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‘Base’ ‘Ball’ becomesBASEBALL Baseball was the product of middle-class people, and it owed much to traditional English and American ball games. Its structures were born out of clubs, whose members made the rules, arranged games with other clubs, and even served as umpires. They also rapidly transformed the game from being a means to the ends of socializing and exercising to being an end in itself and, eventually, a business enterprise.
The Origins of Baseball • The precise origins of baseball remain shrouded in mystery. • The only thing that is clear is that the man of the great myth, Abner Doubleday, did NOT devise the game. • Baseball was likely an adaptation of traditional games played with bases, balls, and bats.
The English Gameof Rounders • Its name probably derived from the practice of “rounding” the bases (four of them) after a “striker” (batter) hit a ball thrown (or “bowled” underarm as in cricket) by the “feeder” (pitcher). • Strikers were “out” when they swung and missed three feeds, hit a ball to the field that was caught before it bounced twice, or were hit by a ball while they ran the bases.
Baseball’s Growth • In the East during the 1820s and 1830s, young men and boys played locally specific versions of base ball, including one known as “town ball.” • New England villagers, Philadelphians, and New Yorkers had distinctive contests that they played irregularly, with various numbers of participants and varying numbers of bases arrayed in squares, diamonds, or even haphazardly. • The collections of players were known as “fraternities,” whose members had shared experiences, values, and expectations for years.
Knickerbocker Base Ball Club • The making of modern baseball began in New York City at some point between 1842 - 1845 as one of these base-ball fraternities organized itself more formally as a club. • They were organizations of like-minded men, especially upper-rank men who shared economic, political, and social interests, including sports. • Members of this base-ball club, the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York, were professionals, managers, merchants, and other middling citizens. • The population was growing rapidly, many men worked away from their homes and neighborhoods, and both factors disrupted traditional relationships and ways of life.
Knickerbocker Base Ball Club • The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club developed a written constitution which governed the affairs of the club, and members provided themselves with a range of entertainments, including dinners and dances, and they undoubtedly had many opportunities to talk about business and politics. • They were committed to playing base ball, and they constructed the version that first became known as the New York game and then as American baseball. • America’s pastime was born
KnickerbockerBase Ball Club • By 1845 the Knickerbockers had formalized and codified their preferred rules, which combined elements from the British game of rounders with practices generated from the Knickerbocker Club members. • From the British game, they borrowed the shape of the field: four bases arrayed in a diamond surrounded by open space. • The areas that lay behind the lines from home to third and home to first they designated as foul territory, which was a departure from the rounders' field plan. • They defined the distances between bases (90 feet) and between the pitcher's area and home (45 feet).
Knickerbocker Base Ball Club • To play, the club members probably either divided themselves into two groups or chose sides, with one to bat and the other to take the field. • The pitcher had to throw underarm, and a batter's turn lasted until he hit a ball or swung and missed three pitches. • “Outs” occurred when a fielder tagged a runner between bases, received a ball and stepped on a base before a runner arrived there, or caught a hit ball on the fly or before it bounced twice (as in rounders).
KnickerbockerBase Ball Club • The Knickerbockers ended one unit's turn at bat after three outs and a contest after one side had scored twenty-one runs, or “aces” (from cricket). • Both sets of limits likely made the length of a game more predictable or at least short enough to fit within the time the men could take from their work. • There is little evidence to suggest that the Knickerbockers intended to promote their game or to seek competitors before 1850.
KnickerbockerBase Ball Club • As the Knickerbockers played, other base-ball fraternities observed them, and some of these fraternities organized their own clubs and adopted Knickerbocker rules after 1851. • The Knickerbocker base-ball code was accessible and made possible a standard way of playing, which traditional sporting conventions transmitted by word of mouth. • By 1855 base-ball clubs and interclub play existed throughout the city and in northern New Jersey, and the Knickerbocker game had become the New York game.
Baseball Spreads • New York base ball made its way to Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and San Francisco and even to army posts on the Great Plains in the latter half of the 1850s. • The New York game was relatively inexpensive and thus available for many people, and it provided the kind of healthy, outdoor exercise.
Baseball Spreads • In subsequent years, both of these claims—for baseball's democratic and health-rendering potentials—would become key elements in its modern ideology. • New York base ball gained the interest and support of the press, especially the newspapers.
Baseball Spreadsthrough Journalism • Reporters covered games between clubs and described the action on the field, as well as the social affairs that followed. • A few journalists also actively courted base-ball clubs, shaped public perceptions of the game, and contributed to the making of the modern sport. • On the New York scene the most influential of these journalists was Henry Chadwick, an English-born reporter who came to be known as the “father” of baseball.
Baseball Spreadsthrough Journalism • Chadwick, who wrote for the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Clipper, authored many early guidebooks to the sport and devised box scores to report performance results. • Box scores enabled the reading public to follow games more easily, and they encouraged the modern practice of keeping and breaking records. So did another of Chadwick's innovations: the batting average. • The press and baseball clubs forged an alliance that served both parties well over time. The clubs gained visibility; their sport, popular recognition; the papers, a subject that interested readers.
Baseball Spreadsthrough Journalism • After 1855 in clubs proliferated, and games expanded both numerically and geographically, and therefore rivalries developed between clubs. • Discussions and debates about rules emerged, as did highly skilled players, position specialization, and even an “all star” series between the best players from New York City and their counterparts from Brooklyn (then an independent city) in 1858. • Spectators, including gamblers, turned out in droves for the games and paid the hefty sum of fifty cents admission.
The NABBP • Between 1858 and 1863, the Knickerbocker-convened meetings formalized their relationship as a confederation and assumed power over rules and clubs. • The confederation claimed to be a national association, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), although clubs outside of New York did not join until 1859. • The NABBP claimed to represent and to regulate the clubs; it thus introduced hierarchical governance to base ball. It remained on top—writing rules, devising and imposing penalties upon offenders, and promoting the game—until 1871, when yet another set of tensions divided the base-ball world.
The NABBP • The NABBP determined that a game should conclude at the end of nine innings, rather than after a squad had scored twenty-one aces. • The change virtually ensured that games would have ends, as competitors desired but had not always realized with the twenty-one-ace format. • Games would end before nightfall, which likely pleased spectators and players alike.
Rules Adopted • The NABBP instituted the “called” strike, which became the responsibility of umpires. • The longest running debate within the ranks of the NABBP involved the fly rule, which addressed how a fielder put out a batter who had hit a ball. • Proponents of the fly rule, beginning with the Knickerbockers, argued that catching a hit ball “on the fly” required more skill than did the traditional method of catching it after it bounced.
Rules Adopted • Opponents proposed that out-after-one-bounce rule helped to ensure that the social traditions of the clubs—and the game as a social affair rather than a serious contest. • The Knickerbockers always had a distinctive history within the history of New York base ball. • The struggle over the fly rule within the NABBP lasted until 1863, when enough members voted to adopt the rule as a part of a larger movement to advantage offenses and make games more exciting.
The Birth ofAmerica’s Pastime • The competitive interests and relations that had come to dominate in base ball differed little from what one saw in politics, business, and, of course, the most dramatic and traumatic event of the period—the soon to be fought Civil War Between the States. • Aided by improvements in transportation and communication, members of competitive ball clubs were able to present their approach to the game to many more people. • Visibility, renown, and even a degree of commercial stability and viability resulted. • The days of professional base ball were almost on the horizon.