Baseball History: 19th Century Baseball

Baseball History: 19th Century Baseball


I think there are only three things America will be known for 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz, and baseball.

Baseball has come a long way from its raw and humble beginnings on the fields of 19th century America. More than just a game, baseball remains an integral part of American heritage and an intrinsic part of our national psyche. For many of us, the ideas of team, fair play, and athletic excellence first appeared on a red clay diamond cut from a grassy field. Referred to as “America’s pastime” since 1856, baseball today is played by men and women of all ages and skill levels all over the world. Despite frequent scandals and crises, baseball remains synonymous with the best that America has to offer.

Contrary to popular belief, baseball was not invented by a single person, but rather evolved from various European “bat and ball” games. Russia had a version of baseball called Lapta, which dates back to the 14th century. It consisted of two teams (five to ten members) with a pitcher and batter. The ball will be thrown to the batter, who will attempt to hit it with a short stick and then run to the other side and back before the ball hits it.

England have played cricket and rounders for centuries. The first recorded cricket match was played in Sussex, England in 1697. The game of cricket is played on a large open circular field and has two sides of eleven players trying to ‘put down’ a ‘batsman’ who is trying to prevent the ball from being thrown by one of the fielders. The “bowler” is the one who hits the “bails” placed on “wickets” or three vertical sticks. If the batter touches the ball, he runs to the other side of the “field” and continues to run back and forth until the ball is recovered by the opposing team.

Rounders, which share more technical similarities with baseball, date back to the Tudor era in England. This game consists of two teams, six to fifteen players, including a pitcher, batter, “bowling square”, “battering square” and four outs, similar to the rules used in baseball. Each player had to bat in each “inning” and the game continued twice. The pitcher throws the ball to the batter, who attempts to hit it. If contact is made, the batter runs to the first post. Points were awarded based on which post was reached by the batter and the manner in which the post was reached.

Germany played a game called Schlagball, which was similar to Rounders. The ball was thrown by the “thrower” to the “striker”, who hit it with a club and tried to complete the bases circle without being hit by the ball. Americans played a version of Rounders called “Town Ball”, which dates back to the early 1800s. In this game, the first team to score one hundred “flights” wins the game. In 1858 the rules were formalized as “The Rules for the Massachusetts Game of Town Ball”.

Occasionally, early 19th-century American newspapers reported games listed as “bassball”, “baseball”, “baseball”, “baseball”, “goalball” and “townball”. The first known printed record of a game that was slightly different from Rounders and more like a game akin to baseball, is from the 1829 book The Boy’s Own Book, where the game is referred to as “Round Ball”, “Base”, and “Goal Ball”. A rough field diagram is included with the exact locations of the four stones or pegs (bases) arranged in the diamond. The article described how to “get out” as well as how to get “home”. The word “party” was used to describe the team, and the team at bat was called “at the party”. Each end was positioned on itself, the bases were run clockwise and players could be put out by swinging and missing three tipped balls or by hitting the ball while moving between the bases.

Perhaps the first football club to adopt a constitution was the Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia, founded in 1833. It was formed by bringing together two Town Ball players’ associations. A Town Ball association may have begun playing in the spring of 1831, in Camden, NJ on Market Street. The original group included only four players, playing “Cat Ball”, but eventually the number of players increased, and a Saturday afternoon gathering usually had between fifteen and twenty players. With the growing interest, the game has changed to Town Ball and then to Base Ball. The other association called itself the Olympic Ball Club, preferred Town Ball and played on Wednesdays. Since they did not meet as regularly as the group in Camden, some members of the Olympic Ball Club began playing in Camden. Eventually a match was proposed and played between the two associations. There is no record of this match, but the two groups eventually united into one and played on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Constitution was first published in 1838 and consists of 15 articles. The duties of the board of directors, members and captains are described. Training days and structure are also well defined.

“ is truly a one-of-a-kind resource for in-depth information regarding the history of our great sport. I encourage all baseball fans to visit the site to learn more about how the game really began.”

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