Tin Tabletop Baseball Games
by Butch & Co
The earliest baseball game we find made of tin or steel is American Base Ball, a 5″-diameter mechanical novelty made by, appropriately, Mechanical Novelty Co. in 1903. That’s likely not quite what you’re looking for, so we’ll just mention here that the very similar Red Bird Base Ball Game was produced by Measuregraph Co. in the 1920s or ‘ 30s, and then leave those alone.
The first baseball game with a tin or steel “playing board” per se would be National Base Ball Game, patented 1908, the forerunner of all spring-loaded-bat “action” baseball games. Mather’s Parlor Base Ball Game, a somewhat similar mechanically-operated game from about 1909, quickly followed.
Inside Base Ball, by Popular Games Company, appeared between 1911 and 1913. It’s a spinner game, with a startlingly large four-pointed metal spinner centrally mounted on an ornate tin board resembling a beer tray.
A bit too far off the point, presumably, but as a footnote, Home Diamond, a game made largely of cardboard, and in very similar versions by three different companies
– The Home Diamond Co. Inc., Play Ball Game Co., and Phillips Co. — all in 1913, featured an upright metal pachinko-style backboard that determined the results on the horizontal cardboard playing field beneath it.
Akins Real Baseball, by Akins Manufacturing Co., appeared in 1915. This was a large (24 x 19″) metal box that enclosed a paper scroll turned by external knobs. Play results printed on the scroll, dependent on the outs / men-on-base situation, would then appear in small windows cut into the metal game box / board.
One of the real tin classics in tabletop baseball is The Great American Game by Frantz Mfg. Co. in 1923 and then by Hustler Toy Corp. in about 1925. Here the wood-framed tin board encloses a metal cylinder on which are printed various play results, the cylinder spun by a push-button-and-spring mechanism. The nearly identical Frantz and Hustler editions were based on an even earlier game, Play Ball / The Rainy Day Great American Game, possibly by Reed Mfg. in about 1919.
Pennant Winner by Wolverine Supply & Mfg. Co. is another tabletop baseball classic, a sophisticated upgrade to the spring-activated pitch / spring-action bat mechanic. The patent date on that one is 1921, but that belongs to its independent inventor; Wolverine did not manufacture the game until 1929 but continued until 1950. Editor / author William Zinsser has published two lengthy articles on this boyhood favorite of his, first in an April 1983 edition of The New York Times, later a follow-up in a summer 2001 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
Pocket Base Ball Game by Bar-Zim Manufacturing Co. appeared in 1930. This was a very simple but very attractive little handheld metal spinner game.
Bambino, produced by Johnson Store Equipment in the 1930s and also by The Bambino Products Co. in probably 1935, is an unusual thing; a ball affixed to the top end of an upright metal rod mounted in the tin playing field is struck by a miniature wooden bat wielded by the player, the rod then tipping forward to be snared by one of several metal catches arrayed in a tight arc. The angle of the “hit” determines which catch snares the rod, which then indicates the result.
“Mac” Baseball Game by McDowell Manufacturing from the 1930s is another metal game with a unique mechanic — the player strikes a lever at the base of a vertical metal tower mounted in the game’s tin-litho playing board, propelling an attached ball upwards, carnival “test-your-strength / ring-bell-win-prize” fashion. Where the ball stops determines the result of the play.
Magnetic Baseball by Remotrol Co. seems to date from the early 1950s. This one’s pretty obscure and we don’t have much on it, but it looks like players operate magnetic wands underneath the metal playing field to, er, manoeuver, um, something. There’s only one game that’s at all similar in its method of play — Mag-Powr Baseball by Mag-Powr Games Inc., from 1959. Mag-Powr is fairly scarce, too, and we’re not even entirely sure the playing field is indeed metal. Bruce himself, however, just recently sold one of these, so he’d have more details on this one than we would.
Disney Baseball Game, licensed by Walt Disney but apparently made in Japan in the 1960s, is a more traditional spring-action-bat game, with plastic inserts in its metal playing field.
Steel rather than tin, and again not strictly a playing board, there’s also Play Ball Magnetic Game Lunch Kit by King-Seeley Thermos from 1969. Yes, it’s a metal school-lunchbox. A cardboard spinner was included with the lunchbox and thermos, and the game’s progress tracked on the baseball-field side of the box.
Magnetic Baseball by Cathay dates probably from the 1970s. It’s a very simple metal spinner game not much bigger than a CD, with a hinged clear plastic cover over its metal playing board.
Magnetic Baseball Game is a very recent release by, we think, KB. This a very large and elaborate metal action game, not so much a tabletop game as a table unto itself.
Pressman produced several versions of the same spring-loaded-bat tin baseball game from at least 1962 — Roger Maris’ Action Baseball — through 1968 — Carl Yastrzemski Action Baseball — and on into 1970, with Tom Seaver Game Action Baseball. Generic versions of the game also appeared, with Action Baseball from the mid-’60s possibly dating back to 1959, and Big League Action Baseball also from the mid-to-late 1960s or very early 1970s.
Tudor had a line of tin / steel baseball games — Electric Baseball, Electric Major League Baseball, Jr. League Magnetic Baseball, Major League Electric Baseball, TruAction Electric Baseball Game, and Tru-Action Junior Baseball Game. Tudor’s first game in this vein was TruAction Electric Football from 1949. TruAction Electric Baseball Game first appeared in 1950 and its many variations were produced into the early 1990s.
Strike 3 by Carl Hubbell, manufactured by Tone Products in about 1946, is one more famous steel version of tabletop baseball, again with a spring-loaded-bat mechanic. Gotham Pressed Steel Corp. apparently bought the rights to Tone’s game and turned out a new version, Carl Hubbell “Mechanical” Baseball Strike 3, still in the 1940s, then altered the graphics and retitled it Jackie Robinson Baseball Game for a 1948 release. Gotham went on to produce Electro Magnetic Baseball Game (1955), Big League Base-ball and also Push Button Baseball (both 1956), Push Button Magnetic Baseball (1959), Official Denny McLain Electric Baseball / Official Denny McLain Magnetik Baseball (1969), and Johnny Bench Electric Baseball Game / Johnny Bench Magnetic Baseball Game (1971), all of which were pretty much the exact same game with alterations only to the graphics.
Gotham also produced a dart game featuring a metal dartboard and magnetic darts — Magnetik Baseball, which was included in their Big 4 Chest of Games (1953). Magnetic dart baseball games were quite abundant in the ’50s and ’60s — Big League Base Ball, by American Doll Carriage & Toy Co., and Dart-Base-Ball, probably by Bar-Zim, both likely 1950s; Big League Baseball – Safe Magnetic Dart Game, by Len Cunningham / Craft Master / Magic Wand (1963); Major League Baseball, by Pressman; Play Ball, by Toy Enterprises of America; and Magnetic Baseball Dart Game — all probably 1960s.
Then there are quite a number of pinball-action tabletop baseball games, crossing the thin line from tabletop “action” games like the Wolverine, Tudor, and Gotham games. Batter Up, by Joseph Schneider, is probably the earliest, dating to 1929. Lindstrom’s Baseball and The Brinkman Baseball Game are from the same era, probably early 1930s. Pinch Hitter by J&S — that would be Joseph Schneider again — has a more involved mechanism than the others and was produced in 1938. Lastly, there is also, at a stretch, Baseball Pinball Game by Marx, a 1960 game almost as much plastic and cardboard as tin, and reproduced by Schylling in 2001.
Butch & Co.