Learn about early "base ball" and its evolution

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HUNTLEY  – When the 2023 Major League baseball season gets underway this spring, it will look a lot more like it did a century and a half ago.

In 1858, the fielders playing first, second and third base were required to play one step from the bag until the “hurler” released the ball toward the “striker”or batter. The new MLB rule cracks down on shifting, requiring all four infielders to have both feet on the dirt (or infield grass) when the pitch is released. Also, two infielders must be on each side second base.

“No one person invented baseball. It is a continuing process,” said baseball historian Bruce Allardice, a 35-year member and past president of the Chicago Civil War Round Table. “The 1858 game is so different than what you see. The changes are so great. But in essence it is a team sport where everyone can play. You can play on a sandlot and with informal rules. You don’t need to be really big or tall. It actually was sold as great way to exercise early on.”

Allardice, who has written or co-authored seven books and numerous articles on the Civil War and on baseball history, presents “Before the Chicago Cubs: Baseball Comes to the Windy City” at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 10, in the Willow Room of the Huntley Park District REC Center, 12015 Mill St. in Huntley. Tickets to this PowerPoint lecture are $10 each, $8 for members of the McHenry County Historical Society, and are available by clicking HERE or you may pay at the door.

Learn about the origins of the sport and early rules, including pre-1870 “base ball” in McHenry County. When it received the moniker “national pastime,” the bat and ball game of cricket was its only serious competition in the United States. But that game was “too slow and too British,” Allardice said. Another advantage of baseball is that it can be played in a quarter of the space. Cricket’s field of play is 360 degrees, he said.

Allardice currently edits the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) newsletter on the origins of baseball, and has twice won SABR's annual award for best baseball history article. For the last two decades Allardice has taught European and American history at South Suburban College in South Holland. He earned political science and history degrees at the University of Illinois before attending law school. But his real love remains teaching.

Allardice, of Darien, gives presentations around the country on history, political science and baseball history – 65 in the last five year – in such venues as the McHenry County Civil War Round Table and Illinois State Historical Society.
“As far as getting into serious baseball history, it was after I attended a Society for American Baseball Research convention,” Allardice said. “They were discussing baseball in Knoxville in 1857 and the presenter asked, ‘Do we have a Civil War historian in the audience?’ I was foolish enough to raise my hand, and I got sucked into it.”

The McHenry County “Independants,” an 1858 base ball club, kicks off its season with a free, match starting at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 21 in Oregon.

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