Then And Now

Then And Now by Larry Gallagher


In the original baseball rules of 1845 by Alexander Cartwright, the winner of a game was the first team to score 21 aces (runs) in an equal number of hands (innings). There was no provision at that time for a minimum number of innings. Therefore, if either team scored 21 aces in the first inning, the game would be over once the entire inning was completed. In 1857, new rules changed the winner as the team to score the most runs in nine innings of play. This became the standard for the first major league rules in 1876 and has been the rule ever since. Also of note is that three outs constituted an inning (by today's definition that would be a half-inning). The 1857 rule ordered "nine innings for each side." High school and college rules do not have this history as they followed professional rules until they came up with their own rule committees.

Protective gear for catchers was introduced in the early 1900s. This type of gear for batters did not come into play until the 1930s. Helmet liners were introduced and were being used in the late '30s. Another form of innovative headgear featured a topless, wrap-around style device that fit over the conventional cap. It looked more like today's boxing or wrestling headgear. The bill of the regular cap stuck out in front and the two sides did not quite meet in the back. Through 1970, there was no rule that mandated the use of helmets by members of the offensive team. Rule 1.16 was added in 1971 and introduced the idea of mandatory helmets with the following provisions:
  • All players shall use some type of protective helmet while at bat.
  • Starting in 1971, all players in the class A and rookie leagues shall wear ear-flap helmets while batting.
In 1972, the ear-flap helmet was mandatory for all batters in class AA. All National Association leagues were required to use the ear-flap helmets in 1973 while all major leaguers could use any type of protective helmet. A transition rule was implemented in 1974 and stayed in effect through 1982. It mandated that major league players who had played the previous year in the minors had to wear the ear-flap helmets while batting.

Rule changes in 1983 stated that all players entering the major leagues that year and all succeeding years must wear the ear-flap helmet while at bat, except those players who were in the majors during the 1982 season and who officially (in writing) objected to that particular helmet. In other words, the helmet liner and regular cap-style helmet were "grandfathered in." Double ear-flap helmets became mandatory for all National Association players in 1983. This is the rule today, but there are no players that are still playing from the time period prior to 1983 so there are no longer any active grandfathered players.

Helmets for bat boys/bat girls and ball boys/ball girls were added to the required list in 1988. Even though Rule 1.16 does not state it, all professional leagues require base runners to wear helmets.
High school and college rules require batters and runners to wear double ear-flap helmets.

From the beginning of the game of baseball until 1886, it was normal for the home team to bat first. However, in 1887 the "captain of the home club" was given his choice of innings. This remained the rule until 1950 when the rule book was re-codified and mandated the present day procedure of the home team taking their defensive positions first. In my opinion, it would be great to have football and soccer rule books get rid of the coin toss to determine first possession. It would also be a way to do away with the jump ball in basketball or the beginning face-off and after goals scored in hockey. The home team would start with the puck or the team scored upon would start with the puck at center ice. Anyway, it would change the games a bit and get rid of gambling on coin tosses or the luck of the draw on face-offs and jump balls. High school and college rules do not have this history because they followed the professional rules and did not start having rules committees until after this rule changed in 1950.

Bat color was not mentioned in professional rules prior to 1964. The present day rule was incorporated into the rule book that year. Traditionally, baseball bats were lacquered in their natural state or stained in a darker, natural wood color. To maintain the integrity of the game, rules committee members opposed the experimental introduction of various colored bats. Not only did colored bats create problems by frequently discoloring the ball, but they promoted a circus-type novelty alien to the traditional values of the game. In the earliest days of baseball, colored bats had been the gimmick of the day. Rules makers soon outlawed them.

Bats that have been authorized by the Rules Committee are the following: 1) natural finish; 2) brown wood stain; 3) black and 4) half stain (Walker finish). Umpires should constantly be aware of the type of bat a hitter brings to the plate. Should he enter the box with an unapproved bat, the umpire should order him to replace it. If he refuses, he is subject to ejection. In the event that an unapproved bat is not detected until after it has been used, all actions by the batter using such bat shall be legal provided this bat does not violate Rule 6.06(d). See Rule 1.10(c) regarding similar enforcement. Umpires in professional baseball have been fined for failing to notice and enforce the prohibition against colored bats. Charley Finley once wanted to use a green bat while playing for the Oakland A's and they would not allow him to do it. In amateur baseball, colored bats have been allowed but if we followed the strict letter of the rule book, they should not be allowed.

High school and college baseball have allowed colored bats as well as metal and composite bats, so there is a large disparity in this one piece of equipment in any league that umpires work in Minnesota. The key is to know what type of league you are umpiring in before you keep a bat out of play. For example, District #4 in the St. Paul American Legion League is a strict wood or composite bat league - no metal bats are allowed. However, once outside that league players can use metal bats because American Legion baseball in Minnesota and nationally allows metal bats. If you watch the scores in American Legion state tournaments, you can see that scores are very high for both winning and losing teams. For the past few years the Minnesota Baseball Association has adopted the rule allowing wood and composite bats and disallowing metal bats and it has brought the high scoring down quite a bit, and it looks like this rule will stay in effect for a long time.

Rules committees for high schools (in 2012) and NCAA baseball (in 2011) will require that the Coefficient of Restitution in metal bats equal the COR in wood bats in order for metal bats to be legal. We should then be able to see if a change in the bat rule will result in a significantly better game down the road.

What changes in the game of baseball do you think should take place, regardless of whether you're an umpire, coach or player? If you have a rule change in mind, e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and let's discuss your ideas.

Sources for this article are Annotated Official Baseball Rules (1994) by Jim Evans; Baseball By the Rules (1990) by Glen Waggoner, Kathleen Maloney and Hugh Howard; The Official Rules of Baseball: An Anecdotal Look at the Rules of the Game and How They Came to Be (1994) by David Nemec.

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