I really love baseball. However, I needed a distraction from the abysmal display my Atlanta Braves have put on this season. It is painful to know that they are already eliminated from post-season play and are (currently) playing less than .400 ball. Painful.
While I was alone in my corner, not crying about this, (because there is no crying in baseball), I was curious about the beginnings of baseball and started to do some research. I discovered that September 23rd is actually the 170th anniversary of the first baseball team, the NY Knickerbockers, organizing and adopting a rule code.
Alexander Joy Cartwright became involved in playing town ball (a similar game to baseball, and an older one) on a vacant lot in Manhattan while a member of Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12 of the New York City Fire Department. In 1845, the lot became unavailable for use, and the group was forced to look for another location. They found a playing field, the Elysian Fields, a large tree-filled parkland across the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey run by Colonel John Stevens, which charged $75 a year to rent. In order to pay the rental fees, Cartwright organized a ball club so that he could collect the needed money. The club was named the "Knickerbockers", in honor of the fire company where Cartwright was a member. The Knickerbockers club was organized on September 23, 1845.
Creating a club for the ball team meant that a definitive set of rules was needed, one of the most important was to "have the reputation of a gentleman". Cartwright formalized the Knickerbocker Rules. Here are the 20 rules he set for the team:
– Members must strictly observe the time agreed upon for exercise, and be punctual in their attendance.
– When assembled for exercise, the President, or in his absence, the Vice-President, shall appoint an umpire, who shall keep the game in a book provided for that purpose, and note all violations of the By-Laws and Rules during the time of exercise.
– The presiding officer shall designate two members as Captains, who shall retire and make the match to be played, observing at the same time that the players opposite to each other should be as nearly equal as possible, the choice of sides to be then tossed for, and the first in hand to be decided in like manner.
– The bases shall be from "home" to second base, forty-two paces; from first to third base, forty-two paces, equidistant.
– No stump match shall be played on a regular day of exercise.
– If there should not be a sufficient number of members of the Club present at the time agreed upon to commence exercise, gentlemen not members may be chosen in to make up the match, which shall not be broken up to take in members that may afterwards appear; but in all cases, members shall have the preference, when present, at the making of a match.
– If members appear after the game is commenced, they may be chosen in if mutually agreed upon.
– The game to consist of twenty-one counts, or aces – but at the conclusion an equal number of hands must be played.
– The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.
– A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of first or third base, is foul.
– Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught, is a hand out; if not caught is considered fair, and the striker bound to run.
– If a ball be struck, or tipped, and caught, either flying or on the first bound, it is a hand out. (Could you imagine if that first bound part was still a rule?!)
– A player running the bases shall be out, if the ball is in the hands of an adversary on the base, or the runner is touched with it before he makes his base; it being understood, however, that in no instance is a ball to be thrown at him.
– A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base, is a hand out.
– Three hands out, all out.
– Players must take their strike in regular turn.
– All disputes and differences relative to the game, to be decided by the Umpire, from which there is no appeal.
– No ace or base can be made on a foul strike.
– A runner cannot be put out in making one base, when a balk is made by the pitcher.
– But one base allowed when a ball bounds out of the field when struck.
The rules in which Cartwright used in town ball were not documented, so it is unknown how many of the rules he created were taken from that.
According to Peter Morris’s, But Didn't We Have Fun?: An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era, "Two of these rules — the one that abolished soaking (putting a runner out by hitting him with a thrown ball) and the one that designated a foul as a do-over — were revolutionary, while the others gave the game a new degree of uniformity."
So there ya go – the humble beginnings of baseball. Oh, and just to compare the 2015 MLB Official Rule Book is now well over 200 pages.
I gotta say, all this history is making me feel a bit like Lou Hunsinger Jr.!