Baseball's Origins in Rounders, Cricket and Stoolball

In his latest feature for the Sporting Memories website, and ahead of the upcoming International T20 Cricket World Cup being held in the USA for the first time, Jack Shaw looks into the formation of one of America’s biggest sports, Baseball, and how it’s origins come from a range of sports including Cricket.

Modern baseball has existed for nearly two centuries, drawing inspiration from rounders, cricket and stoolball. While some countries claim to have founded baseball, you can trace its origins to the United Kingdom.

Baseball's Origins

Understanding baseball’s origins starts with the games your ancestors probably played. Playing ball games has centuries-old origins in the United Kingdom. Folk games with balls were popular pastimes in Medieval Europe and the Renaissance as people invented recreational activities. For example, hurling involves players throwing and running with a cricket-sized ball. The earliest accounts of the game come from 1602 in a Richard Carew recording.

Hurling can thank cricket for part of its development, and baseball can, too. Cricket has been a British favourite since at least the early 17th century when boys played in various woodlands near the English Channel. However, games similar to cricket go back to the Middle Ages.

Cricket contributes to baseball because it’s another popular stick-and-ball game. The sport grew across the British Isles and made its way to the United States.

Despite Cricket making its formal international debut in America later this year, it was in 1844 that the first international cricket competition occurred in New York City as the Toronto Cricket Club played St. George’s Cricket Club. Playing with St. George meant you had to be born in Britain because it was an exclusive club. Toronto defeated St. George by 23 runs, marking the start of cricket’s international spread. Many players in New York also played baseball, contributing to the sport’s early rise in the city.

Rounders is one of the closest competitive sports to modern baseball. It became a popular sport in Britain but never materialised into professional leagues. You can find rounder references in old publications like “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book” — an 18th-century children’s book including the first known use of the term baseball.

While rounder games differ from baseball, there are plenty of similarities. The pitcher — a bowler — must throw the ball to the batting square between the batter’s head and knee to give them a chance to hit. Three bad balls put the batter on the first post, and they score by rounding all four bases. The primary difference between rounders and baseball is the field has a pentagon shape instead of a diamond.

What do baseball, rounders and cricket have in common? These sports can thank stoolball for their existence. Stoolball is one of the oldest sports in recorded history, originating in the 15th century. Historians say the first records of the game appeared around 1450, depicting farmers and villagers playing in fields and churches. Many women played the game, leading to what you recognise as cricket today.

Stoolball set the stage for strike-and-ball games where one player throws a ball, and another defends the target. Early forms of the sport saw players use their hands to bat the ball away as the defenders protected a milking stool. The game’s evolution to using an actual bat led to what you see in cricket, rounders and baseball. Then, players elevated the stool to make it more accessible for the defenders.

Bringing Baseball to Britain

New York City became an integral growing spot for cricket and baseball in North America. While New Yorkers played cricket, baseball emerged as the most popular sport across the United States. As baseball grew in America, sportswriters worldwide took notice. Henry Chadwick — an English-American reporter — said in 1867 that baseball to Americans is what cricket is to the English.

British people observed baseball in the United States and wanted to bring it back to the United Kingdom. Sir Francis Ley is an excellent example of an Englishman who played cricket but fell in love with baseball. He observed games in America and spent his money to build a baseball field in Derby – which eventually became the home of the football Club we know today as Derby County. By the late 1890s, Ley had spent £7,000 renovating the facility to make it more appealing to Derby residents.

How passionate was Ley about baseball? He hired American professionals to train his fellow Brits because he wanted to win. 1890 marked Britain’s first professional baseball season, even though Ley hired Americans to join the squad. His squad succeeded against other teams that hired players from professional football and cricket leagues. While Ley’s league was short-lived, Brits started leagues around the country as the 19th century ended.

The end of the 19th century also saw the rise of British baseball in the country. This sport combines baseball with rounders and draws inspiration from cricket by putting 11 players on the field. You won’t see as many games nowadays because the British Baseball Federation (BBF) generated more focus on traditional baseball.

British baseball clubs play under the BBF’s umbrella, and it trains children who enter the sport. You can also find baseball teams for seniors in the BBF and softball clubs. The BBF has helped baseball grow in the U.K. and created a national team for the World Baseball Classic (WBC). The U.K. made its WBC debut in 2023, assembling a 30-man roster for the international competition.

About Jack Shaw

As an accomplished writer and Fitness editor at Modded, Jack Shaw has established his reputation as a respected authority on sports and their effect on physical health. His work can also be found in publications such as SportsEdTV, Better Triathlete and Simply Family Magazine.

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