The Rise and Fall of New England-style Ballplaying

From SABR member Larry McCray (via John Thorn’s “Our Game” blog) on September 8, 2011:

Mr. Lawrence says, as a boy [h]e played Round Ball in 1829. So far as [his] argument goes for Round Ball being the father of Base Ball, it is all well enough, but there are two things that cannot be accounted for; the conception of the foul ball, and the abolishment of the rule that a player could be put out by being hit with a thrown ball…. Mr. Lawrence considers Round Ball and Four Old Cat one and the same game; the Old Cat game merely being what they would do when there were not more than a dozen players, all told.1 

If one is inclined to trust the reliability a senior citizen’s memories from his boyhood seven decades earlier, this 1905 testimony describes a long and simple arc for New England–style ballplaying. The ancient “old cat” games, including perhaps “hornebillets” as described in the 1670s in England, are linked to round ball as played in Massachusetts in the 1820s, which is itself linked, via the formalized Massachusetts Game of the 1850s, to modern baseball.

This essay reviews current evidence on the evolution of New England ballplaying up to the 1860s.

Read the full article here:–style-ballplaying/

Originally published: September 9, 2011. Last Updated: September 9, 2011.