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The Origin of Baseball
The Origin of Baseball by F R Penn
There is evidence that baseball is strictly American, as many of its features are unique. Conversely, many cling to the long held belief that baseball was derived from rounders, a British game. This claim is somewhat hard to dispute. Almost everything except the shape of the field is similar to baseball. Rounders uses posts instead of bases, and there are four posts, but the field is arranged in a pentagon, with one side open. There is no foul territory, and if a batsman swings at a pitch, or if the pitch is deemed inside the "batting square" and there is no swing, they must attempt to run to the first post, even if they don't make contact with the ball.
A fielder produces an out by tagging the runner with the ball, tagging the post the batsman is running toward with the ball, or catching the hit ball on the fly. A batsman advances to the first post if three pitches are delivered by the "bowler," 28 feet away, outside of the batting square. A batsman can also advance on a ball hit behind the field arrangement, an area that is considered "foul territory" in baseball, but only to the first post. There are nine players to a team, just like in baseball, but there are nine outs per inning, and two innings comprise a complete game.
There is no evidence of a direct connection of baseball to rounders other than early sports writers (mostly British) saying so. Still, others believe that baseball was developed from a very old folk game known as stool ball (1085 A.D., also British). This is a stretch, as the game has many dissimilar features. We know that in 2000 B.C. ball and stick type games were played by ancient cultures, and Egyptian hieroglyphics describe an ancient game similar to baseball in 1500 B.C.
Baseball historians have tried to connect everything from these ancient games to "tip-cat" to "base" as a claim to baseball¡¯s ancestry. Many theorists from England claim that baseball was taken from rounders, which has many similarities, but it also has features dissimilar to baseball. Most of these theories are questionable at best and downright ridiculous at worst.
In tip-cat a "batter" strikes the end of a whittled "cat," a piece of wood about 4 inches long that is similar to a parallelogram or pyramid on each end. It is struck with a long stick which also serves as the bat. The "cat" is catapulted into the air, then struck on its down flight with the bat. A player gets three "strikes" at the cat, and the greatest accumulated distance wins. Does this sound anything like baseball?
The game of base is just more-or-less "tag" with a base where you are safe. The "base" is the only similarity to the game of baseball. Many of the earlier folk games that go back as far as the 1300¡¯s in England had some similarities to baseball, cricket, rounders and other games. These games went by various names, including stob-ball, stow-ball, stoolball, poison ball, tip-cat, and the list goes on to infinity. Many baseball historians have stated these early games were more direct ancestors of cricket and rounders.
Stoolball, most notably, had many similar features to rounders
and cricket. In stoolball, a batter defended an object (a stool
or a stump) by striking a pitched projectile of some sort. If
the batter hit the projectile and it was caught by a fielder, or
missed hitting the ball and it struck a stool leg or a stump,
the batter was out. There is also some evidence, although not
clearly, that these types of games were social games and also
had some similarities to "spin-the-bottle". Stob-ball and
stow-ball were regional spin-off games similar to stoolball. In
the year 1700, Thomas Wilson wrote down his disapproval of "morris dancing, cudgel-playing, baseball and cricket." Some
sources claim this statement was "stoolball" rather than
In 1744, a small book by John Newbery called A Little Pretty
Pocket-Book provides us a woodcut model of the field in
stoolball. It includes a rhyme that mentions base-ball. The book
was later republished in Colonial America. It was also
documented that in 1748 Frederick, the Prince of Wales, played
in a game similar to baseball. There were many other early
British and Colonial American games that have been thrown into
the controversial "chicken or the egg" argument of baseball's
origin. Perhaps rounders came from stoolball, or perhaps
Really, all that we do know for a fact is that the terms base-ball and stoolball were used interchangeably on many occasions. We know for sure that the first written rules for modern baseball appeared in 1845. We also know that one of the reasons they were written was, once again, the rules were changed.
These "original" rules laid out the foul lines and eliminated the "plug out" (hitting the runner with the ball to gain an out, if not on a base). This document also included the first account of the tag-out and the force-out. There were also no "innings" in the Knickerbocker or New York game. The first team to reach twenty-one, allowing equal number of at-bats, won the game. Cartwright may have written the modern rules, but there are still differences from the modern game.
What's important is that for the first time in baseball history these changes were clearly documented, as were subsequent adjustments to the modern rules of baseball. The evolution of baseball is a long and complex path, which has snaked its way through a large number of similar games.
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