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Charles Peverelly's Book of American Pastimes

By Patrick Mondout

The 556 page Book of American pastimes,: Containing a history of the principal base ball, cricket, rowing, and yachting clubs of the United States was published by Charles A. Peverelly in 1866. It contained a chapter on baseball that we have integrated into this website.

It was not the first book on American sports, nor the first to contain historical information about baseball, but it was one of the earliest books to contain historical information on the sport. Peverelly wrote:

"The game of Base Ball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the out-door sports of the United States, and to account for its present truly proud position, there are many and sufficient reasons. It is a game which is peculiarly suited to the American temperament and disposition; the nine innings are played in the brief space of two and one half hours, or less. From the moment the first striker takes his position, and poises his hat, it has an excitement and vim about it, until the last hand is put out in the ninth innings. There is no delay or suspense about it, from beginning to end; and even if one feels disposed to leave the ground, temporarily, he will generally waive his desire, especially if it is a close contest, from fear of missing some good point or clever effort of the trial.

An American assemblage cannot be kept in one locality for the period of two or three hours, without being offered something above the ordinary run of excitement and attraction. They are too mercurial and impulsive a race not to get drowsy and dissatisfied with anything which permits their natural ardor to droop even for a brief space of time. Hence their congeniality with, and partiality for Base Ball, which game caters to their inclinations and desires to a nicety; in short, the pastime suits the people, and the people suit the pastime.

It is also, comparatively, an economical recreation; the uniform is not costly, the playing implements, colors, and furnishing of a neat club-room, need not occasion an extravagant outlay when divided, pro rata, by the members of a full club. In aquatic organizations, either of Yachting or Rowing (both glorious sports), the expenses are necessarily heavy. The uniforms, boathouses, and boats, all necessitate liberal disbursement, and not infrequent renewal. Base Ball does not demand from its votaries too much time, or rather, too great a proportion of the day. In the long sunshiny days of summer, games are frequently commenced at tour and even five o'clock in the afternoon, and completed some time before sunset. Consequently the great mass, who are in a subordinate capacity, can participate in this health-giving and noble pastime.

The game stands to-day in a proud and fairly-won position -- scarcely requiring eulogy from any source. Dating from the years when the old Knickerbocker Club, closely followed by the Gotham, Eagle, and Empire, gave their colors to the breeze as rallying points for the lovers of the game to muster at, it has grown with giant strides until its organizations are the pride of numberless villages, towns, and cities, all over the land.

Wherever established, it has quickly had the sentiment and good feeling of the community with it, and with scarcely an effort, achieved solid popularity. Having no debasing attributes, and being worthy of the presence of the good and the refined, it has everywhere been countenanced and encouraged by our best citizens; and of the thousands who gather at important matches, we have always noted with sincere gratification that the ladies constituted an honored proportion.

The game originated in Great Britain, and is familiarly known there as the game Rounders. We quote a description of the game. The reader will observe that it is the merest outline of what is now termed by the American press and public The National Game.

"Rounders.—This game is played with a ball and hats, or sticks something of the form of a policeman's truncheon. A hole is first made, about a foot across and half a foot deep. Four other stations are marked with pegs stuck into the ground, topped with a piece of paper, so as to be readily seen. Sides are then chosen, one of which goes in.

There may be five or more players on each side. Suppose that there are five. One player, on the side that is out, stands in the middle of the five-sided space, and pitches the ball towards the hole. He is called the feeder. The batsman hits it off, if he can; in which case he drops the stick, and runs to the nearest station, thence to the third, and all around if the hit has been a far one. The other side are scouting, and trying to put him out, either by hitting the batsman as he is running, or by sending the ball into the hole, which is called 'grounding.' The player at the hole may decline to strike the ball, but if he hits at it, and misses twice running, he is out. When a player makes the round of the stations back to the hole, his side counts one towards the game. When all the players are out, either by being hit or the ball being grounded, the other side get their innings. When there are only two players left, a chance is given of prolonging the innings, by one of them getting three halls from the feeder; and if he can give a hit such as to enable him to run the whole round, all his side come in again, and the counting is resumed. The feeder is generally the best player on his side, much depending on his skill and art. The scouts should seldom aim at the runners from a distance, but throw the ball up to the feeder or to some one near, who will try to hit or to ground, as seems the most advisable. A caught ball also puts the striker out."

It has been suggested that Peverelly was the first to call baseball the national pastime, but such assertions are way off base. As you can see in the passage above, he suggests that the press and public already called it The National Game. Peverelly, whose own passion was yachting, also waits until page 336 to even begin discussing the sport.

The portion of the book relevant to baseball researchers was reprinted by Arcadia in 2005 and is available from Amazon.com. Be warned that it is not a narrative baseball history and is mostly listings of scores and officers of each club with the occasional club history. I included as much information from the original as I deemed worthy within our look back at early baseball and on individual team pages, such as the Knickerbockers and Excelsiors.  

Notes:
The book was revised in 1868 and checked in at 595 pages. The edition I borrowed was the first edition so I am unable to say what, if any, new information was contained in the second edition though I'd love to see it.

 
 
 

PEVERELLY

Title page of the Peverelly book.


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