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NOTE: Material in this section reflects short notes on Digger activities and plan as described in past issues of The Next Destin'd Post, a semi-regular newsletter associated with the Protoball Project. Issuance was suspended for some time while Larry McCray served as Chair of the SABR Committee on the Origins of Base Ball and guest editor of the "Special Issue on Origins" of Base Ball Journal (volume 5, number 1, Spring 2011).
Ralph has been working on unifying all of the data for the Greater New York City area in anticipation of the Interdisciplinary Symposium at John Jay College in November 2014. He has also been looking into new information about the game on Staten Island as well as Manhattan, with a special focus on digitizing the game results from the entirety of the Knickerbocker Game Books in the Spalding Collection at the New York Public Library.
For a recent feature article on David by ESPN writer Brian Curtis, go to http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9681627/baseball-archaeologist-david-block. It describes "How one man is rewriting the history of the game — one diary at a time."
New Charting of Base Ball’s Spread, 1859-1870
Bruce Allardice has traced and charted the growth of base ball in the US from 1859 to 1870 as it is presently captured on the PBall site. See http://protoball.org/The_Spread_of_Base_Ball,_1859_-_1870. These data clearly show the moderating effect of the Civil War on (non-soldierly) ballplaying, and the dramatic "Base Ball Fever" spread of the game to new areas right after the war.
Note: A few Protoballers are venturing to chart the modern game’s earliest growth, from 1843 to 1859. Wish us luck as we try to determine which ones of the reported games were really played by modern rules.
Article Lauds David Block, Our Own "Karate-Chopper" of Base Ball Lore
A long, wry, and fairly reverent article on the amazing David Block can be found at
Bryan Curtis’ "In Search of Baseball’s Holy Grail: How One Man is Rewriting the History of the Game – One Diary at a Time," was posted at the Grantland site on September 18, 2013.
Protoball’s favorite nuggets from the Curtis article:
 "In a just world, Block would be an archeological hero. What Bill James did for 20th -century baseball, Block is doing for 18th-century baseball."
 "Said Tom Schieber . . . [David’s book] ‘Baseball Before We Knew It and its aftermath is to me probably the single most important baseball research of the last 50 years, if not more.’"
 "’When David started his work and I started my work, this [topic of origins] was the dark side of the moon,’ said [John] Thorn."
 "Block had confirmed that the Doubleday theory was bunk. But he had also discovered that the rounders theory was bunk. Everything we knew about baseball’s parentage was wrong."
 "Block is being painfully modest. Let me be immodest on his behalf. Block is a scholar on a lonely frontier. He is karate-chopping the wisdom of the ages. "
Protoball later asked the author about the response to the article. Bryan Curtis’ reply: "The Block article attracted a very large amount of attention--larger, in fact, than my typical articles about star players. Which was wonderful, because David's more interesting than most of them."
Introducing . . . Hershie's Nuggets!
Richard Hershberger has offered to supply short pieces on assorted sweet subtopics in early base ball history. The first of these, Sliding in the Amateur Era, is a 3-page summary of contemporary news accounts' evidence on sliding.
It begins: "Did base runners slide in the amateur era, and if so, how frequently? Looking at period reports, the most striking feature is that the evidence is thin. There are undoubted reports of runners sliding, but they are few and far between. The problem then is to determine if reports of sliding are rare because sliding was rare, or because it was commonplace and therefore unremarkable: are they man bites dog reports, or dog bites man? Or something in between?"
Nugget #1 is found at http://protoball.org/Sliding.
Dorothy Mills’ Recent Contributions
Dorothy Seymour Mills is publishing "Who Ever Heard of a Girls’ Baseball Club?" She writes: "Everyone needs to know that women and girls have been part of the baseball culture as long as men and boys – and not just as fans, but as players, umpires, and even club owners." The electronic book’s title is taken from a writer who "didn’t realize that girls and women have been playing baseball since at least the 1860s – in long skirts, of course."
Dorothy has been asked to submit four articles on baseball history to the National Pastime Museum’s website at http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article-category/historians-corner. The first one, "Those Nimble American Girls," should appear shortly.
Deb Shattuck’s Online Talk about Women and Base Ball
Deb Shattuck’s thesis work on the history of women’s base ball continues, and you can see a lot of it at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVdQvArqScs.. This 80-minute talk includes much new information on female play prior to 1870, some of it altogether new to Protoball. Deb writes: "my talk was a compilation of the work done by those before me (David Block, Dorothy Mills, John Thorn, and the many contributors to the Protoball and 19cBB group) who have generously shared their research findings with me and other researchers. When I finally finish my book (later this year, fingers crossed) I hope to make my research available to as wide an audience as possible. I will begin by filling in the blanks on the Protoball site; after that I hope to work with SABR and the Women in BB Committee to create a searchable database of every female player and team we can find."
Deb’s talk, "Bloomer Girls," was delivered on July 19 at the Yachats Academy of Arts and Sciences on the Oregon Coast. Her forthcoming PhD dissertation at the U of Iowa covers women base ball pioneers.
Bob Tholkes to Address Local SABR Chapters
Bob Tholkes will be a presenter at the November meetings of the SABR chapters in Pittsburgh and Providence. The Pittsburgh meeting is focusing on baseball statistics, and Bob will discuss the birth of base ball stats. Last year, Bob made presentations at the Chicago and San Antonio-Austin SABR chapters.
John Zinn Digs into Early New Jersey Ballplaying
John Zinn’s objective is to understand how the New York game came to New Jersey and then developed and expanded throughout the entire state. He has been examining close to 50 contemporary newspapers that survive as well as national publications. In the pre-war period (1855-1860) there were organized base ball clubs in only about a third of New Jersey’s 21 counties. He plans to look at other information such as the reach of the railroad to try to understand why the game did and didn’t reach the different parts of the state. He is now shifting to the 1861-1870 period.
John wrote the New Jersey section Baseball Founders. He is on the planning committee for the November 2014 SABR symposium on 19th century base ball in the greater New York area, including New Jersey.
Having added nearly 1000 finds of the early play of modern base ball around the US, Bruce Allardice has begun to turn up earliest games in other countries. In July he pinned down and entered new “Earliest Known Games” in Argentina, Bermuda, Burma, the Netherlands, Panama (a Cricket and Baseball Club in 1883, yet), Uruguay and several other nations.
Rich Arpi reports that the Minnesota SABR chapter has discussed the idea of mapping the spread of base ball in Minnesota by locating the first known modern game in the larger MN towns.
John Bowman is taking a fresh look at the history of the 90-foot basepath in baseball, and is reflecting on how the choice of a different distance might have affected the game.
Mark Brunke continues to collect information on very early ballplaying in Sacramento, Seattle, and Victoria British Columbia. He is finding that some early pioneers in that region played both base ball and cricket, at first.
“Baseball in the Bronx, before the Yankees,” is Gregory Christiano’s new book. It focuses some on the Morrisania Unions, and draws extensively on Craig Waff’s Games Tab (http://protoball.org/Games_Tabulation) and other PBall data. A google search of <”Gregory Christiano” Bronx> takes you to Amazon page for Gregory’s book.
British-born Joe Gray is collecting information on the play of modern base ball in Britain, and has recently turned up games played as early as 1870 in Dingwall, Scotland. Joe reports that his personal interest is expanding to include earlier British baserunning games. His very comprehensive web page is found at http://www.projectcobb.org.uk/.
Tom Heitz participated in a large Cooperstown tour organized in part by filmmaker Ken Burns. Tom presented a lecture on base ball’s early rules and supervised a throwback Town Ball game for the tour on the lawn behind the Fenimore Art Museum.
Bill Humber is working on the story of Canada’s earliest base ball, focusing in partonWilliam Shuttleworth, a key person on an 1854 team. Bill is also continuing to identify the nature of the “Canadian game,” which preceded the arrival of the New York game in Canada.
A new version of the “This Game of Games” website was
launched in June by Jeff Kittel. The site, which traces early ballplaying in
Greater St. Louis and the Trans-Appalachian West, is at http://www.thisgameofgames.com/
Monica Nucciarone has been contributing to a new documentary about base ball in Hawaii. The film, by former Boston University student Drew Johnson, touches on the influence of base ball on the political evolution of Hawaii, starting with 1840s ballplaying there as introduced by missionaries. Drew notes that Japanese baseball, as well as the US game, was part of the later story of Hawaiian baseball.
Greg Perkinshas written articles on base ball, town ball, and cricket for the Northern Kentucky Encyclopedia (University Press of Kentucky, 2009) and has helped organize a VBB club, the Ludlow Base Ball Club, which is named after an 1870s club. He continues to collect data on the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
On July 19, Deb Shattuck presented “Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers” at the Triple Play Baseball Festival at Yachats on the Oregon Coast. The presentation is based on her forthcoming dissertation at the U of Iowa. The festival was the work of former MLB pitcher -- and geneticist -- Dave Baldwin.
Bruce Allardice’s paper on the spread of modern base ball in the American south has won a 2013 McFarland Award for the best history or biography for 2012. The article, “The Inauguration of This Noble and Manly Game Among Us,” appeared in Base Ball’s Fall 2012 issue (volume 6, number 2, pages 51-69). Bruce uses extensive newly-found newspaper and other sources to dispel myths about the neglect of base ball by southerners and about the relative importance of northern influences in the spread of modern base ball in the South from 1859 on. One judge wrote: “Here's a very well researched piece that takes on the long-established ‘prison camp’ theory of dissemination. It represents exactly what we are looking for in an award winner; well written, thoughtful, convincing, and one that makes you wonder why this hadn't been proven before. It breaks new ground and should be cited for a long time to come.”
In the winter of 2007, a small band of baseball fans gathered at the fireplace of the home of Richard and Priscilla Astifan. The main thing that was kindled that eve was the Rochester Baseball Historical Society. And this spring, the RBHS sponsored a major 45-day exhibit, Rochester Baseball: From Mumford’s Meadow to Frontier Field, at Rochester’s Central Library. The exhibit featured 22 panels of photographs and traced the path of local baseball from 1825 to the current day.
David Block has found a new reference to English base ball dating to 1749. He notes that it is the first known base ball game involving mature adults. The only earlier references, believed to be printed in the 1744 first edition of the Little Pretty Pocketbook and a reported reference to play within the English royal family written by Lady Hervey in 1748, depicted juvenile play. We learn of this fresh find in the June 12 issue of the Daily Telegraph in Britain.
Anita Broad is also now listed as a digger. Anita has recently written her Master’s thesis, “Stoolball Through the Seasons: It’s Just not Cricket,” and now serves as Research and Education Officer of Stoolball England. She has already helped Protoball sort out what the English safe-haven games Pentoss (a form of ladies’ cricket) and Target Ball were all about. She and her daughter play stoolball, as did her mother and grandmother. She is now working on a grant that funds a primary school education project on the history of stoolball.
Film-maker Ken Burns has enlisted Digger Tom Heitz as a presenter on early base ball for a tour group to Cooperstown in June 2013. The group numbers an unprecedented 160 visitors. Some of us think of Tom as the unofficial Dean of Diggers – he co-wrote the 70- item origins chronology that inspired th Protoball Project-- and we welcome him back.
Richard Hershberger continues with his collection of data on as many early base ball clubs as he can find. At this point he has rounded up over 850 clubs that formed prior to the Civil War and that played by New York rules. Richard has generously shared his collection with Protoball, and all of the clubs are entered into the PBall Pre-Pro data base. Richard’s quest parallels the effort started in 2008 by Craig Waff to build a directory of early ball games before the War, and we are trying to systematically link clubs and games for PBall users.
Newly listed as a digger in June 2013, Jim Kimnach heads the Advisory Board of the Ohio Village Muffins Vintage Base Ball Team, which plays by 1860 rules. His main base ball interests include mid-Century ballplaying, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner.
Jeff Kittel has completely redesigned his “This Game of Games” website at http://www.thisgameofgames.com/. Its main focus is regional 19th Century ballplaying, but Jeff’s interests have expanded beyond St. Louis base ball to varieties of ballplaying in America’s trans-Appalachian West. Jeff plans to post his new finds on the site as they turn up.
Eric is working on a book on the World Baseball Tour of 1874.
Bill Ryczek has 4 essays on early ballplaying posted at the National Pastime Museum site at http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/author/william-ryczek/historians-corner. Included are an account of the Excelsiors’ 1860 tour of New York State and an account of the evolution of pitching from the 1850s onward. Access requires you to register for the site, which took just 3 or 4 hours in our recent experience.
Debbie Shattuck’s initial NDPost offering on the distaff side of ballplaying appears in the June 2013 issue of the Next Destin'd Post. She is working to publish her forthcoming thesis on women baseball pioneers with the University of Illinois Press, with a target date of 2015.
John Zinn has discovered an 1855 New Jersey game played among African American clubs, which is four years earlier than we had previously known for African American play of modern base ball. We are in contact with SABR’s Negro Leagues Committee to see if John’s find now stands as the first ever. Its PBall entry is at http://protoball.org/1855.36.
A monograph on pre-1845 North American games played with a ball or some other projectile is a goal for Tom Altherr. The work would include, but not be limited to, safe haven games, and would include indoor a well as outdoor games. He notes that some of this work has appeared in the journal Base Ball, the SABR Originals newsletter, and Protoball’s online chronology and its Next Destin’d Post newsletter. Tom is also interested in ball-playing among slave and free African Americans before 1865 and in the possible contributions of German schlagball, and perhaps other mid-European games, to the evolution of base ball. He remains convinced that ball-playing was more common in North America than most sports historians allow . . . and he continues to confirm that view with fresh finds most every month.
Perhaps looking for ways to broaden upcoming travel to Ireland, Howard Burman cheerfully took on the job of reporting on the game of Irish Rounders, one our four sports sanctioned by the Gaelic Athletic Association as early as 1884. Howard’s report appears in the “Glossary of Games” on the Protoball site at http://protoball.org/Irish_Rounders_(Burman’s_Report). Today’s players see the game as one of Irish birth, without English parentage, and having been played locally as early as the beginning of the 19th century . . . and as possibly have been exported to North America via Irish emigrants. The game has a number of variants from base ball rules, including optional running with less than two strikes, limited substitutions, no gloves for fielders, and catchers positioned well back of batters.
Frank Ceresi’snew e-book The Washington Nationals and Their Grand Tour of 1867 (Search <nationals ceresi ebook>) follows the National Club, and others, from 1859 through the following decade. He remains on the hunt for a photograph of the Nationals at the time of their tour, and is about to sift through the Matthew Brady collections in hopes of spotting one. Frank also serves as Executive Director of a new online baseball museum at http://thenationalpastime.com/, which will show up to 25,000 artifacts, including many from the origins era.
Mark Schoenberg is a new Digger. We are looking for this street-wise New Yorker to curate Protoball’s prospective Schoenberg’s Stickball Collection.
Brian Sheehy is planning a meeting in mid-April for VBB players to discuss themes in the evolution of base ball in the pre-professional era. For details on the Newbury MA mini-conference, contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MLB Official Historian John Thorn has been in contact with cricket/wicket scholar Jay Patel in connection with Patel’s forthcoming book. He notes that a good fraction of his time these days goes to “facilitation” – putting the right people together for special projects. He also works with auction houses and experts on early base ball images to help identify their finds. And – all of this seems not to have lessened the number or quality of his frequent contributions to SABR’s 19CCB list-serve.
Brian Turner reports that his recent research has remained focused on bat-ball and bat-and-ball, but has also focused on settlement patterns in western Massachusetts, to tease out whether that tells us something about why ball games were apparently named one thing (bat-ball) in one town (Northampton) in 1791 and another thing in other towns (such as the names ball games were known by Pittsfield).
Bill made enormous contributions in bringing to print Base Ball Founders this spring. This solid new reference work contains about 40 essays on th4e earliest base ball clubs in the New York metropolitan area, Philadelphia, and Massachusetts.
A new voice in Origins research, Mark Brunke last year volunteered to coordinate an effort within SABR’s Pacific Northwest chapter to fill in an almost completely blank map of the first modern games in that area. “What I like about baseball history is how it fits into American history, and how it illuminates and questions the past,” he explains. Mark, who works in Human Resources and has pursued painting, music, and filmmaking as well as baseball, is presently putting together a history of pre-professional base ball in the Seattle area.
Mark’s January comprehensive presentation to the Pac Northwest chapter on findings to date is found at: http://protoball.org/The_Spread_of_Base_Ball_in_the_Pacific_Northwest.
Howard Burman has been trying to figure out the game of Irish Rounders. The game’s players see it as unrelated to English rounders, and possibly as a predecessor to American base ball. Having visited Ireland and gotten to know officials of the Gaelic Athletic Association, his report on the game is imminent, and will be posted to the Protoball site.
Swinging Away (Marylebon Cricket Club and Scala Press, 2010) is curator Beth Hise’s new book on her exhibitions on base ball and cricket at Lord’s and at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Besides writing two essays on cricket in the United States for the recent Origins Issue of Base Ball, Beth has contributed a paper on the English response to exhibition base ball games in England in the early 1900s.
St. Louis Digger Jeffrey Kittel is at work at, among other things, a history of ballplaying in the St. Louis area from the 18th century on. He runs This Game of Games, a blogsite that you’ll really like, at http://thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/, and in his spare time he co-curates the Protoball Glossary of Games at http://protoball.org/Glossary of Games.
Monica Nucciarone is following up on her authoritative book on Alexander Cartwright, has contributed to a forthcoming documentary about 19C baseball in Hawaii, and is writing her second book, on Cartwright’s daughter-in-law, Princess Theresa.
In addition to his contributions to the stellar Base Ball Pioneers volumes (McFarland), Greg Perkins wrote articles on base ball, town ball, and cricket for The Northern Kentucky Encyclopedia (U of Kentucky, 2009). Greg is weighing the idea of writing an account of early pro base ball in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky.
Debbie Shattuck is at work on her book-length dissertation, Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers. She has upcoming talks on women and early base ball in Cleveland, in Madison County, New York, and in St. Louis this year.
An April conference in Newbury MA on early base ball is being organized by Digger Brian Sheehy. Players from the expanding number of VBB clubs in eastern New England will comprise a good share of conference attendees.
“Not Likely to Flourish,” appearing in Base Ball,volume 6, number 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 22 ff, is [[Bob Tholkes’]] survey of the New York game for the 1862 base ball season. The season began with the sadly mistaken conjecture that the Civil War would end soon enough to save the ballplaying season. Still, 1862 saw William Cammeyer’s historic opening of the enclosed ballfield at the Union Grounds, the June visit of Philadelphia clubs to New Jersey, Brooklyn and games with three NYC clubs at Elysian Fields, and the October death of Excelsior Club great Jim Creighton.
John Zinn is working on a manuscript telling the early history of base ball in New Jersey. He has examined 47 newspapers’ coverage of base ball club activities from 1855 to 1860, a period when only five NJ cities had daily papers. John has made major contributions to the SABR “Spread of Base Ball” project and to MLB’s Thorn Committee on Origins, which has stimulated new digging on the early spread of the game.
John reports that both Newark and Jersey City grew clubs that were mentioned at least once during this six-year span. The most active base ball counties in the state were Hudson County (which includes both Jersey City and Hoboken) and Essex County, the two counties closest to Hoboken's famous Elysian Fields.
Priscilla is moving ahead on a manuscript on the history of baseball in Rochester NY. She has also joined colleagues to form the Rochester Baseball History Association, which is preparing an exhibit for the Rochester Public Library next April on local baseball history that will include material loaned by the HOF.
David, a member of the MLB Committee on Origins, worked with Committee chair John Thorn to establish a record of the spread of baseball to foreign countries. He continues to deepen his research on English base-ball from the 1740s to 1900. He has now amassed about 150 references to the game. He continues to doubt that a bat was uniformly used in early English base ball.
César introduced several new finds in his “March, Conquest, and Play Ball: The Game in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848,” Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, volume 5, number 1 (Fall 2011), pp 13 – 22.
“This Game of Games”, a snazzy website dedicated to the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball, is the creation of Jeff Kittel. See (http://thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/.) Jeff has agreed to help curate Protoball’s “Glossary of Games” feature, which is meant to serve as a registry for diverse baseball-like games, both those that precede our game and that appear to have later been derived from it (http://protoball.org/Glossary_of_Games). In that role he has helped write short accounts of evidence about town ball, the Massachusetts game, and English Rounders (http://protoball.org/Essays.) He has contributed essays to SABR’s Pioneer Project reports and to The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball. (http://www.amazon.com/Rank-Century-Major-League-Baseball/dp/0786468904) Jeff is currently working on an extensive monograph on baseball’s full history in St. Louis, in which he traces the roots of the game in the city back to the 18th century.
When not wrestling with the new Protoball website, Larry McCray has been attending once again to cutting into the backlog of information sent to the site for uploading. A member of the MLB Origins Committee, he coordinated an informal but spirited effort to gather and interpret new data on the spread of base ball across the United States.
“I can read all about variant games in books and on the net, but I find I don’t really understand them until I play them,” reports Brian Sheehy. Brian teaches “Sports of the Past” to upperclassmen at North Andover High School, north of Boston. Among the safe-haven games the students have studied (and played) are Knickerbocker rules base ball, the Massachusetts game, wicket, cricket, stoolball, and rounders. He is thinking about trying the ancient Russian game of lapta, and perhaps Irish rounders, in the spring.
Bob published “’We Hope They Will Not be Disappoint,’” A Survey of the New York Rules Base Ball Season of 1861,” in Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, volume 5, number 2 (Fall 2011), pp 5- 12.