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.”
The third and concluding part of Tri-Mountain’s recollection of old Boston baseball ran in The Boston Journal, Monday, March 6, 1905. Interesting material here about how balls were made, and this noteworthy comment: “The Massachusetts game, as it was called, and as the Olympics formulated it, with the exception of throwing the ball at a player, would be fully as interesting to play or to witness as the national game.” The review of ancient ball games, and the mention of the rounders vs. baseball controversy, will interest scholars.
Mr. Benj. F. Guild of the Tri-Mountain club was very prominent with Mr. Saltzman, by correspondence and otherwise, in introducing the national game into New England.
In the early days of the game it was a common thing to see many tall hats among the players on the field, and they were more like stove pipes than they are now, but we know of only one man who dared to play in the box two days in a week in a laundered white suit.
Mr. Lowell showed himself to be so agile as catcher in the game with the New Yorkers that they could express their appreciation of it in no other way than by carrying him on their shoulders.
The Harvard Advocate said of Mr. Flagg: “We think it but just to pay some tribute to the spirit and skill with which Mr. Flagg has fulfilled his duties; we fear it will be a long time ere Harvard is to again see his equal or superior.” He was said to be the swiftest runner in the university, and we don’t see how it could be possible for one to cover the ground quicker than he did. He seemed to almost fly along and it was one of the interesting parts of the game to see him run. He was catcher of the first Harvard and University nines. At this writing the Harvard Flagg is still flying.
Mr. Henry of the Tri-Mountains caught a ball in the pocket of his sack coat, and called on the umpire for judgment, because the rules did not specify that the ball should be caught by a hand. Mr. Henry is still living and a very active business man in Boston.
“Hot From the Bat.”
Mr. Allen of the Olympic club took two flies “hot from the bat” in two consecutive innings, the distance from pitcher to striker being only two-thirds as far as in the game now. That was the quickest sight and hand movement that we ever saw in baseball. Mr. Allen was a remarkable player. He was in the bullet ball game and was one of the Olympic original twelve.
Mr. Lovett’s “hot from the bat” was also a very fine play, but as we all know, his generous hand had a way of securing everything that came within his reach, and the ease and grace with which he did it will not be excelled by any player, and we think that drop-hand catch of his would fasten onto anything that did not come from the cannon’s mouth. “Jimmie” is with us yet, good for us; we have always carried a large policy on his shadow. In the memory of amateurs, “Jimmie Lovett” and “hot from the bat” seem to be synonymous terms. [This passage would seem to dismiss my suspicion that Lovett and author Tri-Mountain were one and the same.]
This hot ball was in a silver ball contest on July 14, 1866, in which the Lowells won from the Harvards by 37 to 27. It was known to be a particularly exciting game, from the fact that each club had won two games against the other. Two or three thousand seats were provided under the direction of Mr. Kimball of the Lowells, and it was thought that 10,000 people were present. Mr. John R. Manley, an honorary member of several clubs, had presented to the Lowell club a handsome rosewood bat to be given to the player making the best score, and it was won by Mr. Joslin, four runs, one out. Mr. Manley, as many will remember, was a general favorite, and was always provided with a special pass inside the lines at all match games. He was occasionally selected as umpire and sometimes hesitated, but no one ever questioned his decision. All the clubs, both senior and junior, had the utmost respect and friendship for that most estimable gentleman.
At the Lowell-Harvard game on the Common May 15, 1867, a new rule was nicely demonstrated; the pitcher must be at his plate after “called balls” before he could play, but the pitcher had followed the ball too near the striker and Mr. Flagg, who was on third base, made a dash home and got there before the pitcher could resume play. In the Harvard-Lowell game on June 1, 1867, Mr. Shaw put out twenty of the twenty-seven Lowells.
There were some schoolboys of Olympic times who had a prominent part in the game with their elders. Of these was Mr. Horace Furbush, who is still in Boston. It was often said that he had eyes in the back of his head. He was called “imp” and “eel” and he was not slow in any position. Mr. George W. Conant, for many years one of Boston’s assessors, was a fine player in the small ball game. Mr. Richards, now on Park street, was highly complimented on his catching.
We must not forget the Bay State club, organized May 1, 1857. They took a game from the Olympics, and were a fine set of young men.
Mr. Chandler proposed for membership in the Tri-Mountain club a boy of those times who used bats four feet long, and his score averaged more than 10 per cent. of home runs. He struck a ball considerable over the vane of Park Street Church, 225 feet up, and would repeatedly send a ball to that height without moving from his position. In 1876 he was invited by the Wakefield club to take part in a game. His strike was declared foul, but the next one sent the ball to the face of the clock on the Congregational Church. The following Sunday the choir remained later than usual at rehearsal, and at 1 o’clock the clock struck thirty-seven times. There are some living who may remember that incident. The boy had to quit using those bats for fear of pitchers becoming cross-eyed dodging between the ball and the broken end of a bat.
First Fly Catch.
The first fly catch game was between Tri-Mountain first and second nines in 1859.
The strong throwers of amateur times were Mr. Sawyer and Mr. Bryant of the Bowdoin club, and one of the Tri-Mountains. They could each throw a ball considerable over the flagstaff on the Common, and from long center field to the home plate. The flagstaff is not near as high as it was then, but if any of the young folks desire to test their backs and arms, let them try throwing over the present pole.
The longest throw on record was by Mr. John V. B. Hatfield of the Cincinnati club, who threw a ball 369 feet, 387.6, 396, and then in reverse direction, 382.6, 382, 387. Mr. O’Brien, center fielder of the Atlantic club, did not throw by swinging his arm from the shoulder but jerked the ball from his hip.
On July 4, 1867, the Lowell club of Boston, on a visit to Portland, played a game with the Eons in the forenoon, and both clubs worked all night at the great fire there.
In a game between the Lowells and Harvards, July 4, 1868, an all-England nine had a game with three Lowells, three Harvards and three Tri-Mountains; in which the Americans were victorious, 21 to the Englishmen’s 4.
On June 19, 1869, the Atlantics played a picked nine from the Lowells and Tri-Mountains. The score was even at the end of two innings, and with the seventh each side scored 28, the eighth and ninth being blanks for both.
The shortest time for a full game of nine innings that we know of was between the King Philip club and the Tri-Mountains, one hour and thirty minutes.
Fair in Play.
As an incentive to the youth of today to be fair in play, let us mention the case of Mr. Gould of the Waban club in a game with Harvard, who declared himself out when the condition was such that no one but himself and his opponent knew the fact in the case. This noble act was commented upon by all the dailies, one of which had nearly sixty lines about it. There are times when there is a concert of action which must be decided by a draw or declared off, but there are others when it would be impossible to give an honest decision.
The ball of amateur times was between five and a half and five and three-quarter ounces in weight, and measured from nine and a half to nine and three-quarter inches in circumference, but those measures have been reduced from time to time. The ball had three ounces of pure hard India rubber over which was tightly wound the strongest yarn, and it was covered with alum-dressed horse hide, that being the strongest leather known, being very elastic when water soaked, in which way it was used. The body of the horse being smoother, rounder and harder than that of other animals it follows that the skin would be more even throughout. The alum makes the leather white and may add some strength. The boy manufacturer tells us that he bought the best white mitten yarn at $1.25 per pound and had the horse hide specially prepared for him at the tannery in Peabody. He had no clamps; his work was done altogether by hand. The price of balls was $1.25, but the boy charged only $1. Sometimes balls would not last through a game and balls were made with two covers, but the Boston manufacturing broke down that business. When leather was not to be had, a cheap and easy way to cover a ball was with twine in a lock stitch, called quilting.
In our youth, leather was not as cheap as now. Overshoes were made of pure, India rubber and the junk business was not as common as in these times and it was not difficult to procure an old rubber shoe for the foundation of a ball. Many a dear old grandma or auntie of today will remember having stockings and mittens being begged of them, which were knit at home by hand, to be unraveled for ball stock, and many old grandpas will remember parting with their boots that the legs might furnish covers for balls.
Small Ball Game.
The small ball game must be as broad as New England instead of being limited to Massachusetts, for the writer well remembers when on a visit to Maine in the ’40s of being presented with two balls handsomely covered with leather on account of his love for the play. Good balls were also made partly of sponges[,] curled hair or cork.
In the scrub games tricks were often resorted to for advantage. One man would throw cross-eyed to bother a striker, and again, look on the side in which a man held his bat and throw to the other side, but some were smart enough to take advantage of this and swipe the ball tremendously to the rear. By indication of the catcher with eyes or finger, which the batsman could not see, a thrower would deliver a ball almost out of reach when looking at the catcher’s feet or vice versa, and sometimes there were two catchers, one crouching and the other standing over him, and then the two catchers would stand on either side of a striker. These antics prevented the exercise for which the game was instituted and had no good effect.
The Massachusetts game, as it was called, and as the Olympics formulated it, with the exception of throwing the ball at a player, would be fully as interesting to play or to witness as the national game. There is little danger of injury, it is harmless, so to speak, and for amateurs it is the proper game. It requires more agility and alertness, and quicker decision than the present game and is less laborious. No armor is necessary, and less equipment is requisite. Left-hand throwing at times would come in good play and is sooner acquired than one thinks. It is the finest field exercise and pastime imaginable, and should be adopted by our young men and boys.
Early Morning Play.
In the ’50s it was customary to commence game at 5 A.M. on the Common, and after play of an hour and a half repair to Braman’s excellent system of bath houses at the foot of Chestnut street for a swim of fifteen minutes, and then get home in time for breakfast.
Johnson’s encyclopedia says: “Ball was a favorite gymnastic exercise among the ancient Greeks and Romans, the latter of whom called it pella. At Rome it was played by persons of all ages and men of high rank. The Greeks prized the game as the means of giving grace and elasticity to their figures and motions. In the sixteenth century this game was fashionable in the courts of French and Italian princes. The French jeu de paume and English tennis were modifications of the game of ball. The ball was struck with a mallet (Fr. mall or maile; English mall) sometimes called pall-mall or pell-mell, from the Italian palla or ball.”
An Ancient Game.
From Rees[’s] Encyclopedia we quote: “The Romans had four kinds of pilae balls; the first called Trigon or Trigonalis because the three gamesters at it were placed in a triangle; these alternately tossed and caught the ball, and he who first let it fall to the ground was the loser. The second, called Follis, or Folliculus, was made of leather blown up like our footballs; the largest sort of these were struck with the arm, the smaller with the fist. The former had the appellation Paganica, as being much used in country villages; the fourth was the Harpast, a small ball, so called because the gamesters endeavored to snatch it from each other.”
That ball games were frequent and popular by the ancients there is no doubt, but as so many rules for playing them have been made and adopted in our time, we are loath to admit that our game was in the main derived from that or any other nation. It is claimed that our game of ball came from the English game of Rounders, but after much search and research no book can be found which gives a description of that game or anything more than a mere mention of it.
The question with our young people should be to decide whether they will have enjoyable exercise in an attractive and harmless game among themselves or whether they will pay for a ticket to burn or bleach themselves in a cramped position for two or three hours on a hard seat to see two men throw and catch a ball while seven others do a great deal of standing around, the only relief being rising on their feet for a few minutes between innings, and to resume their discomfort when play begins again….
Many of the old players are with us yet, and we don’t think they are nearly so badly crippled as if they had spent their baseball hours in some other exercise.
Here’s to the memory of the Olympics and Bay States, who played straight ball and never did anything to cripple a delightful game, and here’s to the early clubs in the national game and the memory of pleasant and enjoyable happenings of younger days. The other things do not count.
This story by “Tri-Mountain” ran in the Boston Journal of February 27, 1905. It continues the story commenced in this space yesterday. Of particular interest, I think, is the detailed use of a glove in a baseball game in 1858—far earlier than the histories cite. In July of 1862 the Excelsior team of New York [actually Brooklyn, a separate city until becoming a part of “Greater New York” in the consolidation of 1898], the crack team of the country at that time, made a trip to Boston, and on the 10th of the month had a game with the Bowdoin club. On the next day the visitors played with a picked nine of five Lowells and four Tri-Mountains, in which they were victorious over the Boston players by a score of 39 to 13, the four Tri-Mountains scoring 7 of the 13 runs. Home runs—Excelsior, 3; Bostons, Chandler, Lovett, Miller.
Previous to this time our pitchers had taken two steps in delivering the ball, and would follow it half way to the striker, but Mr. [Jim] Creighton of the Excelsiors did not move from his position. He took a step with his left foot, but kept his right in place. Mr. [Joe] Leggett, his catcher, caught on a bound except when a man was on third base, and then he went up behind the bat.
In 1865 the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn came to Boston, and on September 25 won a game from the Lowell club by 30 to 10. About 3000 people witnessed this contest, and seats were provided for ladies. On September 26 the Atlantics won from the Tri-Mountains by 107 to 17. On the 27th the Harvard boys took their turn and scored 22 against 58 for the Atlantics. Home runs—Atlantics, 2; Mr. Parker of Harvard, 3. In these games Mr. [Frank] Norton of the Atlantics caught up behind the bat when there was a man on any base, and on a bound when the bases were free. Mr. [Tom?—check] Pratt did not move either foot from the ground in pitching. It was said that he could pitch ninety-five balls through a barrel and the other five of the hundred would touch the barrel. He afterward joined the Tri-Mountains.
History of Silver Ball.
In May of 1866 Mr. Lowell and his partner, Mr. Brett, at a meeting of the Junior Association at the Parker House, presented a silver ball to be played for by junior clubs only. The first game for this ball took place on May 24 between the Clifton club, to whom the ball had been awarded, and the Independent club, the latter winning, 69 to 32.
Mr. Moses E. Chandler also presented to the Junior Association a full set of equipment comprising a silver mounted bat, bases, foul ball posts with flags, and a champion streamer. The juniors were now well provided with everything to make their games as interesting as could be and they showed their appreciation of it.
In 1867 there was a tournament at the New England Association, in which thirty-nine clubs were represented. Mr. Chandler presented a silver mounted bat as a prize for the winning club, which was captured by the Tri-Mountains, who won, it is said, every game in which they participated. The bat is composed of pieces of wood from the John Hancock house on Benson [check—Beacon?]street, the Lincoln cabin, the old Boston elm, the apple tree under which Gen. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, and the battleships Kearsarge and Alabama. The silver belt on the bat is inscribed:
First prize, Tournament of New England Association, 1867.
Won by the Tri-Mountain Base-Ball Club.
It is in a box of black walnut burl. Inlaid on the cover is a bat, ball, cap and foul ball post with flag, and on each end is a base, inlaid. [This bat sold at auction on July 17, 1996 for $37,400. According to the auctioneer, the bat came from a western Maine home where it had been under a bed. The consignor, who took a couple of years to decide to part with the bat, was no relation to Moses E. Chandler. The trophy bat had been given to her great-uncle, who apparently was a caretaker of Chandler in his declining years. The bat is depicted in the cover of the sheet music for "The Baseball Quadrille" at the head of Part 1 of this article.]
Although the old Massachusetts game had many interesting facts in connection with it, the story of the national game seemed to call for the most attention, and that is why it was presented first.
Olympic Club Formed.
Previous to the year 1854 the game of bat and ball was played in a “scrub” way, and there were too many differences of opinion on rules to allow the game to proceed smoothly; but in that year the Olympic Ball Club was organized by twelve young men of Boston. They elected officers and adopted a set of rules for playing the game. This club was the first in New England, and the rules were of much assistance in playing and prevented many disputes. Their first game was with the Elm Tree Club in 1855, but the new club soon disappeared. There were a number of young men, principally cartmen from the vicinity of Pearl street, who styled themselves the Green Mountain Boys, but we did not recognize them as an organization. They furnished much merriment to bystanders from their disregard of rules, which was inexcusable, to say the least. We remember of their playing with some clubs.
The word base was not used at that time, the infield being shown by bounds, or byes: it was probably introduced to designate the game from other games of ball and on account of the bounds being changed to a firmer base.
To draw crowds at the Worcester fair, it was the custom to offer a prize of $500 to be competed for by two leading ball clubs, but these contests frequently ended in disputes.
The Olympic club was the most popular club in this section and was classed as the champion. They had games in the morning before breakfast, in the afternoon and on holidays and drew crowds of admirers. All went well until the year 1858, when on May 31 a country club having invited the Olympics to play a match game, came to Boston for that purpose. Every kind of preparation had been made to receive the visitors; the ground had been roped off, strong stakes four feet high had been placed in the ground for bounds, and new bats and balls provided; but there was a delay in commencing the game.
The visiting club had brought some things never seen before. The rules of the convention specified the size and weight of the ball and that it should be covered with leather, but the actual component parts of the ball inside the cover were not mentioned.
It was understood that balls for this game were to be made of rubber and yarn, but in the absence of this particular mention the visitors produced a ball of minimum weight made of yarn wound as loosely as possible over a bullet to secure the proper size, and insisted on using it. The bats provided by the home club were of little use with such a ball, but the guests had been equal to all contingencies and brought flat sticks, not for striking the ball to the foreground, but to touch it merely and direct it from its course to the rear. Heavy gloves had to be used with such a ball, for bare hands could not hold it and it would twist more fingers and do more injury than the ball of the national game.
Gloves had not been seen in play before, neither were gloves used in the national game in old amateur times.
The immense company of spectators did not see the game that they were accustomed to, and many left the grounds disappointed, declaring it a fizzle. That the bullet ball was made for the occasion and for points was evident. Whenever this game was afterward mentioned in the presence of anyone who took part in it, there was a show of fingers as “relics” of that game.
After the game the Olympics entertained their guests and escorted them to the depot the next day, but that was the last of the bullet ball, it was never heard of again.
Mr. Gill and Mr. Arnold of the Tri-Mountain club were in the twelve who formed the Olympic club in 1854. Mr. Gill and Mr. Chandler of the Tri-Mountain and Mr. Forbush and Mr. Crosby of the Bowdoin club were in the bullet ball game. Mr. Chandler still survives.
Part 3 tomorrow!
On Monday, February 20, 1905, The Boston Journal commenced a three-part story on the introduction of the “National Game”—i.e, the New York version—to Massachusetts in the late 1850s. The author, identified only as Tri-Mountain but perhaps James D’Wolfe Lovett, was, in the words of the newspaper’s editor, “a member of Boston’s first baseball club and a player who in the ’50s and ’60s had a reputation more than local.” As I related in my previous post, “The Game That Got Away,” the triumph of the Gotham Game meant the rapid disappearance of the many vibrant versions of baseball that had flourished not only in New England but also in Pennsylvania and the Western Territory—Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and other (then) frontier outposts. Baseball was played in the South, too before the Civil War, but afterwards its several regional variants were likewise vanquished by the “National Game.”
As in its 1905 appearance, this article will run in three segments. Of particular interest below, perhaps is the fate of the celebrated silver ball over which Boston’s clubs contested fiercely in the 1860s. Note that the New York Game is treated first though clearly it arose second. As “Tri-Mountain” notes in the following segment: “Although the old Massachusetts game had many interesting facts in connection with it, the story of the national game seemed to call for the most attention, and that is why it was presented first.” Now, on to Part 1!
A pleasing story might be told about baseball in Boston if one could be found who was clever at it, but the only merit the writer claims is that he remembers it for more than half a century and participated in it from the early ’50s up to the entrance of professional clubs into the sport.
In the spring of 1856 Edward G. Saltzman of the Gotham club of New York came to Boston. [ Saltzman was something of a Johnny Appleseed, next bringing the New York Game to Savannah in 1867.] Associated with him were Augustus P. Margot and Richard Busteed of Brooklyn. These three gentlemen with two or three more began to play a game, which with the implements used seemed very strange to us. Mr. Saltzman was the prime mover in this game, and was afterward called the father of the game in New England. Mr. Margot laid out the first baseball diamond on the Common. The Tri-Mountain club was organized June 16, 1857, with Mr. Saltzman as president; vice president, J. Busteed; secretary, J. Edward Burtt; treasurer, B. Frank Guild [this was Benjamin Franklin Guild of the Boston Society’s Golden Ball, which prompted the previous entry in this space]; game keeper, J. G. Donaldson; judge, Charles Taylor. The game was not popular at that time, but the newcomers continued to play it.
In 1858 the Portland club challenged the Tri-Mountain and three games followed: the first on Boston Common, September 9, was won by the visitors: Portland 47, Tri-Mountain 42. Mr. Saltzman, who was change pitcher and catcher with Mr. Guild for the Tri-Mountains, did not play in this game. The time occupied was three hours and each side scored one home run. Capt. Crowell of Portland sent a ball into the sky (there were no clouds) and it seemed as if it would not return to earth. The captain fainted, but it was later in the game, and it was said to be from the heat. Everything went off charmingly. The Boston people, although obliged to accept defeat, were pleased with the new game. The evening was spent in jollification around the board at the Cummings House.
Slid for His Base.
On June 28, 1859, these two clubs were together again on Bramhall hill, in Portland before a large assemblage of people to witness a game that they had not seen before. The result was in Boston’s favor—Tri-Mountains, 21; Portlands 11. Mr. Saltzman was catcher for the Boston Club. It was in this game that Mr. Chandler introduced his original feature of diving at a base, which produced an uproar of laughter, and won for him a cane. The cane is a Malacca joint, with an octagon head made from a large Mexican coin and is engraved as follows: “Presented to M. E. Chandler from R. A. Nicholas of the Tri-Mountain Baseball Club, June 28, 1859, Runs, 5; H.L. 1” (H.L. means hands lost or outs). [This cane turned up in Maine in 1996 and was put up for auction, along with the trophy bat with engraved silver banding that read "First Prize Tournament of New England Association, 1867, Won by Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club of Boston." More on this tomorrow!]
The Boston club was handsomely entertained at Cape Cottage the next day.
On November 8, 1859, the third game was played on the Common in the presence of an immense gathering of interested ones, to see whether victory should perch on the pole of the parent club or go to Portland. The home club won—Tri-Mountains 33; Portland, 20. The ball of the first game was gilded and lettered and sent to the Portland club. The balls used in the other two games are in the hands of the boy who made them and who also made balls for the Boston clubs, some of which were used in the later New York games.
In the year 1858, by the efforts and enterprise of Mr. John A. Lowell, the Bowdoin Square Base Ball Club was formed from young men located at the Bachi House on the square, the name being afterward changed by leaving out the word square; they played mixed games with the Tri-Mountains before breakfast and on afternoons. On May 25, 1859, in a match game, the Tri-Mountains won 23 to 11, but on October 15 the Bowdoins were victors over their teachers, 32 to 26.
In the early sixties Mr. Lowell formed a club from the High and Latin school boys, who adopted the name of the founder. A few years later, this club defeated the Tri-Mountains 37 to 1, but it must be clear that the conditions were very much strained, a little more so than when Harvard took a game from the Lowells, 21 to 4. The Bowdoin and Lowell clubs were later merged into one under the name of the latter.
The Harvard Crimson says: “It is said that baseball was introduced in Harvard in 1862 by two enthusiastic freshmen, Frank Wright and George A. Flagg of the ’66 class; in the autumn of 1863 the incoming freshmen pressed the sophomores so closely that on October 12, 1864, the University club was formed, and in the spring of 1865 the University nine was determined upon.” Harvard’s first match game was with Brown University at Providence on June 17, 1863, Harvard winning 29 to 17. The first match game of Harvard University nine was in June, 1865, defeating Tri-Mountain 59 to 32.
A Silver Ball.
In 1864 Mr. Lowell presented to the New England Baseball Association a silver ball as a trophy to arouse more interest in the game, and the first contest for it was on September 27, when the Tri-Mountains won it from the Osceola Club of Portland, 53 to 18. The Lowell club then won it from the Tri-Mountains, 33 to 18. Three country clubs failed to take it from the Lowells. The Harvard club won four silver ball games from the Lowells and Lowell won three from Harvard. On August 24, 1867, Harvard surrendered the silver ball to the Lowell club and forfeited a game of ball on account of the challenge coming in vacation time, when they could not call their fellows together. It was an unjust rule of amateur times that permitted a forfeited ball to be marked with a score of 9 to 0.
It had now come Tri-Mountain’s turn again, and the statement was made in meeting. “We can take the silver ball and we ought to challenge for it”; the challenge was sent and a series of three games played, the first at Riverside Park in Cambridge on September 24, 1867, resulting in Lowell’s favor, 20 to 16. The second game was on the Common September 23, and the Tri-Mountains were the victors, 40 to 35, in eight innings. At the close of the fourth the score stood 18 to 9 in Lowell’s favor, but in the fifth the old fellows started off in a rattling way, 8 to 1, 7 to 3, 7 to 9, 9 to 4. On September 28, 1867, the fifteenth silver ball contest and the last game for that beautiful trophy, was played on the Common before an immense crowd. The Tri-Mountains took a lead of 5 to 1 in the first and the nine innings finished Tri-Mountains, 42; Lowells, 22; the only failure to count [register a run] being by the Lowells in the ninth. The time of the game was 3 hours, 15 minutes. Home runs—Tri-Mountains, 2. Passed balls—Tri-Mountain, 12; Lowell, 25. Umpire—Mr. N. S. Smith of the Harvard Club.
The national game was now at its height among amateurs and up to this time the Tri-Mountains had not taken a game from Harvard, and as the college players had not lost the silver ball in competition a great game was looked for, but at the opening of the last series a request had been made that the silver ball should be retired; it had been knocked about in thought and feeling as much as the game ball had been over the field. The Tri-Mountains reluctantly surrendered it to the committee of the association, who decided to melt it and put the proceeds into the association funds. The committee therefore met at Mr. Margot’s office, and there Mr. Saltzman swung the sledge hammer that forever retired the silver ball.
Mr. Margot then and there put it into a crucible and melted it and it sold for about $16. The metal was then bought again and small balls were made of it and presented to members of the different clubs. It was about regulation size, hollow and about an eighth of an inch in thickness. The names of the different clubs which contested for it, with the scores of the games, were engraved upon it.
To be continued tomorrow.
Long before the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry, an early variant of baseball known as the “Massachusetts Game” was edged out by the so-called New York rules. What happened? That was the editor’s tease that ran above my story when it ran in the Boston Globe in 2005. I remain convinced that this long vanished game of baseball was as good, if not better than, the one that vanquished it.
Rainey Tisdale, Collections Manager of the Bostonian Society, was perplexed. In the days before the reigning champion Red Sox were to open their 2005 season, her riffle through the archives had revealed an ancient baseball painted gold and mysteriously inscribed:
Won, Oct. 29, 1858.
H.L. 1, Runs 13.
The ball had been preserved in an 1855-patent-model cylindrical presentation box topped with a handwritten label bearing the scrawled initials “B.F.G.” and “Prize Ball 1858.” The Society’s records indicated that a Miss Helen Guild had donated the ball in 1953, and that it had been connected somehow with Boston’s Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club.
These were the facts, too loosely strung to form a story, let alone to understand why this relic had been saved. Seeking more information about the Tri-Mountains, the cryptic “B.F.G.”, and the meaning of the golden globe, Ms. Tisdale contacted a research librarian at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, who referred her to me. I had recently won fleeting fame for the discovery of a bylaw residing in the city records of Pittsfield that gave unequivocal proof that baseball had been played there in 1791, long before Abner Doubleday’s supposed invention of the game in Cooperstown in 1839.
Not many study baseball as if it held the secret to the universe, and nearly all of us who do so belong to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR, some 6,000 members worldwide) and, as a subset of SABR, the nineteenth-century research committee (about 750 members). We take pleasure and occasionally pride in knowing things that all baseball fans knew more than a century ago but few know today.
For instance, I knew the Tri-Mountain was important historically because in 1857 it became the first club in New England to abandon “round ball,” also known as the Massachusetts Game—the region’s traditional version of baseball played since the 18th century—in favor of the New York variant pioneered by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. By this act of perspicacity (or treachery), the Tri-Mounts helped to ensure that by the end of the Civil War teams everywhere played the New York Game which, despite constant tinkering with the rules into the first decade of the next century, is essentially the game we play today.
Some of the details on the ball were obvious to one who elects to live among ghosts, while others required a bit of digging.
“H.L.” was an abbreviation for “hands lost,” what we today call outs. As for “B.F.G,” in a fat folder in my file cabinet labeled “Massachusetts Game,” I quickly came upon an account of a September 9, 1858 Tri-Mount game, the first ever played by two distinct clubs employing the New York rules, that gave the name of the catcher as B.F. Guild. Further research revealed this to be one Benjamin Franklin Guild, who would go on to become a successful editor and columnist. (Guild’s brother Curtis became the Bostonian Society’s first president while his nephew—also named Curtis—was governor of the Commonwealth from 1906 to 1909.) Helen Guild, the ball’s donor, was B.F. Guild’s daughter.
And as for the game commemorated on the trophy, Joanne Hulbert, a baseball expert from Holliston, provided me with a Boston Herald account from October 30, 1858 relating that the contest of the previous day had been an intramural one, between the first and second nines, played under New York rules but requiring that balls be caught on the fly rather than on one bound, as the overly cautious New Yorkers allowed. With no need to list teams on the ball, all else that need be mentioned was Guild’s game-best performance of 13 runs scored.
Those answers satisfied Ms. Tisdale well enough. All the same, the improbable survival of this golden ball, marking the incursion of the New York Game into New England, gaudily summoned up other, larger mysteries, unsolved to this day. Why had Guild and his Tri-Mountains rebelled against the Massachusetts Game? Why had the pride of New England been vanquished so swiftly and utterly by its New York rival? What further secrets might lie along this road not taken as to how baseball developed?
* * *
Until a flurry of debate on SABR’s nineteenth-century listserv, baseball experts had been content to accept traditional notions that the Massachusetts Game had vanished owing to its curious rules (especially “soaking,” the practice of retiring a runner by throwing the ball at him when he was between bases) or simply its echoes of boyish fun.
Yet, Larry McCray of Lexington—at that time in the early stages of his Protoball database of ancient baseball findings—wrote: “One fact that impresses me is that the Boston crowd seemed to defer to the new game without that much of a fight. Still, it is ironic that [New York’s] palpably less manly’ game took over. No plugging, no fly rule, no overhand pitching.”
Meanwhile, David Ball of Cincinnati suggested the game disappeared as a result of “some combination of the cultural dominance of New York; local differences in attitudes toward leisure activities in general and the playing of ball games by grown men; and what I think is probably a relatively small but quite possibly crucial head start in formal organization of the New York game.”
I agreed with both views, adding that there is no overestimating Americans’ love and fear of organization, then as now. And finally—had the obvious eluded us all this time?—New York may have won out because of a skillful publicity campaign in which its game of baseball, held up as a paragon of manliness, was in fact easier for un-athletic clerks to play. For men who would be gentlemen, it was more important to comport themselves well than to play well. In sport as in war, perhaps, the first casualty is truth.
So, just what was the Massachusetts Game of baseball at its evolutionary pinnacle of 1858? In this version of baseball, played on a square with 60-foot basepaths, the striker stood at a point equidistant between the first and fourth bases. He would attempt to hit a ball thrown overhand from the midpoint of the square, a distance of 30 feet. However, because there was no foul territory, he might deliberately tick the ball behind him or employ backhanded or slide batting techniques to deflect the ball away from the stationed defenders.
A side might number 10 to 14, though 11 was the most common contingent, and several fielders would be stationed in what modern eyes would view as “foul ground,” including at least two “scouts” behind the striker. Three misses and the batsman was out, but if he struck the ball he would fly around the bases (four-foot-tall stakes, actually) until he himself was struck by a fielder’s throw or halted his homeward course by holding to his base. The ball was small and light and there is no record of anyone suffering injury (except to pride) from being “soaked.” A catch for an out had to be made on the fly, not on the first bound, a practice those New York sissies continued to permit until 1864. One man out, side out.
Victory required the scoring of 100 runs, or sometimes by agreement a lesser number. This—not the circular field of play (thus the old name of “round ball”), not the indignity of soaking—has most often been identified as the asteroid that extinguished the dinosaur. In October 1858, the same month as our golden-globe game, the Bay State club of Boston met the Bunker Hill club of Charlestown and after some hours of play adjourned with the score 77–56. A report of the game, writes Joanne Hulbert, stated that the teams “did not think the game would be finished until 1859 … which kinda gives a different perspective to ‘wait until next year.’ A similar problem [would arise] at the 1860 championship game at Worcester. The teams never reached a score of 100 tallies and the game went on for days, until their lease ran out on the Agricultural Grounds.”
In truth, when 10 baseball clubs convened at Dedham on May 13, 1858 to standardize the Massachusetts Game playing rules, they were daubing rouge on a corpse. The New York rules had been standardized at a convention the previous year, and a hopefully titled ‘‘National Association of Base Ball Players” had been formed to play what was still a provincial game, scarcely played outside the metropolitan area. At the Dedham conclave, B.F. Guild stood up and declared that the Tri-Mountain “would be obliged to withdraw from the Association,” as reported in the Boston Journal, “as the Rules and Regulations submitted by the Committee, and favorable to a majority of the Association, could not be accepted by their club, as they preferred to play the New York Game.”
It was not long before the rest of the country did too. By 1865 Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, the nation’s leading sporting journal, declared:
The National Association or ‘New-York game’ is now almost universally adopted by the Clubs all over the country; and the Massachusetts, and still more ancient style of playing familiar to any school-boy, called ‘town ball,’ will soon become obsolete. No lover of the pastime can regret this, as the New-York mode is superior and more attractive in every way; and better calculated to perpetuate and render our national game ‘an institution’ with both young and old America.
* * *
The game that was left behind, however, was in many ways the superior version, for both players and spectators. Because first base was so easy to reach (one had only to hit the ball and then run 30 feet without being “soaked”), the real action came between the other bases. Smart fielding and relays of long hits turned seeming extra-base hits into astonishingly easy outs. Because the rules contained no provision that a runner must stay within the baselines, he might run into the outfield to elude a fielder attempting to plunk the ball between his ribs. A striker might turn 180 degrees as the pitch was coming to him and whack the ball as far behind him as he might have hit it ahead. There were so many tricks that skilled players might employ that I soon came to believe—through personal experience as a frock-coated, stovepipe-hatted arbiter at vintage-Massachusetts-style contests in the 1980s and ‘90s—that New England’s Game had suffered a cruel fate indeed.
Sadly, even today’s Vintage Base Ball Association has gone over entirely to the New York Game, with most games played by late 1860s rules and a goodly number played by the rules and equipment of the 1880s. Déjà vû all over again, and I think it has disappeared this time for the very same reasons as in the 1860s: the New York game is easier to play and does not so readily expose spindly or puffy young men to ridicule.
Why did the Massachusetts adherents give up without a whimper? We know more about how the dinosaurs became extinct than we know about this.
In the end it was almost certainly no single rule of the Massachusetts Game that did it in, for impractical provisions may always be changed. Its failure to retain market share may be chalked up to the game’s unabashedly rural quality at a time of increasing urbanization, and in some measure may reflect the increasing dominance of New York among American cities.
All that the Massachusetts Game had going for it was joy. The New York Game, on the other hand, gave promise of utility, of somehow becoming ‘‘our cricket,” affording Young Americans suffering from England Envy a national game all their own. The New York propagandists artfully blurred the line between the playful and the useful, convincing the credulous in New England that their venerable game was less gentlemanly and seemly—less manly, in its day a richly layered word that had more to do with decorum and bearing than with plebeian notions of bravery, such as being soaked and not whimpering.
With victory in the 2004 League Championship Series, capped by a World Series crown, Boston at last gave New York a good soaking. Maybe the years the Red Sox spent in the wilderness had been not so much the Curse of the Bambino as the Curse of the Bamboozled. New England gave up on a damned fine game.