October 3, 2015

"You are invited to the young and wonderful town of Brooklyn in 1857... watch them play their bright, sunshiny game of ball called 'base'..."



That's an ad that appeared in The New York Times on June 11, 1950, right under a review of another book about Brooklyn (called "Brooklyn Is America").



I arrived there searching the NYT archive for the word "politicize." That use of "politicize" is the older meaning — to talk about politics. It's similar to "philosophize." It's a style of talking.

I was interested in going back to the past and then, once there, seeing how they talked about their past. Brooklyn has changed a lot since 1950, 65 years ago, and back then, there was a novel that was supposed to entertain you with what Brooklyn was like a century before that, before baseball was called "baseball," and it was a game of ball called "base." Is that even right? I'm checking "Origins of baseball":
An old English game called "base", described by George Ewing at Valley Forge, was apparently not much like baseball. There was no bat and no ball involved. The game was more like a fancy game of "tag", although it did share the concept of places of safety (for example, bases) with modern baseball...

According to many sources, in 1700, Anglican bishop Thomas Wilson expressed his disapproval of "Morris-dancing, cudgel-playing, baseball and cricket" occurring on Sundays. However, David Block, in Baseball Before We Knew It (2005), reports that the original source has "stoolball" for "baseball". Block also reports the reference appears to date to 1672, rather than 1700, and that it was the English game of baseball that had arrived in the U.S. as part of "a sweeping tide of cultural migration" during the colonial period.

A 1744 publication in England by children's publisher John Newbery called A Little Pretty Pocket-Book includes a woodcut of stoolball and a rhyme entitled "Base-ball". This is the first known instance of the word baseball in print...



In 1755, a book entitled "The Card", authored by John Kidgell, in Volume 1 (there are two volumes to the book) on page 9, mentions baseball: "the younger Part of the Family, perceiving Papa not inclined to enlarge upon the matter, retired to an interrupted Party at Base-Ball (an infant Game, which as it advances in its teens, improved into Fives ...)...

A 1791 bylaw in Pittsfield, Massachusetts bans the playing of "Base ball" within 80 yards of the town meeting house to prevent damage to its windows....
Much more at the link, much more than enough to undercut the delightful idea from a crappy 1950 novel that in Brooklyn in 1857 the game was called "base." And I must question whether the men were husky and the women fresh.

9 comments:

Bob said...

There you go again trying to problematize baseball.

khematite@aol.com said...

"Stool ball" sounds horribly messy. But it does remind of my favorite childhood game, "Stoop ball." I always thought that game was unique to New York City, but it turns out that today you can even find it in Wisconsin.

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/if-you-build-a-stoop-they-will-come-wisconsins-stoopball-league-of-america/

Smilin' Jack said...

Much more at the link, much more than enough to undercut the delightful idea from a crappy 1950 novel that in Brooklyn in 1857 the game was called "base."

Next up: Althouse produces extensive evidence that football was never called "foot", nor was basketball called "basket." Generalizing from this, she discovers the concept of "adjective."

The Godfather said...

My father was born in 1909 in what he always described as "rural Brooklyn". He was the second generation of the family to be born in the US (assuming that you consider Brooklyn in the US).

Sammy Finkelman said...

In 1950, a lot of people didn't know the truth about the origins of baseball, so it would not be suprising if the novel got things wrong. A lot of novels, historical and not, do.

The Spaulding Commission, back around 1909, had really confused things.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doubleday_myth

Sammy Finkelman said...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Cartwright

It was called baseball in the 1840s. And before that, maybe "town ball"

Baseball is also mentioned in a Jane Austen novel.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3562873/Jane-Austen-wrote-about-baseball-40-years-before-it-was-invented.html

In her book, Northanger Abbey, which she wrote in 1797-8, she writes:

"It was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base-ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books."

There's also, he newspaper article says, a German book from 1796 that devoted seven pages to the rules of "Englischer Baseball".

And the name is mentioned in a diary from 1755.

Sammy Finkelman said...

The name base-ball may have died out in England, and was replaced by "rounders."

commander0 said...

I have always taken it as a matter of great pride that I was born and raised in Brooklyn 50+ years ago. I just love the place and love it whenever I go back. I miss Lentos but one of my happiest memories is being able to take my daughter to Lentos before it folded

gerry said...

After the annexation election in 1898, many diehards of Brooklyn used to refer to it as "The mistake of '98".