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BC2000 to 1000ADc.1 The Ball in Ancient Play
Ancient cultures—Lydians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians—play primitive ball games for recreation, as fertility rites and in religious rituals.
Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], pp. 8-21.
Did any of these games feature base-running? Batting? Has the last 65 years of scholarship added detail to this sweeping claim?
BC2000c.1 "Egypt May Be the Birthplace" of Ballplaying
"Recent excavations near Cairo, Egypt, have brought to light small balls of leather and others of wood obviously used in some outdoor sport, and probably dating back to at least 2000 years before Christ. These may be the oldest balls in existence. Hence Egypt maybe the birthplace of the original ball game whatever it was. We know, however that the Greeks and Romans played ball at a remote period. We do not know the exact nature of any of these ancient games, Egyptian, Greek, or Roman."
William S. Walsh, A Handy Book of Curious Information (J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1913), page 83. Available via Google Books search "to light small balls," 1/27/2010.
Does recent scholarship agree that these were balls, were used in sport, and date to 2000 BC? Is there further evidence about their role in Egyptian life?
BC2000c.3 Egyptian Tomb Has Earliest Depiction of Catching (Fielding) a Ball?
The main chamber of Tomb 15 at Beni Hasan has a depiction of catching a ball, as well as throwing. Two women, each riding on the back of another woman, appear to be doing some form of ball-handling. The image of one woman pretty clearly depicts her in the act of catching ("fielding”) a ball, and the other is quite plausibly about to throw a ball toward her.
Henderson, Robert W.,Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], page 19; the image itself is reproduced opposite page 28.
BC750.1 Ballplay in Ancient Greece
The Greeks, famous for their athletics, played several ball games. In fact the Greek gymnasium ["palaistra"] was often known to include a special room ["sphairiteria"] for ballplaying . . . a "sphaira" being a ball. Pollux [ca 180 AD] lists a number of children's ball games, including games that loosely resemble very physical forms of keepaway and rugby, and the playing of a complicated form of catch, one that involved feints to deceive other players.
The great physician Galen wrote [ca. 180 AD] especially fondly of ballplaying and its merits, and seems to have seen it as an adult activity. He advised that "the most strenuous form of ball playing is in no way inferior to other exercises." Turning to milder forms of ball play, he said "I believe that in this form ball playing is also superior to all the other exercises." His partiality to ballplaying stemmed in part from its benefit for the whole body, not just the legs or arms, as was the case for running and wrestling.
As far as we are aware, Greek ball games did not include any that involved running among bases or safe havens, or any that involved propelling a ball with a club or stick (or hands).
Stephen G. Miller, Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources [University of California Press, 2004]: See especially Chapter 9, "Ball Playing." The Pollox quote is from pp. 124-125, and the Galen quote is from pp. 121-124. Special thanks to Dr. Miller for his assistance.
Did any of the Greek games share attributes with modern baseball?
370c.1 Saint Augustine Recalls Punishment for Youthful Ball Games
In his Confessions, Augustine of Hippo - later St. Augustine - recalls his youth in Northern Africa, where his father served as a Roman official. "I was disobedient, not because I chose something better than [my parents and elders] chose for me, but simply from the love of games. For I liked to score a fine win at sport or to have my ears tickled by the make-believe of the stage." [Book One, chapter 10] In Book One, chapter 9, Augustine had explained that "we enjoyed playing games and were punished for them by men who played games themselves. However, grown up games are known as 'business. . . . Was the master who beat me himself very different from me? If he were worsted by a colleague in some petty argument, he would be convulsed in anger and envy, much more so than I was when a playmate beat me at a game of ball."
Saint Augustine's Confessions, Book One, text supplied by Dick McBane, February 2008.
Can historians identify the "game of ball" that Augustine might have played in the fourth Century? Are the translations to "game of ball," "games," and "sport" still deemed accurate?
640s.1 Medieval Writer: Saint Cuthbert [born 634c] "Pleyde atte balle"
Mulling on whether the ball came to England in Anglo-Saxon days, Joseph Strutt reports "the author of a manuscript in Trinity College, Oxford, written in the fourteenth century and containing the life of Saint Cuthbert, says of him, that when young, 'he pleyde atte balle with the children that his felawes [fellows] were.' On what authority this information is established I cannot tell."
Joseph Strutt, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (Chatto and Windus, London, 1898 edition), p. 158.
The claim of this unidentified manuscript seems weak. As Strutt notes, the venerable Bede wrote poetic and prose accounts of the life of Cuthbert around 715-720 A.D., and made no mention of ballplaying. That a scholar would find fresh evidence seven centuries later would be surprising. Warton later cites the poem as from Oxford MSS number Ivii, and he also places its unidentified author in the fourteenth century, but he doesn't support the veracity of the story line. The poem describes an angel sent from heaven to dissuade Cuthbert from playing such an "ydell" [idle] pastime. Warton, Thomas, The History of English Poetry from the Close of the Eleventh Century to the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century (Thomas Tegg, London, 1840, from the 1824 edition), volume 1, page 14.
1310.1 Documents Said to Describe Baseball-like Romanian Game of Oina
According to an otherwise unidentified clip in the Origins file at the Giamatti Center, an AP article datelined Bucharest Romania [and which appeared in the Oneonta Times on March 29, 1990], the still popular Romanian game of oina can be traced back to a [unspecified] document dating to the year 1310. The game itself "was invented by shepherds in the first century."
The article is evidently based on an interview with Cristian Costescu, who sees baseball as "the American pastime derived from the ancient game of oina." Oina reportedly has eleven players per side, an all-out-side-out rule, tossed pitches, nine bases describing a total basepath of 120 yards, plugging of baserunners, the opportunity for the fielding side to score points, and a bat described as similar to a cricket bat. Costescu is reported to have served as head of the Romanian Oina Federation in the years when baseball was banned in Romania as "a capitalist sport."
The Oneonta Times headline is "Play Oina! Romanians Say Their Game Inspired Creation of Baseball." Note: Can we find additional documentation of oina's rules and history? Is the 1310 documentation available in English translation? Have others followed the recent fate of oina and the work of Costescu?
1609.1 Polish Origins of Baseball Perceived in Jamestown VA Settlement
"Soon after the new year , [we] initiated a ball game played with a bat . . . . Most often we played this game on Sundays. We rolled up rags to make balls . . . Our game attracted the savages who sat around the field, delighted with this Polish sport."
A 1975 letter from Matthew Baranski letter to the HOF said:
"For your information and records, I am pleased to inform you that after much research I have discovered that baseball was introduced to America by the Poles who arrived in Jamestown in 1609. . . . Records of the University of Krakow, the oldest school of higher learning in Poland show that baseball or batball was played by the students in the 14th century and was part of the official physical culture program."
The 1609 source is Zbigniew Stefanski, Memorial Commercatoris [A Merchant's Memoirs], (Amsterdam, 1625), as cited in David Block's Baseball Before We Knew It, page 101. Stefanski was a skilled Polish workingman who wrote a memoir of his time in the Jamestown colony: an entry for 1609 related the Polish game of pilka palantowa(bat ball). Another account by a scholar reported adds that "the playfield consisted of eight bases not four, as in our present day game of baseball." If true, this would imply that the game involved running as well as batting.
1975 Letter: from Matthew Baranski to the Baseball Hall ofFame, March 23, 1975. [Found in the Origins file at the Giamatti Center.] Matthew Baranski himself cites First Poles in America1608-1958, published by the Polish Falcons of America, Pittsburgh, but unavailable online as of 7/28/09. We have not confirmed that sighting.
See also David Block, "Polish Workers Play Ball at Jamestown Virginia: An Early Hint of Continental Europe's Influence on Baseball," Base Ball (Origins Issue), Volume 5, number 1 (Spring 2011), pp.5-9.
Per Maigaard's 1941 survey of "battingball games" includes a Polish variant of long ball, but does not mention pilka palantowa by name. However, pilka palantowa may merely be a longer/older term for palant, the Polish form of long ball still played today.
The likelihood that pilka palantowa left any legacy in America is fairly low, since the Polish glassblowers returned home after a year and there is no subsequent mention of any similar game in colonial Virginia
1632.1 In Germany, Ballplaying Associated With Scabies, Other Diseases
"The [preceding] reference to Fuchsius should be to Institutiones 2.3.4: . . . 'Whereby the habit of our German schoolboys is most worthy of reprehension, who never take exercise except immediately after food, either jumping or running or playing ball or quoits or taking part in other exercises of a like nature; so that it is no surprise, seeing they thus accumulate a great mass of crude humours, that they suffer from perpetual scabies, and other diseases caused by vicious humours':p. 337)"
Burton, Robert E., The Anatomy of Melancholy, vol. 4 [Clarenden Press, Oxford, 1989], page 285. [Note: We need to confirm date of the Fuschius quote; we're not sure why it is assigned to 1632.]. Submitted by John Thorn, 10/12/2004.
1727.1 First Documented Cricket Playing Rules Agreed to, for One-time Use
Two sides forged "Articles of Agreement" that specify 12 players to a side, a 23-yard pitch, two umpires to be named by each side, and "mentions catches but not other forms of dismissal." Per John Ford, Cricket: A Social History 1700-1835 [David and Charles, 1972], page 16. Note: Ford does not provide a citation for this account.
1755.6 NYS Traveler Notes Dutch Boys Playing "Bat and Ball"
Gideon Hawley (1727-1807), traveling through the area where Binghamton now is, wrote: "even at the celebration of the Lord's supper [the Dutch boys] have been playing bat and ball the whole term around the house of God."
Hawley, Gideon, Rev. Gideon Hawley's Journal [Broome County, NY 1753], page 1041. Collection of Tom Heitz. Per Patricia Millen, From Pastime to Passion , page 2.
Writing in 2011, Brian Turner discerns that "bat and ball" maybe the name of a defined game, and not just a generic term. See Brian Turner, "Bat and Ball: A Distinct Game or a Generic Term?", Base Ball Journal (Special Issue on Origins), Volume 5, number 1 (Spring 2011), pages 37-40. He finds several uses of the phrase in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, most of them north and east of Boston.
1760.2 Bat and Ball . . . in Paris?
A description of Parisian sights: "The grand Walk forms a most beautiful Visto, which terminates in a Wood called Elysian Fields, or more commonly known by the name "La Cours de la Rein (Queen's Course). This is the usual place where the Citizens celebrate their Festivals with the Bat and Ball, a Diversion which is much used here." Provided by David Block, 2/27/2008. Note: Is this the same location as what we now know as the Champs Elysee? Can we learn what bat/ball games were so popular the mid 1700s - Soule? Some form of street tennis? A form of field hockey? Not croquet, presumably.
1790s.6 Cricket as Played in Hamburg Resembled the U.S. Game of Wicket?
"[D]escriptions of the game [cricket] from Hamburg in the 1790s show significant variations often quite similar to outdated provisions of American "Wicket," which may well not be due to error on the part of the author, but rather to acute observation. For example, the ball was bowled alternatively from each end (i.e. not in 'overs'). Moreover, the ball has to be 'rolled' and not 'thrown' (i.e., bowled in the true sense, not the pitched ball). And the striker is out if stops the ball from hitting the wicket with his foot or his body generally. There is no more reason to believe that there was uniformity in the Laws covering cricket in England, the British Isles, or in Europe than there was in weights and measures." Rowland Bowen, Cricket: A History of its Grown and Development Throughout the World (Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1970), page 72. Note: Bowen does not give a source for this observation.
1845.10 German Book of Games Lists das Giftball, a Bat-and-Ball Game
Included among the games is das Giftball (the venomball, roughly). Block observes that this game "is identical to the early French game of la balle empoisonee (poison ball, roughly) and that an illustration of two boys playing it "shows it to be a bat-and-ball game." For the French game, see the 1810c.1 entry above.
Jugendspiele zur Ehhjolung und Erheiterung (boys' games for recreation and amusement) [Tilsit, Germany, W. Simmerfeld, 1845], per David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, page 207.
Does Block link the two descriptions, or does the German text cite the French game
1846.14 English Crew Teaches Rounders to Baltic Islanders
"In 1846 a three-master . . . from London stranded on the island. . . . The captain spent the winter with the local minister, and the sailors with the peasants. According to information given by a man named Matts Bisa, the visitors taught the men of Runö a new batting game. As the cry "runders" shows, his game was the English rounders, a predecessor of baseball. It was made part of the old cult game."
This game was conserved on the island, at least until 1949.
Erwin Mehl, "A Batting Game on the Island of Runö," Western Folklore vol 8, number 3, (1949?), page 268.
Ruhnu Island (formerly cited as "Runo") is a small island off the northern coast of Estonia. Its current population about 100 souls. It was formerly occupied by Swedes.
1850c.8 Poisoned-Ball Text Recycled in France
The material on "la balle empoisonee" (poisoned ball) is repeated from Les jeux des jeunes garcons. See item #1810s.1 above.
Jeux et exercises des Jeunes garcons (Games and Exercises of Young Boys) (Paris, A. Courcier, c. 1850), per David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, page 213.
This game has similarity to base ball; could a French-speaking digger take a few moments to sort out whether more is known about the rules, origins, and fate of the game?