An Inquiry Into The Origin Of Base-ball With A Brief Sketch Of Its History
It may or it may not be a serious reflection upon the accuracy of
history that the circumstances of the invention of the first ball are
enveloped in some doubt. Herodotus attributes it to the Lydians, but
several other writers unite in conceding to a certain beautiful lady of
Corcyra, Anagalla by name, the credit of first having made a ball for
the purpose of pastime. Several passages in Homer rather sustain this
latter view, and, therefore, with the weight of evidence, and to the
glory of woman, we, too, shall adopt this theory. Anagalla did not apply
for letters patent, but, whether from goodness of heart or inability to
keep a secret, she lost no time in making known her invention and
explaining its uses. Homer, then, relates how:
O'er the green mead the sporting virgins play, Their shining veils
unbound; along the skies, Tost and retost, the ball incessant flies.
And this is the first ball game on record, though it is perhaps
unnecessary to say that it was not yet base-ball.
No other single accident has ever been so productive of games as that
invention. From the day when the Phaeacian maidens started the ball
rolling down to the present time, it has been continuously in motion,
and as long as children love play and adults feel the need of exercise
and recreation, it will continue to roll. It has been known in all
lands, and at one time or another been popular with all peoples. The
Greeks and the Romans were great devotees of ball-play; China was noted
for her players; in the courts of Italy and France, we are told, it was
in especial favor, and Fitz-Stephen, writing in the 13th century, speaks
of the London schoolboys playing at the celebrated game of ball.
For many centuries no bat was known, but in those games requiring the
ball to be struck, the hand alone was used. In France there was early
played a species of hand-ball. To protect the hands thongs were
sometimes bound about them, and this eventually furnished the idea of
the racquet. Strutt thinks a bat was first used in golf, cambuc, or
bandy ball. This was similar to the boys' game of shinny, or, as it is
now more elegantly known, polo, and the bat used was bent at the end,
just as now. The first straight bats were used in the old English game
called club ball. This was simply fungo hitting, in which one player
tossed the ball in the air and hit it, as it fell, to others who caught
it, or sometimes it was pitched to him by another player.
Concerning the origin of the American game of base-ball there exists
considerable uncertainty. A correspondent of Porter's Spirit of the
Times, as far back as 1856, begins a series of letters on the game by
acknowledging his utter inability to arrive at any satisfactory
conclusion upon this point; and a writer of recent date introduces a
research into the history of the game with the frank avowal that he has
only succeeded in finding a remarkable lack of literature on the
In view of its extraordinary growth and popularity as Our National
Game, the author deems it important that its true origin should, if
possible, be ascertained, and he has, therefore, devoted to this inquiry
more space than might at first seem necessary.
In 1856, within a dozen years from the time of the systematization of
the game, the number of clubs in the metropolitan district and the
enthusiasm attending their matches began to attract particular
attention. The fact became apparent that it was surely superseding the
English game of cricket, and the adherents of the latter game looked
with ill-concealed jealousy on the rising upstart. There were then, as
now, persons who believed that everything good and beautiful in the
world must be of English origin, and these at once felt the need of a
pedigree for the new game. Some one of them discovered that in certain
features it resembled an English game called rounders, and immediately
it was announced to the American public that base-ball was only the
English game transposed. This theory was not admitted by the followers
of the new game, hut, unfortunately, they were not in a position to
emphasize the denial. One of the strongest advocates of the rounder
theory, an Englishman-born himself, was the writer for out-door sports
on the principal metropolitan publications. In this capacity and as the
author of a number of independent works of his own, and the writer of
the base-ball articles in several encyclopedias and books of sport, he
has lost no opportunity to advance his pet theory. Subsequent writers
have, blindly, it would seem, followed this lead, until now we find it
asserted on every hand as a fact established by some indisputable
evidence; and yet there has never been adduced a particle of proof to
support this conclusion.
While the author of this work entertains the greatest respect for that
gentleman, both as a journalist and man, and believes that base-ball
owes to him a monument of gratitude for the brave fight he has always
made against the enemies and abuses of the game, he yet considers this
point as to the game's origin worthy of further investigation, and he
still regards it as an open question.
When was base-ball first played in America?
The first contribution which in any way refers to the antiquity of the
game is the first official report of the National Association in 1858.
This declares The game of base-ball has long been a favorite and
popular recreation in this country, but it is only within the last
fifteen years that any attempt has been made to systematize and regulate
the game. The italics are inserted to call attention to the fact that
in the memory of the men of that day base-ball had been played a long
time prior to 1845, so long that the fifteen years of systematized play
was referred to by an only.
Colonel Jas. Lee, elected an honorary member of the Knickerbocker Club
in 1846, said that he had often played the same game when a boy, and at
that time he was a man of sixty or more years. Mr. Wm. F. Ladd, my
informant, one of the original members of the Knickerbockers, says that
he never in any way doubted Colonel Lee's declaration, because he was a
gentleman eminently worthy of belief.
Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, several years since, said to the reporter of
a Boston paper that base-ball was one of the sports of his college days
at Harvard, and Dr. Holmes graduated in 1829.
Mr. Charles De Bost, the catcher and captain of the old Knickerbockers,
played base-ball on Long Island fifty years ago, and it was the same
game which the Knickerbockers afterward played.
In the absence of any recorded proof as to the antiquity of the game,
testimony such as the foregoing becomes important, and it might be
multiplied to an unlimited extent.
Another noticeable point is the belief in the minds of the game's first
organizers that they were dealing with a purely American production, and
the firmness of this conviction is evidenced by everything they said and
did. An examination of the speeches and proceedings of the conventions,
of articles in the daily and other periodical publications, of the
poetry which the game at that early day inspired, taken in connection
with the declarations of members of the first clubs still living, will
show this vein of belief running all the way through. The idea that
base-ball owed its origin to any foreign game was not only not
entertained, but indignantly repudiated by the men of that time; and in
pursuing his investigations the writer has discovered that this feeling
still exists in a most emphatic form.
In view of the foregoing we may safely say that base-ball was played in
America as early, at least, as the beginning of this century.
It may be instructive now to inquire as to the antiquity of the old
English game from which baseball is said to have sprung. Deferring for
the present the consideration of its resemblance to base-ball, what
proof have we of its venerable existence? Looking, primarily, to the
first editions of old English authorities on out-door sports, I have
been unable to find any record that such a game as rounders was known.
I may have been unfortunate in my searches, for, though I have exhausted
every available source of information, I have not discovered any mention
The first standard English writer to speak of rounders is Stonehenge
in his Manual of Sports, London, 1856. Since then almost every English
work on out-door sports describes the old [with an emphasis] English
game of rounders, and in the same connection declares it to be the germ
of the American base-ball; and yet, curiously enough, not one of them
gives us any authority even for dubbing it old, much less for calling
it the origin of our game. But in 1856 base-ball had been played here
for many years; it had already attracted attention as the popular sport,
and by 1860 was known in slightly differing forms all over the country.
To all these later English writers, therefore, its existence and general
principles must have been familiar, and it is consequently remarkable
that, in view of their claim, they have given us no more particulars of
the game of rounders. Are we to accept this assertion without reserve,
when an investigation would seem to indicate that baseball is really the
older game? If this English game was then a common school-boy sport, as
now claimed, it seems almost incredible that it should have escaped the
notice of all the writers of the first half of the century; and yet no
sooner does base-ball become famous as the American game than English
writers discover that there is an old and popular English game from
which it is descended. Many of the games which the earlier writers
describe are extremely simple as compared with rounders, and yet the
latter game is entirely overlooked!
But upon what ground have these later writers based their assumption?
Many, doubtless, have simply followed the writings from this side of the
Atlantic; others have been misled by their ignorance of the actual age
of our game, for there are even many Americans who think base-ball was
introduced by the Knickerbocker and following clubs; a few, with the
proverbial insular idea, have concluded that base-ball must be of
English origin, if for no other reason, because it ought to be.
It is not my intention to declare the old game of rounders a myth. There
is ample living testimony to its existence as early perhaps as 1830, but
that it was a popular English game before base-ball was played here I am
not yet ready to believe. Before we accept the statement that base-hall
is only a species of glorified rounders, we should demand some proof
that the latter is really the older game. In this connection it will be
important to remember that there were two English games called
rounders, but entirely distinct the one from the other. Johnson's
Dictionary, edition of 1876, describes the first, and presumably the
older, as similar to fives or hand-ball, while the second is the game
supposed to be allied to base-ball. Fives is one of the oldest of
games, and if it or a similar game was called rounders, it will
require something more than the mere occurrence of the name in some old
writing to prove that the game referred to is the rounders as now
played. And if this cannot be shown, why might we not claim, with as
much reason as the other theory has been maintained, that the old
English game of rounders is only a poor imitation of the older American
game of base-ball?
Up to this point we have waived the question of resemblance between the
two games, but let us now inquire what are the points of similarity.
Are these, after all, so striking as to warrant the assumption that one
game was derived from the other, no matter which may be shown to be the
older? In each there are sides; the ball is tossed to the striker, who
hits it with a bat; he is out if the ball so hit is caught; he runs to
different bases in succession and may be put out if hit by the ball when
between the bases. But with this the resemblance ceases. In base-ball
nine men constitute a side, while in rounders there may be any number
over three. In base-ball there are four bases (including the home), and
the field is a diamond. In rounders the bases are five in number and the
field a pentagon in shape. There is a fair and foul hit in base-ball,
while in rounders no such thing is known. In rounders if a ball is
struck at and missed, or if hit so that it falls back of the striker, he
is out, while in base-ball the ball must be missed three times and the
third one caught in order to retire the striker; and a foul, unless
caught like any other ball, has no effect and is simply declared dead.
In rounders the score is reckoned by counting one for each base made,
and some of the authorities say the run is completed when the runner has
reached the base next on the left of the one started from. In base-ball
one point is scored only when the runner has made every base in
succession and returned to the one from which he started. In rounders
every player on the side must be put out before the other side can come
in, while in base-ball from time immemorial the rule has been three
out, all out. The distinctive feature of rounders, and the one which
gives it its name, is that when all of a side except two have been
retired, one of the two remaining may call for the rounder; that is,
he is allowed three hits at the ball, and if in any one of these he can
make the entire round of the bases, all the players of his side are
reinstated as batters. No such feature as this was ever heard of in
base-ball, yet, as said, it is the characteristic which gives to
rounders its name, and any derivation of that game must certainly have
If the points of resemblance were confined solely to these two games it
would prove nothing except that boys' ideas as well as men's often run
in the same channels. The very ancient game of bandy ball has its double
in an older Persian sport, and the records of literary and mechanical
invention present some curious coincidences. But, as a matter of fact,
every point common to these two, games was known and used long before in
other popular sports. That the ball was tossed to the bat to be hit was
true of a number of other games, among which were club ball, tip cat,
and cricket; in both of the latter and also in stool ball bases were
run, and in tip cat, a game of much greater antiquity than either base-
ball or rounders, the runner was out if hit by the ball when between
bases. In all of these games the striker was out if the ball when hit
was caught. Indeed, a comparison will show that there are as many
features of base-ball common to cricket or tip cat as there are to
In view, then, of these facts, that the points of similarity are not
distinctive, and that the points of difference are decidedly so, I can
see no reason in analogy to say that one game is descended from the
other, no matter which may be shown to be the older.
There was a game known in some parts of this country fifty or more years
ago called town-ball. In 1831 a club was regularly organized in
Philadelphia to play the game, and it is recorded that the first day for
practice enough members were not present to make up town-ball, and so a
game of two-old-cat was played. This town-ball was so nearly like
rounders that one must have been the prototype of the other, but town-
ball and base-ball were two very different games. When this same town-
ball club decided in 1860 to adopt base-ball instead, many of its
principal members resigned, so great was the enmity to the latter game.
Never, until recently, was the assertion made that base-ball was a
development of town-ball, and it could not have been done had the
writers looked up at all the historical facts.
The latest attempt to fasten an English tab on the American game is
noteworthy. Not content to stand by the theory that our game is sprung
from the English rounders, it is now intimated that baseball itself, the
same game and under the same name, is of English origin. To complete the
chain, it is now only necessary for some English writer to tell us that
in 1845 a number of English gentlemen sojourning in New York organized
a club called the Knickbockers, and introduced to Americans the old
English game of base-ball. This new departure has not yet gained much
headway, but it must be noticed on account of the circumstances of its
The edition of Chambers' Encyclopedia just out, in its article on base-
ball says that the game was mentioned in Miss Austen's Northanger
Abbey, written about 1798, and leaves us to infer that it was the same
game that we now know by that name. It was not necessary to go into the
realm of fiction to find this ancient use of the name. A writer to the
London Times in 1874 pointed out that in 1748 the family of Frederick,
Prince of Wales, were represented as engaged in a game of base-ball.
Miss Austen refers to base-ball as played by the daughters of Mrs.
Morland, the eldest of whom was fourteen. In Elaine's Rural Sports,
London, 1852, in an introduction to ball games in general, occurs this
passage: There are few of us of either sex but have engaged in base-
ball since our majority. Whether in all these cases the same game was
meant matters not, and it is not established by the mere identity of
names. Base, as meaning a place of safety, dates its origin from the
game of prisoners' base long before anything in the shape of base-ball
or rounders; so that any game of ball in which bases were a feature
would likely be known by that name. The fact that in the three instances
in which we find the name mentioned it is always a game for girls or
women, would justify the suspicion that it was not always the same game,
and that it in any way resembled our game is not to be imagined. Base-
ball in its mildest form is essentially a robust game, and it would
require an elastic imagination to conceive of little girls possessed of
physical powers such as its play demands.
Besides, if the English base-ball of 1748, 1798, and 1852 were the same
as our base-ball we would have been informed of that fact long ago, and
it would never have been necessary to attribute the origin of our game
to rounders. And when, in 1874, the American players were introducing
base-ball to Englishmen, the patriotic Britain would not have said, as
he then did, that our game was only rounders with the rounder left
out, but he would at once have told us that base-ball itself was an old
But this latest theory is altogether untenable and only entitled to
consideration on account of the authority under which it is put forth.
In a little book called Jolly Games for Happy Homes, London, 1875,
dedicated to wee little babies and grown-up ladies, there is described
a game called base-ball. It is very similar in its essence to our game
and is probably a reflection of it. It is played by a number of girls in
a garden or field. Having chosen sides, the leader of the out side
tosses the ball to one of the ins, who strikes it with her hand and
then scampers for the trees, posts, or other objects previously
designated as bases. Having recovered the ball, the scouts, or those
on the outs, give chase and try to hit the fleeing one at a time when
she is between bases. There must be some other means, not stated, for
putting out the side; the ability to throw a ball with accuracy is
vouchsafed to few girls, and if the change of innings depended upon
this, the game, like a Chinese play, would probably never end. It is
described, however, as a charming pastime, and, notwithstanding its
simplicity, is doubtless a modern English conception of our National
To recapitulate briefly, the assertion that base-ball is descended from
rounders is a pure assumption, unsupported even by proof that the latter
game antedates the former and unjustified by any line of reasoning based
upon the likeness of the games. The other attempt to declare base-ball
itself an out-and-out English game is scarcely worthy of serious
But if base-ball is neither sprung from rounders nor taken bodily from
another English game, what is its origin? I believe it to be a fruit of
the inventive genius of the American boy. Like our system of government,
it is an American evolution, and while, like that, it has doubtless been
affected by foreign associations, it is none the less distinctively our
own. Place in the hands of youth a ball and bat, and they will invent
games of ball, and that these will be affected by other familiar games
and in many respects resemble them, goes without saving.
The tradition among the earliest players of the game now living, is that
the root from which came our present base-ball was the old-time American
game of cat-ball. This was the original American ball game, and the
time when it was not played here is beyond the memory of living man.
There were two varieties of the game, the first called one-old-cat, or
one-cornered-cat, and the other two-old-cat.
In one-old-cat there were a batter, pitcher, catcher, and fielders.
There were no sides, and generally no bases to run, but in every other
respect the game was like base-ball. The batter was out if he missed
three times and the third strike was caught, or if the ball when hit was
caught on the fly or first bound. When the striker was put out the
catcher went in to bat, the pitcher to catch, and the first fielder to
pitch, and so on again when the next striker was retired. The order of
succession had been established when the players went on the field by
each calling out a number, as one, two, three, etc., one being the
batter, two the catcher, three the pitcher, four the first fielder, etc.
Thus, each in order secured his turn at bat, the coveted position.
Sometimes, when the party was larger, more than one striker was allowed,
and in that case, not only to give the idle striker something to do, but
to offer extra chances for putting him out, one or more bases were laid
out, and having hit the ball he was forced to run to these. If he could
be hit with the ball at any time when he was between bases he was out,
and he was forced to be back to the striker's position in time to take
his turn at bat. This made him take chances in running. No count was
kept of runs. Two-old-cat differed from one-old-cat in having two
batters at opposite stations, as in the old English stool-ball and the
more modern cricket, while the fielders divided so that half faced one
batter and half the other.
From one-old-cat to base-ball is a short step. It was only necessary to
choose sides, and then the count of runs made by each would form the
natural test of superiority. That base-ball actually did develop in this
way was the generally accepted theory for many years.
In 1869 an article in The Nation, from A. H. Sedgwick, commenting upon
the features of baseball arid cricket as exemplifying national
characteristics, said: To those other objectors who would contend that
our explanation supposes a gradual modification of the English into the
American game, while it is a matter of common learning that the latter
is of no foreign origin but the lineal descendant of that favorite of
boyhood, 'two-old-cat,' we would say that, fully agreeing with them as
to the historical fact, we have always believed it to be so clear as not
to need further evidence, and that for the purposes of this article the
history of the matter is out of place.
Without going further into a consideration that might be greatly
prolonged, I reassert my belief that our national game is a home
production. In the field of out-door sports the American boy is easily
capable of devising his own amusements, and until some proof is adduced
that base-ball is not his invention I protest against this systematic
effort to rob him of his dues.
The recorded history of the game may be briefly sketched; it is not the
object here to give a succinct history:
In 1845 a number of gentlemen who had been in the habit, for several
years, of playing base-ball for recreation, determined to form
themselves into a permanent organization under the name of The
Knickerbocker Club. They drew up a Constitution and By-laws, and
scattered through the latter are to be found the first written rules of
the game. They little thought that that beginning would develop into the
present vast system of organized base-ball. They were guilty of no
crafty changes of any foreign game; there was no incentive for that.
They recorded the rules of the game as they remembered them from boyhood
and as they found them in vogue at that time. For six years the club
played regularly at the Elysian Field, the two nines being made up from
all the members present. From 1851 other clubs began to be organized,
and we find the Washington, Gotham (into which the Washington was
merged), Eagle, Empire, Putnam, Baltic, Union, Mutual, Excelsior,
Atlantic, Eckford, and many other clubs following in the space of a few
In Philadelphia town-ball was the favorite pastime and kept out base-
ball for some time, while in Boston the local New England game, as
played by the Olympic, Elm Tree, and Green Mountain Clubs, deferred the
introduction of base-ball, or, as it was called, the New York game,
Base-ball grew rapidly in favor; the field was ripe. America needed a
live out-door sport, and this game exactly suited the national
temperament. It required all the manly qualities of activity, endurance,
pluck, and skill peculiar to cricket, and was immeasurably superior to
that game in exciting features. There were dash, spirit, and variety,
and it required only a couple of hours to play a game. Developed by
American brains, it was flaw to us, and we took to it with all the
enthusiasm peculiar to our nature.
In 1857 a convention of delegates from sixteen clubs located in and
around New York and Brooklyn was held, and a uniform set of rules drawn
up to govern the play of all the clubs.
In 1858 a second general convention was held, at which twenty-five clubs
were represented. A committee was appointed to formulate a Constitution
and By-laws for a permanent organization, and in accordance with this
The National Association of Baseball Players was duly organized. The
game now made rapid strides. It was no boys' sport, for no one under
twenty-one years of age could be a delegate. Each year a committee of
men having a practical knowledge of the game revised the playing rules,
so that these were always kept abreast of the time.
During 1858 a series of three games between picked nines from New York
and Brooklyn was played on the Fashion Course, Long Island. The public
interest in these games was very great and the local feeling ran high.
The series, which terminated in favor of New York, two to one,
attracted general attention to the game.
In 1861 a similar game was played called the silver ball match, on
account of the trophy, a silver ball, offered by the New York Clipper.
This time Brooklyn won easily, and it is said some 15,000 people were
At the second annual meeting of the National Association in 1860,
seventy clubs had delegates present, representing New York, Brooklyn,
Boston, Detroit, New Haven, Newark, Troy, Albany, Buffalo, and other
cities. During this year the first extended trip was taken by the
Excelsior Club, of Brooklyn, going to Albany, Troy, Buffalo, Rochester,
and Newburgh. All the expenses of the trip were paid from the treasury
of the traveling club, for there were no inclosed grounds in those days
and no questions as to percentage or guarantee were yet agitating the
clubs and public. The Excelsiors won every game, and their skillful
display and gentlemanly appearance did much to popularize the game in
the cities visited.
Already in 1860 the game was coming to be recognized as our national
pastime, and there were clubs in all the principal cities. Philadelphia
had forsaken her town-ball, and Boston's New England game, after a
hard fight, gave way to the New York game. Washington, Baltimore,
Troy, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, all had their champion
teams. From Detroit to New Orleans, and from Portland, Maine, to far-off
San Francisco, the grand game was the reigning out-door sport.
With the outbreak of the Civil War came a very general suspension of
play in the different cities, though the records of occasional games in
camp show that the boys did not entirely forget the old love. In 1865
the friendly contests were resumed, though the call of the rolls showed
many absent who had never been known to miss a game. More than one of
those who went out in '61 had proven his courage on the crimson field.
During the seasons of '65, '66, and '67 amateur base-ball, so-called,
was in the height of its glory. At the annual Convention of the National
Association in '66 a total of two hundred and two clubs from seventeen
States and the District of Columbia were represented; besides, there
were present delegates from the Northwestern and Pennsylvania
Associations, representing in addition over two hundred clubs.
In 1867 the trip of the Nationals of Washington was the first visit of
an Eastern club to the West, and helped greatly to spread the reputation
of the game.
For a number of years, however, certain baneful influences had crept
into the game and now began to work out their legitimate effect.
The greatest of these evils was in the amount of gambling on the results
of games. With so much money at stake, the public knew that players
would be tampered with, and when finally its suspicions were confirmed,
it refused further to patronize the game.
The construction of inclosed grounds and the charge of admission proved
another danger. No regular salaries were paid, so that the players who
were depending on a share of the gate arranged to win and lose a game
in order that the deciding contest might draw well.
Doubtless there were more of these things existing in the public
imagination than in actual fact, but distrust once aroused, there was no
faith left for anything or anybody.
Very early in the history of the Association the practice prevailed
among certain clubs of offering inducements to crack players in order to
secure them as members. The clubs which could afford this grew
disproportionately strong, and in the face of continual defeat the
weaker clubs were losing interest. In 1859 a rule was made forbidding
the participation in any matches of paid players, but it was so easily
evaded that it was a dead letter. In 1866 the rule was reworded, but
with no improved effect, and in 1868 the National Association decided,
as the only way out of the dilemma, to recognize the professional class
of players. By making this distinction it would no longer be considered
a disgrace for an amateur to be beaten by a professional nine.
For the professionals the change was most beneficial. It legitimized
their occupation and left them at liberty to pursue openly and honorably
what they had before been forced to follow under false colors. The proud
record of the Cincinnati Reds in '69 proved that professional base-
ball could be honestly and profitably conducted, and from that time
forth it was an established institution.
But with the introduction of professionalism there began a great
competition for players, and this brought in a new evil in the form of
revolvers, or, as they were sometimes called, shooting stars.
Players under contract with one club yielded to the temptations of
larger offers and repudiated the first agreements. It became evident
that a closer organization was necessary to deal with these affairs.
In 1871 the professional and amateur organizations concluded to dissolve
partnership. Two distinct associations were formed, and the first
regular championship contests were engaged in by the Professional
Association. After a few years the Amateur National Association passed
out of existence.
In 1876 eight clubs of the Professional National Association formed an
independent body, calling themselves The National League, and this is
the present senior base-ball organization.
In 1881 a new body of professional clubs, The American Association,
entered the field, and is now, with the National League, one of the
controlling factors of the game.
There have been a number of other base-ball associations formed from
time to time, but, unable to compete with the larger Leagues, and
despoiled of their best players, they have been forced to withdraw.
Under a new regime there are at present quite a number of these minor
organizations, and some of them are in a most flourishing condition.
In 1882 the National League, American Association, and Northwestern
League entered into what was called the Triparti Agreement, which the
following year was developed into the National Agreement. The parties
to this document, which is become the lex suprema in base-ball affairs,
are now, primarily, the National League and the American Association. It
regulates the term of players' contracts and the period for
negotiations; it provides a fine of five hundred dollars upon the club
violating, and disqualifies the player for the ensuing season; it
prescribes the formula necessary to make a legal contract; the clubs
of each Association are to respect the reservations, expulsions,
blacklistments, and suspensions of the clubs of the other; it declares
that no club shall pay any salary in excess of two thousand dollars;
finally, it provides for a Board of Arbitration, consisting of three
duly accredited representatives from each Association, to convene
annually, and, in addition to all matters that may be specially
referred to them, to have sole, exclusive, and final jurisdiction of
all disputes and complaints arising under, and all interpretations of,
this Agreement. It shall also decide all disputes between the
Associations or between club members of one Association and club members
of the other.
To this main agreement are tacked Articles of Qualified Admission, by
which the minor base-ball associations, for a consideration and upon
certain conditions, are conceded certain privileges and protection.
These articles are an agreement between the League and American
Association, party of the first part, and the minor leagues as party of
the second part.
The most important feature of the National Agreement unquestionably is
the provision according to the club members the privilege of reserving a
stated number of players. No other club of any Association under the
Agreement dares engage any player so reserved. To this rule, more than
any other thing, does base-ball as a business owe its present
substantial standing. By preserving intact the strength of a team from
year to year; it places the business of baseball on a permanent basis
and thus offers security to the investment of capital. The greatest evil
with which the business has of recent years had to contend is the
unscrupulous methods of some of its managers. Knowing no such thing as
professional honor, these men are ever ready to benefit themselves,
regardless of the cost to an associate club. The reserve rule itself is
a usurpation of the players' rights, but it is, perhaps, made necessary
by the peculiar nature of the base-ball business, and the player is
indirectly compensated by the improved standing of the game. I quote in
this connection Mr. A. G. Mills, ex-President of the League, and the
originator of the National Agreement: It has been popular in days gone
by to ascribe the decay and disrepute into which the game had fallen to
degeneracy on the part of the players, and to blame them primarily for
revolving and other misconduct. Nothing could be more unjust. I have
been identified with the game more than twenty-five years--for several
seasons as a player--and I know that, with rare exceptions, those faults
were directly traceable to those who controlled the clubs. Professional
players have never sought the club manager; the club manager has
invariably sought--and often tempted--the player. The reserve rule takes
the club manager by the throat and compels him to keep his hands off his
It was not to be expected that club managers of the stamp above referred
to would exhibit much consideration for the rights of players. As long
as a player continued valuable he had little difficulty, but when, for
any reason, his period of usefulness to a club had passed, he was likely
to find, by sad experience, that base-ball laws were not construed for
his protection; he discovered that in base-ball, as in other affairs,
might often makes right, and it is not to be wondered at that he turned
to combination as a means of protection.
In the fall of 1885 the members of the New York team met and appointed a
committee to draft a Constitution and By-laws for an organization of
players, and during the season of 1886 the different Chapters of the
National Brotherhood of Ball-Players were instituted by the mother New
York Chapter. The objects of this Brotherhood as set forth by the
To protect and benefit its members collectively and individually;
To promote a high standard of professional conduct;
To foster and encourage the interests of 'The National Game.'
There was no spirit of antagonism to the capitalists of the game, except
in so far as the latter might at ally time attempt to disregard the
rights of any member.
In November, 1887, a committee of the Brotherhood met a committee of the
League, and a new form of players' contract was agreed upon. Concessions
were made on both sides, and the result is a more equitable form of
agreement between the club and players.
The time has not yet come to write of the effect of this new factor in
base-ball affairs. It is organized on a conservative plan, and the
spirit it has already shown has given nothing to fear to those who have
the broad interests of the game at heart. That it has within it the
capacity for great good, the writer has no manner of doubt.
And thus the erstwhile schoolboy game and the amateur pastime of later
years is being rounded out into a full-grown business. The professional
clubs of the country begin to rival in number those of the halcyon
amateur days; and yet the latter class has lost none of its love for the
sport. The only thing now lacking to forever establish base-ball as our
national sport is a more liberal encouragement of the amateur element.
Professional base-ball may have its ups and downs according as its
directors may be wise or the contrary, but the foundation upon which it
all is built, its hold upon the future, is in the amateur enthusiasm for
the game. The professional game must always be confined to the larger
towns, but every hamlet may have its amateur team, and let us see to it
that their games are encouraged.
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