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The Knickerbocker Rules are a set of baseball rules formalized by
Alexander Cartwright in 1845. They
are considered to be the basis for the rules of the modern
Several of the rules are still around in some form today, while
others are in direct contrast to current rules. A few of the more
interesting examples are shown below. The list as presented, except
for the commentary, is taken directly from the "Rules" as published
in 1848 (website below):
4th. The bases shall be from "home" to second
base, forty-two paces; from first to third
base, forty-two paces, equidistant.
- If a pace is taken to be 3 feet, that works out to
126 feet (38 m) diagonally across the square that makes
up the infield, or 89.1 feet between consecutive bases (the corners
of the square). The rules currently specify the same method for
marking off the bases, only at 127 feet 3-3/8 inches, which works
out to 90 feet (27 m) between bases.
8th. The game to consist of twenty-one counts,
or aces; but at the conclusion an equal number of hands must be
- These original terms are recognizably card-playing jargon. The winner was the first
team to score 21 "aces" (now called "runs", a cricket term), after an equal number of turns
at bat or "hands". This rule, in combination with Rule 15,
determined the length of the game in general. The game is now
defined to be a certain number of "innings", another cricket term.
In theory, a baseball game could be completed after just one
inning, as long as one team scored the requisite 21 runs.
- The standard game length of nine innings was introduced in
1857. However, there are many circumstances in which baseball
games, and variants such as softball, are shorter (or longer) than
9th. The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for
- The ball had to be literally "pitched", like a horseshoe. Overhand
pitching in baseball was not allowed until 1884.
- Note, however, that there was not yet a rule specifying
precisely where the pitcher had to stand and deliver the ball.
10th. A ball knocked out of the field, or
outside the range of the first and third base, is foul.
- A ball knocked between the baselines and beyond the field was
not initially a home run but a foul, to be ignored (after finding
the ball). This was largely a moot issue, as the early ball fields
had very deep fences (if any) and an over-the-fence knock was an
- Foul balls were not initially "strikes". Some years later, when
it became clear that a batter might hit foul balls endlessly in an
effort to get a good pitch to hit, the pitcher was given a break by
an 1858 rule that declared any foul ball to be a strike unless
there were already two strikes on the batter. After the bunt came into
existence as a strategy, it also became clear that a batter could
literally bunt all day to try to get his pitch. To retain some
balance, the rule was further amended, in 1894, to declare
any foul bunt a strike.
- Note the colloquial term "knock", suggestive of the sound made
when bat meets ball, and which is still used as a synonym; for
example, a "base hit" is sometimes called a "base knock".
11th. Three balls being struck at and missed
and the last one caught, is a hand-out; if not caught it is
considered fair, and the striker bound to run.
- "For it's one, two, three
strikes, you're out!" is an ancient rule. The added detail,
that a batter ("striker") can try to run to first
on a missed third strike, also exists today, except that if there
are fewer than two outs and first base is occupied, the batter is
automatically out. This is to supersede the catcher dropping the ball on purpose to set up
force plays - the same idea behind the Infield Fly Rule.
- Note the lack of reference to the strike zone or the concept of a "ball" or a
"base on balls".
Those adjustments developed over time to counter these strategies:
- Patient batters would refuse to swing at any pitch they did not
like, and delay the game. The concept of the strike zone and the
"called" strike was introduced in 1858.
- Over-cautious pitchers would throw the ball wide, and delay the
game. The called "ball" (i.e. a pitch not a strike) was introduced
in 1863, along with a limit on how many the pitcher could deliver,
upon which the batter was automatically awarded first base. The
number of balls constituting a "base on balls" was initially 3. It
was tinkered with through the years (to as high as 9) until the
count of 4 was settled upon in 1889.
- Foul balls were also not considered strikes initially, as
discussed under rule 10.
12th. If a ball be struck, or tipped, and
caught, either flying or on the first bound, it is a hand out.
- Catching a fair ball
on the first bounce counted as an out until the 1865 season.
Catching a foul bound for an out persisted until 1883. This was
were used (or allowed), and obviously it was easier to catch that
hard ball on the first bounce. This also provided the game with
some balance, as the underlying assumption in Rule 8 is that many
runs were likely to be scored. Also, the catcher played well back
of the plate, for safety reasons, the various protective gear not
having been developed yet.
13th. A player running the bases 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
- The important part of the rule is not allowing a player to be
put out by hitting him with the ball. This was sometimes called
"soaking" the runner. One schoolyard version of the game, kickball, using a large
inflated ball, still allows players to be put out by hitting them
(below the head area) with this much-softer ball.
15th. Three hands out, all out.
- Three outs per half-inning, another ancient rule. Referring
again to card-playing terminology, a "hand" is now called an
"at-bat", or more generally, the progression of a specific batter
and/or runner, at bat and/or around the bases.
- This is a fundamental difference from baseball's cousin, cricket, in which all of the
batsmen take their respective turns at bat in a single
20th. But one base allowed when a ball bounds
out of the field when struck.
- "Ground rule single!" Outfields were assumed to be boundless, in
general. The only "home
run" was a literal dash around the bases, on a ball hit between
- The Encyclopedia of Baseball, published by MacMillan,
1969, and subsequent editions
- Official Baseball Rules, various years
- The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, edited by Paul
- Baseball guides and annuals