What is Stickball?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Considered to be the most enduring street game of the 20th century, stickball is often thought to have originated in the streets of New York City during the decade of the 1930’s. The popular pick-up game, with its roots in the Depression, initially required no real sports equipment. Generally, stickball was played with nothing more than an old broom handle, and some type of rubber ball that was roughly the size of a baseball.

Manhole covers are useful for acting as bases during stickball.
Manhole covers are useful for acting as bases during stickball.

For the most part, the rules for a stickball game would mimic the regulations of the time that governed major league baseball or softball. Along with the use of common objects as substitutes for a proper ball and bat, stickball players also made good use of any other items that were common to city life. For example, manhole covers would often be used as bases. In situations where local authorities frowned on the use of the manhole covers, or if the game of stickball was taking place in a vacant lot, an old sweatshirt or flour sack filled with straw or dirt would suffice.

The rules of stickball are similar to those of baseball or softball.
The rules of stickball are similar to those of baseball or softball.

Stickball was popular with neighborhood kids from many different ethnic backgrounds. A few variations in the rules of the game also would into play, depending on the space available for a stickball game. A fast pitch game required that a wall or fence is located behind the batter. The pitcher uses pitching techniques similar to those used in baseball. With a slow pitch game, the pitcher stand closer to the batter and the ball is allowed to bounce once before the batter swings. A third variation, referred to as fungo, is the most structured form of stickball. With this approach, the batter tosses the ball and hits it either on the way down or after allowing the ball to strike the pavement and bounce.

Rules regarding declaring a batter to be out also vary from location to location. In many instances, the pattern follows the usual three-strike rule. However, some styles of play call for only one or two strikes. A home run may be declared out if the ball lands on the roof of a neighboring home, or breaks a window.

Stickball continued to be popular after the Depression era, and still commands a great deal of attention with city kids in a number of metropolitan areas. The sport is even organized into leagues in some cases, with a number of cities hosting regular tournaments and competitions.

Stickball pitchers use techniques similar to those used in baseball.
Stickball pitchers use techniques similar to those used in baseball.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@Azuza - I share your admiration. I wonder what the modern equivalent would be though. Swifferball? I don't think I know that many people that keep an actual broom around anymore!


I really admire the resourcefulness of people in the Depression era. The game of stickball is just one more example! They made use of the items they had on hand and invented a new game.

In my opinion, people these days could take a cue from the Depression era people. Maybe instead of complaining so much we should invent some new sports or something.


Stickball actually got banned on my street when I was a kid. It was not an official law or anything but it was one that all of the neighbors followed. If they saw kids playing or even looking like they were going to play they would go and break it up.

The reason was that a ton of windows got broken because of stickball. I can't remember the exact number but I think it was over 10 in one summer. The parents just couldn't stand it anymore. Every other day the sound of breaking glass would clatter down the street.

All of the kids were pretty bummed out but a lot of us started playing basketball instead. We were young and restless and just about any game would do.


@tigers88 - I know what you mean about kids these days not being into stickball. I loved it when I was a kid and I jumped at just about every opportunity I could find to go about a play a game.

I have a son who is 10 years old and I have been trying to get him into stickball for almost 3 years now. We have all the equipment and we have played a few games together with his friends but he just doesn't seem to be into it.

I don't get it but I guess you have to let the kids do what they like. Just because we were into it doesn't mean that they have to be too. I don't understand why anyone would want to play soccer but my son is crazy about it.


When I was a kid I used to play endless games of stickball with my friends in the neighborhood. I must have played a thousand games over my childhood.

We would start playing the minute it started getting nice in the spring. In a lot of cases we wouldn't even have to call each other or go knock on doors, we would all just intellectually meet at the street where we all played.

My friend Tommy always brought the stick. he insisted that we used this once particular bat that his dad had given him that he insisted had belonged to Ty Cobb once.

Those were great times and I'm always a little disappointed that I don't ever see kids playing stickball these days.

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