingball games did not–as far as we know. Until we possess evidence to the contrary we must stick to Europe the present home of the games as their ancient home. As a comparison between Longball and Rounders (fig. 4) make it probable that Longball is the older, we must take the Teutonic or Slavonic peoples or their ancestors as the inventors of the game. But as the German Slavs seem to play German variations of Longball, and as the East Baltic peoples do not seem to know the game, it would seem that the Slavs are not the inventors but more probably the blond North‑European Race.
If this is so then the blond peoples would have imported the game to North‑Africa. When did that take place? We don’t know, but all probability goes to show that the migration of tribes southwards from Northern Europe took place in cold or rainy periods, after the last glacial period, in the Atlantic period (6th to 3rd millennniums b.o.e,) in the subatlantic period in the last centuries b.o.e., and during the great migrations of nations. Nothing goes to show that migrations towards Africa have taken place in periods of dry climate.
The blond strain among the Berbers, the Guanchos, the capsien culture, the megalitic culture, etc. make it probable that from the oldest times connection between the two continents has taken place, and surely migrations too, the directions of which were particularly determined by changing climatic conditions. The last migration from Europe to Africa by people from N. Europe, and the only one about which we know anything definite, is that of the Vandals in the 5th century. From the point of view above spoken of, it is not probable that Longball is a very ancient game in Africa. The most probable conclusion would then be that the Vandals brought the game to Africa, and that some Berber tribes learnt it.
The Vandals primeval home no doubt was the North. They settled on the stretches of the Vistula near the Goths, and afterward they went westward through Germany and France to S.E. Spain and at last to Africa, some of them probably settling down on the way.
One might ask why the Goths did not bring Longball to N. Spain and S. France, the Lombards to Italy.
Perhaps they did. We don’t know whether the game was known in those countries and later became extinct. Games do not easily become extinct among their own peoples and in their own country with its own customs and traditions. But when a nation migrates and mixes with other nations in a higher stage of culture, it is another matter.
At any rate, as Om el mahag was included in ritual festivals it can hardly have come to Africa later than the time of the Vandals. The Berbers’ way of dividing the players into teams is identical with the manner known in the North. The term “rotten” applied to the players who have batted but not run, is also known, at any rate, in Denmark and surely not elsewhere. In the North too the game was used in festivals connected with the cults of fertility in the spring. In Denmark we have instances of the game being played in the rural churchyard at Easter, probably a tradition from preChristian times.
So it is probable that this Berber-Longball came to Africa with the Vandals at the latest. The form of the game and the terms used, lead us to consider it probable that the game came from Northern Europe.
Jusserand’s theory that the game came into existence at the French universities in the 13th to 14th centuries can not be correct. Neither can Dr. Schnell’s theory of the game being a special German game, only known in the neighborhood of Germany. In Germany there are no variations with the middle home as in France, among the Slavs and in the North. There exists only one where all the peculiar details are found and it is in the North, i.e. Denmark and Sweden. In view of the general inclination of authors who have written about these games to attribute their origin to their own country, I am not very glad to draw this conclusion. I am also sorry to be co-responsible for the Vandals. But facts are facts. With the knowledge we so far posess we must conclude that Longball came into existence in the North and that is has gone southwards with Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, etc., brought from the Goths to the Slavs from the Vandals or Burgundians to the Alemans, Franks, etc. With the Angles and Saxons it went to England, mixed with Celtic games, and became Rounders and Cricket. Rounders again crossed the Atlantic and became Baseball in America.
The oldest complete account of a Battingball-game is that of Gutsmuths in 1796. From older times we only hear about Batting without further explanation, the oldest from the 11th century in Germany. Not until the 19th century did the folklorists take up the matter. And still now we want further investigations in many places before we can know all the variations, the terminology, etc.
Longball and Rounders are now in Europe as a rule children’s games. Formerly they were the most considerable games of ball among the Teutonic and Slavonic peoples, although they were never fashionable games played by kings and “the upper ten” as were Tennis, Golf, Maill, etc. But when Football, Hockey, etc. were modernized in England and became very well organized games, easy to learn and with dramatic events, Battingball-games were frequently superceded in their own countries, and either went out of use altogether, or led a languishing existence.
But in modernized athletic form as Cricket and Baseball and as Bo-ball in Finnland they are still very much alive.
. C. Gini, “Rural Ritual Games in Libya,” Rural Sociology, Vol. 4, No. 3, (1939)
. Tipcat is the English name for a group of games, similar to primitive Battingball‑games. Instead of a ball a billet or a “cat” is used, in a few cases a ball of wood. The batsman has to play the billet out from the home‑base, i. e. a hole in the ground or a pair of flat stones. There are usually several divisions in the game, one of these only is common batting. The batsman has to defend his home against the billet, thrown back by a fielder, and gets points in proportion to the distance from the home in which the billet falls to the ground. If the fielders catch the billet in the air, the batsman is out. If they in a return‑throw hit the home (in the first part of the game) or (in the second part) get the billet to stop within a bat’s length from the home, he is out too. Tipcat has many variations and is known almost in the same countries where the Battingball-games are known, and moreover in Precolumbian America. Games with a “cat” were known, for instance, in Europe, India and America.
In the amateur era, particular before 1860, postgame banquets and postprandial toasts seemed more important to players and club members than the outcome of the contests. On August 20, 1858, at a supper given for the Brooklyn Excelsiors by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York, James Whyte Davis, nicknamed “The Fiend” for his voracious appetite for baseball, sang the following song of his own composition to the tune of the well-known “Uncle Sam’s Farm.” Who won the game of August 20, 1858, played at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields? The Excelsiors, by the narrow score of 15-14. The New York Times said of the contest, which was the return in the three-game match between the clubs, that it was played in the “presence of the largest number of spectators that have been present at any match in that locality for some time … one of the finest and most exciting contests which has occurred in Base-ball annals….”
Henry Chadwick reprinted the lyrics twice in 1868, once in his book The Game of Base Ball, and again in his weekly sporting paper, The Ball Players’ Chronicle: A Weekly Journal Devoted to the Interests of the American Game of Base Ball and Kindred Sports of the Field. Charles A. Peverelly, in his classic 1866 Book of American Pastimes, revealed that Davis had composed the ballad for another such feast , four years earlier.
A grand dinner was given on the 15th of December, at Fijux’s 11 Barclay street, by the Knickerbocker, Eagle and Gotham Clubs. An equal delegation was present, and an excellent bill of fare presented. The utmost hilarity prevailed, and everything passed off in a happy manner. A song, composed for the occasion by J.W. Davis, of the Knickerbocker Club, was so well received that the Eagle Club had it printed. It was entitled “Ball Days,” and abounded in witty allusions to the principal players of the three Clubs.
The closing reference to the telegraph is to the great transatlantic cable, a project begun in 1857 and completed on August 5, 1858. The cable functioned for only three weeks. The first official telegram to pass between two continents was a letter of congratulation from Queen Victoria of he United Kingdom to President James Buchanan of the U.S. on August 16. Telegraphic communication between Europe an America was not restored until 1866. But that’s another story.
Source: Henry Chadwick, The Game of Base Ball (New York: Munro, 1868), pp. 178-80.
“BALL DAYS” IN THE YEAR A.D. 1858
Come, base ball players all and listen to the song
About our manly Yankee game, and pardon what is wrong;
If the verses do not suit you, I hope the chorus will,
So join with us, one and all, and sing it with a will.
Then shout, shout for joy, and let the welkin ring,
In praises of our noble game, for health ’tis sure to bring;
Come, my brave Yankee boys, there’s room enough for all,
So join in Uncle Samuel’s sport–the pastime of base ball.
First a welcome to our guests, the brave Excelsior boys,
They play a strong and lively game, and make a lively noise;
They buck at every club, without breaking any bones,
Assisted by their president, the witty Doctor Jones.
They well deserve their motto, and may they ever keep
Their men from slumbering, till their score “foots up a heap”;
And their name will resound through village and through town,
Especially by older clubs, who’ve been by them done brown.
They have Leggett for a catcher, and who is always there,
A gentleman in every sense, whose play is always square;
Then Russell, Reynolds, Dayton, and also Johnny Holder,
And the infantile “phenomenon,” who’ll play when he gets older.
But if I should go on singing of each and every one,
‘Twould require another day, till the setting of the sun;
But they need no voice of mine to glorify their name,
Their motto’s “Ever Onward,” and may it never wane.
The Nestors and the parents of this our noble game,
May repose on laurels gathered and on records of their fame;
But all honor and all glory to their ever fostering hand,
That is multiplying ball clubs in towns throughout the land.
Then treat the fathers kindly, and please respect their age,
Their last appearance is not announced, as yet, on any stage;
Some vigor yet remains, as you very well must know–
It shines out like a star in our agile Charles De Bost.
Now we’ll sing to the Gothams–they hold a foremost rank;
They have taken many prizes, and they seldom draw a blank;
Their players are hard to beat, with Van Cott in the race,
And Wadsworth is bound to die on the very first base.
There’s a club that’s called the Eagle, and it soars very high;
It clipped the parent’s wing, and caught them on the fly;
Little Gelston plays behind, and Bixby pitches well,
And Hercules he bats the ball–oh! dreadfully to tell.
And here we have the Putnams–they bear a gallant name;
They are jovial, good fellows, as every one will claim–
For Dakin is a trump, as the Brooklyn boys well know,
And with Masten for a catcher, they have a right to crow.
See the conquering hero comes from the broad Atlantic’s ocean,
And the Nestors’ hearts do swell with grateful, glad emotion;
They’ve so many star players, you can hardly name the lions,
But I think you’ll all agree they are the O’Briens.
But we’ll cross to the westward, where Empire takes its way,
At our home, the Elysian Fields, this club enjoys its play;
They’ve Benson, Hoyt, and Miller, Leavy, Thorne, and Fay,
And are noted for their even play on every practice day.
There’s the aspiring Eckford boys, justly considered some;
When they send a challenge, that club looks very Grum;
Their Pidgeon’s ne’er caught napping, and they never are cast down,
With such splendid fielders as Manolt and Ed. Brown.
There’s a club at Morrisania, that’s a very strong bulwark;
It forms a solid “Union” ‘twixt Brooklyn and New York–
They’ve Gifford for their pitcher, and Booth plays well behind,
And Pinckney, on the second base, is hard to beat you’ll find.
The young clubs, one and all, with a welcome we will greet,
On the field or festive hall, whenever we may meet;
And their praises we will sing at some future time;
But now we’ll pledge their health in a glass of rosy wine.
Your pardon now I crave–this yarn is spun too long–
The Knickerbocker’s “fiend,” you know, he always goes it strong;
On America’s game of base ball he will shout his loud acclaim,
And his “tiger” shall be telegraphed to Britain’s broad domain.
Wicket is a vanished game that for more than a century was the dominant game of parts of New England, notably Connecticut, and the Western Reserve, extending to Ohio and what is now termed the Midwest. Not baseball and not cricket, it may be understood as a primitive form of cricket, one no longer played in England by the middle of the 18th century. Its rules evolved from the time of its earliest report, in 1704, to the “vintage wicket” revival contests in Saugatuck, Connecticut at the turn of the 20th century. Wicket was played in Hawaii in the 1850s–before baseball–as well as in New Orleans and Rochester and Baltimore and Brooklyn. Until quite recently, historians of baseball thought wicket and cricket to be interchangeable terms for England’s National Game, but it was different and, to our eyes, fresh and fascinating. Read on, as George Dudley Seymour tells you about its development, spread, and crowning glory in Bristol, Connecticut … today home to ESPN, which might consider hosting a tournament, eh? Recently, after a century of neglect, Brian Sheehy and the Essex (MA) Base Ball Club have twice played a form of wicket. Larry McCray offers, ” It’s a good game, and I think that town v. town play likely started with wicket and became regularized first with wicket.”
The Old-Time Game of Wicket and Some Old-Time Wicket Players, by George Dudley Seymour, Esq.
Source: Papers and Addresses of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut, Volume II of the Proceedings of the Society, [n. p., 1909.] pp. 269-303.
I well remember lying on the grass that fringed the village green near the Meeting House on the top of the hill one drowsy summer afternoon watching a game of wicket. A village green and a Meeting House on the top of a hill are characteristic features of many Connecticut towns; I must therefore be more explicit and say that I am referring to Bristol, an offshoot of the old town of Farmington, in Hartford County. When I lived in Bristol the Meeting House with its great Doric columns and square tower faced the “Academy,” which has long since disappeared, as well as the curious little gambrel-roofed house which Abel Lewis built near the site of the old Episcopal Church to be used as a store and as an excuse, as I have sometimes imagined, for utilizing in a secular way the round-headed windows of the church which, wrecked and defiled, he had bought and converted into a barn after that “pesky nest of tories” had been broken up in Revolutionary days. The Lewises were Congregationalists and had a severe and telling apprehension of the truth of the Calvinistic scheme of salvation. To-day St. Joseph’s Church, the parochial residence, and a parochial school face the Green. But no matter about the changes. With this introduction I may be allowed to go on, or rather go back to where I was lying on the grass. I was a small boy, but young as I was, I felt a vague sense of strangeness about it all because even then wicket was virtually obsolete and played only occasionally, not exactly as a revival, but rather as a matter of local pride and to keep the traditions of the game alive, as well as to give the old wicketers a chance to stretch their muscles. Already the more strenuous game of baseball had pushed wicket into the background and claimed the younger men. A born antiquary, I had an inquiring mind about the past and tried to find out the origin of the game and how long it had been played. My father had been an expert wicketer in his day, and my brother, although first of all a baseball player, was impressed into service whenever a game of wicket was played, and as a wicketer upheld the traditions of his father’s game. But I never succeeded in gathering much information about the game from my father more than that it was the great game of his boyhood in New Hartford, where he was born and spent his boyhood, and where, as it seemed to him, it had always been played. Turn where I would, I could learn no more than that the game had come down from early colonial times and that formerly it had been extensively played throughout the State, notably in Hartford and Litchfield Counties. The towns of Wethersfield, Newington and New Britain had within recent years had wicket teams and still boasted of some players, but in my boyhood the game as an organized institution had survived only in Bristol, where records of the game had been kept for many years. Indeed, the old clock-town felt a peculiar distinction in being the last stronghold, as it were, of the game which had its origin in Old England, and which from a date long prior to the Revolution, had been a favorite pastime. That is was better suited to the Age of Homespun than to our own, is perhaps not altogether to our credit.
When Bristol had its “Old Home Week” celebration in the fall of 1903, the game was very properly revived. A challenge was sent to some scattering players in Wethersfield, Newington and New Britain, and a great match was arranged to be umpired by Governor Chamberlain, who, in his time, had been a star player in New Britain, and had played in the ever memorable championship game of 1859. My brother-in-law, Mr. Miles Lewis Peck, the Captain of the Bristol Club, rallied the old players and filled in the gaps in his team. Here local pride came in and almost made a quarrel. Certain interlopers, fascinated by the sport as they saw the practice games, tried to have themselves enrolled on the Bristol team to the exclusion of the native-born aspirants, who indignantly claimed their right and had it allowed. The game was called at ten o’clock in the forenoon and played, without interruption, until half-past three. It would be difficult to say which excited the most interest the game or the spectators. The match had been widely heralded; and to see it came not only the curious, but also many old players, retired long ago to their rocking-chairs, in which, as a matter of fact, some of them were brought to the field.
I saw the game, or as much of it as I had time for, and I was stimulated anew to find out something more of its history; but, as before, my inquiries were fruitless.
No historian has devoted his attention to the sports and pastimes of our colonial period, and for information I have had to turn to the pages of the diarist and traveller, and to the files of old newspapers.
I may say, in the first place, that the American game of wicket, or, as it was sometimes called, cricket, is essentially the noble old English game of cricket, the national pastime of Englishmen. The main difference between the two games is that in wicket the wicket is placed on two blocks which lift it only about four inches above the ground, while in cricket, three supports lift two bails to a height of twenty inches or more above the ground. In wicket the ball is bowled or rolled along the ground; in cricket the ball is bowled, as it is said, but in reality thrown, and hence the English term “throwing bowling.” I need not say that the literature of the English game is extensive. Different authorities give different sources for the origin of the game. Some writers advance the theory that it is derived either from stoole-ball or club-ball both very ancient games of ball. Daly in “Polo, Past and Present,” derives all games played with ball and stick, including cricket, golf, hockey, and the national Irish game of hurling, from polo, of which he says they are but dismounted forms. Polo originated in the far East, probably in Persia, where games on horseback are still the great national sport and are played with magnificent dash and enthusiasm. If Daly is correct in his view that cricket as played in Old England is but a form of dismounted polo, the same must be true of our New England wicket, which as shown is but a modified, and perhaps an earlier, form of cricket than that now played in England. Always being modified in form, the persistence of games like the persistence of customs and superstitions is admitted, and those who enjoy speculation may like to connect the wicket-players on our village greens with half savage horsemen, dashing on their wiry barbs over the open plains of Persia. It may at least be said that our game of wicket with its low wickets and ball, rolled on the ground rather than thrown, allies itself more readily to polo than cricket, in which the wickets are carried on high supports and the ball is thrown. But whatever its origin, the present English game of cricket did not come into vogue until the beginning of the 18th century, and was soon brought to this country. Just when wicket, the American game, acquired its distinctive form, I cannot discover whether before or after it was first brought here. It is not unlikely that in the England of two hundred years ago cricket was sometimes called wicket. I am led to think so because the very first reference to the game in America is to wicket. As both cricket and wicket may have been derived from stoole-ball, though Strutt says club-ball, I cannot refrain from noticing what I believe to be the first reference to ball-playing on this continent.
“On Christmas day, 1621,” says Mr. Kittredge in his The Old Farmer and His Almanac, “Governor Bradford had an amusing encounter with some of his raw recruits, who had arrived on the ship ‘Fortune’ the month before. There were thirty-five of these newcomers, and, to use the Governor’s own words, “most of them were lusty yonge men, and many of them wild enough.” The Governor, who seems to have had the saving grace of humor, which he had need of, himself admits that the circumstance is one “rather of mirth than of waight.” Let me read the entry as he wrote it in his now famous history:
One ye day called Christmas-day, ye Govr caled them out to worke, (as was used), but ye most of this new-company excused them selves and said it wente against their consciences to work on yt day. So ye Govr tould them that if they made it mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led-away ye rest and left them; but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found them in ye streete at play, openly; some pitching ye barr, & some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports. So he went to them, and took away their implements, and tould them that was against his conscience, that they should play & others worke. If they made ye keeping of it mater of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in ye streets. Since which time nothing hath been atempted that way, at least openly.
The good old Governor’s use of the word “implements” to describe the “barr” and the “stoole-ball” which, in the exercise of his paternal authority, he took away from those “yonge men,” shows how careful he was to keep his own skirts clear from contamination with “shuch like sports.” One cannot help hoping that the boys got the “barr” and “stoole-ball” back again and managed to rebuke the Governor for his meddling.
The game of wicket, so far as I have been able to discover, was not played until one hundred odd years later, and my first record of it shows that it then involved the infraction of high authority with disastrous consequences—not Governor Bradford this time, but the Mirror of Old Boston, the amiable and fussy Judge Sewall, Mentor and Diarist. Under date of March 15th, 1725-26, he writes:
Sam. Hirst got up betimes in the morning, and took Ben Swett with him and went into the (Boston) Comon to play at Wicket. Went before any body was up, left the door open; Sam came not to prayer; at which I was much displeased.
Was the learned Judge more displeased with Sam for leaving the door open, or for coming “not to prayer”? Two days later this careless and incorrigible Sam Hirst repeated the offense. Under date of March 17th the Judge writes:
Did the like again, but took not Ben with him. I told him he could not lodge here practising thus. So he lodged elsewhere.
Sam Hirst, the first old-time wicket player on my list, grandson of the diarist, was born in 1705, and graduated from Harvard College in 1723. He was therefore between 20 and 21 years of age when his grandfather turned him out of his house for twice indulging before breakfast in the game of wicket on Boston Common.
I am in doubt about giving little Ben Swett a place on my list. Did he actually play or not? Perhaps not; on March 17th Sam “took not Ben with him.” But I could wish a green, if belated, bay for our boy enthusiast who had the courage to go at all. Born in 1713, the son of Samuel Sewall, a cousin of the Judge, Ben was only about thirteen at the time he stole away with his cousin Sam to play, or to watch a game of wicket on Boston Common. I may be mistaken, but I think it more than likely that at this time the game had just been introduced into New England, and that this accounts for Sam Hirst’s passion for it. It must be remembered that the game of cricket in anything like its present form did not begin to be played in Old England until a few years prior to this.
So far as I can learn, the game never became popular in the Massachusetts Colony, and I have not found a single reference to it later than this entry in Judge Sewall’s Diary. Undoubtedly the game was played to some extent, and a more exhaustive examination of all sources of information would probably disclose references to it. I must believe, however, that the game never obtained much of a foothold in Massachusetts. Until recently cricket has been played by the boys at St. Paul’s School, Concord, but their game was not, I think, a successor of wicket but a recent importation of cricket.
In an unsigned note, entitled “Cricket in America,” to be found in Vol. 48 of “The Saturday Review,” page 170, this statement occurs:
Cricket has been played in America for over a century. It was exported thither from its home on British soil before 1747. Englishmen who had gone out to build themselves new homes in a young and growing country, carried with them their love of the noble sport. The earliest known games in America were played in the lower part of New York City where Fulton Market now stands. The Gazette and Weekly Post Boy gave an account of a game played there on May 1st, 1751. The contestants were eleven London men and eleven New Yorkers; and strange to say, the New Yorkers won, making 80 and 86 to their opponents’ 43 and 37.
Here the game is called “cricket,” and the circumstances would warrant the inference that the game was the English game as played in England at that time. It may well be that our game of wicket follows the old English game more closely than the game now played in England under the rules laid down by the great English cricket clubs. At all events, the present English game is a much more highly developed game than ours. The comparative newness of the English game of cricket is well illustrated by the fact that the first match game in England of which there is any record was played between “Kent” and “All England” in 1746 only five years before the game played between the “Londoners” and “New Yorkers” in 1751. I daresay the New Yorkers had neither the patience nor the time for cricket, and foresaw that it could not be acclimated. At any rate, the game apparently gained no foothold there. A century later the game was played to a very limited extent in the City of Brooklyn, where it was transplanted, as I am bound to believe, from Connecticut probably by Bristol clock makers, who went to Brooklyn to engage in work there at the time the factories of the Ansonia Clock Company were established in that city. By 1751 the game had become widely popular in England, and was played by all classes, though the participation of men of rank in the game gave rise to many protests. In the same year as the match game in New York between “New Yorkers” and “Londoners,” Frederick, Prince of Wales, died from internal injuries caused by a blow from a cricket ball while playing at Cliefden House.
How or when the game was introduced into Connecticut I cannot tell; but it was unquestionably being played in Hartford County with great enthusiasm as early as 1767. I am not prepared to say that the game was fostered by the established church of Connecticut, or has any connection with Congregationalism. But at any rate, the earliest reference to it I have been able to find for Connecticut occurs in Dr. Parker’s “History of the Second Church of Christ in Hartford,” in which he prints on page 136 the following challenge breezy with local spirit :
Hartford, May 30th, 1767
whereas a challenge was given by fifteen men south of the great bridge in Hartford to an equal number north of said bridge, to play a game of cricket the day after the last election; the Public are hereby informed that the challenged beat the challengers by a great majority. Now said North do hereby acquaint the South side, that they are not afraid to meet them with any number they shall choose, and give them the liberty of picking their men among themselves, and also the best players both in the West Division and Wethersfield. Witness our hands (in the name of the whole company).
Niell McLean Jr.
In this challenge the game is called “cricket,” though subsequently it seems to have been generally called “wicket”—the term used by Judge Sewall. The Hartford game was played as an aftermath of election, and with fifteen men on a side, but apparently the number of players was optional then as now, because this challenge reads, “that they are not afraid to meet them with any number they shall choose.” The reference to men of Wethersfield leads me to remark that the game was always very popular there. There are still a few scattering players in Wethersfield, though no organization. Perhaps the broad open fields of Wethersfield fostered the game just as the broad open downs of the southern counties of England did, for there was the true birthplace of the English game in its developed state. I was curious to learn how this challenge found its way into Dr. Parker’s book, and wrote him about it. He could only say in reply that the challenge was written on a loose sheet of paper, and just how it found its way into his collection, or what has become of it, he does not know. It is more than likely that the early files of the “Hartford Courant” contain some notices of games, though in those earlier and ruder days sporting editors and sporting reporters were unknown. I feel certain that at least from 1767, the game was played with practically unabated interest, particularly in Hartford and Litchfield Counties, up to the middle of the 19th century, when baseball appeared as its rival. Baseball, a development of the old English game of rounders, first appeared about 1845, but made slow headway until 1865, when it seems to have been taken up all over the country. Then the good old game of wicket was doomed. It lingered on in Hartford and Litchfield Counties for a few years, and a few players remain, but the game is now practically obsolete. It was inevitable that the game should be superseded by one more in consonance with the American spirit. “Americans,” says one writer, “do not possess the patience of Englishmen and do not care to witness a cricket match which may extend to three days and then remain undecided.” We require an intense, snappy game, in which all of the excitement is compressed into an hour or two. Such a game is baseball, which, however, has the very serious defect of placing too much power in the hands of the umpire.
In a “History of America” published in Edinburgh in 1800, Edward Oliphant, the writer, says in describing New England (page 113): “The athletic and healthy diversions of cricket, foot ball, quoits, wrestling, jumping, hopping, foot races and prison base are universally practiced in this country, and some of them in the most populous places, and by people of almost all ranks.”
This note is somewhat unsatisfactory because it does not appear of what section of New England he is writing, nor what opportunities he had for verifying his statements.
From Hartford, where the game was played, as we have seen, with enthusiasm as early as 1767, it was undoubtedly taken to Litchfield County, where it became widely popular. From thence it spread, as I surmise, into the Berkshire region of Western Massachusetts. I have the authority of Professor Louis V. Pirsson of Yale for saying that it was played in the region of Pittsfield some thirty-five years ago, but only to a limited extent. The towns of Litchfield and New Hartford were great centers for the game. Torrington and Waterbury boasted of good players. Our former Governor, Hon. Frederick John Kingsbury of Waterbury, writes that he well remembers the game as played in Waterbury, where he thinks the game was at its height between 1830 and 1840. The game described by Mr. Kingsbury is the American game, but like the English game, called for three supports and two wickets. This feature I have not met with elsewhere. If the degree of excitement is in direct proportion to the number of heroes engaged, a game of wicket should arouse a community to a higher pitch of enthusiasm than baseball. Thirty players on a side was the usual number, sixty players in all. It must be observed, too, that in this country the best men in the community played the game. I do not mean to say that the teams were wholly or even largely composed of picked men, but every team was pretty sure to include a few of the best men in the community, and these kept the game free from bickerings and rowdyism. The taint of professionalism always attached to baseball was conspicuously absent. I am convinced that wicket was the more wholesome sport, and certainly had the merit of engaging actively a larger number of men than baseball. On the other hand, it is a less interesting game to watch. The most patriotic Englishmen admit that, as a spectacle, cricket is fatiguing.
Here and there I find mention made of the game being played on “training” and “election” days; but wicket required too much time to be given a second place on such crowded days. I am disposed to think that its devotees were willing to give the best of a day to it, though it is true that “training” and “election” days were great occasions for indulgence in all forms of athletic sports by the colonists and their immediate descendants. Madam Knight, in her inimitable journal of her ride from Boston to New York in 1704, speaks of ball-playing in Connecticut. She does not refer to wicket, but the English game of cricket had not taken on anything like its present form until 1702, and was not, so far as I can learn, played here much before Judge Sewall made the entry in his diary in 1725–6 already quoted from. Our colonists had the passion of the English for sports in the open, and they missed the English holidays, for which they found a substitute in “election” and “training” days. Hence Madam Knight’s reference to “Saint Election.” It may be thought too great a tax upon credulity to connect the game of wicket as played on our village greens with the games of Persian horsemen, but it must be admitted that in playing games of all sorts on “training” and “election” days our colonists were transferring to those days the games which their English forebears had long played on Saints days days originally devoted by the priests to miracle plays, which in the course of time gave way to purely secular entertainments. It is hard to believe that the merry-go-round and the shooting gallery of the holidays of modern England are in the line of succession from the miracle plays with which our ancestors were entertained before the Reformation, but our masters will have it so. Nor is it easy to connect our New England games on “training,” “election” and “fast” days with miracle plays, but the evidence supports the conclusion.
Whether wicket was ever played in New Haven by “town-born” and “interloper” I am unable to say; but it was unquestionably played by the college boys from early times, though I have been unable to find any record evidence of the game antedating 1818. In a poem entitled “New Haven” written by William Croswell, a son of Dr. Harry Croswell of Trinity Church, New Haven, and himself a Rector of the Church of the Advent in Boston, cricket is mentioned. This poem refers to the years of his undergraduateship, 1818–22, when young Croswell was a student at Yale. The fifth stanza reads:
And on the green and easy slope where those proud columns stand,
In Dorian mood, with academe and temple on each hand,
The football and the cricket-match upon my vision rise,
With all the clouds of classic dust kicked in each other’s eyes.
Football and cricket went hand in hand in those days, as appears from Belden’s “Sketches of Yale College,” published in 1843. He says: “Were it spring or autumn you should see a brave set-to at football on the green, or a brisk game at wicket.”
As a New Haven school boy, Mr. Henry T. Blake saw the college students play wicket on the Green prior to 1844, as well as during his own college days. He tells me that he never heard the game called anything but wicket; and the game, as he describes it, follows what I call the American game. It was during Mr. Blake’s college days that baseball made its appearance and, if I may say so, a decided hit. For a few years thereafter wicket was not played on New Haven Green at all as far as I can learn; but when the Rev. Dr. Storrs O. Seymour of Litchfield came to college in 1853 it was revived by him and some Litchfield County students at Yale. About that revival he writes as follows:
In the class of ‘57 there were three men from Litchfield County well acquainted with the game of ‘wicket.’ And after the excitement of the football games between ’57 and ’58 had subsided, it was proposed that a wicket club be formed. This was done, the ball and bats and wicket sticks after the regular pattern were procured and the club began its practice. The place where we played was on the public green south of the old State House, which was then standing, and parallel with College Street about where the row of trees now stands. These trees were not then growing there. I can not recall all the names of those who were accustomed to play with us. But I remember very well that Sam. Scoville, George M. Woodruff, George Pratt, Holbrook our Valedictorian, John C. Day, D. Stuart Dodge and Charles Blackman were prominent as good players. The time when we played was at noon, after the eleven o’clock recitation and before dinner. Sometimes also Saturday afternoon was given up to it. There were a good many of our class who would from time to time join in the game but irregularly. There were not more than a dozen perhaps who were enthusiastic enough to be on hand every day. I think that we never chose sides, but when a man was bowled or caught out someone else took the bat, a sort of order being observed, so that all had a chance to bat. The game excited considerable interest, tho. I think no other class formed a club. There were other men in the other classes who knew the game, who had come from towns where it was played, these would occasionally take part in it. So far as I know the game was not continued by any club after the class of ’57 was graduated, and so far as I remember I have not played a game since that year. But I enjoyed playing very much, having begun when I was a small boy. The game was played here in Litchfield on our public square every pleasant evening from early summer to late autumn.
After one of those games in which young Seymour played, an old gentleman came forward from among the spectators and said to him, that he was very glad to watch him and his friends play at the game of wicket; that he had played the game in the old town of Litchfield with his father, Judge Origen S. Seymour; with his grandfather, Sheriff Ozias Seymour; and with his great-grandfather, Major Moses Seymour. “They were all good players,” added the old man, “and you play as well as the best of them.” This was Mr. Asa Bacon, then eighty-six years old, a Litchfield man and a contemporary of Sheriff Seymour. It was the custom in Litchfield, as elsewhere, for elderly men to play a match game with the younger men, and so Mr. Bacon as a young man had played with Major Moses Seymour, and as an elderly man in a game against Judge Seymour. This little story calls up a pleasing picture of Major Moses Seymour, the patriot, as an old man playing a match wicket game on Litchfield Green. Dr. Seymour thinks that the game which his grandfather played against Mr. Bacon must have been played prior to 1800. Litchfield, as I have already stated, was one of the strongholds of the game, which must have been played there until the middle of the last century, and I should judge that it must have been something of a cult in the Seymour family because I am assured by our member, Hon. Morris W. Seymour, that he played the game as well as his brothers, the Rev. Dr. Storrs O. Seymour and the late Judge Edward Seymour.
The game was also a great favorite in Litchfield with the students of Judge Reeve’s justly celebrated law school. I think the game was never played in New Haven after the graduation of Dr. Seymour and his Litchfield County friends in 1857.
Professor Henry A. Beers, who played the game as a boy in Hartford during the years 1859-63, says that it was not played during his time in college from 1865 to 1869. By that time baseball had entirely crowded it out. The game described by Professor Beers as having been played by him during his school-boy days in Hartford, corresponds in all particulars to what I call the American game. He also writes, “A few years ago in the little town of Southfield in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, the natives organized a wicket game on July 4th, between the married men and bachelors.” I have already alluded to finding the game in the Berkshire region, whence I think it was derived from Litchfield.
How far the Connecticut game of wicket has travelled I cannot say, but it is certain that when the Western Reserve region of Ohio was settled from Connecticut about 1830, the game was taken along. Our member, Professor Thomas Day Seymour of Yale, tells me that wicket was a favorite game of the students at Western Reserve College then located at Hudson, Ohio. He played the game at that time, as did also his brother, Mr. Charles Seymour of Knoxville. That was a community of pure Connecticut stock, and a greater part of the students came from the Western Reserve region and were of the same stock, and they came to college well acquainted with the game. “Up to 1861,” he says, “the standard games at our college were wicket and baseball, with wicket well in the lead. This game was in no sense a revival. A proof of this is the fact that young men coming to college all over the Reserve were accustomed to this game at home.” The game described by Professor Seymour is the Connecticut game. Mark Hanna was a star player there about 1860, and the rule had to be called on him that the ball must touch the ground three times before it struck the wicket.
It thus appears that wicket was played in Connecticut, and particularly in Hartford and Litchfield Counties, from the middle of the 18th century down to the outbreak of the Civil War. During the War, athletic games were largely suspended in favor of drilling and other manoeuvres. After the war, baseball seems to have had a clear field. In an address made on May 24, 1906, A. G. Spalding, the “famous pitcher” and authority on the “national game,” said:
Baseball is of American origin, was born in New York City, and the first baseball ground was located about where Madison Square now stands. Back in 1842 a few of the young business men of New York began to assemble every Saturday afternoon on these grounds to play what they called baseball. In 1845 these same young men organized the original Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York, the first baseball club ever organized. This club printed the first playing rules in 1845, and it may interest you to know that the present game of baseball could to-day be played under these same rules with a few minor changes, showing that the main underlying principles of the game have not changed from that day to this. Five years later, in 1850, the Gotham and Empire Clubs of New York were organized, and then began rival match games between clubs. In 1857 a convention of baseball players was held in New York, which resulted in the formation of the first National Association of Amateur Baseball Players in 1858, with a total membership of about twenty-five clubs, all from New York city or the immediate vicinity. This national organization gave a great impetus to the game and clubs began forming in other cities.
The game had become well launched when the Civil War began in 1861. The New York baseball players of that period were among the first to respond to President Lincoln’s call for troops, and they took their baseball accoutrements with them, and thus was the game introduced into the army, where it soon became a favorite camp pastime. Every regiment had its baseball team, and the monotony of camp life was very much relieved by match games of baseball. In some unaccountable manner the new game found its way over into the Confederate lines, and while those two magnificent armies could not agree upon national policies, they could agree upon baseball. At the close of the Civil War, in 1865, the soldiers of both armies in returning to their homes disseminated baseball throughout the nation, so you can see that baseball has its patriotic side, and became the national game of America through the efforts of those battle-scarred veterans of the Civil War.
The “national game” itself was until the sixties merely the local pastime of New York City and a few neighboring places. When the Civil War began, the New York regiments introduced the game into the army, and as Mr. Spalding tells the story, the return of the soldiers to their homes after the conclusion of peace spread the game with the greatest possible rapidity to the uttermost parts of the country. Wicket was thus displaced by baseball a game far better suited to the American spirit, but less democratic than wicket, though the contrary opinion is often expressed.
This I cannot but feel is a loss, as it should always be the aim to keep recreation democratic.
For my last chapter in the history of the game, I must turn again to Bristol. The history of wicketing in Bristol is entrenched behind an unbroken series of victories over neighboring teams, the more remarkable, perhaps, because the Bristol team has always been made up of local players, while the opposing teams have often been composed of picked players from different towns. A memorable game was that played on Federal Hill in Bristol September 9, 1858, between Bristol and Waterbury. A special train brought the Waterbury players to Bristol. The game lasted nearly all day and was played to the accompaniment of a band of music. Waterbury was defeated. After the contest was over the home and the visiting teams marched, the band leading the way, to the center of the town, where they were loudly cheered. A banquet at the Kilbourne House followed. But the most memorable day in the annals of the game was a match played between Bristol and New Britain on Monday, July 18, 1859, the Bristol team having advertised that they were willing to meet a team from any town or city in the State, or any combination, for the championship of the State. After some delay New Britain accepted the challenge and the affair was arranged with as much elaboration of detail as any sort of public celebration would be to-day. Monday morning dawned clear and hot, and the whole country-side was early astir. In Hartford the interest was so great that a special train was made up and left for Bristol early in the morning. More cars were added and filled at New Britain. Every car was trimmed with flags and bunting; the visitors brought a band with them, and a great crowd welcomed them at the Bristol station. When the game began it was estimated that fully 4,000 people –a number exceeding the entire population of the township—had gathered to witness the contest. Every window in the Congregational Church was filled with people who stood there all day, as well as every available window in the neighboring houses that commanded a view of the old green. The remainder of the company stood in the hot sun. For hours the battle waged, and although New Britain played a losing game, their heroic efforts to recover themselves maintained the excitement until all was over. In speaking of the game, the “Hartford Press” said, “the most remarkable order prevailed during the game, and the contestants treated each other with faultless courtesy, the good-natured cheers at each other’s mishaps being given and received in the best of spirits. The judges required the umpire but few times during the game and the decisions were yielded to promptly.” New Britain was defeated by a score of 190 to 152.
Though their team had been beaten, the New Britain contingent were not broken in spirit. Stripping the flags and bunting from their gaily decorated cars, they now draped them heavily in black; the shades of evening heightened the majesty of grief. And so, as the day closed, this funeral train wound slowly through the cut, crossed the great “Cow Plain,” and drew on to New Britain and Hartford. The team remained behind for the customary banquet. In this great match of 1859 for the championship of the State the game seems to have culminated. In that game thirty men played on each side. In the lists I notice the names of the late Frederick W. Stanley and Valentine Chamberlain of New Britain, and Henry A. and the late Josiah Tracy Peck of Bristol, both brothers of Professor Tracy Peck of Yale.
Fortunately the rules decided upon for the New Britain game, as drafted by the late Deacon “Harry” Bartholomew of Bristol, have recently been brought to light and are here reprinted. They are valuable as showing the game at the very height of its development and just before it was displaced by baseball.
RULES OF THE GAME OF WICKET.
1st. The ball shall be from 3-3/4 to 4 inches in diameter and weigh from 9 to 10 ounces.
2d. The wickets shall be 75 feet apart.
3d. The wickets shall be six feet long.
4th. The tick marks shall be six feet from the wickets.
5th. The ball shall strike the ground on or before it reaches the center, to be a bowl.
6th. The bowler must start from behind the wicket and pass over it in bowling.
7th. The bowler shall be within ten feet of the wicket when the ball leaves his hand.
8th. A throw or jerk is in no case a bowl, but the arm in bowling must be kept perfectly straight.
9th. In ticking, the bowler must stand astride or back of the wicket, striking it off from the inside, retaining the ball in his hand.
10th. When the bowler has received the ball, it shall be bowled by him before it is passed to the other bowler.
11th. The striker shall in no case molest the ball when it is being thrown in, so as to hinder the bowler from ticking him out.
12th. There shall be no crossing the alley when the ball is being bowled.
13th. There shall be no unnecessary shinning.
14th. In catching, flying balls only are out. A ball caught before striking any other object but the catcher is out.
15th. In crossing, the striker shall tick his bat down on or over the tick mark to have a cross count except when caught or ticked out.
16th. No striker shall strike a ball more than once except in defense of his wicket, neither shall he stop the ball with his bat and then kick it.
17th. No one shall get in the way of a striker to prevent his crossing freely.
18th. Lost ball may have four crosses run on it.
19th. No one but the judge may cry “no bowl.”
The number of players on each side is not fixed by these rules. On this point there seems to have been considerable elasticity. While the game was frequently played with only about fifteen men on a side, the existing records show that in all match games of any importance there were about thirty players on each side; but, as stated, there seems to have been no hard and fast rule fixing the number of players. Thirty players on a side may have been considered the “perfect number,” but important match games were played with 28 men on a side, and with even more than 30. One would think that with sixty men more or less engaged in one game, there would be great confusion; but it is to be remembered that only about half the whole number were playing at one time. While one team was fielding, the other team was batting. The fielding team was, of course, in play, but the batting team was waiting its turn, two by two, at the bat. The fielding team moved from one end of the alley to the other according to the end of the alley used for batting. Either end of the alley was used, but only one end at a time. Although only a little over half of the aggregate number of men engaged were in play at any one time, the number actually taking part in the game was large compared with our modern game of baseball. The very number of players engaged in these bygone contests gives a quaint and old-time air to any rehearsal of them, and shows how simple, compared with our own, the times were when sixty men of the better class, and even of the first class, were able to devote an entire day to a game. Indeed the number of players gives some color to the theory that the game is after all but dismounted polo derived from true polo in which a great number of horsemen took part.
From 1859 the game seems to have languished up to 1873, when Bristol played Wolcottville and Ansonia, and, in 1874, Forestville. Several games were played in 1876 the Centennial year.
In 1880 the Bristol wicket team went to Brooklyn, New York, and on August 27th decisively defeated the Brooklyn Club. The game drew a great crowd and the reporters of the New York dailies took advantage of the opportunity to write up the strange Yankee game of wicket. The Brooklyn Eagle said, “There were many grey-beards on both sides, but what was the most striking in the contest, to the spectators present, accustomed to witness games and matches of all kinds in the Metropolis, was the entire absence of the spirit of partizan malice, of continuous disputing and quarreling which is frequent at local contests on the ball field.” If the game of baseball was free from rowdyism at first, it soon degenerated into it, so that to-day and for many years past, at least, rowdyism has been characteristic of baseball games. A rough class of men have played the games and a rough and rowdy class have been attracted to them. I do not mean to say that baseball is a rowdy game as played by young men, nor that many of the best men in any community are not enthusiastic supporters of baseball. What I mean to say is, that baseball has almost from its beginnings been characterized by a great deal of rowdyism.
Beginning with 1880, local games occupied the Bristol wicketers until 1892, when they played two games with Newington. In 1893 they played Newington and Torrington. Newington was again beaten in 1895. The next great game was that of 1903—the “Old Home Week” game already spoken of. The last game was that played as a feature of the annual fair at Berlin last year, attracting a great crowd. For over sixty years the Bristol team has been victorious in every game. Is it strange, then, that up there on the hills they cherish the traditions of the ancient Yankee game of wicket, of which they consider themselves the appointed custodians?
I should not bring this paper to a close without attempting a description of the game as played. To begin with, an alley 75 feet long is prepared. No rule prescribes any width for the alley but it varies from 8 to 10 feet. Two pairs of wooden blocks are placed at the respective ends of the alley in parallel lines at a right angle to its length; on these blocks light sticks six feet long, called wickets, are mounted. The blocks, which are usually pyramidal in form, are of a height to lift the wickets about 4 inches above the floor of the alley. The center of the alley is crossed by an imaginary transverse line used to determine the fairness of the ball, it being one of the requirements that the ball must be bowled so as to strike the floor of the alley before reaching the center of the alley. The judge generally takes a position in line with this transverse line, which is marked by bits of red flannel held in place by pins driven into the edge of the alley on each side so as to be flush with its floor. The bowlers stand back of the wickets and for them the ground is cleared and smoothed so as to merge into the alley, though the alley proper is confined between the wickets; no rules limit the size of the place occupied by the bowler. Imaginary “tick-lines” are drawn at a right angle to the axis of the alley, six feet inside of the wickets. Similarly, imaginary transverse “bowling lines” five feet inside of the “tick-lines,” and therefore ten feet inside of the wickets, are drawn to prevent the bowlers from advancing toward the center of the alley more than ten feet from the wickets, before delivering the ball. These “tick-lines” and “bowling lines” are usually indicated by bits of red flannel attached to pins driven into the side of the alley as described above. The batsmen are placed facing each other between the “tick lines” and the wickets, each batsman being furnished with a one-piece wooden bat not unlike a tennis bat in form, though having a longer handle, and being solid at the outer end instead of strung with gut. Two bowlers chosen from the fielding team stand back of the wickets. The batsmen from the team at the bat stand just inside of the wickets. That is their position for batting, but when the ball is being bowled to one of them, the other, of course, has to get out of the way of the bowler and always moves forward on the right side of the alley to be out of the way and to be nearer the opposite wicket if the ball is batted and he has to run. The wicketers forming the team from which the bowlers are chosen are arranged around the end of the alley from which the ball is being batted. In case the batting is shifted to the other end of the alley, the fielders swiftly group themselves around the bowler there. To deliver a ball the bowler retreats back of the wicket for some distance. Then running forward he leaps over the wicket and delivers the ball with a straight arm as close to the ground as possible, and always within the “bowling line” before described. He may deliver a straight ball, or a curved ball a swift ball or a slow ball; but under all circumstances, the ball, in order to be a fair ball, must touch the alley before reaching the line crossing the middle of the alley and determining the fairness of the ball. If the ball is not intercepted by the batsman, it will, of course, knock off the wicket, which it is the aim of the batsman to guard. The batsman may strike an unlimited number of balls, and may or may not run as he may judge best; but in some way or other he must intercept the balls and prevent them from knocking off the wicket. When he strikes the ball into the field he ordinarily runs to the opposite end of the alley and strikes the ground back of the “tick line” with his bat. In this way a run is scored, but of course the batsman does not score if the ball is caught by one of the fielders, or if the ball is thrown to the bowler and the wicket knocked off with the ball in the hands of the bowler before the runner “ticks” down. If he makes a strong hit he may after “ticking” once run back to the opposite end of the alley and then back and “tick” again, and so on, but in any event he cannot make more than four runs on any one ball. But up to the number of four, he may run back and forth until the ball has been recovered, and thrown to the bowler. With so many men in the field to intercept the ball, it is surprising that any runs to speak of are made; but, on the contrary, wicket scores are high as compared with baseball scores.
With so many taking part, the game is necessarily prolonged, even lasting all day, and rarely played within a space of five hours; but I have never heard of the game of wicket being continued over to the next day, which I believe is not unusual with the game of cricket as played in Old England. The difference between the game of wicket which was played with scarcely diminished enthusiasm as late as 1860, and our national game of baseball, is fairly characteristic of the great changes in American life. The old game was leisurely, gentlemanly, and democratic in so far as it brought together on terms of friendly equality the high and the low of our old social order, just as in England the farmer’s son, the squire’s son, and the nobleman’s son engaged in village games, without any consciousness of distinctions of rank. In the game of wicket the game itself was enough for the players though it generally drew a good many local people. On the other hand, we have in baseball a game played with terrific intensity and power for an hour and a half or two hours, by eighteen men too frequently of a rough class, and almost invariably before an immense throng of highly wrought spectators. In baseball, at least as now played, the players are generally recruited from the same class. It would be invidious to say that the “best people,” so called, do not to-day attend baseball games. But they are in the minority in the great crowd of men who occupy the “bleachers”—they are, as I think, men who as boys played the game when it was in its infancy, and when it too brought together in friendly rivalry the better and the best men in the community. The game of wicket compared with baseball as now played seems rural enough, and shows more plainly than the old players could have ever realized, how close they were, after all, in their sports to the mother country, which many of them affected so much to despise. The English cricketers and the American wicketers were in truth of one brotherhood.
1. A chronological list of the games with the names of the players and the runs made by each player has been kept in a large account book. This book has long been in the custody of Mr. Henry B. Cook, to whom the writer is indebted for the loan of it.
2. This on the authority of Sir Nathaniel William Wraxall. Horace Walpole attributed the death of the Prince to a blow from a tennis ball—a more aristocratic attribution and one far more likely to appeal to Walpole. Tennis was the royal game of England and of France; that was enough for him. The curious may see The History and Posthumous Memoirs of Sir Nathaniel William Wraxall, ed. by Wheatley, Vol. I., p. 308, and Walpole’s Memoirs of the Reign of George II, 2nd ed. (1846), Vol. I., p. 72.
3. Since the foregoing was written I have learned from Mr. George M. Curtis of Meriden that as he recalls the game the wickets were carried on three supports, in this respect following cricket. Why Waterbury and Meriden should stand together in this variant of the game I do not pretend to know.
4. Even the cloth forgot its dignity and engaged in sports. The Rev. Henry Smith, the first settled minister of the old river-town of Wethersfield, wrestled, as it would appear, not alone with the Lord. In a letter written from Hadley in 1689 by his son, his son says, “I do well remember ye Face and Figure of my Honored Father. He was 5 foote, 10 inches tall & spare of build tho not leane. He was as active as ye Red Skin Men and Sinewy. His delight was in sports of Strengthe & withe his own Handes he did helpe to reare bothe our owne House & ye First Meeting House of Weathersfield, wherein he preacht yeares too fewe. He was well Featured & Fresh favoured with faire skin & longe curling Haire (as neare all of us have had) with a merrie eye & sweet smilinge mouthe, tho he could frowne sternlie eno when need was.”
“Ye firste Meeting House was solid, mayde to withstande ye wicked onslaughts of ye Red Skins. Its foundations was laide in ye feare of ye Lord, but its walls was truly laide in ye feare of ye Indians for many & greate was ye Terrors of em. I do mind me yt alle ye able-bodyed Men did work thereat & ye old and feeble did watch in turns to espie if any savages was in hiding neare & every man kepte his Musket nighe to his hande.” For the remainder of this captivating letter, see the History of Ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut, Vol. I., p. 154.
5. For a further account of the game as played in Litchfield, see Mr. Clarence Deming’s article entitled “An Old Yankee Ball Game-Wicket,” in the New York Evening Post of May, 1903. Mr. Deming should also be enrolled as an enthusiastic wicket player on the Litchfield team, as well as the late Senator Orville H. Platt, who studied law in Litchfield.
6. Professor Seymour’s letter so well visualizes the game as it was played half a century ago in the Western Reserve that I am constrained to reprint it in full:
NEW HAVEN, April 25, 1905.
My dear Kinsman: As to “wicket” in Northern Ohio: My father was for fifty years professor in the Western Reserve College, and my youth was spent in a community of unusually pure New England stock. In 1861, the war set all men to “drilling,” and the “cadets” found in skirmishing and the like (Zouave drill) the vent for their longing for exercise and sport. But up to 1861 the standard games at our college were wicket and football, with wicket well in the lead. This was in no sense a revival. A proof of this is the fad that young men coming to college from all over the Reserve were accustomed to this game at home. My impression is that my father recognized the game as familiar to him from his boyhood, but of this I am not absolutely certain. The ball was about 5-1/2 inches in diameter; the wickets were about 4 inches above the ground, and about 5 feet long. The bats were very heavy, of oak, about 50 inches long, with an almost circular lower end of (say) 8 inches in diameter. The ball was so heavy that most bowlers merely rolled it with such a twist as they could impart; but some bowlers almost threw it. Mark Hanna was the star player about 1860, and the rule had to be called on him that the ball must touch the ground three times before it struck the wicket. The bats were so heavy that only the strong (and quick) batter dared to wait until the ball was opposite him and then strike. I was always satisfied to steer the ball off to one side. The rules favored the batter and many runs were made. (My brother has stimulated, helped, and confirmed my recollections in this matter.) I am,
T. D. SEYMOUR.
7. One of the spectators of that great contest on Federal Hill lived to play a game of wicket in the same town nearly fifty years later, as the following item from the New Haven Journal-Courier of September 5th, 1905, shows:
Wilfred H. Nettleton of Bristol, aged eighty years, who has been an admirer of wicket for half a century and saw the game on Federal Hill, Bristol, fifty years ago, when Bristol defeated New Britain, played in the game on Friday afternoon on the Center street grounds, in that town. He has played more or less all his life and on Friday made eight runs in the game between the married and unmarried men. His health is preserved in a remarkable degree and there is rarely a baseball game hereabouts that he does not see.
8. That the game as played in Litchfield County was substantially the same as played in Hartford County is shown by the following extract from a letter dated at Litchfield, October 11, 1909, from the Rev. Dr. Storrs O. Seymour, a wicketer himself and the inheritor of the traditions of the Litchfield County game.
I thank you most heartily for sending me your article on “Wicket.” I do not see how it can be improved. Nor have I any suggestion to make unless it might be well to explain what was meant by ‘shinning’ in rule 13th. My impression is that three “shinnings” put a man out, although probably these three must have been consecutive, and I believe that when a batter had stopped a ball in that way the ball was thrown back to the same bowler. You also speak of the fact that the ball being bowled to one batter, the other might move forward to make his run. Was not this called “leading up” and considered as a mark of a courageous and alert batter? I think too that a batter who had thus “led up” might stop the ball anywhere in the alley if the bowler opposite to him tried to bowl him out before he could get within the “tick line.”
There used to be many match games played between the “Bantam Club” of Litchfield and the Wolcottville Club. The last match game in which I played was one between these two clubs when I was in college, my division officer, who, if I remember rightly, was Dr. Dwight, the late President, having excused me from attending on prayers and recitations that I might come to Litchfield for the purpose of playing. My brother Edward was one of the players and, alas! our club was beaten.”
Dr. Seymour’s letter was submitted to Mr. Miles Lewis Peck of Bristol, who replied in part, as follows:
With regard to ‘shinning’ it meant the stopping of a ball with your shins without having made any effort to hit it with the bat. Sometimes players who had very tough shins would try to tire out a bowler on the opposite team by shinning ball after ball and a rule was made to prevent this. When, however, the batter struck at and tried to hit the ball, but failed, and the ball hit his shins, it was not called “shinning.”