Ross Barnes (1850-1915)

Roscoe Conkling Barnes (May 8, 1850 in Mount Morris, New York – February 5, 1915 in Chicago, Illinois) was one of the stars of baseball’s National Association (1871-1875) and the early National League (1876-1881, playing second base and shortstop. He played for the dominant Boston Red Stockings teams of the early 1870s, along with Albert Spalding, Cal McVey, George Wright, Harry Wright, Jim O’Rourke, and Deacon White. Despite playing for these star-studded teams, many claim that Ross was the most valuable to his teams.

From 1868 to 1870, Ross starred for the Rockford Forest Citys, along with Albert Spalding, attaining professional status in the second year. When the National Association was formed in 1871, Harry Wright signed both men to his new team in Boston. Barnes’ major league career thus started when he was only 21. He split time between second base and shortstop for the Boston Red Stockings of the new National Association. Barnes led the league with 66 runs scored and 91 total bases, finishing second in batting average at .401.

In 1872 he led the Association with a .432 batting average, a .585 slugging percentage, 99 base hits, 134 total bases, and 28 doubles. The Red Stockings began a four-year dominance of the Association, with Barnes a key player each year.

Barnes again led the Association in 1873, hitting .425, as well as leading in on base percentage (.456),slugging percentage (.584), base hits (137), runs scored (125), total bases (188), doubles (29), bases on balls (28), and stolen bases (13).

His .340 BA in 1874 was only good enough for eighth in the league, while his .364 was good for second in 1875, while leading again in runs scored (115), base hits (143) and on base percentage (.375).

Before the 1875 season ended, Barnes and four other Boston players signed contracts with the Chicago White Stockings. When word leaked out in Boston before the end of the season, Barnes and his teammates were reviled by Boston fans, being called “seceders”, a strong epithet just a decade after the Civil War. It was likely that the National Association would void the signing, but Chicago owner William Hulbert preempted the move by forming the National League, and causing the NA to disband.

Barnes’ new team finished first in the NL’s first season with a 55-12 record, while Boston fell to fourth. Ross led the National League batting (.429), on base percentage (.462), slugging (.562), runs (126), hits (138), bases (190), doubles (21), triples (14), and walks (20). In the 1876 season, Barnes also established the single-season record for runs per game (1.91), a mark which still stands.

For those first six years of major league play, Barnes had hit .397. However, 1876 was to be his last dominant season.

In 1877, he fell ill with what was then only described as an “ague” (fever), played only 22 games, and did not play well when he was in the lineup. The illness robbed Barnes of much of his strength and agility, and shortened his career. While many baseball histories originally blamed the change in rules that outlawed the “fair-foul” hit, of which Barnes was an acknowledged master, his illness has become a more widely accepted explanation for his loss of productivity.

The remainder of his career was an effort to return to glory ending in mediocrity. He played for the Tecumseh team in the International Association (arguably baseball’s first minor league) in 1878, returned to the National League with the Cincinnati club in 1879, sat out all of 1880, and finished his professional career in 1881, playing his last season in Boston, site of his former glory. After 1876, he never hit better than .272, and his other totals were barely half of those from his glory days. He retired at age 31. He finished his career with 859 hits, 698 runs, and a .359 average, in only 499 games played and 2392 at bats. His 1.4 runs per game played remains the best of all time.

Barnes has been rated as the best player of the National Association, and during his peak, from 1871 to 1876, he was a dominant offensive force. His skill at the fair-foul bunt caused rule changes, and his defensive abilities were highly regarded. A teammate of multiple members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was the most valuable batter. He also has the distinction of having hit the first home run in National League history, on May 2, 1876.

A lifelong bachelor, Barnes held a variety of white-collar jobs in the Chicago area after his baseball career ended until his death from heart disease in 1915.



Pete Browning (1861-1905) – Namesake for Louisville Slugger

In my never ending quest to find baseball research, I have encountered many characters of the game which I am sharing with you.

Pete Browning 1861-1905

A genuine pre-modern national star, one of the major league game’s pioneers, and one of the sport’s most enduring and intriguing figures, Louis Rogers “Pete” Browning was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 17, 1861, at 13th and Jefferson on the city’s west side.

A lifelong resident of Louisville, Pete Browning was the youngest of eight children born to Kentucky natives Samuel Browning (1814-1874) and Mary Jane Sheppard Browning (1826-1911). They were married in Jefferson County, of which Louisville is the county seat, the day after Valentine’s Day in 1849. The family numbered, in addition to Pete, three sons and four daughters: Charles L., Henry D., Samuel L. Jr., Blanche N., Fannie E., Florence and Ida May.

In October of 1874, when Browning was 13, his father died at age 59 from injuries sustained during a cyclone. A prosperous merchant, Browning’s father had for years run a grocery store at the corner of 15th and Jefferson Streets in Louisville, not too far from the family’s residence. Browning’s mother, with whom the confirmed bachelor lived all his life, lasted substantially longer. She died April 6, 1911, at age 84 of old age at her home, 1427 West Jefferson Street, on the near west side of the city, having lived there for more than a half-century.

A skilled marbles player and name figure skater, Browning was a talented baseball player from the start. He made his first imprint on July 28, 1877, when he pitched a 4-0 win over the National League Louisville Grays. The young righthander’s strikeout victims that day included slugging outfielder George Hall and ace pitcher Jimmy Devlin — both participants in that season’s National League pennant-fixing scandal, which eventually cost the city its major-league team and resulted in the lifetime ban of five Louisville players

Browning’s reputation progressively increased during the next four years, spent principally with the city’s nationally known semipro club, the Louisville Eclipse.

Louisville went major league again in 1882, this time as a charter member of the fledgling American Association, the National league’s first great rival. His skills honed to a fine edge, Browning ran away with the American Association’s inaugural batting race, posting a .378 average. Thirty-six points better than that of his nearest rival, Cincinnati’s Hick Carpenter, it was also the best average in the majors, topping Dan Brouthers’ National League top mark by ten points.

During the course of 13 major league seasons, from 1882 through 1894, the bulk of that with Louisville in first the American Association and later the National League, Browning compiled a .341 lifetime batting average. Tied for eighth place on the all-time list with Cooperstown enshrinees Wee Willie Keeler and Bill Terry, the .341 mark ranks today as the fourth-best among the game’s right-handed batsmen. Only Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby (.358), Ed Delahanty (.346) and Harry Heilmann (.342) have ever done better work from that side of the plate.

The work included one .400 season, and a trio of batting titles in two separate leagues. The latter makes Browning one of three 19th-century players to have won batting titles in two different leagues. Ross Barnes and Dan Brouthers are the others.

An instant major league star, Browning had a virulent drinking problem which didn’t take much longer to reach major league proportions itself, making its public bow in an August 13, 1882, contest against the Athletics. Despite the Louisville Courier-Journal’s story the following day over Browning’s drunken state, the team did not release its star, nor did it tighten the reins at all on him. Regardless of Browning’s heavy drinking, the club wasn’t going to release its homegrown, sensational rookie star who was on his way to a batting title and who had brought major-league baseball back to Louisville with a flourish.

Deaf and illiterate, the six-foot, 180-pound Browning was eccentric as well. He refused to slide; played defense standing on one leg to prevent anyone running into him; stared into the sun to improve his “lamps” (eyes); treasured his “active” bats because of the hits they still contained; was constantly on the prowl for the next, new “magical” stick with hits in it; reportedly favored bats that were 37 inches in length and 48 ounces in weight; maintained a warehouse of “retired” bats in his home — all of them named, many after Biblical figures; kept his batting statistics on his shirt cuffs; and when traveling over the circuit, frequently alighted from trains and introduced himself as the champion batter of the American Association.

Unlike many major-leaguers, Browning cut a swath through the sophomore jinx in 1883, batting .338 and finishing second to Pittsburgh’ s Ed Swartwood for league honors.

On May 12 the following season, while the team was on the road, Browning underwent major surgery for the first time for mastoiditis, an inflammation of the mastoid process. Located behind the ears and connected to the temporal bones that run along both sides of the head, the mastoid process are two honeycomb-like areas that occasionally aid the ear by acting as a surplus receiving area for violent sound vibrations that the ear cannot handle by itself, such as a sudden, nearby explosion.

For nearly his entire life, Browning was plagued by mastoidal problems. The impact of this malady is significant. It robbed Browning of his hearing. Because he could not hear, he refused to go to school out of frustration and embarrassment; the lack of schooling made him a virtual illiterate. The resulting sense of isolation, coupled with the savage physical discomfort attendant to the condition, fueled his uncontrollable drinking. It also prompted his commitment to an insane asylum, and was a major factor in his early death –both the product of a brain infection. In short, the mastoiditis was responsible for all his personal and professional problems.

However, the results of the 1884 surgery were unmistakable. Freed from mastoidal pain for the time being, Browning was highly productive that season, finishing third in the league with a .336 average.

Far and away, however, Browning’s 1884 season is best-remembered for the famed Louisville Slugger bat incident. In the spring of that year, so the story goes, John Andrew “Bud” Hillerich custom-made a bat for Browning, who was in a slump. “The Gladiator” then went out and got three hits the next day, and, as they say, the rest is history. The incident forged modern batmaking, birthing two American icons — the Louisville Slugger bat and its equally renowned manufacturer, Hillerich & Bradsby.

In recent years, this story has come under inspection because no reference to it exists in either Browning’s obituaries or in that season’s baseball coverage. There are several other versions, also suspect, involving Gus Weyhing and Arlie Latham. Unquestionably, however, Browning is the namesake of the Louisville Slugger bat, and that is more than enough to sustain the longstanding historical link between the two. (At least three years before the name “Louisville Slugger” was registered as a trademark, Browning was referred to as the “Louisville Slugger” in the sub-headline of a June 17, 1891, Louisville Post article.)

Switched permanently to the outfield in 1885, Browning improved his 1884 average by 26 points, notching his second American Association batting title with a .362 mark.

In 1886, Browning narrowly lost the American Association batting title to Guy Hecker, the only pitcher ever to win a batting crown. Also the only pitcher ever to win a batting title and a pitching Triple Crown, Hecker held off Browning .341 to .340 (.3411078 to .3404710) as the race went down to the final day of the season. Hecker’s work also included a 26-23 mound slate.

Browning’s 1886 season also included hitting for the cycle for the first time against the New York Metropolitans on August 8, and being the victim of an unassisted pickoff play by Dave Foutz. Today, it remains the only documented case of a hurler picking off a runner unassisted without the benefit of a rundown.

There have been some two dozen legitimate .400 campaigns in baseball history, and Browning had one of them in 1887, hitting a career-best .402. It produced only a runner-up finish, however, as St. Louis’ Tip O’Neill hit .435. In 1888, Browning came up with a .313 average. The one-season drop in average was a direct consequence of baseball restoring the three-strikes-and-out rule, plus rescinding its one-season experiment (1887) in which walks were counted as hits.

Spiraling downward, Browning batted a career-low .259 in 1889. His average was a reflection of the doomed season as the Louisvilles finished in the cellar with a 27-111 record and a .196 winning percentage, 661/2 games back of the league champion Brooklyn Bridegrooms.

Along the way, they posted a streak of 26 consecutive losses, still the all-time major-league record; suffered the humiliating takeover of the team by the league, which was followed by the sale of the club; endured arbitrary fines and pay dockings by capricious owner Mordecai Davidson; survived a close call with the lethal Johnstown, Pa., flood; and engaged in a brief players’ strike, the first ever in major-league history, the participants including Browning.

Six players took part in the strike over Davidson’s refusal to forgive what the Louisville Courier-Journal called “heavy fines” he had imposed on two teammates. “Three amateur players were called into requisition,” the newspaper reported, to make up for the strikers. Louisville, without the six players withholding their labor, lost 4-2 on the road to Baltimore in a rain-shortened five-inning game, the 20th loss in the skein; the scheduled nightcap was washed out.

Oddly enough, Browning picked up his second career cycle game on June 7, during the middle of the losing streak. However, his season ended abruptly on August 11 when he was suspended the remainder of the campaign (a career-high two months) for drunkenness.

Jumping to the Cleveland Infants of the new Players League in 1890, Browning took the only batting title of that circuit with a .3732 average that just barely nipped Davey Orr’s .3728 work. But the season wasn’t just all hitting.

As a major-leaguer, Browning gained the nickname of “The Gladiator” for his ongoing battles with the fourth estate and his pathological alcoholism, best phrased by another memorable quote: “I can’t hit the ball until I hit the bottle!”

The moniker also was a reference to his battles with fly balls. However, recent research indicates that Browning’s fielding deficiencies, at the very least, deserve re-examination for several reasons: the crude equipment of the times, the typical fielding averages of his era, and the fact that Browning played three up-the-middle positions on the defensive spectrum: shortstop, second base and center field.

Moreover, the newspapers of his day published numerous accounts of his defensive prowess, those accounts running the entire length of his active major-league career. One of the best examples is an item that ran in the June 6, 1890, issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “The one act of the afternoon which stands out like a wart on a man’s nose was a catch by Col. Browning (an embellishment; he was never in the military) in the fifth inning. Mr. [Hugh] Duffy, a distinguished townsman with whom it is a genuine pleasure to deal, tripped to the bat with his teeth set so hard that his jaw bones stuck out like handles on an Etruscan vase. He reached for the first ball which Mr. [Jersey] Bakely was good enough to land over the rubber.

“The sound that followed was the same as when the slats fall down in an old-fashioned bed. The ball mounted towards the town of Jefferson until it was lost to sight. It came into view again in a few moments in the extreme left field, and then it was observed that Mr. Browning was only a few rods away.

“He rattled his lengthy legs towards his heart’s desire as long as possible, and then jumped in a northwesterly direction, turning four times in the air and stretching one arm for the ball in a manner of a boy after his second piece of pie.

“He got it.

“Then applause went up from the grandstand like an insane man experimenting with a French horn. Pete had to doff his cap a dozen times.”

The 1891 season marked Browning’s third different league in as many seasons, and his first in the National League. Splitting the season between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds, Browning batted .317 overall. The work included bunting into a triple play in early May. His season ended prematurely in early September after Kid Gleason hit him.

(For the record, this hit-by-pitch incident is indirectly related to one of three longstanding and persistent historical or statistical errors about Browning. All have been recently corrected by documentation, and here is how the record should read. Browning was first hit by a pitch early in his career, in July of 1883, not in May of 1890 as reported by at least one newspaper. Secondly, Browning’s correct number of cycle games was two, not three — the current major-league record. Finally, Browning did not die in an insane asylum.)

By 1892, major-league baseball found itself with only one league, the Players League having folded after the 1890 campaign and the American Association closing shop following the 1891 season. Back in his home city, Browning hit .247 in 21 games for Louisville before being released in mid-May. Once again, he caught on quickly with Cincinnati, batting .303 for them in 81 games and ending the season at .292.

The next year, Browning signed a contract with Louisville in late May and delivered on both sides of the diamond, playing sterling defense and batting .355 in just 57 games. Inexplicably, however, he was released in early August and played no more that year.

Browning’s major-league career came to a close on Sunday, September 30, 1894, in the finale of a closing-day doubleheader in his native Louisville. Playing right field for Brooklyn, The Gladiator singled twice in two official at-bats, walked once and scored once.

Officially, the final stop came in 1896 when Browning played his last recorded season of organized baseball at any level, batting .333 in 26 games with Columbus of the Western League.

The late 1890s found Browning working as a cigar salesman. He had owned a bar at 13th and Market Streets in Louisville, but that venture failed. Later, Browning turned to caring for his mother, and during baseball season, Browning was seen frequently at local baseball games. As in previous years, Browning was always well-received by the attendant crowds.

Browning’s comfortable retirement came to an abrupt end, however. On June 7, 1905, Browning was produced in the criminal division of Jefferson County Circuit Court, where he was declared a lunatic and ordered to the Fourth Kentucky Lunatic Asylum at nearby Lakeland.

After some improvement, Browning was removed from Lakeland by one of his sisters on June 21, 1905. A month later, he was admitted to old City Hospital (later renamed General Hospital and now called University Hospital), where he underwent surgery for ear trouble and a tumor of the breast. Following several stints in and out of the hospital, Browning died there on Sunday afternoon, September 10, 1905, at 2:15. Survivors included his mother; two sisters, Florence and Fannie; and two brothers, Henry and Charles (the father of famed film director Tod Browning, a protégé of the legendary D.W. Griffith).

Though the official cause of death was asthenia (a general weakening of the body), Browning’s medical problems no doubt included brain damage sustained by both the crudely treated mastoid condition and his longstanding defense against that malady – heavy drinking; cirrhosis of the liver, a product of his lifelong alcoholism; cancer; and most likely paresis, the third and final stage of syphilis.

Incurable even today, paresis is characterized by a total mental breakdown and is fully consistent with the times and Browning’s profession; his unstable mental condition toward the end of his life; and his personal habits, which included a longstanding fondness for prostitutes (newspapers on occasion referred to him thusly: “Pietro Gladiator Redlight Distillery Browning”).

Funeral services were held the following afternoon, September 12, at 2:30 at the home of Browning’s mother. From there, Browning was taken to Cave Hill Cemetery, the final resting place for many of Louisville’s major league ballplayers, as well numerous nationally prominent local and state figures.

His pallbearers included John Dyler, his first manager, and former teammate John Reccius, the latter a childhood friend and member of a noted Louisville baseball family that also included brothers Philip and William.

On September 10, 1984, as part of the centennial anniversary of the Hillerich & Bradsby Company, the company joined with the city of Louisville to honor Browning with a new grave marker that correctly spelled his name and fully detailed his lifetime baseball achievements.

A perennial candidate for Cooperstown via the Veterans Committee, Pete Browning made his most recent appearance on that committee’s 2003 Hall of Fame preliminary ballot.



JIM CREIGHTON (1841–1862)


Born on April 15, 1841, Jim Creighton was baseball’s first real star and made his pitching debut with the Brooklyn Niagaras at age eighteen in 1859. He would join the Brooklyn Star Club that year and then join the Excelsior Club, in 1860, for “under the table inducements.” Although it is difficult to prove, he was probably the first paid player (not Al Reach of the Brooklyn Eckfords and the Philadelphia Athletics as recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame).

On June 30, 1860, the Excelsior Club boarded a train and embarked on the first great baseball tour. They started in upper New York State and on July 2 defeated the Champion Club of Albany, 24–6. On July 3 the Victory Club of Troy fell to the Excelsiors 13–7. They enjoyed a 50–19 victory against the Buffalo Niagaras on July 5. Wins in Rochester, NY and Newburgh, NY followed and the Excelsiors returned to Brooklyn on July 12 to prepare for the Atlantic Base Ball Club. On July 19, some 10,000 fans turned out to watch pitching ace Jim Creighton win easily 24–4. Afterwards they turned south in response to many invitations and played the Excelsior Club of Baltimore and won 51–6 on July 22. The trip concluded with games in Philadelphia, Maryland and Delaware, with the Excelsiors winning every game.

At the time Creighton pitched, the ball had to be delivered with a stiff-armed underhand motion. Creighton was said to be one of the first to bend the rule. He inaugurated speed pitching by adding an almost undetectable wrist snap and arm bend to his delivery. From 45 feet away he threw his rising “speedballs” and then threw slow pitches he called “dew drops” to further confuse the batter. During this time the pitcher’s job was to help the batter and not hinder him. Fielding was to decide the game and some detested his aggressive approach. On November 8, 1860, Creighton would record baseball’s first shutout. He was also an excellent hitter, scoring 47 runs in 20 games that same year. During the 1862 season, he was reportedly retired only four times.

On October 18, 1862, playing against the Union Club of Morrisania, NY, Creighton hit a home run. John Chapman, who was on-deck, heard something snap during Creighton’s swing. After Jim crossed home plate he assured Chapman that his belt had broken. Four days later the Excelsior star was dead having ruptured his spleen or bladder in the process. He had bled to death of internal injuries. Jim Creighton was 21.

Creighton’s approach forever changed the essence of the game from a match between hitters and fielders, to a duel between the pitcher and batter. He has not been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.



Candy Cummings 1848-1924 – The Man that Invented the Curveball



Continuing with the old time baseball players:


Candy Cummings 1848-1924

Candy Cummings, at first glance, appears to be one of the least qualified pitchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His major league won-lost record is usually listed as 21-22, because most career totals begin with the formation of the National League in 1876. Cummings earned his stardom in amateur play during the late 1860s and in the National Association, precursor to the National League, in the early 1870s. He enjoyed great success, but threw his last major league pitch when he was only 28 years old. However, Cummings, despite his short career, was one of the most influential pitchers in baseball history. He was selected for Cooperstown immortality because he, according to most baseball historians, was the man who invented the curveball.

William Arthur Cummings, called Arthur by his family and friends, was born in Ware, Massachusetts, on October 17, 1848. He was the second child of William and Mary Cummings, who moved to Brooklyn, New York, when Arthur was two years old. The family grew to include 12 children and appears to have been well off, because Arthur’s parents sent him to a boarding school in Fulton, New York, in his teenage years.

Cummings was an enthusiastic baseball player, and an outing with some friends in 1863, when he was 14 years old, gave Arthur the idea that changed the course of his life. He and a group of boys amused themselves at a Brooklyn beach one day by throwing clamshells into the ocean. The flat, circular shells could be easily made to curve in the air, and the boys managed to create wide arcs of flight before the shells splashed into the water. “We became interested in the mechanics of it and experimented for an hour or more,” recalled Arthur in his later years. “All of a sudden, it came to me that it would be a good joke on the boys if I could make a baseball curve the same way.” This seemingly passing thought started Cummings on a quest that took much of his time and energy for the next four years.

Throwing underhanded with his arm perpendicular to the ground, as stipulated by the rules at the time, Arthur practiced diligently and experimented with different grips and releases in an effort to find the secret of the curveball. In so doing, he made himself into an outstanding young pitcher in spite of his physical limitations. He grew to be about five feet and nine inches tall as an adult, but he never weighed more than 120 pounds at any time in his life. Even in that era, nearly a century and a half ago, he was small for an athlete. He also had small hands, usually a severe handicap for a pitcher. Arthur excelled on the mound anyway, perhaps due to the practice he gained from his pursuit of the elusive curveball.

In 1865, after Arthur graduated from the Fulton school, he joined the Star Junior amateur team of Brooklyn and posted an incredible 37-2 record. Later that year he was invited to join the Brooklyn Excelsior Club, one of the best amateur nines in the New York area. He soon became the team’s leading pitcher, and was so dominant that people started calling him “Candy,” a Civil War-era superlative meaning the best of anything.

In 1867, after four years of frustration, he found success with the curveball for the first time. He discovered that he could make the ball curve in the air when he released it by rolling it off the second finger of his hand, accompanied by a violent twisting of the wrist. Though it appears that Jim Creighton, a New York amateur pitcher, threw a ball with a quick jerk of the wrist in 1861 and 1862, Cummings was the one who combined it with the rolling motion from the fingers to maximize the amount of spin imparted on the ball.

Candy Cummings demonstrated his breakthrough in a game against Harvard College. “I began to watch the flight of the ball through the air and distinctly saw it curve,” wrote Cummings many years later. “A surge of joy flooded over me that I shall never forget. I felt like shouting out that I had made a ball curve. I wanted to tell everybody; it was too good to keep to myself.” All day long, Harvard batters flailed helplessly at the new pitch. The secret of the curveball was his, and for several years afterward Cummings was the only pitcher in the nation to claim mastery over the pitch.

The curveball made the 120-pound Cummings the most dominant pitcher in the country. He threw a pitch that none of the batters had ever seen or practiced against, and only when other pitchers learned to throw the curveball would batters learn how to hit it. Any pitcher who sought to copy Candy Cummings would need months, if not years, of steady practice of the type that Cummings had already accumulated. This gave Cummings a gigantic head start upon his competitors and made for an advantage that perhaps no other pitcher has ever enjoyed in the history of the game.

The varsity nine of the Brooklyn Stars signed Candy as their featured pitcher in 1868. The Stars billed themselves as the “championship team of the United States and Canada,” and with Cummings on the mound they were able to make good on that boast for the next four seasons. One source states that from 1869 to 1871, Cummings posted records of 16-6, 17-9, and 17-13 in top-level amateur play, and won many more in exhibitions against other outstanding ballclubs. In 1871, influential baseball writer Henry Chadwick named Candy Cummings the outstanding player in the United States, the closest thing at that time to a Most Valuable Player award.

The National Association began play in 1871 as the nation’s first professional circuit. Cummings remained with the Stars that season, but his skills were in such demand that he was besieged with offers. He signed contracts with three different Association clubs before the 1872 season started, but in mid-February the Association awarded Cummings to the New York Mutuals and made the pitcher a professional for the first time. Cummings pitched every inning for the Mutuals that year, posting a 33-20 record and helping the New York team to a fourth-place finish. He led the Association in games, complete games, and innings pitched. Candy struck out only 14 men all year, but strikeouts were exceedingly rare then, and he led the league in that category as well.

For the next several years Candy Cummings pursued increasingly generous financial offers with different teams in the National Association. In 1873 he signed with Baltimore, where he shared the pitching chores with Asa Brainard. Candy posted a 28-14 record as Baltimore finished a strong third. The 1874 campaign found the 25-year-old veteran in Philadelphia playing for the Pearls, and once again pitching every inning of every game. He posted a 28-26 record with a mediocre ballclub, but made national headlines on June 15, 1874, when he struck out six Chicago White Stockings in a row.

By the 1874 season, other pitchers began to make up ground on Cummings by developing curveballs of their own. Bobby Mathews, Cummings’ successor on the Mutuals, began throwing the pitch after learning it from Cummings. Alphonse Martin of the Troy Haymakers also threw a curve at about this time, though Martin later claimed that he had thrown it in amateur play in 1866, a year before Cummings. The controversy over the origin of the tricky pitch had already begun, with several rivals challenging Candy Cummings’ claim to preeminence in newspaper articles across the nation. Cummings, proud of his discovery, was keenly protective of his status as the inventor of the curveball, and for the rest of his life he zealously defended his claim against all doubters.

In 1875 Cummings landed on his fifth team in five years, the Hartford Dark Blues. The 1875 season was longer than previous campaigns, so the Hartford club divided the pitching load between Cummings and 19-year-old Tommy Bond, who played right field for the first eight weeks of the campaign while learning the curveball from Cummings. Bond mastered the pitch by mid-season, and by July he and Cummings provided an effective one-two punch for the Dark Blues. Hartford finished in second place as Cummings went 35-12 and pitched seven shutouts. Bond posted a 19-16 log and batted .273 as an outfielder.

Hartford joined the new National League in 1876. Cummings, for the first time in six years, stayed with his previous team and returned to the Dark Blues, but at the age of 27 he began to slow down. Tommy Bond pitched so well early in the season that he became Hartford’s main starting pitcher, pushing one of baseball’s most celebrated stars to the sidelines. Candy pitched 24 games in 1876 with a 16-8 record, while Bond went 31-13 in 45 games as Hartford finished third in the new league. On September 9, 1876, in the first scheduled doubleheader in National League history, Cummings pitched two complete-game victories over Cincinnati.

Candy declined to sign a National League contract that winter, instead joining the Live Oaks of Lynn, Massachusetts, in the new International Association. That winter, Cummings attended the convention that created the new player-controlled league, and the other delegates elected him as the first president of the circuit. However, Cummings did not stay long with the Live Oaks. He left the team in late June and signed with the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the National League, though he remained president of the International Association for the balance of the season. In Cincinnati, with a worn-out arm and a weak team behind him, Cummings won only five of the 19 games he pitched.

At the age of 28, Candy Cummings came to the end of the line. Other pitchers had learned to throw the curveball, and by 1877 batters had figured out how to hit it. Cummings, with his slender frame and small hands, no longer threw a curve well enough to fool the batters, and his arm was sore from ten years of top-level amateur and professional play. He pitched briefly in the International Association in 1878, but soon dropped back to the amateur and semipro ranks. Later that year he returned to his hometown of Ware, Massachusetts, where he learned the painting and wallpapering trade. He played ball sporadically until 1884, when he moved to Athol, Massachusetts, and opened his own paint and wallpaper company, which he operated for more than 30 years. He and his wife, the former Mary Augusta Roberts, whom he married in 1870, raised five children.

For the next several decades, Cummings passionately defended his status as the inventor of the curveball. He wrote dozens of articles and letters to editors defending his claim and refuting those, such as former Chicago White Stockings pitcher Fred Goldsmith and others, who claimed authorship of the pitch. His efforts paid off; by the early 1900s, such influential baseball men as Albert G. Spalding, player-turned-writer Tim Murnane, and Sporting News founder Alfred H. Spink had thrown their support to Cummings as the creator of the curve. By 1908, when Cummings wrote an article for Baseball Magazine titled “How I Pitched the First Curve,” his reputation was secure. Today, most baseball historians credit Cummings as the first man to make a ball curve in flight and also as the first to use the pitch successfully under competitive conditions.

Cummings retired from his paint and wallpaper business in the late 1910s, and in 1920 the widowed 72-year-old moved to Toledo, Ohio, to live with his son Arthur. William Arthur Cummings died in Toledo on May 16, 1924, and was buried in the Aspen Grove Cemetery in Ware, Massachusetts. Fifteen years later, on May 2, 1939, a special committee elected Candy Cummings and five other 19th century players to the Hall of Fame.




To continue with my bios of old baseball players that may have been forgotten for their contributions to the game.


BOB FERGUSON (1845–1894)

On June 14, 1870 the Brooklyn Atlantics were playing host to the powerful Cincinnati Red Stockings at Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn, NY. The Red Stockings had not lost a game in two years. They were undefeated with only one tie in 69 games, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame. At the end of nine innings, the Atlantics walked off the field proudly with a 5–5 tie. The crowd of between 9,000 and 20,000, who paid 50 cents to watch, was thrilled to see the Atlantics come from behind to tie the historic game.

The Captain of the Red Stockings, Harry Wright, claimed the game was not over. He said the rules stated that “unless it be mutually agreed upon by the captains of the two nines to consider the game a draw,” a tie game must continue into extra innings. Atlantics captain, Bob Ferguson, announced that they were more than happy with a draw.

Wright consulted Henry Chadwick, chairman of the Rules Committee of the newly formed National Association, who was in attendance. Chadwick ruled the game should continue.

In the top of the 11th the Red Stockings pushed across two runs. In the home half of the inning, Cincinnati’s pitcher Asa Brainard gave up a single to first baseman Charley Smith and allowed him to move to third on a wild pitch. Joe Start hit a drive to rightfield that went into the crowd. Cal McVey managed to get the ball from the crowd but not before Start ended up on third. With Smith scoring, the Atlantics were down by one. Leftfielder John Chapman grounded out to third but Start was unable to score. Third baseman Bob Ferguson hit a grounder to Charlie Gould at first base. Gould allowed the ball to go through his legs. Start scored the tying run and Ferguson rounded second and headed for third. Gould threw the ball over third baseman Fred Waterman’s head and Ferguson scored the winning run.

Each Atlantic was paid $364 for their effort. The mighty Red Stockings continued to play, however, and after succumbing to five more losses the team disbanded six months later. Investors withdrew their support citing poor attendance and rising costs as the main reasons.

Robert Vavasour Ferguson was born on January 31, 1845 and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He was an overall average player. But it was his character and unquestioned honesty during a period when games were often decided by gamblers which made him different. His bad temper, stubbornness and honesty were traits that caused him to be disliked.

He became the first captain, and third baseman, of the New York Mutuals in the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, formed in 1871. In the first season the Mutuals would finish fourth. Ferguson who “insisted upon implicit obedience from his men” was forced to leave because of the heavy rumors of gambling surrounding the team. He was also a substitute umpire for the National Association that inaugural season.

The year of 1872 was a busy one for Ferguson. He was a convention delegate for the Brooklyn Atlantics, the team he would return to as the player/captain, for the ’72 season. During the convention, held in Cleveland, he would be elected president of the National Association. Some ball players felt this was only a figurehead position. Ferguson felt otherwise. He wanted the players to have a representative. He would hold that position until the collapse of the NA, in 1875. He also became a regular umpire for the NA. On September 1, 1872 Ferguson arranged a benefit game for Albert Thake, a 22-year-old left fielder for the Atlantics, who drowned off Fort Hamilton, in New York Harbor, while fishing. The old Brooklyn Atlantics and Members of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings played against each other in the benefit game. The Atlantics ended the season in 6th place; the first of three consecutive 6th place finishes.

In 1873, Ferguson was once again a convention delegate for the Atlantics during the meetings held in Baltimore, MD. He stayed on as a regular umpire for the NA but was involved in an incident during a game on July 24. While umpiring a game between the Baltimore Canaries and Ferguson’s former team, the NY Mutuals, he was loudly abused throughout the game by notorious umpire-baiter, Mutuals catcher Nat Hicks. The game was close and the Mutuals produced a three-run rally in the ninth to win 11-10. Ferguson and Hicks got into an altercation at the conclusion of the game. Ferguson hit Hicks with a bat in the left arm and had to have a police escort to get to the clubhouse. Although Hicks ended up with a broken arm in two places and would not play for two months, he refused to press charges and the two reconciled after the game. As a result, Ferguson was only a substitute umpire in the ’74 season.

In 1875, Ferguson again became a regular umpire but he left the Atlantics, along with pitcher Tommy Bond, to become the player/captain of the Hartford Dark Blues. This would be his first, and most successful, of three straight winning seasons with the Dark Blues. The team would finish in second place at 54–28, 18 games behind Harry Wright’s powerful Boston Red Stockings. As for the Atlantics, they started the season at 2-11 and finished with a 31-game losing streak and a 12th place finish.

Ferguson became a League Director when the National League was formed in 1876. He was involved in a landmark decision that season. Jim Devlin, a pitcher for the Louisville Grays, wanted to be released from his contract. He claimed that the team had failed to fulfill the terms of his contract. Surrounding Devlin were rumors of “hippodroming.” Ferguson, along with fellow League Directors Nicholas Appolonio, Boston President and St. Louis club Secretary Charles Chase ruled in favor of the Gray’s VP Charles Chase. Devlin was compelled to remain with the Grays. The following season, Devlin and three other teammates, SS/2B William Craver, OF George Hall and 3B Al Nichols would be suspended for life for throwing games. Devlin would attempt for a number of years to be reinstated, but never was.

In 1878, Al Spalding hired Ferguson to captain the Chicago White Stockings. Spalding openly said he admired Ferguson’s style and leadership that made the Hartford teams successful. Ferguson personally had his most successful season as a player. He hit .351, third in the league, led the league in on-base percentage, tied for fourth in RBI and ranked fourth in hits. The supposedly high-powered White Stockings finished at .500. In Spalding’s memoirs he called Ferguson “tactless” and hopelessly lacking any knowledge “of the subtle science of handling men by strategy rather than by force.” Spalding’s harsh words helped end Ferguson’s career as a player and manager.

In 1879, Ferguson played in only 30 games and managed the last 29 games for the Troy Trojans. He also resumed umpiring for the National League. From 1880–1882 he managed and played full time for the Trojans but did not umpire. Ferguson played for and managed the Philadelphia Quakers in the National League in 1883, but was replaced by Blondie Purcell with just 17 games remaining.

On August 21, the Quakers traveled to Providence to play the Grays. He needed to increase ticket sales on the road because the American Association entry in Philadelphia had forced the Quakers to reduce prices to 25 cents a game. He gave the ball to Rhode Island native Art Hagen who had several rough outings during a recent road trip. Ferguson hoped Hagen’s appearance would draw the locals. The people came in large numbers to watch the hometown hero. Hagen surrendered 28 runs and the Quakers made 20 errors behind him. Philadelphia didn’t score and to this day it’s still the most lopsided shutout in major league history. Ferguson was labeled a sadist for not relieving him.

Ferguson found work in the American Association in 1884 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He would be the second of five managers for the team that season and he would also play the last 10 games of his career. He returned to umpiring in the National League for the first time in four years, working part-time in ’84 and full-time during the ’85 season.

In 1886, 17 games into the season, Ferguson took over the managing duties for the New York Metropolitans, in the American Association and finished eighth. He also became an umpire in the A.A. in 1886 and continued until 1889. Ferguson would begin the season managing the Metropolitans in ’87 but was replaced 30 games into the season.

Ferguson would never again manage. He turned full-time to umpiring and was a replacement umpire in the first game of the first all-New York World Series in ’89 between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. He worked for the Players league in 1890 and returned to the A.A. in 1891 and then retired. Ferguson would pass away in Brooklyn on May 5, 1894, at the age of 49.

Ferguson would play in 562 games and manage another 949. He was the only person to umpire in four leagues in the 19th century as well as the only person to be an umpire, player, manager and league official at one time. Unfortunately, he is only remembered for one thing:
Question: Who was the first switch-hitter in professional baseball?
Answer: Bob Ferguson.

Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn (1854-1897)

It has been fun doing baseball research and I have ran across many characters of the game. I have decided to share them with you in case any of them intrigue you.



A butcher by trade, Radbourn received his moniker for his incredible endurance and dependability in an era when most teams employed a two-man pitching rotation. As a starting pitcher for the Providence Grays (1881–1885), Boston Beaneaters (1886–1889), Boston Red Stockings (1890) and Cincinnati Reds (1891), Radbourn compiled a 309–195 career record. In 1884 he won the National League’s pitching Triple Crown with a 1.38 ERA, 60 wins and 441 strikeouts. His 60 wins in a season is a record which will never be broken.

Once asked if he ever tired of pitching so often, he replied, “Tired out tossing a little five-ounce baseball for two hours? I used to be a butcher. From four in the morning until eight at night I knocked down steers with a 25-pound sledge. Tired from playing 2-hours a day for 10 times the money I used to get for 16 hours a day?”

On July 22, 1884, Providence Grays pitcher Charlie Sweeney, 17-8, misses practice because he is drunk. He starts against the Philadelphia Quakers and, with the Grays ahead, 6-2, in the seventh inning; manager Frank Bancroft brings in Joe “Cyclone” Miller. Sweeney refuses to leave the “box” and is suspended. The Grays play the final two innings with only eight players and lose, 10–6, on eight unearned runs in the ninth inning. Sweeney is kicked off the team and lands in the Union Association with the St. Louis Maroons. Providence is left with only one starting pitcher—Charley “Old Hoss” Radbourn.

The following day, Providence Grays pitcher Radbourn begins what may be the most remarkable feat in baseball history. “Old Hoss” pledges to pitch every game for the rest of the season if the Grays would agree not to reserve him for the following year. He pitches in nine straight games, winning seven, losing one and tying one. He takes a “day off” and plays right field before returning to pitch six more consecutive games. He plays shortstop for a single game and then pitches in 20 more consecutive games, winning 10 before having his 20-game win streak stopped. He would lead the NL in wins with 60, an ERA of 1.38, innings pitches with 678.2, (1.1 innings shy of the record set by Will White, 680, of the Cincinnati Reds in 1879) strikeouts with 441, complete games with 73 and winning percentage with a .833 mark. The Grays would win the pennant by 10½ games over the Boston Beaneaters.

At the close of the season Providence officials accepted New York Metropolitans’ (AA) manager Jim Mutrie’s challenge to a three game postseason match. All of the games took place at the Polo Grounds in New York and were played under American Association rules, which forbade overhand pitching. This was no hindrance to Radbourn, who threw side arm.

On October 23, 1884, the Providence Grays (NL) whitewash the New York Metropolitans (AA), 6–0, behind Radbourn, in what is considered to be the first official postseason interleague game. Radbourn would allow two hits and strikeout nine. Tim Keefe is the loser.

The very next day, Radbourn three hits the Metropolitans and wins 3–1 in a game called after seven innings due to darkness. Grays third baseman Jerry Denny hits a three-run homer in the fifth inning. It is the first homerun in World Series history. Tim Keefe loses for the second time.

On October 25, 1884 the Providence Grays defeat the New York Metropolitans, 11–2, in the final game of the series. Radbourn wins for the third time in three days. Buck Becannon takes the loss as Tim Keefe, New York Metropolitans losing pitcher in games 1 and 2, umpired the contest.

Radbourn would pitch all three games, allow only 11 hits, strikeout 16, walk none and not allow an earned run. New York would bat .143 against Radbourn. Providence outscored New York 21-3 in winning all three games.

Despite his ability to sign with the club of his choosing, Radbourn remained with the Grays until 1886, when he joined the Boston Beaneaters. It was during his four-year stint with Boston that Radbourn gained notoriety of another sort. During a Boston/New York team photograph in 1886, he became the first public figure to be photographed extending his middle digit to the camera.

After a mediocre tour of duty with the Beaneaters, Radbourn joined the Boston Red Stockings of the Players’ League in 1890, where he would lead the short-lived league in winning percentage (.692). The following year, he spent his last major league season with the Cincinnati Reds.

After retiring to Bloomington, Illinois, Radbourn owned and operated a billiard parlor and saloon. He would lose an eye in a hunting accident when his gun discharged accidentally. Less than six years after he threw his last pitch, Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn died at home of paresis on February 5th, 1897. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.



National Association of Base Ball Players Rules 1857-1871


Did You Know that in 1857… they made a rule that the team with the most runs, at a moment decide in advance, was the winner AND not the first team to 21 wins?

Did you know that it took several years to change the rule that a one bounce ball is an out?

It’s true.



NABBP – National Association of Base Ball Players


unofficial beginning of the NABBP – discussing the possibility of a national fraternity
15 NY-area clubs meet in what would be a prelude to 1858’s NA
Doc Adams elected president

First to 21 Runs Doesn’t Win Anymore

3 delegates meet, respresenting 16 NY and BKN clubs
purpose to gain a further understanding of fraternity and establish a uniform rule system
virtually all of the Knickerbocker rules adopted except a crucial one – it’s not the first team to 21 runs that wins, it’s the team with the highest score after a full 9 innings

Good Pitches Called Strikes

22 NY-area clubs meet and form Amateur NA by drawing up a permanent constitution with written by-laws and rules
first club outside NY joins NABBP – Liberty club of New Brunswick, NJ
Judge W.H. Van Cott elected president
umpire may call a strike if batter continually refuses to swing at ‘good balls’
hot topic – as it stands a player is put out if his hit is caught on the first bounce, some want to change to “fly rule” game in that a hit caught on a bounce is still in play – this debate will continue until finally passed at 1864 convention

Special meeting held at The Gotham in the Bowery, chaired by Judge Van Cott. New Yorkers are making plans for upcoming season by negotiating with Central Park Commissioners to use a portion of Central Park as a ball field.

Gambling and Fan Interference Banned


49 clubs meet @ Cooper Institute in NY
NY and NJ clubs represented
Judge W.H. Van Cott elected president again
gambling by umpires and contestants banned
fan interference banned
officially barred players who receive compensation (professionals)

200 attendees representing 62 clubs from 6 states plus DC meet @ Cooper Institute in NY
Dr. J.B. Jones of Excelsior club elected president
attendees from NY, NJ, New Haven, Detroit, DC, Baltimore, Boston present

54 clubs represented from 5 states
dates now changed to second Wednesday in December every year
new NY location – Clinton Hall, Astor Place
D. Milliken of Union club elected president
Philadelphia joins in the base ball fun

34 clubs represented from 2 states
D. Milliken of Union club elected president again
adoption of weight, measurements and composition requirements of bats and balls

Cricket Did It, Not Baseball


32 clubs, represented from 3 states
Col. J. Fitzgerald of Atlantic club of Philadelphia elected president
J.B. Jones of Excelsior club lets it be known that James Creigthton’s injuries, resulting in his death, were sustained in a cricket match not a baseball contest
$314.97 in treasury
hot topic – alleged rules violation of the Mutuals

Chadwick’s Scoring System Adopted

28 clubs represented from 3 states plus DC
I.B. Dawson of the Newark club elected president
NA adopts scoring system of Henry Chadwick’s Beadle’s Dime Book of Base Ball
$159.44 in the treasury

30 clubs represented from 3 states plus DC
fly game rule finally passes 33-19, though some teams had been using it for years
decision made that only games between NABBP clubs will count for both statistical and championship purposes

91 clubs represented from 10 states plus DC
John Wildey, a coroner, of Mutual club elected president
only 55% of clubs are from NY which will soon lead to a shifting of power w/i the association

Gorman Elected President

202 clubs represented from 17 states plus DC (147 of the clubs from NY, NJ or PA)
A.P. Gorman of Nationals of Washington elected president – first Southerner as such
hot topic – professionals and revolving (both go hand-in-hand)
It is no secret any longer that many players are being paid. For one, a very public courting of Al Reach took place in 1863. Paid professional managers like Harry Wright will soon alter the NA’s landscape.

The numbers of represented clubs tripled from interest at the end of the Civil War from 1864 (30) to ’65 (91) – more than doubled again in 1866 (202). Roll call and related activities are an unruly mess, taking over three hours. The NA decides to change from the mixed representation of both individual clubs and state associations to just state association representation.

One result is that future conventions would be controllable – no more than 30 delegates were in attendance after 1867. As a consequence, a lot of power is transferred/taken to/by the state associations; for example, judicial matters are for the most part administered by state associations. Soon the NA governing body will virtually be reduced to just a forum for debating and implementing rule changes. The state association system marks the beginning of the end for the amateur contingent as a lot of power is transferred out of the East and into the Ohio base. Also, the state associations would be dominated by professional interests.

location Chestnut Street Theatre and Athletic Hall in Philadelphia – first time held outside NY
George F. Sands of Ohio Association elected president
hot topic – Thomas Devyr case
hot topic – possible expulsion of Mutuals
hotter topic – professionalism
over 300 clubs represented
junior clubs added
power shifting to the midwest

The Nomination Committee (charged with overseeing new clubs applications – chairman = James W. Davis and members = William H. Bell and William E. Sinn) is inundated with applications and doesn’t have the time to assess all the new applicants. They report to the general convention that they can “only assume” that the applications were “based on good faith.” Due to their inability to evaluate all new applicants, the Nomination Committee moves to exclude clubs with “one or more colored persons.” The general convention accepts the committee’s report and recommendations.

Professional Players Should Get Paid


smoking hot topic (next three conventions) – professionalism
less than 30 delegates
NA makes an official distinction between amateur and professional clubs, thus formally legalizing the paid performer and effectively giving the go-ahead to the soon-to-be iconic CIN Red Stockings
power base in Ohio – NY grumbling

NA showing signs of being completely torn by professionalism.

less than 30 delegates in Boston
A.N. Bush elected president
hot topic – Ed Duffy’s expulsion recinded
NA eliminates the distinction between amateurs and professionals
annual dues of each club lowered to 50 cents from $1

The seed of the destruction of the NABBP are evident:
the NABBP is just too large and unruly – at times respresenting 500+ clubs
professionals are controlling the state associations and in turn the NABBP, alienating much of the old guard
the professional goal of winning above all else (and their ability to do so because of buying the top players and generating the top revenues) is overwhelming and incompatable with the amateur ideal
revolving (players jumping teams) is destroying the fabric of cooperation among association clubs
numerous controveries surrounding the yearly championship

Just prior to the next convention the stunningly successful Red Stockings of Cincinnati announce on 11/22/1870 that they are purging the club of professionals. The team is debt free and wishes to stay that way. They are done with paying heavy salaries and done listening to the gripes of players about other’s rate of pay. The members of the professional nine are already separating. Consequently, when the pro NA is formed in March, the Red Stockings will have been disbanded.

less than 30 delegates in NY at Grand Central Hotel
John Wildey elected president again
hot topic – Craver debate
hot topic – professionalism
professional system won 18-9 (or 17-9)


The vote siding with professionalism essentially splits the union in half. The Excelsior club of Brooklyn quits the NY state association and calls for a congress of amateur clubs. They are backed by the renouned Knickerbocker club. They wish to restore “the good old times of the national game.”

A cynic might suggest that the recent highly successful barnstorming tour of the Red Stockings of Cincinnati broke New York’s dominance of the game, leading to the disillusionment of two of the oldest and most self-important clubs – Excelsiors and Knickerbockers.

Likewise, the Olympic club of Washington calls for a meeting of professionals.

33 amateur clubs (anchored by the 3 NY dinosaurs – Knickerbockers, Gothams and Eagles) meet and reorganize at the Excelsior Club on Fulton Street in Brooklyn
renamed the National Association of Amateur Base Ball Players
A.M. Bush is elected president
they have one more convention in March 1872 and then soon dissipate due to lack of interest

10 professional clubs meet and reorganize at Collier’s Rooms on Broadway in NY
renamed the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players
James N. Kern of the Athletics elected president
league survives until the formation of the National League in 1876

Source: Marshall Wright’s The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870

The Evolution of Pitching Rules from 1840-1898



As I am doing research into the early days of baseball, I came across these pitching “rules”. Hope you enjoy them.


The Knickerbockers of New York had published their rules in the mid-1840s, and these were influential, but they left a good deal of ambiguity for readers trying to organize and play a contest. Concerning the actual events on the field of play, they read:

The bases shall be from “home” to second base, forty-two paces; from first to third base, forty-two paces, equidistant.

The game to consist of twenty-one counts, or aces; but at the conclusion an equal number of hands must be played.

The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.

A ball knocked out of the field, or outside the range of the first and third base, is foul.

Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught, is a hand-out; if not caught is considered fair, and the striker bound to run.

If a ball be struck, or tipped, and caught, either flying or on the first bound, it is a hand out.

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 him.

A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base, is a hand out.

Three hands out, all out.

Players must take their strike in regular turn.

All disputes and differences relative to the game, to be decided by the Umpire, from which there is no appeal.

No ace or base can be made on a foul strike.

A runner cannot be put out in making one base, when a balk is made on the pitcher.

But one base allowed when a ball bounds out of the field when struck.

Considering that the current Official Baseball Rules, 2015 Edition is about 120 pages long, there must circumstances and nuances that forced individual players and clubs to adopt their own set of guidelines. This was especially true of the pitcher and his responsibilities. The Knickerbockers only say that “The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.”

Thus, pitching distance and other restrictions on the pitcher probably fluctuated from club to club and perhaps season to season or game to game and from umpire to umpire. This probably wasn’t that great of an issue as clubs played most of their contests within their own organization. But when interclub matches took place, these and other rules for that contest had to be hashed out beforehand, a process that was naturally contentious.

After the 1856 season, the Knickerbockers of New York, the oldest club in existence at that point, called for a meeting to standardize the rules of the game and to further promote the sport itself in the New York area. The clubs that met formed the National Association of Base Ball Players, NABBP. This organization, more or less, oversaw the game until the era of the professional leagues starting in 1871.

The number of clubs within the NABBP varied widely throughout its existence but it is safe to say that during the NABBP era its particular form of baseball, the New York Game, became the dominate style, strategy and rules of the sport throughout the country.

The spreading and adopting of the New York style of play did not take place at one particular moment in history; it was a haphazard and sporadic process. Many other forms of the sport were played before the universal melding under the New York rules took place. The only rules and regulations that will be examined here are those of the New York Game.


On 1 April 1854, three Manhattan clubs (Knickerbockers, Gothams and Eagles), who faced each other maybe once or twice a year, agreed to a uniform set of rules. The written limitations on pitching are meager and thus a bit unclear to today’s reader:

♦ Pitching distance is to be not less than 15 paces,” perhaps meaning no less than 37.5’ at 30 inches a pace.

The ball must be pitched, and not thrown, for the bat.

These rules, as meager as they are, answered at least one looming question – where was the pitcher to be positioned. Presumably, it was understood that he stood along the imaginary line between second base and home base. These are the first and only formal restrictions on the pitcher.

(In truth, how the pitcher delivered the ball and where exactly he stood may not have been important issues at the time. Today, we view the pitcher as a central figure in the game, perhaps the key figure. In the 1850s, his function was predominantly to get the fun started.)

It will take another four decades for officials to finally decide on the proper pitching distance and accepted methods of delivery. The following shows baseball’s progress to define these issues:


Home plate and the pitcher’s plate were circular iron plates embedded in the ground and painted or enameled white. These plates are expected to be imbedded in the ground at ground height.


Pitchers line 12’ long, 45’ from home plate (presumably the iron plate is located just behind the line at its center)

________o________ (12’)

45’ to home

The ball must be released by the pitcher behind the line.

Considering the dangers of stepping on an iron plate, especially when damp, the pitcher probably avoided landing on the plate during his delivery.

(It should be noted that there is minor confusion in understanding the early rules in relation to how the pitching distance was calculated. That is from the front of home plate, the middle or the back. This confusion continues for many of the early years until the marking settles at the middle of the eventually diamond-shaped plate.)

Assume that pitching distances and the pitcher’s area remains the same until a new diagram is provided.


The ball must be pitched, not jerked or thrown to the bat, and whenever the pitcher draws back his hand, with the apparent purpose or pretension to deliver the ball, he shall so deliver it. The pitcher must deliver the ball as near as possible, over the center of the home base, and must have neither foot in advance of the line at the time of delivering the ball, and if he fails in either of these particulars, then it shall be declared a balk.

When a balk is made by the pitcher, every player running the bases is entitled to one base without being put out.


♦ The wrist is not supposed to be snapped or twisted (think more along the lines of a bowler with a stiff wrist than a current fast-pitch softball pitcher).

♦ The pitcher cannot fake a pitch to home or otherwise windup to confuse the batter.

♦ The pitcher’s feet may not cross the line and his intention must be to deliver the ball over the center of home plate.

♦ If the pitcher does not fulfill these requirements, there is a penalty.


It is important to note:

♦ The responsibility of the pitcher is to get the ball in play.

♦ The pitcher is there as a peaceful combatant to help put the ball into play for the fielders.

♦ The pitcher did not hold the status in the sport that he does today.

♦ The ball is pitched underhand, with a perpendicular arm angle to the ground.

♦ It’s assumed that the pitcher gets a bit of a running start and that is where his velocity is supposed to come from, not by snapping the wrist.

♦ The pitcher should not jerk his wrist as to put any form of what we might call “English” on the ball.

By the late 1850s and certainly the early 1860s, pitchers were increasingly taking liberties to gain velocity and utilizing methods deemed by many as trickery. Thus, the NABBP felt compelled to alter their pitching requirements in 1863. They had matched verbatim from 1857 through 1862.


On 10 September 1858, an umpire, Doc Adams, made the first called third strike ruling. Previously the batter was only penalized for swinging and missing. Presumable, the new rule, enacted for 1858, was created to penalize batters who were too selective – choosing to swing at only the pitches they liked. Though included among the rules, the called third strike was rarely made prior to 1866.



♦ A pitcher’s box is introduced, 3’ in length (extending towards second base) and 12’ in width (running from first to third base)

♦ The front of the box is still 45’ from home.

♦ Two iron plates are utilized, one at front of box and one at back, both centered. (not shown)



45’ to home plate


The pitcher must stand within the lines [of the pitcher’s box].

The introduction of a box is obviously a method to hem pitchers in and limit their roving. By making the box only 3’ deep, their running start is limited. Presumably, this is an attempt to limit velocity. With a pitcher’s box, the pitcher may not step over the front line during his delivery.

Should the pitcher repeatedly fail to deliver to the striker fair balls, for the apparent purpose of delaying the game, or for any other cause, the umpire, after warning him, shall call one ball, and if the pitcher persists in such action, two and three balls; when three balls shall have been called, the striker shall be entitled to the first base; and should any base be occupied at that time, each player occupying them shall be entitled to one base without being put out.

This rule was written to combat the increasingly peskiness of pitchers. It had come into vogue for pitchers to move the ball around, presumably up and down and in and out. Also, pitchers were at times throwing at or near the batter to keep him off balance and trying to get them to chase outside pitches.

By seeing this regulation, it’s apparent that pitching was beginning to evolve into taking a predominant role in the proceedings. Pitchers no longer see themselves – and hadn’t since the late 1850s – as mere delivery vehicles to putting the ball in play. Furthermore, this is essentially the first attempt at a pitch count – too many balls and the batter is awarded first base.

The ball must be pitched, not jerked nor thrown to the bat; and whenever the pitcher draws back his hand, or moves with the apparent purpose or pretension to deliver the ball, he shall so deliver it, and he must have neither foot in advance of the front line or off the ground at the time of delivering the ball; and if he fails in either of these particulars, then it shall be declared a balk.

This reads basically the same as 1857-1862.


Wrist snapping had been taking place probably since the late 1850s, garnering more and more velocity for the pitcher. Formal rules had been developed to force the pitcher to “pitch” not “throw” or “jerk” the ball. Pitch means tossing with a stiff wrist, horseshoe-style.

Other rules like creating a box to pen-in the pitcher and ceding first base to a batter who didn’t get decent pitches to hit were meant to keep the game predominantly about hitting and fielding.

Nonetheless, it was always difficult to read the pitcher’s intention and control his body movements, some of which could be quite subtle. As the 19th century progresses, pitcher’s will increasingly use their guile to thwart the restrictions. It will become commonplace to do so and thus difficult to modify or regulate.

Arguments would ensue and both teams would take their advantages where possible. This in turn created a laxness in umpires (who were only these to solve disputes, enforce rules at their will), many of whom would rather let the men hash it out and allow the game play on than be a part of ceaseless arguments and stressful confrontations.

Gradually, pitchers would change how the game was played. Yes, in so doing animosity and arguments about the nature of the game abound. Pitchers and pitching became lightening rod topics, probably from the earliest days of interclub competition.
Yet in the end, arbitrary, ill-defined, unwritten, unenforced and unenforceable rules and their haphazard applications on the field – mixed with the strong will of pitchers who increasingly viewed themselves at the forefront of the competition – were hard to adjudicate. Pitchers would eventually take liberties little by little until most of the restrictions against their delivery methods were abandoned by the end of the century.


Pitchers are expected to deliver their pitch with both feet on the ground. Again, this is probably another attempt to limit pitchers’ velocity – especially as pitching became a more specialized job attracting specialists who were particularly good at it.



Pitching box made one foot deeper.



45’ to home plate



Pitching box cut in half from left to right to 6’.



45’ to home plate


The following points are added or amended to the rules:

The pitcher must stand within the lines, and must deliver the ball as near as possible over the center of the home base, and fairly for the striker.

♦ All balls delivered by the pitcher, striking the ground in front of the home base, or pitched, striking the batsman, or pitched to the side opposite to that which the batsman strikes from, shall be considered unfair balls.

♦ The ball shall be considered jerked, in the meaning of the rule if the pitcher’s arm touches his person when the arm is swung forward to deliver the ball; and it shall be regarded as a throw if the arm be bent at the elbow, at an angle from the body, or horizontally from the shoulder, when it is swung forward to deliver the ball A pitched ball is one delivered with the arm straight, and swinging perpendicularly and free from the body.

Fair (strikes) and unfair (balls) pitches are starting to be defined. And obviously ‘unscrupulous’ pitchers are ignoring the “over the center of home base” guideline – tossing the ball at the batter, into the ground and outside into the other batter’s box.

Note that a hit-batsman is only awarded a ball, not first base.

The definition of a “jerk” arises.

It’s clear that baseball officials are now very concerned with the release point of the ball and the arm angle it is delivered at. The pitcher is expected to pitch perpendicular to the ground (underhand) and cannot jerk his arm towards his body or bend his elbow. A legal pitch is one “delivered with the arm straight, and swinging perpendicularly and free from the body.”

Presumably, pitchers had been taking liberties with their release point, allowing it to creep up towards hip height instead of below it.

The balk rule is further clarified:

When a balk is made by the pitcher, every player running the bases is entitled to one base, without being put out.

♦ The striker shall be considered a player running the bases as soon as he has struck a fair ball.

♦ Any ball, delivered by the pitcher, on which a balk or a ball has been called, shall be concerned dead and not in play until it has been settled in the hands of the pitcher, while he stands within the lines of his position; and no such ball, if hit, shall put the striker out.

The batter is not a runner until he has placed the ball in play.


Pitchers are no longer required to make their delivery with both feet on the ground.


Home plate is now a 12” square with one flat side facing the pitcher.


Eighteen Seventy-One denotes the beginning of professional league baseball.

The 12”-home plate is rotated with a point now facing the pitcher. This widens the plate from the pitcher’s perspective to 16.97”. (Note that the current 17”-home plate adopts its measurement from this.)


The pitcher’s box is now square.



45’ to home plate


The pitcher’s release point must be below the hip and he is still expected to delivery with a straight arm, perpendicular to the ground.

Batters now call for a high (waist to shoulders) or low (waist to forward knee) pitch. Thus, the strike zone is coming more and more into focus. Previous written regulations only stated that that the ball had to pass over the center of the plate. (Presumably, this was adjudged from the knees to the shoulders.)

The number of ball and strikes required for a base on balls or strikeout, respectively, will swing wildly for much of the rest of the century.


Underhand throwing was legalized in 1872. It is unclear if this in fact legalized wrist snapping or pitching with a bent elbow or both. The release point is still expected to be below the hip.

Some pitchers, trying to get an advantage during the era, would hike their pants up high in effect allowing them to pitch sidearm as the hip/waist of their pants masked their actual hip/waist height.


Home plate is to reside entirely in foul territory.


Home plate is moved back into fair territory and the pitching distance is calculated from the back of home plate.



Pitching distance is to be calculated from the center of home plate.

The front and back center pitcher’s plates are removed. Now there are 6” square markers (stone or iron), placed at ground level in each corner of the box.



The pitcher’s box is still square, though smaller.



45’ to home plate


Pitchers are not allowed to turn their backs to the batter during their delivery.

If in the umpire’s opinion a pitcher intentionally hits a batter, the pitcher could be fined between $10 and $50. However, in doing so the batter is still only awarded a ball not first base. The ball was considered dead with no base runners advancing.



The distance from home plate to the front line of the pitcher’s box is increased by 5’ to 50’.
The box dimensions are amended as well.



50’ to home plate



Pitchers may now legally release the ball above their hip as long as it is below their shoulder. Pitchers had been pushing the hip limit since the mid-1870s.



The American Association, a major since 1882, adopted a deeper box than the National League in 1884.



50’ to home plate


“If a Batsman be solidly hit by a ball from the Pitcher when he evidently cannot avoid the same, he shall be given his base by the umpire as a penalty.”

This is the first league to award first base to a hit-batsman. If the umpire ruled that the batter did not try to get out of the way or was merely grazed by the ball, the batter was awarded only a ball, not first base.



The National League permanently eliminated all restrictions on release point. Pitchers may now deliver the ball overhand, above the shoulder.

This, combined with varying pitch repertoires and changes to the pitching distance will fundamentally alter the makeup of pitching staffs. Typically, a club only needed one pitcher and an occasional substitute through the 1870s. At least two regular starters would be needed in the 1880s, with that number expanding to 3 or 4 in the 1890s.



Pitchers must keep both feet on the ground during delivery.


At a meeting on 7 June 1885, American Association officials adopted the use of a rubber home plate.


At that meeting, they also joined the National League in eliminating release point restrictions.

The American Association revised its hit-batsman rule – eliminating the requirement that the batter had to be hit “solidly.”



The National League adopted a deeper box in 1886.



50’ to home plate


National League pitchers no longer have to keep both feet on the ground when delivering.



The American Association changed their pitcher’s box size for 1886.



50’ to home plate


For the 1887 season, the National League and American Association decided to adopt a common set of rules.

Each league adopted the rubber home plate, still a 12” square with points facing the pitcher and catcher.


They compromised on the depth of the pitcher’s box. The National League agreed to shrink it by 1.5’ (7’ to 5.5’) and, likewise, the American Association deepened it by 1.5’ (4’ to 5.5’)



50’ to home plate

The pitchers must now affix their back foot to the back line of the box, effectively setting their back foot at 55’6” from home plate. (It is unclear why with a fixed back foot that a box is still required.)

The 50’-distance is measured to the center of home plate.


Other regulations adopted:

♦ The pitcher must take a stance as to face the batter.

♦ The back foot must remain planted on the back line of the box.

♦ The front foot can only be raised during delivery of the pitch.

♦ The pitcher must hold the ball in front of the body in sight of the umpire.

♦ The pitcher must reset after feigning to throw to a base.

♦ Batters are no longer able to call for high or low pitches. This sets the strike zone upper and lower limits at the shoulders and knees, respectively.

♦ Batters are awarded first base when hit by a pitch unless the umpire believed the batter did not get out of the way. Various circumstances regarding he batter’s motives in getting hit would be argued for another decade. For example, batters started to let the ball graze their hands or forearms leading to a rule in 1892 disallowing hit by pitches to the hands and forearms for several years.


The balls and strikes allow finally settled at 4 and 3, respectively.


Labor/management strife resulted in the formation of a third major league, the Players League, in 1890. It last one season.




51’ to home plate

The 51’-distance is measured to the middle of home plate. At some unknown date during the season the distance to home plate fell to 50’.


The Players League adopted the same pitching restrictions as set by the National League and American Association in 1887.
These regulations effectively placed the pitcher’s back foot 57’ from home plate. This was lowered to 56’ at some point as noted above.


The National League and American Association merged after the 1891 season officially forming the cumbersomely-named National League and American Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. It was almost immediately just referred to as the National League like we do today.


The pitching box was eliminated for the 1893 season and replaced by a 12” by 4” rubber like we’re familiar with today.
The distance of that rubber – the place where the pitcher sets his back foot – was pushed back 5’, setting the distance at the 60’6” we recognize today.

A rule was also added allowing the rubber to be raised but with no specific height restrictions. This, for the first time, permits the pitcher’s mound.

(Though there is no longer a pitcher’s box, the verbiage is still in use today to refer to the general area of the pitcher’s station and other connotations.)



The pitcher’s rubber is enlarged to the current 24” by 6”.


For the first time a foul ball is called as a strike. However, that only applies to ones nicked backwards. To offset this compromise, bat barrels are widened to 2.75”.


During the 1890s, pitchers are increasingly scuffing, marring and cutting the baseball prior to delivery.



A pitcher must now have the ball in his possession if he steps onto the rubber with men on base.