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Rules in Baseball 1849-1899

The following is a compilation of all the important major-league rule changes that have been made since 1845. In assembling the research for this book, we found a number of small disagreements on dates; virtually all, however, occurred in the nineteenth century, and most discrepancies were of but one year.

The bracketed reference that follows some of these rules refers to the rule number in today’s Official Baseball Rules. In some cases, the rule as it reads today is considerably different from the way it was written then.

» Part II: Baseball Rules Chronology, 1900-present

» 1845
Although some sources say that the first written “baseball rules” date from 1834 or 1842, a more commonly cited year of origin is 1845, when the New York Knickerbockers created a formal code of playing rules. The rules limited each team to nine players, laid out the field in what designer Alexander Cartwright termed his “baseball square” (with ninety-foot sides), and established that the winner was the team who scored twenty-one aces, given that each team had an equal number of turns at bat.

» There are no restrictions on bat size or shape. [1.10]
» The ball weighs three ounces. [1.09]
» The pitching distance is forty-five feet. [1.07]
» Provisions are made for an umpire. [9.01A]

» 1846

The first recorded argument between a player and an umpire. The umpire wins.

» 1848
A rule is introduced requiring that a baseman must hold the ball in order to put out a runner. (Before this the base runner was out if the ball hit him.) [7.08]
Only the batter-runner making for first may be retired on a force. (Before this any runner could be retired on a force.) [7.08]

» 1849
The New York Knickerbockers introduced the first uniforms, blue and white cricket outfits. [1.17]

» 1854
The ball weighs from 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 ounces and is from 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter. [1.09]

» 1857
The nine-inning game is introduced. [4.10]

» 1858
Balls caught on one hop are no longer outs. [6.05]
» The called strike is introduced. [6.05]
» One umpire, chosen by the home team, is in charge of a game. [9.03A]
» The pitcher is allowed to make a short run in his delivery. [8.01]

» 1859
The bat is limited to 2 1/2 inches in diameter (before this a bat like that used in cricket with a 4-inch-wide flat face had been commonplace). [1.10]

» 1860
Whitewash is used to mark the foul lines. [1.04]
The umpire of a game is selected by the captain of each team. He is given the authority to suspend play, and he must make a call when a ball is foul. [9.04]

» 1861
At the end of a game an umpire must declare the winning club and record his decision in the scorebook of each team before he leaves the field. [9.04]

» 1863
The pitcher is not permitted to take even a step in his delivery. Both feet must be on the ground when he releases the ball. [8.01]
The bat must be round and of wood. Its width is still limited to 2 1/2 inches, but its length is not restricted. [1.10]

» 1864
When a runner circles the bases, he must touch each one. [7.02]

» 1865
The first sliding steal of a base, by Eddie Cuthbert of the Philadelphia Keystones. [10.08]
» The first batting averages are computed. [10.22]
» The pitcher’s box–twelve feet by three feet–replaces the twelve-foot line. [1.07]
» The umpire must also record the results of a game in the scorer’s book. [9.04]

» 1866
The pitcher’s box is enlarged to a four- by twelve-foot rectangle. [1.07]

» 1867
The pitcher’s box is six feet by six feet. [1.07]
Pitchers are allowed to take as many steps as they like in their delivery. [8.01]

» 1868
The pitcher’s box shrinks to a four- by six-foot box. [1.07]
The Cincinnati Red Stockings introduce knickerbocker trousers. [1.17]

The bat is to be no more than forty-two inches long. [1.10]

» 1869
The pitcher’s box is a six-foot square. [1.07]

» 1870
A runner is allowed to overrun first base. [7.08]
The batter is given the right to call for a high or a low ball.

» 1872
The pitcher is allowed to snap the ball during delivery, but he’s restricted to a below-the-waist motion. [8.01]
The ball is required to weigh not less than 5 and not more than 5 1/4 ounces, with a circumference of not less than 9 and not more than 9 1/4 inches. [1.09]

An “injured” ball is to be changed only in even innings upon request of the captain of either team. [3.01]

» 1875
The (unpadded) catcher’s glove is introduced, by Charles G. Waite. [1.12]

» 1876
The National League is established.
The umpire says, “Play” for the first time. [4.15A]

If an umpire is unable to see whether a catch has been fairly made, he may confer with spectators and players.

» 1877
To choose an umpire the league selects “three gentlemen of repute” in each city where there is a team. At least three hours before a game the visiting team chooses the umpire from among them. [9.01]
A time at bat is not charged to a batter who walks. [10.16]

Canvas-covered bases are required. They are fifteen inches square, the same as today. [1.06]

Home plate is relocated to its present spot. [1.05]

» 1878
Umpires get paid, by the home team: five dollars a game.

» 1879
The National League names twenty men living in or near cities where the league has teams as “fit” to be umpires, and each game is run by someone from the list. This rule remained in force until 1883. [9.01]
An umpire’s fees and expenses are paid by the visiting club.

An umpire is given the power to impose fines–of not less than ten dollars and not more than twenty dollars–when he thinks it’s necessary.

An umpire may terminate a game after a rain delay of thirty minutes. [4.12]

The pitcher is required to face the batter when he pitches. [8.01]

All pitched balls must be called strikes, balls, or fouls.

The number of strikes in an out is officially three. [6.05]

There are nine balls in a walk. [6.08A]

» 1881
The base on balls is seven. [6.08A]
The pitching distance is lengthened to fifty feet. [1.07]

The pitcher is fined for deliberately hitting a batter with the ball.

A spectator who “hisses or hoots” at or insults the umpire may be ejected from the grounds. [9.01E]

The base runner may no longer be put out when he is returning to his base on a foul ball. [5.09]

» 1882
The three-foot base line is adopted. [1.04]
Umpires may not reverse decisions on matters of judgment. [9.02]

Umpires may not confer with spectators or players. [General Instructions to Umpires]

If an umpire imposes a fine or declares a forfeit, he must report it to the league secretary within twenty-four hours. [4.18]

Umpire corruption rears its ugly head for the first and only time: a National League umpire, Richard Higham, is expelled from the league for collusion with gamblers.

The American League is formed.

» 1883
A foul ball caught on the bounce ceases to be an out. It must be caught before it touches the ground. [6.05A]
The first system of salaried umpires is introduced, under the same system that is in use today. The four men hired came from cities not represented in the league. [9.01]

An error is charged to the pitcher for a base on balls, wild pitch, hit batter, and balk. [10.13]

Pitching is allowed from anywhere up to shoulder height. [8.01]

» 1884
Almost all restrictions on a pitcher’s motion are lifted. He may throw the ball with virtually any motion he chooses, provided that his delivery is not higher than his shoulders and he is facing the batter at the moment of wind-up. He is allowed only one step before delivery. [8.01]
A base on balls is six. [6.08A]

» 1885
Home base may be made of marble or whitened rubber. [1.05]
The bat may have one flattened side. (This rule lasted only one year.) [1.10]

The pitcher is credited with an assist on a strike-out. [10.11]

» 1886
A base on balls is five. [6.08A]
The pitcher’s box becomes four feet by seven feet. [1.07]

An umpire may introduce a new ball at any time. Before this year, when a ball was lost, the umpire gave the team five minutes to find it before he threw in a new one. An umpire must have two baseballs at his disposal at all times. [3.01]

First and third base are moved within the foul lines.

A hit batsman is not charged with a time at bat. [10.02]

No stolen base is credited to a runner for bases advanced by his own volition. [10.08]

» 1887
The pitcher’s box is 4 feet by 5 1/2 feet. [1.07]
A pitcher must keep one foot on the rear line of the box and may not take more than one step in delivering the ball. Before delivery he must hold the ball in front of him so that it is visible to the umpire. [8.01]

No error is charged to the pitcher for a base on balls, wild pitch, hit batter, and balk. [10.13]

The umpire may call a game if the spectators are disorderly. The maximum fine for arguing with an ump or protesting a call is ten dollars.

The batter is no longer allowed to request a high or low pitch.

A batter hit by a pitched ball is entitled to first base and not charged with a time at bat. [6.08b]

A strike-out is called on four strikes. (This rule lasted only one season.) [6.05]

Home plate is to be made of rubber and is to be twelve inches square. [1.05]

A base on balls is scored as a hit and counted as a time at bat. This rule lasted one season only. [10.16]

» 1888
A base on balls is not counted as a hit and not charged as a time at bat. [10.16]
If a runner is hit by a batted ball, the batter is credited with a hit. [10.05]

The strikeout is back to three strikes. [6.05]

It is a ground-rule double instead of a home run if the ball is batted over the fence in fair territory where the fence is less than 210 feet from home plate. [6.09]

The mandatory fine for a coach who leaves the coach’s box to protest a call is $5.

An error is charged to the pitcher for a base on balls, wild pitch, hit batter, and balk. [10.13]

A hit batsman is awarded first base and credited with a hit. [6.08]

A batter is credited with a hit when his batted ball hits a base runner. [10.05]

» 1889
No error is charged to the pitcher for a base on balls, wild pitch, hit batter, and balk. A pitcher is not credited with an assist on a strikeout. [10.13]
The sacrifice bunt is statistically recognized, but the batter is charged with a time at bat. [10.09]

A base on balls is four, and there it remains. [6.08A]

» 1890
The ump is called “Mr. Umpire” for the first time.

» 1893
A batter credited with a sacrifice is not charged with a time at bat. [10.09]
The pitching distance is increased to sixty feet, six inches, where it remains today. [1.07]

The pitcher’s box disappears (never to be seen again) and is replaced by the rubber–a slab twelve inches long and four inches wide. [1.07]

The pitcher is required to place his rear foot against the slab. [8.01]

» 1891
Substitutions are allowed at any time during a game, but once he has been substituted for, a player may not return. [3.03]

» 1892
It’s a ground-rule double instead of a home run if the ball is hit over the fence in fair territory if the fence is less than 235 feet from home plate. [6.09]

» 1893
A batter credited with a sacrifice is not charged with a time at bat. [10.09]
The pitching distance is increased to sixty feet, six inches, where it remains today. [1.07]

The pitcher’s box disappears (never to be seen again) and is replaced by the rubber–a slab twelve inches long and four inches wide. [1.07]

The pitcher is required to place his rear foot against the slab. [8.01]

» 1894
The batter is charged with a strike for hitting a foul bunt. [6.05D]

» 1895
The pitcher’s rubber is enlarged to its present size of 24 by 6 inches. [1.07]
The maximum diameter of the bat is increased to 2 3/4 inches, where it remains today. [1.10]

The infield fly rule is adopted: the umpire may call an infield fly when there is one out and first and second or first, second, and third base are occupied. [6.05E]

A strike is charged to a batter for a foul tip. [6.05A]

The limits on fines change again–to not less than $25 and not more than $100.

If the crowd becomes so unruly that the game is stopped for more than fifteen minutes, the umpire may declare a forfeit. (If that happens, the visitors win, 9-0.) [4.17]

» 1895
The pitcher’s rubber is enlarged to its present size of 24 by 6 inches. [1.07]
The maximum diameter of the bat is increased to 2 3/4 inches, where it remains today. [1.10]

The infield fly rule is adopted: the umpire may call an infield fly when there is one out and first and second or first, second, and third base are occupied. [6.05E]

A strike is charged to a batter for a foul tip. [6.05A]

The limits on fines change again–to not less than $25 and not more than $100.

If the crowd becomes so unruly that the game is stopped for more than fifteen minutes, the umpire may declare a forfeit. (If that happens, the visitors win, 9-0.) [4.17]

» 1896
A $25 fine is imposed on a coach or a player who uses vulgar language. It costs players $5 to $10 for any other first offense, $25 and possibly ejection for a second offense, and mandatory ejection for a third offense.

» 1897
Intentionally discoloring or injuring the ball is punishable by a $5 fine. The ball is replaced. [3.02]
The umpire has twelve hours to report a fine or an ejection to the league president, four hours for a “flagrant offense.” [9.05A and 9.05B]

» 1898
A stolen base is credited to the base runner when he reaches a base he attempts to steal without the aid of batting or fielding errors or a hit by the batter. [10.08]
The first official balk rule: a pitcher is compelled to throw to a base if he makes a motion in that direction. [8.05]

» 1899
The balk rule is refined: a pickoff throw may not be faked; a pitcher must complete his motion. [8.05]

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