First Base,_from_A_Memoir_of_Jane_Austen_(1870).jpg

The earliest mention of baseball may be in Northanger Abbey, of all places:

… it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books.

Jane Austen wrote that passage in 1798, 41 years before Abner Doubleday supposedly invented the game in 1839. Evidence now suggests that “America’s game” evolved in England and was imported to the New World in the 18th century.

UPDATE: A reader alerts me that the town of Pittsfield, Mass., passed an ordinance in 1791 forbidding inhabitants from playing “Baseball” and certain other games near a new meeting house. This is believed to be the first written reference to baseball in North America. But a researcher at the Oxford English Dictionary tells me that the OED now has an example dating from 1748: “Now, in the winter, in a large room, they divert themselves at base-ball, a play all who are, or have been, schoolboys, are well acquainted with.” The letter writer was English, so, for the moment, England has the ball.

Lightning Monopoly

What’s the shortest possible game of Monopoly if each player plays optimally? Richard I. Hess of Palos Verdes, Calif., found this solution:

You roll 1, 1, land on Community Chest, and win $10 as second prize in a beauty contest. Then you roll 5, 5 and buy Electric Co. for $150. You end your turn by rolling 1, 3 and buying St. James for $180. Now you have $1180.

Each other player rolls 1, 3 and pays 10 percent Income Tax, reducing their balance to $1350 each.

Your turn again. You roll 1, 1 and buy Tennessee for $180, then roll 2, 2 and draw a Chance card, which sends you back three spaces, where you buy New York for $200. Now you roll 1, 2 and draw another Chance card, which advances you to GO and yields $200. You have exactly $1000, which you use to buy 10 houses, four on St. James and three each on Tennessee and New York.

The other players roll 4, 4 and pay $32 rent on Electric Co., then roll 2, 2 and pay $750 on St. James. They conclude ignominously by rolling 1, 2 and going bankrupt on New York, where they owe $600 and have only $568.

That’s if every player does his best. What if your opponents play a stupid but legal game?

You roll a 3 and buy Baltic for $60. Every other player buys Baltic from you for $1500 and sells it back for $3. Then each rolls 1, 2, lands on Baltic, and, having $3 but owing $4, goes bankrupt.

(From the Journal of Recreational Mathematics, 15(1))

11/21/2011 UPDATE: Kevin Tostado points out that a player who draws the Community Chest card “Bank Error in your Favor: Collect $200” would not need to draw the “Advance to GO card”; that it’s unnecessary to purchase Electric Company; and that the 10% income tax option was phased out in 2008. He offers the following improvement, which requires one less roll by the first player and one less property purchased:

You roll 1, 1, land on Community Chest, and collect $200 for a bank error in your favor. Then you roll 4, 4, land on Just Visiting, then roll 1, 5 and buy St. James for $180, ending your turn. Now you have $1370.

Each other player rolls 1, 3 and pays $200 Income Tax, reducing their balance to $1300 each.

Your turn again. You roll 1, 1 and buy Tennessee for $180, then roll 1, 3 and draw a Chance card, which sends you back three spaces, where you buy New York for $200. You have $1140, which you use to buy 11 houses, four each on St. James and New York and three on Tennessee.

The other players roll 3, 3, land on Just Visiting, then roll 3, 3 and pay $750 on St. James. They conclude ignominously by rolling 1, 2 and going bankrupt on New York, where they owe $800 and have only $550.

“Also, in the course of filming my documentary, one player I interviewed described how in an actual tournament game, he bankrupted three opponents in under 15 minutes, all actually trying to win (and not just throw the game), through acquiring a natural monopoly on the light blues on his 2nd full turn of the game.” (Thanks, Kevin.)


  • Newton was born the year that Galileo died.
  • Cole Porter’s summer home was called No Trespassing.
  • 66339 = (6 × 6)3 + 39
  • Could you have had different parents?
  • “A good conscience is a continual Christmas.” — Ben Franklin

UPDATE: The first item here is incorrect. The dates coincide only if one uses the Gregorian calendar to date Galileo’s death and the Julian to date Newton’s birth. The two events occurred 361 days apart, which puts them in separate years on both calendars. Apparently this is a very common error. (Thanks, Igor.)


Pianist Pete Brush was waiting for his wife outside a midtown department store when a woman with a violin case approached him and asked, “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?”

He said, “Go uptown to 57th Street and make a left to 7th Avenue.”


In 1990, weary of repetitive interviews, Phillies pitcher Don Carman posted this list of responses on his locker. “You saw the game,” he told reporters. “Take what you need.”

  1. I’m just glad to be here. I just want to help the club any way I can.
  2. Baseball’s a funny game.
  3. I’d rather be lucky than good.
  4. We’re going to take the season one game at a time.
  5. You’re only as good as your last game (last at-bat).
  6. This game has really changed.
  7. If we stay healthy we should be right there.
  8. It takes 24 (25) players.
  9. We need two more players to take us over the top: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
  10. We have a different hero every day.
  11. We’ll get ’em tomorrow.
  12. This team seems ready to gel.
  13. With a couple breaks, we win that game.
  14. That All-Star voting is a joke.
  15. The catcher and I were on the same wavelength.
  16. I just went right at ’em.
  17. I did my best, and that’s all I can do.
  18. You just can’t pitch behind.
  19. That’s the name of the game.
  20. We’ve got to have fun.
  21. I didn’t have my good stuff, but I battled ’em.
  22. Give the guy some credit; he hit a good pitch.
  23. Hey, we were due to catch a break or two.
  24. Yes.
  25. No.
  26. That’s why they pay him _____ million dollars.
  27. Even I could have hit that pitch.
  28. I know you are, but what am I?
  29. I was getting my off-speed stuff over so they couldn’t sit on the fastball.
  30. I had my at ’em ball going today.
  31. I had some great plays made behind me tonight.
  32. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.
  33. You saw it … write it.
  34. I just wanted to go as hard as I could as long as I could.
  35. I’m seeing the ball real good.
  36. I hit that ball good.
  37. I don’t get paid to hit.

A Big Stick

Two weeks after Fleer released its 1989 baseball cards, the company received a call from a Baltimore sports reporter seeking a comment on card number 616. When managers looked up the card they saw a photo of Orioles second baseman Billy Ripken holding a bat on his right shoulder. On the knob of the bat were the words FUCK FACE.

The company halted distribution immediately, but this elevated the card from a novelty to a rarity, and the frenzy increased. By January its price has risen to $100; an unopened case could fetch $1,700. Ripken himself signed a few at a Jersey City card show, and the autographed cards became more valuable still. (“If people are crazy enough to spend that kind of money on a card,” he said, “it doesn’t concern me.”)

How the obscenity had made its way unnoticed through Fleer’s production process remains a mystery. The photo had been taken in Boston before an Orioles-Red Sox game in 1988; Ripken eventually admitted that he’d written the expletive himself to identify a practice bat, but he insisted that its appearance in the photo had been an accident.

See Inverted Jenny.

Double Teaming

On Aug. 4, 1982, Mets center fielder Joel Youngblood had driven in two runs against Cubs pitcher Ferguson Jenkins in an afternoon game at Wrigley Field when he was traded in mid-game to the Montreal Expos.

He left the game and flew to Philadelphia in time to take up a position in right field at Veterans Stadium at the bottom of the sixth in an evening game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

In the top of the seventh he singled against Steve Carlton. That makes Youngblood the only player in history to get a base hit for two different teams in two different cities on the same day — and he did it against two future Hall of Famers.