Cover for HENDERSON: Ball, Bat and Bishop: The Origin of Ball Games

Ball, Bat and Bishop

The Origin of Ball Games

Henderson traces the origins of ball sports to religious rites in ancient Egypt and debunks the myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839.

Step aside, Abner Doubleday! In this impeccably researched history, Robert W. Henderson uncovers the true origins not only of baseball but of a score of related sports involving hitting, catching, throwing, or kicking a ball.

Henderson traces the origins of ball sports to religious rites in ancient Egypt, where the ball (perhaps a shrunken head) represented a fertility symbol and opposing teams engaged in mock combat signifying the struggle of good against evil. Centuries later, pagan fertility rites featuring the ball were adapted by the Christian church as rituals symbolic of Easter and the Resurrection. Court tennis was also firmly rooted in the church, the earliest players being the bishops, canons, and clerics who played it in their cloistered courtyards.

Henderson overturns the popular belief that the game of racquets originated in the debtors' prison on Fleet Street in the early nineteenth century. He also notes that polo, the most ancient of games played with stick and ball, originated in Persia and migrated to China and India, where it was eventually embraced by English imperialists. Other sports discussed include football, lawn tennis, cricket, and golf.

The most substantial portion of Henderson's study is devoted to the game of baseball. Providing copious evidence of early forms of baseball played in England and the United States before 1829, he offers a meticulous account of the legerdemain by which Abner Doubleday, the famous Civil War general, came to be identified as the inventor in 1839 of a game that was already at least two centuries old.

The new foreword by Leonard Koppett affirms the significance of this classic work of sports history, which was the first to dismantle the Doubleday/Cooperstown myth.

"Henderson is by all odds the world's foremost student and soundest historian of the origin and growth of games that are played with a ball." John Lardner, New York Times Book Review

"This volume is a reprint of a classic study of the origins of ball games, first published in 1947. . . . Henderson's greatest contribution was his definitive critique of the myth that baseball was created in 1839 by Abner Doubleday. Henderson's examination of tennis and baseball make the book a useful additon to library collections." -- Choice

"A true classic of the literature of sports history. Henderson is a generally careful and fair-minded historian with a tremendous breadth of knowledge." -- Ronald H. Fritze, H-Albion, H-Net Reviews

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