from Games for Exercise and Relaxation of Body and Spirit
for Boys, their Supervisors, and all Friends of the Innocent Joys of Youth (1796)
Johann Christian Friedrich Gutsmuths
2. The German Ball Game
This game which has not yet been scrutinized anywhere well deserves a detailed description. It is not my purpose to be entertaining in this effort– simply understand this dry stuff, enjoyment will be found in the practice.
Mark on an even lawn the beginning and end points X and Y of the pitch [Spielbahn], approximately 30-40 paces apart, and the preparation is done; if you want to be more precise, cut the lines A-B and C-D with a stick into the ground, and mark their ends as well as positions 4 and 5 with posts. This way, the width of the pitch is also defined.
Line A-B will be the batting crease [Schlagmal], C-D the fielding crease [Fangmal].
Ball: One makes it of very durable woolen yarn, without any impurities, wrapped as tight and round as possible and covered as firmly as possible with bleached white or Danish glove leather. This covering is not composed of several pieces, but only one, which is cut with scissors in two round flaps sewn progressively, which are united by a seam which does not go quite around the ball. A good ball two Leipzig inches in diameter, strongly thrown down, bounces twenty-five feet high and is almost like new gum rubber.
One also obtains very elastic balls, if you put the loosely wound yarn so long in water that it shrinks, then the ball is wound extremely tightly; temporarily give it a covering of paper which you bind with string and then bake these balls in the oven until the paper is singed dark yellow. Then in place of the abovementioned paper the covering previously described is added. The balls for the ball-houses are wound of small pieces of woolen stuff, evenly wrapped with soft twine and covered with white cloth. The first style I consider the best for this game.
Bat [Ballstock “ball-stick”] (Racquette): It is not good to use a broad piece of wood, as it resists the air and therefore hitting cannot be as powerful as with a completely round stick that tapers towards the handle, made from a trunk of a young spruce tree. Only with those can you successfully hit the ball 80 to 100 feet high and nearly 100 paces away. The handle, to avoid it flying away, where the hand grips it is slightly carved so that the end terminates in a small button. This narrowly carved area one either wraps with twine and soaks it a couple of times with glue, which damp hands will hold firmly after drying, or one provides the bat with a strap through which the hand grips it.
Play: On our pitch is gathered a team of eight, ten, twelve or more persons, whether short or tall makes no difference. The two best players will be appointed leaders, and are to organize the game, arbitrate in case of disputes etc. Their first duty is to divide the group into two parties fairly equal in ability. This is to be done according to the rules in Appendix 1. Once both parties are made, the choice of which are to be the ‘Rulers’ [Herrschende] and which one the ‘Servants’ [Dienende] shall be made by tossing a coin (see Appendix 1). Now the game can begin. Both parties continuously contend against the other: the Rulers try to retain their rule; the Servants try to win the bat. This is the main idea of the game, but I will first expound the activity of each team separately before explaining the general rules.
1) Employment of the serving party
Let us suppose six persons for each team. At the start of the game and each time his team has lost the bat, the team leader places his team in positions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, and the best players are to be put in 1,2,3,6 – because the side positions may be occupied by less skilled players, but 1 and 2 need to be able throwers, and 3 and 6 able catchers of the ball.
The person in position 1 is called the pitcher [Aufwerfer]; he must throw the ball for the batter [Schläger]. For this purpose he stands two steps in front of the batter, who stands at E, and throws the ball in the middle between himself and the batter vertically into the air, a bit higher than the head. As the ball drops down, the batter has to hit it in the air. All other Servants in 2,3,4,5,6 have to try to get the ball as soon as possible into the hitting crease, and therefore have to run in all directions to catch the ball and throw it to the pitcher. All of this has to be done quickly, therefore everyone should be able to catch and throw well, with right, left and both hands and in all positions, even at a run. The body will become very fit, flexible and strong.
In all this activity the main goal of the Servants is to elevate their status and become Rulers by winning the bat. This happens if a) a Servant catches the batted ball out of the air, b) if he throws the ball at a batter who is running from X to Y or back, and he hits him, c) if he can get the ball into the batting crease at a time when no batter remains there – the last two cases will be clarified in what follows.
2) Business of the ruling party
They have the pleasure of hitting the ball, but each hit must be earned by the batter by running from the batting crease X to the fielding crease Y and back.
As the batter cannot run while the ball is in the hands of a Servant who is trying to hit him with the ball, he first has to hit the ball, or, if he fails to do so, to stay in Station X and wait until one of the following batters hits the ball and through this is freed [löst]; only then can he run. If he reaches the fielding crease Y, and the ball is still not close, he can immediately run back to X. In the contrary case he remains behind the fielding crease Y until a good hit is made which frees him to return to the batting crease X.
It happens often that only one of all the batters is left in the batting crease, because the others have not hit well or not hit the ball at all, and are thus still standing at X or Y waiting to run. This last remaining batter is then called the “liberator” [Löser], as he must free all the others. He has the right to strike three times, whereas otherwise only one strike is allowed.
If the “liberator” is a bad hitter, he might take his three swings without hitting the ball; if this happens without one of those standing at Y managing by cleverness and speed to get to the batting crease, then the bat is lost, because the ball will get to the batting crease without there being a freed batter. The Rulers will of course try to prevent that by attempting with cleverness and speed to bring one of them into the batting crease, for instance by several of them running at the same time from different sides to the crease, and trying to distract the attention of the Servants. But this occurs so often that one must ensure that the liberator is a good hitter who rarely misses the ball.
At the beginning of the game, when the order of batting is not yet established, the best batter stays behind and lets everyone else hit before him, so that he can free his team members. As the game goes on, the order of who will bat next will be determined by which player arrives first from Y to X – therefore the batting team has to make sure that of several players returning to X the best one arrives last, so that he can become the liberator. For instance, if a, b, c are bad players and d is a good one, and all four were away at Y, and a hit would “free” them to come back to X, then d would have to let the other three get “home” first. Or if a, b, c were at Y and d, e f, as three good players, were yet to take their at-bats at X, then a, b, and c would not be allowed to run back once a good hit has been made, but they would have to wait until one of the better three players comes out to Y – this good player has then again to come in last, to later become “liberator”.
The liberator needs to be sure not to run after he makes his first hit – unless he can be certain that the waiting batters could definitely make it back to X from Y before the ball can be returned to the crease. Imagine if the liberator ran after the first little hit, then the Servants could bring in the ball before the batters got back from Y, and the bat would be lost. Now the following rules for the players will be easy to understand.
1. Rules for the serving party
- a) Pitcher: His role is one of the most important, and he has to be very skilled. His is the key position in the game, as he has to encourage the fielding team to throw him the ball, and to hurry up the batters, not to be laggardly. Doing both, he keeps the game lively. His attention should be focused on
- 1- on each batter in turn: if this one is likely to send the ball regularly past positions 4 and 5, the pitcher needs to change his position a little as to forestall that behavior. The better the pitcher throws the ball for the batters and adapts to their traits, the more good hits will be made, and the more easily can his teammates catch them.
- 2- on the ball: often, the batter will hit the ball only on the quarter or on its eighth part and just pop it up [prellt ihn nur leicht in die Höhe]– these the pitcher needs to catch in order to win the bat.
- 3- the batters of the batting team in general: he needs to strive to hit with the ball everyone who runs from X or returns from Y either unassisted, or to throw the ball to the person at 2, in case this person is nearer to the runner, so that he can hit the runner. The pitcher further has to watch the batters waiting in X; in case they pass the line A-B with as much as a single foot he has the right to throw the ball at this foot, and even more if they trespass the line completely. If the pitcher hits in such a case, he has won the bat.
- 4- on himself: he has to step back at least one long stride at the instant the batter strikes, so as not to be hit by the bat.
- b) The other Servants have two objects to observe carefully and constantly, namely the ball and the batters. They have to know the tendencies of each batter – how far and in which directions they hit the ball. If he expects the ball to come to his area, he has to be careful. Each time the ball is hit and gains height, he has to calculate the arc along which it will come down, and try to quickly reach that spot to catch the ball, or either hit one of the runners or throw the ball to another who is better positioned to hit a runner.
- If none of these cases is possible, they throw the ball to the pitcher, to make the game continue. Each of the Servants also keeps an eye on the lines A-C and B-D to check whether one of the runners crosses them, because through this the bat will be lost. They should also notice if no “freed” batter is in the batting crease any more, because in this case they have to throw the ball into the batting crease; this will be announced to everyone through the cry "The ball in the crease!" so that it can quickly be thrown in without a batter reaching the batting crease first. Of course, if the ball arrives before the batter, the other party has lost the bat.
2) Rules for the batters
- None of these should run unnecessarily while the ball is held by one of the nearby Servants, as he could easily be hit and the bat lost. In this case he may only run if there is no good batter in the crease any longer who could free the others.
- Each player needs to strive to hit the ball well and with strength, because small and weak hits will be caught too easily. He has to be able to hit the ball into any area he wants, and needs to choose the direction in which no good fielder is located. He should never hit the ball to Y if his fellows are running there, and contrariwise hit the ball to Y if they are coming back from there, because this eliminates the opportunity of their being hit by the ball. Of course, very strong and long hits beyond 6 do the same.
- If he is thrown at, then he is quick in dodging – therefore he always runs with his face behind him and ducks before he is hit. But he must risk everything to get into the crease if the “liberator” has only one hit left. While running he must not forget to stay inside the sidelines.
I finish the explanation with a general rule set for this game.
1) The leader of each team must receive obedience from his players. If there is a dispute over whether the bat has been lost or not, and no agreement can be reached, lots will be drawn.
2) Whoever falls down loses the bat for his party, if he is a batter, but if he is a Servant, then his party must now win twice before achieving the bat. As punishment, the one who was lying on the ground is not allowed to hit in the next inning, but still has to run with the leader from X to Y and back.
3) If the game changes too often, meaning it is won too often between one and the other party, it can be decided that the Servants have to win two or three times before they come to bat.
4) A badly thrown ball obliges no player to swing. If no batter is happy with the pitcher, they can ask the Servants to put in a better one. If the “liberator” is about to make his third swing, he is allowed to not strike at all but deliberately let the ball drop, so that the ball is out of the hands of the pitcher for a moment, but he can only do so twice.
5) The series of hits a party makes before they lose the bat is called a “course” [Gang]. In order to determine which party has won the game at the end, each party has to count the hits made aloud and note them after the “course” on a blackboard. Little hits that do not reach higher than a man will not be counted. At the end of the game, when both parties have played the same number of “courses”, all hits will be added and the party which has the higher number of them has won.
6) The bat is lost:
- a) If any Servant catches the ball out of the air. If the ball has already touched the ground, this is not the case – but if the ball has just bounced back from a person or an object, the catch out of the air is still valid.
- b) If any batter in the pitch between A B C D is hit by the ball, no matter the circumstances. However, the pitcher is not allowed to participate in this throwing if he is inside of the pitch – he has to remain in front of the line A-B, because if he was allowed to participate in hitting the players of the batting team with the ball, he could run after each of them who is slower than he is, catch up with him and hit him, while the other is trying to run from X to Y to get “freed”.
- c) If a Servant throws the ball into the batting crease at any time when there are no batters waiting there.
- d) If a batter while running crosses the sidelines A-C or B-D.
- e) If a “liberator” has taken his three swings and after the third hit the ball gets into the crease before another batter. This is the same case as c) and happens most often in case the third strike is not hit and the ball falls down in front of the line A-B.
- f) If one of the batting party touches the ball.
- g) If a batter takes the bat across the crease into the pitch when he wants to run to Y.
- h) If he through careless hitting so swings the bat that one of the other players is hit.
- j) If he lets go the bat while hitting.
7) If the bat is won by the Serving party, the winner has the right to take the first at-bat, after him the former pitcher has the right to bat, after this one all of the others no matter in which order. But afterwards, as the game goes on, the order in which the players bat is determined by the order in which they come in from Y. If the case happens that a bad batter is the last one to come in and would normally become “liberator”, the Servants are not obliged to accept that this bad batter may bat earlier in order to have a better batter become the “liberator”.
8) The ball is never carried by hand, but has to be thrown from player to player, and caught out of the air.
Of all games for young people, this is one of the best, because it achieves several goals of physical games. It favors a great deal of movement in the open air, and furthers the body’s speed, quickness and strength. Batting and throwing give skill and strength to the arm and running makes flanks and legs quicker. Avoiding being hit by the ball makes it necessary to be very quick. Also, visual judgment is trained through this game, for instance in hitting the ball the pitcher has thrown, or hitting a running batter, or catching the ball out of the air – and this while the ball goes in arcs of 70 feet high and 80 paces long. The game demands constant attention, and brings so much joy and interest for young people who are not effete that they will prefer it to any other game during springtime.
I said earlier that this game can be played by more or fewer people, even with just 4 persons. This last version which is called “Fourball” is much more intense because those four persons have to do just as much as the twelve described above. Here, one of the fielding team is the pitcher, the other one stands outside, and one batter becomes the “liberator” for the other hitter.
Tr. W. C. Hicklin 2016