The Great American Past Time
Did Abner Doubleday invent baseball in 1839? Well, it depends on who you ask. He did fire the first Northern shot of the Civil War, and commanded the First Army Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg. Some folks say Alexander Cartwright created baseball in 1845, when he refined the rules and founded the New York Knickerbockers Baseball Club and held the first statistically recorded game in 1846.
Despite who invented the game, baseball was established prior to the Civil War in the New York area, parts of New Jersey and it even spread to Washington, D.C. President Abraham Lincoln loved the game so much, that during the Civil War he had a baseball field built on the White House lawn.
The Civil War did something special for baseball – it expanded the game and established a scenario that would make the sport explode across the country. Baseball quickly turned into a professional business. Keep in mind, prior to the war, baseball was fairly limited to New York and its surrounding areas.
During the war there were extended periods of encampments waiting for the next battle. Soldiers participated in drilling exercises over and over again. Eventually, boredom led to low morale. So, the New Yorkers started teaching their comrades from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and other northern states the game of baseball. The soldiers truly loved the game and played it as often as they could.
Generals started sending reports to other military officials encouraging them to promote baseball activities in their camps. The reports indicated that baseball kept the mind off of the war, and promoted good health. The reports further suggested that it would be good if all ranks played together.
Soldiers would get a walnut and wrap it with yarn until a piece of cut horsehide would fit tightly around it. They would then sew it up and have their baseball for games. Bats were made of cut and carved oak limbs. Gloves weren't used until the 20th century. So how did the southern soldiers learn the game of baseball? There were 160 prisoner of war camps. Many prisoners learned the game while under lock and key. It became common to have games between northern and southern soldiers and the games always proved to be competitive.
Baseball played during the Civil War was very different than the game we know today. Some rules included: The striker [batter] gets to choose where he wants the pitch. The pitcher must throw underhanded. No base stealing. No leading off the base. No foul balls. All balls are fair. Other important facts:
- Outs were called "hands out."
- Batters were called "strikers" who desired to hit "aces" or home runs.
- Outfielders or "scouts" did not use gloves and the baseball itself was softer.
- The name of the game itself varied from one community to another – some teams played "round ball," while others played "town ball," "goal ball," "baste ball," "old cat," and "barn ball."
- A pitcher stood on the "pitcher's point" and threw toward the "striker's point" where the striker [or batter] stood ready above the "plate" or what is now called home plate.
- The plate itself was a white iron disk, tin plate turned upside down, or whatever could be found as a substitute.
- Fielders could retire batters by either catching the ball in the air or on one bounce.
- The more controversial practice of actually aiming the ball at runners to get them out was ultimately banned.
The Civil War started and ended in April, the traditional beginning of the new baseball season. Soldiers from both sides returned home and brought baseball with them. The game exploded in communities all over the country. Colleges adapted the game and played competitively. Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania were big rivals. In 1869, the game transitioned from amateur to professional and players were paid. The first professional team was the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The first season, they won every game. The following season the other teams began to offer pay so they too could also recruit the best players.
Even women quickly learned to love the game. The Dolly Vardens were the first African-American Women's team, established in 1867. The Female Baseball Club of Philadelphia was the first female team to play male teams in the 1880s. It appeared that everyone wanted to play baseball.
Since the Civil War, baseball has evolved into the game that we know today – America's favorite past time. Other than the elimination of slavery, it's challenging to think of anything else good that came out of such a horrible war.