oday a multi-billion dollar industry, Baseball has come a long way from its crude and humble beginnings in the fields of 19th century America. More than a game, Baseball remains an inseparable part of the American heritage and an intrinsic part of our national psyche. For many of us, notions of team, fair play, and athletic excellence first occurred 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 around the world. Despite its recurrent scandals and woes, Baseball remains synonymous with the best that America has to offer.
Contrary to popular belief, Baseball was not invented by a single individual, but evolved from various European "bat and ball" games. Russia had a version of Baseball called Lapta, which dates back to the fourteenth century. It consisted of two teams (five to ten members) with a pitcher and batter. The ball would be thrown to the batter who would attempt to hit it with a short stick and then run to the opposite side and back before being hit by the ball.
England has played Cricket and Rounders for several centuries. The first recorded cricket match took place in Sussex, England in 1697. Cricket is played in a large open circular field and has two sides of eleven players that attempt to "put out" a "batsman" who tries to prevent a ball thrown by a "bowler" from knocking over "bails" placed on "wickets," or three upright sticks. If the batsman makes contact with the ball, he runs to the opposite side of the "pitch" and continues running back and forth until the ball is retrieved by the opposing team.
Rounders, which shares more technical similarities to Baseball, dates back to Tudor times in England. This game consisted of two teams, six to fifteen players, including a pitcher, batter, "bowling square," "hitting square" and four posts, similar to bases used in Baseball. Each player had to bat in each "inning" and the game lasted two innings. The pitcher tossed the ball to the batter who attempted to hit it. If contact was made the batter ran to the first post. Points were awarded depending on what 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 tossed by the "bowler" to the "striker," who struck it with a club and attempted to complete the circuit of bases without being hit by the ball. Americans played a version of Rounders called "Town Ball," which dates back to the early 1800’s. In this game, the first team to score one hundred "talleys" won the game. In 1858 the rules were formalized as the "Rules of the Massachusetts Game of Town Ball."
Occasionally, early 19th century American newspapers would mention games listed as "Bass-Ball," "Base," "Base Ball," "Base-Ball," "Goal Ball" and "Town Ball." The first known printed record of a game that was slightly different from Rounders and resembled a game closer to Baseball, is from an 1829 book called The Boy’s Own Book, in which the game is referred to as "Round Ball," "Base" and "Goal Ball." A crude field diagram was included with specific locations for four stones or stakes (bases), that were arranged in a diamond. The article described how to "make an out" as well as how to get "home." The word "party" was used to describe a team, and the team at bat was called the "in-party." Each party pitched to themselves, bases were run in a clockwise direction and players could be put out by swinging and missing three pitched balls or by being hit with the ball while moving between bases.
Perhaps the first town ball club to adopt a constitution was the Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia, founded in 1833. It was formed by combining two associations of Town Ball players. One of the Town Ball associations may have begun play 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 the Saturday afternoon gathering usually included between fifteen to twenty players. With the increased interest the game changed to Town Ball and then to Base Ball. The other association called itself the Olympic Ball Club, favored Town Ball and played on Wednesdays. As they did not meet as regularly as the group in Camden, some of the members of the Olympic Ball Club began playing in Camden. Ultimately a match was proposed and played between the two associations. No record of this match exists, but the two groups did eventually combine into one and played on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The constitution was first published in 1838 and consisted of 15 Articles. Duties of the Board of Directors, Members, and Captains were described. Practice days and a fine structure were also outlined.
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