Cricket and baseball Common ground

Cricket and baseball has at least one thing in common, both of them are a very boring game to watch. But baseball has one advantage over cricket, they sell beer in the stadium.

Jul 22nd 2010, Economist
Comparing cricket with baseball is a good way to start a spat

BRITAIN and America are divided, not just by a common language, but also by their passion for summer ball games. The English dismiss baseball as a barbarous mutant form of rounders, a kids’ game; Americans regard cricket as a crazed English joke. Matthew Engel, a cricket writer, notes that “It is less contentious to write about religion or politics than the origins of these two games.”

Early in the 20th century Albert Spalding, an American sporting-goods manufacturer, insisted that baseball had been invented in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 by a young soldier called Abner Doubleday who would be promoted to major-general during the American civil war. Baseball’s Hall of Fame was opened in Cooperstown when a misshapen leather ball found in the attic of a house near the town in 1934 was heralded as the ball originally used by Doubleday. This was always an unlikely tale, and Spalding’s papers, which are now housed in Cooperstown, expose his claims as a fabrication.

The true origins of both games are to be found in “Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect”, a new exhibition for which the curator, Beth Hise, has written an exemplary catalogue. This cornucopia of bats and balls, uniforms (belonging to England’s Andrew Flintoff and the Yankees’ Derek Jeter), photographs and memorabilia has opened at the Marylebone Cricket Club’s museum at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London and will move on to the Hall of Fame.

It is based on the revisionist notion that the two games have much in common. Both are rooted in English folk traditions, and each is based on a contest between the pitcher and the batter in baseball and the bowler and the batsman in cricket. Referees are called umpires in both. “I see them as blood brothers, separated at birth but genetically linked,” writes Mr Engel in the catalogue’s introduction.

The first handwritten reference to baseball is to be found in a copy of a diary written in Shere, Surrey, on Easter Monday in 1755: “After Dinner Went to Miss Jeale’s to play at Base Ball…” (The original diary turned up after the exhibition opened.) Four years earlier, a team of London cricketers had already played a cricket team from New York, for a considerable wager, and between 1840 and 1855 cricket was America’s leading ball game. The first international cricket match was played between the United States and Canada in 1844. (Canada won.)

Baseball became pre-eminent during and after the civil war. Ms Hise suggests that the key to popularising it was the abolition of the rule that a fielder could eliminate a batter by catching the ball after one bounce. To catch the ball on the fly was considered more “manly” and “scientific”, making baseball less a game for women and children. The system of box scoring was invented by an Englishman named Henry Chadwick, and many of the first professional players were from immigrant English families who could play both cricket and baseball.

By 1900, though, the two games had become completely distinct. When Babe Ruth (pictured) and Sir Donald Bradman, the greatest of all batters and batsmen, were introduced in 1932, it was not a meeting of minds: “You mean to tell me you don’t have to run when you hit the ball?” said Ruth, who was known as the Sultan of Swat.

In recent decades baseball has been more confident about the way it is organised than cricket, which experiments with new forms of the game intended to popularise it, by speeding it up. In the traditional format, games last four or five days and can end in a draw. Twenty20 is the latest of these innovations. The two teams each bat for 20 six-ball overs and the emphasis is on heavy-hitting. This form of the game has become very popular in the subcontinent, where the Indian Premier League is a major television spectacle, paying cricketers unheard-of sums to play in a short period in the spring. The attraction of Twenty20 is that games take about three hours to complete and there is no such thing as a draw. In fact, Twenty20 is not unlike baseball. Indeed, it is perfectly plausible that cricketers and baseball players will become ambidextrous again, swinging between the two games, as they sometimes did in the 19th century.

Leave a Reply