“...a Grand Slam of a study...”
- Vin Scully, Hall of Fame broadcaster
“...facts that are more fascinating than fiction...”
- George F. Will, Author
“...a stunning discovery...”
- Jim Bouton, former Major Leaguer, Author
On the eastern wall of the entrance to an Egyptian shrine, the pharaoh Thothmes III is shown holding an olivewood branch ready to strike with his right hand. In his left hand, he holds a ball, which he appears ready to throw. In this inscription are also two priests catching balls, as well as the ancient goddess, Hathor. The inscription explains that the ceremony is in honor of Hathor, and that "the enemies are struck before them." This game was probably played in an open space before the statue of Hathor and that the ball symbolized the eye of the Apopi, the great sepert of Chaos. This bat and ball game combines both sport and religion.
Several references to stoolball and bat and trap from the late 1500's to early 1600's are found in plays, poems, and dictionaries. Amongst those referencing bat and trap are the mention of "Trapsticke" in a 1591 Spanish-English dictionary, a 1598 reference to "cat or trap" in an Italian-English dictionary, and a 1611 appearance of "cat and trap" in a French-English dictionary. The stoolball references are more literary, with appearances in a 1613 play by Richard Thomas Dutton, and in a 1614 poem by Nicholas Brenton. Later, in 1648, a Robert Herrick (right) poem proposes: "At stool-ball, Lucia, let us play/for sugar cakes and wine."
Governor William Bradford scolds the men of Plymouth, Massachusetts, for being "at play openly; some at pitching ye barr, some at stoole ball" on Christmas Day. The men had refused to work earlier in the day, claiming that they did not feel it was right for them to work on Christmas, but after Bradford finds them playing games, he confiscates their equipment saying he does not feel it is right for them to be playing games on Christmas.
John Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, published in England, contains a woodcut illustration showing boys playing "base-ball" and a rhymed description of the game. This is the first appearance of the term that exists in print. A Pretty Little Pocket-Book is considered by some to be the first children's book, containing letters of the alphabet followed by an illustration of an activity starting with that letter. Below a short verse describing the activity is another verse with a moral or lesson. In addition to baseball, stool-ball, trap-ball, and tip-cat are also described and illustrated.
A letter by Lady Hervey (then known as Mary Lepel) describes activities of the family of Frederick, Prince of Wales: "All this last summer they played abroad; and now, in the winter, in a large room, they divert themselves at base-ball, a play all who are, or have been, schoolboys, are well acquainted with. The ladies, as well as gentlemen, join in this amusement" Frederick, the Prince of Wales, was also very interested in cricket. He played it, wagered on it, and became a patron of the sport.
Easter Monday, March 31, 1755: William Bray, a lawyer and antiquarian in Surrey, England writes in his journal, "Went to Stoke church this morn. - After dinner, went to Miss Jeale's to play at Base Ball with her the 3 Miss Whiteheads, Miss Billinghurst, Miss Molly Flutter, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Ford and H. Parsons. Drank tea and stayed til 8." This is the one of the oldest known references to the game. This diary had become separated from the rest of William Bray's manuscripts and was found in a shed in Surrey, England in the early 1990s.
A Princeton student writes in his diary: "A fine day, play baste ball in the campus but am beaten for I miss both catching and striking the ball." Although this journal is the first reported instance of baseball played at Princeton, earlier, five years earlier in 1761, the Princeton faculty reportedly frowns on students "playing at ball." In 1787, the faculty prohibits ball because it is "low and unbecoming gentlemen students." The first baseball club at Princeton does not form for another 70 years.
In Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a by-law is enacted to bar "any game of wicket, cricket, baseball, batball, football, cats, fives, or any other game played with ball" within eighty yards of the windows of the newly built meeting house. However, the law does not exclude the playing of the game in the lawn of "Meeting-House Common." This is the first known instance of the game being referred to as baseball in North America. In the by-law, it is spelled "bafeball."
Johann Christoph Friedrich GutsMuths, an early German advocate of physical exercise for youths, devotes a chapter to "Ball mit Freystaten (oder das Englische Base-ball)" -- that is, Ball with free station, or English base-ball. The game's rules are similar to later accounts of rounders, and include a one-out, all-out rule, a three-strike rule, and the placement of the pitcher a few steps from the batsman. Like rounders and baseball, the rules explain that a batter hits the ball and then circumnavigates a circuit of bases. Though there are earlier references to baseball, this is the first known description of the game.
Jane Austen mentions "baseball" in the first chapter of her novel Northanger Abbey. The manuscript is not published until 1818, after her death: "Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books... But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; so read all such works as heroines must read... "
In New England, a modified version of the game of rounders is played on the New England commons. As the game spread over the next 20 years, it becomes known as "town ball." Though the rules of town ball varied, the game usually has more than nine players on a team, and like rounders, does not use foul territories. One large difference between town ball and rounders is that the striker stands between first and fourth base at the "striker's stand." In 1833, the first regularly organized ball club is formed in Philadelphia, with the name of "The Olympic Town Ball Club of Philadelphia." Eventually the game becomes popular in New York.
Abner Doubleday is said to have "invented" baseball in front of Cooper's Tailor Shop in Cooperstown, New York. Doubelday reportedly explains the game to a group of boys who were playing marbles by drawing a diagram in the dirt with a stick. He draws out a square with bases at each corner and a circle in the center for a pitcher. Doubleday is said to have created the sport as an improvement to town ball, limiting the number of players and having equal sides. Doubleday supposedly calls it "base ball" because it has four bases.
The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City organizes and adopts twenty rules for the game. The Knickerbocker rules establish foul lines and institute the tag and force-out, but do not specify a pitching distance or a baseline distance. The rules to state the distance from home to second base and from first to third base to be 42 paces, with a pace being precisely two and a half feet. The Knickerbocker rules become known as the "New York Game" in contrast to the "Massachusetts Game" favored in and around the Boston area.
At the first baseball convention, held in New York, the New York Game rules are modified by representatives from 16 Manhattan and Long Island clubs. Though the Knickerbocker Club recommends that a winner be declared after seven innings, the conventions decides on nine innings, at the recommendation of Lewis F. Wadsworth. The base paths are fixed by D.L. Adams at 30 yards and the pitching distance at 15 yards.
William Hulbert, a Chicago White Stockings officer, approaches National Association clubs about creating a stronger league which would have central authority. The first clubs included in the National League are the Chicago White Stockings, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Boston Red Stockings, the Hartford Dark Blues, Mutual of New York, the St. Louis Brown Stockings, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and the Louisville Grays. Soon after, the National Association falls apart, with its remaining clubs shutting down or reverting to minor status.
The National League, the sole major professional baseball league at the time, downsizes from 12 to eight teams, eliminating its teams in Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville, and Washington, DC. Bancroft "Ban" Johnson, president of the minor Western League, decides to create the American League out of the Western League and places teams in Cleveland and Chicago. The National League approves of this move, not expecting this league to ever become a threat. Yet, in 1900, Johnson places teams in Baltimore and Boston and declares itself a major league.
The Mills Commission publishes a report stating that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. The Commission is made up of a group of baseball magnates appointed by sporting goods entrepreneur, Albert G. Spalding. They base their finding on a letter from Abner Graves, who claims to have witnessed Doubleday's invention of the game. Eventually, the Mills Commission's findings are discredited by historians who proclaim the "invention" to be entirely a myth.