The Fathers of Fantasy Baseball

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on October 17, 2011:

The title “Father of Baseball” has been bestowed variously upon Abner Doubleday, Alexander Cartwright, Doc Adams, Louis F. Wadsworth, and William R. Wheaton; all but the first have a reasonable claim to the honor. But who is the Father of Fantasy Baseball? If you answer Dan Okrent or Glen Waggoner—even if you are crafty enough to offer up Ethan Allen’s landmark game of 1941, “All-Star Baseball”—you’re in for a surprise.

One of two possible answers from long ago is Francis C. Sebring, pitcher for the Empire Base Ball Club of New York (and bowler for the Manhattan Cricket Club) in the mid-1860s. At some time around the conclusion of the Civil War, this enterprising resident of Hoboken designed a mechanical table game; sporting papers of 1867 carried ads for his “Parlour Base-Ball” and the December 8, 1866, issue of Leslie’s carried a woodcut of parents and young’uns playing the game.

No examples of “Parlour Base-Ball” survive, but from the patent application and drawing of February 4, 1868, we see that a spring propelled a coin (“one of the thick nickel coins of the denomination of ‘one cent,’ issued by the United States Government in and about the year 1860”) from pitcher to batter, and another spring activated a bat that propelled the coin into one or another of the cavities in the field. A pinball machine is not very much different.

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Originally published: October 17, 2011. Last Updated: October 17, 2011.