History of early baseball

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This page, part of the SABR Origins Committee's project on the spread of baseball, is intended to give a brief overview of the current state of knowledge of the game's early spread outward from greater New York city.


[edit] Baseball's early spread

We know that a few New York clubs played base ball in the early 1840s, but there was evidently little outward expansion until 1855 or so. By 1860, the game was being played in a several US cities, mostly in the north. The Civil War (1861-1865) seems to have suppressed growth, but soon afterward the US caught “base ball fever,” and there was both southern/westward diffusion and a spread to less populated areas. A few years later, the international spread began.

[edit] Early evolution of the game itself

The original rules, as codified by the Knickerbocker Club in 1845, included only 14 playing rules. Later, other New York clubs adopted these rules, and they joined the Knicks in forming the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1857. The Association then annually reconsidered the rules, and amended some. When the modern game came to a new town, it was usually thought of as the "New York game," or perhaps "Assocation base ball."

[edit] Prior ballplaying

As modern base ball spread, a number of ballgames declined, and most of them disappeared. Cricket was far more frequently reported in newspapers than base ball through the 1850s, but it dimiinshed significantly in the 1860s. In eastern New England, a game often called "round ball" was played, a game that, once codified in the Dedham rules of 1858, became known as the Massachusetts game. In western New England, a hearty two-base game called "wicket" or "wicket ball" was common. Wicket featured both batting and baserunning. In Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and the St. Louis area, a game known to players as "town ball" was played. Evidence from the South about predecessor games is more sparse, but included "round cat," "long-town ball," and "chermany:" rarely, however, do we have insight into the basic rules of these games.

(After all these predecessor games had been forgotten, the terms "town ball" and "old-fashioned base ball," terms unknown to those who had played, were used generically by some writers to mean "whatever game it was that preceded modern baseball here," a fact that adds a little confusion for today's researchers.)

[edit] Further reading on the Origins of Base Ball

There is some information and suggested reading on the origins of modern baseball on this Origins Committee's site: Getting Oriented.

[edit] The Current Snapshots of the Geographical Spread of Base Ball

The current project map shows where we do (and do not!) currently have data on early baseball and on earlier local ballplaying. (There are also links to download the current data on the pages that list games, clubs, and predecessor games.)

The project also contains lists of the earliest known games and clubs in U.S. states and other countries:

Some of the underlying evidence is thin, and can be supplemented with data that is only recently uploaded. We expect that in many cases our initial data will be replaced by earlier "firsts" that are found locally.

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