The Origins of Baseball
Baseball’s direct ancestor was stoolball, from which cricket likewise descended. Played primarily by milkmaids in Sussex, England by the year 1330, when it was referenced in print, it used milking stools as the equivalent of “wickets” or “home plate”.
By 1744, it was known as “base-ball”, with specific “bases” to which the batter had to run. It was played by the Prince of Wales, the future George III, in 1748 and again in 1749, and is mentioned in an Englishman’s diary in 1755. In these days, apart from being played by boys, it was played also by upper-class men and women together, considered a genteel pastime. This is the first illustration of “base-ball” (1744):
The USA having been a British colony prior to 1776, baseball is mentioned in a 1791 law in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It was referenced in a 1796 German publication as an English sport.
Perhaps most surprising, considering baseball’s rough reputation by the late 19th century, was that the very early sport was considered so genteel that Jane Austen mentioned it in Northanger Abbey, written in 1798-99.
The diamond shape was in place by 1828, in London, and the new rules quickly spread across the Atlantic to Boston. The first baseball game of which the score is known was played in Ontario, Canada in 1838, at that time a British colony.
In the 1840′s and 1850′s, the terms “baseball” and “townball” were used interchangeably, and three competing sets of rules were promoted, one in New York City, one in Philadelphia and one in Massachusetts. It is the New York game that became modern baseball, though some historians have opined that Massachusetts “townball” is more fun to play.
In a strictly amateur era, physician Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams (New York baseball) became the sport’s greatest innovator. He invented the position of shortstop and was the first to play it (for free), set the bases 90 feet apart, designed more modern bats and balls, set the game at nine innings in length and nine players per team and determined all the rules for the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), the league with most of the best amateur players from 1857 to 1871. This is Doc Adams:
When the Cincinnati Red Stockings became openly professional in 1869, then toured America undefeated against various semi-pro teams, this set up what was effectively the first world championship game, between the Brooklyn Atlantics, who had won 8 championships in the NABBP, against the Red Stockings.
Fifteen thousand people in Brooklyn paid 50 cents each on June 14, 1870 to see the Atlantics get a dramatic, extra-innings, 8-7 victory over the Red Stockings. The Atlantics turned professional in 1872. Pictured here is the team in 1865:
With professional players and unification, only one key element of the modern game was missing, as it was missing from society, which was racial integration.
But African-Americans, having been banned from the NABBP in 1867, had already resourcefully formed their own teams, most notably the Philadelphia Pythians, founded in 1865 by two Black men who previously played cricket, showing the common lineage of the two games. The team’s co-founder, early Civil Rights activist (from Philadelphia), Octavius Catto, is photographed below:
Today, baseball is more popular in Japan and in some Latin American countries than it is in the USA, where its place as the “national pastime” has been, to some extent, been taken by American (gridiron) football.
Baseball was popularized in Japan primarily by Francis Joseph "Lefty" O'Doul of the New York Giants (now in San Francisco). As a result, Japan based both the name and the uniforms of their most successful team, the Yomiuri Giants, after the New York/San Francisco franchise:
In 1868, Estevan Enrique "Steve" Bellán of Cuba joined the Union of Morrisania, an NABBP team in South Bronx, paving the way for other Latino ballplayers:
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