Monday, December 19, 2005

How the Game Began, 2

How the Game Began, 2

While I’m no self-proclaimed expert on early baseball, the note I posted yesterday by Waller Wallace appeared to me to be significant in several ways:

  • The first thing that caught my eye was the spelling of “baseball.”  In the first edition of Bill James’ Historical Abstract, James made a big deal about how sometime in the late 1930s or 1940s the spelling of baseball changed from “base ball” (two words) to “baseball” (one word).  With Waller Wallace using one word in 1883, I began looking around at other California game accounts, notes, etc., and found that, at least, out here in California “baseball” was invariably preferred over “base ball.”  My speculation is: That the two terms were regional in origin, and that the California spelling won out in the end.

  • Lately there have been several researchers who have taken the game back to much earlier dates.  I believe John Thorn has the game cited in print as early as the late 1700s.  Stick and ball games could probably be traced back to the beginning of man, if we had the source material.  What I find interesting is that a person who was contemporary to the actual event, or came along shortly thereafter, believed the game to have been created at such and such sport on such and such date.  What he states is that the game played on the field in 1883 bore a very close resemblance to the game played by those men at the pre-Madison Square Garden lot in 1842.  The implication being that games played prior to that were markedly different, albeit with the same name.  In other words, the group around Chadwick at The Clipper viewed the 1842 date as the origin of the game.

  • Also implicit in his note is the reason that he wrote it: By the 1880s there must have been speculation on the origins of the game, and Wallace wrote his article to set the record straight.

In summing up, I’m sure that the name “base ball” can and will be traced back even further in the future, but the game we see on the field today is very much akin to the one played in 1883, and the one formulated on the grounds of an empty lot in Manhattan in 1842.   The game then was much like softball, but the difference between softball and baseball is not that great in the overall scheme of things.  Apparently, other games named “baseball” prior to that were markedly different.  And I think we have to give the nod to those who were there at the time.

Tomorrow, I’ll get back to firmer footing— early California baseball, and the first leagues in the state.


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