The earliest accounts of base ball playing by grown men were usually on special occasions such as the end of bringing in the fall crops, barn raising, or holiday celebrations. The following is the best early eyewitness account of a game, in 1838, observed by a Dr. Ford in Beechville, Ontario, Canada. The Beechville Club v. Zorras was part of a national holiday celebration.
“The infield was a square, the base lines of which were twenty-one yards on which were placed five bags . . . the distance from the thrower to the catcher was eighteen yards . . . we had fair and unfair balls. A fair ball was one thrown to the knocker at any height between the bend of his knee and the top of his head . . . he was out if the ball was caught every time either on the fly or on the first bound . . . there was no rule to compel a man to strike at a ball except the rule of honor, but a man would be despised and guyed unmercifully if he did not hit a fair ball . . . a base runner was out if hit by the ball when he was off his bye. Three men out and the side out. And both sides out constituted a complete inning. The number of innings . . . was generally 5 to 9 . . . the right way to play ball, for it was the way they used to play it when they were boys, was to play away until one side made eighteen or 21 . . . there was no set number of men to be played on each side . . . I have frequently seen games played with 7 men on each side and I never saw more than 12 . .”
A few items of note are: the ‘square’ infield must have been at least hexagonal in its irregularity as the ‘first bye’ (base) was only six yards from the ‘knocker’s box’. The explanation given for this was to make it easier for a batter to reach first base and thus create more runners and action in the field. Typical, for early base ball, catching a ball on the ‘first bound’ (bounce) or hitting a runner with the ball between the ‘byes’ (soaking) were two of the ways to record an out.
This letter makes us privy to a conversation with an ‘old codger’: “The right way to play ball, for it was the way they used to play it when they were boys” is an ‘in the good old days’ comment. This attests to ball playing having occurred in the area for many years. Dr. Ford also alludes to this with “I have frequently seen games played.” Also, the first to 21 ‘tallies’ (aces, runs) was common back then.
The depiction of the game being played is a sneak preview regarding the game’s demeanor which was proselytized in future years by Henry Chadwick and other New York City reporters. Their ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ balls would be an early version of what later became balls and strikes. Notice there was no guiding force ‘to compel a man to strike at a ball except the rule of honor’. This would lead one to believe that it was a game being contested between men expected to act as ‘gentlemen’. A physician and an old codger reminiscing has given us a prophetic glimpse of base ball in New York City where groups of the “proper sort” came together to forever change the game.
This letter leads one to think that maybe Canada was ahead of the United States in the leisure time base ball acceptability curve for grown men. What’s going on here? Had Canadians forgotten that Curling was their national sport?!!!
Source: “Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908,” edited & compiled by Dean A. Sullivan, from “A Canadian Ball Game,” in “Sporting Life, May 5, 1886.
Pastor Paul – “seeking for knowledge of the truth”
Filed Under: Baseball History
About the Author:
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.