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Van Cott Source Recalls Diamond-Shaped Field in 1835

Salience Noteworthy
Game Base Ball

W. H. Van Cott was one of the organizers of the Gothams in 1852 and was later President of the NABBP. He reported on a conversation with a somewhat forgetful senior citizen in 1905. This man was John Oliver, age 90, who recalled playing baseball in Baltimore in 1825 and seeing it in New York sometime after moving there in 1835.

"I and II. He played the first game of Ball when he was 14 years old, 70 years ago. Called Base Ball because of running from base to base, and the field was in the shape of a diamond; 4 bases in all, counting the place of starting as the last one. He believes that the name originated with the game. III. He played Two Old Cat game, but no other . . . . IV and V. He does not remember ever to have played Rounders, but VI. He has an indistinct recollection of the game. VII. He cannot remember any rules."

These reported recollections are somewhat at odds with those of Oliver’s friend and interviewer C. H. McDonald: “He remembers very distinctly having played the game of Base Ball when a boy, both before and after becoming an apprentice. He states that his earliest recollection of the playing of the game was when he was about ten years of age, and at that time the game was played in this manner: The batter held the ball in one hand and a flat stick in the other, tossed the ball into the air and hit on the return, and then ran to either one, two, or three bases depending on the number of boys playing the game. If the ball was caught on the fly or the batter hit with the ball while running the bases, he was out. These bases, so called, at that time, were either stones or pieces of sod was removed [sic], or bare places where grass was scraped off. He remembers seeing the game played frequently while an apprentice boy, but always in this manner, never with a pitcher or a catcher, but sometimes with sides. . . . [Then Oliver is quoted thus:] “I never saw the game played with stakes or poles used for bases instead of stones or sods. Never heard of a game of Rounders. One Old Cat, Two Old Cat, Three Old Cat have seen played, but never have taken part in it myself.” To my question as to what name this base game that he played was called, he said he remembered distinctly that it was known only as BASE BALL . He further stated that he never saw men play ball until he had been in New York a few years . . . [He moved to New York from Baltimore in 1835.]

W. H. Van Cott, Mount Vernon NY, Communication to the Mills Commission, September 22, 1905. Facsimile obtained from the Giamatti Research Center at the Hall of Fame, June 2009. Also, Mills Commission Papers under date of September 26, 1905. Jack M. Doyle, Albert Spalding Scrapbooks, BA SCR 42.

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