Letter to NYT on "Baseball"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue May 25 23:32:12 UTC 2004

This book is known to baseball historians; it is mentioned in Harold Seymour's Baseball: The Early Years, Oxford U. Pr., 1960, p. 5, where he says "The book was extremely popular and widely known in England.  It was also republished in several American cities at different times between 1762 and 1787."  The second of these statements might be based on Charles Evans' American Bibliography, which I don't have access to at the moment.  I don't know the basis of the first statement.

We American chauvinists want to find the earliest appearance of the word and the game in the United States.

The game was also described in a German encyclopedia of the sports of the world in 1796 as “Ball mit Freystäten (oder das englische Base-ball).”  See http://www.sabr.org/htdocs/dcforum/User_files/3c08097500f21711.html  This doesn't antedate the town bylaw from Pittsfield.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African
Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

----- Original Message -----
From: Fred Shapiro <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
Date: Tuesday, May 25, 2004 3:01 pm
Subject: Letter to NYT on "Baseball"

> See below for letter to the editor by me, published in N.Y. Times on
> Sunday:
> The New York Times
> May 23, 2004 Sunday
> Late Edition - Final
> SECTION: Section 8; Column 5; Sports Desk; Pg. 11
> LENGTH: 166 words
> HEADLINE: Origin of Baseball
> To the Sports Editor:
> Re ''Now Pittsfield Stakes Claim to Baseball's Origins'' (May 12): The
> quest to find the origin of baseball is worthy of the coverage
> that The
> Times has given it.
> But John Thorn's discovery of a 1791 Pittsfield, Mass., bylaw
> mentioning an
> undescribed game called baseball is by no means the earliest such
> reference.
> A search on Gale's database Eighteenth Century Collections Online,
> whichfeatures a comprehensive collection of scanned books from the
> 1700's,retrieves a 1760 English children's book, ''A Little Pretty
> Pocket-Book,''
> using the word base-ball. The book contains a poem titled ''Base-
> Ball,''part of which reads: ''The Ball once struck off/Away flies
> the Boy/To the
> next destin'd Post/And then Home with Joy.'' An accompanying
> illustrationshows the game, complete with pitcher and bases.
> The source for Gale's text is a copy, the only one in the world,
> in the
> British Library.
> New Haven
> The writer is editor of the Yale Dictionary of Quotations.
> [NOTE: The N.Y. Times, in its typical "we-know-better-than-you-so-
> we'll-change-
> your-letter-without-asking-you-from-something-accurate-to-
> something-inaccurate"
> style, inserted the words "part of" in the letter.  In fact, the
> quotedmaterial is the entire poem.]
> Fred Shapiro
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
> -------
> Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
> Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF
> QUOTATIONS  Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale
> University Press,
> Yale Law School                             forthcoming
> e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu
> http://quotationdictionary.com-------------------------------------
> -------------------------------------

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