What Was Town Ball, Anyway?

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Larry McCray
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A Source-Based Description of Town Ball Play

by Jeffrey Kittel, Larry McCray, October 2012
Related: Town Ball

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Note: this is an initial December 2012 draft. Send us information on omissions and errors for a second draft.

While we have countless descriptions of a game called town ball being played in the first half of the 19th century, there appear to be relatively few sources that describe the game in any detail. Due to this paucity of sources describing detailed game-play and what appears to be the unregulated nature of the game, historians have been reluctant to define town ball in anything other than general terms, grouping it with other unregulated, bat and ball, safe-haven, American folk games. While this is an acceptable description of the game, it does little to inform us of how the game was specifically played. A great deal of respect must be given to historians who have worked on this subject in the past and their work has been invaluable and inspirational. However, as we discover more sources describing the detailed nature of town ball, it’s important to incorporate this new material into our general thinking with regards to how the game was played on the field. Based upon these new sources, we can begin to make specific, detailed statements about aspects of town ball play, while always remembering that game play varied from one geographical area to another and game-play variants have even been found within a specific geographical area.

Town ball has generally been defined by baseball historians as a bat and ball, safe-haven game and that is supported by the source material. A ball was pitched to a batter, who attempted to strike it with a bat or paddle. If successful, the batter would then attempt to negotiate a series of safe-haven bases and, if successful, a run or tally would be credited to his side. This hardly makes the game unique but, as will be seen, the variations with regards to the types of balls and bats used as well as the number of bases that had to be negotiated distinguished town ball from other types of bat and ball, safe-haven folk games.

Another important part of town ball play was the concept of competing sides. These sides were often randomly or spontaneously chosen among those wishing to play a game or, as the game-play became more organized, clubs were formed around the playing of the game, implying a pre-selected team. The specific number of players per side was one of the great variables of town ball play and while there does appear to have been a minimum number of players needed to play, there probably was not a maximum number of players allowed per side. Town ball was a game of competing sides, with one side batting and attempting to score and one side defending and attempting to stop the opposing side from scoring. Also, a division of labor developed among members of the defending side, with players specifically chosen to pitch or catch.

Another of the variables of town ball play was how the players structured the game with regards to the batting side and the defending side. Most town ball games appear to have used the concept of innings to organize the game and divide batting and defending. However, there does not appear to have been a set number of innings to a game and, often, game play was organized based upon time constraints.

Within the concept of an inning, batting outs were used as an organizing principle and there was a tremendous variety in the way these outs were recorded. Town ball used familiar concepts such as the fly-out and the strike-out as well as more obscure rules such as cross-outs, outs on the bound and plugging. A set number of outs were needed to end a side’s turn at bat, with the one-out/all-out rule or the all-out/all-out rule being most often used.

Most of these details of town ball play are familiar to anyone with even a remote understanding of the modern game of baseball. Pitching, hitting, running, bats, balls, bases, teams, sides, innings and outs are all part of the modern game and the source material shows that all of these were a part of town ball play. Without commenting on the relationship between town ball and the evolution of modern baseball, it’s obvious that the two games have a great deal in common and are more closely related than a general statement that both were American folk games would imply.

As mentioned, there are relatively few sources known to date that describe town ball play in any detail. Presented below are twenty-three sources that describe at least one aspect of town ball play. Six of the accounts come from primary source material, while the remainder comes from secondary sources. Much of the secondary material relates accounts by individuals who claim to have played town ball in their youth during the antebellum era. As will be seen in the source material and in the summary of town ball play that precedes it, the “regulations of the game of town ball vary a great deal”[1] and the rules “were not so strict”[2]. This “looseness” in the rules made town ball “a most joyous play”[3] and is one of the chief characteristics of the game. That may make it difficult for us to define the game but the sources cited below provide a great deal of detailed information about how town ball variants were played.

Summary of the description of town ball play found in the source material

Note: The sources are numbered and all citations in brackets are a reference to those numbers.

How sides were chosen

There are at two sources that describe teams chosen randomly by two captains [4][5]. One source mentions that there were no teams and that players rotated among batter, pitcher and fielder [24].

Number of players per side

Random, although it appears that the number of players shaped the specific form the game would take[2][6]. Sources suggest that the smallest number of players per side for a game of town ball was four[2][7] or five[8][9]. Any fewer than eight players, a game of cat was played; more than eight players resulted in a game of town ball[10][2]. However, while there was a minimum limit, there does not appear to have been a maximum limit to the number of players who could take part in a game[11][6]. Several sources state that anywhere between ten to twenty players were usually involved in a game[7][8][9]. There are also sources that specifically mention eleven men per side [12] and twenty per side [13].

Bases and Base-running

There appears to have been no standardization in the number of bases used in town ball play, although the most common configuration seems to have been four bases and a batter’s position[10][2][14]. There are at least two sources that mention three bases[15][11] and one that mentions five[14]. Two sources state that the number of bases was tied to the number of players per side[2][6].

The number of bases defined the shape of the infield, variously described as a diamond[15], a square[14], a pentagon[14] and a balloon or pear[6].

One source mentions that the bases were about thirty feet apart[8] and others mention that the bases were run in a circuit[7] and in a circular manner[16]. Once a batter hit the ball, he had to run from station to station [17][14]. One source mentions that when there was only one batter left to the side, pinch runners could be used[2].

Foul territory

There is one mention of foul territory[2] although several of the sources imply that there were none [12][2][15].

Number of innings played

There does not appear to be any specific rule governing the organization of a game by a set number of innings. Sources mention games that were played for four[8], eight[18] and eleven innings [12]. Another source mentions that the games were played until recess ended[19] and one mentions that the game didn’t have a designated end point[20].

How a side was put out

Both one-out/all-out[10] and all-out/all-out [1][14][9] rules appear to have been used.

The Lazarus Rule

Several sources mention a specific rule, used in an all-out/all-out game, by which a side down to its final out or batter could bring teammates, who had been put out, back into play. While there was no one Lazarus rule, it appears to have been a common feature of town ball play. Sources mention the final batter making a home run[9], making multiple home runs[14], or making multiple runs between specific bases[21] as a way to bring a teammate or the entire side back to life.

Division of labor among the out-side

Several sources state that, on the out-side, one player was chosen specifically to pitch and one player was chosen specifically to catch[2][7][11][16]. The other players took positions randomly in the field[2][7]. Another source mentioned that players rotated from the field to pitching to hitting and then, if put out, back to the field[20].

One source specifically states that the pitcher belonged to the in-side[19].

How outs were recorded

Again, there appears to have been no standardized rules with regards to outs. Both the fly rule [17][3][2][19][15][14][9][20] and the bound rule [12][21][14][9][20] were used. Plugging[19][7][15][11][22][16][14][9] appears to have been a common feature of the game, although this rule was not universally applied [17]. Several sources also mention the use of the cross-out [7[2][7][21][16]; a “cross-out” was a play where the ball was thrown, by the out-side, across the path of a base-runner, as he attempted to move from one base to another; see [16]] and there are several accounts of outs being recorded “Behind,” which implies a cricket-style of play and a lack of foul-territory [12][2][15]. There is also some implication of an out recorded by swinging and missing a pitch a certain number of times[21][14] and three sources specifically mention a three strikes/out rule[15][9][20]. Another source mentions that any ball driven over an agreed upon obstacle was an out[2][15]. Multiple sources mention that an out could be recorded by tagging a runner when he was off a base [12][15][11][20]. There is also one source that mentions that a runner was out if he was hit by a batted ball[14].


There are several descriptions of the game ball used in town ball play and the use of a “soft” ball appears to have been a common feature[7][8][23]. The implication is that the soft ball made plugging more palatable[7]. Besides being soft, the ball, which one source describes as being smaller than a modern baseball[8], was also “live” and could be driven long distances[19]. There are also several descriptions of how the balls were made by the players[19][14][23].

There is one reference to the bat being a paddle [3][14] and another to a short bat that was swung one-handed[8]. Also there is a description of the bat being primitive or home-made[20].

One source describes the bases as having been stones or pegs[6] and another as stakes[12].

How the rules were enforced

The rules appear to have been enforced by the players[2][7][20] although later contemporary accounts mention an umpire and a referee[13]. One source mentions that the players agreed upon the rules prior to game play[2].

Status of games

Most games appear to have been unorganized, casual affairs and there are numerous sources that describe the game being played at school by children [4][3][15][5][20]. There are, however, later contemporary sources that mention clubs [17][13][1][18][12], match games [13][1][18][12] and codified rules[17].

Keeping score

One source mentions that the score was kept by putting notches on a stick[14] while others mention that no score was kept [3][20]. Another source specifically mentions a scorebook[8]. Since we know that box scores and game scores were published in the contemporary press, it must be assumed that organized clubs had a way of keeping official score of a game.

Sources describing town ball play

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Town Ball at Evansville, Ind.

    A match of Town Ball was contested between the married and single members of the Evansville [IN] Town Ball Club, on the 26th ult. [5-inning box score is presented.] The correspondent, to whom we are indebted for the above report, says that the rules and regulations of the game of town ball vary a great deal. There, an innings is not concluded until all are out . . . The club, it is thought, will adopt base ball rules, such as are played in the East."

    Protoball Chronology 1860.35

  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 There is division of labor, as the economists call it, in any batting game. There is also distinction of rank, the bat being always a token of victory – something to be struggled for and won. In all two-handed games the pitching, catching, fielding, etc., are all done by a single player. In a three-handed game the work is further divided, there being now a batter, a pitcher, and a catcher. This we used to call “one old cat.” The three players occupied the same positions now held by the same three players in the great American game.

    Bases were now introduced. When the batter had struck the ball three times, he must run to the pitcher’s base before the ball was thrown across his path in front of him. Otherwise he was out, and the player who “crossed him out” got his bat. There were, therefore, three ways of securing his bat: by catching the ball when he had struck it, by catching it when he had struck at it, and by crossing out when he ran bases. [writer’s error] And there were two players at work trying to accomplish the object. The batter’s life was rendered far less easy by these new features. Of course, every time the batter ran, the pitcher and catcher, instead of changing places, changed occupations.

    If another batter added, the two occupations of pitcher and catcher merged back into one. This was “two old cat.” Its rules were usually the same as in the preceding game; but sometimes, instead of “every fellow for himself,” it was “one out, all out.” It was then a game of partners, like whist.

    There was also “three cat,” or “three-cornered cat,” and even “four cat.” The rules were the same.

    One important difference between the batting and the hitting games was that, in the former, the complexity of the game increased with the number of players, while, in the latter, the simplest games were those in which the whole school could join. Up to eight players, the simple “old cat” games were the commonest. With more than eight we usually played “town-ball.” It was plainly evolved out of the cat games, for it retained all their rules. And it forms a connecting link between them and base-ball. But it resembles “one cat” more than any of the other forms of cat-ball. It might be called a lateral branch of the cat family, just as the lion and the tiger are related to the common cat. In ball-games the cat family had two principal lines of evolution. Along one line it bloomed into two, three, and four cat, and along the other line into town-ball, the professional base-ball, and one or two other allied forms.

    Along the first line there was a mere cumulation of cats. All that is implied by this expression is that there was a multiplication of batting bases. After “one cat” there was just one batter and one catcher at each batting base.

    In the other line we revert to the single batting base, regardless of the number of players. Even in “one cat” there were two which were used alternately by the batter. His run was from one batting base to the other. Every time he ran, his former pitcher became his catcher, and his catcher, pitcher – just as in the lower animals the same organ often has various functions to perform by turns. Just so, too, in rude societies, trades afterward widely separated may be united in the same person – as, for instance, the professions of barber and physician used to be united.

    In the town-ball games, the pitcher was always the pitcher until the game was ended or his arm was tired. The catcher was always catcher one game through, unless his hands blistered or his incompetency became apparent. In the professional games these two have permanent and well-paid positions. All the advantages mentioned by economists as resulting from “division of labor” are here illustrated.

    In these games the conspiracy against the batter’s peace of mind reaches appalling proportions. The conspirators are an organized band of indefinite numbers. Their lives are consecrated to the single end of putting him out. Even in “town-ball” one man has nothing to do but pitch him deceptive balls. Another has nothing to do but catch the balls he misses or only “ticks” or knocks foul. All the rest are scouring the field for his “flies,” or stopping his “grounders” and crossing him out.

    To add to his burdens, he is forced to run four bases instead of one. It was sufficient for any one of his numerous enemies to throw the ball across his path between him and the base to which he was running. This hardship is somewhat mollified in professional base-ball.

    In “town-ball” there was as yet no distinction between base men and fielders. After the pitcher and catcher had been selected, the others on that side went where they pleased; and they did not get the bat until they had put all the batters out. Nay, when all but one had been put out, he could sometimes call back to his assistance any one he chose of his slaughtered comrades; and he often had a rubber ball which, if he did not burst it, he could drive to the other side of the hay-field.

    The professional batter has to contend with a curved ball, and go out when three of his comrades are out. But, on the other hand, the ball has to be pitched to him within definite limits, and he has to be touched with it when running.

    Except mechanical details and minor rules changeable from year to year, these are all the differences between town-ball and base-ball. The rules were not so strict in the former, and there was no umpire to enforce them. They were often adopted by unanimous consent at the beginning of the game. One rule, often but not always adopted, was that the batter who knocked the ball over the fence was out. Another was that, when all the batters but one were out, one might be called back to “run bases.” He had to make home runs – three of them within a maximum limit of nine strikes. This was the most exciting part of the game, but was not a standing privilege.

    Our good town-ball players developed into good base-ball players, and took to it quite naturally. In fact, the two might almost be called the same game under different names and at different ages. I believe it is quite common to speak of them in that way. Our town-ball was probably called base-ball in that part of the country where the game first began its rapid development; but, by the time the developed game had reached us, it was so different that for some years the two games were played side by side, each retaining its old name.

    [Philpott, Henry J.; A Little Boys’ Game With A Ball; The Popular Science Monthly, Volume 37 (September 1890); Edited by William Jay Youmans; pp 655-657]

  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 We were playing “town-ball” on the common at a long distance from the schoolroom. Town-ball is one of the old games from which the more scientific but not half so amusing “national game” of base-ball has since been evolved. In that day the national game was not thought of. Eastern youth played field-base, and Western boys town-ball in a free and happy way, with soft balls, primitive bats, and no nonsense. There were no scores, but a catch or a cross-out in town-ball put the whole side out, leaving the others to take the bat or “paddle” as it was appropriately called. The very looseness of the game gave opportunity for many ludicrous mischances and surprising turns which made it a most joyous play.

    [Eggleston, Edwards; Some Western School-Masters; Scribner’s Monthly, Volume 17, Issue 5 (March 1879); p 751]

  4. 4.0 4.1 It reminds me of a way we had of settling disputes in my schoolboy days. When about to engage in a game of “bandy,” or “town-ball,” two boys acted as captains. In making choice of their parties, one spit upon a chip and tossed it up. If the wet side came uppermost, he had first choice, and if the dry one the point was settled against him. [Daily Cleveland Herald, March 20, 1854 (from the Cincinnati Enquirer, quoting a Congressman Campbell, of Ohio; probably Lewis D. Campbell)]
  5. 5.0 5.1 The college boy is gregarious. He is happiest in a crowd, and the youthful spirit demands some form of violent physical exercise. For instance, in Princeton College, where most of the boys were studying for the ministry, town ball (a primitive form of base ball) was played as early as 1761. They made the mistake of selecting the President’s house as the wall against which to bat the ball, however. In the heat and excitement of the game they broke so many windows that the Trustees forbade the students to play there under a penalty of five shillings. [Sporting Life, November 20, 1915; article by J.C. Koford, The College Man of Today in Base Ball]
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 In the eastern part of Pennsylvania, around Philadelphia, town ball was the game with bases limited to the number of players, and there was no limit set for participants in the sport. If a dozen players agreed to play on each side, a dozen bases, marked by stones or pegs, were planted here and there, generally taking the outlines of a balloon or pear, and not a square. [Sporting Life, November 27, 1915; John H. Gruber, The Development of the Playing Rules]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 [Town ball] was played by any convenient number, usually from four to a dozen on each side. There was a careful choosing of sides. A home base and four others were marked on the ground. The first inning was decided by lot. Each side had a pitcher and catcher; the others of the outs were scattered about the field outside the circuit of bases, but without any systematic arrangement. The ball being soft, crossing out or hitting the one who was running the bases was in order. There was no umpire. It is clear that base ball was evolved from town ball, as it is virtually the same game more highly organized and modified so as to adapt it to the use of a hard, heavy ball.

    [Mind and Body, Volume 6; Freidenker Publishing Co., 1899. p 232.]

  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Townball, from which baseball is an evolution, was first introduced into Cincinnati in 1860. The game is played on a field with bases marked at about one-half the distance of baseball. A short bat, which is used with one hand only, was employed in knocking a ball that was much smaller and much softer than a baseball. Four innings only were played, and the number playing on each side could vary from ten to fifteen. The scores ranged about the same as early baseball, yet in looking over the old score-book of games of townball played in Cincinnati during the war, we find one of 146 to 21. [Ellard, Henry; Baseball in Cincinnati: A History McFarland, 2004 reprint. Originally published by Johnson and Hardin, 1907.]
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 “Three out, all out,” has been one of the fundamental rules of the game of base ball since its birth. This was a radical departure from the rules that prevailed in town ball, the most popular ball game before the coming of the national pastime. In town ball, every player had to be put out in order to retire the side, and the last batter was privileged to “bring in” the entire side if he made a home run. There was no limit to the number of players on each team, and when an unusual number was engaged, say from 10 to 20, special rules were agreed upon by which the last batter, that is after two outs had been recorded, by hitting for a home run, could bring in four, five or six of his fellows, and make his own selection regardless of the previous batting order. In addition to this, he was allowed to run around the bases for as many home runs as he pleased, and bring in his quota of companions after each performance, if the ball happened to become lost. In the old game of townball, the batter was out if the ball was caught on the fly or on the bound, or if he missed the third strike, and a base runner was put out if hit, between bases, with the ball thrown by any fielder. [Sporting Life, February 19, 1916; article by John H. Gruber, The Development of the Playing Rules, Part 1. – You’re Out.]
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Base ball, or what it was then called, I played at Hoboken in the forties. But it is only necessary to point to a few plain facts to show that prior to the establishment of the first National Association of Base Ball Players, in 1857, which is the date of the birth of our American national game, two well-known rules of rounders were part and parcel of the old game of base ball of that period, and these were the four bases – exclusive of where the batsman stood – of “town ball” and the old “Massachusetts game,” in vogue up to the fifties, as well as the other rounders rule of putting out baserunners by hitting them with the thrown ball, and in that way only, which prevailed in the base ball game of the early period…One-cornered cat was played by three boys, one with a bat, and the other two in turn were pitcher and catcher; the batter facing each alternately until caught out, when he surrendered the bat to the one who caught the ball. Two-cornered cat was a degree higher in the scale of evolution. It was played by four boys with two bats and was enriched by a new element, the bases. At the beginning each pair of players would “toss up for bases,” the winners taking the bats, the other two playing alternately as pitchers and catchers with stations behind the two batters, who might be “caught out” or “crossed out,” for after the “third tick,” that is, after the ball was hit three times, the batters must exchange bases, and while making the run a catcher who should throw the ball across in front of a runner or hit him was entitled to the bat. Three-cornered and four-cornered cat, played by six or eight boys was goverened by substantially the same rules, but sometimes the contest element of “sides,” or group against group was emphasized by adopting the rule of “one out, all out,” so that all the batters changed with the catchers whenever any one was caught out or crossed out… From this contest between groups it was but a short step to ‘town ball.’ [Sporting Life, February 5, 1890; Henry Chadwick, speaking about the relationship between baseball and rounders]
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 "I came West 59 years ago, in 1846, and found "Town Ball" a popular game at all Town meetings. I do not recall an instance of a money bet on the game; but, at Town meeting, the side losing had to buy the ginger bread and cider." [July letter]

    "[Town Ball] was so named because it was mostly played at "Town Meetings." It had as many players on a side as chose to play; but the principal players were "Thrower" and "Catcher." There were three bases and a home plate. The players were put out by being touched with ball [sic] or hit with thrown ball, when off the base. You can readily see that the present game [1900's baseball] is an evolution from Town Ball." [April letter]

    [Protoball Chronology 1846.9; Letters from H. H. Waldo, Rockford IL, to the Mills Commission, April 8 and July 7, 1905]

  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 12.8 Town Ball In Philadelphia.

    The match between the Olympic and Excelsior first eleven was played on the 12 ult., on the grounds of the latter. The Olympic Club dates its existence back to the year 1832, so that properly speaking it is the parent Town Ball organization in the city of Philadelphia. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that it numbers amongst its membership some of the very best players in the country. Against such players on Thursday, the 12th of July, did the Excelsiors contend. Play commenced at 2 ½ and ended at 6 ½ o’clock. The contest was conducted in the most friendly spirit. The Olympics all played well…The Olympics played their first innings with ten men. The batting of the Excelsior, considering the superior fielding pitted against them, was excellent…

    [Peverelly’s National Game, P 99; Note: The score was 87-71 in favor of the Olympics; the box score was divided in three parts: batting (which gave stats for “No Balls” and Runs), Fielding (which gave stats for Fly, B’nd and Beh’d outs) and How Put Out (which broke down how each batter was put out – Fly, Bound, Behind, No Ball and Stakes); also broke down the score by innings – it was an eleven inning game; We need to specify that this box score comes from the modern reprint. From email from Richard Hershberger: “A better cite for that box score would be the original: Clipper of 8/11/1860.”]

  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Town Ball vs. Cricket.

    While cricket counts its scores of votaries, a certain portion of our athletes pronounce cricket a humbug, and go in for something that furnishes an equal amount of sport without the accompanying perils of blackened eyes and abraded or broken shins. The games of base ball and town ball by many are preferred to cricket. In the way of town ball, the people of Germantown profess an ability to beat any other players that can be produced. To give color to their pretensions, the Germantowners are getting up a grand match of town ball, to take place on the afternoon of Thanksgiving day, at the corner of Queen street and plank road. The Marion and Honey Run Ball Clubs, of Germantown, are the contestants. Each club will consist of twenty practical players. The National Band is engaged for the occasion, and should the weather prove favorable, many ladies will probably be present. The match will be interesting. First ball to be given at 1 ½ o’clock. Umpires and a referee have been appointed, and there will doubtless be a good time among the lovers of this invigorating sport.

    [North American and United States Gazette (Philadelphia), November 21, 1859]

  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 14.13 14.14 Town-Ball – Among the games for the boys was one called town-ball. Self-appointed leaders divided the boys into two contesting parties or sides by selecting one at a time alternately until the number present was exhausted; and the leader started the selection by winning the toss of the bat, “wet” or “dry,” either having spat on one side and tossed it into the air, then the other would have to guess, and if the latter got his guess he would take his side to the bat, and the other his side to the field. The bat was a heavy paddle, not a round stick as now. The ball was not a purchased article; it was generally made by some boy out of his woolen socks which were unraveled and the yarn was wound around some rubber strips cut from an old gum-shoe, or around a small piece of cork, and sewed in a leather cover. There were four corners, like the points of a square figure; sometimes five corners, an extra one between the second and third, making the points of a pentagon. If the batter struck at the ball and missed it and the catcher caught it he was out; but if he hit it he had to run and make his base. If the ball was caught on the fly or even one bound he was out. All the players had to be made out; then the side would select its best batter to bat and if he succeeded in making three “home-runs,” his side could start anew; otherwise the fielders would take their turn at the bat. The score of runs was frequently very high in the game. It was kept by cutting notches in a stick or by tallies of five. If the ball should be lost in the grass, the fielders would cry “lost-ball,” and the play was suspended until the ball was found. A runner at or around the bases, hit by a thrown or batted ball, was regarded as out. The ball was not hard; frequently, it was a hollow, flexible “Goodyear” ball, which was preferred. [Glace, William H.; Early History and Reminiscences of Catasauqua in Pennsylvania; Searle & Dressler Co.; 1914; P 94-95]
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 15.7 15.8 15.9 "I commenced playing ball seventy years ago (1835). I was the only one in the game and it was called "Toss up and Catch," or "Bound and Catch." A few years later I played "Barn Ball." Two were in this game, one a thrower against the barn, and catcher on its rebound, unless the batter hit it with a club; if so, and he could run and touch the barn with his bat, and return to the home plate before the ball reached there, he was not out - otherwise he was.

    "A few years later the school boys played what was called "Town Ball." That consisted of a catcher, thrower, 1st goal, 2nd goal and home goal. The inner field was diamond shape: the outer field was occupied by the balance of the players, number not limited. The outs were as follows: Three strikes," "Tick and catch," ball caught on the fly, and base runner hit or touched with the ball off from the base. That was sometimes modified by "Over the fence and out." [Protoball Chronology 1835.4; Letter from H. H. Waldo, Rockford IL, to the Mills Commission, July 7, 1905. ]

  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 The boys didn’t play base ball in 1835. It hadn’t been invented. Where I lived, at a much later date, but before base ball, we played “town ball.” There was a pitcher and catcher. We ran in a circle, and being hit by the ball was out, or the man running the bases could be “crossed out,” by throwing the ball across his path ahead of him as he ran. They also played “one-old-cat” and “two-old-cat” with ball and bat. [Kiner, Henry L.; History of Henry County, Illinois, Volume 1; The Pioneer Publishing Company; Chicago; 1910; p. 389]
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 "They played for the first time under their new code of bye laws, which are more stringent than the old rules."

    Protoball Chronology 1858.7; Note: Clippings from Cincinnati in 1858 report on the Gymnasts' Town Ball Club match of July 22, 1858; The game has five corners [plus a batter's position, making the basepaths a rhombus in general shape], sixty feet apart, meaning 360 feet to score. The fly rule was in effect, and plugging was disallowed, and the rules carefully require that a batsman run every time he hits the ball. The Clipper carried at least four reports of Cincinnati town ball play between June and October of 1858. The earliest is in the edition of June 26, 1858 - Volume 6, number 10, page 76. Coverage suggests that teams of eight players were not uncommon, although teams of 13 and 11 were also reported. An oddity: in a July intramural contest, batter Bickham claimed 58 runs of his team's 190 total, while the second most productive batsman mate scored 30, and 5 of his 10 teammates scored fewer than 6 runs each.]

  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Town Ball.

    A match game of town-ball was played in [Covington, KY,] on Saturday afternoon last, between the Union and Seventy-six Clubs, which resulted in favor of the latter, by eight innings. Union, forty-two; Seventy-six, fifty.

    [Cincinnati Daily Press, November 12, 1860]

  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 What glorious sport in playing town-ball and bull-pen and cat and rolly-hole and knucks and sweep-stakes. Base-ball has grown out of town-ball; it is no improvement. The pitcher used to belong to the ins and threw the best ball he could, for he wanted it hit, and knocked as far away as possible, but now he belongs to the outs and wants it missed. We used to throw at a boy to stop him running to another base, and we hit him if we could, but these modern balls are hard and heavy and dangerous, and many a boy goes home with a bruised face or a broken finger. We used to take an old rubber shoe and cut it into strings and wind it tight into a ball until it was half grown, and then finish it with yarn that was unraveled from an old woolen sock. Our good mothers furnished everything and then made a buckskin cover and stitched it over so nice. Oh, my, how those balls would bounce, and yet they didn’t hurt very bad when hit by them. They were sweet to throw and sweet to catch…When we played town-ball some of the outs would circle away off 200 yards, and it was glorious to see them catch a ball that had nearly reached the sky as it gracefully curved from the stroke of the bat. We had an hour and a half for recess, and most of it was spent in town-ball or bull-pen. [Arp, Bill; The Farm and the Fireside: Sketches of Domestic Life in War and Peace; Constitution Publishing Company, 1892; pp 267-268. Bill Arp was the nom de plume of Charles Henry Smith, a Georgia politician who was born in 1826. He’s talking about his school days in Lawrenceville, Georgia in what must have been the 1830s.]
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 20.6 20.7 20.8 20.9 If we managed to get to school early, and the weather was warm enough, we started (or continued) a game of ‘town ball’. In ‘town ball’ there were no teams, there were only individuals wishing to play ball. Positions were first chosen at random, or continued from a previous game. There was no end to the game, and the only object of the game was to get up to bat and hit the ball. There was no umpire… batting rules were simple; three strikes and you’re out. When you struck out, you went to a position between home plate and the first base to wait for a chance to get back into the game. When the ball was hit, it could be caught on the fly, or first bounce. Either one was ‘out’. When the ball was hit out of the infield and not caught on the fly or first bounce, those in the ‘out’ position were allowed to run and try to reach home plate before the ball was returned to the infield. If they made it ‘home’ before the ball was returned to the infield, they were back in the game. If the ball was thrown to the infield first, then the runners trying to reach ‘home’ had to return to their waiting place to wait for another ball to be hit out of the infield. The only person who could be tagged ‘out’ was the batter. If a player made it back in the game, he, or she, went to the field as a fielder. The field and pitcher rotated as each new person entered the game. The pitcher went to the batter line, with one fielder taking over, in turn, as pitcher. The game was played as a recess or lunchtime game, so the intermissions of the game were determined by the hand bell to go back into the schoolhouse to begin, or resume, classes. There was no score, no winning, no losing… only fun. I might also say that the ‘bat’ was usually a board pulled from a handy barn. Either ‘town ball’ was a favorite of everyone, or we didn’t have any other equipment to play games with. It was hard enough to keep a ball! Bats were handy enough, as long as the barns lasted. –”GranKY”, born around 1930, Kentucky [Nevard, David; Town Ball (http://mysite.verizon.net/vze11te3p/townball2.htm)]
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 "Town-ball was base-ball in the rough. I recall some distinctive features: If a batter missed a ball and the catcher behind took it, he was 'caught out.' Three 'nips' also put him out. He might be caught out on 'first bounce.' If the ball were thrown across his path while running base, he was out. One peculiar feature was that the last batter on a side might bring his whole side in by successfully running to first base and back six times in succession, touching first base with his bat after batting. This was not often, but sometimes done; and we were apt to hold back our best batter to the last, which we called 'saving up for six-maker.' This phrase became a general proverb for some large undertaking; and to say of one 'he's a six-maker,' meant that he was a tip-top fellow in whatever he undertook, and no higher compliment could be passed."

    [Protoball Chronology 1850s.20; Source: Henry C. McCook, The Senator: A Threnody (George W. Jacobs, Philadelphia, 1905), page 208. This passage is excerpted from the annotations to a long poem written in honor the memory of Senator Marcus Hanna of OH. The likely location of the games was in Lisbon, in easternmost OH - about 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh PA.. The verse itself: "Shinny and marbles, flying kite and ball, / Hat-ball and hand-ball and, best loved of all!-/ Town-ball, that fine field sport, that soon/ By natural growth and skilful change, became/ Baseball, by use and popular acclaim/ Our nation's favorite game" [Ibid. page 54]. Posted to 19CBB on 8/13/2007, by Richard Hershberger, supplemented by 8/14/2007 and 12/19/2008 emails. McCook's note describes hat-ball as a plugging game, and hand-ball as a game for one sides of one, two, or three boys that was played "against a windowless brick gable wall." Note: were "nips" foul tips?]

  22. “Town Ball” was also a favorite amusement for those who delighted in violent exercise of that kind. And there were many who became exceedingly expert players. They could throw a ball as straight as a bullet and almost as swift, and there were others who could catch them if they were thrown in catching distance. And woe be to the runner who was bound between the “by's” when one of those balls were thrown at him! If he escaped being hit the surgeon might have lost a job setting a broken limb, and “Bull Pen” was another favorite game much the same as town ball, and many remember even to this day, the hard knocks they received in trying to escape the tortures of that classically named enclosure. [A Twentieth Century History of Marshall County, Indiana, Volume 1; McDonald, Daniel; The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, 1908; P189; talking about the early days of Plymouth]
  23. 23.0 23.1 Football and baseball, as played today, were unknown games. What was known as townball, however, was a popular sport. This was played with a yarn ball covered with leather, or a hollow, inflated rubber ball, both of which were soft and yielding and not likely to inflict injury as is so common today in baseball. Townball was much played in the schoolhouse yard during recess and at the noon hour. [Johnson, Charles Beneulyn; Illinois in the Fifties ; Flanigan-Pearson Co.; Champaign, Ill.; 1918; p. 79]


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