Tag Archives: John Thorn



The more you learn about baseball (or “base-ball” as it was referred to in the mid-19th century) the more you realize the game evolved. It was not “invented” one sunny afternoon in Cooperstown, New York. Here is another example of how the game came to be.

A convention of “Base Ball” clubs from the New York area met on this date in 1857 and made some decisions that would turn out to be monumental in the “evolution” of the game. Although the Knickerbocker Club of New York was instrumental in organizing the convention, the decisions made by those gathered did not go as the Knicks had hoped.

  • There was a general consensus to change the rule that the winner was the first team to score 21 runs (which back then were called “aces”). The group decided a game would last 9 innings. The Knickerbocker Club wanted 7.
  • There would be 9 players on a side. The Knickerbocker Club wanted 7.
  • A fielder would have to catch a batted ball on the “fly,” not one bounce, for an out. The Knickerbocker Club wanted the rule changed to “on the fly.” The convention kept it at “one bounce.”

There were other rules established that the Knickerbocker Club agreed with:

  • The distance between the bases would be 30 yards (90 feet)
  • The pitching distance would be 45 feet from home base
  • Five innings would determine a complete game

All the above changes remain in place to this day, except the pitching distance and the “fly” rule.

A number of other rules evolved over the years, such as the infield fly rule, what constituted a foul ball and whether it counted as a strike.

How many strikes for a “strike out” and how many “balls” for a walk varied from time to time before settling on 3 strikes and 4 balls in the late 1800s. At one time a batter wasn’t awarded first base until 9 balls were called.

Contributing Sources:
Baseball in the Garden of Eden
, by John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011
“Convention of Base Ball Clubs,” New York Herald, January 22, 1857
“Our National Sports: The Game of Base Ball, etc.” New York Herald, January 23, 1857
Baseball Chronology
19th Century Baseball

The first box-score

October 22, 1845 | NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Baseball historian John Thorn says in his book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, the first box score appeared in the New York Herald newspaper on this date in 1845. It recorded a game from the previous day between The New York Ball Club and a team from Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the actual box score from 1845 could not be located. Here is another from the same era:

19th Century - Newark - Eckford NYSM

The box score appeared to be patterned after cricket, a more commonly played game in Manhattan, New York at the time.

The baseball graphic included a box with two columns listing players for each team in the order of how they batted. It recorded little more than their names, number of outs made and runs scored. It didn’t have pitching statistics, except for what the pitchers did at the plate.

Today the typical box score has names, positions, at bats, runs, hits and runs batted in. Many box scores also record who had extra base hits, committed errors, hit sacrifice flies, stole bases and stats on all pitchers. Plenty to lose yourself in for a half hour or so. Below is a how-to on a modern baseball box score courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.


Contributing sources:
Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, by John Thorn, 2011
The New York Times, “Cooperstown? Hoboken? Try New York City,” by Fox Butterfield, October 4, 1990
More on the box score 

JUNE 19-America’s game takes shape

1846 | HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY – It’s unlikely anyone will ever figure out when the first game of baseball was played because, in all likelihood, there was no first game. Baseball evolved. Some version of the game dates back to pre-Revolutionary War days, and is based on “ball games” played for centuries. However, a significant contest in that evolution occurred on this date in 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The Knickerbocker Club of New York organized a game at Elysian Field using rules documented in 1845 by member Alexander Cartwright (Abner Doubleday was nowhere to be found). Cartwright, a surveyor by trade, laid out the dimensions of the field. Club members tinkered with the rules and practiced among themselves before the June 1846 game. Historian Leonard Koppett, author of Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, says the Cartwright rules “formalized” many of the rules that remain intact today.

Among the 20 rules laid down by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club in the 1840’s:

  1. There would be four bases in a diamond configuration.
  2. The “batter” placed at “home plate” at the bottom of the diamond, if looking from above.
  3. The game consists of 21 outs.
  4. Three outs made up a half inning.
  5. Runner no longer out by having ball thrown at him
  6. Foul and fair territory established
  7. The bases shall be from “home” to second base, 42 paces; from 1st base to 3rd base, 42 paces, equidistant.
  8. The ball must be pitched, and not thrown, for the bat.
  9. A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of first or third base, is foul.
  10. Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught is a hand out; if not caught is considered fair, and a striker is bound to run.
  11. A ball being struck or tipped and caught either flying or on the first bound is a hand out.
  12. A player running the base 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.
  13. A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base is a hand out.
  14. No ace or base can be made on a foul strike.
  15. A runner cannot be put out in making one base, when a balk is made by the pitcher.
  16. But one base allowed when a ball bounds out of the field when struck.

Reportedly, a team called the New York Nine beat the Knickerbockers 23-1 on that June day in 1846. They played four innings.

Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball, 2004, Leonard Koppett
Knickerbocker Rules
Baseball in the Garden of Eden, by John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011
LISTEN: John Thorn NPR interview