by Mal Stylo
Variously called baseball, peckers, feeders or poison ball (France 1810), the game was popular long before the Civil War. George Washington's troops amused themselves by trying to stay warm, chewing shoe leather and playing baseball at Valley Forge in 1778.
The first published rules appeared in 1829 in William Clarke's A Boy's Own Book (right after Chapter XXII, "Now That You've Got Her In The Haystack.") According to these rules there are four "posts" (bases). Three missed balls (strikes), a catch (fly ball) or a foul ball that drops behind the striker (batter) puts him out. Strikers were out if hit by a thrown ball while running.
In 1838 the following major changes were made: bases were numbered, the field was referred to as a diamond and the batter was to run in a counter-clockwise direction (as today). In 1845 the rules were further revised by the Knickerbocker Baseball Club to eliminate throwing the ball at a running batter to get him out.
The man who really made baseball the American game was none other than the Civil War hero Major General Abner Doubleday. Although some authorities try to refute it, Gen'l Doubleday actually did make so many innovations to modern American baseball as to rightfully be considered its father. During the height of the bombardment of Fort Sumter when shells and debris whistled through the air, Doubleday realized he had to do something to keep morale high and casualties low. He organized teams of nine men each to attempt to "bat" the deadly missiles out of the air. A man who successfully batted one back over the wall would be granted furlough to go home (hence the phrase "hit a homer"). The fact that only one member of the garrison was injured (a cannoneer who refused to "play ball" and was wounded when one of the fort's own cannon burst) attests to the wisdom of the then Captain Doubleday's strategy in keeping his men in the mobile target mode.
Doubleday named his teams; two of the first "team names" were naturally enough the "Yankees" and the "Dodgers." Some of Doubleday's exclamations - yelled during the shelling - have become today's sports cliches. For example, "grand slam," which originally was a shell burst causing four men to run for cover; "keep your eye on the (cannon) ball," and of course the ever-popular description of one's opponents as having "an explosive offense."
For your regiment's sporting events, these rules seem applicable:
- Nine men per team, positions as in modern baseball
- the batter is the STRIKER, the pitcher is the THROWER, the term for catcher is unchanged
- Outs (strikes, flys and the foul ball rule) as in 1829
- 1845 rule concerning no throwing of the ball at the runner is in effect
- Four bases (including home plate), runners advance in a counter-clockwise direction
- If using the Fort Sumter rules of 1861 and a CANNON be used in place of a THROWER, it shall not be larger than a six-pounder (Solid shot only, no grape-shot or canister is allowed). In these rules, playing the position of catcher is voluntary.
(sources: Colliers and Funk and Wagnall's encyclopedias, and The American Civil War: Reality or Myth of Reenactment Event Sponsors? by the Unknown Historian.)