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But Didn't We Have Fun?: An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era, 1843-1870 Hardcover – January 21, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Morris (Game of Inches) explores the earliest days of baseball through the voices of players and journalists who wrote about it in the 27-year period in the mid-19th century before professional baseball emerged. The earliest versions of bat-and-ball games—some of the variants are town ball, wicket and even patch ball—were eventually displaced and standardized in 1845 when the Knickerbocker Club of New York City published rules that eliminated such practices as throwing the ball and hitting a base runner (an act sometimes known as soaking) to make an out. The text is an intriguing study for students of baseball history curious about how aspects of the game developed, such as the foul ball, sliding, balls and strikes, and the role of the umpire. As the game spread from its origins in New York and its popularity grew, Morris writes that two factors brought the pioneer era of amateur play to an end: the Civil War and the increasing seriousness of players who changed games from ceremonial pastime to cutthroat competitions. Morris has done vast research and quotes many of his sources at length. His focus on a detailed account of baseball's development, however, does not provide much insight into the people who played the game. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


I first heard about Peter Morris because he was one of America's preeminent Scrabble players. Now he has achieved an even greater distinction: one of America's preeminent baseball historians. But Didn't We Have Fun? is exhaustively researched and artfully written―an invaluable contribution to the early history of our sport and our country. (Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players and Wild)

If you think baseball's rich history begins with the American League in 1901, or with the National League in 1876, or even with the National Association in 1871, think again. Thanks to Peter Morris, now we know that the game's pioneer days―the nearly four decades prior to the first professional ‘league'―might have been the richest of them all. (Rob Neyer)

Peter Morris takes us on a fascinating and highly entertaining journey through the earliest―the very earliest―days of our National Pastime. To read this book is to see Baseball emerging from its womb and blinking its eyes and stretching its arms as it begins to take shape and through trial and error grows into its remarkable and compelling existence. (Donald Honig)

Abner Doubleday just struck out. If you ever wondered where baseball came from―really came from―this story is for you. It's the real story of how America's game is much more about America than it is about a game. Entertaining and informative, I think Morris is headed for another medal. (Will Carroll)

In this title, which is sure to be popular, prolific baseball historian Morris engagingly describes the poorly appreciated early years of the game as it evolved to adopt a consistent set of rules. The well-known but much-misunderstood contributions of the New York Knickerbocker Club are reviewed fully, together with the fascinating depictions of the development of umpiring, professionalism, and sportsmanship. A fine addition to all collections. (Library Journal)

Morris, a baseball scholar and historian, shows us around the ancient, pre-professional era of baseball with charming familiarity and dense, nuanced detail. (Abe Lebovic am New York)

Entertaining and informative. (Jonathan Yardley Review Of Higher Education)

Morris is very clear: The pioneers did have fun. (Book Digest)

An entertaining, enlightening journey. For fans and non-fans alike, Morris's book serves as an interesting window into the leisure culture of the nation leading up to and following directly after the Civil War. (Wilson McBee Popmatters)

Morris's study of baseball's evolution during its pre-professional years is a model of careful scholarship, use of original sources, and elegant writing. (CHOICE)

As the pages turn, professional baseball comes together before our eyes, and a bunch of diverse tributaries of proto-baseball flow, year by year, into the mighty, formalized, commercial river that we know today as the National Pastime. (Ted Anthony Associated Press)

Dedicated statistics geeks will revel in the seemingly inexhaustible supply of arcane facts and figures…. A useful reference for diehard baseball historians. (Kirkus Reviews)

The text is an intriguing study for students of baseball history curious about how aspects of the game developed. (Publishers Weekly)

Concise, clear, and colorful, this book is a delight to mind and spirit. (The Boston Sunday Globe)

[T]horoughly researched, entirely engaging…Morris achieves his main purpose, and more. He traces the game's westward advance-often along canal and railroad routes-and its evolution toward competitiveness and standardized rules. As he does, he takes the reader deep into the culture of 19th-century America, as revolutions in transportation and mass communication pushed everything, even casual pastimes, toward professionalization and commercialization. (Providence Journal)

Morris's love of baseball is palpable throughout the book…. His enthusiasm adds to the charm with which he tells his story. (The Historian)

[Scholars] may find that Porter's challenging, almost taunting tone inspires them to express their own beliefs and conclusions more forcefully, in keeping or at odds with what they will read in his essay. (Journal Of Genocide Research)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; First Edition (US) First Printing edition (January 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566637481
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566637480
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Richard Hershberger on March 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The study of early baseball has made great strides the past couple of decades. Our knowledge is both broader and deeper than before. There has been a steady trickle of work by academic historians, a flow of work by amateurs (some of it excellent) and a community of researchers gathered under the aspices of the Society for American Baseball Research and its 19th century committee.

By the nature of things it takes a while for such knowledge to work its way from specialists to books for the general reader. There have books published quite recently that could have been written forty years ago.

There are numerous possible examples illustrating this point. Perhaps the best is the anachronistic expectation that early baseball players and organizations were motivated pretty much like modern baseball players and organizations. We often see sniggering condescension at the early Knickerbockers for wasting their time on banquets when they should have been practicing. The implicit assumption is that their motivation was to win games, but they kept getting distracted; or if this wasn't their motivation, it should have been. This is a hopeless way to approach history, and utterly commonplace. If we are to understand the Knickerbockers we need to understand their motivations, not impose our modern expectations on them.

It is a great pleasure to see in Peter Morris's new book. He makes available recent work, combined with his knack for ferretting out an impressive collection of old accounts. He puts the familiar events into context, and allows us to approach the early players on their own terms. This is a modern history of early baseball.

This isn't to say that there are no points to disagree on. There certainly are interpretations that can be disputed.
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Format: Hardcover
It was a tale that had been handed down from father to son for generations. It went something like this: "Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball back in 1839 in the tiny village of Cooperstown in upstate New York." Now my dad certainly had no reason to doubt this version of events. And although I had heard rumblings for decades that the the evolution of baseball encompassed a far more complex series of events there was precious little written on the subject. Author Peter Morris noticed the same thing and decided to do something about it. "But Didn't We Have Fun: An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneeer Era 1843-1870" presents a far more plausible scenario of how it all began. This is a book that proves to be at once highly entertaining and extremely informative.

What you will discover in "But Didn't We Have Fun?" is that the game of baseball actually evolved from any number of "ball and stick" games that were popular with youngsters around the country during the 1840's and 1850's. Something called "town ball" was all the rage in a number of eastern cities while "wicket" was the game of choice in Connecticut. Other games being played at the time were "cat ball", "sock ball" and something called the "Massachusetts game". The size of the balls and sticks varied and the rules were certainly different in almost every commmunity. What would eventually come to be known as baseball got a huge boost in the 1840's and 1850's when grown men latched onto the game and formed social clubs whose primary reason for being was playing the game. In this meticulously researched book Peter Morris brings his readers back to those halcyon days when baseball was played simply for enjoyment.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ruth P. Doak on May 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I am unable to write a review from personal experience, but I gave the book as a gift to my 54-year-old son who is a great fan of baseball from his childhood. He reports that he found the book "fascinating" because it told of an era of baseball which is not familiar to current fans. After that glowing report, I ordered a second copy to give to a friend. Ruth Doak
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Muzzlehatch VINE VOICE on September 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A fun little book, and one of the few that I've been able to find (admittedly, restricting myself to the mediocre public library where I live, at the moment) that deals with the pre-1876 or "amateur" era. While the narrative is fairly well-constructed in a mostly linear/chronological fashion, and I certainly learned a lot that I didn't know, I do feel that the work could have been a lot meatier, and in some very basic areas (how, exactly, did these early baseball games progress? Apart from the Knickerbockers rules, what other rules or guidelines were in place? How long, in fact, did a typical game last, and how many games/how often did these early clubs play) little information is offered, so that the book had, to me at least, a somewhat skeletal feel. Morris gives out a lot of names, but rushes from place to place, club to club, without really giving a meaningful picture of the hows and whys.

This is especially problematic in the area of class/race, which is barely dealt with but which certainly affected these early clubs significantly. The south is hardly mentioned, nor the far west (admittedly little-populated in this period); and it's pretty easy to decry professionalism when your club might be made up entirely of men that can afford to play for free. Also there's not enough discussion I think of the makeup of the audiences, though there is a bit of space devoted to remarks on the "youthful" nature of the game and it's partisans. Still, all in all, worthwhile for fans of early baseball and mid-nineteenth century Americana.

For a novice in baseball history (which I certainly am), then, a worthwhile and easy read, but perhaps not the serious intellectual and cultural history that those more serious students of the game might want.
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