Talking Baseball at the Dighton Public Library

Dighton Public Library. Courtesy Dighton Public Library

Courtesy Dighton Public Library

Tommorow evening (November 5) at 6:30 I will be giving a presentation at the Dighton Public Library. I plan to talk a little bit about baseball history, vintage baseball and show some vintage baseball pics. Please come out to listen and find out more about playing vintage ball.

The library is located at 395 Main Street, off Route 138 in Dighton.

From Somerset:
Follow Rt. 138 through Somerset past the Dighton Town Line. Look for the Library sign at the corner of Main St. (blinking light). Take a left onto Main St. The library is half a mile on the left.

From the north:
Take Route 24 south to Exit 11 (Berkley/Dighton). Take a right off the exit ramp. Follow this road to Berkley Commons (first stop sign). Keep following to a second stop sign. At the fork in the road, stay right. Continue to the Berkley/Dighton Bridge (a one-lane bridge) and cross the bridge. You will pass Bristol County Agricultural School. Follow to the light at the intersection of Rt. 138. Take a left onto Rt. 138, pass the police station, and take a right at the blinking light onto Main St. The library is half a mile on the left.

From the south:
Take Route 24 north to Exit 10 (Assonet/Dighton). Take a right off the exit ramp. Continue straight until the road ends. Take a left at the stop sign. Continue to the Berkley/Dighton bridge (a one-lane bridge) and cross the bridge. You will pass Bristol County Agricultural School. Follow to the light at the intersection of Rt. 138. Take a left onto Rt. 138, pass the police station, and take a right at the blinking light onto Main St. The library is half a mile on the left.

Trap Ball at Fort Phoenix

We enjoyed much better weather this weekend. Well, Saturday we had better weather. A bit cool but not cold enough to prevent ball playing. Remember dear reader, folks played ball as late in the season as Thanksgiving. And that was with out the aid of gloves and throwing the ball at a runner to record an out.

I headed out to Fort Phoenix in Fairhaven with my daughter to meet up with the Fairhaven Village Militia. They had set up an encampment representing life of the good people of Fairhaven circa 1778. I brought along the trusty Trap Ball set and convinced some of the younger revolutionaries to try their hand at the game. They caught on quick to the game and seemed to enjoy it. They hit the ball hard and drove it far. However, they were called to their patriotic duty and put down the bat and ball in favor of the musket and ball. Fortunately there was no serious alarm, only a call for a drill demonstration. Below are some images of the game of Trap Ball:

I have also come across something that suggests that Trap Ball was not just for children as many publications I have read suggests. In London Pleasure Gardens of the Eighteenth Century (Warwick Wroth, 1896) there are a couple of instances of mentions of Trap Ball play taking place. Pleasure gardens were areas open to the public for recreation. Page 278 of the volume shows an illustration of Trap Ball play depicting adults playing what appears to be a formal game complete with a scorer’s table and marked foul grounds. And take a close look at the batter. Is he calling his shot?

Trap Ball Played at the Black Prince, Newington Butts, 1788

Trap Ball Played at the Black Prince, Newington Butts, 1788

Trap Ball

                  The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house All that cold, cold, wet day.           – from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

Unfortunately because of this lousy weather brought on by the storm I share a name with, I can not try out the new game I just got. Well, actually it is quite an old game. Trap Ball, I am told through various readings, was played as far back as the 14th century and into the 19th century. Mainly played in England, there is some evidence that it was played in colonial America but it may not have been as popular as it was in England. However, it does show up in some American publications as late as the 1890s. I have not seen evidence to suggest that it was played on the Southcoast of Massachusetts but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be played now, right?

Many publications note that it was a children’s game played by boys. From time to time it is suggested that it was played by adults such as in Games and Sports; Being an Appendix to “Manly Exercises” and “Exercises for Ladies” by Donald Walker published in London in 1837. In the dedication of the book, Walker states

In many of these Games, ladies may participate: most of them, they may witness and patronize. As not inconsistent, therefore, with female taste, I beg leave to inscibe them to you – in homage at once to Beauty and Intellect.

Walker does not say if Trap Ball was played by ladies. In Games For All Seasons by James Blackwood (London, 1858) which includes an entry for Trap Ball he states in the preface “In the present volume will be found descriptions of the principal games played by boys as well as girls…”

According to A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs, From the Fourteenth Century, Volume II (London, 1881) the game is defined as:

A game played with a trap, a ball, and a small bat. The trap is of wood, made like a slipper, with a hollow at the heel end for the ball, and kind of wooden spoon, moving on a pivot, in the bowl of which the ball is placed. By striking the end or handle of the spoon, the ball of course rises into the air, and the art of the game is to strike it as far as possible with the bat before it reaches the ground. The adversaries on the look-out, either by catching the ball, or by bowling it from the place where it falls, to hit the trap, take possession of the trap, bat, and ball, to try their own dexterity.

The next entry of the dictionary defines the bat in Trap Ball as a Trap-Bittle. The rules of the game seem to vary. Another version of the rules is similar to the above except that the batter calls out an estimate of bat lengths the ball will reach the trap after the fielder has thrown the ball at it. If the batter is correct in the guess the batter adds to the score that number of bat lengths (each batter gets a point for each safe hit). If the number of bat lengths estimated by the batter is more than the actual number, the batter is out. Many other versions of the game suggest that there is a foul territory on either side of the batter. If the ball is stuck in to foul territory, the batter is out. It also seems common that if the batter swings and misses while trying to hit the ball after striking the trap 3 times… the batter is out.

There is no base running in this game and it seems that a minimum of two people are need to play. Many players can be divided up in to teams, with the teams switching sides once everyone on one side has been put out. Or no teams are selected and instead a batting order is selected and individual tallies are kept.

Below is the Trap Ball set that I purchased minus the ball. The ball pictured came from Lemon Ball which is made to the specifications of the Massachusetts game of baseball. The Trap Ball set came with a smaller (about 2″) ball made of dark leather sewed in the figure 8 style. I’ll have to check my notes for descriptions of the actual ball used in Trap Ball. I am afraid that the ball that came with the set may get lost easliy due to its size. The Massachusetts ball may still be small enough to strike from the trap and not be easliy lost. Anything bigger would probably be difficult to elevate high enough from the trap to strike it.

A Common Soldier Plays Ball in the Revolution

I just finished reading Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution, 1775-1783 edited by Robert C. Bray & Paul E. Bushnell.

This is an annotated, published diary of Jeremiah Greenman’s experiences in the military during the American Revolution. Greenman was born in Newport, RI in 1758 and enlisted in the Rhode Island Continentals at the age of 17. When the British invaded and occupied Newport, Greenman’s family left and settled in a village called Acoaxet in Dartmouth, Mass now in Westport. Greenman made many trips to visit with family in Acoaxet while in military service.

Among Greeman’s adventures in the Revolution was an expedition under Benedict Arnold to Quebec and two stints as a prisoner of war. Also included in his diary are several entries related to playing ball:

(May 1776 In Quebec Prison)
 “we can’t see no Snow but plenty of Ice in our bumprofe / keep o[u]r Selvs ha[r]ty in playin ball in ye yard [illeg.]
 
(April 1782, Philadelphia)
“The fore noon spent in playing wicket ball / Continuing the Remainder of the day in Barracks.”
 
(May-June 1783 Saratoga)
“Nothing happing worthy remarks, implying our selvs in a skettle & ball Alle[y]”
There are no mentions specifically related to baseball. We do not know what he meant by “playing ball in ye yard”. Skettle according to the diary is nine pins. But Greenman’s diary does show us that adults were playing ball games by the time of the Revolution. Although adults were not probably playing ball games as a leisure activity as they were by the mid 19th century but more of a diversion to the sometimes lag of activity that accompanied military life.
Besides the references to ball playing this is a facinating read if you would like to know more about military life during the Revolution. Unfortunatly I could not find a copy of this in the SAILS library catalog. But go to your library anyway and ask for it. They can get a copy for you as well as find other similar published diaries.

Lowell vs. Wamsutta

John Lowell, ca. 1861

John Lowell, ca. 1861

One hundred forty years ago this week the Wamsutta Base Ball Club took on the mighty Lowell Club of Boston. The Lowell Club was one of the more talented baseball clubs in the area during that time. It was formed in 1861 by students of various Boston secondary schools at the suggestion of John A. Lowell and the Bowdoin Base Ball Club to play the New York game. The New York game was played in New England but it was facing competition from the Massachusetts game. In honor of Mr. Lowell, the club was named after him.

The Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club is widely considered to be the first club in New England formed to play the New York game. Formed in 1857, they didn’t play their first match against another club until early September of 1858 when they beat a club from Portland Maine. It remains a mystery as to why the Tri-Mountain club did not play the Ironsides Club of New Bedford which had been formed to play the New York game at that time.

The Lowell club quickly established their talent by winning their first game against Medford 17-10. Lowell played its second match in May of 1863 against the established Tri-Mountain club. Lowell won 37-1. In 1866 the Lowell club’s first nine would win every match they played.

In 1868 the Lowell Base Ball Club set out on tour of New England cities in an effort to reach out and be “neighborly”. While the tour lasted only during the month of June the Lowell club made a trip to New Bedford in August where they faced the Wamsutta club. The game lasted 3 hours and 25 minutes. It was painful 3 hours in 25 minutes for the Wamsuttas losing to the Lowells 62-6 in 7 innings.

New Bedford Republican Standard
August 20, 1868

Base Ball. – The game between the Lowell and Wamsutta clubs at Myrick’s on Friday was concluded at the end of the 7th inning, with the following score:

Lowell. Wamsutta.

O.  R.                                      O.  R.

Lovett, p.,            1    9   N. E. Howland, 2. b.,    3    0
Alline, 3. b.,         3    7   J. H. Tallman, r. f..,      3    0
Dennison, 1. b.,   0    8   O. N. Pierce, p.,           1    1
Sumner, 2. b.,      6    4   Walter Clifford, s. s.,   3    0
Bradbury, c.,         1   8   G. D. Gifford, c.,          2    1
Rogers, c. f.,         1   8   C. Almy, Jr., c. f.,         3    0
Newton, l. f.,        4   6   M. M. Howland, l. f.     2    2
Hawes, r. f.,          3   6   F. W. Knowlton, 1. b.,  2    1
Dillingham, s. s.,  2   6   W. C. Gooding, 3. b.,   2    1

62                                            6

Runs in each Inning.

1st.   2d.   3d.   4th.   5th.   6th.   7th.
Lowell,       5        9      1      10     6     11     20
Wamsutta, 1         0     2         1     1      0        1

Ball Playing Banned in New Bedford… in 1821

New Bedford Mecury, July 13, 1821

One hundred eighty seven years ago the New Bedford Mercury publish the recently passed by-laws for New Bedford including a ban on ball playing:

Voted, That the following Rules and Regulations be established the By-Laws of this town, viz: —

First, Any person, who shall, after the 1st day of July next play at ball, or fly a kite or run down hill upon a sled, or play any other sport which may incommode peacable citizens and passengers in any street of that part of this town commonly called the Village of Bedford, shall for every such offence, upon convicition of the same forfeit and pay the penalty of fifty cents, with costs of prosecution; the said penality to be applied to the use of the poor of this town.

 

 

 

 

 

This does not mean that it was baseball being played on the streets of New Bedford. It could have been any number of ball games such as football, cricket, trap ball or any of the “old cat” games. It could be baseball but the by-law writters chose not to be specific about the types of ball games banned as Pittsfield did 30 years prior to the New Bedford by-law. Various laws have been passed banning the playing of ball in New England since at least 1762 when the town of Salem ordered that no one would be allowed to play “Foot-Ball, or the Exercise of Bat-and-Ball, or Cricket, within any of the Publick Places, Streets, or Lanes” in town. Closer to home, Providence passed a ban on ball playing in 1823.

I will also point out that in those same 1821 New Bedford by-laws there was already a problem with graffiti:

Fifth. And whereas some evil minded persons are in the habit of disfiguring fences and buildings, by wantonly painting on them, and by writing and drawing obscene words and pictures on them, to the disgrace of this town in the eyes of strangers, and to the disgust of well-disposed citizens: — Therefore, Voted, That any person who shall after the first day of July next, be convicted as aforesaid of any such offence, shall forfeit and pay a penalty of not less than one dollar, nor more than five dollars, for every such offence, with the costs of prosecution; said penalty to be applied as aforesaid.

 

 

 

No doubt that neighborohoods such as Hard Dig were targeted with this law. But did the placement of the by-laws indicate the severity of each problem? Ball playing, kite flying and sledding were listed in the first by-law while graffiti was addressed in the fifth by-law. Number two on the list was blocking the streets with lumber and rubbish. Number three was a speed limit on horses (6 miles per hour) and the fourth delt with carriages blocking the streets. There were a total of 12 by laws altogether. The graffiti penalty had the highest penalty of five dollars along with storing more than 25 lbs. of gun powder in one place and stacking fish for the purporse of making manure. Take a look at the by laws here.

Say it ain’t so; No Cape League ball for New Bedford?

New Bedford American Legion team, ca. 1955With the Cape Cod League set to play a game on Monday in New Bedford, the Standard Times published a story yesterday about the unlikely possibility of New Bedford getting a Cape league team:

City’s hopes for Cape league franchise beginning to fade

NEW BEDFORD – Mayor Scott W. Lang has made no secret that he wants the Cape Cod Baseball League to expand to the city, but the storied amateur collegiate league seems to have an it’s-not-you-it’s-me attitude about the courtship.

“The likelihood is really not all that great,” Wareham Gatemen general manager Tom Gay said of the city’s chances. “It has nothing to do with New Bedford, but with expansion at all.”

This is discouraging considering that New Bedford has history of playing Cape Cod teams going back to at least 1867 when a club from Barnstable played the Wamsutta Club in New Bedford:

The New Bedford Republican Standard

September 12, 1867

The game between the Wamsutta Base Ball Club, of this city, and the Cummaquid, of Barnstable, on Saturday, was won by the former, by 25 runs, in seven innings. The eighth inning was played by the Cummaquid, scoring one run, but the game was called when the Wamsutta on the eighth inning had made six runs, with two men out, the Barnstable boys having barely time to get to the cars.

New Bedford last had an organized, high level team in 1934. That year the New Bedford Whalers played in the Northeastern League. They finished with a 46 win 60 loss season. 1934 was the only year of the Northeastern League. It folded at the end of the season and the Whalers folded with them. The New Bedford Whalers had played in the New England League the year before finishing the season with a 58-33 record in a split season format. New Bedford, with the best record in the league, finished in first place during the second half (Worcester won the first half). A round robin playoff system was decided upon for the end of the season consiting of New Bedford, Worcester and Lowell. But New Bedford withdrew from the playoffs when they learned that they would not face first half winner Worcester in a single series to determine the champion. The New England League folded after that season prompting New Bedford to join the ill fated Northeastern League. The New England League was revived in 1941 as a semi-pro league with New Bedford as a club member.

Organized amature baseball still exists in the New Bedford area in the form of American Legion ball and adult leagues with players trying to extend their playing days or relive their glory days (and even non glory days). The Southeastern Massachusetts Baseball Association existed about 10 years ago based in New Bedford and included teams such as the Fairhaven Lumber Red Sox, Mattapoisett Marlins and Fall River Indians. That league folded and was eventually replaced by the Southcoast Baseball League which is currently operating. Fall River has the Fall River Independent Baseball League (formally the Southeastern Massachusetts Baseball League) and the Cape has the Baseball Clubs of Cape Cod for its has been but still- wants-to-play competitive ball players.

As far as competitive spectator sports entertainment, there maybe other alternatives such as the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

Invite the NECBL here to play a game or two and see what sort of interest is out there for this league. Although it is not as well known as the Cape league, it is quality baseball. Just remember to remind people of the long history of baseball in New Bedford and on the south coast. Baseball loves its traditions and history and so does the south coast. Baseball is part of south coast’s history and it is a tradition that needs to be revived.