1838.4

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First Recorded Base Ball game in Canada [as reported in 1886]?

Salience Noteworthy
Location Canada
Game Base Ball
Text

Residents of Oxford County gather near Beachville, Ontario, to play the first recorded game of baseball in Canada (reported only in 1886). The Canadian version uses five bases, a three strikes rule and three outs to a side. Foul lines are described.

Ford, Dr. Adam E., Sporting Life, May 5, 1886. Reprinted in Dean A. Sullivan, Compiler and Editor, Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 [University of Nebraska Press, 1995], pp. 9-11. For more historical data on this event, see Nancy B. Bouchier and Robert Knight Brown, "A Critical Examination of a Source on Early Ontario Baseball: The Reminiscences of Adam E. Ford," Journal of Sport History, volume 15 [Spring 1988], pp. 75-87. This paper concludes that the New York game reached Ontario no earlier than 1849.

Caveat: Richard Hershberger, email of 1/14/2008, expresses the possibility that aspects of the Ford account are the result of a "confused recollection, with genuine old features and modern features misremembered and attributed to the old game." One problem is that the foul territory as described in 1886 is hard to fathom; Richard also notes that use of the 3-out-all-out rule would make this game the only non-NYC game with three-out innings. Ford also implies that games were then finished at the end of an agreed number of innings, not by reaching an agreed number of scores. He also states that older players in the 1838 game had played a like game in their youth. Adam Ford was seven years old in 1838.

For full text of Dr. Ford's 1886 letter, see the supplemental text.

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Supplemental Text

(From Sporting Life, May 5, 1886.  No page number is visible.)

Very Like Base Ball

A GAME OF THE LONG-AGO WHICH CLOSELY RESEMBLED OUR PRESENT NATIONAL GAME

Denver, Col., April 24 – Editor Sporting Life –

The 4th of June, 1838, was a holiday in Canada, for the Rebellion of 1837 had been closed by the victory of the Government over the rebels, and the birthday of His Majesty George the Fourth was set apart for general rejoicing.  The chief event at the village ofBeechville, in the County of Oxford, was a base ball match between the Beechville Club and the Zorra, a club hailing from the townships of Zorra and North Oxford.

The game was played in a nice, smooth pasture field just back of Enoch Burdick’s shops.  I well remember a company of Scotch volunteers from Zorra halting as the passed the grounds to take a look at the game.  Of the Beechville team I remember seeing Geo. Burdick, Reuben Martin, Adam Karn, Wm Hutchinson, I. Van Alstine, and , I think, Peter Karn and some others.  I remember also that there were in the Zorras “Old Ned” Dolson, Nathaniel McNames, Abel and John Williams, Harry and Daniel Karn, and, I think, Wm. Ford and William Dodge.  Were it not for taking up too much of your valuable space I could give you the names of many others who were there and incidents to confirm the accuracy of the day and the game.  The ball was made of double and twisted woolen yarn, a little smaller than the regulation of to day [1886] and covered with good, honest calf skin, sewed and waxed ends by Edward McNamer [McNames?], a shoemaker.

The infield was a square [well, it was sorta square, but after all it did had five sides; four long ones and the short one from home to first base -- LMc], the base lines of which were twenty-one yards long, on which there were placed five bags [Ford diagram goes here].  The distance from the thrower to the catcher was eighteen yards; the catcher standing three yards behind the home bye.  From that home bye, or “knocker’s” stone, to the first bye was six yards [Note: On the diagram, the distances from second to third base and from third to fourth base are labeled as 21 yards; the distances from first to second, and from fourth to home look to measure about 18-20 yards: the basepaths trace a symmetrical but irregular polygon with no right angles.  LMc] The club (we had bats in cricket but we never used bats in playing base ball) was generally made of the best cedar, blocked out with an ax and finished on a shaving horse with a drawing knife.  A wagon spoke, or any nice straight stick would do.

We had fair and unfair balls.  A fair ball was one thrown to the knocker at any height between the bend of his knee and the top of his head, near enough to him to be fairly within reach.  All others were unfair.  The strategic points for the thrower to aim at was to get it near his elbow or between his club and his ear.  When a man struck at a ball it was a strike, and if a man struck at a ball three times and missed it he was out if the ball was caught [by the catcher] every time either on the fly or on the first bound.  If he struck at the ball and it was not so caught by the catcher that strike did not count. If a struck ball went anywhere within the lines drawn straight back between home and the fourth bye, and between home and the first bye extended into the field the striker had to run.  If it went outside of that he could not, and every man on the byes must stay where he was until the ball was in the thrower’s hands.  Instead of calling foul the call was “no hit.”

There was no rule to compel a man to strike at a ball except the rule of honor, but a man would be dispised and guyed unmercifully if he would not hit at a fair ball.  If the knocker hit a ball anywhere he was out if the ball was caught either before it hit the ground or on the first bound.  Every struck ball that went between the lines mentioned above was a fair hit; everyone outside them no hit, and what you now call a foul tip was called a tick.  A tick and catch will always fetch was the rule given strikers out on foul tips. The same rule applies to forced runs that we now have.  The bases were the lines between the byes and a base runner was out if hit by the ball when he was off of his bye.  Three men out and the side out.  And both sides out constituted a complete inning. The number of innings to be played was always a matter of agreement, but it was generally between 5 and 9, 7 being the most frequently played and when no number was agreed upon seven was supposed to be the number. The old plan which Silas Williams and Ned Dolson (these were gray-headed men then) said it was only the right way to play ball, for it was the way they used to play it when they were boys, was to play away until one side made 18 or 21, and the one getting that number first won the game. A tally, of course, was a run.  The tallies were always kept by cutting notches on the edge of a stick when the base runners came in. There was no set number of men to be played on each side, but the sides must be equal.  The number of men on each side was a matter of agreement when the match was made.  I never saw more than 12.  They all fielded.

The object in having the first bye so near the home was to get runners on the base lines so as to have the fun of putting them out or enjoying the mistakes of the fielders when some fleet-0footed fellow would dodge the ball and come in home.  When I got older I played myself, for the game never died out.  I well remember when some fellows down at or near New York got up the game of base ball that had a “pitcher” and “fouls,” etc., and was played with a ball hard as a stick.  India rubber had come into use, and they put so much into the balls to make them lively that when the fellow tossed it to you like a girl playing “one o’d cat,” you could knock it so far that the fielders would be chasing it yet, like dogs hunting sheep, after you had gone clear around and scored your tally.  Neil McTaggart, Henry Cruttenden, Gordon Cook, Henry Taylor, James Piper, Almon Burch, Wm. Herrington, and others told me of it when I came home from the University.  We, with a “lot of good fellows more," went out and played it one day. The next day we felt as if we had been on an overland trip to the moon.  I could give you pages of incidents, but space forbids.  One word as to prowess in those early days.  I heard Silas Williams tell Jonathan Thornton that old Ned Dolson could catch that ball right away for the front of the club if you didn’t keep him back so far hat he couldn’t reach it.  I have played from that day to this, and I don’t intend to quit as long as there is another boy on the Ground.

 Yours,  Dr. Ford.

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