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Game Stickball
Game Family Baseball Baseball
Location Urban Areas
Regions US
Eras Contemporary, Derivative, Post-1900
Invented No

A game usually played in urban streets. The ball is rubber -- a “spaldeen,” now virtually the same that used in racketball, and bats vary but include broom handles. Allowances are made for traffic of various sorts, and the bases are specified at the start of play. (Verification needed.)

[A] One variation of the game is found in a recollection of Bronx play by Gregory Christiano (see Supplemental Text,  below).  Gregory played in The Bronx in the mid-1950s.


[B] Brooklyn variants:

1- With (invisible, or "ghost" base runners).  Pitching and balls and strikes.  Strikes determined by a chalk drawn box on wall behind batter. Box is filled in with chalk so that all strikes make a mark on the ball.  Ball has to be wiped off after strike.

A ball hit past the pitcher on a fly is a single, a hit midway to the outfield fence is a double, hitting the fence and bouncing is a triple, and over the fence is a home run.  A ground ball that gets past the fielders and hits the fence is a single. If the grounder is caught cleanly it is an out.  If missed it is and error and hitter is on first.  

2 - With live baserunning. Same rules, runners run out the hits.  If there is a catcher, there is stealing.  Sometimes this game is played with the pitch coming on a bounce

When no facility was nearby, this game was often played on the street using sewer covers and cars as bases and landmarks for the number of bases awarded.

Traditional pitching and catching.  Umpires call balls and strikes from behind the pitcher.  There is stealing.

At Inlet Grounds, PS 206, East 23rd Street and Gravesend Neck Road.

The inlet is about 120 feet wide and five stories high.  Two high walls with windows (with metal bars to prevent breaking windows: a well hit Spaldeen easily breaks a window.)  Best played with three people on a team.  Pitcher, catcher, and fielder.  But there are 4-person games *(2 fielders) and one-on-one games.  The fielders stand somewhere near the batter in order to catch the ball off the wall behind the pitcher. Caught off the wall, is out.  A hit off the wall up to the second floor is a single.  Higher up the wall, a double, then a triple. On the roof is a homer.  BUT most of the balls hit on the roof come back.  That is, the spin of the hitting a ball that soars within 120 feet  has a backspin.  If the ball is caught off the roof it is an out.  This is a very dramatic play as it takes a few seconds for the ball to get on the roof, a few more seconds to the ball to roll back, then a few more seconds to see if the fielder will be able to make the play on a ball falling five stories and within a few inches of the wall, with backspin.

Usually pink Spaldeens were used.  But tennis balls allowed the pitcher much more variation and sharper curves and screwballs -- more surface.

(Communication from Neil Seldman and Mark Schoenberg)


[C] At PS 81 in the Bronx

Stickball as played in the p.s.81 schoolyard [bronx] - no live baserunning - played with 1 or 2 players per team - pitcher threw a spaldeen or tennis ball from a line ~65-70 feet from the school wall on which was marked a chalk rectangle running from knee - shoulder kid height and about 2x as wide as a baseball home plate [hence considerably larger than a normal strike zone] - batter stood in front of wall - balls that were not hit were called balls or strikes depending on whether they struck the wall within or outside the rectangle - arguments occasionally occurred, usually when the pitcher had  particularly good curve ball - batted balls were scored as outs if they were grounders or were caught on a fly - balls that hit a very high chain link fence ~125 feet away from the school wall on one bounce were singles, on the fly were doubles, over the fence but short of another fence a further ~100 feet away were triples, balls that hit the second fence on a fly or cleared it were home runs

(Communication from Raphael Kasper, February 4, 2020.)

[D] On Brooklyn "Cawts" 

Stickball was played all over Brooklyn when I grew. The game and its rules were infinite depending location and availability of "cawts". The "coop" in the school yard could be one on one or 2 on two.

One swing and if not in play was an out. Anything caught on a fly off the wall behind pitcher was an out. Pitcher catching hit on bounce was a single. Designated spots, higher and higher on building wall were double, triple, or HR.
Also played with balls and strikes if there available wall to chalk on strike zone.
Played in the street, with narrow foul lines. Could be running bases or not. All kinds of ground rules. Cars shallower than first "sewer" (manhole cover could be out or foul, Off cars behind first sewer was fair ball. (Please mister, could you pawk foider up da street, yaw parkin' on da cawt.)
Always used broomstick bat and pink spaldeen ball.
(One FB response)
"Your rules are more complicated than the ones we used on Long Island."
Roth:  Rules were not complicated as much as rules had to accomomdate where you played and how many people were available. Each location had its "ground rules."
-- Joshua Roth, 3/18/2022 FB posting.



Gregory Christiano,

Communications from Raphael Kasper, Mark Schoelberg, and Neal Seldman.


There are very many stickball entries on YouTube.

Edit with form to add a comment

Sources are needed on stickball play in 18th and 19th centuries, if any.

Was stickball (perhaps under other names?) played in other urban areas?

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Has Supplemental Text Yes


<comments voting="Plus" />

Supplemental Text

STICKBALL: This was THE quintessential game played on most city streets. Everyone played stickball. The equipment: A broomstick and the Spalding High-Bounce Pink Ball (the Spaldeen), three manholes and a lot of kids. [You have to consider – this light rubber bouncing ball made playing a ball game in the street safe. Apart from a hardball or softball, the Spaldeen bounced harmlessly off parked cars, never broke a window, and never knocked anyone out cold]. Bases were car door handles, car tires, manhole covers, and Johnny pumps, anything that served as a practical base. The walls of the apartment buildings were the foul lines. If the ball hit them it was foul. Parked cars were ignored except if they were used for bases.

The rules came from baseball and are modified to fit the situation. For example, a manhole cover may be used as a base, or buildings for foul lines. The game is a variation of stick and ball games dating back to at least the 1750s. It was widely popular among youths growing up from the 20th century until the 1980s.
There were three basic forms of stickball and we played them all:

A -Fast pitch: using a catcher the pitcher pitched as fast as he could.

B - Slow-pitch: slow as slow and sometimes on a bounce before the batter swung at the ball.

C -Hit the ball yourself (Fungos):This was the most popular on our block. Some kids had the ability to toss the ball into the air and hit it as while it was still in the air, other bounced it once and took a swipe at it. Whatever method we used it all worked. I preferred to hit the ball on the fly. The game followed basic baseball rules and guidelines. It had all the dynamics of the baseball game without the regular field or umpires. There were constant interruptions as cars and horse drawn wagons pass through the street. Sometimes the games were postponed when the amusement rides and pony rides came through. And of course, all play would stop when the Good Humor Man stopped by.

Choosing Sides: An important aspect of playing to win was selecting the best players. Everyone on the block all knew who were the best and the worst, so choosing sides became crucial. Several methods were:
Sticking out fingers and calling odd or evens to get first crack at the selections.
Heads or tails on a coin; Paper covers rock, etc.

After the selections were made and the sides were established the next step was to determine who got last licks. A broomstick was used in this instance. The stick was thrown into the air and caught by one of the team captains. The other captain then placed his palm or fingers about the person's hand holding the stick. Each took a turn up the bat until the top was reached. Whoever remained holding the bat won the home field advantage. Sometimes the person holding the bat was using barely two fingers. So a final test was administered. The opposing team captain got one shot to try and kick the bat out of his grasp. If he could, the bat holder's team went last, the he was able to kick it loose, and his team would have last licks. Simple, fair and square.

Fishing balls out of the sewer. Occasionally during the course of the game a ball or bat would fall down the open sewer at the corners. Using a coat hanger was the answer. It could be stretched out and a loop made at one end. It was lowered down the sewer to fish out the ball and anything else worth salvaging. This saved a lot of "chips on the balls", for those unlucky souls who lost the balls. Had to pay to buy a new one. The game progresses through the nine innings or more if necessary. The line score was kept with chalk near the side of the curb. It had a very unique shape. A triangular box for team names and square boxes delineated each inning. We all took turns keeping score. There were three manholes up the block on this street so the kids called it a 'three-sewer homer.'
Interestingly enough, many Native American cultures in what is now the eastern United States played a stickball-like game that is the ancestor of modern-day lacrosse, using hickory sticks and a ball made of deer hair or hide.

Gregory Christiano