Muffin Baseball

Six cards in color, from Ropes... Digital ID: 56337. New York Public Library

A ‘muffin’ is a term that was applied to a new or inexperience ball player in the early 1860s. In the collections of the
Umass Dartmouth Archives and Special Collections is a booklet containing humorous illustrations of the type of play you may expect to see of a mid-19th century muffin. The booklet, Base Ball as Viewed By a Muffin, was published in 1867 and illustrated by Savillion Van Campen. Van Campen was the president of the Ironsides Base Ball Club based in New Bedford in 1858. At the time of publication he was secretary and a member of the Wamsutta Base Ball Clubs first nine. The previous year he had been a member of the Wamsutta Club’s muffin nine. For a guy who had been playing the New York game since at least 1858, it is not clear why he was on the muffin nine. Perhaps it was just for fun.

By the late 1860s muffin baseball had become popular in response to the professionalism of baseball. According to Peter Morris’ book, But Didn’t We Have Fun? muffin baseball spread rapidly during the late 1860s showing that baseball was meant to be played for fun. Rules were not taken seriously and in some cases old rules were reverted to such as the bound rule in which a player could be put out when his batted ball was caught on one bounce as opposed to catching it on the fly. In fact some muffin games forbid players from catching fly balls. They could only be caught on the bound. Muffin games often matched up teams based on appearance or marital status such as in games of fat vs. skinny players or married vs. single players. Other muffin games didn’t limit the number of players on the field. More than nine players could be on a side with two or more fielding one position.

On July 4, 1866 the Wamsutta Base Ball Club played in once such muffin game in which the club’s single men defeated the club’s married men 56-46. Shortstop and each of the outfield positions were manned by two players each and the box score listed a position called the Catcher’s Stop in addition to the catcher. This was most likely a second catcher or a back up to the catcher.

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