Boys playing games with balls and sticks can be traced to Tudor England, Russia and Germany, but the true beginnings of “baseball” are shrouded in mystery. We do know, however, that in 1760 a British children’s book (A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy, and Pretty Miss Polly by John Newbery) includes a page on Base-Ball.
Key elements of the game (also referenced in the 1744 edition of the book) are mentioned in this poem:
The Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin’d Post,
And then Home with Joy.
In 1787, Isaiah Thomas published the same book for American children and sold it in his Massachusetts book shop. The First Worcester Edition references several games in addition to base-ball: badminton (“shuttle-cock”), cricket, stool-ball, trap-ball, tip-cat and hop-scotch.
At about the time Louis XVI was forced to accept a French constitution - and a few weeks before Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, premiered in Vienna - the town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts passed an ordinance to prevent ball-game players from breaking new windows in the town hall. “Baseball" was included in the prohibited list:
Be it ordained by the said Inhabitants that no person or Inhabitant of said Town, shall be permitted to play at any game called Wicket, Cricket, Baseball, Batball, Football, Cats, Fives or any other games played with Ball, within the Distance of eighty yards from said Meeting House. (September 5, 1791 ordinance.)
Baseball, in some form, must have also been played in Manhattan during the 1820s, as evidenced by this reference in the National Advocate newspaper:
I was last Saturday much pleased in witnessing a company of active young men playing the manly and athletic game of “base ball” at the Retreat in Broadway. (National Advocate - April 25, 1823.)
The first recorded baseball game in Canada took place in Beachville, Ontario on the 4th of June, 1838. Although it wasn’t baseball as we know it, there were many similarities.
One of the early teams, playing in New York, was the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. Were its players professionals? Was the game governed by rules at that time?