Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Finally, a Langball Explainer

What is langball? (also known as "Lang ball" and "hang base ball")
Langball is a now-defunct game invented by C.G. Lang, a YMCA director in St. Joseph, Missouri, sometime around 1892. It's something like baseball or kickball, except that the batter in langball dangles from a horizontal bar or flying rings, striking the pitched ball with the bottom of their feet. Kind of like this:

Pic from Los Angeles Herald, April 19, 1896.

What happens after the ball is kicked?
The batter then runs to first base, much like in baseball, with the goal of eventually making it back to home base and scoring a run. Depending on the rules being used, there could be as few as two bases or as many as four.

Any fly ball caught by the defense is an out. But the rules for getting a runner out vary: if a light rubber ball is used, then the defense must hit the runner with the ball to get them out. Sometimes, however, a medicine ball is used. This brings an element of danger, for (as one early promoter of the game explained), "this indiscriminate throwing will endanger windows and apparatus, if not heads." Thus, the medicine ball version usually outlawed throwing at runners to get them out. Instead, you threw to the base, as in baseball.

Pic from Physical Education 1.2 (April 1892): 32.


What if the batter whiffs?
There is much mockery. And in at least one version of the game, if the catcher manages to catch the whiff the batter is immediately out. Otherwise, three strikes equal an out, even if the third strike is a foul ball.

Also fun: it is a strike if the batter is struck by a kickable pitched ball. And if the lighter rubber ball is being used, then the batter is allowed to run to first base after a third strike. If the catcher does not hit them with the throw, the runner is safe.

Where is the game played?
It originated in a YMCA, so usually in a gymnasium. However, it can also be adapted for outdoor participation, as this headline in the Los Angeles Herald proclaimed:


Why does that headline declare that it is a game for girls?
Apparently, it was a fad of sorts for a brief period among the elite women's colleges of the Northeast. The same article went on to explain why the game was especially suited for women:


However, men continued to play the game. In fact, a book published in 1908 claimed that langball was "a good game for men, especially business men, for whom it is not always easy to get good recreation." As evidence of this point, an article in the 1902 Rock Island Argus noted that a group of businessmen at the YMCA engaged in a competitive langball game (in a move that would make Daniel Synder proud, the teams were named the Sioux and the Shoshones).

Who was the Babe Ruth of langball?
Since the sport never took off, the correct answer here is "no one."

However, an article in the New York Sun in 1894 did bestow glory on two girls from the Adelphi Academy for their langball performance. A certain Miss Brooks kicked a home run, while Miss Houghton "stole second in great shape." The "athletic and agile" Miss Flagler, on the other hand, smacked a triple but "was put out on the way home by being hit by the ball."