In 1857, baseball’s leaders told the English where they could stick it


Baseball’s historian, John Thorn, unearthed something astoundingly wonderful today. It’s an account of a convention held in 1857 during which several of the New York area baseball clubs — chief among them the famous Knickerbockers — met to improve the game and make it more uniform.

Baseball had been played for a while, of course, but the rules were sort of all over the map. There are tons of details of just how the game was played here, and the rule changes which helped turn it into something much more like the game we know and love today, even if there was still a lot of evolution to go.

But maybe even more than the specific rules changes — things like balls caught on one bounce no longer being an out — is the underlying rationale and arguments for these rules contained in the report. The one-bounce rule had been because guys didn’t wear gloves. Those opposed to the change were concerned that being forced to catch a ball on the fly would hurt their hands. The leaders of the convention, however, would not hear of these pansy complaints:

The objection of some of the young members of the convention to catching the ball “on the fly,” ought not to have had much weight simply for the reason, that it is the way the ball is caught in the English game of cricket or, if Englishmen choose to hurt their hands by catching the ball before It touches the ground, why should Americans do so?

Let it be known that cricket was played in America before base ball; that within a year of this present time, more Americans played cricket than base ball; and that many of our best base ball players are Englishmen, who have joined it for a quick, lively game. And above all, let not Americans reject a manly point in the game merely because it is English, and hurts the hands (which it does not, if played in a scientific manner); for, surely, what an Englishman can do, an American is as capable of improving upon.

Take that, Limeys!

More seriously, I love how this thing reads overall. It’s so clearly a new game then with so many different ideas floating around and a clear desire by its players to make it something more formal. To make it a more serious pursuit. In this it reminds me of conversations I’ve had with friends who got involved with new games or sports in the 80s or 90s or even now. That moment when a thing some people did just for fun was looking for some wider acceptance. It’s heady stuff.

And it’s a good reason for us, today, to not dismiss something new simply because it is not as venerable as baseball or some other game or hobby that is well-established. They were all their once. They just needed time to breathe and to grow.