“The Library of Congress has more than one thousand of these guides, believed to be the largest collection held by any institution. A small sample is offered in Spalding Base Ball Guides, 1889-1939; in the future, the entire collection may be digitized and made available on this [Library of Congress] Web site. The twenty Official Indoor Base Ball Guides and fifteen Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guides currently presented are examples….
“While the game of baseball covered in Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guides is well known to most Americans, the game described in the Official Indoor Base Ball Guides may at first seem unfamiliar: yet in its current incarnation it is probably played by more Americans than traditional baseball. According to The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, indoor baseball is ‘[t]he original name for the game from which modern softball derived. Its rules were written by George W. Hancock of Chicago who was one of the group of young men who created the game, using a boxing glove for a ball and a broomstick for a bat, while waiting at the Farragut Boat Club for the telegraphed results of the Harvard-Yale football game on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. Thus, softball in its first incarnation was baseball played inside a gymnasium’ (Paul Dickson, The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary [New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1990], p. 268).”
One of my greatest and most memorable pleasures involves my being on the seventh-grade-class softball team, which played after school in a gym, from the cold month of January thro May. The rules were different. Once the ball was hit, the batter had to drop his bat on one of the large tumbling mats, or he was out. Batted balls hitting the ceiling were out. Balls caught on the fly off the wall, off a window guard, off the heavy climbing ropes, off a basketball backboard were out. The idea was to hit line drives or hard grounders. The overall strategy was quite cricket-like. If truth be told, one of my fascinations with cricket is that the batsman continues to hold his bat while running across the pitch. It reminds me of the care we had to take with bats on the mats. Defensively, I pitched (the easiest position in slow-pitch softball) and sometimes played second base if there were a worse player on the squad that afternoon to take over slow-pitch duties.
First copies of Right Off the Bat are due off press this Friday the Thirteenth! Will it outlive Albert Goodwill Spalding’s books? Are we superstitious?