America's National Game/Chapter 2
ANTIQUITY OF THE GAME OF BALL—ARCHÆOLOGY, MYTHOLOGY, TRADITION AND HISTORY NOTE GAMES OF BALL FROM THE BEGINNING OF RECORDED TIME—THE MAN WHO DEVISED BASE BALL.
ARCHÆOLOGY contributes its testimony to the antiquity of ball-playing by opening its storehouses of ancient treasures; for, graven on tablets, and temples and monuments, have been found pictures of human figures in the act of playing with balls.
Four thousand years ago, in the 12th Egyptian dynasty, a Coptic artist sculptured on the temple Beni Hassan, human figures throwing and catching balls. A leather-covered ball used in games played on the Nile over forty centuries ago, has a place among the many archæological specimens in the British Museum, at London. It has a sewed cover and is still in a remarkable state of preservation.
The game of ball was prized by the Greeks as giving grace and elasticity to the human figure, and they erected a statue to one Aristonicus for his proficiency in it. We are told by Horace that Mæcenas amused himself during his journeys by playing ball. In the Greek gymnasia and in the Roman baths there were special compartments for ball-playing, called Sphæristerii, where certain rules and gradations of exercise were observed, according to the health of the player. The balls used were of various materials, the most common being of leather, filled with hair, while others were stuffed with feathers. Ancient medical practitioners were wont to prescribe a course of ball-playing, where the modern doctor would order a diet of pills.
It is supposed that ball-tossing had a deep symbolical meaning when played in the spring of the year; and that the tossing of the ball was intended to first typify the upspringing of the life of nature after the gloom of winter. And, whether this was the case among the people of antiquity or not, it is a remarkable fact that the ecclesiastics of the early Church adopted this symbol and gave it a very special significance by meeting in the churches on Easter Day, and throwing up a ball from hand to hand, to typify The Resurrection.
In the 16th century the game of ball was very popular in the courts of the Princes of Europe, especially in Italy and France. It was considered one of the best forms of exercise known for cultivating grace in motion, agility and strength, as well as for promoting general health of body and cheerfulness of disposition.
The Chinese have played ball in various ways from times of remote antiquity. For centuries games of ball have been known, and played in Japan. Ethiopian and East Indian traditions refer to games with balls played many centuries ago. Britons, Celts, Scots, Scandinavians, Teutons and the early Latin races have played games of ball time out of mind.
But while it is true that ball playing in many forms has been engaged in by most nations from time immemorial, it is a proven fact that the game now designated "Base Ball," is of modern and purely American origin.
I have no intention, in this work, of reopening the discussion which waxed so warm a short time ago, as to the origin of the game. It would be an act of disloyalty to the Commission that was appointed at my suggestion in 1907, with instructions to consider all available evidence and decide the case upon its merits, were I ever again to enter upon the details of that vexed controversy—except in order to prove the righteousness of the verdict then rendered. It is quite enough here to say that the Commission referred to, after a long, thorough, painstaking investigation of all obtainable facts, unanimously declared:
"First—That Base Ball had its origin in the United States;
"Second—That the first scheme for playing it, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday, at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839."
The Commission rendering this important decision was composed of such able men and well-known friends of the game as
Mr. A. G. Mills of New York, an enthusiastic ball player before and during the Civil War, and the third President of the National League.
Hon. Arthur P. Gorman (since deceased), ex-United States Senator from Maryland.
Hon. Morgan G. Bulkeley, ex-Governor, and later United States Senator from Connecticut, and the first President of the National League.
Mr. N. E. Young of Washington, D. C, a veteran ball player, and the first Secretary and afterward the fourth President of the National League.
Mr. Alfred J. Reach of Philadelphia, and
Mr. George Wright of Boston, both well-known business men and two of the most famous ball players in their day.
Mr. James E. Sullivan of New York, President of the Amateur Athletic Union, accepted the position of Secretary of this Special Commission.
The report of the Commission, written by Mr. A. G. Mills, and bearing date December 30th, 1907, is signed by all the members named above, except Hon. A. P. Gorman, whose death occurred while his colleagues were engaged in the work of research. The report closes with these words:
"As I have stated, my belief had been that our 'National Game of Base Ball' originated with the Knickerbocker club, organized in New York in 1845, and which club published certain elementary rules in that year; but, in the interesting and pertinent testimony for which we are indebted to Mr. A. G. Spalding, appears a circumstantial statement by a reputable gentleman, according to which the first known diagram of the diamond, indicating positions for the players, was drawn by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, N. Y., in 1839. Abner Doubleday subsequently graduated from West Point and entered the regular army, where, as Captain of Artillery, he sighted the first gun fired on the Union side (at Fort Sumter) in the Civil War. Later still, as Major General, he was in command of the Union army at the close of the first day's fight in the "battle of Gettysburg, and he died full of honors at Mendham, N. J., in 1893. It happened that he and I were members of the same veteran military organization—the crack Grand Army Post (Lafayette), and the duty devolved upon me, as Commander of that organization, to have charge of his obsequies, and to command the veteran military escort which served as guard of honor when his body lay in state, January 30, 1893, in the New York City Hall, prior to his interment in Arlington.
"In the days when Abner Doubleday attended school in Cooperstown, it was a common thing for two dozen or more of school boys to join in a game of ball. Doubtless, as in my later experience, collisions between players in attempting to catch the batted ball were frequent, and injury due to this cause, or to the practice of putting out the runner by hitting him with the ball, often occurred.
"I can well understand how the orderly mind of the embryo West Pointer would devise a scheme for limiting the contestants on each side and allotting them to field positions, each with a certain amount of territory; also substituting the existing method of putting out the base runner for the old one of 'plugging' him with the ball.
"True, it appears from the statement that Doubleday provided for eleven men on a side instead of nine, stationing the two extra men between first and second, and second and third bases, but this is a minor detail, and, indeed, I have played, and doubtless other old players have, repeatedly with eleven on a side, placed almost identically in the manner indicated by Doubleday's diagram, although it is true that we so played, after the number on each side had been fixed at nine, simply to admit to the game an additional number of those who wished to take part in it.
"I am also much interested in the statement made by Mr. Curry, of the pioneer Knickerbocker club, and confirmed by Mr. Tassie, of the famous old Atlantic club of Brooklyn, that a diagram, showing the ball field laid out substantially as it is to-day, was brought to the field one afternoon by a Mr. Wadsworth. Mr. Curry says 'the plan caused a great deal of talk, but, finally, we agreed to try it.'
While he is not quoted as adding that they did both try and adopt it, it is apparent that such was the fact; as, from that day to this, the scheme of the game described by Mr. Curry has been continued with only slight variations in detail. It should be borne in mind that Mr. Curry was the first president of the old Knickerbocker club, and participated in drafting the first published rules of the game.
"It is possible that a connection more or less direct can be traced between the diagram drawn by Doubleday in 1839 and that presented to the Knickerbocker club by Wadsworth in 1845, or thereabouts, and I wrote several days ago for certain data bearing on this point, but as it has not yet come to hand I have decided to delay no longer sending in the kind of paper your letter calls for, promising to furnish you the indicated data when I obtain it, whatever it may be.
"Yours very truly,
Senator Bulkeley, after affixing his signature, appended the following statement:
"M. G. Bulkeley."
"General Doubleday served on courts-martial and commissions in 1863, and on July 12, 1864, temporarily commanded the south-eastern defences of Washington, when the city was threatened by Early's raiders. He was brevetted Colonel in the Regular Army on March 11, 1865, and Brigadier and Major-General on March 13, for his services during the war. In December, 1866, he was in command at Galveston, Texas; served as Assistant Commissioner of the Freedman's Bureau there until August 1, 1867, and, after being mustered out of the volunteer service, was made Colonel of the Thirty-fifth Infantry, September 15, 1867. He was a member of the Retiring Board in New York City in 1868, and in 1869-1871 superintended the general recruiting service in San Francisco, where, in 1870, he suggested and obtained a charter for the first cable street railway in the United States. After commanding in Texas, he was retired from active service on December 11, 1873. He has published 'Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-1861,' New York, 1876; 'Chancellorsville and Gettysburg,' 1882; and articles in periodicals on army matters, the water supply of cities, and other subjects."