The Game of Base Ball, How to Learn It, How to Play It – Henry Chadwick

Between thirty and forty years ago, my favorite field game was the old school-boy sport of Rounders. We used to dig a hole in the ground for the home position, and place four stones in a circle, or nearly so, for the bases, and, choosing up sides, we went in for a lively time at what was the parent game of base ball. When the ball tosser, or “feeder,” sent a ball to the bat, and it was hit into the field, the player running round the bases at once became the target of the fielders, their efforts, if the ball was not caught, being directed to hitting him with the ball, in which case he was out, and, failing to do this, they would try and toss the ball into the hole at “home,” provided there was no one to take the bat, and, if they were successful, the side at the bat had to retire. When all of the side were put out—each man retiring from play as he was put out—then the field side took the bat, and so the game went on until a certain number of runs were reached —mutually agreed upon—and the party first scoring the required number won the game. Of course the game was merely a source of fun and exercise, but little skill being required to play it, any school-boy being able to learn it in ten minutes. But from this little English acorn of Rounders has the giant American oak of Base Ball grown, and just as much difference exists between the British school-boy sport and our American National game, as between the seedling and the full grown king of the forest.

This game, as played by clubs in this country, was called “Town Ball,” and one of the oldest of these organizations is the Olympic Club, of Philadelphia, first organized in 1833. Town Ball had more regularity in its rules, but was the same, in principle, as “Rounders.” Posts, however, were used as bases in Town Ball, and there were regularly-appointed positions in the field. As usual, with every thing imported, we do not possess it long before we endeavor to improve it, and as our old American edition of base ball, in vogue in New York some twenty-five years ago, was an improvement on Rounders, so is our present National game a great step in advance of the game of base ball as played in 1840 and up to 1857.

About twenty odd years ago I used to frequently visit Hoboken with base ball parties, and, on these occasions, formed one of the contesting sides; and I remember getting some hard hits in the ribs, occasionally, from an accurately thrown ball. Some years afterwards the rule of throwing the ball at the player was super-ceded by that requiring it to be thrown to the base player, and this was the first step towards our now National game.

In the New England States the old game of Rounders and Town Ball had been replaced by an improved game, which was generally known as the “Massachusetts Game” of base ball, the variation from Town Ball consisting mainly in the fact that the ball was changed in size and weight, and was thrown to the bat instead of being pitched or tossed. For several years this game prevented the introduction, into New England, of our game of base ball, or the ” New York game,” as it was there called. But the superiority of the National game soon led to a popularity for it in the East which entirely did away with the Massachusetts game, and now the latter, like Town Ball, is rarely played, while base ball clubs have sprung up by hundreds.

It was in 1856, I think, when, on returning from the early close of a cricket match on Fox Hill, I chanced to go through the Elysian Fields during the progress of a contest between the noted Eagle and Gotham Clubs. The game was being sharply played on both sides, and I watched it with deeper interest than any previous ball match between clubs that I had seen. It was not long before I was struck with the idea that base ball was just the game for a national sport for Americans, and, reflecting on the subject, it occurred to me, on my return home, that from this game of ball a powerful lever might be made by which our people could be lifted into a position of more devotion to physical exercise and healthful out-door recreation than they had hitherto, as a people, been noted for. At that period—and it is but eleven years ago—I need not state that out-door recreation was comparatively unknown to the large mass of the American people. In fact, as is well known, we were the regular target for the shafts of raillery and even abuse from our out-door sport-loving cousins of England, in consequence of our national neglect of sports and pastimes, and our too great devotion to business and the “Almighty Dollar.” But thanks to Base Ball—the entering wedge of the great reformation which has since taken place—we have been transformed into quite another people, and as we never do things by halves, but generally rush into furores and extremes, the chances are that from being too neglectful of out-door sports we shall become too fond of them, and, from being content to play second fiddle to the sportsmen and athletes of England we shall not rest content until we have defeated them in every specialty of games, of which they have, for so many years, been the leading exemplars.

From the time that I first became an admirer of base ball, I have devoted myself to improving and fostering the game in every way I thought likely to promote the main object I had in view, viz: to assist in building up a national game for the country as much so as cricket is for England. At the time I refer to I had been reporting cricket for years, and, in my method of taking notes of contests, I had a plan peculiarly my own, it was not long, therefore, after I had become interested in base ball, before I began to invent a method of giving detailed reports of leading contests at base ball, and, seeing that every thing connected with the game, almost, was new, its rules crude and hastily prepared, with no systematized plan of recording the details of a game, and, in fact, no fixed method of either playing or scoring it, as soon as I became earnestly interested in the subject I began to submit amendments to the rules of the game to the consideration of the fraternity, generally in the form of suggestions through the press, my first improvement introduced being au innovation on the simple method of scoring then in vogue. Step by step, little by little, either directly or indirectly, did I succeed in assisting to change the game from the almost simple field exercise it was some twenty years ago up to the manly, scientific game of ball it is now. When I found any special opposition to my views and plans, created by personal prejudice or from any other cause, I induced others to father my ideas, at the cost, sometimes, of a little variation, and, by that means, worked them into being tried on their merits. I did not care for the credit of the suggestion, so long as the idea was carried out and the game improved.

One of the toughest fights I had, in this experience, was in getting the old rule of the bound catch from fair balls abolished, and it was not until I adopted the feint of advocating the rule in one paper and opposing it in others, and had thereby created two influential parties, where but one had before existed, that I fully succeeded in my object. I only asked one season’s trial of it at the hands of the Convention, to satisfy the fraternity that the fly rule was the correct one, but it was some years before I could get their consent. From the day that the bound rule was abolished not a single club, of any pretensions to skill as players, have played a game, that I am aware of, under that rule. Even the “muffins”-sensible fellows as they are—have repudiated it, and now, the only surprise is how it remained a rule of the game so long.

There were rules, too, to which custom had given almost a legal sanction, which I found obstacles to an improved condition of the game; among which may be named the old habit of running around the bases without touching them; the facilities which existed for willfully wild pitching; the great extent of the discretionary power given the umpire; the ill-feeling resulting from unnecessary appeals for judgment; and, above all, the almost total neglect of attention to discipline and training as essentials of success. In presenting amendments or suggesting improvements to the game, I have always proved, either by argument or practical demonstration, the correctness of my views, and, in this, I have, of course, been greatly assisted by facts and figures derived from actual observation and from a statistical analysis of the result of each season’s play; the system of short-hand reporting for movements made—not words uttered—which I invented several years ago, giving me a correct data, which could not well be gainsaid, except by an equally detailed analysis of matches played.

I have not written this introduction in any egotistical spirit, but simply to place on record the fact, that while many have worked assiduously for the welfare of the game, and devoted themselves to their work as to a labor of love, none have been more strenuous in their efforts to establish base ball as the national pastime, or more solicitous to see the game take a commanding position, as a moral recreation, than I have been. In my capacity as a reporter of the principal contests on the ball fields for the past ten years, and, as the author of the only standard works on base ball, and more recently as editor of the first weekly journal ever published, especially devoted to the interests of base ball, I have naturally possessed greater facilities and more influence in promoting the objects I had in view than others have had, equally as eager as myself to advance the popularity of the game and doubtless possessing more ability. But to no one do I give place in my efforts to bring base ball up to the highest point of excellence, or to rid it of those evil influences, which, of late years, have worked their way into the fraternity, greatly to the injury of that moral reputation the game, in its integrity, naturally should possess.

With these prefatory remarks I proceed at once to the task of teaching the young idea how to play base ball, and, following out the old rule of “teaching by example,” endeavor to show by detailed descriptions of the leading contests of the past season how expert players themselves can learn how still further to improve their style of play and become familiar with new and telling “points” in the game, which the past season’s experience has developed.

Trusting that this latest of my contributions to the literature of base ball may prove as acceptable to the fraternity as my previous works on the subject, I beg leave to remain, the base ball players’ sincere friend,

Henry Chadwick was one of the most influential sports writers of the late nineteenth century, and the only athletics journalist to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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