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Posted: 04 December 2011 05:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Dave Wilton - 04 December 2011 04:04 AM

Ah, I missed that definition of base. (There are a lot of them, and for some reason searches for baseball in various forms turn up null results.) My Riverside Shakespeare glosses the cite of country base, which is from Cymbeline 5:3, as prisoner’s base. The editors of this dictionary are saying baseball is the same as prisoner’s base, which may be accurate in a seventeenth century context.

I don’t think the editors are saying that baseball is the same as prisoner’s base.  Their definition of baseball includes a ball, which is not a feature of prisoner’s base.  There would go on to be a long history of “base” being used ambiguously, with no context to distinguish whether baseball or prisoner’s base is meant.  So we get claims that baseball was played by the Continental Army at Valley Forge because of a diary entry about “base”.  A likelier reading of this dictionary entry is that this is an early example of someone being confused by are bare “base”.  In support of this, I have been informed that the dictionary also has an entry “Prisonbase, a kind of rural play, [illeg., looks like con ]ed, with a line
break before the “n"] *prisonbars*.”

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Posted: 04 December 2011 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Iron Pyrite - 03 December 2011 10:05 PM

Is the problem with the Shakespeare reference that it is unclear? In other words, a ball and bat could be involved, or it could be Prisoner’s Base?

It seems, in the context, to be clearly a reference to a boy’s game.

The problem is that there are two distinct, unrelated games, prisoner’s base and baseball, both of which are sometimes shortened to simply “base”.  This makes a reference to “base” without further context ambiguous.  On the other hand, prisoner’s base is attested centuries before baseball, and well into the 19th century attestations of prisoner’s base are more common.  My working assumption is that an early “base” is more likely to be prisoner’s base, with baseball gradually increasing in likelihood as one approaches the middle of the 19th century.  After the Civil War “base” is almost always baseball. 

The 1768 entry is interesting and useful in that it is the earliest known example of someone using “base” to mean baseball.  This tells me that any “base” after that must be read with the baseball possibility in mind. 

I don’t think it raises any serious possibility that Shakespeare meant baseball.  Prisoner’s base is well attested in his day.  Baseball was far in the future.  I also note that Spenser used “base” in The Fairie Queene.  The image is of two knights running toward one another in a joust.  This makes perfect sense for prisoner’s base, which involved persons running toward one another.  Any similar act in baseball is incidental. 

As an aside, we cannot assume a bat in early baseball.  In at least some forms the ball was struck with the hand. 

David Block contends that this was a defining distinction between early baseball and rounders, which did use a bat.  I disagree with him on this.  I contend that “base ball” and “rounders” are dialectal synonyms, with “rounders” replacing the older term in England but being unknown in America.  In America there were two major (and more minor) dialectal challengers:  “town ball” and “round ball”.  Neither term took hold in New York, where the older “base ball” was standard.  The modern game derives from a version that arose in New York, so we call it “baseball”.

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Posted: 04 December 2011 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Okay, I don’t know enough about prisoner’s base and how it differs from baseball. But the editors are clearly conflating the words base and baseball.

Here is the prisonbase entry. (I can send you the whole page, but the image is too large to attach on the forums.)

[ Edited: 04 December 2011 05:34 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 04 December 2011 05:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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So, then, just so I can familiarize myself with early “baseball” sightings, we have:

1. Mary Lepel’s mention of “base-ball” in a letter dated 14 November 1748 (collected letters published in 1821).

2. Kidgell’s use of “Base-Ball” in The Card (1755).

3. A sighting of “Base-ball” in the 1760 edition of Newberry’s A Little Pretty Pocket-Book.  (It’s possible the term appears in the 1744 edition, but no one has yet found a copy of the earlier edition to confirm its appearance there.)

(A newbie to “baseball” discussions, I got that from Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary.)

Do folks feel pretty good about that 1748 sighting and linking it to what we now recognize as true, primordial baseball?

[ Edited: 04 December 2011 06:00 AM by Bonnie ]
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Posted: 04 December 2011 07:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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For those of us who never heard of the game: Prisoner’s Base.  If this is not the game I will cheerfully accept correction.

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Posted: 04 December 2011 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Richard Hershberger - 03 December 2011 06:09 PM

Bonnie - 03 December 2011 05:35 PM
Ah, thanks for the clarification on that date, Dave.

ECCO also shows what appears to be a sighting of “Base-Ball” in John Kidgell’s The Card (Dublin; 1755).  Being a novice to “baseball” etymology, I’m sure this 1755 sighting is old news to experts, but what has been made of “and the younger Part of the Family, perceiving Papa not inclined to enlarge upon the Matter, retired to an interrupted Party at Base-Ball, (an infant Game, which as it advances into its Teens, improves into Fives, and in its State of Manhood, is called Tennis.)”

I suppose it’s hard to know whether this is at all related to the game depicted in the Newberry 1760 sighting, but I was curious what members of the (tiny) early baseball history fraternity may have decided about this one.  (I’m reading that this passage holds that Base-Ball is a game for children, not that it’s a game in its infancy.)

[And now I see that’s covered in The Dickson Baseball Dictionary and elsewhere.]

Yes, the passage is saying baseball is a children’s game.  Fives is a form of handball.  Tennis in the 18th century is not the same as modern tennis, which is properly called “lawn tennis”.  Think of something along the lines of a racquet ball or squash court.

On the other hand, there are also 18th century cites which unambiguously describe baseball being played by adults.  We could interpret this as they referred to different games.  It seems more likely that what we see are differing opinions about the game.  Of course as with any pre-modern game there were no standardized rules, so the two interpretations are not entirely incompatible.  There might be versions more or less suitable or adult or juvenile play. 

As an aside, David Block has exactly ten 18th century citations.  As I recall, Seven of them are English, two American, and one German (but explicitly about English baseball).  I have several more American citations along the lines of “game of ball” which are probably (by the process of elimination) baseball, but this can’t be proved.  Then there is the discussion of how to interpret references to “base” but I think that most--and perhaps all--18th century cites of “base” refer to prisoner’s base.

My personal preferred interpretation of ”Base-Ball, (an infant Game, which as it advances into its Teens, improves into Fives, and in its State of Manhood, is called Tennis.” is that this “Base-Ball” was played with the ball from the thrower being struck by the hand of the “receiver”, since hitting the ball with the hand is what happens in Fives, and that therefore this “Base-ball” was only distantly related to the bat-wielding games of rounders/modern baseball. But since the name “Base-ball” seems to imply running between bases, one problem with the whole passage is that a base-running game can’t really be said to evolve as it ages into either fives or tennis, both court games.

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Posted: 04 December 2011 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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The base-running game is not “said to evolve as it ages into either fives or tennis”; the point is that the player evolves from playing the one to playing the others.  At least, that’s how I read it, and I think my reading makes better sense.

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Posted: 04 December 2011 12:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Mary Lepel’s mention of “base-ball” in a letter dated 14 November 1748 (collected letters published in 1821).

I don’t know anything about this particular citation, but as a general comment you have to very careful with published collections of letters. They are frequently altered with updated language in the editing. I would be especially suspicious of a collection published in 1821, when scholarly exactitude was not so highly developed as it is today. You really need to have the handwritten letter, or a facsimile of it, to have confidence that what you’re looking at is the original language. (In this case, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that a nineteenth-century editor had changed base into base-ball.)

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Posted: 04 December 2011 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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The letter in question is by Mary Lepel, Lady Hervey, who was a lady of the bedchamber for Princess Caroline.  The letter is dated 1748.  It includes a description of how the family of the Prince of Wale and the courtiers amuse themselves with innocent pursuits:  “now, in the winter, in a large room, they divert themselves at base-ball, a play all who are, or have been, schoolboys, are well acquainted with.  The ladies, as well as gentlemen, join in this amusement”. 

The letters were edited by John Wilson Croker.  Based on his Wikipedia entry he is someone I would be familiar with, were I familiar eith early 19th century English literary society.  He edited an edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson which Macauley shredded.  So your points of caution are well taken.  Your caution that the original might have been ‘base’ is valid.  If this is the case, then we return to the old ambiguity.  Prisoner’s base is no less suitable for indoor play than is baseball.  (If indoor baseball seems unduly improbable, consider that the ball was probably struck with the hand, not a bat, and it likely was quite soft.  Imagine playing this with a hacky sack.)

By way of comparison, there is an extant diary by William Bray with an entry for Easter Monday of 1755 which includes a report of a mixed sex party of gentry playing “base ball”.  I think this demonstrates that the Mary Lepel letter is not impossible.

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Posted: 04 December 2011 04:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Dave Wilton - 04 December 2011 05:31 AM

Okay, I don’t know enough about prisoner’s base and how it differs from baseball.

The two games are completely unrelated.  The only significant characteristic they share is a safe haven area, hence the “base” in both.  Prisoner’s base was not, of course, standardized, but you can find reasonably consistent descriptions in various books of games through Google books going back to the 18th century.

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Posted: 08 December 2011 01:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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In The Great American Novel Philip Roth as I recall says it came from the player John Baal who was famously base (crude) or maybe his father “Spit”. It’s a while since I re-read it. Roth certainly loved his baseball and mythology - check out the names of the players on his team on the left here.
I wish Phil still had his SOH.

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Posted: 08 December 2011 08:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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SOH?

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Posted: 08 December 2011 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Sense Of Humor?

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Posted: 09 December 2011 03:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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superb oracular heft

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