SABR

The Pittsfield 'Baseball' Bylaw of 1791: What It Means

From SABR member John Thorn at MLB.com on August 3:

In Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to promote the safety of the exterior of the newly built meeting house, particularly the windows, a by-law is enacted to bar “any game of wicket, cricket, baseball, batball, football, cats, fives, or any other game played with ball,” within eighty yards of the structure. However, the letter of the law did not exclude the city’s lovers of muscular sport from the tempting lawn of “Meeting-House Common.”

Thanks to the astonishingly preserved minutes of a Pittsfield town meeting in 1791, we know that in this locality a game called baseball, if played too close to a newly built meeting house, was a violation of the law—at a time when the United States of America was a teenager and the Constitution a mere toddler, four years old.

I’m the fellow who won fleeting fame in the spring of 2004 for finding what was not truly lost, except for its significance. While prowling the internet late at night, I came upon a mention of the now celebrated bylaw in a book entitled The History of Pittsfield, (Berkshire County,) Massachusetts, From the Year 1734 to the Year 1800. The bylaw, intended to protect the exterior of the newly built meeting house, particularly its windows, barred “any game of wicket, cricket, baseball, batball, football, cats, fives, or any other game played with ball,” within 80 yards of the structure.

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Because the old game of baseball may have originated, or at least flourished, in the Berkshires and the Housatonic Valley, this region might not unreasonably be termed Baseball’s Garden of Eden, a term that Pittsfield’s civic boosters have been quick to adopt; for many this coinage has come to signify, in shorthand, that the national pastime was “invented here.” It was not, of course.

Read the full article here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/08/03/pittsfield/

This page was last updated August 5, 2011 at 2:26 am MST.

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