Thank you to Chaplain Mike for giving me space to flog my book–especially since its connection to the usual theme of this blog is, um…, tangential. (It turns out upon close examination that the 59 beads of a rosary is not the same number as the 108 stitches of a baseball, and why did you think Annie Savoy was a reliable source for this anyway?) He has generously allowed me to take advantage of our shared love of baseball.
Modern baseball emerged in the mid-19th century from a schoolyard game. (If you react to this statement with “But what about Abner Doubleday and/or Alexander Cartwright?” take a look HERE. Or you can simply expunge those names from your memory and you will do just fine.) There was a general trend for athletic activity. This was partly a response to rising urbanism, with young men in sedentary occupations seeking exercise. Sports also offered a desirable alternative to their spending their leisure time in bars and pool halls. Finally, there was the rise of “Muscular Christianity.” This taught that a good Christian should be physically vigorous, the better to spread the gospel. These ideas combined, resulting in an explosion of athletics of all sorts.
Baseball was the big winner. It was widely known from childhood play, making it readily available when adults looked for sports to play. Clubs formed as vehicles for these young men to take their exercise together in a socially congenial setting.
The game needed to be adapted for adult play. The first change was how to put a runner out. The fielder, in most early versions, put the runner out by throwing the ball at him. While fine for pre-pubescent boys, it wasn’t so great for full grown men. One early account is refreshingly honest about why not, explaining with only minimal euphemism that we are talking about taking the ball where you really don’t want it. Guys, you know what I mean.
Organized adult baseball took off. It was the fad that would not die, annual predictions of its demise notwithstanding. It did, however, change. The idea for the earliest clubs is that they would meet a couple of afternoons each week, divide into two teams, and play until it was time to quit. But boys will be boys. One club would challenge the another, they would each pick their best players, and they would test their mettle. A game that works for boys doesn’t necessarily work for men. A game that works for social exercise clubs doesn’t work for clubs in the throes of competitive fervor.
Modern baseball–or, more precisely, its direct ancestor–was created in New York City. It became all the rage in the mid-1850s, and by 1858 broke the bounds of the Metropolis and spread across the country. 1857 saw the first baseball convention, held to update the rules. This led to a cycle of revisions. A problem would arise. The rules would be changed in response. The change might well create a new problem. Rinse and repeat. This lasted through the latter half of the century. The rules finally stabilized around the turn of the 20th century. Changes since then have been rare, and all the more controversial for it.
The book tells the story of these rule changes. I seek to explain the overall arc of their history, with a pitching revolution around 1860 (fastball and change of pace), a fielding revolution around 1870 (with fielders figuring out where to position go), a second pitching revolution lasting from 1875-1884 (the curve ball and overhand delivery), and everything needed to respond to these revolutions. I also explore what constitutes a problem that needs solving. (The most common, from earliest time, is pace of play. Some things never change.) Above all, I delve into the reasons for individual features of the game, both unremarkable (such as nine innings, and four balls and three strikes) and oddball (such as the dropped third strike rule).
Should anybody be so moved, Strike Four: The Evolution of Baseball can be purchased through all the usual online sources. You are unlikely to see it in a bookstore, due to the publishing line it is a part of. You can, however, special order it. You are more likely to see it in your public library, and libraries typically are open to patron requests, so this is a good option. Or you can purchase it directly from the publisher at rowman.com . Use promo code RLFANDF30 for a substantial discount.