Cricket and Baseball

Discussion by David Nevard & Larry McCray
line drive to SS

David Nevard:


I got Jules' new book Past Time at the library -- I reserved it when it was on order, so I think I have a virgin copy.

Anyway, he does bring up the subject of baseball vs. cricket, in the first chapter (the book is a collection of historical essays, arranged chronologically).

The gist of it is that cricket was fairly popular in the US, but only as a game for English immigrants. The real struggle for popularity was between the various regional stick-and-ball games which had grown up in different parts of the US. The New York Game, as we know, won out -- although it adopted several Massachusetts rules, such as catching the ball on the fly.

Father Chadwick, an English immigrant who is the subject of Chapter 2, was a convert from cricket (like immigrants Geo & Harry Wright). Chadwick codified the New York Game with the express intention of making it the National Game, and pushed hard for its adoption everywhere. Tygiel makes the interesting observation that baseball is actually much more complex than cricket. Despite the English game's length, cricket only has two innings. There are only two bases, and only two possible outcomes: outs and runs.

Anyway, it seems cricket really had no real chance of being adopted by Americans -- leaving us practically alone among ex-British colonies. From West Indies to West Africa to Pakistan and Australia, they all play cricket -- better than the Brits, usually.

Ancedote: My friend Max is from Nigeria, and was longing to play some cricket again. He was quite happy when he found the name and number of the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline. Of course, he was very disappointed when he called them up. The Longwood Cricket Club being a posh place where tennis is played.

The gentleman told him sorry, no one has played cricket at Longwood for about 100 years. The name was just kept for tradition. But I told Max that cricket is alive and well in Boston -- at Franklin Field, B.C., and other places where the Jamaicans, Indians, and New Zealanders get together on the weekend to bowl and bat.


Larry McCray:

DN --

I browsed the new Tygiel, and wish now that I had bought it.

Isolated replies:

Cricket's swoon? My recent [unsystematic] readings give me the impression that by 1850 a lot more cricket was being played than baseball/townball, but that the upper class dominated it -- or maybe just the Anglophilic upper class. My working hunch is that cricket might have won the national heart if only someone would have invented/permitted a variation that took, say, 150 minutes to play, so that urban bachelors could play after work.

But, of course, that "wouldn't be cricket." There now is, evidently, a one-day version, but my squash partner Teji Bindra tells me that it goes from 10am to late afternoon. [Another relative deficiency of ckt is that it's not so viewable, as compared to baseball, because the action is far from the fans and bettors. Rounders, I think, uses a awkward 180-degree foul area, too. I find ckt enjoyable on TV, but it wasn't absorbing in the stadium when I saw a test match in 1968.]

Fly rule? I hadn't heard that that was a Boston innovation. Interesting. As you may have read, the fly rule was debated for a few years before it was adopted.

Contemp US ckt? There was a nice recent article on it, I think in the Atlantic. Let me know if I should locate it for you or Max. One hot locale is Richmond, WA. I've got to get Teji to take me to a DC match. I've wondered if there's a cricket history on the net, but haven't checked yet. [There is a rounders site, but rounders appears to remain a juvenile game still trying to interest adults -- and meanwhile, teams are playing throwback townball in the US, but the rounders crowd doesn't embrace it, I take it.] Alexa and I were in London last year, and I almost made a quick side trip to Marylebone but missed my chance.

Tidbit: one source said that there were virtually no team sports until after 1820. I hadn't sensed that. I figured team competition came along with the Y chromosome. I wonder now if cricket was the exception. In the US, evidently, young men hung around volunteer fire companies, and then organizes competitions in hose-dragging and such . . . am I wrong, or is lumberjacking the only currently successful vocational sport? Puzzle: all sources say that baseball and most other olde pastimes were products of urbanization.

But, hey, didn't England have urbanization as early as we did? If so, why didn't they invent/evolve a stick/ball game for those urban males?

Puzzle2: it's said that ckt had firmer footing in Philadelphia than anywhere else in the US. I wonder if Tygiel covers that, and how it is to be explained.

I like the Longwood story. And the [unexpected] notion that ckt is simpler that baseball; I rather doubt that the Brits would agree -- you ask Max, I'll ask Teji?

Thanks for the e-note. I need to pull together the accrued puzzles I have in my Embryology of Baseball project, and I may ask you to look at a draft.

Oh, as I may have mentioned before, I'd surmise that the NY game prevailed mainly because NYC was larger and growing faster than Boston -- a fact [if it's indeed a fact] that really stems from the construction of the Erie Canal by 1825, which brought Western goods to the port of NY rather than to Baltimore. The steamboat was another cause, I guess.


David Nevard:

<< Tidbit: one source said that there were virtually no team sports until after 1820. I hadn't sensed that. I figured team competition came along with the Y chromosome. I wonder now if cricket was the exception.>>

I have a big yellow official Cricket book, "Wisden's" in the BHS Archives (not at this location). I think Cricket history goes back to late 1700's. Jamaica has cricket and we don't, I imagine because they were still under direct British influence in the mid 1800's when team sports became really big. An interesting "class" angle is that the people of so many of the colonies adopted upper class cricket as opposed to working class soccer.

There'a marvelous book called Beyond a Boundary written by the famous Trinidadian poet, leftwinger, and cricketist CLR James. The book gives a feeling of how the people of the islands just absolutely adore their cricket. In the 50's-60's the great West Indies teams had all black players but a white captain, and James talks about the struggle to get a black captain, and what it meant to the people.

Tygiel does mention Philly being a cricket hotbed, without much elaboration. The simplification issue had to do with scoring, mainly. JT talks about the cricket box score being simply "Runs" and "Outs" for each man, and how Chadwick started scoring baseball games this way, but became fed up with it. In cricket a hit is a run, while baseball has 1-2-3-or 4- base hits, plus walks, and reached-on-error. Early on Chadwick had putouts-assists-and-errors, and he seems to have invented the concept of the "earned run", back in the days when the majority of runs were unearned.

Cricket has no fair or foul territory. Baseball's foul lines enable the fans to get much closer to the action. JT says that early on, baseball starting putting in rules specifically aimed at making things better for the spectators.

Next issue of Journal will have a review of the book. I'm only on Chapter 2!! It's not really deep history like Seymour, more like thought-provoking essays on historical subjects.


Larry McCray:

{Excerpts from Cricket In America, which can be found at:}


LM Notes:

[1] The real collapse of cricket, I think, was in the 1850's, when baseball

took off.

[2] I think baseball owes more to rounders than to cricket. I believe that Chadwick says this at one point.

[3] The explanation -- laying the failure of US cricket to its reluctance to allow pros to play -- seems unconvincing. I still think that baseball won out because it's more watchable. Isn't it possible that cricket was professionalized in the other countries because in those countries there was no competition from baseball?

[4] One key event in the embryology of baseball was the rise of enclosed playing fields, run by entrepreneurs, which allowed the collection of entry fees. Why wouldn't those entrepreneurs promote cricket in their venues?

[5] There is a tendency to ascribe our preference for baseball [over cricket] to anti-English sentiment. But this leaves unexplained why we embraced other English sports, like tennis and rowing and so on. And surely Americans -- including the Irish-Americans who were numerous in early ball -- in 1850 were aware that rounders was an English import itself.

[6] There is the implication here and elsewhere that cricket was governed strictly in the US, and that its American czars were inflexible. I wonder what the mechanism of control was here -- it seems to have been weaker in other countries. If multitudes of players preferred playing cricket, surely they would have left the governors behind and adapted their sport to the financial opportunities, as baseballers did.

(c) 2000 BHS

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