Note: due to the conditions of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, this project was suspended in late spring of 2020.
The Project: SABR's five New England chapters (covering Boston, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and western Massachusetts) have undertaken a joint project to review and extend our knowledge of the early roots of base ball and similar baserunning games in the six New England states. The page serves as something of a homepage for that project.
The Setting: In the past decade and a half, the Protoball Project has collected considerable data points on the origins of base ball. Protoball, launched with substantial support from the SABR central office and from Project Retrosheet, is a website by and for baseball researchers and writers. The site has assembled a registry of thousands early ballgames and ballclubs prior to 1870, has assembled a Ballplaying Chronology of about 1800 key events in the early evolution of base ball, and also displays original analyses from the game's amateur era. in 2018 the site was cited by SABR as its Bob Davids Award winner for service to baseball research.
Aim: The objective of the current "Roots" project is to refine and extend our understanding of early New England ballplaying, in great part via new research in the region's localities, including sources not found online.
6 Key Research Questions: Our initial plan is to address these relatively specific local data targets:
- When did the modern ("New York") style of base ball arrive in the area you are examining? Do you see patterns in how it spread locally? What was the "Base Ball Fever" period (1866-1870) like there?
- Did the New York game quickly supplant the "rival" Massachusetts Game in your area? Had the Mass Game been firmly established there?
- Was the game of wicket (called Wicket Ball in some areas) known in your area? What was it like? Are its playing rules known?
- Prior to 1860, is there evidence in the geographical area you are examining of local baserunning games other than the Massachusetts Game or the New York Game? See our current list of known games here )
- Is there evidence in the geographical area you are examining of play or exercise activities by females, involving ballplaying and baserunning games?
- Were forms of ballplaying ever banned or restricted by local ordinances? Recall that Pittsfield restricted "base ball" in 1791 . . . the first known USA use of the term.
We hope to add new data to the Pre-pro Baseball data base of about 6,000 Clubs and Games in widespread local areas. SABR participants are invited to join in by doing research on a local town, county, or state that is of interest to them. This effort is encompassing both the modern ("New York rules") form of base ball and the predecessor base-running games (known as bat-and-ball, base, wicket, round-ball, run-round, cricket, etc.) that were known to have been played in New England. Preparation of research reports and/or publications will depend on what we find.
How to Join
Contact Larry McCray via LMcCray@mit.edu. He will welcome you to the project and help you get started.
About the Project
1) Project Organization and Objectives
2) What Local Facts We Now Have, and What We Wish We Had
3) Note: Research Dialogs Encouraged: Project participants are encouraged to contact one another to explore areas of common interest. The Digger Activity Spreadsheets, found below, indicate topics and towns that diggers are exploring. For their e-addresses, contact Larry McCray. Digger Activity Spreadsheets:
Towns Spreadsheet Tab,
Topics Spreadsheet Tab
Some Research Resources for Origins-Era Beginners
[A] An Internet Search Aid for New Researchers
New information on an area's earliest clubs and ballgames is likely to be found in 19th Century newspaper accounts. We have compiled list of searchable national and local data bases (most of them free) to help new researchers to get started. This document includes practical search tips from several of the most-experienced Origins-Era diggers. Version 1.1 of this guide is found at Protoball Search Aid. We welcome additional listings and suggestions for improving later versions of the Search Tips guide. Before searching for new data, it may be useful to familiarize yourself on currently-held data in your geographical area of interest. We are particularly interested in finding earlier data that what is now on the Protoball site.
[B] A short bibliography by Bill Lyons on selected published work on the evolution of base ball up to 1870
[C] One-sheet introductions to some less-than-familiar subtopics
- On Finding Early Baserunning Games in New England
- The Massachusetts Game
- The Game of Wicket
- On Female Play, by Donna Halper (under construction)
- [| The Sporting Press] by Donna Halper