Wednesday, June 16, 2010

THE ORIGINS OF BASEBALL

News photo
The origins of Baseball are uncertain.  Traces of a game played with a bat and a ball date back to ancient Egypt and a ball used over 2000 years ago is on display in the British Museum in London.

Games that may recall Baseball were played in Walacchia, nowadays a part of Romania, (Oina: 2 Federations, in Moldova and Romania, still play the game in Europe) and Russia (Lapta)  in the 14th century.  A game played with a bat and a ball was very popular amongst  French Monks in the 1330's. In the same period, a poem by William Pagula mentioned a game named Stoolball, originally played by milkmaids, who used milking stools as wickets. Germans enjoyed a game named Schlagball (teams were made by 12 players), that is still played in the Kiel area, that hosts a couple of tournaments a year.

There is little evidence that Baseball derives from Rounders. Actually, a game that is an evolution of Rounders (in which you use posts and not bases and can happen that a hitter runs without hitting the ball first) was played in America in the 19th century and was called Town Ball. In any case, the first reference in history to Rounders (that "A little pretty pocket book".  is still played in the British Islands and his sanctioned by the Gaelic Athletic Association (www.gaa.ie) together with Gaelic football and Hurling) is from 1744 and appeared in a book for children printed by British publisher John Newbery and named "A little pretty pocket book".  The book also contains a very popular rhyme in which the terms Baseball and Rounders are confused.

It seems more likely that Baseball and Rounders share the same origin with Cricket, a game that was imported by Flemish shepherds (krick in their language means club or stick) to England in the 14th century but became an organized sport only in the 17th century.

On the other hand, there is clear evidence that in the 18th century a game called Baseball was played in England. In "Northanger Abbey" (a book that was published posthumous in 1818, but was written in the 1790's), British author Jane Austen describes Catherine Morlan as a woman who prefers cricket, baseball  riding on horseback and running about the country  to books. German author Johann Gutsmuth wrote in 1796 a book on popular pastimes in which he mentions a game called English Baseball.
This is not enough to conclude that the game we know today as Baseball is a British game. Actually, there is a game named British Baseball (www.britishbaseballassociation.co.uk). It is still played in Wales and features to teams of 11 players and there is no pitcher, but a bowler as in Cricket . Each teams plays 2 innings and an inning is complete when all 11 players have had a chance at bat. A run is scored every time a player gets to a base.
Abner Doubleday
Something must have happened in the late 18th century, when the game got to the Colonies. Al Spalding, a former pitcher and a world known sport goods manufacturer, found the perfect story: a man named Abner Doubleday  (an army officer who was an hero during the Seminoles Wars and was going to be a General in the American Civil War) invented the game of Baseball in 1839 in a city called Cooperstown, the first one of the United States inhabited only by natives. A story that is way too perfect and that Doubleday himself never claimed.

The invention of Baseball by Doubleday was probably invented by Baseball, but there is little doubt that he contributed to the idea of the field (or diamond) as we know it know. The real inventor of the rules of the game is a book seller from New York: Alexander Cartwright , who founded a team called The Knickerbockers in 1839, wrote the rules in 1845 (and the Congress in 1953 certified he did) and organized the first game in the United States on 19th of June 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey. The game was not the first played in North America, though. The first game of Baseball played in the New World dates back to June 1838 and was played in Ontario, Canada.

In a matter of years, Baseball became the first professional sport. In 1850 the National Association of Baseball Players (NABBP)  was born, the National League was alive and kicking in 1876.

Americans tried immediately to make it a World Game. In 1878 a professional player named Esteban Bellan introduced the game in Cuba (that exported Baseball in the whole Caribbean) and in 1870 bats and balls arrived in Japan (from there quickly reached Korea and Taiwan) thanks to Horace Wilson. Games were organized in Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific in 1888 and 1889. In February  1889 a tour organized by Albert Spalding took the game to Italy. A championship was played in England in the late 18th century.

The game really became international in the 20th century. By 1903 in the USA the American League began challenging the National League in the World Series. Organized  Baseball Leagues started spreading all over the World:  1922 in The Netherlands, 1934 in Australia, 1936 in Japan, 1938 in Puertorico, 1945 in Venezuela and Mexico, 1948 in Italy.

THE HISTORY OF THE IBAF