1866.5

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Modern Game Compared to Traditional Town Ball in IL

Salience Noteworthy
Tags Pre-modern Rules
City/State/Country: IL, United States
Game Base Ball, Town Ball
Immediacy of Report Contemporary
Text

"Base Ball resembles our old-fashioned favorite game of Town Ball sufficiently to naturalize it very quickly. It is governed by somewhat elaborate rules, but the practice is quite simple.  Nine persons on a side, including the Captains, play it.  Four bases are placed ninety feet apart, in the figure of a diamond. The Batsman, Ball Pitcher, and one Catcher, take the same position as in Town Ball.  Of the outside, besides the Pitcher and Catcher, one is posted at each base, one near the Pitcher, called the “Short Stop,”—whose duty is the same as the others in the field—to stop the ball.  The Innings take the bat in rotation, as in Town Ball,—and are called by the Scorer.  The ball is pitched, not thrown to them—a distance of fifty feet.  The Batsman is permitted to strike at three “fair” balls, without danger of being put out by a catch, but hit or miss, must run at the third “fair” ball.  He may "tip" or hit a foul.

The full article, with commentary from finder Richard Hershberger, is found below in the Supplemental Text section.

 

Sources

Illinois State Journal, May 10, 1866.

Comment Edit with form to add a comment
Query

() Any idea why this morsel hadn't turned up before 2014?

() By 1860, the modern game seems well-established in Chicago -- was it still unfamiliar elsewhere in IL as late as 1866? 

() The writer seems unfamiliar with the modern force-out rule; wasn't that introduced prior in base ball prior to 1866?

() Is it possible that the absence of a comment about the modern no-plugging rule means that local town ball already used a no-plugging rule?

() Many throwback articles mention that the new ball is harder than traditional balls.  Could local town ball have already employed hard balls?

Edit with form to add a query
Submitted by Richard Hershberger
Submission Note 19CBB Posting, 2/15/2014.
Has Supplemental Text Yes



Comments


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Supplemental Text

a comparison of baseball and town ball

Sat Feb 15, 2014 11:56 am (PST) . Posted by:

"Richard Hershberger" rrhersh

As the New York game spread across the country, people naturally used the familiar local version of baseball as a point of comparison.  Sometimes these comparisons were published in local newspapers, and when they are they are particularly interesting.  Here is one from the Illinois State Journal of May 10, 1866:

    "Base Ball resembles our old-fashioned favorite game of Town Ball sufficiently to naturalize it very quickly. It is governed by somewhat elaborate rules, but the practice is quite simple.  Nine persons on a side, including the Captains, play it.  Four bases are placed ninety feet apart, in the figure of a diamond. The Batsman, Ball Pitcher, and one Catcher, take the same position as in Town Ball.  Of the outside, besides the Pitcher and Catcher, one is posted at each base, one near the Pitcher, called the “Short Stop,”—whose duty is the same as the others in the field—to stop the ball.  The Innings take the bat in rotation, as in Town Ball,—and are called by the Scorer.  The ball is pitched, not thrown to them—a distance of fifty feet.  The Batsman is permitted to strike at three “fair” balls, without danger of being put out by a catch, but hit or miss, must run at the third “fair” ball.  He may “tip” or hit a foul
ball as often as the Umpire may call foul, so he be not caught out flying, or on the first bound.  When he runs, he must make the base before the ball reaches the point to which he runs, or he is out.  And three men out, puts out the entire side.  Those who are put out may continue to strike and run bases until the third man is out.
    "The Bases form a diamond, the angles of which are occupied by the Batsman and Catcher, and one of the outside at each angle.  All putting out on the corners is by getting the ball there before the runner for the inside reaches the base, by catching the ball flying when a fair ball is struck, or by catching a foul ball after it is struck, either when flying or at first bound.  A distinctive peculiarity of the game consists in the fact that when a ball is struck by the Batsman it must fly either on an exact angle, or inside of the angles formed by the base occupied by the Batsman, and the bases right and left of him.  All balls deflecting from these angles are “foul.”
    "The above is merely a general view of the game.  It is very easy to learn, and is capital sport, barring the cannon ball which the players are expected to catch in rather soft hands.  Ladies will enjoy the game, and of course are expected as admiring spectators."

Note the point that baseball (i.e. the NY game) was similar enough to the local version (there called 'town ball") to make baseball easy to learn.  I think that this is spot on, and a large part of the explanation for the success of baseball and the failure of cricket.  Traditional histories treat baseball as moving into a vacuum, but this is incorrect.  There was an established tradition of local versions of baseball, which facilitated the spread of the standardized form.

Note also the difficulty the writer has with explaining foul territory and foul balls.  Tagging rather than plugging is the sexy change with the NY game and tends to capture all the attention.  It was actually pretty easy to assimilate, apart from confusion about force and non-force plays.  Foul territory was a dark mystery to early players learning the NY game, requiring many explanations.

Finally, there is the all-important role the ladies are to play:  as "admiring spectators."  That one is for you, Deb!

Richard Hershberger

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