- Town ball
The term town ball, or townball, describes the
bat-and-ball, safe haven gamesplayed in North Americain the 18th and 19th centuries, which were similar to roundersand were precursors to modern baseball. In some areas - such as Philadelphiaand along the Ohio Riverand Mississippi River- the local game was called Town Ball. In other regions the local game was named "base", "round ball", "base ball", or just "ball." The players might be schoolboys in a pasture with improvised balls and bats, or young men in organized clubs. As baseball became dominant, town ball became a casual term to describe old fashioned or rural games similar to baseball.
The rules of town ball varied, but distinguishing characteristics most often cited were:
* The number of players on a team was usually more than nine.
* There was no foul territory; all struck balls were in play.
* In many versions, base runners could be put out by hitting them with the ball - a practice known as "soaking" or "plugging".
Generally the infield was a square or rectangular shape, with four bases or pegs. Similarly to baseball, the fourth base was called home base, as it was the final goal of a runner. However, differently from baseball - and more like
rounders- the striker would stand between first and fourth base, at a kind of fifth base called the striker's stand. The thrower stood in the middle of the square and delivered the ball to be hit by the striker. If the struck ball were caught in mid-air or on the first bounce, the striker was called out. If no one caught it, the striker became a runner and advanced as many bases as possible, with the option to stop at any base as a safe haven.
In most varieties of the game, fielders could hit the runner with the ball and if he were not on a base he would be called out. But in some, the cross-out was used: the fielder threw the ball so as to cross the runner's path, between him and the next base. A runner who reached fourth base safely was said to have achieved a round or tally.
The concept of innings was used: the team with the bat was "in", until put "out" by the opposing side. If "one-out, all-out" was the rule, the defensive team only needed to retire one man to end the inning. However, the game might also be played as "all-out, all-out", meaning that every player had to be retired (as in
cricket) before sides were changed. Matches might be played for an agreed-upon number of innings, or until one side had achieved a requisite number of tallies.
Town Ball and the Doubleday Myth
Town Ball's role in the
origins of baseballhas been debated since early 1900s, and the two sides of the debate stem from a friendly quarrel between an editor and his publisher. In the 1903 edition of "Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide", editor Henry Chadwick, who was born in England, wrote "Just as the New York game was improved townball, so was townball an improved form of the two-centuries-old English game of rounders." Albert Goodwill Spalding, star player, sports equipment entrepreneur, and publisher of the Spalding Guide, asserted that baseball's origins were American. Spalding wrote an article titled "The Origin and Early History of Baseball" for the January 15, 1905 "Washington Post". He described the game of Four Old Cat, in which four throwers and four batsmen stand in four corners. "Some ingenious American lad" got the idea of placing one thrower in the center of the square, wrote Spalding. "This was for many years known as the old game of Town Ball, from which the present game of baseball no doubt had its origin, and not from the English children's picnic game of 'Rounders'." [http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/search.html]
Later in 1905 Spalding organized a panel of experts known as the Mills Commission to investigate the issue. Abner Graves, whose testimony was the basis of the Mills Commission claim that
Abner Doubledayinvented baseball in 1839, named Town Ball as the "old" game that the boys of Cooperstown, New Yorkplayed before baseball. [http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/about/history.htm] . In the Town Ball game that Graves described, the batsman struck the tossed ball with a flat bat, and ran toward a goal fifty feet away, and back again. Graves said there were generally 20 to 50 boys in the field, which generated many collisions among those trying to catch the ball.
Philadelphia Town Ball
Most accounts of a game called Town Ball were recorded many years later as reminiscences or memoirs. It is more difficult to find contemporary descriptions. One of the earliest was a
New York Clipperarticle dated Sept. 19, 1857, reporting a “Game of Town Ball” at Germantown, Pennsylvania(now a neighborhood of Philadelphia). Reporting another game, the Clipper for August 11, 1860 commented, "The Olympic Club dates its existence back to 1832, so that properly speaking it is the parent Town Ball organization in the city of Philadelphia."
Informal groups were playing town ball at Market Street in Philadelphia and across the
Delaware Riverin Camden, New Jerseyin 1831 and 1832. Irving Leitner quotes a 19th century source: "All the players were over 25 years of age, and to see them playing a game like this caused much merriment among the friends of the players. It required 'sand' in those days to go out on the field and play, as the prejudice against the game was very great."
The two groups merged in 1833 to form the Olympic Ball Club. In the introduction to his book "Baseball",
John Montgomery Wardwrote of the Philadelphia game:
... it is recorded that the first day for practice enough members were not present to make up town-ball, and so a game of "
two-old-cat" was played. This town-ball was so nearly like rounders that one must have been the prototype of the other, but town-ball and base-ball were two very different games. When this same town-ball club decided in 1860 to adopt base-ball instead, many of its principal members resigned, so great was the enmity to the latter game. - [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19975]
A copy of the Olympic Ball Club's constitution exists [http://www.sabr.org/sabr.cfm?a=cms,c,611,3,158] , but it contains only rules for governing the club, and no rules for playing ball. Contemporary accounts describe Philadelphia town ball as played with eleven men on a side, with four bases and the batter standing between 4th and 1st bases. They played two innings of "all-out, all-out" or eleven innings of "one-out, all-out". Typical games were high-scoring with the victorious side often topping 75 runs. The players are said to have made their own bats and balls. They were adept with two types of bats. For a two-handed swing, a flat
cricket-type bat was used. For a one-handed swing, a smaller round model, called a delill, was chosen.There is evidence that over the course of three decades the Olympics played varieties of baseball, wicket, and old cat, as well as town ball.
Richard Hershberger's research indicates that Philadelphia Town Ball did not use "soaking" or "burning" to retire the base runner. In fact the bases - rather close together - were not safe havens, but merely marked the complete circuit the batter-runner must take. In this "all out-all out" game there were no men left on base.
In 1860 the Olympics converted to the modern "New York game", but the old style was still being played in rural areas. That year members of
Athletic of Philadelphia- originally formed as a town ball club - traveled to Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvaniafor two contests, one of New York-style baseball and the other of town ball. The Mauch Chunk lads defeated the A's 45-43 at town ball. But playing New York rules, the A's defeated the country players 34-2. The Athletics were soon to be a national baseball powerhouse. The Olympic Club, after a bitterly publicized rivalry with the A's, dropped out of major match play in 1864, and many of the members went back to playing Town Ball.
Town Ball in the West
Cincinnati, Ohiothe informal Excelsior Townball Club was formed in 1860; the players were young schoolteachers and their friends, and hospital interns. Reportedly they used a small bat which was swung with one hand, in games of four innings, with 10 to 15 players on a side. The more formal Cincinnati Buckeye Townball Club was established on 1863.
IndianaAuthor Edward Egglestonremembers a pre-Civil War schoolyard game:
Town-ball is one of the old games from which the scientific but not half so amusing "national game" of base-ball has since been evolved. In that day the national game was not thought of. Eastern boys played field-base, and Western boys town-ball in a free and happy way, with soft balls, primitive bats, and no nonsense. There were no scores, but a catch or a cross-out in town-ball put the whole side out, leaving others to take the bat or "paddle" as it was appropriately called. - "Scribner's Monthly", March 1879 [http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/moa-cgi?notisid=ABP7664-0017-124]
*The town of
Canton, Illinoiswas incorporated in 1837. At the first meeting of the town trustees (aldermen), 27 March 1837, Section 36 of the Ordinances was enacted: "any person who shall on the Sabbath day play at bandy, cricket, cat, town-ball, corner-ball, over-ball, fives, or any other game of ball, within the limits of the corporation, or shall engage in pitching dollars or quarters, or any other game, in any public place, shall, on conviction thereof, be fined the sum of one dollar." [http://www.illinoisancestors.org/fulton/1871_canton/pages95_126.html]
* Henry J. Philpott described himself as "a pupil and teacher in country schools within twenty miles of the
Mississippi River, and about half-way between St. Louis and St. Paul." He wrote a story called "A Little Boys' Game with a Ball" for "Popular Science Monthly" in 1890. Philpott writes that the boys played Old Catuntil they had more than eight players; then they switched to town-ball. "In 'town-ball' there was as yet no distinction between base-men [infielders] and fielders. After the pitcher and catcher had been selected, the others on that side went where they pleased; and they did not get to bat until they had put all the batters out." He writes that after baseball was introduced, town-ball "was so different that for some years the two games were played side by side, each retaining its own name." [http://books.google.com/books?vid=LCCN92642492&id=kzAKAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA656&lpg=PA656&dq=%22Town+Ball%22&as_brr=1]
The Massachusetts Game
New Englanders usually called their game "base" or "round ball" (from running 'round the bases). The "Massachusetts game" or "New England game" was a formalized version with many clubs active in the Boston area. A set of rules was drawn up by the Massachusetts Association of Base Ball Players at
Dedham, Massachusettsin 1858. This game was played by ten to fourteen players with four bases 60 feet apart and no foul territory. The ball was considerably smaller and lighter than a modern baseball, and runners were put out by "soaking" - hitting them with the thrown ball. Innings were "one-out, all-out" and the first club to reach 100 runs was the winner. Although it had its adherents until the 1860s, the Massachusetts game was superseded by the "three-out, all-out" "New York game" of baseball, with its Knickerbocker Ruleswhich formed the basis of the modern game of baseball.
Old Fashioned Base Ball
Another term applied retroactively to precursor baseball games was Old Fashioned Base Ball. This game was generally identified as a type of baseball with large numbers on each side, where the fielders threw the ball at the runner. The Knickerbocker Antiquarian Base Ball Club of
Newark, New Jerseycontinued to play old fashioned base ball at least until 1865. After the Civil War, old-timers still put on exhibitions of traditional baseball at picnics and charity events. For instance, in Mauston, Wisconsinin 1888, the festivities at The Old Settlers Jubilee included "an old fashioned base ball game" [http://www.rootsweb.com/~wijuneau/Pioneers21888.html] Ironically, the only mention of baseball in "" describes an old fashioned game:
1877. A famous game of old-fashioned base ball was played here, in August — Judge Sturges heading the "Reds" and Judge Edick the "Blues" — 16 on a side. The victory was with the "Blues." It called together a large concourse of people.Many articles were written waxing nostalgically for the old game. This nostalgia was satirized by Robert J. Burdette in his story "Rollo Learning to Play":
"And town ball," he said, "good old town ball! There was no limit to the number on a side. The ring was anywhere from three hundred feet to a mile in circumference, according to whether we played on a vacant Pingree lot or out on the open prairie... The bat was a board, about the general shape of a Roman galley oar and not quite so wide as a barn door. The ball was of solid India rubber; a little fellow could hit it a hundred yards, and a big boy, with a hickory club, could send it clear over the bluffs or across the lake. We broke all the windows in the school-house the first day, and finished up every pane of glass in the neighborhood before the season closed. The side that got its innings first kept them until school was out or thelast boy died." - "The Wit and Humor of America, Vol. 5" 1907 [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19323]Varieties of town ball remained a popular schoolyard activity, especially in rural areas, well into the 20th century. [http://home.comcast.net/~buffalohead/townball2.htm] In recent times the Massachusetts Rules have occasionally been used by "vintage" baseball clubs, such as the Leatherstocking Base Ball Club of Cooperstown, NY. [http://www.baseball-almanac.com/ruletown.shtml]
Famous Town Ball Players
[http://www.retrosheet.org/Protoball/ Project Protoball] lists
Abraham Lincolnas a player in the 1840s. According to biographer Albert Beveridge, "He joined with gusto in outdoor sports -- foot-races, jumping and hopping contests, town ball, wrestling."
In another Protoball reference, Henry C. Whitney, in "Lincoln the Citizen" writes of the future President in 1860: "During the settling on the convention Lincoln had been trying, in one way and another, to keep down the excitement . . . playing billiards a little, town ball a little, and story-telling a little."
Irving Leitner quotes a story by Frank Blair, grandson of
Francis P. Blair, one of Lincoln's political confidants:
There were eight or ten of us, our ages ranging from eight to twelve years. Although I was but seven or eight years of age, Mr. Lincoln's visits were of such importance to us boys as to leave a clear impression on my memory. He drove out to the place quite frequently. We boys, for hours at a time played 'town ball' on the vast lawn, and Mr. Lincoln would join ardently in the sport. I remember vividly how he ran with the children; how long were his strides, and how far his coat-tails stuck out behind, and how we tried to hit him with the ball, as he ran the bases. He entered into the spirit of the play as completely as any of us, and we invariably hailed his coming with delight."
In his book "My Life in Baseball",
Ty Cobbwrote about ballplaying in Georgia around 1898: "At eleven and twelve, I liked to play cow-pasture baseball—what we called town ball." He wrote of whacking a string ball and "then chasing madly about the bases while an opponent tried to retrieve said pill and sock you with it." In this version of town ball, a home run entitled the hitter to another turn at bat.
Modern Townball (Upper Midwest)
In the upper Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc.) ‘townball’ is a regional colloquialism for the dozens of rural amateur baseball leagues spanning the states. Typically, a town will field one or perhaps two teams made up of college students and working men from the area. These ‘town teams’ play ‘townball’ during the summer in leagues of similar teams from neighboring towns and small cities.
Origins of baseball
* [http://www.baseball-almanac.com/ruletown.shtml Town Ball : The Rules of the Massachusetts Game] .
* [http://www.inquiry.net/outdoor/summer/ball/index.htm How to Play Town Ball, by Dan Beard.]
* [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3195645716458153202 Farmers' Almanac TV: The Old Ballgame (Town Ball re-enactors in Cooperstown NY)]
* [http://www.retrosheet.org/Protoball/ Project Protoball]
* [http://www.minnesotabaseball.org/ Modern Townball in Minnesota]
*cite book | first = Harry | last = Ellard| year = 1907 [2004 reprint] | title = Base Ball in Cincinnati: A History | publisher = McFarland & Company| location = Jefferson, North Carolina| id = ISBN 0-7864-1726-9
*cite book | first = Irving A. | last = Leitner| year = 1972| title = Baseball: The Diamond in the Rough| publisher = Criterion Books| location = New York| id = ISBN 0200717928
*cite book | first = Mark | last = Alvarez| year = 1990 | title = The Old Ball Game (The World of baseball) | publisher = Redefinition | location = Alexandria, Virginia| id = ISBN 0924588098
*cite book | first = Tom | last = Melville| year = 2001 | title = Early Baseball and the Rise of the National League | publisher = McFarland & Company| location = Jefferson, North Carolina| id = ISBN 0786409622
*cite book | first = George B. | last = Kirsch | year = 2003 | title = Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War | publisher = Princeton University Press | location = Princeton | id = ISBN 0-6911-3043-4
*cite book | first = David | last = Block | year = 2005 | title = Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game | publisher = University of Nebraska Press | location = Lincoln | id = ISBN 0-8032-1339-5
*cite book | first = Rucker, Mark | last = Freyer, John K. and| year = 2005 | title = Peverelly's National Game (Images of Baseball) | publisher = Arcadia Publishing | location = Mount Pleasant SC| id = ISBN 0738534048
*cite book | first = Richard| last = Hershberger| year = 2007 | title = A Reconstruction of Philadelphia Town Ball. Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Fall 2007) Edited by John Thorn | publisher = McFarland & Company| location = Jefferson, North Carolina| id = ISBN BB00000006 ISSN 1934-2802
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