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Early Bat and Ball Games
Written by SABR UK Chapter   
Thursday, 02 April 2009 20:32

1085 Stool ball, a primitive stick and ball game and a forerunner of rounders and cricket, is mentioned in the Domesday Book.

1200s "The scholars of every school have their ball, or baton, in their hands; the ancient and wealthy men of the city come forth on horseback to see the sport of the young men... " From Sports and Pastimes Of Old Time Used In This City, Fitzstephen.

1200s-1300s Primitive bat and ball games are used in religious observances in Eastern France.

1621 Christmas Day: Governor Bradford finds the men of Plymouth Plantation, "frolicking in ye street, at play openly; some at Virginia pitching ye ball, some at stoole ball and shuch-like sport."

1700 In his memoirs, the Rev Thomas Wilson, a Puritan divine in Maidstone, England, states: "I have seen Morris-dancing, cudgel-playing, stool ball and cricketts, and many other sports on the Lord's Day."

1744 John Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket-Book contains a wood-cut illustration showing boys playing "baseball" and a rhymed description of the game.

1748 Lady Hervey describes in a letter the activities of the family of Frederick, Prince of Wales: "... diverting themselves with baseball, a play all who are or have been schoolboys are well acquainted with."

1778 George Ewing, a Revolutionary War soldier, tells of playing a game of "Base" at Valley Forge: "Exercisd in the afternoon in the intervals playd at base."

1786 Games of "Baste Ball" are played by students on the campus of Princeton University. (A year later, the faculty prohibits ball "on account of its being dangerous as well as beneath the propriety of a gentleman".)

1797 Daniel Webster, in private correspondence, writes of "playing ball" while a student at Dartmouth College.

1798 Jane Austen mentions "base-ball" in her novel Northanger Abbey.

1803 An informal group called the "New York Cricket Club" is headquartered in New York City at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, No.11 Nassau Street. The club flourishes for a year, then dies.

1806 Louisiana Purchase explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark attempt to teach the Nez Perce Indians to play the "game of base."

The first formally organized cricket club is established in Boston, Massachusetts.

1810 The rules for "Poisoned Ball" are described in a French book of boys' games. "In a court, or in a large square space, four points are marked: one for the home base, the others for bases which must be touched by the runners in succession, etc."

1812 Peter Van Smoot, an Army private present at the Battle of New Orleans, writes in his diary: "I found a soft ball in my knapsack, that I forgot I had put there and started playing catch with it."

1816 June 6: Trustees of the Village of Cooperstown, NY enact an ordinance: "That no person shall play at Ball in Second or West Street [now Pioneer and Main Streets], under a penalty of one dollar, for each and every offense."

1824 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a student at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, writes: "... there is nothing now heard of, in our leisure hours, but ball, ball, ball."

1825 The following notice appears in the July 13, 1825 Hamden, NY edition of the Delhi Gazette: "The undersigned, all residents of the new town of Hamden, with the exception of Asa Howland, who has recently removed to Delhi, challenge an equal number of persons of any town in the County of Delaware, to meet them at any time at the house of Edward B Chace, in said town, to play the game of Bass-Ball, for the sum of one dollar each per game."

1828 The Boy's Own Book is published in London and contains a set of rules for rounders, an early version of baseball.

1820s A group of Philadelphians who will eventually organize as the Olympic Town Ball Club begin playing town ball but are prohibited from doing so within the city limits by ordinances dating to Puritan times. A site in Camden, New Jersey is used to avoid breaking the laws in Philadelphia.

1832 Baseball - not rounders or town ball - is played in New York City by two clubs. One club is comprised of players from the first ward (lower Manhattan). The second club includes players from the ninth and fifteenth wards (upper Manhattan). The club from lower Manhattan evolves into the New York Club (see entry for 1843) and later splits into the Knickerbockers and Gothams. The club from upper Manhattan evolves into the Washington Club which in turn gives way to the Gothams.

1834 Rules for "Base" or "Goal Ball" are published in The Boy's and Girl's Book of Sports by Robin Carver. Carver's book copies the rules for rounders published in The Boy's Own Book. A line drawing of boys "Playing Ball" on Boston Common is included.

1838 James Fenimore Cooper, a resident of Cooperstown, describes in his novel Home As Found the return of the Effingham family to Templeton and their ancestral home. There they find a gang of boys playing ball on the lawn. The passage is thought to be based on a similar incident in Cooper's life in 1834.

1838 June 4: Residents of Oxford County gather near Beachville, Ontario, to play the first recorded game of baseball in Canada. The Canadian version uses five bases, three strikes and three outs to a side. An oblique, irregular foul line delineates buildings at the playing site creating an out-of-bounds area.

1839 Abner Doubleday, later to become a Civil War hero, is said to have "invented baseball" at Cooperstown, New York, according to the findings of the Mills Commission (1904-1908), a group of baseball magnates appointed by the American and National League Presidents to investigate the origins of baseball. The Commission bases its findings on letters received from Abner Graves, a resident of Cooperstown in his childhood. The Commission's findings are soon discredited by historians who proclaim the "Doubleday Invention" to be entirely a myth.

1839 May 8: The New York City By-laws and Ordinances prohibit New York, NY ball playing.

1840 DL Adams plays a game in New York City, which he understands to be baseball, "... with a number of other young medical men. Before that there had been a club called the New York Base Ball Club, but it had no very definite organization and did not last long." The game played by Adams was the same as that played by the men who would become the Knickerbockers. The game was played on a square, at first with eleven men on a side, modeling cricket and perhaps the Massachusetts Game.

1840 The Eagle Ball Club of New York is organized to play Town Ball; in 1852 the club reconstitutes itself as the Eagle Base Ball Club and begins to play the New York Game.

1842 The New York Cricket Club is formed. The club consists at first of American-born sporting men affiliated with Porter's "Spirit Of The Times". The American-born emphasis stands in contrast to the British-oriented St George Club.

1842-45 A group of young men begin to gather in Manhattan for informal ball games. The group plays ball under an evolving set of rules from which emerges a distinct version of base ball. In the autumn of 1845 the group organizes formally as the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City. Twenty rules or by-laws are adopted and printed for distribution to the members.

1843 The New York Club, a semi-organized group, commence playing intra-mural games at Elysian Fields, Hoboken, New Jersey.

1845 September 23: Led by Alexander Cartwright, a bank clerk, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City organizes and adopts 20 rules for baseball. This rule book becomes the basis for the game we now call baseball.

1845 October 21: The New York Morning News reports the first recorded inter-club match between the New York Ball Club and a team of Brooklyn players. New York wins the match 24-4 in Elysian Fields, Hoboken, New Jersey. Nothing is known of the rules used to play this game.

1846 June 19: The Knickerbockers meet a team called "New York" at Elysian Fields, New Jersey, in an early match game played under the 1845 rules. The Knickerbockers lose the contest 23-1. Some historians regard this game as the first instance of inter-club or match play.

1846 Walt Whitman writes in his journal: "I see great things in baseball. It's our game - the American game. It will take people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us."

1849 DL Adams (see entry for 1840) invents the position of shortstop by moving the fourth outfielder into the infield.

1850s Numerous clubs, many of them colonised by former New York, NY members of the Knickerbockers, form in the New York City area and play under the Knickerbocker rules. Inter-club competition becomes common and baseball matches begin to draw large crowds of spectators. The capacity for spectators in the New York Game is aided by the foul lines which serve to create a relatively safe area for spectators to congregate and yet remain close to the action without interfering with play. The New York Game's capacity for spectators builds its popularity and eventually fuels an economic bonanza for clubs and owners of baseball grounds. The economic vitality of the New York Game leads eventually to the professionalization and commercialization of baseball.

1856 December 5: The New York Mercury refers to base ball as "The National Pastime".

1857 The New York Game rules are modified by a group of New York, NYclubs who send representatives to meetings to discuss the conduct of the New York Game. The Knickerbocker Club recommends that a winner be declared after seven innings, but nine innings are adopted instead upon the motion of Lewis F Wadsworth. The basepaths are fixed by DL Adams at 30 yards and the pitching distance at 15 yards.

1858 March 16: John Jackson, an American Negro, is born in Fort Plain, NY. Jackson grows up in Cooperstown, where he learns to play baseball. In the 1870s, Jackson, playing under the name Bud Fowler, will become the first paid professional Negro player. Early in his career, Fowler stars for white baseball teams in Toronto, Ontario and Topeka, Kansas.

1860s The New York Game, the Massachusetts Game and North American cricket co-exist. Varying forms of base ball are now played in every corner of the continent. The Civil War disrupts baseball's organizational development but, with the war and the great movement of soldiers that it brings, base ball's popularity is solidified. By the end of the 1860s, the New York Game predominates everywhere and is frequently referred to as "our National Game" or "our National Pastime". Cricket remains an elitist game.

1869 The Cincinnati Red Stockings become baseball's first professional team.

1871 March 17: Baseball's first major league, the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, is formed with teams in Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Rockford (IL), Troy (NY) and Washington (DC).

1871 June 17: Former Civil War General Abner Doubleday, now a Colonel in command of the 24th US Infantry's "Colored Regiment", Fort McKavett, TX, addresses a request to General ED Townsend, Adjutant General, US Army, Washington, DC: "I have the honor to apply for permission to purchase for the Regimental Library a few portraits of distinguished generals, Battle pictures, and some of Rogers groups of Statuary particularly those relative to the actions of the Colored population of the south. This being a colored regiment ornaments of this kind seem very appropriate. I would also like to purchase baseball implements for the amusement of the men and a Magic Lantern for the same purpose. The fund is ample and I think these expenditures would add to the happiness of the men."

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 April 2009 20:35