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Spherical Riches

 
A strong position in old game balls

Harvard’s baseball collection consists of 274 balls in a massive case. The balls commemorate games won by College teams between 1865 and 1885. The latest represents a win over Yale, 16-2, on June 20, 1885. Harvard won 27 of 28 games that year, playing both spring and fall.

The national pastime began in earnest in 1845, says Warren M. “Renny” Little ’55, the curator (pro bono) of the Harvard Athletics Hall of History. That year, according to coach William T. Reid ’01 in The H Book of Harvard Athletics, saw the birth of the N.Y. Knickerbocker Baseball Club, the first club formed for the sport. Between 1854 and 1861, two distinct forms of baseball emerged—the New York and Massachusetts games. In 1862 young scholars entering Harvard from Phillips Exeter Academy brought the New York game to Cambridge and formed the Class of 1866 Baseball Club, the first nine in the College’s history. The oldest ball in the case was used in the fifth intercollegiate baseball game Harvard played, a win over Williams, 35 to 30, at Williamstown, July 19, 1865. Pay no attention to the score: the rules have changed and so have the composition, diameter, weight, stitching, and liveliness of the ball.

The case itself was presented to the College by the Harvard University Baseball Club in January 1878 and stood for many years on the second floor of the Union. It may be found now in a lounge on the third floor of the Murr Center, hard by the football stadium.

Little looks after early lacrosse and polo sticks, elderly uniforms, trophies in variety, the all-American football sweater of Endicott “Chub” Peabody ’42, LL.B. ’48, and the medical bag that team physician Augustus Thorndike, A.B. 1884, M.D. ’88, carried out onto the football field. One piece of memorabilia Little regrets not having is the game ball for a baseball contest with the Live Oaks, of Lynn, on June 12, 1877, in which the Harvard catcher, James A. Tyng ’76, wore the first catcher’s mask. It was made by a local tinsmith and conceived of by team captain Frederick W. Thayer ’78, inspired by a fencing mask. Little doesn’t have that ball (although he has the one from the 21-2 win over Our Boys the day before) because the Harvard squad lost to the Live Oaks, 0-6, and didn’t get to go home with it. Who knows where the mask is?