BASE-BALL (so-called from the bases and ball used), the national summer sport of the United States, popular also throughout Canada and in Japan. Its origin is obscure. According to some authorities it is derived from the old English game of rounders (q.v.), several variations of which were played in America during the colonial period; according to other authorities, its resemblance to rounders is merely a coincidence, and it had its origin in the United States, probably at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839, when it is said, Abner Doubleday (later a general in the U.S. army) devised a scheme for playing it. About the beginning of the 19th century a game generally known as "One Old Cat" became popular with schoolboys in the North Atlantic states; this game was played by three boys, each fielding and batting in turn, a run being scored by the batsman running to a single base and back without being put out. Two Old Cat, Three Old Cat, and Four Old Cat were modifications of this game, having respectively four, six, and eight players. A development of this game bore the name of town-ball and the Olympic Town-Ball Club of Philadelphia was organized in 1833. Matches between organized base-ball clubs were first played in the neighbourhood of New York, where the Washington Baseball Club was founded in 1843. The first regular code of rules was drawn up in 1845 by the Knickerbocker Baseball Club and used in its matches with the Gotham Eagle and Empire clubs of New York, and the Excelsior, Putnam, Atlantic and Eckford clubs of Brooklyn. In 1858 the first National Association was organized, and, while its few simple laws were generally similar to the corresponding rules of the present code, the ball was larger and "livelier," and the pitcher was compelled to deliver it with a full toss, no approach to a throw being allowed. The popularity of the game spread rapidly, resulting in the organization of many famous clubs, such as the Beacon and Lowell of Boston, the Red Stockings of Cincinnati, the Forest City of Cleveland and the Maple Leaf of Guelph, but owing to the sharp rivalry between the foremost teams, semi-professionalism soon crept in, although in those days a man who played for a financial consideration always had some other means of livelihood, as the income to be derived from playing ball in the summer time was not enough to support him throughout the year. In spite of its popularity, the game acquired certain undesirable adjuncts. The betting and pool selling evils became prominent, and before long the game was in thorough disrepute. It was not only generally believed that the matches were not played on their merits, but it was known that players themselves were not above selling contests. At that time many of the journals of the day foretold the speedy downfall of the sport. A convention of those interested financially and otherwise in the game, was held in 1867 in Philadelphia, and an effort was made to effect a reformation. That the sport even then was by no means insignificant can be seen from the fact that in that convention some 500 organizations were represented. While the work done at the convention did not accomplish all that was expected, it did produce certain reforms, and the sport grew rapidly thereafter both in the eastern and in the middle western part of the United States. In the next five years the interest in the game became so great that it was decided to send a representation of American base-ball players to England; and two clubs, the Bostons, who were the champions that year, and the Athletics, former champions, crossed the Atlantic and played several exhibition games with each other. While successful in exciting some interest, the trip did not succeed in popularizing base-ball in Great Britain. Fifteen years later two other nines of representative American base-ball players made a general tour of Australia and various other countries, completing their trip by a contest in England. This too, however, had little effect, and later attempts to establish base-ball in England have likewise been unsuccessful. But in America the game continued to prosper. The first entirely professional club was the Cincinnati Red Stockings (1868). Two national associations were formed in 1871, one having jurisdiction over professional clubs and the other over amateurs. In 1876 was formed the National League, of eight clubs under the presidency of Nicholas E. Young, which contained the expert ball-players of the country. There were so many people in the United States who wanted to see professional base-ball that this organization proved too small to furnish the desired number of games, and hence in 1882 the American Association was formed. For a time it seemed that there would be room for both organizations; but there was considerable rivalry, and it was not until an agreement was made between the two organizations that they were able to work together in harmony. They practically controlled professional base-ball for many years, although there were occasional attempts to overthrow their authority, the most notable being the formation in 1890 of a brotherhood of players called the Players' League, organized for the purpose of securing some of the financial benefits accruing to the managers, as well as for the purpose of abolishing black-listing and other supposed abuses. The Players' League proved not sufficiently strong for the task, and fell to pieces. For some years the National League consisted of twelve clubs organized as stock companies, representing cities as far apart as Boston and St Louis, but in 1900 the number was reduced to eight, namely, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Pittsburg, Philadelphia and St Louis. Certain aggressive and dissatisfied elements took advantage of this change to organize a second great professional association under the presidency of B. B. Johnson, the "American League," of eight clubs, six of them in cities where the National League was already represented. Most of the clubs of both leagues flourish financially, as also do the many minor associations which control the clubs of the different sections of the country, among which are the Eastern League, the American Association, Western League, Southern Association, New England League, Pacific League and the different state leagues. Professional base-ball has not been free from certain objectionable elements, of which the unnecessary and rowdyish fault-finding with the umpires has been the most evident, but the authorities of the different leagues have lately succeeded, by strenuous legislation, in abating these. Of authorities on base-ball, Henry Chadwick (d. 1908) is the best known.
Amateur base-ball, in its organized phase, is played mostly by school and university clubs as well as those of athletic associations. The first college league was formed in 1879 and comprised Harvard, Princeton, Amherst, Brown and Dartmouth, Yale joining a year later. The Eastern College League, with Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Yale, followed in 1887. This was afterwards dissolved and at present the most important universities of the eastern states are members of no league, although such organizations exist in New England and different parts of the west and south. Amateur base-ball has progressed along the same lines as professional, although the college playing rules formerly differed in certain minor points from those of the professional leagues.
The following is a general description of the field and of the manner in which the game is played, but as the game has become highly complicated, situations may arise in playing in which general statements do not strictly hold. Any smooth, level field about 150 yds. long and 100 yds. broad will serve for a base-ball ground. Upon this field is marked out with white chalk a square, commonly called the diamond, smooth, like a cricket pitch, the sides of which measure 30 yds. each, and the nearest corner of which is distant about 30 yds. from the limit of the field. This corner is marked with a white plate, called the home-base or plate, five-sided in shape, two of the sides being 1 ft. long and that towards the pitcher 17 in. At the other three corners and attached to pegs are white canvas bags 15 in. square filled with some soft material, and called, beginning at the right as one looks towards the field, first-base, second-base and third-base respectively. The lines from home-base to first, and from home to third are indefinitely prolonged and called foul-lines. The game is played by two sides of nine men each, one of these taking its turn at the bat while the other is in the field endeavouring, as provided by certain rules, to put out the side at bat. Each side has nine turns, or innings, at bat, unless the side last at bat does not need its ninth innings in order to win; a tie at the end of the ninth innings makes additional innings necessary. A full game usually takes from 1 to 2 hrs. to play. Three batsmen are put out in each innings, and the side scoring the greatest number of runs (complete encircling of the bases without being put out) wins. A runner who is not put out but fails to reach home-base does not score a run, but is "left on base."
Implements of the Game. - The ball, which is 9-9 in. in circumference and weighs 5-5 oz., is made of yarn wound upon a small core of vulcanized rubber and covered with white leather, which may not be intentionally discoloured. The bat must be round, not over 2 in. in diameter at the thickest part, nor more than 42 in. in length. It is usually made of ash or some other hard wood, and the handle may be wound with twine. Three-cornered spikes are usually worn on the players' shoes. The catcher and first-baseman (v. infra) may wear a glove of any size on one hand; the gloves worn by all other players may not measure more than 14 in. round the palm nor weigh more than 10 oz.
The Players. - The fielding side consists of (a) the pitcher and catcher, called the battery, (b) the first-baseman, second-baseman, third-baseman and short-stop, called infielders, and (c) the left-fielder, centre-fielder and right-fielder, called out-fielders.
The pitcher, who delivers the ball to the batsman, is the most important member of the side. In the act of pitching, which is throwing either over or underhand, he must keep one foot in contact with a white plate, called the pitcher's plate, 24 in. long and 6 in. wide, placed 60.5 ft. from the back of the home-base. Before 1875 the pitcher was obliged to deliver the ball with a full toss only, but about that time a disguised underhand throw, which greatly increased the pace, began to be used so generally that it was soon legalized, and the overhand throw followed as a matter of course. As long as the arm was held stiff no curve could be imparted to the flight of the ball in the air, but with the increase of pace came the possibility of doing this by a movement of the wrist as the ball left the hand, the twist thus given causing the ball, by the pressure on the air, to swerve to one side or the other, or downwards, according to the position of the hand and fingers as the ball is let go. The commonest of these swerving deliveries, and the first one invented, is the out-curve, the ball coming straight towards the batsman until almost within reach of his bat, when it suddenly swerves away from him towards the right, if he be right-handed. The other important curves are the incurve, shooting sharply to the left, and the drop, with their many variations, nearly every pitcher using some favourite curve. Change of pace, disguised as well as possible, is also an important part of pitching strategy, as well as variation of the delivery and the play upon the known weaknesses or idiosyncrasies of the batsman. Good control over the ball is a necessity, as four "balls" called by the umpire, - that is, balls not over the base, or over the base and not between the shoulder and knee of the batsman, - entitle the batsman to become a base-runner and take his first base. If the pitcher disregards the restrictions placed upon him by the rules (e.g. he may not, while in position, make a motion to deliver the ball to the batsman without actually delivering it, or to first-base, while that base is occupied by a runner, without completing the throw), he is said to have made a balk, which permits a base runner to advance a base. In fielding batted balls the pitcher takes all that come directly to him, especially slow ones which the other fielders cannot reach in time. One of his duties is to "back up" the first-baseman in order to stop balls thrown wide, and to cover first-base in place of the baseman whenever that player has to leave his base to field a ground ball. On occasion he also backs up other positions.
The catcher usually stands about 1 yd. behind the home plate, and he must never be more than 10 ft. behind the home plate when the pitcher delivers the ball to the batsman. He generally catches the ball from the pitcher before it strikes the ground, and, when a man of the opposing side has succeeded in getting to a base, must be on the alert to head this opponent off should he endeavour to steal the next base, i.e. run to it while the pitcher is delivering the ball to the batsman. For this reason the catcher must be a quick, strong and accurate thrower. As the catcher alone faces the whole field, he is able to warn the pitcher when to throw to a base in order to catch a runner napping off the base, and by secretly signalling to the pitcher (usually by means of signs with his fingers) he directs what kind of a ball is to be pitched, so that he may be in the proper position to receive the ball, be it high or low, to left or right. Some pitchers, however, prefer to reserve their choice of balls and therefore do the signalling themselves. The catcher wears a mask, a breast-pad, and a large glove, without which the position would be a very dangerous one.
As every batsman upon hitting the ball must run for the first-base, the first-baseman must be a sure catch of balls thrown to head runners off, even those thrown too low, high or wide. A tall man is usually chosen for this position. The second-baseman usually stands about 30 ft. to the right of second-base and back of the line between the bases, and attends to balls batted to his side of the diamond. He also backs up any exposed position and must be ready to cover second-base whenever a runner tries to steal down from first-base, or whenever there is a runner on second-base, a duty which he shares with the short-stop, whose position corresponds to that of the second-baseman on the left side of the diamond. Short-stop must be a quick and accurate thrower and a lively fielder, as he is required to back up second- and third-base. Both he and the second-baseman must field ground balls cleanly and are often called upon to catch fly balls also. The requirements of third-baseman are very similar, but he must be an exceptionally good thrower, as he has the longest distance to throw to the first-base; and as he plays nearer to the batsman than do the second-baseman and the short-stop, the balls batted in his direction are apt to be faster and more difficult to field. One of the third-baseman's chief duties is to be ready to run in towards the batsman to field "bunts," i.e. balls blocked by allowing them to rebound from a loosely held bat. These commonly roll slowly in the direction of third-baseman, who, in order to get them to first-base in time to put the runner out, must run in, pick them up, usually with one hand, so as to be in position to throw without the loss of an instant, and "snap" them to the first-baseman, i.e. throw them underhand without taking time to raise his body to an erect position. Many of these bunts can be fielded either by the pitcher or, if they drop dead in front of the home-plate, by the catcher. The positions of the three outfielders can be seen on the diagram. Their duties consist of catching all "flies" batted over the heads of the infielders (i.e. high batted balls that have not touched the ground), stopping and returning ground balls that pass the infield, and backing up the baseman. The accompanying diagram indicates the territory roughly allotted to the different fielders. "Backing up" is a very prominent feature in fielding. Even the pitcher, for example, should run behind the first-baseman when the ball is thrown to the latter by another, in order to stop a widely thrown or missed ball, which, if allowed to pass, would enable the runner to gain one or more additional bases. Bases vacated by their basemen while fielding balls must often, also, be promptly covered by another player. The general rule of defence strategy is similar to that in cricket, namely, to have as many men as possible at the probable point of attack. There is usually an infield and an outfield captain for the special purpose of calling the name of the player who is to take a certain fly ball, to prevent collisions.
The batsman stands three-quarters facing the pitcher within a parallelogram ("box") 6 ft. long and 4 ft. wide, the lines of which he may not overstep, on penalty of being declared out. His object is to get to first-base without being put out. This he may do in several ways. (1) He may make a "safe-hit," i.e. one that is "fair" but cannot be caught, or fielded in time to put him out. (2) He is entitled to first-base if the pitcher pitches four bad balls, at none of which he (the batsman) has struck. (3) He may be unavoidably struck by a pitched ball, in which case he is given his base. (4) He may, except in certain specified cases, after a third strike, if the catcher has failed to catch the third one, earn his base if he can reach it before the catcher can throw the ball to the first-baseman, and the first-baseman, with the ball in his possession, touch first-base. (5) He may reach his base by an error of some fielder, which may be either a muffed fly, a failure to stop and field a ground ball, a muffed thrown ball or a bad throw. Only balls batted within the foul-lines (see diagram) are fair. All others are "fouls," and the batsman cannot run on them. All foul-struck balls are called strikes until two strikes have been called by the umpire, after which fouls are not counted.
Batting, as in cricket, is a science by itself, although comparatively more stress is laid on fielding than in cricket. A good batsman can place the ball in any part of the field he chooses by meeting the ball at different angles. He may make a safe hit either by hitting the ball on the ground directly through the infield out of reach of the fielders, or so hard that it cannot be stopped. In the last case a failure to stop and field it does not count as an "error" (misplay) for the fielder, even though it came straight at him, the decision as to errors appearing in the score (v. infra) depending upon the official scorer of the home club. The batsman may also hit safely by placing the ball over the heads of the infielders, but not far enough to be caught by the outfielders, or over the heads of the outfielders themselves, or he may bunt successfully. A hit by which two bases can be made (without errors by opponents) is a "two-base-hit," one for three bases a "three-base-hit," and one for four bases a "home-run." The batsman may be put out in various ways. For example, he is out (1) if he fails to bat in the order named in the published batting-list; (2) if he fails to take his position within one minute after the umpire has summoned him; (3) if he makes a foul hit which is caught before it strikes the ground (a ball barely ticked by the bat ["foul-tip"] does not count); (4) if he oversteps the batting-lines; (5) if he intentionally obstructs or interferes with the catcher; (6) if he unsuccessfully attempts the third strike and the ball hits his person or is caught by the catcher (under certain conditions he is out whether the ball is so caught or not), or, not being caught, is thrown to first-base and held there by an opposing player before the batsman can get there; (7) if a fair ball be caught before striking the ground; (8) if any fair ball is fielded to first-baseman before he reaches the base. The batsman becomes a base-runner the moment he starts for first-base. He may, when he first reaches first-base, overrun his base (provided he turns to his right in returning to it) without risk of being put out, but thereafter can be put out by being touched with the ball in the hands of a fielder unless some part of the runner's person is in contact with the base. When a fair or foul ball struck by a batsman on his side is caught on the fly, he must retouch his base, or be put out if the baseman receives the ball before he can do so. A runner on first-base is forced to run to second as soon as a fair ball is batted, or, being on second with another runner on first, he is forced to run to third. This is called being "forced off his base." In such a situation the forced runner can be put out if the ball is thrown to the baseman at the next base before the runner gets there. He does not require to be touched with the ball. The runner on first is entitled, however, to advance to second without risk of being put out if the batsman becomes similarly entitled to first-base (e.g. on being unavoidably struck by the ball, or on four balls). Frequently, if the ball is batted to the infield while a runner is on first-base, the fielder tosses it to second-baseman, putting out the runner, and the second-baseman has still time to throw the ball to first-base ahead of the batsman, thus completing a "double play." Triple plays are sometimes made when there are runners on two or on all of the bases. Base-running is one of the important arts of base-ball play. A good base-runner takes as long a lead off the base as he dares, starts to run the moment the pitcher makes the first movement to deliver the ball, and if necessary throws himself with a slide, either feet or head first, on to the objective base, the reason for the slide being to make it more difficult for the baseman to touch the runner, having to stoop in order to do so, thus losing time. A base-runner is out if he interferes with an opponent while the latter is fielding a ball or if he is hit by a batted ball. An example of modern base-running is offered by the "double steal," carried out, e.g., when there is a runner on first-base and a runner on third-base. The runner on first starts for second leisurely in order to draw a throw to second by the catcher. If the catcher throws, the runner on third runs for the home-plate, the second-baseman returning the ball to the catcher in order to put the runner out. The play often results in a score, but the runner is frequently caught if the throws are quick and accurate, or when the catcher deceives the runner by throwing, not to the player at second-base, but to a man stationed for the purpose much nearer the home-plate, this man intercepting the ball and returning it to the catcher if the runner on third is attempting to score, or letting it pass to the player on second-base, if the runner on third does not make the attempt.
Team batting is the co-operation of batsman and base-runner. The commonest example is the "hit and run" play, e.g. when a runner is on first-base. After the runner has ascertained by a false start which infielder, whether second-baseman or short-stop, will cover second-base, the batsman signals to the runner that he will hit the next ball. As soon as the pitcher delivers the ball the runner starts for second and the batsman hits the ball to that part of the infield vacated by the fielder who has gone to receive the ball at second from the catcher. If successful this play results in a safe hit, while the runner not infrequently makes, not only second, but third-base as well. Another instance of team batting is when a runner is on third-base and the batsman signals that he will hit the next ball. This enables the runner to get a long start, making his scoring nearly certain if the batsman succeeds in hitting the ball fairly. If the ball is hit without the signal and consequent long start by the runner, the latter is frequently put out at the plate, as the infielder who fields the ball will ignore the batsman and throw the ball to the catcher to head off the runner and prevent a run being scored. In close games the "sacrifice-hit," a part of team batting, is an important element. It consists, when a runner is on base, of a hit by the batsman resulting in his own retirement but the advancement to the next base of the runner. The sacrifice-hit is most frequently a bunt, as this gives the batsman the best chance of reaching first-base safely, besides surely advancing the runner. Another kind of sacrifice-hit is a long fly to the outfield. On such a hit a runner on third-base (as on the other bases) must remain on the base until after the ball is caught, but the distance from the outfield to the home-plate is so great that a fast runner can generally beat the ball and score his run. When men are on bases, coaches are allowed to stand near first and third bases to direct the runners.
One umpire, who has absolute jurisdiction over all points of play, usually officiates in base-ball, but, in important games, two umpires are often employed, one of them standing behind the catcher and calling the good and bad balls pitched, and the other, posted in the infield, giving decisions on plays at the bases.
In cases where the game is tied after nine innings, extra ones are played, the umpire "calling" a game when it becomes too dark to play. In case of rain, play is suspended by the umpire, who calls the game if the rain continues for one half-hour. Should play be permanently interrupted the game counts if five innings have been completed by each side.
Scoring. - The base-ball score shows, in vertical columns, (1) how many times each player has been at bat (bases taken on balls and sacrifice-hits not counted); (2) how many runs he has scored; (3) how many base-hits he has made; (4) how many sacrifice-hits he has made; (5) how many opponents he has put out; (6) how many "assists," i.e. times he has assisted in putting out (e.g. stopping a ground ball and throwing it to first-base); (7) the number of errors he has made, wild pitches and "passed balls," i.e. not held by the catcher, as well as balks and bases on balls, not being counted as errors but set down under the regular columns, together with the record of stolen bases, extra long hits, double and triple plays, batsmen struck out by each pitcher, the number of men struck by each pitcher with the ball, the time of the game and the name of the umpire.
Careful record is kept of the batting, fielding, pitching and base-running averages of both professional and amateur players. To find the batting record of a player, divide the number of hits made by the number of times at bat. To find a fielding record, divide the number of accepted chances by the total chances, e.g. A.B. put 1188 men out, and assisted sixty-four times, while making fifteen errors; his fielding average is therefore 1252 divided by 1267, or 988, 1000 being perfect fielding.
See Spalding's Base-ball Guide, in Spalding's Athletic Library, published annually; How to Play Base-ball, by T. H. Murnane, Spalding's Athletic Library; The Book of School and College Sports, by R. H. Barbour (New York, 1904).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)