In truth, the game evolved over many decades, if not centuries, and its roots are, in reality, a tangled web of bat and ball games brought to this country by immigrants. – Frank Ceresi in The Origins of Baseball (Baseball Almanac, 07-2004)
Yes, baseball is the American pastime, but its origins are difficult to trace. Some believe it was based on the English game of cricket, which can be traced back to Tudor times in the early 16th century. Others believe it was based on the English game of rounders, which can also be traced back to Tudor times. But what about the Russian game of lapta? First known to be played in the 14th century, descriptions of the game have been found in medieval manuscripts. Balls and bats were also found in the 14th century layer of excavations of the city of Novgorod, the Russian capital in the 9th and 12th centuries.
More similar to cricket than baseball, lapta is team sport played with six players on each team. The field of play is divided into three zones, the kon, the actual field, and the gorod. One team goes to the gorod to bat while the other goes to the field. The goal of the game is to hit the ball, served by a player of the other team, as far as possible, then run across the field to the kon line, and then back to the gorod line, all while also trying to avoid being hit by the ball, which is thrown by the opposing team’s members. A team earns points for each successful run and wins by either getting more points during the game or by having all of its players complete their runs.
“Our theory is that Russian immigrants or Jews from Odessa brought lapta to America, and baseball evolved from there,” said Sergei Fokin, Vice President of the Russian Lapta Federation. “Lapta is a much older game, and there are so many similar concepts: tagging runners out, hitting and catching fly balls, for example.”
So what do you think? Could Lapta have played a role in shaping the game of baseball, or is this theory just residual Soviet propaganda? Can you think of any other sports that might have influenced the development of baseball?