NEW YORK, NEW YORK • Rules for the game of “BASE-BALL” were amended on this date in 1870 by the National Association of Base-Ball Players meeting at Grand Central Hotel in New York City. The document became known as The Base-Ball Guide for 1871, the year the rules took effect.
“Base-ball” was primarily an amateur sport at the time. The National League would not be established for another 6 years. It would be 30 years before the American League is created.
While the rules settled on in 1870 begin to reveal the game we’re familiar with, some of the language is foreign. For instance, in the examples below, a “fair ball” would later be known as a “strike.” The “striker” would later be known as the “batter” or “hitter.” “Home base” would later be known as “home plate” or simply, “home.”:
(The Strike) All balls pitched over home base, and not lower than the knee, nor higher than the shoulder of the striker, shall be considered as fair balls. [Editor: “Fair balls” in this context would later be known as “strikes.” The “Striker” would later be known as the “hitter.”]
(Fly Out) The striker is out if a foul ball is caught, either before touching the ground or upon the first bound; or if a fair ball is struck, and the ball be held before touching the ground; or if a fair ball is struck, and the ball be held by an adversary on first base, before the striker touches that base; or if a fair ball be caught from the hands or person of a player before having touched the ground; or if a foul ball be similarly caught after touching the ground but once.
(Home Base) The base from which the ball is struck shall be designated the home base; the first base must always be that upon the right hand, and the third base that upon the left hand side of the striker.
(Balk) All balls thrown or jerked to the bat, or which are not delivered with a straight arm swinging perpendicularly to the side of the pitcher’s body, shall be regarded as foully delivered balls…. If the pitcher persists in delivering such balls, the umpire, after warning him of the penalty, shall declare the game forfeited by a score of 9 to 0. [and] Whenever the pitcher makes any motion to deliver the ball to the bat, he shall so deliver it, and he must not have either foot outside the lines of his position, either when commencing to deliver the ball or at the time of its delivery; and if he fail in any of these particulars, then it shall be declared a balk.
The balk rule was important because up until this point pitchers could balk continually.
(Calling the Pitch) The striker shall be privileged to call for either a high or low ball, in which case, the pitcher must deliver the ball to the bat as required. The ball shall be considered a high ball if pitched between the height of the waist and the shoulder of the striker; and it shall be considered a low ball if pitched between the height of the knee and the waist.
(The Bat) The bat must be round. It must be made of wood, and shall not exceed forty-two inches in length.
The Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1870
The Base-Ball Guide for 1871 obtained from Retrosheet.org
Official MLB Rules of today
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