My mom got me the excellent Baseball in the Garden of Eden, by John Thorn, whose book The Hidden Game of Baseball I studied obsessively in the pre-sabermetric days of my youth. The new book aims to clear out some of the mythic fog surrounding the history of the game — which means taking a clear-eyed look at urban America in the 1840s and 50s, something we learn almost nothing about in school.
Here’s a small insight I drew from the book. You know how we make fun of young hipster dudes in Brooklyn who form leagues to play kickball, because it seems such a dopey affectation for adults to play a kids’ game and drink beer while they do it? Well, the early history of organized baseball is more or less exactly the same. Thorn shows persuasively that baseball (and its relatives, like “round ball” and “old cat”) were popular children’s games, which no more had an inventor than do Capture the Flag or Kick the Can. The innovation was for adults to play the game in organized leagues, to drink beer, to bet on the outcome, and to charge admission.
Also, I was surprised to learn that the use of the word “plugging” to describe hitting a runner with a thrown ball was already prevalent in the 19th century. My idiolect somewhat favors “pegging” over “plugging” for this, but both make sense to me.