“The Bat and Ball”: A distinct game or a generic term?

From SABR member Brian Turner at Our Game on November 27, 2012:

Even at the celebration of the Lord’s supper [the Dutch boys] have been playing bat and ball the whole term around the house of God. [1]

Early American sources often refer to “playing ball” or “ball-playing” or “games of ball.” When one reads such references, or that boys played games with bat and ball, the terms appear to be generic. Relatively few sources unambiguously refer to a game called “bat and ball,” but such references do exist.

Evidence suggests that, as with so many American pastimes, “bat and ball” originated in England. The Field Book: Sports and Past Times of the British Isles (1833) observes, “The game of club-ball, plebian brother to cricket, appears to have been no other than the present well-known bat-and-ball, which with similar laws and customs in the playing of it, was doubtless anterior to trap-ball.”[2]

A colonial reference comes from the Reverend Gideon Hawley, in a letter written in 1794, in which he recalled his mission to the Native Americans in upstate New York between 1753 and 1756. He kept a diary, it seems, for in his letter he named days and dates: on the “27th, Lord’s Day,” he attended a “Dutch meeting . . . [a]t the nearest houses between fort Hunter and Schoharry.” The 27th falls on a Sunday in April 1755,[3]  so that is probably the year: “Those who are in meeting behave devoutly. . . . But without, they . . . have been playing bat and ball . . . around the house of God.”[4] Had Hawley, writing in 1794, recreated his diary entries verbatim, this sighting might qualify as primary evidence. But he may also have applied “bat and ball” forty years after the fact, influenced by his decades as a minister in Mashpee, Massachusetts. A look at the original diary, if it exists, would be required to judge the quality of his observations.[5]

Read the full article here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/11/27/the-bat-and-ball/

Originally published: November 27, 2012. Last Updated: November 27, 2012.