Legend has it that baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday somewhere back in the mists of time. That legend has been debunked and we’ve learned that, not surprisingly, the game evolved from older pastimes. One phase of that evolution recently came to light when a “new” document called “The Laws of Base Ball” surfaced. (In the beginning, the name was two words “base ball” and was later hyphenated “base-ball” and now is just one word.) That handwritten codification sold at auction in April for $3.26 million.
There had been earlier versions of the rules written down, but there apparently was not universal acceptance of just what the rules were. So in 1857, delegates met in a “Convention of Base Ball Clubs” – all from New York, I think – to consider and adopt the “Laws of Base Ball,” which they did on February 25 of that year.
The document (the handwriting is actually quite readable) was reportedly written by W. H. Grenelle from a draft by D. L. (“Doc”) Adams. Both the “Laws” and the Adams draft are now on display (thanks to the generosity of the anonymous buyer, rumored to be a Portland businessman) at the Oregon Historical Society through October 9.
I went there to see them and was allowed to take (non-flash) pictures. The first pages of the Adams draft and of the Laws are shown below. Google the Laws and you’ll find many more stories.
I’ve also attached a transcription of the Laws, and they are quite interesting. For example, they establish the 90 foot base paths, but also provide that a “striker” (batter) is out if a fly ball is caught in the air or on the first “bound.” That first bounce rule didn’t last, but 90 feet has proven to be the perfect distance between bases. I personally like the requirement that the umpire call a foul ball “unasked.”
Here’s the transcription: Laws_of_Baseball.