Tuesday, May 30, 2017


I have always been fascinated by the game's early history and the way it was played in the very beginning. This is a topic I have explored in several of my books. In my 2014 release MUDVILLE MADNESS, I described 19th century game play in the following introductory passage: 

"The first officially recorded baseball game took place in 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. The rules had been established by a New York bookseller and volunteer firefighter named Alexander Cartwright the year before. Any modern fan in attendance would have found the early conventions quite odd.

Batters were referred to as "strikers." runs were called "aces" or "counts," and outs were commonly known as "hands." There was no defined batter's box and the striker could move forward or backward from the ball. Pitchers stood just forty-five feet from home plate. They were allowed a running start but were required to deliver the ball underhand so that strikers could hit it. There were no called balls or strikes and the first team to score twenty-one times was declared the winner. Nine-inning games were still a few years off.

Players were clad in flannel shirts with wool pantaloons and straw hats. Fielders wore no gloves and catchers stood ten to twelve feet behind home plate without the benefit of protective equipment. A striker could be put out in several ways: (1) a standard ground out, (2) having a ball caught in the air or on one bounce, or (3) being thrown out by the catcher after missing a third swing.

Umpires sat at a table on the third baseline. Their job was to keep a scorebook, make fair or foul calls and settle disputes between teams. There were long spells in which they had very little to do."

In my 2012 book, CELLAR DWELLERS: THE WORST TEAMS IN BASEBALL HISTORY, I elaborated on the sport in the decades that followed.

"...Protective equipment such as helmets, batting gloves and shin guards were unheard of in the early days. Mitts were poorly designed and sparsely padded. A veteran of twenty-six major league seasons, catcher Deacon McGuire fell into the habit of placing raw beefsteak inside his glove to absorb the impact of pitched balls. Even so, X-rays of McGuire's hands taken years after he retired revealed evidence of nearly fifty dislocations or breaks.

Since the rules were not yet refined, unusual occurrences were not uncommon on the diamond. In a game for the New Brunswick championship, a University of St. Joseph player literally collapsed and died while rounding third base. Following close behind, a teammate picked up the lifeless form and carried it to home plate. Incredibly, the umpire counted both runs.

Strategies were far different in the days of old...Before 1895, infielders could deliberately bungle shallow pop-ups in the interest of turning cheap double plays. (The infield fly rule put an end to that practice.) Umpires worked alone and the rulebook was somewhat lenient. Consequently, players got away with murder. First basemen sometimes grabbed the belts of opponents to slow them from advancing to second. They were also known to shove runners off the bag after signalling for a pick-off throw from the pitcher. By the same token, runners took great liberties on the basepaths, occasionally cutting directly across the diamond from second base to home when an umpire's head was turned." 

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