Brief History of Origins of Bat and Ball Games & Baseball in Denmark
By Rod Moore
Bat and ball games have been played in Denmark for centuries, although early dated origins are unknown. “Rundbold” (roundball) requires no pitcher and has four bases laid out in a square for running from base to base and is still played in Danish school yards. “Langbold” (long ball or rounders), is described as a more formal variation of rundbold not often played today. Written rules for Danish langbold were first published by Kjøbenhavns Boldklub in 18761. These Danish rounders required two teams of 11 players, where one of the defensive players was a “pitcher”.
The field was rectangular (40 m X 20 m) with a front batting line and a “backline” at opposite long ends. After hitting a ball, runners had to run a gauntlet to the backline and could stop behind it, if threatened with being tagged out. They could choose when to run back to the batting line to score a point without being tagged after subsequent hitters. The majority of “ball clubs” formed in the late 1870s had Danish rounders on the program, as it was the dominant ball sport in Denmark in much of the late 1800s. However, with the emergence of the soccer sports culture, langbold lost its place among the dominant list of ball sports. The game existed up to the mid-1950s, as a sport in school gymnastics and continues in some places to be studied and played as a variation of ball games in sports education.
The primary focus of both rund- and langbold games is on batting and running, that is, an undervaluation of defense and pitching, since no scoring is involved. In fact in versions of both games, knocking a ball past all the defensive players and coming back to home also has the added benefit of removing an out from previous play, a so-called “befriere” (liberator). Today there are no strict rules that apply to rundbold. With a tennis bold and a flat stick, games usually arise spontaneously and involve children or families with children, such as at birthday parties and after school meetings – a very low key folksy game. There is no apparent historical evidence for or against that langbold led to interest in playing baseball or softball, but many older Danes are now aware of the similarities.Baseball itself, as played in the Americas, has had a tumultuous and periodic presence in Denmark. There are no written reports about baseball in Denmark until 19232. Narratives handed down through Danish baseball-softball families describe, that the presence of baseball in Denmark in the first decades of the 20th century was mainly noted when the US Navy docked in Copenhagen and US servicemen on leave played baseball in the huge park in central Copenhagen called “Fælledparken” (Community Park). In a book/manual published in 19512, the Danish author John Hansen, tells of attending an “international conference” for sports leaders from many countries in late spring 1923 in the town of Pörtschack, Austria. Baseball theory and field play were presented to participants. John Hansen thereafter reports that he promptly returned to Denmark and actively promoted knowledge about the game. Thus, the first known unorganized games were played by Danes at school yards, by Boy’s and Girl Scout organizations at camps, the Danish State Juvenile Home and the United Private Schools of Copenhagen with the name “Soft Baseball” as promoted by John Hansen. His choice of promoting this hybrid form of baseball was that it would best fit the Danish situation, since the size of the playing field could be flexible and use of a baseball or softball was of lesser importance. John Hansen described the advantages of this team game compared with others as that “the game could be played 1) on a relatively small location, 2) on a field that was not necessarily well-kept, 3) everyone, even the least talented, could actively participate (implying a special sense of teamwork), and 4) that it was reasonably possible to obtain equipment.” John Hansen mentions nothing in his book about any specific developmental relationship between langbold/rundbold with baseball or Soft Baseball. So in the 20’s and 30’s, besides US Navy visits that prompted baseball games, the hybrid form of baseball softball was played in schools and privately without any central organization.
Sadly, with the advent of World War II, the game all but died out. The book by John Hansen in 1951 was published with the purpose of reviving the game and became THE baseball-softball manual for not only schools, but also for other public institutions. The 50’s and 60’s again saw a rise in school “Soft Baseball”, even with formation of school clubs for competition, but it nearly died out again in the late 60’s. Both times the near death of the game was attributed to lack of equipment2. But out of these school activities grew the makings of a modern baseball-softball movement in Denmark.
In 1973, a travelling teacher from the USA, Vagn Thonesen, gave a course in baseball for sports teachers in the Copenhagen suburb of Gentofte. Several schools began playing baseball in their outdoor gym classes. Students at Munkegaardsskole primary school wished, however, to also play baseball in their leisure time. Three teachers from Thonesens course founded the first true baseball club in Denmark in October 1974, the Gentofte Munks3.
The club Asahi (Rising Sun) was also founded by Japanese immigrants in 1975 and for many years exclusively played baseball against personnel from Japan Airlines and the US Embassy (a team later called the “Knights”). Hørsholm from northern Copenhagen organized a baseball-softball club in 1977 and is the oldest club still actively playing the sport. The Danish Baseball Softball Federation was formed on June 13, 1978 when the first official matches were also played among the first three Danish clubs, the Munks, Hørsholm and Lynge, another Copenhagen suburb. Asahi changed its name to Copenhagen Fighters and included Danes and also joined. The first official Danish Baseball Championship League, the Baseball Dansk Mesterskab (DM), was played in October, 1979. The Hørsholm Comets won over Gentofte Munks. In 1980, the first Danish national baseball team played in the North European Cup in Stockholm, Sweden and another was played in Antwerp, Belgium in 1982. From 1982-84, Denmark also participated in the European Cup for team champions.
After 1983 the baseball DM-tournament in baseball ceased to exist, as Danish clubs instead preferred to play fastpitch softball. Only in 1992 was the Baseball DM again revived and a baseball national team also participated again in European Championship tournaments.
In 2008, Danish Baseball Softball Federation was split into Danish Baseball Federation and Danish Softball Federation, leaving no Olympic funding for baseball. At the time of writing the senior Danish Championship league (DM) is comprised of 4 west division teams and 4 east division teams, the first time ever that there have been enough teams to provide geographic divisions. The current combined numbers of Danish baseball and softball federation members is nearly 1000, down from a high of 2000 members in 1992. But the Danish Baseball Federation is still growing.
- Gydendahl’s The Great Danish Open Encyclopedia: http://www.denstoredanske.dk/Livsstil,_sport_og_fritid/Sport/%C3%98vrige_boldspil/langbold?highlight=langbold , 2012
- Hansen, John. Baseball – Methods and game rules for Softball. [Baseball – Metodik og kampregler for Softball.] (Danish) Gjellerups Forlag, Copenhagen 1951.
- Eriksen, Guller. History of Danish Baseball Softball Federation [Forbundets Historie op til 2003] (Danish) unpublished manuscript by the former President of DBaSoF, 2003.