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Overview of Early Base Ball Rules

By the 1880s, the rules of base ball had advanced such that a game would be easily recognizable to the modern player and observer.  In the earliest days of base ball in Colorado, in 1862, some things were already familiar: teams consisted of nine ballists; games had nine innings; innings had three outs; and balls were only slightly lighter and softer.  But there were some substantial and interesting differences: 

 

The Hurler threw underhanded from a distance of 45 feet, instead of overhand from 60 feet, 6 inches.

The‘‘strike zone’’ didn't yet exist -- fair and unfair pitches were completely at the discretion of the Umpire;  It took a warning and three strikes for a strikeout -- two warnings and three balls for a walk (a rule formalized in 1863).

By custom, 1st & 3rd Base-Tenders played at their base, not in the gaps as basemen do today; the Behind played anywhere from 10 to 45 feet behind the Striker; others played pretty much as they do today. Base-stealing, while legal, was often limited by ground rules as being ungentlemanly, and sliding was hazardous, considering the unimproved condition of most early playing fields.

There was only one Umpire, who stood off in front of the Striker. His decision was absolute, and the only people who could ‘‘chafe’’ with him without drawing a fine were the team Captains. He was allowed to seek the advice of a crank before making a close call (a practice which continued in the National League until nearly 1900).

An out was recorded if the ball was caught on-the-fly OR on the first bound (a practice generally abandoned in 1864 for the more "manly" fly-rule). Specially made base ball ‘‘mitts’’ were not in general use until the 1880s.

A fair or foul ball was determined by where it first struck the ground, not where it passed 1st or 3rd base. A very popular offensive tactic was the ‘‘fair-foul hit’’, where the Striker would swat down on the pitch, causing it to hit in front of home base and spin immediately into foul territory. This often placed the ball among the Cranks, and as long as it had not touched the ground twice, a friendly crank handing the ball to a fielder helped record an out.  Ballists, especially the 1st and 3rd Base-tenders were well advised to "work the crowd" on their sideline.

When the base runner crossed home plate, by custom he had to report to the scorer’s table, ring the bell, and request ‘‘Tally one run, Sir’’, or his run did not count.

Base Ball in early Colorado Territory was a sport for gentlemen and ladies, and both the Ballists and Cranks were expected to act as such. If anyone did not, they could be censured and fined by the Umpire, any amount between 10 cents and one dollar.

To view the complete set of rules, click here.

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