Here’s a story about the bridge that Jackie Robinson crossed, and some of the men who built that bridge. I was going to deliver this as a speech last month, to close out a regional celebration of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s traveling exhibition, Pride & Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience. But because I was suddenly laid low by a bout of ill health, from which I have since recovered, the event had to be cancelled and the speech shelved. Now, as we near Jackie Robinson Day, I thought I’d share these thoughts with you, in two parts. Please note that in some period accounts quoted below, language regarded as offensive today is reproduced verbatim.
A feature film, titled 42, about Jackie Robinson’s breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 will have its premiere pretty soon, on April 12 in fact. (Had the studio scheduled the opening three days later, they would have launched on the very date that Jackie first wore that number at Ebbets Field; oh well—I’m sure they knew that.) Harrison Ford will play Branch Rickey, Chadwick Boseman will play Jackie, and the screenwriters will get the story right, largely. However, a film will take dramatic license that the written word may not. Like the newsman in the great western picture The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the director of 42 must say, “This is baseball, folks. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
To a greater extent than Hollywood, a historian is obliged to follow the trail of fact. It diminishes Rickey and Robinson not one bit to think about all those black players of long ago who built the bridge, as my friend Buck O’Neil said, that Jackie Robinson walked across.
I will wish to talk about how African Americans came into the game—as early as slaves playing ball 25 miles south of my home, in Kingston, in 1820—then were excluded from it, and then readmitted only to have the gate close again. The story of the Negro Leagues, founded in 1920, has been amply covered by recent scholars, so I will skip over the well-worn tales of Josh and Satch and Rube and Oscar to focus on some stories and some names that most baseball fans may not know.
My dear departed friend Jules Tygiel and I broke a story back in 1988 which has gained little traction over these 25 years. The popular “frontier” image of Jackie Robinson as a lone gunman facing down a hostile mob has always dominated the story of the integration of baseball. But new information we uncovered revealed that while Robinson was the linchpin in the grand strategy to integrate major league baseball, in October 1945 Rickey intended to announce the signing of not just Jackie Robinson, but of several other Negro League stars too. Political pressure, however, forced Rickey’s hand, thrusting Robinson alone into the spotlight. He was to have been joined on the Brooklyn Dodgers by at least two other players, chosen from among Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Sam Jethroe. But that is another story from the one I propose to tell now. (For that earlier piece, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/04/15/jackie-robinsons-signing-the-real-story/.)
Even in its cradle, baseball was bound up with the issue of inclusion and exclusion—whom do we, the entrenched class, permit to play alongside us? In New York City around 1840 there were those who thought the newly codified game of baseball should model cricket—as a diversion for “gentlemen,” those with sufficient money and thus leisure to play an afternoon’s game of ball. William Rufus Wheaton, the man who drew up the rules of the first baseball club, the New Yorks of 1837, recalled in later years: “The new game quickly became very popular with New Yorkers, and the numbers of the club soon swelled beyond the fastidious notions of some of us, and we decided to withdraw and found a new organization, which we called the Knickerbocker. . . .”
Clubs of working-class origin followed soon enough, to the dismay of the white-collar crowd. A largely Irish club, the Magnolia, formed in 1843; a more celebrated and long-lived one, the Atlantic, was created in Brooklyn in 1855. The first African American clubs, three in number, were thought to have been from Brooklyn as well, beginning in 1859: the Unknowns, the Monitors, and the Uniques of Williamsburgh were in the field that season, but little trace of their activities can be found in the papers of the day. Ball games were played on Emancipation Day, when, the Eagle admitted, “20,000 colored gathered in two suburban Brooklyn parks.” Only last month, however, researcher John Zinn discovered a reference in the press to a St. John’s “colored club” in Newark, New Jersey going back to 1855.
In those superheated decades before the Civil War, anti-black sentiment was no more prevalent than anti-Irish. The upper crust lumped the two together as a permanent problem. Even Henry David Thoreau, that apostle of independence and reason, wrote in his journal, “The question is whether you can bear freedom. At present the vast majority of men, whether black or white, require the discipline of labor which enslaves them for their good. If the Irishman did not shovel all day, he would get drunk and quarrel.” Such was the climate when baseball began in earnest.
In truth, young people of both colors and genders had played a game they called baseball long before New York snobs took to organizing clubs and restricting membership. A decade ago, I became fleetingly famous for discovering an ordinance from 1791 barring the play of baseball in Pittsfield, Massachusetts—a real shocker to those who thought baseball had begun in Cooperstown in 1839. We also know that young men and women played a game called baseball, without benefit of a bat, in England in the 1740s and probably long before.
African Americans had played baseball near Madison Square in the 1840s, not far from the grounds of the New York and Knickerbocker clubs before they relocated to Hoboken’s Elysian Fields. In Rochester, in 1859, Frederick Douglass Jr., son of the great abolitionist orator, played baseball with the integrated Charter Oak Juniors. When young Douglass moved to Washington, he helped to form another baseball club, the all-black Alerts, which became the first such club to play against a first-rank white one, the Olympics of Washington, DC, in late September 1869. (The first interracial game took place in Philadelphia a few weeks earlier, with the black Pythians playing against the white Olympics, both of that city.)
Researchers had found reference to ball play by antebellum slaves in the South, but no evidence was put forth that the game they played was baseball as we might understand it—a game that went by that name, or another that bore the central feature of bases run in the round. (In Massachusetts well into the 1850s, for example, the names “base ball” and “round ball” were used interchangeably to describe the same game.) Frederick Douglass, Sr., wrote in his autobiography, published in 1845, that at holiday time “by far the larger part [of slave communities] engaged in such sports and merriments as ball playing, wrestling, running foot races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whiskey: and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters.” But only in the past year Randall Brown discovered an account in a Kingston newspaper of an elderly barber recalling that in 1820 or so—seven years before the “peculiar institution” was abolished in New York State—he and his fellow slaves had played baseball. The source was a story in the Daily Freeman, of August 19, 1881, headlined:
A Colored Resident. Henry Rosecranse Columbus, Jr. Some Incidents in the Life of an Old Resident of Kingston. Born a Slave, He Lives to Become Wealthy and an Example to His Race.
“We used to have a great deal better time than that you do now,” said Mr. Rosecranse, born in 1804. “We didn’t have a big city with lamps and curb stones and paved walks, and had to go round through the mud, but we had more holidays. There was the Pinkster holiday, the Great Holiday for the colored men. They used to meet at Black Horse Tavern … and shoot for turkeys. Then the colored men raced horses on Peter Sharpe’s lane…. After the races they used to play ball for egg nog.”
The reporter asked, “Was it base ball as now played?”
“Something like it,” came the reply, “only the ball wasn’t near so hard, and we used to have much more fun playing.”
This find may seem a small thing, but in my world, where such a discovery had been sought for decades, it was simply fantastic! Looking at records in the South all these years, it may not have occurred to anyone to look in the North, where slavery lived far longer than we may imagine today. (For more on this subject, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/12/26/did-african-american-slaves-play-baseball/.)
We do not have an unbroken record of blacks playing ball into the 1860s, but in the years following Emancipation black teams began not only to play against white ones but also to seek a level of acceptance in the larger society. Philadelphia’s Pythian Base Ball Club, a formidable African American aggregation of the 1860s, tried to gain admission to the all-white National Association of Base Ball Players, the regulatory and rulemaking body for all first-class clubs. The Ball Players’ Chronicle, a sporting weekly, commented that the report of the Nominating Committee in 1867 recommended the exclusion of the Pythians and any other club that included even one African-American player.
Reconstruction after the defeat of the Confederacy was seen by many upper-class twits as a healing period to be approached with delicacy. In seeking to keep out of the convention the discussion of any subject that might be seen to have a political bearing, they had drawn game’s first overt color line. The committee further proclaimed, “If colored clubs were admitted there would be in all probability some division of feeling, whereas, by excluding them no injury could result to anyone.”
The Philadelphia City Item in 1869 pushed heavily for some white club to play the Pythians. The following, from the August 7, 1869 issue, gives some interesting insights into the difficulty. Richard Hershberger shared this with the SABR research community:
Five thousand persons would pay fifty cents each to see the Athletics play the Pythians. Now, as the Athletics want money, here is a chance to raise it in an honorable way. The Pythians think they can beat the Athletics. Why not give them a trial? Oh–but Fisler, who is a roaring, red-hot Democrat, objects; and so does that Black Republican Reach, and so does Curthbert [sic] , and so does that other fine gentleman–that refined, educated, tasteful young gentleman–who says “the Pythians are d–d niggers!” But, an intelligent public–a fair-minded, liberal generous public, would like to see this contest, and it should take place. Let the Pythians begin with the Athletics, then the Keystones, next the Olympics, then the City Item, and keep on until they find their playing level. We are sure they will play like gentlemen, and beat everything except the professionals.
Speaking of this interesting proposition, the Sunday Dispatch says:
“The propriety of playing the Pythian Club is now a subject of debate in base ball circles. The Pythians are a colored club, and that is an objection to playing them. But they are anxious to measure their strength against some first-class white club, and are especially desirous to play the Athletics. We have not seen the Pythians play, but are told they are a very strong club. They are stout, muscular, active colored men, well-behaved and genteel, who take a deep interest in base ball, but have been unable to find any club to meet them. Now the question is, “Will the Athletics or Keystones play them a match?” Some of our players think it would not be en regle for white men to play against colored men, and oppose any proposition for a match. But others say that if colored muscle can beat white muscle it ought to have a chance. For ourselves, we only state the fact that the Pythian Club is willing to play against any organization in this city, and that thus far no white club has consented to meet them. It is certain that any match of the kin would draw an immense crowd, and we are confident that such players as Reach, Foran, Cuthbert and Radcliffe would see that the modest colored youths would have fair play, and that the spectators would look at the game with unusual interest. One or two of the Republican papers have intimated that the Athletics are afraid to play the Pythians. This is merely one of the slanders to which the Athletics are exposed. They are not afraid to play any club in the country, and they will prove it in any proper way.”
In 1870 the New York Clipper, another sporting weekly, made bold to offer, “we would suggest that the colored clubs of New York and Philadelphia at once take measures to organize a National Association of their own.” In this remark one may detect the general direction for black baseball in all the years up to Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers … yet before blacks looked to a league of their own, there were notable forays into the mainstream of America’s game.
Part 2 tomorrow.
Ed Walsh, born in Plains County, Pennsylvania, not far from Wilkes-Barre, began his Organized Baseball career pitching for the Meriden, Connecticut, team in 1902. After a few unremarkable seasons in the minors he was finally drafted by the White Sox, with whom he became one of the American League greats. Famed for his spitball, Walsh was a workhorse, hurling more than 360 innings in five of of the six years 1907-1912–and leading the American League in saves five times!. In 1908 he won 40 games, a feat matched only once in the 20th century, by fellow spitballer Jack Chesbro in 1904. In the 1912 City Series between the White Sox and Cubs His career ERA of 1.82 is the lowest ever.
But 1912 was his last great year, as he ruined his arm in the October City Series between Chicago’s Cubs and Sox. In Game 1 Walsh threw nine innings of a scoreless tie, allowing only one hit. Then he pitched three innings of relief in Game 2, which after 12 innings resulted in another tie. The Cubs took the next three games,placing the Sox on the brink of elimination. The Sox took the next three to even the Series. Although he had already pitched three complete games and relieved twice in nine days, Walsh was named to start the series finale. He was in top form, hurling his second shutout of the Series, a five-hitter for his fourth complete game. Walsh, who had won twenty-seven games during the regular season, won only eight the next year, and only thirteen in his final five seasons of major league ball. Here he recalls his greatest day in baseball, as told to Francis J. Powers ca. 1940.
Did you ever see Larry Lajoie bat? No. Then you missed something. I want to tell you that there was one of the greatest hitters–and fielders, too–ever in baseball. There’s no telling the records he’d have made if he’d hit against the lively ball. To tell you about my greatest day, I’ll have to go back there to October, 1908, when I fanned Larry with the bases full and the White Sox chances for the pennant hanging on every pitch to the big Frenchman.
That was October 3, and the day after I had that great game with Addie Joss and he beat me 1 to 0 with a perfect game; no run–no hits-no man reached first. There was a great pitcher and a grand fellow, Addie. One of my closest friends and he’d have been one of the best of all time only for his untimely death two years later. That game was a surprise to both of us for we were sitting on a tarpaulin talking about having some singing in the hotel that night, when Lajoie, who managed Cleveland, and Fielder Jones told us to warm up. A pitcher never knew when he’d work in those days.
I don’t think there’ll ever be another pennant race like there was in the American League that year. All summer four teams, the Sox, Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis, had been fighting and three of ’em still had a chance on this day. When Joss beat me the day before it left us two and one-half games behind the Tigers and two behind the Naps (as Cleveland was called in honor of Lajoie). We had only four games left to play.
It was a Saturday and the biggest crowd ever to see a game in Cleveland up to that date jammed around the park. Jones started Frank Smith for us and we got him three runs off Glenn Liebhardt and were leading by two going into the seventh. I was in the bull pen, ready for anything because, as I said, we had to win this one.
As I recall it George Perring, the shortstop, was first up for Cleveland and he went all the way to second when Patsy Dougherty muffed his fly in the sun. I began to warm up in a hurry. Nig Clarke batted for Liebhardt and fanned and things looked better. Smith would have been out of trouble only Tannehill fumbled Josh Clarke’s grounder and couldn’t make a play. Clarke stole second and that upset Smith and he walked Bill Bradley.
I rushed to the box and the first batter I faced was Bill Hinchman. Bill wasn’t a champion hitter but he was a tough man in a pinch. I knew his weakness was a spit ball on the inside corner so I told Sully (Billy Sullivan) we’d have to get in close on him. I did. My spitter nearly always broke down and I could put it about where I wanted. Bill got a piece of the ball and hit a fast grounder that Tannehill fielded with one hand and we forced Perring at the plate.
So, there were two out and Larry at bat. Now if the Frenchman had a weakness it was a fast ball, high and right through the middle. If you pitched inside to him, he’d tear a hand off the third baseman and if you pitched outside he’d knock down the second baseman. I tried him with a spit ball that broke to the inside and down. You know a spit ball was heavy and traveled fast. Lajoie hit the pitch hard down the third base line and it traveled so fast that it curved 20 feet, I’d guess, over the foul line and into the bleachers. There was strike one.
My next pitch was a spitter on the outside and Larry swung and tipped it foul back to the stands. Sully signed for another spitter but I just stared at him; I never shook him off with a nod or anything like that. He signed for the spitter twice more but still I just looked at him. Then Billy walked out to the box. “What’s the matter?” Bill asked me. “I’ll give him a fast one,” I said, but Billy was dubious. Finally, he agreed. I threw Larry an overhand fast ball that raised and he watched it come over without ever an offer. “Strike three!” roared Silk O’Loughlin. Lajoie sort of grinned at me and tossed his bat toward the bench without ever a word. That was the high spot of my baseball days, fanning Larry in the clutch and without him swinging.
I like to think back to the White Sox of those days. In 1906, we won the pennant and beat the Cubs in the World Series. Next season we were in the pennant race until the last days of September and in 1908 we fought them down to the final day of the season. There never was a fielding first baseman like Jiggs Donahue in 1908 when he set a record for assists. Sullivan was a great catcher, one of the greatest. It was a great team, a smart team. But the tops of all days was when I fanned Lajoie with the bases filled. Not many pitchers ever did that.
This week marks the second edition of the SABR Analytics Conference, in Phoenix (http://sabr.org/analytics). I had planned to attend, as I had last year, but a bothersome health blip has held me back east. I am something of a sabermetrician emeritus, anyway, and would have been an interested spectator rather than a contributor of fresh insight. My best work in the statistical line, in collaboration with Pete Palmer, is long behind me. All the same, I continue to approach the game analytically and I appreciate the great advances in sabermetrics in recent years.
To honor those advances and to place them in some historical perspective, I offer an excerpt from The Hidden Game of Baseball, published nearly thirty years ago—so far back that Pete and I were not yet ready to embrace the newfangled term “sabermetrics”! Let’s look at four baseball pioneers who plied their statistical trade before the world had heard of Bill James or my brilliant collaborator.
Although the impulse to improve our understanding and appreciation of baseball through the laying on of numbers had been present from the game’s beginnings, it was not until August 2, 1954, in of all places Life magazine, that the New Statistics movement was truly born. On that date there appeared an article by the game’s designated guru Branch Rickey, supported considerably by statistician Allan Roth, which was optimistically titled “Goodby to Some Old Baseball Ideas.” With the aid of some new mathematical tools, it sought to puncture long-held misconceptions about how the game was divided among its elements (batting, baserunning, pitching, fielding), who was best at playing it, and what caused one team to win and another to lose. This is a pretty fair statement of what the New Statistics is about.
Although the old ideas remained in place despite his efforts, Rickey had shaken them to their foundations. He attacked the batting average and proposed in its place the On Base Average; advocated the use of Isolated Power (extra bases beyond singles, divided by at bats) as a better measure than slugging percentage; introduced a “clutch” measure of run-scoring efficiency for teams, and a similar concept for pitchers (earned runs divided by baserunners allowed); reaffirmed the basic validity of the ERA and saw the strikeout for the insubstantial stat it was; and more. But the most important thing Rickey did for baseball statistics was to pull it back along the wrong path it had taken at the crossroads long ago: to strip the game and its stats to their essentials and start again, this time remembering that individual stats came into being as an attempt to apportion the players’ contributions to achieving victory, for that is what the game is about.
“Baseball people generally are allergic to new ideas,” Rickey wrote. “We are slow to change. For fifty-one years I have judged baseball by personal observation, by considered opinion and by accepted statistical methods. But recently I have come upon a device for measuring baseball which has compelled me to put different values on some of my oldest and most cherished theories. It reveals some new and startling truths about the nature of the game. It is a means of gauging with a high degree of accuracy important factors which contribute to winning and losing baseball games….The formula, for so I designate it, is what mathematicians call a simple, additive equation:
“The part of the equation in the first parenthesis stands for a baseball’s team offense. The part in the second parenthesis represents defense. The difference between the two—G, for game or games—represents a team’s efficiency.”
What we have here is the first attempt to represent the totality of the game through its statistical component parts. Another way of stating the formula above is to say that if the first part—the offense, or runs scored—exceeds the second part—the defense, or runs allowed—then G, the team efficiency or won-lost percentage, should exceed .500. This is a startlingly simple (or rather, seemingly simple) realization, that just as the team which scores more runs in a game gets the win, so a team which over the course of a season scores more runs than it allows should win more games than it loses—and by an extent correlated to its run differential!
How did Rickey and Roth come up with the formula? “Only after reverting to bare ABC’s was any progress noted. We knew, of course, that all baseball was divided into two parts—offense and defense. We concluded further that weakness or strength in either of these departments could be measured in terms of runs.” Once mathematicians at M.I.T. confirmed for them that the correlation of team standings with run differential was 96.2 percent accurate over the past twenty years, the task became to identify the component parts of runs.
In the [preceding] formula, the first segment of the offense (H + BB + HP) (AB + BB + HP), is the On Base Average. The second segment is Isolated Power, multiplied by .75. The third segment, applicable to teams but not to individuals, is percentage of baserunners scoring, or run-scoring efficiency (“clutch”); RBIs were not, Rickey stated, a suitable measure of individuals’ clutch ability.
In the defensive half of the formula, the first segment is simply opponents’ batting average. The second is opponents reaching base through pitcher’s wildness. (Rickey divided the opponents’ On Base Average into these constituent parts in an attempt to isolate “stuff” from control.) The third segment indicates a pitcher’s “clutch” ability, and the fourth, his strikeout ability, multiplied by only .125 because it was not very important. The fifth segment of the defense, F for fielding, was deemed unmeasurable. “There is nothing on earth anyone can do with fielding,” Rickey declared, but he did indicate that fielding was far less significant than pitching as a proportion of total defense: He ventured that while good fielding might account for the critical run in four or five games a year, it was worth only about half as much as pitching.
Rickey and Roth’s fundamental contribution to the advancement of baseball statistics comes from their conceptual revisionism, their willingness to strip the game down to its basic unit, the run, and reconstruct its statistics accordingly. The Rickey formula (though perhaps Roth deserves even more credit) has been superseded in terms of accuracy. The method of correlating runs with wins has been improved in recent years, and the formula for analyzing runs in terms of their individual components has, too. But the existence of the space shuttle does not tarnish the accomplishment of the Wright brothers (Orville and Wilbur, not Harry and George).
In recognizing that traditional baseball statistics did not give an adequate sense of an individual’s worth or of a team’s prospects of victory, Rickey anticipated the future. Twenty-eight years later, a writer for Discover magazine, surely unaware that he was echoing baseball’s Mahatma, described the impetus to the New Statistics: “Sabermetricians have tackled this problem [the inadequacy of traditional offensive measures] by devising a new statistic, one that directly measures a player’s ability both to score and to drive in runs. The number has been calculated by various analysts under various designations: batting rating, run productivity average, runs created, and batter’s run average, to name a few. It usually comes down to this simple fact: The total number of runs a team scores in a season is proportional to some combination of its hits, walks, steals, and other factors that result in batters getting on base or advancing other runners. Although the number of runs scored by a particular hit depends on how many men were on base, the differences tend to cancel themselves out over a season.”
This understanding did not evaporate in the years between Rickey’s article and the dawn of sabermetrics by that name. In 1959 the scholarly Operations Research Journal published an article by George R. Lindsey titled “Statistical Data Useful for the Operation of a Baseball Team.” As far as baseball people were concerned, Lindsey might as well have been writing in Icelandic. Lindsey and his father had recorded play-by-play data of several hundred baseball games in order to evaluate such long-standing perplexities as whether in facing a righthanded pitcher, a lefthanded hitter did possess an advantage over his righthanded counterpart, and if so to precisely what extent (he did, by about 15 percent); whether a team in the field should set its infielders for an attempted double play with the bases loaded early in the game and no outs (it should); whether a man’s batting average can serve as a predictor of future performance in a given at bat or game or season (at bat and game, no, season, yes); and more.
Lindsey followed this article with one that is even more central to the issues raised by Rickey and revived by the New Statisticians. In 1963, again in Operations Research, he published “An Investigation of Strategies in Baseball.” He wrote in his abstract, or summary, of the article:
The advisability of a particular strategy must be judged not only in terms of the situation on the bases and the number of men out, but also with regard to the inning and score. Two sets of data taken from a large number of major league games are used to give (1) the dependence of the probability of winning the game on the score and the inning, and (2) the distribution of runs scored between the arrival of a new batter at the plate in each of twenty-four situations and the end of the half-inning. . . . [Note: the twenty-four situations are all the combinations of baserunners, from none to three, and outs, none, one, and two.] By combining the two sets of data, the situations are determined in which an intentional base on balls, a double play allowing a run to score, a sacrifice, and an attempted steal are advisable strategies, if average players are concerned. An index of batting effectiveness based on the contribution to run production in average situations is developed. [Emphasis ours.]
Where Rickey had added the On Base Average and Isolated Power to arrive at a batter rating—and it was a good one, far more accurate in its correlation to run production than was the batting average—Lindsey employed an additive formula based on the run values of each event: .41 runs for a single, .82 for a double, 1.06 for a triple, 1.42 for a home run. (These values are not quite right, but they’re close….) To illustrate how Lindsey’s method was applied, let’s look at the 1983 records of three substantial National League players, Dale Murphy, Mike Schmidt, and Andre Dawson. Note that Lindsey’s method is to express all hits in terms of runs, but not the outs; these he brings into the picture through the traditional averaging process, dividing the run total by at bats. Yet an out has a run value, too, though it is a negative one.
How did Lindsey arrive at these values? It is a bit complicated for the general reader, but those with the appetite for probability theory we refer to the bibliographical citations at the back of the book. In brief, Lindsey devised a table, based on observation of 6,399 half innings (all or part of 373 games in 1959-60); he recorded how many times a batter came to the plate in any one of the twenty-four basic situations. Moreover, he deduced what the run-scoring probability became after the batter had hit a single, double, whatever, by computing the difference between the run-scoring value of the situation that confronted the batter—for example, man on first and nobody out—and that of the situation which prevailed after the batter’s successful contribution. That difference represents the run-scoring value of that contribution.
With these new values, proper weighting became possible, in, say, the slugging percentage. A home run was demonstrably not worth as much as four singles, nor a triple as much as a single and a double, and so on. What Lindsey did not account for was such offensive elements as the base on balls or hit by pitch; this had been done the year before in a formula proposed at a conference at Stanford University by Donato A. D’Esopo and Benjamin Lefkowitz. This formula, which they called the Scoring Index, is too complicated to go into, but in any event it was only marginally an improvement on Rickey’s, which similarly had accounted for walks and hit by pitch as well as total bases. The Scoring Index over-credited these events, to the extent that in ranking the top hitters of the National League in 1959, Joe Cunningham, whose slugging percentage was .478 to Henry Aaron’s .636, rated higher than Aaron, just as he did in On Base Average.
The term Scoring Index reappeared in 1964, but was defined differently by Earnshaw Cook in Percentage Baseball, a book which created considerable media stir for its controversial suggestions to revise baseball strategy in line with probability theory. Among these suggestions was to start the game with a relief pitcher and pinch-hit for him his first time up; to realign the batting lineup in descending order of ability; to restrict severely the use of the intentional base on balls and sacrifice bunt, etc. Indeed, Cook’s Scoring Index did not appear in a form intelligible to the layman until the appearance of his next book, Percentage Baseball and the Computer (1971), in which the “DX,” as he abbreviated it, was represented by:
The first component is simply On Base Average; the latter is a bizarre amalgam of power and speed in which, in effect, baserunning exploits are averaged by plate appearances in the same manner as total bases are. The rationale, evidently, is that net stolen bases (steals minus times caught stealing) adds extra bases in the way that doubles do to singles. This is not quite so, but in any event, the formula works pretty well in spite of its logical shortcomings. At the time of its introduction, the DX was the most accurate measure of total offensive production yet seen and the first to combine ability to get on base in all manners; to move baserunners around efficiently through extra-base hits; and to gain extra bases through daring running.
The original Cook book was highly abstruse in its detail and, despite the hubbub which met its publication in 1964, it is regarded today as perhaps a setback to the cause of improving baseball’s statistics. If the job was going to be that much trouble, why bother?
If Percentage Baseball, despite its brilliance, was not an open sesame to the unlocking of baseball’s secrets, a genie came forth in 1969 with the appearance of The Baseball Encyclopedia, compiled for Macmillan by Information Concepts, Inc. (ICI). But that is a story for another day.
In Baseball in the Garden of Eden, one of my recurrent themes was the vital role that gambling played in making a boys’ game worthy of adult attention. That gambling turned out to be the snake in the garden was soon evident and the professional leagues struggled to restrain it (eradication was not possible). Here is the first record of filthy lucre intruding into the sylvan primordial field. The Delhi Gazette (upstate New York) of July 13, 1825 contains this challenge to play “bass-ball” –for money.
The undersigned, all residents of the new town of Hamden, with the exception of Asa C. Howland, who has recently removed into Delhi, challenge an equal number of persons in any town in the county of Delaware, to meet them at any time at the house of Edward B. Chace, in said town, to play the game of BASS-BALL, for the sum of one dollar each per game. If no town can be found that will produce the required number, they will have no objection to play against any selection that can be made from the several towns in the county.
ELI BAGLEY, EDWARD B. CHACE, HARRY P. CHACE, IRA PEAK, WALTER B. PEAK, H.B. GOODRICH, R.F. THURBER, ASA C. HOWLAND, M.L. BOSTWICK.
Hamden, July 12, 1825.
The following are the two letters submitted by Abner Graves in 1905 describing the purported invention of baseball by Abner Doubleday. The first of these was addressed to the editor of the Akron, Ohio, Beacon-Journal newspaper in response to an article in that paper by Albert G. Spalding. The second letter was sent directly to Spalding. Graves’ original spelling and punctuation are largely preserved. These letters may be termed the invention of the invention of baseball, as prior to this date no one had imagined that the game sprung from the mind of a lone individual at a specific point in time. The real story of how baseball began, as an outgrowth of earlier games of ball, has been on display here at Our Game. Recent book length studies by David Block (Baseball Before We Knew It) and myself (Baseball in the Garden of Eden) give the fullest picture of the rise of the game and the history of its history, real and fabricated, while Robert Henderson’s Ball, Bat and Bishop (1947) is a pioneering classic. These books address the Graves claims–whether confused or fabricated–with specificity.
[FROM:] Abner Graves, Mining Engineer, 32 Bank Block, P.O. Box 672, Denver,Colo.
April 3rd, 1905
[TO:] Editor Beacon Journal, Akron, Ohio
I notice in saturdays “Beacon Journal” a question as to “origin of ‘base ball'” from pen of A. G. Spalding, and requesting data on the subject be sent to Mr J E Sullivan, 15 Warren Street, New York.
The “American game of Base Ball” was invented by Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, New York, either the spring prior, or following the “Log Cabin & Hard Cider” campaign of General Harrison for President, said Abner Doubleday being then a boy pupil of “Green’s Select School” in Cooperstown, and the same, who as General Doubleday won honor at the Battle of Gettysburg in the “Civil War.” The pupils of “Otsego Academy” and “Green’s Select School” were then playing the old game of “Town Ball” in the following manner.
A “tosser” stood beside the home “goal” and tossed the ball straight upward about six feet for the batsman to strike at on its fall, he using a four inch flat board bat, and all others who wanted to play being scattered all over the near and far field to catch the ball, the lucky catcher then taking his innings at the bat while the losing batsman retired to the field. Should the batsman miss the ball on its fall and the tosser catch it on its first bounce he would take the bat and the losing batsman toss the ball.
When the batsman struck the ball into the field he would run for an out goal about fifty feet and return, and if the ball was not caught on the fly, and he could return to home goal without getting “plunked” with the ball thrown by anyone, he retained his innings same as in “old cat.” There being generally from twenty to fifty boys in the field, collisions often occurred in attempt of several to catch the ball. Abner Doubleday then figured out and made a plan of improvement on town ball to limit number of players, and have equal sides, calling it “Base Ball” because it had four bases, three being where the runner could rest free of being put out by keeping his foot on the flat stone base, while next one on his side took the bat, the first runner being entitled to run whenever he chose, and if he could make home base without being hit by the ball he tallied. There was a six foot ring within which the pitcher had to stand and toss the ball to batsman by swinging his hand below his hip. There was eleven players on a side, four outfielders, three basemen, pitcher, catcher, and two infielders, the two infielders being placed respectively a little back from the pitcher and between first and second base, and second and third base and a short distance inside the base lines. The ball used had a rubber center overwound with yarn to size some larger than the present regulation ball, then covered with leather or buckskin, and having plenty of bouncing qualities, wonderful high flys often resulted. Anyone getting the ball was entitled to throw it at a runner and put him out if could hit him.
This “Base Ball” was crude compared with present day ball, but it was undoubtedly the first starter of “Base Ball” and quickly superceded “town ball” with the older boys, although we younger boys stuck to town ball and the “old cats.” I well remember several of the best players of sixty years ago, such as Abner Doubleday, Elihu Phinney, John C Graves, Nels C Brewer, Joseph Chaffee, John Starkweather, John Doubleday, Tom Bingham and others who used to play on the “Otsego Academy Campus” although a favorite place was on the “Phinney farm” on west shore of Otsego lake.
“Baseball” is undoubtedly a pure American game, and its birthplace Cooperstown, New York, and Abner Doubleday entitled to first honor of its invention.
32 Bank Block, Denver, Colorado.
[FROM:] Abner Graves, Mining Engineer, 32 Bank Block, P.O. Box 672, Denver, Colo.
November 17th, 1905
[TO:] A G Spaulding Esq.
126 Nassau Street, New York City
Your letter of 10th regarding origin of Base Ball received and contents noted. You mention sending me copy of “Spaldings Base Ball Guide for 1905,” which I have not received, although I would like it to note the discussion mentioned. I am at loss how to get verification of my statements regarding the invention of base ball made in my letter of April 3rd 1905 to the “Akron, Ohio, Beacon-Journal,” the carbon copy of my original draft of which I herewith enclose, this giving full particulars, and which after using, please return for my files.
You ask if I can positively name the year of Doubledays invention, and replying will say that I cannot, although am sure it was either 1839, 1840 or 1841, and in the spring of the year when we smaller boys were “playing marbles for keeps” which all stopped when ball commenced, as I remember well Abner Doubleday explaining “base ball” to the lot of us that were playing marbles in the street in front of Coopers tailor shop and drawing a diagram in the dirt with a stick by marking out a square with a punch mark in each corner for bases, a ring in center for pitcher, a punch mark just back of home base for catcher, two punch marks for infielders and four punch marks for outfielders, and we smaller boys didn’t like it because it shut us out from playing, while Town Ball let in everyone who could run and catch flies, or try to catch them. Then Doubleday drew up same diagram on paper practically like diagram I will draw on back of another sheet and enclose herewith. The incident has always been associated in my mind with the “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” campaign of General Harrison, my Father being a “Militia” Captain and rabid partisan of “Old Tippecanoe.”
I know it was as early as spring of 1841 because it was played at least three years before April 1844 when I started for Leyden Mass. to live that summer with my Uncle Joseph Green, the last prominent thing that I remember before starting being a big game of Base Ball on the “Phinney Farm” half a mile up the west side of Otsego Lake, between the Otsego Academy boys (Doubleday then being in the Academy), and Professor Green and his Select School boys. Great furore and fun marked opening of the game on account of the then unprecedented thing of “first man up, three strikes and out.” Elihu Phinney was pitcher and Abner Doubleday catcher for Academy, while Greens had innings and Prof. Green was first at bat, and Doubleday contrary to usual practice stood close at Green’s back and caught all three balls, Green having struck furiously at all with a four inch flat bat and missing all, then being hit in the back by the ball as he started to run.
While everyone laughed and roard at Green’s three misses he claimed that Doubleday caught every ball from in front of the bat so there was no ball to hit, and that made the furore greater. I was an onlooker close up to catcher, and this incident so impressed me with the glories of Base Ball that on arriving at Leyden, Mass. I tried to get up a game but couldn’t find anywhere near 22 boys so we had to play “Old Cat.” Abner Doubleday unquestionably invented Base Ball at Cooperstown, N.Y. as an improvement on Town Ball so as to have opposing sides and limit players, and he named it Base Ball and had eleven players on each side. If any Cooperstown boys of that time are alive they will surely remember that game between the “Otsego’s” and “Green’s” which I surely identify as early in April 1844 before my start to Massachusetts, and I am certain it had been played at least three years earlier under same name and the larger boys had become proficient at it. Although I never saw any mention of ball playing in a newspaper when I was young, it might be that some mention of the game was made in the “Otsego Republican” about that time, said paper then (and now) being leading paper in Cooperstown.
Abner Doubleday was I think about 16 or 17 years old when he invented the game: he lived in Cooperstown but I do not know if born there. His cousin “John Doubleday” (a little younger) was born there and his father was a merchant with a store in the main four corners in Cooperstown. The Phinneys were run a large Book Bindery there, and I believe one in New York at same time. Of course it is almost impossible to get documentary proof of the invention, as there is not one chance in ten thousand that a boys drawing plan of improved ball game would have been preserved for 65 years as at that time no such interest in games existed as it does now when all items are printed and Societies and Clubs preserve everything.
All boys old enough to play Base Ball in those days would be very old now if not dead, and this reminds me of a letter. I have a letter dated April 6th 1905, from Mary, wife of “John C Graves” mentioned in my printed letter saying, “Dear Cousin, I received a paper this eve from Akron,Ohio, with an article you wrote about Base Ball! Every one of the boys you named are dead except John, and perhaps you do not know that John has been sick over a year with the gout, and now his mind is very weak so sometimes he does not know me.” She was mistaken in saying all for I am aware that Nels C Brewer whom I mentioned now lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and I think his address is 230 Superior Street, or near that, and although he is aged he may possibly remember about the Base Ball. John C Graves is about 85 and still lives in Cooperstown.
Also I have a brother (Joseph C Graves) still in business in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I have added a few years experience since Base Ball was invented, but am still young enough to make a lively hand in a game, as I did last July, and I attribute my youth to the fact that I left Cooperstown and New York early in winter of 1848-9 for the Goldfields of California and have lived in the west ever since where the ageing climate of New York hasn’t touched me. My Typewriter thinks this is a pretty long letter on one subject and I guess that is about correct, but your letter asked for as full data as possible and I have given you all the items I can in a rambling sort of way, but I think you have hea[r]d enough to pick out the gist of it and be better satisfied than if I had been less explicit or prolix. Just in my present mood I would rather have Uncle Sam declare war on England and clean her up rather than have one of her citizens beat us out of Base Ball.
Abner Graves, E.M.
By 1920 the best black players were not barnstormers but men who played in a real league, with regular schedules, rules, and umpires. Former pitcher and highly successful manager Rube Foster was the founding father of the Negro National League. Using his own money and superb organizational abilities, he made sure the league was strong. He was the sole boss, yet because he continued managing, other teams thought Foster’s men got the better of the umpires’ decisions. And why not? Foster wrote the umps’ checks.
This is the program from the first interleague World’s Colored Championship, in 1924. Foster’s counterpart and founder of the Eastern Colored League was Ed “Chief” Bolden, a retiring and dapper little man who worked for the post office. His quiet style was the opposite of Foster’s bulk and bluster. Bolden ran the Hilldale team when they were just semipros and built them into professionals, before joining with other owners to create the new league in 1923. But Bolden had a nervous breakdown in 1927, and, without his keen organizational skills, the league collapsed. Six years later he recovered and founded the Philadelphia Stars, who became members of the Negro National League. Meanwhile Foster, who had been confined to an asylum for the mentally ill since 1926, had died in 1930.
Hilldale’s opponents in this Series were the Kansas City Monarchs, who went on to become a perennial powerhouse with stars like Bullet Joe Rogan, Newt Allen, Chet Brewer, and of course, Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige. But the star of this Series for the victorious Monarchs was an old-timer, José Mendez, who in postseason exhibitions in Cuba in 1911 had defeated Christy Mathewson. Mendez’s brilliance in a one-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds three years earlier, followed by his handcuffing of Ty Cobb in a series in 1909, had prompted John McGraw to say he would pay $50,000 for him if only he were white.
But Mendez was not, so he was available to star in the 1924 Negro League World Series. At age 37, he appeared in four games, with a 2–0 record including a shutout in the ninth and deciding game.
When Carl Hubbell won his eighth straight start to begin the 1937 season, he had completed twenty-four consecutive wins over two seasons. It’s no wonder that Giants fans referred to him as “The Meal Ticket.” Hubbell’s out pitch was the devastating screwball, thrown like a curve but with an opposite twist of the wrist. He threw it so often that his arm wound up permanently bent backward.
Hubbell’s screwball was never better than in the All-Star Game of 1934, when he used it to perfection, striking out–in succession–future Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin. “I figured those guys had hit better fastballs than mine and better curves,” he said. “If they were going to hit me, it would have to be my best.”
Hubbell was actually signed by the Tigers, but manager Ty Cobb didn’t like that screwball thing and refused to let him throw it. Three years later the released Hubbell was picked up out of Texas League ball by the Giants. Christy Mathewson’s famous screwball (known then as a fadeaway) was more of a change-up, and he threw it seldom, spotting it only in crucial situations, because of the wear and tear on his arm. Since then the true followers of the Hubbell-style (fast and deadly) lefthanded screwball have been Warren Spahn, Tug McGraw, and Fernando Valenzuela. Here King Carl tells John Carmichael of the Chicago Daily News about his greatest day in baseball.
As far as control and “stuff” is concerned, I never had any more in my life than for that All-Star game in 1934. I can remember Frankie Frisch coming off the field behind me at the end of the third inning, grunting to Bill Terry: “I could play second base fifteen more years behind that guy. He doesn’t need any help. He does it all by himself.” Then we hit the bench, and Terry slapped me on the arm and said, “That’s pitching, boy!” and Gabby Hartnett let his mask fall down and yelled at the American League dugout, “We gotta look at that all season,” and I was pretty happy.
But I never was a strikeout pitcher like Bob Feller or “Dizzy” Dean or “Dazzy” Vance. My style of pitching was to make the other team hit the ball, but on the ground. It was as big a surprise to me to strike out all those fellows as it probably was to them. Before the game, Gabby Hartnett and I went down the lineup … Charlie Gehringer, Heinie Manush, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey and Lefty Gomez. There probably wasn’t a pitcher they’d ever faced that they hadn’t belted one off him somewhere, sometime.
We couldn’t discuss weaknesses … they didn’t have any, except Gomez. Finally Gabby said, “We’ll waste everything except the screwball. Get that over, but keep your fastball and hook outside. We can’t let ’em hit in the air.” So that’s the way we started. I knew I had only three innings to work and could bear down on every pitch.
They talk about those All-Star Games being exhibition affairs, and maybe they are, but I’ve seen very few players in my life who didn’t want to win, no matter whom they were playing or what for. If I’m playing cards for pennies, I want to win. How can you feel any other way? Besides, there were 50,000 fans or more there, and they wanted to see the best you’ve got. There was an obligation to the people, as well as to ourselves, to go all out. I can recall walking out to the hill in the Polo Grounds that day and looking around the stands and thinking to myself, “Hub, they want to see what you’ve got.”
Gehringer was first up and Hartnett called for a waste ball just so I’d get the feel of the first pitch. It was a little too close, and Charlie singled. Down from one of the stands came a yell, “Take him out!”
I had to laugh.
Terry took a couple of steps off first and hollered, “That’s all right,” and there was Manush at the plate. If I recollect rightly, I got two strikes on him, but then he refused to swing any more, and I lost him. He walked. This time Terry and Frankie Frisch and “Pie” Traynor and Travis Jackson all came over to the mound and began worrying. “Are you all right?” Bill asked me. I assured him I was. I could hear more than one voice
now from the stands, “Take him out before it’s too late.”
Well, I could imagine how they felt with two on, nobody out and Ruth at bat. To strike him out was the last thought in my mind. The thing was to make him hit on the ground. He wasn’t too fast, as you know, and he’d be a cinch to double. He never took the bat off his shoulder. You could have pushed me over with your little finger. I fed him three straight screwballs, all over the plate, after wasting a fastball, and he stood
there. I can see him looking at the umpire on “You’re out,” and he wasn’t mad. He just didn’t believe it, and Hartnett was laughing when he threw the ball back.
So up came Gehrig. He was a sharp hitter. You could double him, too, now and then, if the ball was hit hard and straight at an infielder. That’s what we hoped he’d do, at best.
Striking out Ruth and Gehrig in succession was too big an order. But, by golly, he fanned … and on four pitches. He swung at the last screwball, and you should have heard that crowd. I felt a lot easier then, and even when Gehringer and Manush pulled a double steal and got to third and second, with Foxx up, I looked down at Hartnett and caught the screwball sign, and Jimmy missed. We were really trying to strike Foxx out, with two already gone, and Gabby didn’t bother to waste any pitches. I threw three more screwballs, and he went down swinging. We had set down the side on twelve pitches, and then Frisch hit a homer in our half of the first, and we were ahead.
It was funny, when I thought of it afterward, how Ruth and Gehrig looked as they stood there. The Babe must have been waiting for me to get the ball up a little so he could get his bat under it. He always was trying for that one big shot at the stands, and anything around his knees, especially a twisting ball, didn’t let him get any leverage. Gehrig apparently decided to take one swing at least, and he beat down at the pitch, figuring to take a chance on being doubled up if he could get a piece of the ball. He whispered something to Foxx as Jim got up from the batter’s circle, and while I didn’t hear it, I found out later he said, “You might as well cut… it won’t get any higher.” At least Foxx wasted no time.
Of course the second inning was easier because Simmons and Cronin both struck out with nobody on base and then I got too close to Dickey and he singled. Simmons and Foxx, incidentally, both went down swinging and I know every pitch to them was good enough to hit at and those they missed had a big hunk of the plate. Once Hartnett kinda shook his head at me as if to say I was getting too good. After Dickey came Gomez and as he walked into the box he looked down at Gabby and said: “You are now looking at a man whose batting average is .104. What the hell am I doing up here?” He was easy after all those other guys and we were back on the bench again.
We were all feeling pretty good by this time and Traynor began counting on his fingers: “Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons, Cronin! Hey, Hub, do you put anything on the ball?” Terry came over to see how my arm was, but it never was stronger. I walked one man in the third … don’t remember who it was … but this time Ruth hit one on the ground and we were still all right. You could hear him puff when he swung. That was all for me. Afterwards, they got six runs in the fifth and licked us, but for three innings I had the greatest day in my life. One of the writers who kept track told me that I’d pitched 27 strikes and 21 balls to 13 men and only five pitches were hit in fair territory.
Fishing the auction listings and sometimes bidding on the minnows within my means, I have occasionally landed a whale. This is precisely what happened, only two weeks ago. It started with a routine notice for an auction to be held in my neck of the woods on January 20, 2013. Although I have moved around a bit in my thirty-six years in New York’s Hudson River Valley—Saugerties, Kingston, Catskill—one constant pleasure has been attending Jay Werbalowsky’s auctions of ephemera, books, art, and musty, dusty householdiana. Weeks before the auction date, Jay posted this advance word at his website, http://jmwauctions.com:
This will be part III of the Pennsylvania estate hoard, collection & inventory of Ephemera & more. Huge quantity of quality ephemera from 17th century to 20th century. Allow yourself plenty of preview time! Partial listing includes tons of manuscripts & documents, autographs, maps, atlases, advertising, photographs, Valentine collection, rare books, whaling & nautical related journals and account books, posters, celebrity & movie, historical & political, billheads, artwork (paintings & prints), important collection of postage, envelopes, postmarks, and related material, over 50 albums filled with material from his private collection, Military, Civil War, and much more. Do not miss this sale!
I reviewed the 761 lots online and was, frankly, disappointed. Hundreds of them were postals, billheads, correspondence, and box lots of, well, paper—valuable to others but not to me. I tend to collect visual materials—and not, as you might think, baseball stuff at all, unless it is exceptionally early. I spun on through page after page of the listed lots until I was brought short by this:
Lot 482: Rare Reward of Merit Engraving Muscalus Collection 11-85, as he had it marked. It appears to be an engraving, with Men playing a game using what looks like hockey sticks, ball is in air. Measures 6 1/2″ x 9″ (whole paper). Signed J Cheney Sc. [abbreviation for Sculpsit, “he engraved it”] He had EXTREMELY RARE, 1800.00
Here came the fun part, truly as much fun as winning the prize at auction. So many details to research or decipher. Where to begin? With the visual, of course. What were these young men doing? They were “playing ball,” surely, that generic term covering, in the years before 1845, a wide swath of distinct ball games of differing rules. But the image that JMW Auctions provided was murky, indistinct. A ball was in the air, certainly, but the curved ends of the “hockey sticks” were too big for field hockey; might they be shinty sticks? The Penny Magazine of January 31, 1835 described the game thus:
The shinty is played with a small hard ball, which is generally made of wood, and each player is furnished with a curved stick somewhat resembling that which is used by golf players. The object of each party of players is to send the ball beyond a given boundary on either side; and the skill of the game consists in striking the ball to the greatest distance towards the adversaries’ boundary, or in manoeuvring to keep it in advance of the opposing side.
“Is this shinny/shinty … or wicket?” I asked my friend Larry McCray in email. Larry is the creator of the Protoball website, which forms the basis of MLB’s Early Baseball Milestones, at: http://mlb.mlb.com/memorylab/chronology/index.jsp. I rather suspected it was wicket.
Larry responded within hours, with all the right questions as well as answers:
John – I’d have to vote for wicket.
[a] aren’t those wickets near the road and opposite that, receding from the left foot of the top-hatted fan?
[b] If the game is shinty/bandy, why don’t the fielders have sticks?
[c] The ball seems nice and large.
Isn’t that a wicket bat in the right hand of the crossing runner?
If the batsman is about to reach the left wicket, does that typify “reward of merit,” where merit is a successful hit?
Aren’t those wicketkeepers behind each wicket? [But if so, one team would number 4, and the other 2. So this would be a scrub form of the game?]
Do we have a date or location for the drawing?
By then I had done some more digging related to the engraver, John Cheney, which I hastened to share with Larry. Courtesy of Google Books I had located Catalogue of the Engraved and Lithographed Work of John Cheney and Seth Wells Cheney by Sylvester Rosa Koehler, 1891. Itemizing each of the extant works by these brother engravers, it offered this detailed description, absent an illustration:
1821. 2. Reward of Merit. Six boys or young men in shirt-sleeves are playing ball. The ball is in the air in the middle of the sky. At the left two lookers-on are seated on a log, on the right stands another. On the extreme left part of a large tree is seen, on the right a grove of poplars. In the background a school-house, a church, and other houses, two poplars, bushes, and a hill. Octagon, oblong, surrounded by two fine lines, with a heavier one between them. On the right, below, between the heavy and the lighter border-line: 2’d Plate. Outside of the border lines: J. Cheney Sc. 1821. | Reward of Merit. | To M from h teacher . [Signifying “To Master or Miss “Smith” from his or her teacher.]
Engraved surface from outer border-line to outer border-line: 137 X 67 mm. (5 3/8 X 2 5/8|”.)
Plate-mark: 154 X 97mm. (6 1/16 X 3 13/16”.)
[The plate is in the possession of Mrs. Ednah D. Cheney. See “Memoir of John Cheney,” page 10. As it is dated and marked “2’d Plate,” it is a reliable document for the early history of the engraver.]
In Cheney’s memoir (a different volume) we get this lovely detail, from Memoir of John Cheney, by Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney [the woman cited above, widow of Seth Wells Cheney], 1889:
When confined by a lame foot he made drawings on the walls of his room, which are still preserved; they are full of promise. He studied engraving from an encyclopaedia, and made a printing-press before he had ever seen an Engraver. He cut a piece from an old copper kettle and engraved on it a sketch of boys playing ball, to be used for a Reward of Merit. This plate still exists.
Precisely where might this plate have existed in 1889, I wondered. Navigating through the clues provided, I managed to locate it as “Early Trial Plate” in the collections of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, as part of a massive gift by Mrs. Cheney in 1890. An engraving of this reward of merit appears to be there, too–no image is provided, and the archivists did not reply to my email inquiry–but seemingly nowhere else.
A “reward of merit,” I told Larry with needless pedantry, was a long-practiced form of recognizing scholarly accomplishments at the elementary or grammar school level. “It is a copiously documented form of ephemera, but this one [of wicket play] is impossible to find as pulled from the artist’s hastily improvised copper plate.”
Happily, I went on to win the engraving, but the fun of research did not end there. I made a high-resolution scan and analyzed the detail. The wide, low wickets confirmed the identity of the game. The crudely depicted schoolhouse in the distance was, I deduced, that on the Green in Manchester, a Connecticut city carved out from Hartford shortly after the date of the engraving. This two-story brick structure was built in 1816, when Manchester was still Orford Parish, a part of East Hartford. The building’s second floor later served as the meeting rooms of Masonic Lodge #73.
John Cheney, who grew up here and attended this school, went on to a notable career in some measure forgotten today. S. R. Koehler was Curator of the Section of Graphic Arts, Smithsonian Institution, and of the Print Department, Museum Of Fine Arts in Boston. In his Introduction to the Catalogue of the Cheneys’ works, Koehler placed him at the head of his class:
In work of the kind which it fell to John Cheney’s lot to do,— plates, that is to say, for annuals and similar books, — he stands at the head of the engravers of his time in his country, and shoulder to shoulder with those of Europe, and I cannot agree with my friend Charles Henry Hart when he places him second to Asher Brown Durand.
All of this detail about the engraving and its creator tended to support the valuation placed on it by ephemera collector Dr. John Muscalus (1909-86), a great expert in obsolete currencies whose collection formed the core of the JMW auction. He was an active writer at least from 1935 to 1978, with some eighty pamphlets to his name. But Muscalus could not have known that this was the earliest depiction of an ancient game that had largely vanished by the time Koehler wrote those words in 1891.
What was wicket, you ask? What do we know about its rules and history, documented as far back as 1725 and possibly even earlier, in 1704? Having reached the end of my space here, I refer you to fuller descriptions previously published here at Our Game:
and to the several citations at Early Baseball Milestones:
Initially published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Number 8, 2000, this article–here published in the third of three parts–helped lay the foundation for the golden age of early baseball research that was to follow. Tom Altherr is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. He has continued to make valuable contributions all along the way. “Basepaths and Baselines” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. The present article won that same award in 2001. The second part was published yesterday at: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/01/29/a-place-leavel-enough-to-play-ball-part-2/
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic (continued)
Thomas L. Altherr
At the turn of the century, baseball-type games continued to provoke clashes in cities, towns, and villages. Some of their governments responded with prohibitions on such games, much as did the province of New Hampshire for Christmas Day in 1771. At its town meeting in March, 1795, Portsmouth, New Hampshire attempted to abolish cricket and any games played with a ball. The ordinance read as follows:
VOTED III, That if any person or persons shall after the thirty-first day of May next, within the compact part of the town of Portsmouth, . . . play at cricket or any game wherein a ball is used, . . . he, she, or they, so offending, on conviction thereof shall forfeit and pay to the overseers of the porr of said town for the time being, for each and every offence, a sum not exceeding three dollars and thirty cents, nor less than fifty cents, and costs of prosecution,….
By the 1830s, however, players consumed egg-nog “between intervals of base-ball playing” on nearby Shapleigh’s Island and taunted the temperance forces. Down the coast, Newburyport, Massachusetts passed a similar restriction in 1797, adding soccer to its list of offending games: “12th. Voted and ordered, that if any person shall play at foot-ball, cricket or any other play or game with a ball or balls in any of the streets, lanes, or, alleys of this town, such person shall forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding one dollar nor less than twenty-five cents.” In 1805 the town of Portland, Maine promulgated a more detailed prohibition entitled “A By Law to check the practice of playing at Bat and Ball in the Streets”: “. . . [N]o person shall play at the game of bat and ball, or shall strike any ball with a bat or other machine in the streets, lanes, or squares of the town, on penalty of Fifty Cents for each offense.” By 1828, however, a Portland newspaper referred to boys playing at “bat-and-ball.” Twelve years earlier and fifty miles inland, Worcester, Massachusetts considered outlawing playing ball because of numerous complaints.
At a legal meeting May 6, 1816:
To see if the said Inhabitants will adopt any mode, or make such regulations as will in future prevent the playing Ball and Hoops in the public Streets in said Town, a practice so frequent and dangerous, that has occasioned many great and repeated complaints.
Note that the town council characterized ball playing as frequent. Troy, New York restricted baseball-type games in 1816: “[N]o person or persons shall play ball, beat, knock or drive any ball or hoop, in, through or along any street or alley in the first, second, third or fourth wards of said city; and every person who shall violate either of the prohibitions . . . shall, for each and every such offence, forfeit and pay the penalty of ten dollars.” Down the Hudson, New York City outlawed ball play in the Park, Battery, and Bowling-Green in 1817. The crowning irony to all of this came a month later in, of all places, Cooperstown, when that village promulgated an ordinance forbidding the playing of ball in the center of town fully twenty-three years before Abner Doubleday supposedly drew up his diamond and rules! The June, 1816 ordinance read as follows: “Be it ordained, That no person shall play at Ball in Second or West street, in this village, under a penalty of one dollar, for each and every offence.” Tom Heitz has suggested that the one dollar fine was equivalent to the cost of replacing a window in those days, so perhaps the law was setting up an insurance program of sorts to cover breakage and had little hope of completely discouraging players from playing.
Still boys and men continued to play ball. Keene, New Hampshire farmer Abner Sanger noted in his journal entry for April 27, 1782: “Caleb Washburn, young Benjamin Hall, Tom Wells, the younger and El play ball before my barn.” Ball games were familiar enough in northern New England that Vermonter Levi Allen could write to his brother Ira from Quebec on July 7, 1787: “Three times is Out at wicket, next year if Something is not done I will retire to the Green Mountains . . . “ The games went on at the private academies. At the turn of the century ball-playing at Exeter Academy was commonplace, according to a historian of that school: “The only games seem to have been old-fashioned ‘bat and ball,’ which, in the spring, was played on the grounds around the Academy building, and football. The former differed widely from the modern game of base ball, which was introduced later. The old game had fewer rules, and was played with a soft leather ball.” Note, however, the author’s characterization of the game as old-fashioned, implying a longevity of familiarity. In 1836 Albert Ware Paine recalled playing in Bangor, Maine in the 1810s and 1820s: “But a day seems to have elapsed since meeting with our neighboring boys, we took delight in flying our kite and prancing our horses on the green or engaged ourselves in the more active sports of ‘playing ball’ or ‘goal.’” New York City octogenarian Charles Haswell reminisced that if “a base-ball was required, the boy of 1816 founded it with a bit of cork, or, if he were singularly fortunate, with some shreds of india-rubber; then it was wound with yarn from a ravelled stocking, and some feminine member of his family covered it with patches from a soiled glove.” By the late 1830s, Buffalo, New York boys were even using fish noses for the ball cores, according to Samuel L. Welch: ” . .. the fish I bought as a small boy at that time, at one cent per pound, mainly to gets its noses for cores for our balls, to make them bound, to play the present National Game,” he wrote in 1891.
Sometimes memoirists mentioned baseball only to say that they avoided the game or regretted what they considered a waste of time and industry. Thus Wilmington, Delaware ship captain John Hamilton wrote about his boyhood in the 1790s that reading about foreign countries “took precedence [over] Kites, Marbles, Balls, Shinny Sticks, and all other Boyish Sports.” Similarly, Cannon’s Ferry, Delaware doctor William Morgan remarked about his adolescence in the 1790s, “My sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth yeares were spent in youthfull folley. Fidling, frolicking, ball playing and hunting as far as I could be spared by my father from his employ. These are called inocent amusements and ware not caried very far by me.” Sometimes, however, ball games led to further adventures. Jonathan Mason, Jr, a Boston merchant, remembered a special game of ball on the Boston Commons in the 1790s or early 1800s:
Another early remembrance of the common besets me. one morning, the day after what was called the Negro election, Benj Green, Martin Brimmer, George E Head, Franklin Dexter and myself were playing ball on the common before breakfast: and the ball fell into a hole where one of the booth’s stakes had been driven the day before, which was filled up with paper, rubbage etc. putting the hand down something jingled and we found several dollars in silver which had probably been put there for safety and the owner becoming intoxicated late in the day had gone off and forgotten them. I can’t recollect that we advertised them. We were small boys then all of us, and I was the youngest.
And even though he claimed he had never heard the word “baseball” in the 1820s, Middletown, Connecticut resident John Howard Redfield remembered that baseball-type games were pervasive:
The remainder of Election week was given more or less to relaxation and amusement. This period usually coincided with the vacation, or gap between the winter and summer terms of school. Ball was the chief amusement, and if weather permitted (and my impression is that it generally did permit) the open green about the meeting-house and the school-house was constantly occupied by the players, little boys, big boys, and even men (for such we considered the biggest boys who condescended to join the game), . . . These grown-up players usually devoted themselves to a game called “wicket,” in which the ball was impelled along the ground by a wide, peculiarly-shaped bat, over, under, or through a wicket, made by a slender stick resting on two supports. I never heard of baseball in those days.
Clearly, as these prohibitions, depictions in children’s books, and remembrances indicate, baseball and its predecessors were entrenched in the young republic’s athletic repertoire by 1820.
Other evidence hints that the games had spread to the South and to Canada. John Drayton, a South Carolina politician and historian, referred to ball playing in his state about 1802: “[A]musements are few; consisting of dancing, horse racing, ball playing, and rifle shooting.” Another South Carolinian, Charles Fraser, recalled, in 1854, how vibrant were the sports of his childhood in Charleston in the early art of the century: “The manly sports of ball, shinee, jumping, running, wrestling, and swimming, are now laid aside as unworthy of modern refinement. But they were as common among the elder boys of my time, as marbles, tops and kites were among the little ones.” Ely Playter, a York, Ontario tavernkeeper, may have meant baseball or a baseball-type game when he wrote in his diary for April 13, 1803: “I went to Town . . . walk’d out and joined a number of men jumping & playing Ball, perceived a Mr. Joseph Randall to be the most active . . . “ Incipient commercialism may also have been invading the games. The New York Evening Post for September 20, 1811 contained an advertisement for “Trap Ball, Quoits, Cricket, &c.” at Dyde’s Military Ground.
The most bizarre bit of evidence of baseball’s spread may have occurred in conjunction with a tragic incident just after the close of the War of 1812. The British were still housing numerous American prisoners at Dartmoor Prison in England, awaiting repatriation arrangements. Needless to say, tempers ran high, and the British officers occasionally tormented the Americans. As had other prisoners-of-war before them, some of the Americans whiled away their incarceration by playing baseball. For example, American prisoners-of-war back in North America at Cornwall, Ontario mixed ball with their boxing. Wrote one prisoner, “The men remained in the gaol yard and fought several times and in fact played [ball –the editor mistakenly translated the word as “hell”] all day.” Similarly one prisoner, Benjamin Waterhouse, recalled the Americans at Dartmoor were in “high spirits and good humour” about going home and reflected it in their play: “I distinctly remember that the prisoners appeared to enjoy their amusements, such as playing ball and the like, beyond what I had before observed.” The previous June, the British commander had opened the yards on the south side of the enclosure, which, according to prisoner Charles Andrews, “would admit of many amusements which that of No. 4 would not, such as playing ball, &c.”
On April 6, 1815, some of the prisoners were at such play. As inmate Nathaniel Pierce recalled, ” . . . first part of this day the Prisoners divirting themselves Gambling playing Ball &c.” During the afternoon, however, things went awry. A batter hit the ball over one of the interior walls and the British sentries would not allow the players to retrieve it. As prisoner Andrews later wrote, ” . . . some boys who were playing ball in No. 7 yard, knocked their ball over into the barrack-yard, and on the sentry in that yard refusing to throw it back to them, they picked a hole in the wall to get in after it.” Another inmate, Joseph Valpey, Jr., described the scenario in more detail:
On the 6th day of April 1815 as a small party of prisoners were amusing themselves at a game at ball, some of the number striking it with too much violence it went over the wall fronting the prison the Centinals on the opposite side of the same were requested to heave the ball back, but refused, on which the party threataned to brake through and regain the ball and immediately put their threats in execution, a hole was made in the wall sufficently large enough for a man to pass through….
The “Judicial Report of the Massacre at Dartmoor Prison” concluded indeed that ball playing figured in the incident: “It unfortunately happened, that in the afternoon of the 6th of April, some boys who were playing ball in No. 7 yard, knocked their ball over into the barrack yard: on the sentry in that yard refusing to throw it back to them, they picked a hole in the wall to get in after it.”97 The British officers misconstrued this breach of the interior wall as some sort of riot and ordered troops to fire at the ball players. By the end of the melee there were seven dead and thirty-one wounded prisoners. A poem by John Hunter Waddell, which ran in New York and Boston newspapers in June, 1815, referred to the ball playing as commonplace and summed up the tragedy:
Forsooth, there was great fear to dread, he [the British captain]’d search’d and found in wall
A hole was made for boy to creep, and get again a ball,
Which oft was thrown by boys at play, their usual daily sport,
In pastime who at prison wall, did ev’ry day resort;
And frequent would their balls bounce o’er out of the prison yard,
To get again their balls for sport, their pastime and their play,
And so their joy, was oft times spoilt, and ended for the day.
The boys thus baulk’d, and being griev’d to lose their balls and play,
Contriv’d to make a hole to gain, and get their balls again.
By the 1820s, the games were taking on the more organized form of clubs. In his autobiography, New York politician Thurlow Weed claimed to have been a member of a town ball club in Rochester in 1825:
Though an industrious and busy place, its citizens found leisure for rational and healthy recreation. A base-ball club, numbering nearly fifty members, met every afternoon during the ball-playing season. Though the members of the club embraced persons between eighteen and forty, it attracted the young and the old. The ball-ground, containing some eight or ten acres, known as Mumford’s meadow, by the side of the river above the falls, is now a compact part of the city.
Weed went on to list ten of the better players on that club and point out that a couple of them rose to prominence as lawyers in New York City. Although some historians think that the mounting popularity of baseball in the intervening decades may have colored Weed’s memoir, Samuel Hopkins Adams, in the story, “Baseball in Mumford’s Pasture Lot,” in his book, Grandfather Stories, corroborated Weed with a scene in which Grandpa Adams informed his grandson and friends that he had played baseball back in Rochester in 1827. “When I first came here, the Rochester Baseball Club met four afternoons a week. We had fifty members. That was in 1827,” the old man recounted. The club played in “Mumford’s pasture lot, off Lake Avenue.” Furthermore, he told them, “The cream of Rochester’s Third Ward ruffleshirts participated in the pastime,” which was clearly baseball, not town ball, as the old man described the positioning of the fielders and mentioned that it took three outs to retire the batting side.
Yet it would be a mistake to see baseball and baseball-type games as very modern by the 1820s, at least not in the sense that sport historians such as Allen Guttmann have stipulated. Presumably there was an equity in the rules, that each player played under the same conditions, but there may have been exceptions to that. There was certainly no bureaucratization overseeing baseball-type games. There may or may not have been specialization; players most likely played nonspecific positions on the playing field and probably the pitcher, or “feeder,” was not a very important position yet. How much players were experimenting to perfect the rules or methods of playing the game is also unclear. Quantification, at least in the form of statistics that carried over time, was nonexistent, and if there were any “records,” they didn’t make it into any “recordbook.” Local players may have kept up an oral memory of great players and great plays, but it is just as likely that the emphasis was on play, spontaneity, and communal recreation. Baseball and similar games were still folk games, with all their rubbery aspects and irregular patterns. That does not mean, however, that they were any less important to the populace than are modern sports today. Baseball and baseball-type games existed with some degree of frequency, because they filled a cultural hunger for physical play and communal recreation, a yearning of time immemorial. The above sources, and probably others still undiscovered in the record, attest to the American phase of this long process. Henry Dearborn and his fellow soldiers deserve thanks not only for helping to convince the British to lose the war, but for marching four miles that day in April, 1779 “to find a place leavel enough to play ball,” and all the ball-playing students merit our remembrances as well.
Finally though, the origins of the game may have to remain shrouded in mystery. Perhaps, as Harold Seymour wrote, “To ascertain who invented baseball would be equivalent to trying to locate the discoverer of fire.” Perhaps it was an entirely “natural” occurrence. As James D’Wolf Lovett stated, “It seems to be the natural instinct of a boy as soon as he finds the use of his arms, to want to ‘bat’ something.” Possibly the instinct is quite deep-seated and the Freudians and other psychoanalysts can weigh in with theories such as Adrian Stokes’ provocative interpretation that cricket developed as a form of sexual sublimation. Or maybe Kenneth Patchen’s explanation in his poem, “The Origin of Baseball,” comes as close as any:
Someone had been walking in and out
Of the world without coming
To much decision about anything.
The sun seemed too hot most of the time.
There weren’t enough birds around
And the hills had a silly look
When he got on top of one.
The girls in heaven, however, thought
Nothing of asking to see his watch
Like you would want someone to tell
A joke –’Time,’ they’d say, ‘what’s
That mean –time?’, laughing with the edges
Of their white mouths, like a flutter of paper
In a madhouse. And he’d stumble over
General Sherman or Elizabeth B.
Browning, muttering, “Can’t you keep
Your big wings out of the aisle?” But down
Again, there’d be millions of people without
Enough to eat and men with guns just
Standing there shooting each other.
So he wanted to throw something
And he picked up a baseball.
67. By-Laws of the Town of Portsmouth, Passed at their Annual Meeting Held March 25, 1795 (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: John Melcher, 1795), 5-6.
68. Charles W. Brewster, Rambles About Portsmouth, Second Series (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Lewis W. Brewster, 1869), 269.
69. Bye-Laws of Newburyport; Passed by the Town at Regular Meetings, and Approved by the Court of General Justice of the Peace for the County of Essex, Agreeably to a Law of this
Commonwealth (Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1797), 1.
70. The By Laws of the Town of Portland, in the County of Cumberland, Second Ed. (Portland, Maine: John McKown, 1805), 15. Italics in the original source. The 1817 town by-laws still contained this prohibition. “By Law to check the practice of playing at Bat and Ball in the Streets, &c.,” in The By-Laws of the Town of Portland, in the County of Cumberland (Portland, Maine: A. and J. Shirley, 1817), 12.
71. Will Anderson, Was Baseball Really Invented In Maine? (Portland, Maine: pvt. ptg., 1992), .
72. Worcester, Massachusetts Town Records, 6 May 1816, reprinted in Franklin P. Rice, ed., Worcester Town Records, 1801-1816, Vol. X (Worcester, Massachusetts: The Worcester Society of Antiquity, 1891), 337.
73. Laws and Ordinances of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty, of the City of Troy. Passed the Ninth Day of December, 1816 (Troy, New York: Parker and Bliss, 1816), 42.
74. “A Law relative to the Park, Battery, and Bowling-Green,” in Laws and Ordinances Ordained and Established by the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of New York (New York: T. and J. Swords, 1817), 118.
75. Cooperstown, New York village ordinance, 13 June 1816, reprinted in the Cooperstown, New York Otsego Herald, n. 1107, 13 June 1816, 3.
76. Tom Heitz, conversations with the author, June and August, 1996.
77. Lois K. Stabler, ed., Very Poor and of a Lo Make: the Journal of Abner Sanger (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter E. Randall, 1986), 416.
78. Levi Allen to Ira Allen, July 7, 1787, in John J. Duffy, ed., Ethan Allen and His Kin, Correspondence, 1772-1819, 2 vols. (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1998), v. 1, 244.
79. Frank H. Cunningham, Familiar Sketches of the Phillips Exeter Academy and Surroundings (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883), 281.
80. Albert Ware Paine, “Auto-Biography,” reprinted in Lydia Augusta Paine Carter, The Discovery of a Grandmother (Newtonville, Massachusetts: Henry H. Carter, 1920), 240.
81. Charles Haswell, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian 1816 to 1860 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1896), 77.
82. Samuel. L. Welch, Home History. Recollections of Buffalo during the Decade from 1830 to 1840, or Fifty Years Since (Buffalo, New York: Peter Paul and Brother, 1891), 353.
83. John Hamilton, “Some Reminiscences of Wilm’t’n and My Youthful Days –&c., &c.” Delaware History, v. 1, n. 2 (July 1946), 91.
84. Harold B. Hancock, ed., “William Morgan’s Autobiography and Diary [:] Life in Sussex County, 1780-1857,” Delaware History, v. 19, n. 1 (Spring-Summer 1980), 43-44.
85. Jonathan Mason, Jr., “Recollections of a Septuagenarian,” 3 vols., Downs Special Collections, Winterthur Library, Document 30, v. 1, 20-21.
86. Edmund Delaney, ed., Life in the Connecticut River Valley 1800-1840 from the Recollections of John Howard Redfield (Essex, Connecticut: Connecticut River Museum, 1988), 35. Italics in the original source.
87. John Drayton, A View of South-Carolina, As Respects Her Natural and Civil Concerns (Charleston, South Carolina: W. P. Young, 1802), 225.
88. Charles Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston, Lately Published in the Charleston Courier, and Now Revised and Enlarged by the Author (Charleston, South Carolina: John Russell, 1854), 88.
89. [Ely Playter], “Extracts from Ely Playter’s Diary,” April 13, 1803, reprinted in Edith G. Firth, ed., The Town of York 1793-1815: A Collection of Documents of Early Toronto (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1962), 248.
90. New York Evening Post, n. 2867, September 20, 1811, 2.
91. G.M. Fairchild, Jr., ed., Journal of an American Prisoner at Fort Malden and Quebec in the War of 1812 (Quebec: pvt. ptg., 1090), no pagination.
92. [Benjamin Waterhouse], A Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts, Late a Surgeon on Board an American Privateer, Who Was Captured at Sea by the British, in May, Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen, and Was Confined First, at Melville Island, Halifax, then at Chatham, in England, and Last, at Dartmoor Prison (Boston: Rowe and Hooper, 1816), 186.
93. [Charles Andrews], The Prisoners’ Memoirs, or Dartmoor Prison (New York: pvt. ptg. 1815), 92.
94. “Journal of Nathaniel Pierce of Newburyport, Kept at Dartmoor Prison, 1814-1815,” Historical Collections of Essex Institute, v. 73, n. 1 (January 1937), 40.
95. [Andrews], The Prisoners’ Memoirs, or Dartmoor Prison, 110. In another memoir, prisoner Josiah Cobb referred to the ball being thrown over the wall by accident, something that happened somewhat frequently. [Cobb], A Green Hand’s First Cruise, Roughed Out from the Log-Book of Memory, of Twenty-Five Years Standing: Together with a Residence of Five Months in Dartmoor, 2 vols. (Boston: Otis, Broaders, and Company, 1841, v. 2, 213-214. For the testimony of other prisoners, see John Hunter Waddell, Dartmoor Massacre (Pittsfield, Massachusetts: Phinehas Allen, 1815), 6-21.
96. [Joseph Valpey, Jr.], Journal of Joseph Valpey, Jr. of Salem, November, 1813-April, 1815 (Detroit: Michigan Society of Colonial Wars, 1922), 60.
97. “The Judicial Report of the Massacre at Dartmoor Prison,” reprinted in John Melish, Description of Dartmoor Prison, with an Account of the Massacre of the Prisoners (Philadelphia: J. Bioren, 1816), 7.
98. [John Hunter Waddell], The Dartmoor Massacre (Boston?: pvt. ptg., 1815?), 5.
99. Harriet A. Weed, ed., Life of Thurlow Weed, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1883), v. 1, 203. That same year, residents of Hamden, New York placed a challenge in the Delhi, New York Gazette of July 12th to any men of Delaware County to form a team and play a baseball match See Sullivan, comp. and ed., Early Innings, 1-2.
100. Samuel Hopkins Adams, Grandfather Stories (New York: Random House, 1955 ), 146-149.
101. Allen Guttmann, From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), chapter 2, and Guttmann, A Whole New Ball Game: An Interpretation of American Sports (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 6.
102. Seymour, “How Baseball Began,” 376.
103. Lovett, Old Boston Boys, 125.
104. Adrian Stokes, “Psycho-analytic Reflections on the Development of Ball Games, Particularly Cricket,” The International Journal of Psycho-analysis, v. 37 (1956), 185-192.
105. Kenneth Patchen, “The Origin of Baseball,” in Patchen, Selected Poems (New York: New Directions, 1957), 15-16.
Initially published in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Number 8, 2000, this article–here published in the second of three parts–helped lay the foundation for the golden age of early baseball research that was to follow. Tom Altherr is a history professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver; among his courses is one on baseball history that he has taught since 1991. He has continued to make valuable contributions all along the way. “Basepaths and Baselines” won the McFarland-SABR Research Award for 2012. The present article won that same award in 2001. The first part was published yesterday at: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/01/28/a-place-leavel-enough-to-play-ball/.
“A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic (continued)
Thomas L. Altherr
It is unclear whether or not the Revolutionary War accelerated the familiarity of baseball in North America, as the Civil War clearly did eighty some years later. It would be useful to ascertain if prisoners-of-war taught their captors how to play the games and learned from each other during those incarcerations. Similarly, did officers play the games more often than enlisted men, or vice versa? Were the officers’ games more formalized than those of the troops? The sources indicate that both sets of soldiers played, but don’t make any detailed distinctions. What is discernible is that during the war, baseball-type games provided needed recreation for troops within a matrix of other sports. As Montague, Massachusetts farmer Joel Shepard recalled baseball at a bivouac near Albany, New York, late in the war, about 1782: “We passed muster and layed in Albany about six weeks and we fared tolerable well, and not much to doo, but each class had his amusement. The officers would bee a playing at Ball on the comon, their would be an other class piching quaits, an other set a wrestling, . . . “
Like the soldiers, students at the academies and colleges took a shine to the ball games. Students probably played the games, taking advantages of study breaks and lapses in college discipline to pour out onto the common for a match or two. The practice apparently could get quite rowdy. Some colleges attempted to ban the ball games because of potential property damage to windows and buildings. As early as 1764, Yale College tried to restrict hand and foot ball games. The statute, in Latin at first, and in later laws in English, read: “9. If any Scholar fhall play at Hand-Ball, or Foot-Ball, or Bowls in the College-Yard, or throw any Thing against [the] Colege by which the Glass may be endangerd, . . . he shall be punished six Pence, and make good the Damages.” Later renditions changed the monetary amount to eight cents and this restriction carried into the next century with little change. Dartmouth College followed suit with its own ordinance in 1780: “If any student shall play at ball or use any other diversion the College or Hall windows within 6 rods of either he shall be fined two shilling for the first offence 4 for the 2d and so no [on] at the discretion of the President or Tutors–“. In 1784, the University of Pennsylvania acknowledged that the yard was “intended for the exercise and recreation of the youth,” but forbid them to “play ball against any of the walls of the University, whilst the windows are open.” Williams College followed suit in 1805: ” . . . the students in the College and scholars in the Grammar School, shall not be permitted to play at ball, or use any other sport or diversion, in or near the College Edifice, by which the same may be exposed to injury.” Violations would result in fines and possibly dismissal. Bowdoin College added its own prohibition in 1817: “No Student shall, in or near any College building, play at ball, or use any sport or diversion, by which such building may be exposed to injury, on penalty of being fined not exceeding twenty cents, or of being suspended, if the offence be often repeated.”
Students continued to play, however, as Sidney Willard, son of Harvard president Joseph Willard, and himself later a Harvard professor, remembered in two passages in his 1855 memoirs. Referring to the campus Buttery of the 1760s, Willard wrote, “Besides eatables, everything necessary for a student was there sold, and articles used in the play-grounds, as bats, balls, &c.” Then recalling the campus play fields of the last decade of the century, he noted, “Here it was that we wrestled and ran, played at quoits, at cricket, and various games of bat and ball, whose names perhaps are obsolete, and leaped and jumped in rivalry.” Diarist John Rhea Smith recorded at least one baseball game at Princeton College in March, 1786: “A fine day, play baste ball in the campus but am beaten for I miss both catching and striking the ball.” Daniel Webster referred to “playing at ball” during his Dartmouth College years at the turn of the century. Baltimore poet Garrett Barry placed ball play in verse lament about college days, “On Leaving College”:
I’ll fondly trace, with fancy’s aid,
The spot where all our sports were made,
When in our gay…..our infant years,
While strangers yet to pain and tears,
When toil had “lent its turn to play,”
The little train forever gay,
With joy obey’d the pleasing call,
And nimbly urged the flying ball.
On April 11, 1824, Bowdoin College student and future poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote to his father, who was in Washington, about a surge in ball playing on the campus:
This has been a very sickly term in college. However, within the last week, the government, seeing that something must be done to induce the students to exercise, recommended a game of ball every now and then; which communicated such an impulse to our limbs and joints, that there is nothing now heard of, in our leisure hours, but ball, ball, ball. I cannot prophesy with any degree of accuracy concerning the continuance of this rage for play, but the effect is good, since there has been a thorough-going reformation from inactivity and torpitude.
Williams Latham played at Brown in the mid-1820s. On March 22, 1827, he declared, “We had a great play at ball to day noon.” But a couple of weeks later, on April 9, he was complaining about the quality of the play and pitching: “We this morning . . . have been playing ball, But I never have received so much pleasure from it as I have in Bridgewater They do not have more than 6 or 7 on a side, so that a great deal of time is spent runing after the ball, Neither do they throw so fair ball, They are affraid the fellow in the middle will hit it with his bat-stick.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. played at Harvard in 1829. Yale was not to be outdone, as a March, 1837 letter from student Josiah Dwight Whitney, later an eminent geologist in the American West, showed: “It is about the time now for playing ball, and the whole green is covered with students engaged in that fine game: for my part, I could never make a ball player. I can’t see where the ball is coming soon enough to put the ball-club in its way.” Anson Phelps Stokes, who also reprinted the letter in a book on Yale students, dismissed the game as “merely ‘one-old-cat’ or ‘two-old-cat’,” because he believed in the Doubleday origins story. But the game in which Whitney had such trouble placing the bat on the ball, a problem recognizable to us moderns, could have as easily been baseball. Older scholars may have had some interest in the game as well. Connecticut lexicographer and writer Noah Webster may have been referring to a baseball-type game when wrote his journal entry for March 24-25, 1788: “Take a long walk. Play at Nines at Mr Brandons. Very much indisposed.”
Indeed, the sabbath restrictions against ball playing were breaking down. In 1836, a Georgetown University student wrote to a friend, ” . . . the Catholics think it no harm to play Ball, Draughts or play the Fiddle and dance of a Sunday, . . . “ Such was the case apparently even in Rhode Island, according to James B. Angell: “[Sunday] was the day for visiting relatives and friends and largely for fishing and hunting and ball-playing. At least one minister played the game. In his diary, Rev. Thomas Robbins detailed his ball play and that of local boys, while a divinity student at Williams College and during his teaching days. “I exercise considerable, playing ball,” he wrote on April 22, 1796. In February and March, 1797, he noted that the Sheffield, Connecticut boys were playing ball, apparently “smartly” on one occasion. The April 24 entry recorded: “Play ball some. The spring as yet rather backward.” Three years later, at Danbury, Connecticut, on an unseasonably warm January day, Robbins remarked, “My boys play ball freely.” And right around Christmas that same year, in another warm spell, the boys were at it again. For December 27, Robbins wrote: “Boys play at ball till night without the least inconvenience.”
There was some dissent about the moral uses of the game. On August 19, 1785, Thomas Jefferson urged his nephew Peter Carr to avoid ball games and take up hunting as recreation. “Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind,” the future president counseled. Despite Jefferson’s opinion, however, children’s books continued to recommend or at least document baseball-type games for youths. Edgar and Jane, the protagonists of a British children’s book, published in Baltimore in 1806, The Children in the Wood, wandered into a British town where some children “were playing at trap and ball.” In an 1806 book of poems for children, Ann Gilbert described some sort of ball play as common on the village commons:
The Village Green
Then ascends the worsted ball;
High it rises in the air;
Or against the cottage wall,
Up and down it bounces there.
In a sequel volume published the next year, Gilbert included one warning boys about breaking windows during ball play:
MY good little fellow, don’t throw your ball there,
You’ll break neighbour’s windows I know;
On the end of the house there is room and to spare;
Go round, you can have a delightful game there,
Without fearing for where you may throw.
Harry thought he might safely continue his play,
With a little more care than before;
So, forgetful of all that his father could say,
As soon as he saw he was out of the way,
He resolved to have fifty throws more.
Already as far as to forty he rose,
And no mischief happen’d at all;
One more, and one more, he successfully throws,
But when, as he thought, just arriv’d at the close,
In popp’d his unfortunate ball.
Poor Harry stood frighten’d, and turning about,
Was gazing at what he had done;
As the ball had popp’d in, so neighbour popp’d out,
And with a good horsewhip he beat him about,
Till Harry repented his fun.
When little folks think they know better than great,
And what is forbidden them do;
We must always expect to see, sooner or late,
That such wise little fools have a similar fate,
And that one of the fifty goes through.
In an 1807 edition of The Prize for Youthful Obedience, a hermit who had been watching some children playing ball games approved of their play and promised “to provide bats, balls, &c.” at his next visit.” An 1802 volume, Youthful Sports, actually touted cricket as a sport superior to what it called “bat and ball”:
THIS play requires more strength than some boys possess, to manage the ball in a proper manner; it must therefore be left to the more robust lads, who are fitter for such athletic exercises. It must be allowed to be good diversion, and is of such note, that even men very frequently divert themselves with it. Bat and ball is an inferior kind of cricket, and more suitable for little children, who may safely play at it, if they will be careful not to break windows.
Two succeeding children’s recreation manuals in 1810 painted a rosier picture of trap ball. Youthful Amusements recommended it highly:
Without any exception, this is one of the most pleasing sports that youth can exercise themselves in. It strengthens the arms, exercises the legs, and adds pleasure to the mind. If every time the ball be bowled to the trap, the striker be permitted to guess the number of bat’s lengths from the trap, it greatly contributes to teach lads the rule of addition. And should he be so covetous as to overguess the distance, he will, as he deserves to do, forfeit his right to the bat, and give it to another playmate.
Youthful Recreations went even further, offering that it should be the right of every child to have an hour of recreation each day with sports, among bat and ball-type games: “To play with battledore and shuttlecock or with a trap and ball, is good exercise; and if we had it in our power to grant, not only to the children of the affluent, but even such of the poor as are impelled by necessity to pick cotton, card wool, to sit and spin or reel all day, should have at least one hour, morning and evening, for some youthful recreation; and if they could obtain neither battledore nor shuttlecock, trap, bat, nor ball, they should at least play at Hop-Scotch.” The next year, The Book of Games, a look at sports at a British academy, gave a ringing endorsement to trap ball and supplied the most detailed description of it in the period. Remarks on Children’s Play, in 1819, repeated the same comments of the 1810 Youthful Amusements book. By the time The Boy’s Own Book and Robin Carver’s The Book of Sports appeared in 1829 and 1834 respectively, with their descriptions of baseball, the game was probably quite familiar to the youth of the Early Republic.
Part Three, tomorrow.
38. John A. Spear, ed., “Joel Shepard Goes to the War,” New England Quarterly, v. 1, n. 3 (July 1928), 344.
39. Collegii Yalensis, Quod est Novo-Portus Connecticutensium, Statuta, a Præside et Sociis Sancita (New Haven, Connecticut: Benjamin Mecom, 1764), 9; and The Laws of Yale-College, in New-Haven, in Connecticut, Enacted by the President and Fellows (New Haven, Connecticut: Thomas and Samuel Green, 1774), 11.
40. Dartmouth College Laws and Regulations, 1780, Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections MS 782415.
41. RULES for the Good Government and Discipline of the SCHOOL in the UNIVERSITY of PENNSYLVANIA (Philadelphia: Francis Bailey, 1784).
42. The Laws of Williams College (Stockbridge, Massachusetts: H. Willard, 1805), 40.
43. “Of Misdemeanors and Criminal Offences,” in Laws of Bowdoin College (Hallowell, Maine: E. Goodale, 1817), 12.
44. Sidney Willard, Memories of Youth and Manhood, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Bartlett, 1855), v. 1, 31 and 316.
45. John Rhea Smith, 22 March 1786, in “Journal at Nassau Hall,” Princeton Library MSS, AM 12800. Smith’s use of “baste” instead of “base” is quite intriguing, suggesting a linguistic connection to striking the ball rather running to a base. Smith was quite literate and an excellent speller. An examination of the rest of his diary reveals no misspelled words. For more on Smith, see Ruth L. Woodward, “Diary at Nassau Hall: The Diary of John Rhea Smith, 1786,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, v. 46 , n. 3 (1985), 269-291 and v. 47, n. 1 (1985), 48-70.
46. Daniel Webster, Private Correspondence, Fletcher Webster, ed., 2 vols. (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1857), v. 1, 66. See also Vernon Bartlett, The Past of Pastimes (London: Chatto and Windus, 1969), 45.
47. Garrett Barry, “On Leaving College,” in Barry, Poems, On Several Occasions (Baltimore: Cole and I. Bonsal and John Vance and Company, 1807)
48. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Stephen Longfellow, April 11, 1824, in Samuel Longfellow, ed., Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with Extracts from His Journals and Correspondence, 2 vols. (Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1886), v. 1, 51.
49. Williams Latham, “The Diary of Williams Latham, 1823-1827″ (unpublished), quoted in Walter C. Bronson, The History of Brown University, 1764-1914 (Providence: Brown University, 1914), 245. James D’Wolf Lovett remembered that Boston boys in that era didn’t find the shortage of players so problematic. If his crowd couldn’t summon up enough players for town ball or baseball, the boys reverted to playing the simpler games of one old cat, two old cat, three old cat, or whatever configuration fit. Lovett, Old Boston Boys (Boston: Riverside Press, 1906), 127-128.
50. John A. Krout, Annals of American Sport (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1929), 115.
51. Josiah Dwight Whitney to his sister, Elizabeth Whitney, March, 1837, reprinted in Edwin Tenney Brewster, Life and Letters of Josiah Dwight Whitney (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1909), 20; and Anson Phelps Stokes, Memorials of Eminent Yale Men, 2 vols. (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1914), v. 2, 38.
52. [Noah Webster], “Diary,” reprinted in Emily Ellsworth Fowler Ford, ed., Notes on the Life of Noah Webster, 2 vols. (New York: pvt. ptg., 1912), v. 1, 227.
53. Georgetown student letter, August 27, 1836, Georgetown University Library, quoted in Betty Spears and Richard Swanson, History of Sport and Physical Activity in the United States,
Second Ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown Company, 1983), 85.
54. James B. Angell, The Reminiscences of James Burrill Angell (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1912), 14.
55. Increase N. Tarbox, ed., Diary of Thomas Robbins, D.D. 1796-1854, 2 vols. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1886, v. 1, 8, 29, 32, 106, and 128.
56. Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785, in Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 23 vols. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1953-), v.8, 407.
57. Clara English, The Children in the Wood, An Instructive Tale (Baltimore: Warner and Hanna, 1806), 29.
58. [Ann Gilbert], Original Poems, for Infant Minds, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Kimber, Conrad, and Company, 1806), v. 2, 120. Gilbert’s verse reappeared in several later editions and other children’s books, and in an 1840 pamphlet, The Village Green, or Sports of Youth (New Haven, Connecticut: S. Babcock), 5, with the word “worsted” changed to “favorite” and with an accompanying woodcut showing four boys playing baseball.
59. [Gilbert], Original Poems, for Infant Minds, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Kimber, Conrad, and Company, 1807), vol, 1, 88-89.
60. The Prize for Youthful Obedience (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1807), Part II, .
61. Youthful Sports, (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1802), 47-48.
62. Youthful Amusements (Philadelphia: Johnson and Warner, 1810), 37 and 40.
63. Youthful Recreations (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1810), no pagination.
64. The Book of Games; or, a History of the Juvenile Sports Practised at Kingston Academy (Philadelphia: Johnson and Warner, 1811), 15-20. The full text reads as follows:
WELL, young men, said the doctor, addressing himself to his two youngest sons, what think you of a game at trap-ball before you go to bed? there is plenty of time, and it is a fine evening for the purpose. Will you not, my dear Thomas, said he, turning to his new guest, accompany them; a little play will do you good after your long ride.
Thomas readily consented, and accompanied the boys into an field, adjoining the house.
“This is our play-place in fine weather,” said George Benson, “and a nice one it is. Well what is the game to-night? Trap-ball I believe my father proposed. Do you play at trap-ball, White?” “No,” replied White, “I know but little about it.”
George Benson. I suppose you know the rules of the game, however, and can join in our party. Who has got the trap?
James Benson. Here it is; but I think I had rather have a game at fives. If you and Price will play at trap-ball, and give White a lesson, Jackson and Seymore, and I, will go the high wall, and have a good game at fives.
George Benson. Very well. Away with you then, and I will hold you both, Price and White. Who has a half-penny, to toss up for the first innings? O, here is one; heads or tails? Tails did you say? Well then I have it, for it is heads. Now, are you ready?
Thomas White. What are we to do? I have forgot what little I have heard of the game; I never played at it but once.
George. Well then I will tell you; you know, of course, that when I hit the trigger, the ball flies up, and that I must then give it a good stroke with the bat. If I strike at the ball and miss my aim, or if, when I have struck it, either you or Price catch it before it has touched the ground, or if I hit the trigger more than twice, without striking the ball, I am out, and one of you take the bat, and come in, as it is called.
White. And we are to try to hit the trap, with the ball, are we not? and you will be out, as soon as we have done so? And do not you reckon one, every time we bowl without being able to hit the trap?
George. Yes, that is the way, we usually play: but I believe sometimes the person who is in, guesses how many bats length off the ball was stopped, and reckons as many as he guesses, if that is less than the real number; but if he guesses more than there really are, he is cast.
White. I do not clearly understand you.
George. Perhaps I do not clearly explain myself. Indeed I have never played the game in that manner: but Seymore says that they always did at the school he used to go to. Suppose now that I am in, and you bowl, and the ball stops there, just where I point, I guess that it is five times the length of the bat from the trap; if you think there are not so many, and order me to measure, should there be only four times, I am out; but if there should happen to be six or eight times, I may reckon them all though I had only guessed five. Now do you understand what I mean; though, it does not signify, as we play the other way?
White. I believe I do. What have you stuck those two sticks in the ground for?
George. To mark the bounds. You know the batsman is out if he does not strike the ball between them, or if it stops short of them; and he reckons one every time the other party miss the trap in throwing the ball. We have three innings a-piece, and he wins who gets most. But as you do not know so much of the game, and as Price is such a little fellow, I will play against you both. Now for it then; but I must take my coat off, for it is so hot. Now I am ready. There catch the ball, boys. Ay, you have missed it.
Price. I thought White would have caught it. Now I will bowl. Oh, it has not hit the trap.
White. Let me bowl this time. There you are out, I think, master George.
George. Upon my word, you bowl well. I am only one. It is your turn to go in now.
White took the bat, but as he was unused to the management of one, he held it very awkwardly, and struck repeatedly at the ball without being able to hit it. George, very good humouredly, shewed him the best method of holding the bat, and let him practise striking the ball several times before they continued their game. When they again began to play, White gave a noble stroke, and sent the ball to such a distance, that George could not, with all his strength, bowl it quite home; and Tom, with great pleasure, counted one.
But the next time he hit it so feebly, that George had no difficulty in bowling him out. It was then Price’s turn to come in, he also counted only one; for the next time, he drove it outside the boundary sticks.
“Ah, I shall beat you both, I dare say,” cried George, good humouredly taking the trap. “There, I think you will not bowl me out this time, White. You have indeed,” continued he, as he threw down the bat. “Why, how wonderfully you do bowl. You must have been used to that, I am sure.”
White. Yes, my father is fond of playing at bowls. We have got a bowling green, and I have often practised.
The peculiar skill which White possessed in bowling, made him a tolerable match for George Benson, and Tom felt no small degree of pleasure, when victory declared in favour of the two novices.
“You have won, I declare,” cried George, as he was bowled out by Thomas, after he had been twice in. “I did not expect to be beat by you, as you said you knew nothing of the game. Shall we go now and see what the fives players are about?”
65. Remarks on Children’s Play (New York: Samuel Wood and Sons, 1819), 32.
66. The Boy’s Own Book (Boston: Munroe and Francis, 1829), 18-19, and Robin Carver, The Book of Sports (Boston: Lily, Wait, Colman, and Holden). For a convenient reprinting of Carver’s section on “Base, or Goal Ball,” see Sullivan, comp. and ed., Early Innings, 3.