My step daughter has three very strong, very handsome young men as sons. The youngest has been signed up by the Angels and is currently playing at top A level in California.
That sentence contains most of my knowledge of baseball. I have seen one game in real life and none on the screen. But the continuous trickle of data about the game due to discussions at Richton Perk between Shirley and the baseball fans there aroused my interest enough to check out how it all began.
In the only game I saw, a college game in which Shirley’s grandson played for the Wildcats versus a Michigan team whose name I have forgotten, I was most interested in the pitcher. I was a fast bowler on my own high school cricket team and was very impressed by the technique used to throw a ball with great accuracy at way over ninety miles an hour. And that particular pitcher was on throughout the game.
The only other bat and ball game other than cricket that I ever played was rounders. And the game I saw did have a resemblance to rounders, but was a bit different. In rounders the ball was delivered under arm and the ways of getting people out in baseball were less ruthless.
A bit of history to drop into the mix. Apparently rounders was called Town Ball in America in the 18th century. Another name used for it was baseball, as it was called in a British literary reference of 1744, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book by John Newbery. It contains a wood-cut illustration of boys playing "baseball" with a set-up that looks like the modern American game..
Also, a British letter dating from 1748 by Lady Hervey describes how the then Prince of Wales spent his leisure time playing baseball. The English author Jane Austen specifically mentions the game of baseball in her novel, Northanger Abbey, being played by Catherine Moreland.
The English lawyer William Bray recorded a game of baseball on Easter Monday 1755 in Guildford, Surrey, England; Bray's diary was verified authentic in September 2008 by someone anxious to know the facts.
“By 1796 the rules of the English game were well enough established to earn a mention in German. In Johann Gutmut’s book on popular pastimes, he described "Englische Base-ball" involving a contest between two teams, in which "the batter has three attempts to hit the ball while at the home plate"; only one out was required to retire a side. These rules pre-date any American by over 50 years. “
In England, as I remember playing it in the 30’s, it was a game played by people up to about the age of eleven. After that the boys played cricket and soccer. Boys and girls played rounders with the boy’s game being somewhat more vicious than the girls, unlike field hockey in which girls were supreme for their ferocity and ruthlessness.
I read in an account that apparently in 1842 in the USA in Manhattan, some upper middle class men refined the ‘rounders’ rules to fit their own cultural milieu and began to play what they called Base Ball for relaxation. It didn’t say what the refinement was.
From my own experience of rounders, I do not know, but I should think that one modification was in the rule that anyone with the ball could throw it AT the runner and if it hit him between bases he was out. This was where the boy’s game was tougher than the girls because the girls didn’t usually throw as hard. Boys would run at the runner to get close enough to make sure the ball bounced off him and the umpire couldn’t deny that he was out. Black eyes and headaches were not all that uncommon in this ‘kid’s’ game.
The three misses and you are out rule apparently was kept on.
Enter Alexander Cartwright who suggested that baseball clubs could be formed from various associated groups in the cities and then play each other. As in some elite sports in England, the players were not chosen for their skill but for their social status and breeding. That’s how I got the clue about throwing AT the player being a no-no as a new general rule.
The clubs would play until one of them got 23 aces, now called runs, and then they packed it in and went drinking and partying.
Cartwright is definitely regarded as the first statistician of baseball, and as an ex mathematician my mind spins at the way baseball folks quote every conceivable and inconceivable aspect of the game to several places of decimals. Yet none of them admit to being good at math, as they call it.
The first recorded baseball game here apparently was between a team organized by Cartwright…the New York Knickerbockers and the New York Nine. Cartwright’s team lost 23-1. As the names indicate, the teams were mainly from cities. People in the country regarded the game as the Brits regarded rounders, a game for kids.
So, where did the General Abner Doubleday story come from? Apparently Spalding, the sporting goods manufacturer decided in 1905 to discover the true story of the birth of baseball. At the time baseball was considered a more refined sport than the ugly ones like gambling, horse racing and boxing, with or without gloves. And cricket was a no-no because the games took three days. Baseball was better because it was faster. Always an advantage to Americans at the time.
Spalding got together a committee of people to examine sources, made it authoritative by including senators, and then advertised for people to let the committee know the origin of the all American sport. One particular letter was from another Abner, Abner Graves. He was a mining engineer and wrote that in the spring of 1839 Abner Doubleday, then his friend, divided some boys into teams in a park in Cooperstown, New York, for a new game. The game was like Town Ball but used four bases, two sides and the modern rules.
In 1907 Spalding and his committee accepted the story without checking anything and the Civil War general Abner Doubleday was proclaimed the inventor of the game. It was a good story. But when the historical facts were brought to the attention of baseball officials in the 30’s, some sixty years after teams had become professional, it was too late commercially to change the story. Plans were already made for building the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Doubleday’s hometown, Cooperstown. To drive another nail into the coffin of the facts the post office brought out a stamp in 1939 to celebrate the anniversary of Doubleday’s invention. Case closed. The equivalent in those days to “I saw it on TV.”
Another piece of research shows that Doubleday wasn’t even in Cooperstown when the other Abner said he was, and that nowhere in Doubleday’s diaries is the word baseball found. It may not be irrelevant that the other Abner was checked into a mental asylum a short time after sending the letter.
And that’s how it still works today. Keep plugging away at the story you want believed and ignore any facts to the contrary.
Of course it doesn’t matter to anyone now who enjoys baseball, but the principle of repetition and ignoring does matter, so I mention it.
Maybe hell will freeze over this year and even non-enthusiasts will know that the Cubs won the Pennant. That’s the other bit of baseball trivia I learned at Richton Perk.