Peter Morris debunks the myth about the origins of our national pastime.
Jan 25, 2010
It was a tale that had been handed down from father to son for generations. It went something like this: "Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball back in 1839 in the tiny village of Cooperstown in upstate New York." Now my dad certainly had no reason to doubt this version of events. And although I had heard rumblings for decades that the the evolution of baseball encompassed a far more complex series of events there was precious little written on the subject. Author Peter Morris noticed the same thing and decided to do something about it. "But Didn't We Have Fun: An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneeer Era 1843-1870" presents a far more plausible scenario of how it all began. This is a book that proves to be at once highly entertaining and extremely informative.
What you will discover in "But Didn't We Have Fun?" is that the game of baseball actually evolved from any number of "ball and stick"games that were popular with youngsters around the country during the 1840's and 1850's. Something called "town ball"was all the rage in a number of eastern cities while "wicket" was the game of choice in Connecticut. Other games being played at the time were "cat ball", "sock ball" and something called the "Massachusetts game". The size of the balls and sticks varied and the rules were certainly different in almost every community. What would eventually come to be known as baseball got a huge boost in the 1840's and 1850's when grown men latched onto the game and formed social clubs whose primary reason for being was playing the game. In this meticulously researched book Peter Morris brings his readers back to those halcyon days when baseball was played simply for enjoyment. You will learn about the legendary Knickerbockers ball club from New York City who took the trouble to write down the first crude set of rules in 1845. I suspect that most folks have never even heard of the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ. The is an extremely important place because Morris argues that it was here that baseball was really born. In addition, you will discover how many of the other most important teams of the era were formed. I was quite surprised to learn that many of these early teams were made up of individuals from particular trades such as railroad workers, bankers, haberdashers etc. who relished the keen competition. As time went on it seems that just about every community had at least one ball team. These clubs were a source of civic pride and the rivalries proved to be quite fierce in many instances. Morris also spends ample time discussing some of the era's most colorful and talented players and sheds light on how what had been largely considered a child's game morphed into a professional sport. Very interesting stuff!
"But Didn't We Have Fun: An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era 1843-1870" is an exceptionally well written book. Anyone even remotely interested in the history of baseball will glean a ton of fascinating information from this book that you simply will not find anywhere else. And as an added bonus, Peter Morris does a fabulous job of portraying what life in America was really like during these years. It seems to me that "But Didn't We Have Fun" could be turned into a terrific installment of the PBS series "American Experience". A great gift for the sports fan or the history buff. Highly recommended
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Paul Tognetti (drifter51)
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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But Didn't We Have Fun? covers a period in the early days of baseball that even those who think they know everything about the popular American sport do not know. Peter Morris--an indefatigable researcher and brilliant chronicler, and winner of both the Seymour Medal and the Casey Award--is the first historian to cover the years 1843 to 1870. Through the prism of firsthand accounts, the reader is privileged to watch as baseball pioneers adapt an informal, country game to new surroundings. The members of groundbreaking clubs like the Knickerbockers of New York and the Red Stockings of Cincinnati are rescued, by Peter Morris, from the dusty pages of history and emerge as men with genuine joys and sorrows. Consequently, the long-discredited Abner Doubleday-as-the-inventor-of-baseball myth and other misconceptions about the game are supplanted by a story even more intriguing-the story about the beginning of baseball that really happened!