Before there was baseball, there was wicket

From Ray Hardman at on October 31, 2013, with mention of SABR members John Thorn and Brian Sheehy:

Before the rise of baseball, early Americans played a host of ball and bat games, with names like rounders, stool ball and tip-cat. One of these games, wicket, was by far the most popular of them, especially in Connecticut, where for a few decades in the 1800s the sport was even more popular than baseball.

“Wicket was the game of our forefathers,” said John Thorn, the official Historian for major league baseball. “Wicket was the game George Washington played at Valley Forge.”

As far as historians can tell, wicket is an early form of cricket that was imported to the new world from England, and took on a life of its own, according to Thorn. “As the rules of cricket became formalized,” he said, “and many of the variations on stumps and pitches changed, we had an odd, Galapagos island kind of preserved cricket in America.”


But while wicket was having its heyday in Connecticut, another game, the quicker, livelier game of baseball was gaining popularity. By the end of the Civil War, wicket was considered an old timers’ game. “After the Civil War, we had a romance with science,” said Thorn. “We had a romance with organization and form and progress, and wicket seemed primitive, like a game well worth dispensing of.” By the 1890s, wicket games were few and far between, and by the turn of the 20th century, wicket was practically extinct.

That is, until a few weeks ago. Students from North Andover High School in Massachusetts have been playing wicket this fall as part of Brian Sheehy’s “Sports of the Past” class. Sheehy was surprised by the skill involved in playing the old game. “The fielders are all spread out all over the field,” Sheehy said. “So if you can hit it far enough in a direction where there aren’t any fielders, you can score runs. But if you get up there and just try to kill it, you’ll probably hit it back to the pitcher, or you’ll miss it completely.”

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Originally published: November 1, 2013. Last Updated: November 1, 2013.