|Knickerbockers' Original Rules|
Knickerbockers' Original Rules
Playing Rules for 1845
1. Members must strictly observe the time agreed upon for exercise, and be punctual in their attendance. This was a big issue for the Knickerbockers, for it was a considerable annoyance to ferry across to Hoboken only to find an insufficient number of members to play. Frequently baseball games were played with six or seven to the side, if cricket players on the adjoining fields could not be enlisted to fill out the Knick ranks. D. L. Adams, an early Knickerbocker president, wrote of this: "Our players were not very enthusiastic at first, and did not always turn out well on practice days. There was then no rivalry, as no other club was formed until 1850, and during these five years base ball had a desperate struggle for existence. I frequently went to Hoboken to find only two or three members present, and we were often obliged to take our exercise in the form of 'old cat,' 'one' or 'two' as the case might be. As captain, I had to employ all my rhetoric to induce attendance and often thought it useless to continue the effort, but my love for the game, and the happy hours spent at the 'Elysian Fields' led me to persevere. During the summer months many of our members were out of town, thus leaving a very short playing season.")
2. 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 Knickerbocker game books referenced above survive to this day. The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club disbanded in 1882, and the records were entrusted to pioneer sportswriter Henry Chadwick. Upon his death in 1908, the books passed to Albert Spalding, famed pitcher and subsequent sporting-goods magnate. Upon Spalding's death in 1922 the books were deposited in The New York Public Library, where they reside today. Regarding umpires, only one was deemed sufficient for decades to come, and the umpire had the authority to fine players on the spot for swearing, for disputing with him, or for flagrant disregard for the rules. )
3. 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 put 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.
("First in hand" translates, in modern parlance, to "first batter up." In 1845 there was no custom as to which team batted in the top of an inning, home or visitor; the order was determined by chance. In fact, the terms of card play served on the baseball field as well; where a "hand" could be "lost" at bat or on the basepaths; a man who reached base and came home registered an "ace," not a run.)
4. The bases shall be from "home" to second base, forty-two paces; from first to third base, forty-two paces, equidistant. (Ninety feet between the bases was not specified until 1857. Was a "pace" understood as 2.5 feet or 3 feet?
5. No stump match shall be played on a regular day of exercise.
(This refers to such truncated games as cat ball, cited by Adams above.)
6. 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. (This became a controversial rule as some Knicks held that 14 was sufficient for play while others insisted that 18 was necessary, and that non-Knicks should be welcomed to fill out the teams to nine apiece. The pro-14 faction won out, precipitating resignations by some Knicks in the pro-18 faction. Nine players were not mandated until 1856!)
7. If members appear after the game is commenced they may be chosen in if mutually agreed upon. (Remember, these rules were to govern intramural play; the Knicks were not formed in order to engage in "match play"—competition with other clubs.)
8. The game to consist of twenty-one counts, or aces; but at the conclusion an equal number of hands must be played. (Note that there is no specified number of innings. Theoretically, the game of 1845 could be completed in one full inning. Nine innings did not become the rule until 1857.)
9. The ball must be pitched, and not thrown, for the bat. (No wrist snap; arm perpendicular to the ground at release, and below the waist. The early baseball pitch was like today's softball pitch, only even more restricted. The pitcher furthermore was guided to pitch the ball "for the bat"—he was not regarded a an adversary to the batter, merely as a server—the batter's true opponents were the fielders.)
10. A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of the first or third base, is foul.
(This included home runs! The early Knick grounds at the Elysian Fields faced the Hudson River, and batters who hit the ball into the water were not hailed as heroes—the club generally had only one baseball, and that was handmade, of course. Fouls at this time, and for many years to come, were not counted as strikes.)
11. 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.
(The responsibility of the catcher to hold the third strike is, amazingly, one of baseball's oldest rules to survive intact. Ask Mickey Owen.)
12. If a ball be struck, or tipped, and caught, either flying or on the first bound, it is a hand out. (Almost from the beginning, skilled Knick players preferred the "fly rule" for match play; the one-bound catch was too easy (scorned by cricketers, who were the natural rivals and models for baseball players) and not "manly." However, the fly rule was not become universally adopted until 1865.)
13. 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. (This rule forms the key distinction between the Knickerbocker Game of Base Ball and earlier variants such as town ball and rounders, in which a baserunner could be retired if a fielder hit him with the ball. This rule permitted baseballs to be wound tighter around a harder core, like a cricket ball, and in turn permitted hits and throws for greater distance. The emphasis of the new Knick game soon shifted from the fielding/baserunning contest to the pitcher/batter conflict.)
14. A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base, is a hand out. (The interference rule, substantially unchanged today.)
15. Three hands out, all out. (This is the primal rule of baseball. Fans today think that "strikes and you're out" is of equivalent antiquity, but it is not. A full count in 1887, for example, was 4-and-3, not 3-and-2.)
16. Players must take their strike in regular turn. (However, if the batter hit into a third out of an inning that was recorded by tagging one of the baserunners, that batter resumed his place at bat to lead off the team's next inning!)
17. All disputes and differences relative to the game, to be decided by the Umpire, from which there is no appeal. (A rule observed largely in the breach, ever since the first match game of June 19, 1846.)
18. No ace or base can be made on a foul strike. (Today a runner can tag up and advance on a caught foul.)
19. A runner cannot be put out in making one base, when a balk is made by the pitcher.
(The range of offenses that could merit a balk call in 1845 was huge, because of the severe restrictions on pitcher delivery. See Rule 9.)
20. But one base allowed when a ball bounds out of the field when struck.
(Today we have the ground-rule double? Think of this as the ground-rule single.)