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Base Ball Comes to Massachusetts Youth
|Tags||Equipment, Holidays, Pre-modern RulesEquipment, Holidays, Pre-modern Rules|
|City/State/Country:||Duxbury?, MA, United States|
|Immediacy of Report||Retrospective|
|Age of Players||YouthYouth|
"I well remember when baseball made its first appearance in our quiet little community."
 Charles Sinnott writes that in early childhood "the little boys' ball game was either "Three-old-cats" or "Four-Old Cats," and describes both variations.
 He recalls that "The game that bore the closest resemblance to our modern baseball was "roundstakes" or "rounders." In some communities it was know (sic) as "townball." He recalls this game as marked by the plugging of runners, use a soft ball, featuring stakes or stones as bases, compulsory running -- including for missed third strikes, an absence of foul territory, an absence of called strikes or balls, and teams of seven to ten players on a team. "It was originally an old English game much played in the colonies."
 In describing the new game of base ball, he recalls adjustment to the harder ball ("it seemed to us like playing with a croquet ball"), gloves only worn by the catchers, an umpire who was hit in the eye by a foul tip, fingers "knocked out of joint" by the hard ball, a bloody nose from a missed fly ball, and "that we unanimously pronounced [base ball] superior to our fine old game of roundstakes."
SEE FULL CHAPTER TEXT AT "SUPPLEMENTAL TEXT," BELOW --
Chapter 13, "The Coming of Baseball," in When Grandpa Was a Boy: Stories of My Boyhood As Told to My Children and Grandchildren, by Charles Peter Sinnott (four types pages; presumed unpublished; from the Maxwell Library Archives, Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater MA).
Protoball does not know of other use of "roundstakes" as a predecessor game in the US.
Duxbury MA (1870 population about 2300) is about 35 miles south of Boston.
Sinnott died in 1943. On the date of his hundredth birthday, in August 1959, his family distributed 100 copies of his boyhood memoirs.Edit with form to add a comment
 Is the date "1870c" reasonable for the item? Sinnott was born in 1859, and writes that he was in his teens when he first saw base ball. His old-cat games would have come in the mid-1860s.
 It is presumed that Sinnott stayed in or near his birthplace, Duxbury MA, for the events he writes of. Is that reasonable?
Edit with form to add a query
|Submitted by||Tom Shieber|
|Submission Note||Email of 2/23/2018|
|Has Supplemental Text||Yes|
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Charles P. Sinnott, When Grandpa Was a Boy: Stories of My Boyhood as Told to My Children and Grandchildren; Chapter 13, pp.73 - 76, "The Coming of Baseball."
I well remember when baseball made its first appearance in our quiet little community. It was long before there was any National League or any American Association. I was a boy well into me teens before I ever saw the game.
All through my early childhood the little boys' ball game was either "Three-old-cats" or "Four-old-cats." In three-old-cats there were at least three players, a pitcher, catcher and batter. No fielders were necessary though several might play if desired. A batter might strike out or fly out. There was no running of bases, for there were none to run.
In four-old-cats there were two batters and two catchers. The two batters stood thirty or forty feet apart facing each other. Each batter had a catcher behind him. First one catcher and then the other served as pitcher to the opposite pair. If one batter hit the ball both had to change places and might be put out if hit by the thrown ball while making he change. Batters might also strike out or fly out. Several fielders might play if desired. The only base running was the change of positions by the batters. When a striker was put out his place was taken by his catcher or by one of the fielders. This did not much look like baseball but we did have to pitch, catch, bat, and field. These two games were popular on the school grounds.
The game that bore the closest resemblance to our modern baseball was "roundstakes" or "rounders." In some communities it was know (sic) as "townball." This game of roundstakes was often played on village commons, or muster fields, on holidays or other public occasions. Among the larger boys it was the popular game at school.
It was this game that was so modified as to become later the baseball of today. It was originally an old English game much played in the colonies. A soft ball was always used. It was made of yarns or other soft materials and covered with leather or a network to prevent unwinding. Instead of throwing this ball to a baseman it was thrown at the baserunner himself. If a hit was made by a thrower, the runner was out. The bases were usually posts or stakes, but sometimes stones. These had to be circled or touched by the runner. There were no fair or foul balls. The batter ran on any hit, however light, or on his third strike. There were no called balls or called strikes. The batter could strike out, fly out or be hit be a thrown ball when between bases. The game was played between teams or sides of equal numbers, usually from seven to ten. The play was generally without an umpire.
When the new game of baseball made its appearance in our neighborhood, the boys at once organized a club. Boys who could play a good game of roundstakes usually made good baseball players. It was not easy, however, to learn the use of such a hard ball as the new game required. It seemed to us like playing with a croquet ball and we had our share of accidents before we became accustomed to it. Only the catcher wore a glove and this was not the padded affair of the present time. He wore no mask or pad and at the vert beginning even the glove was wanting. This general absence of gloves for the players made our accidents more numerous than they should have been.
A kindly old gentleman, who was fond of sports but too old to play, offered to be our "Empire." We accepted his rule, for he knew the game much better than any of us. It took us some time to accept graciously his call of strikes when we had not struck at all but that was simply one of the wrinkles of the new game that we had to learn. We often questioned the closeness of his decisions but we had to learn that his judgment was final.
I recall one afternoon when it seemed to us he had been more autocratic than usual behind the bat, that a foul tip escaped the catcher and took our old friend in the eye, for he too was without a protecting mask. He fell instantly. It was the quickest fall of an "empire" I has ever known. But if the fall were sudden the comeback seemed equally quick. He sprang to his feet again and at once resumed his place as close to the batter as ever and this time, more truly than before, with an eye single to the work in hand for his injured eye was seen tightly closed as a result of the accident. This grit we all admired and old scores were soon forgotten and new decisions were more kindly received.
For days the "empire" moved among us with one eye in deep mourning in spite of the great piece of raw beef we had bound upon it at the time of the accident. He seemed undisturbed by his personal appearance for he regarded the crippled eye as a battle scar and carried it as a proud distinction.
Most of the players also suffered to some extent in learning to handle this "dead ball" as it was then called, although it seemed very much alive to us. I had two fingers knocked out of joint and on one occasion I lost a thumb nail while trying to handle a swift grounder.
Mills Ferris, one of our school boys, made application for membership in he club. Mills had an unusually large nose which was always getting in the way. He rarely ever engaged in any simple sport such as wrestling, tag or blind-man's-bluff without in some way, getting his nose mixed up in the game and he would almost invariably come out of the sport with tears in his eyes as a result of an injured nose.
In his first game of baseball he undertook to catch a high fly and got it in the nose instead of his hands. Nevertheless he appeared the very next day with only smiles on his face which the day before had been deluged with blood and tears. Mills remained one of our best players, but always with frequent nasal entanglements.
Through many painful experiences like these our club finally became reasonably proficient in this new game, that we unanimously pronounced superior to our fine old game of roundstakes. I do not recall that our team played unusually brilliant games but in our contests with clubs of our immediate vicinity we managed to win a fair share of games. We loved victory and endured defeat, but in victory or defeat the new game remained popular