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Letter to "Spirit" Describes Roundball in New England

Salience Noteworthy
Tags Equipment, Holidays, Pre-modern Rules
Location New England
Game Round Ball, Massachusetts Game
Immediacy of Report Contemporary
Age of Players Juvenile, Youth, Adult
Holiday Fast Day


"I have thought, perhaps, a statement of my experience as to the Yankee method of playing 'Base,' or 'Round' ball, as we used to call it, may not prove uninteresting."

"There were six to eight players upon each side, the latter number being the full complement. The two best players upon each side -- first and second mates, as they were called by common consent -- were catcher and thrower. These retained their positions in the game, unless they chose to call some other player, upon their own side, to change places with them. A field diagram follows."  [It shows either 6 or 10 defensive positions, depending on whether each base was itself a defensive station.]

"The ball was thrown, not pitched or tossed, as the gentleman who has seen "Base" played in New York tells me it is; it was thrown, an with vigor too . . . . "

"Base used to be a favorite game with the students of the English High and Latin Schools pf Boston , a few years ago . . . Boston Common affords ample facilities for enjoying the sport, and Wednesday and Saturday afternoons in the spring and fall, players from different classes in these schools, young men from fifteen to nineteen years of age used to enjoy it. 

"Base is also a favorite game upon the green in front of village school-houses in the country throughout New England; and in this city [Boston] , on Fast Day, which is generally appointed in early April, Boston Common is covered with amateur parties of men and boys playing Base.  The most attractive of these parties are generally composed of truckmen. . . the skill they display, generally attracts numerous spectators." 

Other comments on 1850s Base/Roundball in New England.are found in Supplemental Text, below. 


"Base Ball, How They Play the Game in New England: by An Old Correspondent" Porter's Spirit of the Times, Dec. 27, 1856, p.276.  This article prints a letter written in Boston on December 20, 1856.  It is signed by Bob Lively.

Comment Edit with form to add a comment

The 1858 Dedham rules (two years after this letter) for the Massachusetts Game specified at least ten players on a team. The writer does not call the game the "MA game," and does not mention the use of stakes as bases, or the one-out-all-out rule.

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Submitted by John Thorn
Has Supplemental Text Yes


<comments voting="Plus" />

Supplemental Text

Other points in the letter:

On The Ball and Bat

"The ball we used was, I should think, of the size and weight described by the Putnam rules, made of yarn, tightly wound round a lump of cork or India rubber, and covered with smooth calf-skin in quarters (as we quarter an orange), the seams closed snugly, and not raised, lest they should blister the hands of the thrower and catcher: the bat round, varying from 3 to 3.5 feet in length; a portion of a stout rake or pitchfork handle was much in demand, and wielded generally in one hand by the muscular young players at the country schools, who rivaled each other in the hearty cracks they gave the ball.

On "Plugging"

"If the striker hits or touches the ball in any way with his bat, after it is thrown or delivered by the thrower, for that purpose, he instantly makes for the first base, and if he can reach it without being hit by the ball from the hand of an adversary, he is safe, and not "out" . . . .  [An adversary] must "plug" the batsman before he reaches his first base, if he fails to catch the ball after it has ticked or touched his adversary's bat."

On the Catcher

Different catchers choose different distances behind the striker.  I have seen some stand as close as possible and avoid the swing of the bat; but others stand four paces from him.  Three paces is, however, about the beset distance.

On the Absence of "Pitching"

The "pitching" or tossing"of a ball towards the batsman is never practiced (in New England), except by the most juvenile players.

On Foul Territory

"I notice in the Rules of the Putnam Club the following: -- 'A ball knocked outside and beyond the range of the first or third bases,shall be considered foul, and shall not count the striker an ace.'  Now this seems hardly fair . . . In my experience in playing, it was always understood that the striker had the right to knock the ball with his bat in any direction he chose."