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A. G. Mills and Boyhood Friend Recall "Base Ball" at a Brooklyn School
|Tags||Famous, Pre-modern RulesFamous, Pre-modern Rules|
|City/State/Country:||Jamaica, Brooklyn, NY, United States|
|Game||Base BallBase Ball|
|Immediacy of Report||Retrospective|
|Age of Players||YouthYouth|
A. G. Mills and schoolmate W. S. Cogswell exchanged letters, 55 years later, on the plugging game they called "base ball" as youths.
Mills to Cogswell 1/10/1905: "Among the vivid recollections of my early life at Union Hall Academy [of Jamaica, Long Island, NY] is a game of ball in which I played, where the boys of the side at bat were put out by being hit with the ball. My recollection is that we had first base near the batsman's position; the second base was a tree at some distance, and the third base was the home base, also near the batsman's position."
Cogswell to Mills 1/19/1905: "My recollection of the game of Base Ball, as we played it for years at Union Hall, say from 1849 to 1856, is quite clear. "
"You are quite right about the three bases, their location and the third base being home.
"The batsman in making a hit went to the first base, unless the ball was caught either on a fly or on first bound. In running the bases he was out by being touched or hit with the ball while further from any base than he could jump. The bases were not manned, the ball being thrown at a runner while trying for a base. The striker was not obliged to strike till he thought he had a good ball, but was out the first time he missed the ball when striking, and it was caught by the catcher either on the fly or on the first bound. There was no limit to the number of players and a side was not out till all the players had been disposed of. If the last player could make three home runs that put the side back in again. When there were but few players there was a rule against 'Screwing,' i.e., making strikes that would be called 'foul.' We used flat bats, and it was considered quite an art to be able to "screw" well, as that sent the ball away from the bases."
More details, from John Thorn's Baseball in the Garden of Eden (2011; pp 27-28), are seen below in the supplemental text below.
A. G. Mills letter to Colonel Wm S. Cogswell, January 10, 1905, and Wm. S. Cogswell letter to A. G. Mills, January 19, 1905. From the Mills Collection, Giamatti Center, HOF. Thanks to Jeremy LeBlanc for information on Union Hall Academy (email, 9/23/2007).
Note: This exchange and its significance are treated in John Thorn's Baseball in the Garden of Eden (Simon and Shuster, 2011), page 27.
John Thorn notes that in 1905 Mills was beginning to gather evidence for use in his famous "Mills Commission" report on base ball's beginnings. (Email of 1/4/2016).
John suggests that the Union Hall game may be the game that William R. Wheaton, another Union Hall student, called "three cornered cat" in his 1887 recollections of base ball's origin (email, 1/4/2016). The game of Corner Ball is known from the 1830s to about 1860, but is usually seen as a form of dodge ball played mostly by youths, and lacking batting and baserunning. Is it possible that Corner Ball morphed, retaining its essential plugging but adding batting and base advancement, by the time it was played in the Brooklyn school? Was this a transitional form in base ball's lineage? See also http://protoball.org/Three-Cornered_Cat and http://protoball.org/Corner_Ball.
As of January 2016, no other usages of "three-cornered cat" are known.
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In a letter to William S. Cogswell dated January 10, 1905,
A. G. Mills, just beginning to accumulate data for his Commission’s
Among the vivid recollections of my early life at Union Hall Academy
[where Knickerbocker William R. Wheaton had trained] is a game
of ball in which I played, where the boys of the side at bat were put
out by being hit with the ball. You made a splendid shot at me at
quite a long distance, and put me out fairly and squarely while [I was]
running from second base to home. My recollection is that we had a
first base near the batsman’s position; the second base was a tree at
some distance, and the third base was the home base, also near the
batsman’s position. This . . . at least, as I remember it, we played at
Union Hall Academy for some years.
To which Cogswell replied on January 19:
My recollection of the game of base ball as we played for years at
Union Hall, say from 1849 to 1856, is quite clear. You are quite right
about the three bases, their location and the third base being home.
When there were few players there was a rule against screwing, i.e.,
making strikes that now would be called “foul.” We used flat bats, and
it was considered quite an art to be able to “screw” well, as that sent
the ball away from the bases.
Cogswell further supplied a précis of the game’s rules: a batsman is
out if the ball is caught on the fly or the bound, the ball must strike the
runner or touch him between bases to record an out, all must be retired
before the side is out, and three home runs by the last batter would
restore his side to the bat.
This New York game of three-cornered cat, whose players called it
baseball, had already been modified for adult players a decade earlier, as
Wheaton would recollect in the San Francisco Examiner in 1887. The
mention of foul territory, intuitively sound for occasions when there
were too few players to cover a broad expanse, is of particular interest,
as the only other early game that distinguished between fair and
foul ground was likewise a modification of a game played in the round
by full sides of eleven: cricket. That modification was single-wicket
cricket, which when played by fewer than five to the side rendered foul
those balls hit behind the wicket or beyond a sixty-six-foot distance on
either side of it.