Research needs in the spread of baseball

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[edit] What we want to know eventually

We ultimately want to find out what factors influenced the speed and nature of baseball spread:

  • Were the paths of western migration important?
  • Did base ball spread quickest along main routes of commerce or transportation?
  • Was it resisted in certain areas, either because residents were loyal to other games, or because people were reluctant to adopt northeastern folkways?
  • Did particular classes of people spread the game, such as college students, soldiers returning home from war, or traveling merchants?
  • When and why did other potential National Pastimes – cricket, the "Massachusetts game," etc. – decline and wither away?
  • Is there any obvious pattern as to the adoption of baseball in some countries (like Venezuela the Dominican Republic), while their immediate neighbors (like Colombia and Haiti) ignored the game?

To evaluate such theories, we need to collect local evidence in three particular areas.

[edit] When was the first local game played by modern rules?

Our initial tabulaltion of "first games" includes about 150 claims as to when the modern game originated locally .

Local sources are not always clear about the form of base ball that they report. Newspaper editors, for example, may not have been aware whether a particular game followed New York rules or not. Generally, a game may be counted as a modern game – that is, it is "the New York game" -- if the size of the teams (9 players), the number of innings played (9 innings, starting in 1857), the names of the 9 defensive positions, and the absence of obsolete rules -- like the "plugging" of runners to put them out and using overhand deliveries to the batter -- help identify it as such. (The official rules evolved over the years, and the major changes from 1845 to 1870 are here for your reference.)

If we’re unsure, we’ll list a game as likely, unknown, or doubtful, and hope for more decisive later evidence.

Feel free to report on two or more early games, if you find them. If the first game was played by visitors to the area, we would ideally like to determine when local players followed suit. If you come upon an intramural game, it would be desireable to see if an interclub game came along later. But we are not in this project trying to compile all games -- just the earliest ones.

Some details that it would, ideally, be useful to know include:

  • What were the ages, backgrounds, occupations, social standing, or local origins of the participants?
  • What individual or group organized the game, and why?
  • What rules or practices were noted as novel in the source document?
  • What was the nature and degree of local interest in the new game?

In very many cases, few of these details can be found, even with lots of digging.

Note: we leave to contributors the matter of defining "local." It could be a city or town, region of a state, or section of a city or town. We'll just tabulate what what receive in all subclasses.

[edit] When was the first baseball club formed locally?

Our initial data set includes about 175 clubs now thought to be the first, or among the first that formed in their locality. Often, but not always, a local team formed and then played the first known local game. Again, however, an announcement of a new club may or may not indicate whether the club intended to use modern baseball rules.

Some details that it would, ideally, be useful to know include

  • Was the base ball club formed in some pre-existing organization?
  • What is known about the chief organizers of the club? About the other players?
  • What is known about the later fate of the club?

[edit] What local ballplaying pastimes were replaced by modern baseball?

It is not always easy information to find, but we find that often the modern game displaced earlier ball games – sometimes as played by youngsters, and sometimes played by adults. The names of those games varied, and frequently accounts just referred to "playing ball." Some examples are "round ball" in eastern New England, "wicket" across the northern US, "town ball" in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, "long ball" and "chermany" and other games in the south, and cricket was found in many areas . . . but these names were not always used, and sometimes "base" and "base ball" were used in accounts of such predecessor games.

In several cases these games are described in newspaper or other accounts of "throwback" games much later in the 1800s. Such games were meant to demonstrate to local citizens the youthful games as recalled by aging players.

We have tabulated a list of common and rarer types of ballplaying. You might try to find out if some of the more common of these were familiar in your local area.

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