Were he alive today, Emilie Loring’s father, George Melville Baker, would be on all of the entertainment and talk shows. Funny and eloquent, George could sing, act, and keep an audience in stitches with one-liners and jokes.
He was a Boston insider, connected with the movers and shakers of his day: Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, theater players, opera stars, suffragist Julia Ward Howe, and Charles Sumner, the abolitionist. As a performer, author, and publisher, he felt the public’s pulse, sensed the average reader’s taste, and always stayed just one step in front of it.
George Baker had some important firsts. He was responsible for the first, American editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. He published the first play about electronic dating (only it was telegraph then!); developed young readers with the first, successful children’s magazine; and created nineteenth-century serials that paved the way for standards like Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins. In his “spare time,” he wrote eighty-nine plays, one of which became the best-selling amateur drama of all time–bigger, even, than Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
But before these, George Baker published the first book entirely about baseball.
The Base Ball Player’s Pocket Companion was published in Boston in 1859 by the Mayhew and Baker Publishing Company. George Baker and Matthew Mayhew published books by day and acted in amateur comedies by night. As newly-married young men with senses of humor and children on the way, they built their reputation with humorous children’s books and modern board games. Then they branched out to adult games.
Baseball–or “base ball,” as it was called then–was still on the rise.
It is only within the last few years that match games have become popular, and that this game of base ball has taken the high position which it now occupies, as the leading game of out-door sports. The Base Ball Player’s Pocket Companion
Massachusetts and New York had each developed rules, and not surprisingly, New York claimed theirs were “found superior to all others.”
Rather than decide between them, Mayhew and Baker included both. They gave Massachusetts–Boston, to be precise–credit as the site of the first baseball “match,” but it was clear that New York had taken the game further.
Massachusetts used four bases marked by four-foot stakes, sixty feet apart, and the “striker” stood halfway between the first and fourth bases to strike the ball. New York also used four bases, but they were ninety feet apart, and the striker stood at the fourth, “home” base to strike the ball, creating a “diamond.”
New York’s three bases were “canvass bags, painted white, and filled with sand or sawdust,” while the home base was “a flat, circular, iron plate, painted or enameled white.” Massachusetts required that the ball be “thrown, not pitched or tossed,” while New York specified that the ball “must be pitched, not jerked or thrown” and was first to define the “baulk.”
There are too many now-quaint descriptions to recount, but here are a few of my favorites.
If [the ball is] struck by the batsman, he is obliged to run the bases…
One or two players should be stationed behind the catcher, to stop the ball, in case the catcher should fail to do so.
Should the Striker stand at the Bat without striking at good balls thrown repeatedly at him, for the apparent purpose of delaying the game, or of giving advantage to players, the referees, after warning him, shall call one strike, and if he persists in such action, two and three strikes.
A player, after running the four bases, on making the home bound, shall be entitled to one tally. In playing all match games, one hundred tallies shall constitute the game.
Let that sink in a moment. One hundred tallies were required to win a match. How long did those matches take?!
The earliest baseball teams have long passed into the cornfield: the Olympic Club of Boston, the Massapoags of Sharon, the Rough and Ready Club of South Walpole… Of this year’s playoff teams, only the Cubs, Giants, and Dodgers were in existence when George Baker’s son played for Harvard in the late 1880s.
His grandsons (Emilie Loring’s sons) played for Harvard before their service in World War I, and by then, both the Red Sox and the Indians were established. In fact, Robert Loring made the Harvard varsity in 1917, one year after his team beat Babe Ruth and the World Series Champion Red Sox, 1-0. The newest of 2016’s playoff teams–the Rangers, Nationals and Blue Jays–were created more than one hundred years after the first book about their sport was published.
What a long way baseball has come, from the days of tallymen, base tenders, and stakes-as-bases to today’s ultra-staged, professional game. By the 1880s, catchers wore protective equipment, and if there were no stands, spectators watched from their carriages.
My grandfathers played in the early 1900s and remained fans through changes in equipment, rules, and stadiums. And you would not have wanted to challenge my grandmother to a game of baseball trivia. Trust me. She lived it.
It might be fun to gather some folks–Thanksgiving, anyone?–and play a match of the vintage game. Better go with New York’s padded bases, just to stay safe. You can read the rest of the rules here, in Mayhew and Baker’s The Base Ball Player’s Pocket Companion. Meanwhile, enjoy the playoffs, and give mental credit to George Baker and Matt Mayhew for putting baseball’s rules down in print.