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(Note: Umpire animation was not done by Brownielocks. It was provided free by Animfactory.com.)

The Ancient History of Baseball

Of all the sports, I think Baseball has had the most evolutionary changes through the years. And, even as I type this, the game is having strike threats and is continuously being challenged in other ways.  But how did this American tradition begin?

It's actually an American adaptation of two English games called Rounders and Cricket.  But Cooperstown, NY is where it is believed to have originated in the US. How?

Back in the 1830's (long before the Civil War began) a boy named Abner Doubleday had a friend named Abner Graves.
Both Abner's lived in Cooperstown, NY and were often on the same team in a game called Stickball.  When Doubleday grew up, he joined the Union Army during the Civil War, and fought heroically in several battles. He did not get killed in the war. He was promoted to General and retired after the war to write articles for magazines. He later died in 1893 and was buried in Arlington Cemetery.  Although he did a lot of things, Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball.  Many think he did.

Actually, a man named A.G. Spaulding, a sporting goods manufacturer was not only very wealthy but very patriotic. In 1905 he formed a committee to try to prove that baseball was invented in America, having no influence or connection to any other country or culture.  After 2 years, Spaulding's committee failed to turn up proof.  Then one day Mr. Spaulding received a letter from an Abner Graves, (remember the friend of Major Abner Doubleday above?).  By now, Abner Graves was old, frail and perhaps his mind wasn't always accurate?  He claimed in this letter that he and his friend Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, NY.

Mr. Spaulding didn't question it. He was delighted. He accepted the letter as fact.  He didn't stop to think it was the ramblings of an old man about his childhood.  He just considered it his proof. So, in 1939, the Baseball Hall of Fame was established in Cooperstown, NY, the hometown of both Abner Doubleday and Abner Graves, who although they played baseball, did not really invent it.

As I send it's really a blend of Rounders and Cricket.  Let me explain.  Rounders was a children's game in which a pitcher was called a thrower.  The batter was called the striker. (Aka Strikeball that the boys played as kids!)  The striker stood in a shallow hole dug in the ground called the "striker's box."  The ball they used was made of either solid rubber or very tightly wound twine.  A stake was the base.  Usually they only had one base, sometimes two.  The number of players all depended on one thing:  who wanted to play.  And the teams then were divided evenly based on that.

"Okay, let's play ball!" the kids screamed.  The thrower wound up, pitched the ball and the striker hit it with a stick and then went running, with the intent of reaching the stake safely.   On a good long hit, the runner ran around the stake and then ran home to make a score.  The other team, to stop the scoring, could one of three things: (1) Catch the ball in the air or after one bounce only. (2) Tag the runner. (3) Or, "plug" the runner, which meant you could throw the ball at the runner and make him out. (That's not legal today.)

Now we add the game of Cricket to the above .....  Which was more of an adult game and more complicated.  In this game a "bowler" bounces a hard rubber ball at a stick called the "wicket". Using a large flat bat, the batsman is suppose to protect the wicket, hit the ball and then run to another wicket. There's only two wickets in the game.  Scores are made by safely getting from one wicket to the other or by hitting the ball out of bounds.  The English colonists played rounders and cricket and soon the two games merged, slowly creating the sport of baseball as we know it today.

During the 18th and 19th centuries the game went through a lot of name changes.  Just like I mentioned with football, well baseball at one time was also called "Townball" in Philadelphia and Boston.  But in New York they called it the "New York game" or "knickerbocker."  A few others were "One Old Cat" or "Two Old Cat" depending on how many bases (stakes) were used.  Speaking of those stakes....

Well they hurt. They weren't exactly fun to run into if you missed rounding them properly.  So flat rocks or sandbags got used for bases, since the origin of the word in colonial times meant something that was thick, low and stumpy.  Having bases changed the game's action and also the name.  From this point on, it was called "Baseball."

The baseball field originally wasn't the diamond as we know it today.
In 1842 it looked more like the Strikeball field in the diagram I made below:

The distance from the Striker's (Batter's) mount to First Base was 48 feet. But the distance between First and Second was 60 feet. Then between Second and Third = 72 feet. And between Third and Home = 72 feet.  The batter had to get all the way to 4th base to score. A run was termed an "Ace". Maybe this is how you get the term, "I aced it"? The goal was to be the first team to score 21 aces to win the game.

Notice also there were two catchers? The reason is that the backstop hadn't been invented yet and so in case the first one missed, you had the other one.

The players were called "scouts" and there were 12 to a team. The extra players were called the "infield rover" and "outfield rover" and "the second catcher."

The bats have gone through a lot of changes through the years too. At first they were flat and paddle-shaped until a law in 1859 outlawed the huge monster bats.  So the players compensated what they couldn't do in width with length and used extra long bats. Thus, in 1876 another law outlawed the long bats.

 For many years, the outside cover of the baseball was made of horsehide, rather than cowhide. This is why today the ball is sometimes referred to as "horsehides." And it remained like that until 1974. The baseball today has a small cork in the center, surrounded by tightly wrapped layers of rubber and yarn.  Then two stripes of white cowhide are sewn together with a thick red thread to cover the ball.

For many years, just like with the sport of tennis, people got a lot of red, stinging and injured hands playing their games. In 1875 baseball gloves got invented to help stop hand injuries.  At first only the catchers got the gloves.  They were made of leather and unpadded and small.  But they were better than bare hands.  Pretty soon the rest of the players wanted some hand protection too and started wearing gloves. Over time baseball gloves improved with better padding, lacing the fingers together and putting in a "pocket" between the thumb and index finger.

Although we now had gloves protecting the hands, the catchers still had the problem of getting their faces and teeth all smashed with the balls coming at them.  So, in 1875 (same year of the glove invention) a man named Fred Thayer invented the catcher's mask, after the masks used int he sport of Fencing (sword fighting).  Ten years later, chest protectors were introduced for catcher's safety.  And in 1908 the first shin guards were worn.

From the very beginning of the game, there's always been an umpire. However, back then it was customary to have him sit in a rocking chair. Although he still got booed at by somebody who didn't like how he called the game.  The rules that he had to enforce were a tad different than today's rules too.

First, it was 4 strikes and "You're Out!". Not 3 like today.
Secondly, it took 9 bad pitches (balls) before the batter was allowed to  walk to first base.

In 1845, Alexander Cartwright laid out the baseball diamond as we know it today.  By many, he is considered "The Father of American Baseball."  

He created the "batting box" which is next to home plate. And in order to score the player had to run around all the bases and then back home where he began. At first the "Home Plate" was a very heavy one made of iron.  This is why it's called home plate and not home base today.

The pitcher got put back further also.  He used to stand 45 feet from the batter. He was moved back to 60' 6" from the batter by Cartwright. Then he changed some of the rules.  The first one was to change the 9 balls to walk first base down to 4 balls.  And it was then 3 strikes and you are out, not like the previous 4 strikes.  And the players now had to bat in turn, in a regular order.  And a runner was out if he interferred with a fielder or touched a ball in plat.  After 3 outs the teams changed sides -- from offensive to defensive.  And it was Cartwright who created the 9 players to a team and thus 9 innings to a game. The word "innings" he took from a medieval English word innung which meant "to get in" to bat in the course of a game.  All of these rules worked and are with us today except one!  Which rule did Cartrwright create that was dumb?  He said that if a ball was hit out of the field, then the player could only advance one base.  With this rule, no one could make a home run. :(

One of the things baseball as done is influence fashion.  Cartwright isn't responsible for the baseball uniforms as we know it today.  Up until Cartrwright's time, the players simply wore anything they wanted. It wasn't until after the Civil War that uniforms came.  The players took to wearing those visor caps that were worn by the Civil War soldiers.  And, it was from these caps that the "Baseball Cap" was born!  The cleated baseball shoes were modeled after the spike shoes golfers wore.   During the 1870's flannel shirts and pants were worn, but they had a problem with two teams showing up wearing the same colors. So in 1882 it was ruled that pro teams had to wear only specified  colors.

All baseball fans the sport every year makes it's own new history, stats, facts and so on.  It's impossible for me to present the entire sport on one page.  Here's a link that provides more current data:  Baseball Almanac.

Some baseball trivia questions:

Ed Delahanty hit 4 home runs in an 1896 game. His prize was:
(a) 4 Boxes of Chewing Gum
(b) 4 Days Off
(c) $4,000

Answer 
(Place your cursor over the dot)
(A) 4 Boxes of Chewing Gum.

Today, in a baseball diamond, which base is considered "The hot corner?"

Answer 
(Place your cursor over the dot)
Third Base

Midi is "Take Me Out To The Ball Game"
Author: Jack Norworth 1908, 1927
Composer: Albert Von Tilzer
Published by: York Music Company

Take me out to the ball game.
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack.
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team.
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out!
At the old ball game.

 


Check out some other Sports Fun at our Main Entry Page.

Source: "When Human Heads were Footballs"
By Don L. Wulffson
Aladdin Paperbacks (Simon and Schuster) 1998

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