Baseball’s children

In a bid to combine their powers and increase the chances of returning to the Olympics, baseball and softball’s international federations (the equivalent to soccer’s FIFA or basketball’s FIBA) recently decided to merge. How well this will or won’t work, as well as what effect this might have on things like women’s baseball or men’s softball, remains to be seen. However, it does give a good excuse to look at some of the “children” born from baseball. See after the jump.

Baseball’s Ancestry

Baseball in itself is a descendant or child of other sports. This isn’t really a surprise, really, as there is nothing truly new under the sun. Football, for example, can trace it’s roots to early forms of rugby. Hockey is descended from various folk games. Mixed Martial Arts, popularized in modern days by the UFC, is essentially panktration with more rules. Even basketball, generally considered to be the one major sport that can traced back to a single man (James Naismith), was possibly influenced by articles about Mesoamerican ballgames.

Baseball is no exception, despite the efforts by Albert Spalding and Abraham Mills to make everybody believe that it was an All-American invention that was not influenced in any way by foreign games. He was aided in his quest by the very suspect testimony of a 71-year-old man named Abner Graves, who claimed to have seen Abner Doubleday modify a Cooperstown-area game into baseball in 1839. It was bunk, of course- Doubleday was at West Point at the time he supposedly was inventing baseball. But Doubleday was a war hero (he was the first man to fire a shot in defense of Fort Sumter, and was a commander in the Union Army during the early portions of Gettysburg), and, what’s more, he was a leader later in life (he died in 1893) of the Theosophical Society, a spiritualist organization that, probably not coincidentally, Spalding’s wife was active in.

In reality, baseball wasn’t just “created”, it evolved, growing and being born from various previous games. The ancestry of baseball is best left for another article, but I whipped up a bit of a family tree for baseball, which you will see at the end of this article.
Baseball’s Children- Softball/”Indoor Base ball”

Softball is by far the most well-known and played of the sports descended from baseball, and it is, essentially, baseball with a few differences, most notably the larger ball, underhand pitching deliveries and different field dimensions.

There is a reason for that, mainly being that softball was created as “indoor base ball,” and was meant to allow play in smaller gyms during the winter months. The Library of Congress’ “American Memory” has some of the yearly guides for “indoor base ball” on their website.

As you can see, that is very clearly a softball being thrown.

So how did this sport come to be, well, as I mentioned earlier, Spalding was a notorious mythmaker, but here’s what his company’s guide had to say on the subject:

The game of indoor base ball was invented in Chicago in 1887, and came about through a frolic among the members of the Farragut Club, who, in a spirit of fun on Thanksgiving day of that year, threw an ordinary boxing glove around the hall, which was struck at by one of the boys with a broom. Some twenty members had assembled, as usual on holidays, and George W. Hancock, seeing the possibility of a new sport, said in a bantering way: *’ Say, boys, let’s play base ball,” and the wrestling mat was hauled around cornerwise and a broom obtained. One of the boxing gloves was used for a ball, and, with the boys in position, they commenced their sport without rule or wisdom, but there was great fun, and when the after. noon had closed Mr. Hancock gathered the members around him and unfolded a plan which had occurred to him as the players were sliding around the hall. “I believe this affair can be worked into a regular game’ of base ball which can be played indoors, and if you all come down Saturday night I’ll make up some rules and have a ball and bat which will suit the purpose of the sport and do no damage to the surroundings.” It was thus that Mr. Hancock gained the title of ” Father of Indoor Base Ball,” for he went home and thought out some rules that would equalize the different points of the game and directed Augustus J. White how to make a ball which could be seen at night and fill all the requirements of the game. And so the sport was evolved.-

Did you read all of that? Well, if you didn’t, I’ll sum it up for you: a Chicago-area sports team was stuck in a gym during Christmas, somebody threw a boxing glove around, and somebody hit it with a broom. Thus, George W. Hancock said that they should try to play baseball (or “base ball”, as it was then known). They did, and then he and Augustus J. White went on and made it into a full sport- with White making the ball (because throwing a boxing glove around is almost as ridiculous as playing basketball with a soccer ball, which is what it originally was).

Over time, softball was moved outdoors, acquired a few more differences from baseball, and eventually became the sport it is today, although even now it is something of two sports: fun slow-pitch, and competitive fast-pitch.

Kickball

Kickball is the grand mainstay of schoolyards across America, played once everybody realizes that baseball bats are expensive and could really hurt somebody if not used right. In essence, it is baseball with soccer moves. There is a rubber ball that is bowled at the batter and kicked. After that, it’s basically baseball, only on some schoolyards you can get the runner out by hitting him with the ball. These days, schools tend to dislike that rule.

It apparently came about in the 1910s by one N.C. Seuss in Cincinnati, going by the name of “Kick Baseball”. It was popular, apparently, because girls didn’t like baseball because they didn’t know how to bat or throw. Presumably, they also had cooties. Or maybe it was because of the sexist attitudes of the time. Yeah, that sounds more likely.

Wiffle Ball

Wiffle Ball (it’s official, trademarked title) is a relatively recent invention, being created in 1953 when David N. Mullany saw his kids try to play baseball with a plastic golf ball and a broomstick. Wanting to make it easier for kids to throw breaking pitches, he created his own ball for a game that allowed them to do so.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Pesäpallo

Finally, one of the more unusual children of baseball: Pesäpallo, AKA “Finnish Baseball”. It’s one of the most popular sports in Finland, and was even a demonstration sport at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Wikipedia has a good overview of it: It is like baseball, only, well, very different: the bases are in a much different arrangement, zig-zagging around the field with each base a different and progressively-longer distance from the last. The pitcher throws the ball upward so that it falls to the batter. The outfield is square.

Pesis, as it is sometimes called, came about when it’s creator, Lauri Pihkala, saw baseball being played in America in the 1920s. He combined it with various Finnish and other Scandinavian folk games to create his game, which he hoped would help train young men physically, especially for army training (Pihkala was a noted Finnish nationalist).

The Baseball Family Tree/Final Note:

As you can see in this rudimentary chart, Baseball itself is descended from many games, and has birthed several others. Note how Kickball also is descended from soccer and Pesis draws from folk games.

There are, of course, countless other “child sports” of baseball: stickball, Japan’s “rubber baseball” (where the ball is, as the name suggests, made out of rubber), T-ball, Over-The-Line and the various “Base Ball” vintage games that try to replicate baseball of days long gone. Perhaps another day. Until then, however, let it be noted that sports are never in a vacuum, and that it is a testament to baseball and it’s popularity that it has inspired so many “children” to appear.

Suggested Reading:

Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game by David Block

A Great Day in Cooperstown : The Improbable Birth of Baseball’s Hall of Fame by Jim Reisier

Baseball in the Garden of Eden : The Secret History of the Early Game by John Thorn

The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Third Edition by Paul Dickson

2 thoughts on “Baseball’s children

  1. Pingback: How Baseball is Different | The Baseball Continuum

  2. Pingback: World Baseball Classic Qualifier Preview: Regensburg (Germany, Canada, Czech Republic, Great Britain) | The Baseball Continuum

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