25 September 2011

CDOBC: But Didn't We Have Fun? Chapter 5

For more about the book club and books on the agenda click here.

But Didn't We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era 1843-1870
by Peter Morris

Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13

"Lemon Peel" baseball
Chapter 5: Balls, Bats, Bases, and the Playing Field

This is a great chapter.  If you ever find yourself in a library waiting for your significant other to find an audiobook she would like for her commute, you will likely have enough time to sit and make your way through these pages.  As cleanly summarized in the title, it is a brief description of the types of balls, bats, bases, and playing fields that were in use in baseball during this period in the mid-1800s.  As shown before, the simple rules that the Knickerbockers' devised and dispersed standardized many aspects of the game, but left many open for interpretation.  For a single team or field, this makes complete sense as selection of ball, bat, bases, and field are largely without choice or can be quickly determined and followed from there on out.  However, if two different populations of ball players never much interacted then you are likely to have two wildly different implements for your game.

Two major extremes are present in this chapter.  In one locale, I believe Michigan, the version of baseball played there was with a 10 inch diameter baseball whose core was a melted down rubber shoe with yarn tied around it and leather keeping it together.  They had one ball and it was highly treasured (in fact, it was common during this time that when a team won a game, the winners were awarded with a baseball).  On the other end was a group of rural folk who supposedly wrapped twine around a bullet to form a small little ball that injured many a player's hands.  As you can imagine, these two games would be played in vastly different ways and players accustomed to one would be at a significant disadvantage to play it a different way.

The use of a harder ball often resulted in a more destructive projectile.  Where the town ball game could be played in the commons, town square, or on a vacant sand lot, the new baseball game was wont to break windows and terrorize residents.  One part of the book that stuck close to one of my own experiences is from a first hand account of a ball player who was kicked out of his town square because an elderly gentleman was concerned about them hitting balls into the trees, knocking down branches, and potentially killing the trees.  The same thing happened to me in a park near Capitol South where my softball team captain this past summer had us practice in a small park with dogs, babies, and people playing boche ball running around.  An elderly man walked up to us and said the same thing.  I was actually quite glad that no one got hurt as there was no good reason why we were out there.  I felt at one with those 1850's ball players.

Anyway, the transition resulted in many more towns and cities to ban all ball playing within their limits.  Many compromises began coming into play as many clubs began using dead balls to keep them closer to the confines of the city.  The 10 inch diameter ball with a seven inch chunk of rubber in the middle was discarded for one with less rubber and more yarn.  "Bullet balls" and other small projectile were being replaced by larger balls that traveled less distance.  It is actually amazing to think how often during this time the types of balls changed whereas in MLB there appears to be only four or five changes to the ball in the past five years (with most of them being completely unintentional).  Very different.

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