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Earliest mention of base ball

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Post by sabrjay Fri Nov 28, 2008 4:11 am

This was an interesting post on the SABR 19c e-list:

In the November 14 (2008) issue of TLS, formerly known as the Times Literary Supplement, a columnist who signs himself J. C. writes "The recently publicized suggestion that baseball originated in Britain appears to have taken some people by surprise. Readers of Jane Austen know that the game is mentioned in Northanger Abbey, published in 1818, some thirty years before baseball was "invented" in the Unite States by Abner Doubleday. [He quotes Austen's words, then her latest editors, who think that she had in mind the game now known as "rounders".]
In the November 21 issue, John Rowe Townsend writes to inform J. C. that "baseball" is mentioned in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book", published by John Newbery in 1744. Townsend identifies himself as the author of a book "John Newbery and His Books".
J. C. had been led to ask for "accounts of sporting contests in fiction and poetry before 1900", meaning, it seems, games played by clubs or according to rules -- he mentions rugby, cricket and golf as examples, and excludes huntong and shooting. Any suggestions?

TLS is an English publication, not connected with the New York Times.

By the way -- the Oxford Engiish Dictionary began publication in the 1880s, sensibly starting with the letter "A". (The current revision began with the letter "L", I believe, though also for very sensible reasons.) In an event, the OED had reached B and baseball by the early 1890s, and had included the Austen quotation, so well before the Doubleday hoax was concocted it was recorded and easily ascertainable that the word predated Doubleday by 30 years.

George A. Thompson

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