1750s.3

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1857 Writer Reportedly Dates New England Game of "Base" to 1750s

Salience Noteworthy
Tags Pre-modern Rules
City/State/Country: United States
Game Base
Age of Players Juvenile, Youth, Unknown
Text

"Dear Spirit:  . . .

"I shall state [here] that which has come under my observation, and also some of my friends, during the last four years of the ball-playing mania . . .   

Base ball cannot date back to so far as [cricket], but the game has no doubt, been played in this country for at least one century.  Could we only invoke the spirit of some departed veteran of he game, how many items of interest might we be able to place before the reader.

"New England, we believe, has always been the play-ground for our favorite game; and the boys of the various villages still play by the same rules their fathers did before them.  We also find that many games are played, differing but little from the well-known game of Base.

" . . .  Although I am a resident of State of New York, I hope to do her no wrong by thinking that the New England States were, and are, the ball grounds of this country, and that many of our  present players were originally from those States.  

"The game of Base, as played there, was as follows: They would take the bat, 'hand over hand,' as the present time, 'whole hand or none.'  After the sides  were chosen, the bases would be placed so as to form a square, each base about twenty yards from the other.  The striker would stand between the first and fourth base, equi-distant from each.  The catcher was always expected to take the ball without a bound and it was always thrown by  a player who would stand between the second and third bases. A good catcher would take the ball before the bat cold strike it.  A hand was out if a man was running the bases should be struck with the ball which was thrown at him while he was running.  He was allowed either a pace or a jump to the base which he was striving to reach; or if a ball was caught flying or on first bound.  There was no rule to govern the striker as to the direction he should knock the ball, and of course no such thing as foul balls. The whole side had to be put out, and if the last man could strike a ball a sufficient distance to make all the bases, he could take in one of the men who had been put out. The ball was not quite the same as the one in present use, and varied very much in size and weight, it also was softer and more springy.  

"The bats were square, flat, or round -- some preferring a flat bat, and striking with it so that th4  edge, or small side, would come in contact with the ball.  Another arrangement of bases is, to have the first about two yards from the striker (on this right), the second about fifty down the field, and the third, or home, about five. . . .

"Yours, respectfully,  X"

  

 

Sources

Base Ball Correspondence," Porter's Spirit of the Times, Volume 3, number 8 (October 24, 1857), page 117, column 2. The full text of the October 20 letter from "X" is on the VBBA website, as of 2008, at:

http://www.vbba.org/ed-interp/1857x1.html

Warning

The writer present no evidence as to the earliest dates of known play.

Comment

The game described by "X" resembles the MA game as it was to be codified a year later except: [a] "a good catcher would frequently take the ball before the bat cold strike it," [b] the runner "was allowed either a pace or jump to the base which he was striving t reach," [c] the bound rule was in effect, [d] all-out-side-out innings were used, [e] the ball was "softer and more spongy" than 1850's ball, [f] the bats were square, flat, or round," and [g] there was a second field layout, with three bases. [This variation reminds one of cricket, wicket, and "long town or "long-town-ball, except for the impressive 150-foot distance to the second base]."

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Query

Can we interpret the baserunning rule allowing "a pace or jump to the base [the runner] was striving to reach?"  Plugging didn't count if the runner was close to the next base," perhaps?

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Submitted by Craig Waff, Bob Tholkes
Submission Note 10/28/2008 and 3/15/2013, respectively



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