Baseball seems as old as America. Yet its status as a professional sport is just under two centuries old. Legend holds that the game was invented by Abner Doubleday in 1839, and gained popularity in the 1860s as a camp game for soldiers before spreading into a national pastime. The first professional team was established in 1869, in Cincinnati.
Yet here on the Hill, we prefer the older version of professional baseball – the college leagues! Why? Because we (that is, college baseball) came first.
The first-ever college baseball game was held in 1859, forty-four years before the first World Series.
The game was held on July 1, 1859, between Amherst College and Williams College. Meeting in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the two teams played on a square field with no foul territory, no “balls” calls, and using wooden stakes as bases. Additionally, in what might seem a bit dangerous, the rules stated that a runner could be taken out by successfully throwing the ball at the runner (rather than holding it and touching the runner or base as is done now). The game was played to 65 “tallies” (runs) with teams of 13 players, and innings that lasted for only one out. Amherst was the first to reach the requisite tallies but, since there was no mercy rule, they kept playing until thoroughly licking Williams with a 73-32 win.
For good measure, the two teams reportedly played a chess match as well, for a “trial of mind as well as muscle.” Amherst won again.
A few months later, on November 3, another contender for first intercollegiate game entered the scene. St. John’s College Fordham Rose Hill Baseball Club (now known as Fordham University) played against St. Francis Xavier College. Unlike the July 1 game, this match was played using thoroughly modern rules – nine players to a side, foul territory, three outs per inning, and six innings. Fordham won 33-11.
WKU joined the fun in 1910, under head coach M. A. Leiper. On May 2, 1910, the Hilltoppers held their first-ever athletic event – a baseball match against Eastern Kentucky in which they achieved a 6-0 victory. They played at Ogden Park in Bowling Green.
The Kentucky Museum proudly owns several artifacts from WKU’s athletic history, including this baseball, catalog number 2011.6.1. The ball was used in the final game of the 1958 season, and has been inscribed with the text “Western 4 / Eastern 3 / Home Run / 1st Inning.”
If you would like to help preserve our collections, please consider adopting athletic artifacts like this baseball by making a gift to the Adopt an Artifact program of $50. You will be honored as the “adoptee” of the artifact, recognized in our online catalog (KenCat) and labels when the artifact is on display.
If you would like to adopt an artifact related to other aspects of WKU’s athletic history, please contact Tiffany Isselhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org