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Unusual Georgia Townball Described in Unusual Detail
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Richard Hershberger located [and posted to 19CBB on 8/29/2007] a long recollection of "Old Field Games in 1840" including townball. The account, a reprint of an earlier document, appears in James S. Lamar, "Pioneer Days in Georgia," Columbus [GA] Enquirer, March 18, 1917, [page?].
"Townball" used a circular area whose size and number of [equidistant] bases varied with available space and with number of players [no standard team size is given, but none of the forty boys in school need be left out]. Instead of a diamond, a circle of up to 50 yards in diameter marked the basepaths; thus, a batter would cover on the order of 450 feet in scoring a run. There was a three-strike rule, and a batter could decide not to run on a weak hit unless he had used up two strikes. A member of the batting side pitched, and not aggressively. The ball was small [the core had a 2-inch diameter and was consisted of tightly-would rubber strips, often wound around a lead bullet]. The core was buckskin and the ball was very bouncy. Bats might be round, flat, or paddle-shaped. A ball caught on the fly or first bound was an out. There was plugging. Stealing was disallowed, and leading may have been. Innings were all-out-side-out. There is no mention of backward hitting or foul ground. "If young people want to play ball, Townball is the game. If they simply want to see somebody else play ball, then Baseball may be better"
Full text was accessed at http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/georgiabooks/id:gb0361 on 10/22/2008, and is available here. Note: Lamar's text dates the game at 1840, when he was 10 to 11 years old. One can not tell when the text was written; the last date cited in the text is 1854, but the townball section seems to compare it with baseball from a much later time. The Digital Library of Georgia uses a date of "19—." See: http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/meta/html/dlg/zlgb/meta_dlg_zlgb_gb0361.html. Lamar died in 1908; other sources say 1905.
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Georgia Townball in 1840.
(downloaded 10/22/2008 from http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/georgiabooks/id:gb0361.
Recollections of pioneer days in Georgia / by James S. Lamar
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a long crooked line, like a company of Georgia militia, and we were dismissed for dinner, and playtime which lasted two hours. The dinner, taken from little tin buckets, was soon over, when all hastened to engage in the main business of the day, which was commonly Townball, but why so named I never knew.
Old field school games in 1840.
If some future antiquarian, puzzling his brains over the evolution of Baseball, should happen to find in some heap of musty old papers, even a brief account of its progenitor, the author of said account would probably secure an immortality of renown that might else never fall to his lot. It is only in view of this remote possibility that I bring myself to tell how Townball was played. It will be dry reading, but perhaps for the end contemplated the dryer the better.
The Townball ground was not a diamond, but a large circle. Its diameter varied with the size of unobstructed ground available for it, and also according to the number of players. I suppose an average circle would have been about fifty yards in diameter. On this there were several equidistant marked spots called bases, each indicated by a circle about three feet in diameter. These might be more or fewer in number according as the main circle was larger or smaller. Nothing depended upon the number, as they were simply for rest and refuge while a runner was making the grand round.
The players were not limited to nine, or any definite number on a side. If there were forty or more boys in the school they all would be chosen in, one by one, by the two Captains, choosing turn about, in
------ page 47 ------
making up the sides. The first choice was settled by lot--"Heads or Tails"--or if lacking a suitable coin, by "Wet or Dry". The first inning was decided in the same way. The ins would go by turns to the bat, and one of their number would deliver the ball to them from a station located at a fixed distance from the little circle in which the batter must stand. It will be seen that the pitcher's object was not to make the batter miss the ball but to enable him to hit it. Hence there were no "scientific curves" nor similar devices needed, as in Baseball. The pitcher simply delivered the ball as the batter called for it, fast or slow, high or low. The outs had a catcher behind the striker, to catch him out if possible when he missed, but three misses put him out anyhow--that is, out of thegame for that inning.
There were no right and left fielders nor center stops, such as I have read of in the modern games. The Captain of the Outs distributed his men over the field sending them where he thought best, some near and some far.
The ball was usually made of strips of elastic rubber, stretched tightly while winding it on a solid central substance frequently a leaden bullet. It was wound with great care to keep it perfectly round, and when it had reached a size of some two inches in diameter, it was neatly and securely covered with buckskin. Such a ball was exceedingly elastic; it would bounce very high, and could be knocked by a good striker to a great distance. There were three or four kinds of bats, some round and some flat, that is simply a paddle, some heavier and some lighter, and every one might select the bat that he preferred--thus players of all sizes and degrees of
------ page 48 ------
strength could be suited. When the batter hit the ball, he might have another stroke or even two more, if he was not satisfied with the force of the blow delivered. But if he missed the ball at both these subsequent strokes he was out. He had discarded one, which was therefore equal to a miss, and had missed two more, which made his three. But usually when he got in a fairly good blow, he would drop his paddle and run for the first base and on to as many more as he could make. If, however, any of the fielders caught the ball, either before it struck the ground or on its first bounce, the striker was out. Otherwise it would be thrown as quickly as possible either at the runner or to some of the fielders in front of him so as to shut him off from making the round. The only way to put him out was to hit him with the ball. A runner on a base must stay at it till the next striker hits the ball. There was no stealing of bases, and if he started before the ball was struck, it was a violation of the rules and put him out. Often a good batter could knock the ball so far that all on the bases could get home, and he himself make a complete round or what is now called a "home run." Such times always marked the high tides of excitement, with all the noisy, screaming, shouting and hurrahing accompaniments, naturally engendered by such brilliant achievements.
In due course of time, what with being caught out by the catcher, with failing three times to hit the ball, with being caught out by the fielders, or put out on the run, the whole side would be out, and then the others would have their innings.
If young people want to play ball, Townball is the game; if they simply want to see somebody else play ball, then Baseball may be better.
[The text then continues to cover the games bullpen and “steal-goods.” – LMc]