A league of their own: Residents learn the history of baseball

May 13, 2021

There are many theories for what helped end the 86 year championship drought the Red Sox faced.

Over the years, fans tried everything: placing a Sox cap on top of Mount Everest while burning a Yankees one, hiring an exorcist to “purify” Fenway Park, and the Dropkick Murphys resurrecting an old tune in time for the 2004 postseason.

These were just a few aspects of baseball history a group of 27 people learned at a virtual presentation hosted by the Friends of the Dartmouth Libraries on May 13.

During the presentation, baseball historian Anne Barrett traced the game's social, historical and professional evolution from its colonial predecessors to the dedication of the sport’s fans.

“How did our nation get so entwined with baseball?” Barrett said. “After all, it’s just a game.”

According to the historian, one of the earliest recordings of a game resembling baseball played in America was at Plimoth Plantation on Christmas of 1621.

The game they were the colonists played was called “stoolball” — something Barrett said the English had been playing for centuries.

“Around Easter time, genders would come together and play,” she said. “It often offered a little opportunity for flirtation and mixing.” 

Barrett added that stoolball was “a bit different” from today’s game, but it did involve hitting, fielding, and throwing.

Other stick and ball games would arise, but one that more resembled a modern version of the game would develop during the mid-nineteenth century.

It was during the Civil War that the sport began to catch on. Barrett noted that both Union and Confederate officers encouraged play as a morale booster.

“It also helped foster teamwork,” Barrett said.

Another reason for the growth of the game, she noted, was because when many soldiers wrote home, they would describe their time playing the game rather than wanting to talk about life on the battlefield.

Barrett also went over the creation of amateur and professional leagues during the latter half of the century, scandals such as the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series, and the Red Sox’s early championship success prior to dealing Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

“We have seen baseball evolve in many ways,” she said. “No matter how you enjoy the game, it is an integral part of the nation’s identity.”