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1829.2 Round Ball Played in MA
From a letter to the Mills Commission: "Mr. Lawrence considers Round Ball and Four Old Cat one and the same game; the Old Cat game merely being the they could do when there were not more than a dozen players, all told. . . . Mr. Lawrence says, as a boy, he played Round Ball in 1829.
"So far as Mr. Lawrence's argument goes for Round Ball being the father of Base Ball it is all well enough, but there are two things that cannot be accounted for; the conception of the foul ball, and the abolishment of the rules that a player could be put out by being hit by a thrown ball. No one remembers the case of a player being injured by being hit by a thrown ball, so that cannot be the reason for that change. The foul rule made the greatest skill of the Massachusetts game count for nothing - the batting skill - the back handed and slide batting. Mr. Stoddard told me that there were 9 of the 14 Upton batters who never batted ahead."
Henry Sargent Letter to the Mills Commission, June 25, 1905.
1840s.31 Lem: Juvenile Fiction's Boy Who Loved Round-ball
Lem may be fiction's only round-ball hero.
On pages 93-97, the novel lays out the game that was played by Lem [born 1830] and his playmates, which seems to follow the customs of the Massachusetts game, but without stakes as bases. The passage includes a field diagram, some terminology ["the bases . . . were four in number, and were called 'gools,' a word which probably came from 'goals.'"], and ballmaking technique. Lem is, alas, sidelined for the season when he is plugged "in the hollow of the leg" while gool-running [Page 97] Other references:
On spring, pp 92-93: "Ball-playing began early in the spring; [p92/93] it was the first of the summer games to come out.
On Fast Day, p. 93: "I am afraid that Lem's only notion of Fast Day was that that was the long-expected day when, for the first time that year, a game of ball was played on the Common."
On the pleasant effects of a change in the path of the Gulf Stream, pp. 228-229: "no slushy streets, and above all, no cold barns to go into to feed turnips to the cold cows! A land where top-time, kite-[p228/229] time, and round-ball-time would always be in season. Think of it!"
On making teams for simulating Revolutionary War tussles, p. 107: "We can't all be Americans; and we have agreed to choose sides, as we do in round ball."
Noah Brookes, Lem: A New England Village Boy: His Adventures and his Mishaps (Scribner's Sons, New York, 1901). Accessed 11/15/2008 via Google Books search "Lem boy."
See Supplemental Text, below, for Bill Lyons' description of the author and the work.
As of Jan 2013, this is one of three uses of "gool" instead of "goal" in ballplaying entries, all in the 1850s and found in western MA and ME. [To confirm/update, do an Enhanced Search for "gool".] One of these, at 1850s.33 uses "gool" as the name of the game. See also Supplemental Text, below.
We welcome comment on the authenticity of Brooks' depiction of ballplaying in the 1840s, and whether how the game depicted compares to the MA game.
1840s.45 Amherst Alum Cites Round Ball, Wicket, Cricket on Campus in the Past
"Various athletic sports have always, to a greater or less degree, prevailed among the students. Prominent among these is, of course, the game of ball in its various forms of Base Ball, Cricket, and Wicket. . . 'Wicket' and 'Round Ball' were quite common once, though of late years [c1870], 'Base Ball' has entirely super[s]eded them."
George Cutting, Student Life at Amherst College, Its Organizations, their Membership, and History (Amherst, Massachusetts, 1871), page 112.
Dating this entry in the 1840s is highly arbitrary. It is included only because it suggests that round ball and wicket were locally seen as common past activities at this fine college as of 1871.
Cutting is listed as a member of the Class of 1871, and thus probably had little direct knowledge of early campus sports. His impressions to round ball and perhaps wicket may have been relayed informally from older persons on campus.
Can we assess the accuracy of his summary? Is wicket known to be played in the vicinity or in other colleges?
Cutting p. 113 says the "wicket ground was in the rear of the chapel" thus confirming that wicket was played on the campus. [ba]
1844.1 "Round Ball" Played in Bangor ME: Cony's Side 50, Hunt's Side 49
"The playing of round ball, as the game was formerly called, but since changed to 'base ball,' was, in 1844, much in vogue, and was an exhilarating and agreeable amusement . . . ."
"Baseball in '44," Wheeling (WV) Register, September 20, 1885, reprinted from the Bangor Whig, presumably from 1844.
The article continues to detail a match of round ball played on Wadleigh field, near Bangor ME, between neighborhood teams representing Samuel Cony (later Governor) and Samuel Hunt. There are few on-field details: the match was to play played to "fifty scores," the sides tossed "for inning," and when suppertime intruded on the hungry players with the score Hunt 45, Cony 40, "the expedient was adopted of finishing the game by pitching coppers," so Cony and Hunt went inside and got their last "scores" that way. Cony flipped more heads than Hunt, and c'est la guerre. Thanks to John Thorn for locating the text of the article -- email to Protoball of 2/10/2008.
1844.18 Springtime Ballplaying on the Common -- by Girls
"Girls of fourteen -- daughters of plebeians -- play round ball on the Common. It is a free exercise."
Boston Post, April 24, 1844, page 2, column 2.
By "plebeian," the writer presumably meant "not upper-class."
Did "It is a free exercise" mean roughly what it means today?
1847.14 Holiday Encroached by Round Ball, Long Ball, Old Cat
"FAST. This time-hallowed, if not time-honored occasion, was observed in the usual way. The ministers preached to pews exhibiting a beggarly emptiness, upon the sins of the nation -- a frightful subject enough, heaven knows. The b-hoys smoked cigars, kicked football, payed [sic] round ball, long ball, an [sic] old cat, and went generally into the outward observances peculiar to the occasion."
[A] Nashua Telegraph, as reported in New Hampshire Statesman, and State Journal (Concord, New Hampshire), April 30, 1847, column B.
[B] Nashua Telegraph, as reported (without the typos) in the Boston Courier, April 14, 1847
 Stephen Katz observes: "The "fast" referred to was probably Thanksgiving, celebrated on April 13, 1847."
 "Long Ball" also cited, is generally known as a baserunning bat-and-ball game in Europe. However, Stephen Katz (email of 2/5/2021) notes that, according to an article in the Connecticut Courant, April 23, 1853, it was locally the name of something like a fungo game: "Reader, did you ever see a bevy of boys playing what they call long ball? One stands and knocks and the others try to catch the ball, and the fortunate one gets to take the place of the knocker."
 "B-hoys?" Stephen Katz checked Wikipedia for us, and learned that "B'Hoy" was a slang word used to describe the young men "of the rough-and-tumble working class working class culture of Lower Manhattan in the later 1840's." He also pointed to various newspaper sources showing that its meaning evolved to refer generally to ruffians, or unwholesome or unsavory lads or young men.
Were Fast Day and Thanksgiving distinct holidays in 1847?
1847.18 Holiday Round Ball in NH
"Fast. This time-hallowed, if not time-honored occasion, was observed in the usual way. The ministers preached to pews exhibiting a beggarly emptiness, upon the sins of the nation -- a frightful subject enough, heaven knows. The b-hoys smoked cigars, kicked football, played round ball, long ball, and old cat, and went generally into the outward observances peculiar to the occasion. [Nashua (NH) Telegraph]."
Nashua Telegraph, as reported in the Boston Currier, April 14, 1847
Stephen Katz observes: "The "fast" referred to was probably Thanksgiving, celebrated on April 13, 1847."
"Long ball": See 1853.20.
"B-hoys": See 1847.14.
Can we determine the ages of the players?
1850c.46 Worcester Man Recalls Round Ball in the 1850s
"I will now call your attention to some of the games and amusements indulged in by Worcester boys of fifty or sixty years ago . . . .
"There were various games of ball played in my day. I remember barn-ball, two and three old cat, and round ball. This last was very much like baseball of to-day . . . .
"There were bases of goals, and instead of catching out, the ball was thrown at the player when running bases and if hit he knew it at once and was out. The balls were hard and thrown with force and intent to hit the runner, but an artful dodger could generally avoid being hit.
"On Fast Day there was always a game of ball on he north side of the Common, played by men and older boys, and this attracted large crowd of interested lookers on."
Nathaniel Paine, School Day Reminiscences, Proceedings of the Worcester Society of Antiquity, Volume XIX (1903), pages 46 and 49.
1850s.49 Round Ball Played North of Portland, Maine with "Cat Stick" and "Gools"
"Fast Day was a holiday. Usually that day Loring Hill had become bare of snow and, if so, here was a game of round ball on it.
"The Village Square, where now stands the round iron water tank was often a lively scene. Baseball and "Nines" did not then exist. But round ball was played, sides being chosen by two players putting alternate hands on the bat (or as we called it the cat stick), the one first reaching the top having the first choice. The ball was not hard but soft and a player was put out either by being caught out as now, or by being struck by the ball thrown at him when running for a base, or as we said then a gool, meaning goal. It was a soft ball, compared with now, but it sometimes stung pretty smartly.
Alfred Cole and Charles F. Whitman, Buckfield, Oxford County, Maine (Journal Printshop, Lewiston, 1915)., page 894.
Buckland is about 45 miles north of Portland.
The ages of players is not clear.
As of Jan 2013, this is one of three uses of "gool" instead of "goal" in ballplaying entries, all in the 1850s and found in western MA and ME. [To confirm/update, do an enhanced search for "gool".] One of these 1850s.33 uses "gool" as the name of the game.
1850s.55 Round Ball, Played Near Boston, As Recalled in 1870s Celebrations
[A] "I was very much pleased to witness that old-fashioned game of ball played on the Fair grounds at Milford last week Tuesday afternoon. . . . It was certainly a lively game, interspersed with wit, humor, and a general good feeling."
Full text, including a 36-line poem, is in Supplementary Text, below.
[B] 1878 – "Round Ball Game. This game came off as advertised on the Town Park last Thursday afternoon. Below is the score for the respective sides:" [Box score shows Milford 25, Independents 12.]
[A] J. H. Cunnabel, Milford (MA) Journal, September 22, 1875.
[B] Milford Journal ,August 14, 1878
We have dated this entry as reflecting 1850s play of round ball. This dating is highly uncertain. One of the named participants (John Puffer), is identified by Joanne Hulbert as a participant in Holliston MA ballplaying in the 1850s.
1853c.1 "Rounders" Said to be Played at Phillips Andover School
[A] "The game of "rounders," as it was played in the days before the Civil War, had only a faint resemblance to our modern baseball. For a description of a typical contest, which took place in 1853, we are indebted to Dr. William A. Mowry:"
[Nine students had posted a challenge to play "a game of ball," and that challenge was accepted by eleven other students.] "The game was a long one. No account was made of 'innings;' the record was merely of runs. When one had knocked the ball, had run the bases, and had reached the 'home goal,' that counted one 'tally.' The game was for fifty tallies. The custom was to have no umpire, and the pitcher stood midway between the second and third bases, but nearer the center of the square. The batter stood midway between the first and fourth base, and the catcher just behind the batter, as near or as far as he pleased.
'Well, we beat the eleven [50-37].' [Mowry then tells of his success in letting the ball hit the bat and glance away over the wall "behind the catchers," which allowed him to put his side ahead in a later rubber game after the two sides had each won a game.]
[B] "We had baseball and football on Andover Hill forty years ago, but not after the present style. Baseball was called round ball, and the batter that was most adept at fouls, made the most tallies. The Theologues were not too dignified in those days to play matches with the academy. There was some sport in those match games."
[A] Claude M. Fuess, An Old New England School: A History of Phillips Academy, Andover [Houghton Mifflin, 1917], pp. 449-450.
Researched by George Thompson, based on partial information from reading notes by Harold Seymour. Accessed 2/11/10 via Google Books search ("history of phillips").
A note-card in the Harold Seymour archive at Cornell describes the Mowry recollection.
[B] William Hardy, Class of 1853, as cited in Fred H. Harrison, Chapter 2, The Hard-Ball Game, Athletics for All: Physical Education and Athletics at Phillips Academy, Andover, 1778-1978 (Phillips Academy, 1983), accessed 2/21/2013 at http://www.pa59ers.com/library/Harrison/Athletics02.html. Publication information for the Hardy quote is not seen on this source.
It appears that Fuess, the 1917 author, viewed this game as rounders, but neither the Mowry description nor the Hardy reference uses that name. It is possible that Fuess was an after-the-fact devotee of he rounders theory of base ball. The game as described is indistinguishable from round ball as played in New England, and lacks features [small bat, configuration of bases] used in English rounders during this period. The placement of the batter, the use of "tallies" for runs, and the 50-inning game length suggests that the game played may have been a version of what was to be encoded as the Massachusetts Game in 1858.
Wikipedia has an entry for prolific historian William A Mowry (1829-1917). A Rhode Islander, his schooling is not specified, but he entered Brown University in 1854, and thus may have been a Phillips Andover senior in 1853.
Hardy's 1853 reference to the "Theologues" is, seemingly, a local theological seminary -- presumably the nearby Andover Theological Seminary -- whose teams played many times from the 1850s to the 1870s against Phillips Andover. Hardy's note may thus mark the first known interscholastic match of a safe haven ballgame in the United States.
A prestigious preparatory school, Phillips Academy is in Andover MA and about 20 miles N of Boston.
Can we identify the seminary with the rival club, and determine whether it has any record of early ballplaying?
1854.2 First New England Team, the Olympics, Forms to Play Round Ball
"The first regularly organized team in New England was the Boston Olympics of 1854. The Elm Trees followed in 1855 and the Green Mountains two years later."
Seymour, Harold, Baseball: the Early Years [Oxford University Press, 1989], p. 27. [No ref given.]
It seems plausible, given similarity of phrasing, that this finding comes from George Wright's November 1904 review of baseball history. See#1854.3 below.
There is also similar treatment in Lovett, Old Boston Boys, (Riverside Press, 1907), page 129.
Is there any detailed indication, or educated guess, as to what rules the Olympics uses in 1854?
1854.3 Organized Round Ball in New England Morphs Toward the "MA Game"
"'Base Ball in New England.' The game of ball for years a favorite sport with the youth of the country, and long before the present style of playing was in vogue, round ball was indulged in to a great extent all over the land. The first regularly organized Ball Club in this section was doubtless the Olympic Club, of Boston, which was formed in 1854, and for a year or more this club had the field entirely to themselves.
"In 1855 the Elm Trees organized, existing but a short time, however. In 1856 a new club arose, the 'Green Mountains,' and some exciting games were played between this Club and the Olympics. Up to this point the game as played by these clubs was known as the Massachusetts game; but it was governed by no regular code or rules and regulations . . . ."
Wright, George, Account of November 15, 1904, for the Mills Commission: catalogued by the Mills Commission as Exhibit 36-19; accessed at the Giamatti Center in Cooperstown.
Note: We have other no evidence that the term "Massachusetts Game" was actually in use as early as 1854. The earliest it is found is 1858.
There is a newspaper account of the Olympic Club from 1853, when it played the "Aurora Ball Club." See item 1853.17 As of 10/2014, this is the only known reference to the Aurora Club.
1855.37 Barre Club Challenge to Six Nearby MA Towns -- $100 Grand Prize Planned
"August 11, 1855 -- Barre. The Gazette says the Barre boys will challenge their neighbors in he towns surrounding, to play a [at?] round ball.
"The Barre boys either have or are about to extend a challenge to one of the other of the adjoining towns for a grand game of round, of [or?] base ball, the victors to throw the glove to one of the other towns, and so on, till it is settled, which one of the seven shall be victor over the other six. A grand prize of one hundred dollars, more or less, to be raised, by general contributions and awarded to the party which shall be finally successful. The six surrounding and adjoining towns are Hardwick, Dana, Petersham, Hubbardstown, Oakham, and New Braintree. The seventh is Barre, which is in the centre, and equidistant from them all."
Barre MA (1855 pop. about 3000) is about 60 miles W of Boston. Hardwick, Hubbardstown, Oakham, New Braintree and Petersham are 8-10 miles from Barre. Poor Dana MA was disincorporated in 1938.
Do we know if this plan was carried out? How was the victor decided among participating towns?
1855c.46 "Old fashioned round ball" Played in Detroit
In an 1884 interview Henry Starkey, who helped form the first baseball club in Detroit in 1857, recalled "Previous to that time, we had played the old fashioned game of round ball. There were no balls or strikes to that. The batter waited till a ball came along that suited him, banged it and ran. If it was a fly and somebody caught it, he was out and couldn't play any more in the game. If the ball was not caught on the fly, the only way to put the batter out was to hit him with the ball as he ran."
Quoted in Morris, "Baseball Fever"
1856.17 Letter to "Spirit" Describes Roundball in New England
"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.
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.
1856.20 Exciting Round Ball Game Played on Boston Common, Ends With 100-to-98 Tally
[A] "EXCITING GAME OF BASE BALL. - The second trial game of Base Ball took place on the Boston Common, Wednesday morning, May 14th, between the Olympics and the Green Mountain Boys. The game was one hundred ins, and after three hours of exciting and hard playing, it was won by the Olympics, merely by two, the Green Mountain Boys counting 98 tallies. . . . The above match was witnessed by a very large assemblage, who seemed to take a great interest in it."
The article also prints a letter protesting the rules for a prior game between the same teams. The Olympics explained that were compelled to play a game in which their thrower stood 40 feet from the "knocker" while their opponent's thrower stood at 20 feet. In addition, the Green Mountain catcher [sic] moved around laterally, and a special six-strike rule was imposed that confounded the Olympics. It appears that this game followed an all-out-side-out rule. The reporter said the Olympics found these conditions "unfair, and not according to the proper rules of playing Round or Base Ball."
[B] the Daily Atlas briefly mentioned the game, noting "There was a large crowd of spectators, although the flowers and birds of springs, and a wheelbarrow race at the same time . . . tended to draw off attention." A week later, the Boston Post reported that the Green Mountain Boys took a later contest, "the Olympics making 84 rounds to the G.M. Boys 119."
[A] Albert S. Flye, "Exciting Game of Base Ball," New York Clipper Volume 4, number 5 (May 25, 1856), page 35. Facsimile provided by Craig Waff, September 2008.
[B] The Boston Daily Atlas, May 15, 1856.
Note: does this article imply that previously, base ball on the Common was relatively rare?
1857.43 Deliberate Bad Pitches Noted
In the game of round ball or Massachusetts ball between the Bay State and Olympic Clubs, the Bay States had "very low balls given them, while those they gave were swift and of the right height."
Spirit of the Times, May 30, 1857.
The tactic of trying to get batters to chase bad pitches probably is as old as competitive pitching, but is not previously documented.
1858.10 Four-day Attendance of 40,000 Souls Watch Famous Roundball Game in Worcester
"One of the most celebrated games of roundball was played on the Agricultural Grounds in Worcester, Mass., in 1858. It was between the Medways of Medway and the Union Excelsiors. It was for $1000 a side. It took four days to play the game. The attendance was more than 10,000 at each day a play [sic]. In the neighboring towns the factories gave their employees holidays to see the game."
"H. S.," [Henry Sargent?] of Grafton, MA, "Roundball," New York Sun, May 8, 1905, p.6. From an unidentified clipping found in the Giamatti Center. The clipping is noted as "60-27" and it may be from the Spalding Collection.
David Nevard raises vital questions about this account: "I have my doubts about this item - it just doesn't seem to fit. 1) The club names don't sound right. The famous club from Medway was the Unions, not the Medways, and I haven't seen any other mention of Union Excelsiors. 2) Lowry's evolution of the longest Mass Game does not mention this one. He shows the progression (in 1859) as 57 inns, 61 inns, 211 inns. It seems like a 4 day game in 1858 would have lasted longer than 57 innings. 3) It's a recollection 50 years after the fact. $1000, 10,000 people." [Email to Protoball, 2/27/07.]
The source also contains a lengthy description of "Massachusetts roundball", reprinted in Exposition in Class-Room Practice by Theodore C. Mitchell and George R. Carpenter, 1906, p. 239
Can we either verify or disprove the accuracy of this recollection?
1863.14 Sergeant from 15th MA Plays Round Ball with 34th NY
At Falmouth VA, excerpts from the diary of Sgt Earle of the 15th MA notes games of ball with the 34th NY on March 18 and again on April 16, 1863 in the regimental history.
The historian, Andrew Ford, writes 35 years later that “during March and April ball playing is frequently mentioned in the diary. The game played in those days was the old-fashioned round ball. Practice games inside the regiment occurred almost daily, and there were several great games with the New York Thirty-Fourth. Our boys were so successful that the captain of the New York team gave up the contest with the admission that if they ‘had been playing for nuts his men wouldn’t even have the shucks.’ The interest taken in these games in the army as a whole almost rivaled that taken in the races, sparring matches, and cock-fights of Meagher’s troops.” Ford does not elaborate on how he concludes that round ball was played, or that the army as a whole was taking to base ball.
Andrew E. Ford, The Story of the Fifteenth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry [1961-1864] (W. J. Coulter, Clinton [MA?], 1898), pages 242 and 244. Accessed 6/8/09 on Google Books via “’fifteenth Massachusetts’” search. The 15th MA drew significantly from Worcester County MA. The 34th NY regiment was known as the “Herkimer Regiment,” with roots in Herkimer County in Upstate New York; the town of Herkimer is about 15 miles east of Utica on the Mohawk River. The game in this area that preceded the NY game may have been round ball.