Historic college hosts baseball lecture

Published 12:11 am Friday, April 23, 2010

NATCHEZ — The terms “cranks” and “Blind Tom” are not what someone would normally associate with baseball.

In the modern era of baseball, we call them “fans” and “umpires,” although fans often use “blind” to describe the men in blue. In the 1860s, however, the terms and rules of baseball were vastly different than their 21st century counterpart.

On Thursday, baseball fans and historians alike were treated to a lunchtime lecture at the Historic Jefferson College campus about the history and evolution of baseball. From its introduction in America around 1800 and its gradual evolution, lecturer Clark Burkett said it’s not just the terms that have changed over the centuries.

“It’s different, more relaxed,” Burkett said. “It’s amazing how, once the sport came to America, it took on its own life.

“It had its roots in the Northern European game ‘stoolball,’ but what we have here is definitely our own game. The analogy I use is that it’s like America’s version of democracy. It had its base it Europe, but it’s still unique.”

Burkett said what America calls baseball could be traced back to a European game called “stoolball” from the 1400s. From there many believe the game evolved into cricket and baseball, which eventually made its way to America in the 19th century.

Phillip Williams, who works the grounds at Historic Jefferson College, said he was intrigued by what he learned at the lecture.

“I heard about it from Clark and decided to come on my lunch break,” Williams said. “I’m glad I came. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know beforehand, like the fact that you could throw the ball and hit someone with it to get them out.

“The balls back there were a lot softer and lighter. They probably weighed about five ounces. They also didn’t have a mound in the old days. It was very different.”

Burkett also said there are many “vintage baseball” teams throughout the country that play by the 1860 rules, and that Natchez would host a vintage baseball game in the fall.

“We’ve had a team captained by Jimmy Allgood that has played off and on since 1996,” Burkett said. “We’re set to play a game Oct. 23.”