How and where else did this name of a game that pre-dated baseball survive?
" ... One Old Cat is seeing a resurgence as a batting and fielding training game for younger little league and girl softball teams. Two games are played simultaneously on one diamond, one on the home third line and the other on the first-second line. Because the game is faster-paced than baseball and includes position rotation as a normal element, the chief objection young kids voice about baseball idle time in the field or waiting to bat is directly addressed. The usual version is one-against-all and otherwise similar to that described above except, for safety, no stinging. The game is also well played with light plastic substitute balls where space is restricted. ... "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Cat (emphasis added)
Have you played a variation of baseball or softball called anything like "one-o-cat" or "two-o-cat"? I played it in the Midway Neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota in the 1940s and 1950s. We pronounced it “one-ə-cat.” Only in middle age did I come to realize most people who played at baseball during their youth have never heard of such a game. And even some contemporaries from other neighborhoods in St. Paul know nothing of it. This is a mystery that I wish some sports reporter would research for me. I've given up trying to find the links through ages and places.
Now, I don't pretend that our o-cat-games resembled the historic One-o-cat, One-Old-Cat games. Rather, it resembled baseball. In fact we played “baseball.” That was the game. One-o-cat was just a name that captured the range of modifications we would make to allow too-few players to compete in a game of baseball. We used the name often because often there were not enough kids to play real baseball. Even if a large enough group were expected, early arrivals want to start playing before the full group arrives. We did also play the game of “work-up”. That game seems to have been and still be the game most kids play when they want to play at baseball but don't have enough kids around to do so. Work-up has no teams. Players rotate through positions on their way to being batter. One-o-cat and work-up usually shared the characteristic that the dimensions of the playing field changes depending on how many defenders you could put in the field. Since everybody is active on the field in work-up, it can be played with as few as three or four players. One-o-cat is more fun because it involves two teams. Thus, even with an “everlasting pitcher” (often an adult or somebody else who was too big or too small, or too injured, or too I-only-have-a-few-minutes) one-o-cat is tough to play with fewer than five kids. Each team needs somebody to cover first base and at least one fielder, though three or four fielders per team make a better game.
A day of baseball might begin with two kids playing catch. Then one grabs a bat and starts hitting flies and grounders to the other. Another kid shows up and the game becomes “500”--25 points for a grounder, 50 for two hops, 75 for one hop, 100 for a fly (sometimes double for one-handed), and negatives of the same points for muffing the catch. When somebody gets to 500 he becomes the hitter. Another kid shows up and joins the game of 500. Then his older brother wanders by and offers to be everlasting pitcher so the game switches to work-up. Another kid or two show up and we organize for one-o-cat. The big kid says he has fifteen more minutes, so he offers to be both everlasting pitcher and everlasting catcher (to tag out runners coming home). The two best or oldest among us usually become captains. One tosses the bat to the other. We all agree that “eagles” are or are not allowed (grabbing the knob of the bat like an eagle). Then it's hand-over-hand to the top of the bat to see who chooses a teammate first. It's not vitally important that the teams have equal numbers of players because everybody knows how to adjust the field—the boundaries that make a hit ball fair or foul. More kids will show up; some will leave; the game self-adjusts .
Yes, the self-adjustment took place within a more-or-less standard set of rules of the game. Here they are--more or less:
Three outs per inning, of course.
One-o-cat has just two bases: home plate and first base (in their usual places).
When a batter makes it to first and back home, either with one hit or with a second hit by a teammate, he scores a run.
If there are only two or three players on a team, a batter might make it to first base but get stranded there because his teammate or teammates after him strike out. We almost always gave the stranded player the right to bat next and be replaced on base by the teammate who just struck out.
Usually, any ball hit to the infield is a fair ball, but that too could be adjusted.
If the defense has only two players beside an everlasting pitcher, one has to cover first base and some of the territory of a second baseman.
For a right-handed hitter the other defender has to cover the whole left side of the infield and outfield. Sometimes, we would make the traditional 3rd base the 1st base for right-handed hitters.
If the team has enough players to have its own pitcher, he tries to cover a lot of territory--covers home plate, catches pop ups, makes an effort to cover for first if a ground ball takes the first baseman too go far to his right. (When the teams share an everlasting pitcher who vows to be fair to both sides, he is given the same responsibilities but is not expected to give full effort; especially if he's bigger and better than the kids on the teams.)
As more kids show up they are allocated to the next deserving team. The amount of the field covered by the defense expands. For example, the definition of “fair ball” for hits leaving the infield expands (for a right-handed hitter) from a defined left field to include some or all of center field.
As more kids would arrive, one-o-cat often grows to two-o-cat; runners need to get to second base and then make the long run to home plate to score a run.
There was no three-o-cat, of course; that's simply baseball played with whatever adjustments necessary for having fewer than 18 players.
(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins