Virtually South Africa™

Jacques Kallis bowls for South Africa Newlands Cricket Ground

Origins of Baseball

English immigrants who had settled in New York spent their free time playing cricket, and managed to popularise the sport up and down the East Coast colonies by the late 1700s.

Up the coast in Boston, cricket was also played by English immigrants, notably those who considered themselves as gentry.

But Boston had begun quite early on to acquire both a plebean and an Irish flavor. The game of rounders, an earlier form of cricket which seems to have been favored by the Irish, as well as by English children in the 16th century, became the game of choice among the youth.

The Boston cricketers of the time encouraged "rounders" as a secondary diversion, and even allowed it to be played in their cricket fields by those who preferred an alternative to the more formal sport of cricket.

So "early baseball", i.e. " US rounders", grew up in the USA under cricket's benign umbrella, and stayed that way for about the first hundred years of its existence.

The arrival of the Civil War helped spread the popularity of 'The New York Game.' Many soldiers from the Northeast were seen carrying their equipment while on duty. After the Civil War, the game became a popular activity, as every hamlet, village, town, and settlement formed a team.

A challenge match between teams from nearby communities was often the setting for a local holiday.

As interest in baseball rose, changes were made to ensure the game's continued popularity. For instance,by the early 1800s a round bat was used instead of a flat cricket bat....modern cricket bats are expensive and individualized to suit the tastes of different batters, while baseball bats (which look rather like cricket bats from the 13th century and earlier) can be used by just about anybody who wants to play. All players (including the catcher) started using padded mitts and protective gear when necessary.

Gradually, the rules were also changed to give back the 'feeder' or 'pitcher' more of a role in getting batters out.

First, they were allowed to pitch as they wished, not how the striker wanted him to (as in rounders). Then, the batter was restricted to three "strikes" (i.e. "misses") on accurate pitches, and earned a free base run after four inaccurately thrown pitches (the "four balls" rule)...meaning, a batter was on base for no more than 5 to 10 pitches every time he came in to bat. Even this rule was amended, awarding a "strike" to the pitcher on an inaccurate pitch if he had tempted the batter to swing and the pitcher even greater advantages!

Scoring hits were soon restricted to the spaces between the three bases facing the batter. At first, a batter could stay on base and make an unlimited number of hits ("foul tips") outside the scoring zone, but after 1920 this was restricted to the final "strike" pitch only.

Another change: Previously, the batting side would change on every "out", but both sides would keep batting until 21 runners had been brought safely "home". Now, the team bringing more runners "home" for a given number of "outs" was allowed to claim victory.

Finally, allowing each inning to consist of three "outs" effectively split the game into three short batting forays per side... and, by alternating these new "innings", each team got the chance to match or surpass the other's score throughout the course of the game. This increased the suspense of winning or losing, always an important factor in American sport.

There is a hidden irony in the way things happened, in both baseball and cricket.

Early baseball (i.e. US rounders) was supposed to give batters more opportunities than in cricket, by reducing the role of the pitcher/bowler to that of "feeder". Yet todays' baseball is a pitcher's game....while modern cricket is the sport that really gives batters the major role !

Baseball and cricket, then, came from very similar backgrounds.
They looked a lot like each other, in baseball's early days.
But, after 1850, the two games drifted apart... and each assumed its own character and identity.

Cricket became a longer and more leisurely game as batters (batsmen) began to dominate the sport, and wanted more time to display their individual skills. Two-, three-, even five- and six-day games became common...only lately has the trend reversed, with one-day and half-day "limited over" matches coming into fashion.

Baseball, on the other hand, became shorter and more abbreviated....pitchers assumed an active rather than passive role, then came to dominate the sport; baseball batters were allowed fewer and fewer options, could spend less time at bat, and the rules were changed to favor shorter games.

By the 1900s, cricket and baseball were looking far more different from each other than in baseball's earlier years.

And by that time, it had become an issue of "cricket OR baseball" in the USA...and everyone knows what happened.



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