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History - 2020s Baseball


A website for baseball lovers who want better baseball by 2030

By David EvansVintage Baseball

Written January 21, 2012
Copyright July 20, 2020

Before 1840 in the United States, there were several games involving striking a ball and running to bases. In Sting Ball, defenders put runners out by throwing the ball at them. Cat Ball, another early game, used a catapult to launch the ball for the striker to hit. 

Young Alexander Cartwright designed a game for his 20 year-old peers in the 1840’s Murray Hill section of New York called Base Ball. Defenders tagged players instead of throwing the ball at them.  At-bats ended with 3 outs instead of every player batting each inning.  He set the bases 42 paces apart, about the 90 feet we still use.  At first the winner of a “match” (a game) was the first team to score 21 “aces” (runs).  There were many famous people who played base ball in the 1800’s including Abraham Lincoln and Geronimo.

By the start of the Civil War in 1860, the game had developed some, but was still quite a bit different from today’s baseball.  The ball was called “lemon peal”.  It is slightly larger than today’s baseball, not quite as hard, but heavier.  It was called lemon peal because the seams made it look like a lemon cut into quarters.

Fans were called “Cranks”.  Cranks had a part in 1860 base ball. If they caught a foul ball in the air or on one bounce, the striker was out.  If the arbitrator was not certain of a call, he might ask the players involved or he might ask the cranks’ opinions.

In 1860, the hurler tossed the ball underhanded without raising the ball above his shoulder.  The hurler could throw from anywhere inside the marked area.  The front line was only 45 feet from home plate. The hitter was called a striker.  Instead of a batter’s box, there was a line across home plate.  A striker had to either have one foot touching the line or one foot in front and one behind it.

Foul ticks (foul balls) were never called strikes.  The arbitrator would not call balls or strikes until at least four pitches were thrown in an at-bat.  Then it would be four more balls for a walk or three swings and misses for a strike out.  The main object was for each hitter to put the ball in play.

An “ace” or run would not be recorded until the runner who crossed home plate went to the tally master’s table, rang the bell there, and raised his hand to swear that he had recorded and ace.

A striker was out if a defender caught a ball in the air or on one bounce.  The one bounce rule lasted until 1864.  A ball was fair if it first hit the ground fair even if it went foul before passing first or third.  Players could be tagged out if they overran first.  Players who argued with the umpire or used profanity were immediately fined.  Since money was extremely tight in 1860’s, players were very careful.

The three basemen are called maintainers.  They are required to position within 2 paces of their bag.  The rover can play anywhere. Outfielders, called gardeners, are required to play straight away, but can play as close-in or as deep as they want.

The Arizona Territorial Vintage Base Ball League plays1860’s Base Ball.  There are currently three teams in the Valley plus two in Tucson. The Gophers, whose home field is in Glendale near the University of Phoenix Stadium, wears clothing similar to the 1860s’s. The uniforms of the Bisbee Bees, based in Peoria, are similar to those of the 1880’s.  The Phoenix Senators, primarily from the East Valley wear uniforms similar to the late 1800’s.  There are also community teams in Bisbee, Williams and Payson that play our leagues summer traveling team called The Stars and Stripes.

1860’s games start with the arbitrator saying, “Striker to the line!!”

Between the 1860 and 1888 there were several changes.  The batter’s box replaced the line for the striker.  The number of balls required for a walk changed several times.  In 1888 it was 6 balls for a walk.  In 1889 it finally dropped to 4 balls.  There was one year when it took 4 strikes for a strike out. Foul balls were still not counted as strikes. 

Harry Wright formed the first openly professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1869.  Prior teams would hire players to phony jobs as a way to pay them for playing.

Pitchers were now throwing overhand, but still from flat ground.  In 1881 the pitchers box was moved back 5 feet to 50 feet.  The pitching rubber didn’t come until 1892 when the rubber was placed 60 ½ feet from home plate.  A standard height for the pitchers mound didn’t come until 1902. 

In 1877 the rule changed requiring a ball to stay fair or be fair when it passed 1st or 3rd in order to be a fair ball.

By 1912 most of the basic baseball rules were similar to today’s rules.  Some baseball stadiums had certain situations where a hitter could get a ground rule triple. There was no designated hitter.  Players still did not wear numbers on their uniforms.

Baseball teams would try to use the same ball throughout games.  It was still legal for a pitcher to throw a spitball.  After Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch in 1920, baseball started replacing balls as soon as they showed any marks that would make them harder to see.  His death was probably a factor in banning spitballs in 1920.