Early Baseball Milestones

What are your baseball origins? Where did you play your first game? Baseball traces its roots through the annals of history, well before the founding of Major League Baseball. This chronology, from Protoball (an extensive gathering of early materials documenting the origins of baseball), records the order of events related to the development of baseball starting in 2500 B.C. Enjoy, and share with us your own baseball milestones.

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  • 2500 BC - "Tip Cats" Found in Egyptian Ruins?


    Writing in 1891, Stewart Culin reported “the discovery by Mr. Flinders-Petrie of wooden ‘tip cats’ among the remains of Rahun, in the Fayoom, Egypt (circa 2500 B.C).”  Culin infers that these short wooden objects, pointed on each end, were used in an ancient form of the game later know as Cat.

    Culin, Stewart, “Street Games of Boys in Brooklyn, N.Y.,” Journal of American Folklore, Volume 4, number 14 (July-September 1891), page 233, note 1. 

    Query:  Do contemporary archeologists and/or historians agree that such items were evidence of play?  Have they since found older artifacts that may be associated with cat-like games, or ball games? Can they suggest any rules for such games . . . Batting? Running?  Fielding?  Team Play?   

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 2400 BC - Was Egypt the Well-Spring of Ballplaying? Text Has “Strike the Ball” Reference


    “The earliest known references to seker-hemat (translation: “batting the ball”) as a fertility rite and ritual of renewal are inscribed in pyramids dating to 2400 BC.”  Egyptologist Peter Piccione reads Pyramid Texts Spell 254 as commanding a pharaoh to cross the heavens and “strike the ball” in the meadow of the sacred Apis bull.

    Piccione, Peter, “Pharaoh at the Bat,” College of Charlestown Magazine (Spring/Summer 2003), p.36.  From a clipping in the Giamatti Center’s “Origins” file in Cooperstown. 

    Piccione’s reading seems consistent with Robert Henderson’s identification of ancient Egypt as the source of ballplaying: “It is the purpose of this book to show that all modern games played with bat and ball descend from one common source: an ancient fertility rite observed by Priest –Kings in the Egypt of the Pyramids.”

    Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], page 4.

    Caution:  David Block [Baseball Before We Knew It, page 303 (note 1)] writes that Piccione’s identification of seker-hemat with baseball is “apparently speculative in nature.”

    Query:  It would be good to confirm details in an academic source and to see whether Egyptologists have any other interpretations of this text – and how Egyptian rites employed the ball as a symbol of fertility. 

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 2000 BC - The Ball in Ancient Play

    BC2000.C1 to 1000AD

    Ancient cultures—Lydians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians—play primitive ball games for recreation, fertility rites and religious rituals.

    Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], pp. 8-21.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 2000 BC - "Egypt May Be the Birthplace" of Ballplaying


    "Recent excavations near Cairo, Egypt, have brought to light small balls of leather and others of wood obviously used in some outdoor sport, and probably dating back to at least 2000 years before Christ. These may be the oldest balls in existence. Hence Egypt maybe the birthplace of the original ball game whatever it was. We know, however that the Greeks and Romans played ball at a remote period. We do not know the exact nature of any of these ancient games, Egyptian, Greek, or Roman."

    William S. Walsh, A Handy Book of Curious Information (J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1913), page 83. Available via Google Books search "to light small balls," 1/27/2010. Query: Does recent scholarship agree that these were balls, were used in sport, and date to 2000 BC? Is there further evidence about their role in Egyptian life?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 2000 BC - Egyptian Tomb Has Earliest Depiction of Catching (Fielding) a Ball?


    The main chamber of Tomb 15 at Beni Hasan has a depiction of catching a ball, as well as throwing.  Two women, each riding on the back of another woman, appear to be doing some form of ball-handling. The image of one woman pretty clearly depicts her in the act of catching ("fielding”) a ball, and the other is quite plausibly about to throw a ball toward her.

     Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], page 19; the image itself is reproduced opposite page 28.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1500 BC - Mexican Game Believed to Use Rubber Ball, Bat


    According to SABR member César González, "There are remains of rubber balls found since the time of the Olmeca culture between 1500 and 700 BC." He reports that it is believed that one of the earliest Mesoamerican games was played with a stick. A dozen rubber balls dating to 1600 BCE or earlier have been found in El Manatí, an Olmec sacrificial bog 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan. [Haslip-Viera, Gabriel: Bernard Ortiz de Montellano; Warren Barbour Source "Robbing Native American Cultures: Van Sertima's Afrocentricity and the Olmecs," Current Anthropology, Vol. 38, No. 3, (Tun., 1997), pp. 419-441]

    Email from César González, 12/6/2008 Note: Can we add sources for these points?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1460 BC - Egyptian Tomb Inscriptions Show Bats, Balls


    Wall inscriptions in Egyptian royal tombs depict games using bats and balls.

    According to Egyptologist Peter Piccione, "A wall relief at the temple of Deir et-Bahari showing Thutmose III playing under the watchful eye of the goddess Hathor dates to 1460 BC. Priests are depicted catching the balls . . . this was really a game."

    Per Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], p. 20. Note: Henderson's source may be his ref 127, Naville, E., "The Temple of Deir el Bahari (sic)," Egyptian Exploration Fund. Memoirs, Volume 19, part IV, plate C [London, 1901]. Also, Batting the Ball, by Peter A. Piccione, "Pharaoh at the Bat," College of Charlestown Magazine (Spring/Summer 2003), p.36. See also http://www.cofc.edu/~piccione/sekerhemat.html, as accessed 12/17/08.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 750 BC - Ballplay in Ancient Greece


    The Greeks, famous for their athletics, played several ball games. In fact the Greek gymnasium ["palaistra"] was often known to include a special room ["sphairiteria"] for ballplaying . . . a "sphaira" being a ball. Pollux [ca 180 AD] lists a number of children's ball games, including games that loosely resemble very physical forms of keepaway and rugby, and the playing of a complicated form of catch, one that involved feints to deceive other players.

    The great physician Galen wrote [ca. 180 AD] especially fondly of ballplaying and its merits, and seems to have seen it as an adult activity. He advised that "the most strenuous form of ball playing is in no way inferior to other exercises." Turning to milder forms of ball play, he said "I believe that in this form ball playing is also superior to all the other exercises." His partiality to ballplaying stemmed in part from its benefit for the whole body, not just the legs or arms, as was the case for running and wrestling.

    As far as we are aware, Greek ball games did not include any that involved running among bases or safe havens, or any that involved hitting a ball with a club or stick (or hands).

    Source: Stephen G. Miller, Arete: Greek Sports from Ancient Sources [University of California Press, 2004]: See especially Chapter 9, "Ball Playing." The Pollox quote is from pp. 124-125, and the Galen quote is from pp. 121-124. Special thanks to Dr. Miller for his assistance.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 700 BC - Pitching in the Bible?


    "He will surely wind you around and around, and throw you like a ball into a large country. There you will die . . . " Isaiah 22:18.

    The word "ball" appears only twice in the Bible, and the other one refers to the ball of the foot of a beast [Leviticus 11:27]. The Isaiah usage was the inspiration for a January 1905 news article headed, "Played Baseball in Bible Times: The Prophet Isaiah Made the only reference to the Pastime to be Found in the Holy Writ." [The Hamilton [Ont] Spectator - from a clipping in the Origins file at the Giamatti Center in Cooperstown.]

    Isaiah's prophesies were written [in Hebrew] late in the eighth century BC. A compilation of 15 English translations [accessed at http://bible.cc/isaiah/22-18.htm on 12/29/10] shows that most of them summon the image of an angry God hurling the miscreant, like a ball, far far away. [One exception, however, cites a wound turban, not a ball.] A literal translation is unrevealing: "And thy coverer covering, wrapping round, Wrappeth thee round, O babbler, On a land broad of sides—there thou diest." Caveat: we have little assurance that Isaiah actually referred to a ball, or even to the act of throwing. Query: could a Hebrew reader or a Bible scholar among you clarify this question?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 100 BC - Historian Dates Early Cricket to 100 BC - Others Disagree

    BC 100.1

    In his 1912 article "The History of Cricket" [in Pelham and Warner, Imperial Cricket (London, 1912), p. 54] Andrew Lang "argued that cricket was played as far back as 100 BC, basing this on evidence supposedly provided by the ancient Irish epics and romances." According to Lang, "cricket was played by the ancestors of Cuchulain, by the Dalraid Scots from northern Ireland who invaded and annexed Argyll in about 500 AD." Modern writers do not accept this view.

    Bateman, Anthony," 'More Mighty than the Bat, the Pen . . . ; 'Culture, Hegemony, and the Literaturisaton of Cricket," Sport in History, v. 23, 1 (Summer 2003), pp. 27 - 44. Note: It would be interesting to know what particular features of Irish lore gave Lang the feeling that cricket stemmed from ancient Irish sources.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 370 - Saint Augustine Recalls Punishment for Youthful Ball Games


    In his Confessions, Augustine of Hippo - later St. Augustine - recalls his youth in Northern Africa, where his father served as a Roman official. "I was disobedient, not because I chose something better than [my parents and elders] chose for me, but simply from the love of games. For I liked to score a fine win at sport or to have my ears tickled by the make-believe of the stage." [Book One, chapter 10] In Book One, chapter 9, Augustine had explained that "we enjoyed playing games and were punished for them by men who played games themselves. However, grown up games are known as 'business. . . . Was the master who beat me himself very different from me? If he were worsted by a colleague in some petty argument, he would be convulsed in anger and envy, much more so than I was when a playmate beat me at a game of ball."

    Saint Augustine's Confessions, Book One, text supplied by Dick McBane, February 2008. Note: Can historians identify the "game of ball" that Augustine might have played in the fourth Century? Are the translations to "game of ball," "games," and "sport" still deemed accurate?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 640 - Medieval Writer: Saint Cuthbert [b. 634c] "Pleyde atte balle"


    Mulling on whether the ball came to England in Anglo-Saxon days, Strutt reports "the author of a manuscript in Trinity College, Oxford, written in the fourteenth century and containing the life of Saint Cuthbert, says of him, that when young, 'he pleyde atte balle with the children that his felawes [fellows] were.' On what authority this information is established I cannot tell." Strutt, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (Chatto and Windus, London, 1898 edition), p. 158.

    Note: The claim of this unidentified manuscript seems weak. As Strutt notes, the venerable Bede wrote poetic and prose accounts of the life of Cuthbert around 715-720 A.D., and made no mention of ballplaying. That a scholar would find evidence seven centuries later would be surprising. Warton later cites the poem as from Oxford MSS number Ivii, and he also places its unidentified author in the fourteenth century, but he doesn't support the veracity of the story line. The poem describes an angel sent from heaven to dissuade Cuthbert from playing such an "ydell" [idle] pastime. Warton, Thomas, The History of English Poetry from the Close of the Eleventh Century to the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century (Thomas Tegg, London, 1840, from the 1824 edition), volume 1, page 14.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 824 - 15-Year-Old Chinese Emperor Criticized for Excessive Ball-Playing


    Ching Tsung was the new Chinese emperor at the age of 15. "As soon as he could escape from the morning levee, the young Emperor rushed off to play ball. His habits were well known in the city, and in the summer of 824 someone suggested to a master-dyer named Chang Shao that, as a prank, he should slip into the Palace, lie on the Emperor's couch and eat his dinner, 'for nowadays he is always away, playing ball or hunting.'" The prank was carried out, but those prankish dyers . . . well, they died as a result.

    Waley, Arthur, The Life and Times of Po Chu-I, 772-846 [Allen and Unwin, London, 1949], p. 157. Submitted by John Thorn, 10/12/2004.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 900 - Mayan Games Played at Chichen Itza, Mexico


    Mayan Indians play stick and ball games in ceremonial courts in Chichen Itza, Mexico

    Note: This source may be Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], p. 201. And Henderson's source may be his ref 53, Effler, L. R., The Ruins of Chichen Itza [Toledo, Ohio], pp 19 - 21. However, Henderson's account of the game played at Chichen Itza is not dated to 900 AD, or connected with a stick, so another source may be preferable.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1086 - Form of Stool Ball Possibly Found in Domesday Book in Norman England


    Stool ball, a stick and ball game and a forerunner of rounders and cricket, is apparently mentioned in the Domesday Book as "bittle-battle."

    Note: This source is Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], p. 75. However, Henderson doesn't exactly endorse the idea that the cited game, "bittle-battle," is a ball game [or if it is, could it be a form of soule?] He says that one [unnamed] author claims that bittle-battle is a form of stoolball. I saw only two RH refs to stoolball, ref 72 [Grantham] and ref 149 [London Magazine]. One of them may be Henderson's source for the 1086 stoolball claim. I don't see an RH ref to the Domesday text itself, but then, it probably isn't found at local lending libraries. The Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect [1875] reportedly gives "bittle-battle" as another name for stoolball. It is believed that "bittle" meant a wooden milk bowl and some have speculated that a bowl may have been used as a paddle to deflect a thrown ball from the target stool, while others speculate that the bowl may have been the target itself.

    Note: We need to confirm whether the Domesday Book actually uses the term "bittle-battle," "stool ball," or what. We also should try to ascertain views of professional scholars on the interpretations of the Book. Martin Hoerchner advises that the British Public Records Office may, at some point, make parts of the Domesday Book available online.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1100 - "Pagan" Ball Rites Observed in France in 1100s and 1200s


    Henderson: "The testimony of Beleth and Durandus, both eminently qualified witnesses, clearly indicates that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the ball had found a place for itself in the Easter celebrations of the Church." In fact, Beleth and Durandus had both opposed the practice, seeing it as the intrusion of pagan rites into church rites. "There are some Churches in which it is customary for the Bishops and Archbishops to play in the monasteries with those under them, even to stoop to the game of ball" [Beleth, 1165]. "In certain places in our country, prelates play games with their own clerics on Easter in the cloisters, or in the Episcopal Palaces, even so far as to descend to the game of ball" [Durandus, 1286].

    Note: This source appears to be Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], pp. 37-38. Page 37 refers to an 1165 prohibition and page 38 mentions 12th and 13th Century Easter rites. Henderson identifies two sources for the page 38 statement: Beleth, J., "Rationale Divinorum Officiorum," in Migne, J. P., Patrologiae Curius Completus, Ser 2, Vol. 106, pp. 575-591 [Paris, 1855], and Durandus, G., "Rationale Divinorum Officiorum," Book VI, Ch 86, Sect. 9 [Rome, 1473]...Henderson does not say that these rites involved the use of sticks.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1189 - "Unconfirmed" Report of a Stoolball Reference by Iscanus


    There is "an unconfirmed report which was published in the beginning of the Century quoting one Joseph Iscanus, of Exeter, as having referred to stoolball in 1189, but no satisfactory evidence that this quotation was genuine." National Stoolball Association, "A Brief History of Stoolball," page 2. This mimeo, available in NSA files, has no date or author, but has one internal reference to an 1989 source, so it must be fairly recent. It contains no hint on the source of the 1189 claim or how it has been assessed. Note: Is it now possible to further pursue this claim using online resources? The 1189 claim appears nowhere else in available writings about stoolball.

    However, some cite a Joseph Iscanus couplet: "The youth at cricks did play/Throughout the livelong [or "merry"] day/" as an indicator of early cricket. However, the online source of this rhyme does not give a source. Very murky, no? [The rhyme is quoted as early as the 1860 edition of The Cricketer’s Manual, and ten years earlier in Bell’s Life in a letter from “Alexis” on the subject “When Was Cricket Invented?” ] Query: what do leading cricket historians say of this alleged reference?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1200 - Bat and Ball Game Illustration Appears in English Genealogical Roll


    "The [1301 - see below] illustration is a very early depiction of the game we know as baseball, but it's probably not the first. In 1964, a writer named Harry Simmons cited an English bat and ball picture from a genealogical roll of the Kings of England up to Henry III, who died in 1269."

    Baltimore Sun article on the Ghistelle Calendar [see entry for 1301], April 6, 1999, page 1E.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1205 - "Ball" Rolls into the English Language


    Scholars report that the Chronicle of Britain [1205] contained the words "Summe heo driuen balles wide . . ." which they see as "the first known use of the word ball in the sense of a globular body that is played with." The source? Old Norse, by way of Middle English. [Old High German had used ballo and pallo, but the English didn't use "ball" in those days.] The source does not say whether people in England used some other term for their rolling playthings prior to 1205.

    Source: Wikipedia entry on "ball," accessed 5/31/2006.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1255 - Spanish Painting Seen as Earliest Depiction of Ballplaying


    The book Spain: A History in Art by Bradley Smith (Doubleday, 1971) includes a plate that appears to show "several representations of baseball figures and some narrative." The work is dated to 1255, the period of King Alfonso.

    Email from Ron Gabriel, July 10, 2007. Ron also has supplied a quality color photocopy of this plate, which was the subject of his presentation at the 1974 SABR convention. Note: can we specify the painting and its creator? Can we learn how baseball historians and others interpret this artwork?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1299 - Prince of Wales Plays "Creag," Seen By Some as a Cricket Precursor


    Cashman, Richard, "Cricket," in David Levinson and Karen Christopher, Encyclopedia of World Sport: From Ancient Times to the Present [Oxford University Press, 1996], page 87.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1300 - Trapball Played in the British Isles


    Trevithick, Alan, "Trapball," in David Levinson and Karen Christopher, Encyclopedia of World Sport: From Ancient Times to the Present [Oxford University Press, 1996], page 421.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1300 - Stoolball Said to Originate Among Sussex Milkmaids


    "Stoolball is a ball game that dates back to the 14th century, originating in Sussex [in southern England]. It may be an ancestor of cricket (a game it resembles), baseball, and rounders. Traditionally it was played be milkmaids who used their milking stools as 'wickets.' . . ." Later forms of the game involved running between two wickets, but "[o]riginally the batsman simply had to defend his stool from each ball with his hand and would score a point for each delivery until the stool was hit. The game later evolved to include runs and bats."

    Source: Wikipedia entry on "Stoolball," accessed 1/25/2007. Note: this source does not credit bittle-battle [see entry 1086.1] as an earlier form of stoolball. It gives no citations for the evidence of the founding date. The Wikipedia entry is compatible with entry #1330.1, below, but evidently does not credit 1330 as the likely time of stoolball's appearance.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1301 - Ghistelles Calendar Depicts Vigorous-Looking Bat/Ball Game


    A manuscript obtained in 1999 by the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore appears to show a batted-ball game played by two young persons. The manuscript, called the Calendar of the Ghistelles Hours, dates from 1301. It is a small monthly calendar of saints' days from a monastery in the town of Ghistelles, in southwestern Flanders. The illustration is for the month of September.

    Schoettler, Carl, "The Old, Old, Old Ball Game," Baltimore Sun, April 6 1999, page 1E.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1310 - Documents Said to Describe Baseball-like Romanian Game of Oina


    According to an otherwise unidentified clip in the Origins file at the Giamatti Center, an AP article datelined Bucharest Romania [and which appeared in the Oneonta Times on March 29, 1990], the still popular Romanian game of oina can be traced back to a [unspecified] document dating to the year 1310. The game itself "was invented by shepherds in the first century."

    The article is evidently based on an interview with Cristian Costescu, who sees baseball as "the American pastime derived from the ancient game of oina." Oina reportedly has eleven players per side, an all-out-side-out rule, tossed pitches, nine bases describing a total basepath of 120 yards, plugging of baserunners, the opportunity for the fielding side to score points, and a bat described as similar to a cricket bat. Costescu is reported to have served as head of the Romanian Oina Federation in the years when baseball was banned in Romania as "a capitalist sport."

    The Oneonta Times headline is "Play Oina! Romanians Say Their Game Inspired Creation of Baseball." Note: Can we find additional documentation of oina's rules and history? Is the 1310 documentation available in English translation? Have others followed the recent fate of oina and the work of Costescu?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1310 - A Drawing of "A Game of Ball," with a Player in a Batting Pose


    A 1915 book on ancient British schools includes a drawing dated circa 1310. It shows two players, one clad in a garment with broad horizontal stripes. Both players hold clubs, and the player in stripes appears ready to swing at a melon-sized ball. The other player appears to be preparing to fungo the ball . . . or, conceivably, toss it with his left hand, to the striped player. The illustration's caption is "A Game of Ball, Stripes vs. Plain, c. 1310." The British Museum's documentation: MS Royal 10 E. iv, f. 94 b.

    Posted by Mark Aubrey to the 19CBB listserve on 1/10/2008. The 1915 source, available in full text on Google Books, is A. F. Leach, The Schools of Medieval England (Macmillan, New York, 1915), on the unnumbered page following p. 140.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1330 - Vicar of Winkfield Advises Against Bat/Ball Games in Churchyards; First Stoolball Reference?


    "Stoolball was played in England as early as 1330, when William Pagula, Vicar of Winkfield, near Windsor, wrote in Latin a poem of instructions to parish priests, advising them to forbid the playing of all games of ball in churchyards: "Bats and bares and suche play/Out of chyrche-yorde put away."

    Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], p. 74. Note: The Vicar's caution was translated in 1450 by a Canon, John Myrc. Henderson's ref 120 is Mirk [sic], J., "Instructions to Parish Priests," Early English Text Society, Old Series 31, p. 11 [London, 1868]. A contemporary of Myrc in 1450 evidently identified the Vicar's targets as including stoolball. Block [p. 165] identifies the original author as William de Pagula. Writing in 1886, T. L. Kington Oliphant identifies "bares" as prisoner's base: "There is the term "bace pleye," whence must come the "prisoner's base;" this in Myrc had appeared as the game of "bares." Kington Oliphant does not elaborate on this claim, and does not comment on the accompanying term "bats" in the original. The 1886 reference was provided by John Thorn, 2/24/2008

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1344 - Manuscript Shows a Club-and-Ball Game with Stool-like Object


    "A manuscript of 1344 in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (No. 264) shows a game of club and ball. One player throws that ball to another who holds a vicious-looking club. He defends a round object which resembles a stool but with a base instead of legs. . . ". "In the course of time a second stool was added, which obviously made a primitive form of cricket. Now a stool was also called a "cricket" and it is possible that the name cricket came from the three-legged stool . . . " "We may summarize: The game and name of cricket stem back to ancient games played with a curved stick and ball, starting with la soule, and evolving in England through stoolball . . .".

    Henderson, Robert W., Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origins of Ball Games [Rockport Press, 1947], pp. 130-131. Henderson's ref 17 is Bodleian Library, Douce MSS 264, ff 22, 44, 63. Cox's 1903 edition of Strutt includes this drawing and its reference. Note: do other observers agree with Henderson on whether and how stoolball evolved into cricket?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1363 - Englishmen Forbidden to Play Ball; Archery Much Preferred


    Edward III wrote to the Sheriff of Kent, and evidently sheriffs throughout England. Noting a relative neglect of the useful art of archery, the King said he was thereby, on festival days, "forbidding, all and single, on our orders, to toy in any way with these games of throwing stones, wood, or iron, playing handball, football, "stickball," or hockey, . . . which are worthless, under pain of imprisonment." The translator uses "stickball" as a translation of the Latin "pila cacularis," and suggests that it might have been an early form of cricket. We might also ask whether it was referring to early stoolball.

    A. R. Myers, English Historical Documents (Routledge, 1996), page 1203. [Viewed online 10/16/08]. Provided in email from John Thorn, 2/27/2008. Myers' citation is "Rymer, Foedera, III, ii, from Close Roll, 37 Edward III [Latin]."

    Caveat: The content of this entry resembles that of #1365.1 below, and both refer to a restriction imposed by Edward III. However that entry, stemming from Strutt, refers to "club-ball" instead of "stick-ball," and identifies the Latin as "pilam bacculoream," not "pila cacularis." It is possible that both refer to the same source. Strutt’s text reads: “The recreations prohibited by proclamation in the reign of Edward III., exclusive of the games of chance, are thus specified; throwing of stones, wood, or iron….” The accompanying footnote reads: “Pilam manualtm, ptdinam, el bacculoream, et ad cambucam, etc.” Also: the letter to Kent is elsewhere dated 1365, which could be consistent with Edward III's 37th year under the crown, but Myers uses 1363.

    Note: this entry replaced the former entry #1365.1: "In 1365 the sheriffs had to forbid able-bodied men playing ball games as, instead, they were to practice archery on Sundays and holidays." Source: Hassall, W. O., [compiler], "How They Lived: An Anthology of Original Accounts Written Before 1485" [Blackwell, Oxford University Press, 1962], page 285. Submitted by John Thorn, 10/12/2004.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1365 - Edward III Prohibits Playing of Club-Ball.


    "The recreations prohibited by proclamation in the reign of Edward III, exclusive of the games of chance, are thus specified; the throwing of stones, wood, or iron; playing at hand-ball, foot-ball, club-ball, and camucam, which I take to have been a species of goff . . . ." Edward III reigned from 1327 to 1377. The actual term for "club-ball" in the proclamation was, evidently, "bacculoream."

    This appears to be one of only two direct references to "club-ball" in the literature. See #1794.2, below.

    Caveat: David Block argues that, contrary to Strutt's contention [see #1801.1, below], club ball may not be the common ancestor of cricket and other ballgames. See David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It, pages 105-107 and 183-184. Block says that "pilam bacculoream" translates as "ball play with a stick or staff." Note: We seem not to really know what "camucam" was. Nor, of course, how club ball was played, since the term could have denoted a form of tennis or field hockey or and early form of stoolball or cricket. Edward II had issued a ban of his own in 1314, regarding football.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1385 - English Boys Play Ball "To the Grave Peril of Their Souls"


    A letter written by Robert Braybroke laid out the palpable risks of ball-playing: "Certain [boys], also, good for nothing in their insolence and idleness, instigated by evil minds and busying themselves rather in doing harm than good, throw and shoot stones, arrows, and different kinds of missiles at the rooks, pigeons, and other birds nesting in the walls and porches of the church and perching [there]. Also they play ball inside and outside the church and engage in other destructive games there, breaking and greatly damaging the glass windows and the stone images of the church . . . .This they do not without great offense to God and our church and to the prejudice and injury of us as well as to the grave peril of their souls." And the sanction for such play? "We . . . proclaim solemnly that any malefactors whatever of this kind [including churchyard merchants as well as young ballplayers] whom it is possible to catch in the aforesaid actions after this our warning have been and are excommunicated . . . ."

    Crow, Martin M., and Clair C. Olson, eds., "Chaucer's World" [Columbia University Press, New York, 1948], pp. 48-49. Submitted by John Thorn, 10/12/2004.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1393 - Disconfirmed Poetry Lines Said to Denote Stoolball in Sussex


    According to a 2007 article in a Canadian magazine, there is poetry in which a milkmaid calls to another, "Oi, Rosie, coming out to Potter's field for a whack at the old stool?" The article continues: "The year was 1393. The place was Sussex . . . the game was called stoolball, which was probably a direct descendant of stump-ball".

    The article, by Ruth Tendulkar, is titled "The Great-Grandmother of Baseball and Cricket," and appeared in the May/June 2007 issue of The Canadian Newcomers Magazine. We have been unable to find additional source details from the author or the magazine.

    Source http://www.cnmag.ca, as accessed 9/6/2007.

    Caution: The editor of The Canadian Newcomers Magazine informed us on 1/10/2088 that the Tendulkar piece "was strictly an entertainment piece rather than an academic piece." We take this to say that the verse is not authentic. Email from Dale Sproule, Publisher/Editor.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1450 - John Myrc Repeats Warning Against Ball Play in the Churchyard, Including "Stoil Ball"


    David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It [page 165], cites the Myrc work, "early poetic instruction of priests," as "How thow schalt thy paresche preche," London. It warns "Bal and bares and suche play/ Out of chyrcheyorde put a-way." A note reportedly inserted by another author included among the banned games "tenessyng handball, fott ball stoil ball and all manner other games out churchyard." Note: can we determine when the "other author" wrote in "stoil ball? This may count as the first time "stool ball" [virtually] appeared.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1450 - Stoolball Dated by NSA to 1450 in "Don Quixote"


    "[Stoolball] is mentioned in the classic book Don Quixote."

    Source: NSA website, accessed April 2007. Note: we need a fuller citation and the key text. It is possible that this entry confuses D'Urfey's 1694 play about Don Quixote [see Entry #1694.1, below] with the Cervantes masterpiece.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1470 - Editor Sees Stoolball in Verse on Bachelorhood


    "In al this world nis a murier lyf/Thanne is a yong man wythouten a wyf,/For he may lyven wythouten strif/In every place wher-so he go.

    "In every place he is loved over alle/Among maydens grete and smale-/In daunsyng, in pipyngs, and rennyng at the balle,/In every place wher-so he go.

    "They leten lighte by housebonde-men/Whan they at the balle renne;/They casten ther love to yonge men/In every place wher-so they go.

    "Then seyn maydens, "Farewel, Jakke,/Thy love is pressed al in thy pak;/Thou berest thy love bihynde thy back,/In every place wher-so thou go."

    Robert Stevick, ed., One Hundred Middle English Lyrics (U of Illinois Press, 1994), page 141. Posted to 19CBB on 11/14/2008 by Richard Hershberger. Richard reports that Stevick dates this poem—#81 of the 100 collected in this volume—to c. 1470. He interprets the lyric's 'running at the ball' as 'stool ball, probably,' but stow ball [resembling field hockey] seems apter. Richard also points out that "for the sake of precision, it should be noted that this volume is intended for student use and normalizes the spellings."

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1477 - List of Banned Games May Include Distant Ancestors of Cricket?


    A Westminster statute, made to curb gambling by rowdy soldiers upon their return from battle, reportedly imposed sanctions for "playing at cloish, ragle, half-bowls, handyn and handoute, quekeborde, and if any person permits even others to play at such games in his house or yard, he is to be imprisoned for three years; as also he who plays at such game, to forfeit ten pounds to the king, and be imprisoned for two years."

    Observations Upon the Statutes, Chiefly the More Ancient, from Magna Charta to the Twenty-first [Year] of James the First, etc. (Daines Barrington, London, 1766), page 335.

    The author adds: "This is, perhaps, the most severe law which has ever been made in any country against gaming, and some of the forbidden sports seem to have been manly exercises, particularly the handing and handoute, which I should suppose to be a kind of cricket, as the term hands is still retained in that game [for what would later be known as innings].

    An1864 writer expands further: "Half-bowls was played with pins and one-half of a sphere of wood, upon the floor of a room. It is said to be still played in Hertfordshire under the name of rolly-polly. Hand-in and hand-out was a ring-game, played by boys and girls, like kissing-ring [footnote 31]." John Harland, A Volume of Court Leet Records of the Manor of Manchester in the Sixteenth Century (Chetham Society, 1864), p 34. Accessed 1/27/10 via Google Books search ("court leet" half-bowls). "Roly-poly" and hand-in/hand-out are sometimes later described as having running/plugging features preserved in cat games and early forms of base ball. Thus, these prohibitions may or may not include games resembling baseball. Query: Can residents of Britain help us understand this ancient text?

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1478 - Du Cange Mentions "Criquet" Game in his Glossary


    While others see cricket as taking its name from the term for a staff, or stick, "[T]he famous New English Dictionary favors a word used as a [game's] target: criquet. Du Cange quotes this word in a manuscript of 1478: 'The suppliant came to a place where a game of ball (jeu de boule) was played, near to a stick (attaché) or criquet,' and defines criquet as 'a stick which serves as a target in a ball game.'"

    Du Cange, Glossarium Mediae ET Infimae Latinatis [Paris, 1846], Vol. 4: Mellat, Vol. 5 Pelotas. Per Henderson ref 48.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1478 - Parliament Speaks: Jail or Fine for Unlawful Gameplaying


    An Act of Parliament forbade unlawful games as conducive to disorder and as discouraging the practice of archery. The games that were forbidden, under penalty of two years' imprisonment or a fine of ten pounds, were these: quoits, football, closh, kails, half-bowls, hand-in and hand-out, chequer-board.

    This Act is cited as Rot. Parl. VI, 188. Information provided by John Thorn, email of 2/27/2008.

    Caveat: The list of proscribed games is similar to the Edward III's prohibition [see #1363.1 above] adding "hand-in and hand-out" in place of a game translated as "club-ball" or "stick-ball." We are uncertain as to whether hand-in and hand-out is the ancestor of a safe-haven game.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1494 - Christopher Columbus and the Coefficient of Restitution


    "When Christopher Columbus revisited Haiti on his second voyage, he observed some natives playing with a ball. The men who came with Columbus to conquer the Indies had brought their Castilian wind-balls [wound from yarn] to play with in idle hours. But at once they found that the balls of Haiti were incomparably superior; they bounced better. These high-bouncing balls were made, they learned, from a milky fluid of the consistency of honey which the natives procured by tapping certain trees and then cured over the smoke of palm nuts. A discovery which improved the delights of ball games was noteworthy." 350 years later, after Goodyear discovered vulcanization [1839], "India rubber" balls were to be identified with the New York game of baseball.

    Holland Thompson, "Charles Goodyear and the History of Rubber," at http://inventors.about.come/cs/inventorsalphabet/a/rubber_2.htm, accessed 1/24/2007. Note: We need better sources for the Columbus story.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1500 - Ballplaying Permitted at College of Tours in France, If Done 'Cum Silentio'


    "Parisian legislators were more sympathetic with regard to games than their English contemporaries. Even the Founder of the Cisterian College of St Bernard contemplated that permission might be obtained for games, though not before dinner or after the bell rang for vespers. A sixteenth century code of statutes for the College of Tours, while recording the complaints of the neighbors about the noise made by the scholars playing ball ('de insolentiis, exclamationibus et ludis palmariis dictorum scholarium, qui ludent . . . pilis durissimis') permitted the game under less noisy conditions ('pilis seu scopes mollibus et manu, ac cum silentio et absque clamoribus tumultuosis.')

    Rait, Robert S., Life in the Medieval University [Cambridge University Press, 1912], p. 83. Submitted by John Thorn, 10/12/2004.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012

  • 1500 - Queen Elizabeth's Dudley Plays Stoolball at Wotton Hill?


    According to a manuscript written in the 1600s, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and his "Trayne" "came to Wotton, and thence to Michaelwood Lodge . . . and thence went to Wotton Hill, where hee paid a match at stobball."

    Note: Is it possible to determine the approximate date of this event? Internal evidence places it in the fifteenth year of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, which would be 1547-48. Elizabeth I named her close associate [once rumored to be her choice as husband] Dudley to became Earl of Leicester in the 1564, and he died in 1588. The Wotton account was written by John Smyth of Nibley (1567-1640) in his Berkeley Manuscripts [Sir John McLean, ed., Gloucester, Printed by John Bellows, 1883]. Smyth's association with Berkeley Castle began in 1589, and the Manuscripts were written in about 1618, so it is not a first-hand report. Caveat: "Stobbal" is usually used to denote a field game resembling field hockey or golf; thus, this account may not relate to stoolball per se.

    Last Updated: March 12, 2012


Note: ID numbers for milestone entries include the (often approximated) year of the observation, followed by serial number reflecting the order it was added. A date is approximated when an ID is denoted with a "C".