Hey, batter batter batter! Swing batter! Whether you’ve just watched “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or are a fan of America’s favorite pastime, one thing is certain – baseball evokes a strong sense of nostalgia no matter where you’re watching.
The “national pastime” originated before the Civil War and evolved from the British games of rounders and cricket. While the players are what make the game come alive, specific rules and regulations are set in place to create a fair playing standard. As time goes on, players, teams, and fans alike ride the waves of change together to experience the game they all know and love.
Being the baseball die-hards that we are, our team at Fanatics decided to take a look at the storied history of the game’s official rules, sporting equipment, and playing field to determine how today’s modern-day gameplay has come into existence.
Read on to see how the majesty and tradition of baseball have evolved throughout more than a century of ballpark action!
Playin’ by the Rules
The rules of baseball date back to 1845, when the original Knickerbockers rulebook was created and subjected to continual modifications until the National League established the first set of official rules in 1877.
In the days of the Knickerbockers’ reign, the rules claimed the victor of a game was determined by the team that scored a total of 21 aces. Nowadays, each major league game is a nine-inning contest, and the team with the highest score emerges victorious. While some of the rules set in the pioneering phase of baseball may seem abstract to the modern player, a few regulations are still in place today, including the ball size and weight (though a cork center was added to the official baseball in 1910).
The National League took over the rulebook in 1877 by establishing a modified set of rules which remain in place today. Over time, many minor and major changes took place within the rules and regulations of the game. Between introducing the cork center and outlawing freak deliveries, such as the spitball in 1920, players have always signed contracts to abide by the laws of the game. The league has been known to look out for the well-being of their players, which was made evident in 1971 when all players were mandated to wear protective helmets.
Ranking among the most controversial rules is the American League’s introduction of the designated hitter in 1973. Essentially, the rule allows one player (the “designated hitter”) to bat in place of the pitcher. Until this day, fans wage arguments debating on whether having a designated hitter is an effective or destructive policy, but one thing is for certain: The rule brings a new level of nail-biting offense to the game.
Step Up to the Plate
While the game of baseball developed and experienced a series of changes, so too did the field dimensions, specifically the pitcher’s mound.
Nowadays, the pitcher is often viewed as one of the most vital positions on the field, but this wasn’t always the scenario. The early years of gameplay employed the pitcher to merely toss the ball (often underhand) to the batter to commence gameplay. During this time, no balls or strikes were called, and the pitcher lobbed the ball as many times as it took for the batter to get a piece of it.
As time passed, pitchers began testing out wild pitches in an attempt to lure the batter to swing at unreachable balls flying down the dirt strip. This curiosity resulted in the league implementing the pitching box in 1864. The pitching box stood 45 feet away from home plate and measured 3 feet by 12 feet. Pitchers were confined to the box and were now unable to get a running start for their throw.
The year 1893 marked the introduction of the pitching slab, as well as the pitching mound, in an attempt to create equilibrium between pitchers and hitters. The height of the mound has not remained consistent throughout baseball history and was the topic of concern between teams facing each other. Teams were often found adjusting the height of the mound to throw off the visiting pitcher. Other instances of mound modifications came from the bullpen, where visiting pitchers claimed the height differed from the actual heap on the field.
Today, the standard mound in an official MLB stadium sits at a contemporary 10-inches high. As pitchers begin to dominate the game once again, the competitive tension between pitchers and hitters continues to wage on.
Balls, Bats, and Gloves, Oh My!
As the pitcher mound evolved, so did the three essential tools of the sport: the ball, bat, and glove. Each tool specializes in a different function, allowing players to throw, catch, and hit effectively. Take a look at the visual to see how baseball gear has changed throughout the decades.
The Ball: The development of the modern-day baseball has come a long way since the pre-professional days of the sport when the balls were created by cobblers using the rubber remnants of old shoes. Several variations existed, including balls crafted by wrapping a wound core in a single strap of leather held together by four prominent lines of stitching – this design was often referred to as the “lemon peel” baseball.
It wasn’t until 1876 that league officials introduced a standardized set of rules and regulations for the size, weight, and material used for the ball (which still stand today). The rules called for the ball to be a sphere formed by yarn wound around a small core of cork or rubber. As far as weight and size, the ball must be between 5 and 5.25 ounces and between 9 and 9.25 inches in circumference to satisfy the requirements.
Another major significant change to the baseball occurred in 1925 when a man named Milton B. Reach patented the “cushion cork” center. Reach developed a ball in which two layers of rubber engulfed the sphere cork: first by a black semi-vulcanized rubber and then again by a layer of red rubber. The American League adopted this design in 1934 and utilized the “medium ball” to the appeal of pitchers who preferred the thicker and looser structure.
Since then, minimal changes have been made to the iconic red and white ball. Although advancements in technology have modified the production process, all 108 red stitches on the modern-day ball are still stitched by hand.
The Bat: The evolution of the baseball bat can almost be described in as much detail as the history of the baseball. During the first few decades of gameplay, batters were known for crafting bats that fit their style, just as pitchers molded their own balls.
First and foremost, earlier bats tended to be larger and heavier compared to the modern pieces seen today. Before any rules were set into action, bats were made from various types of wood, including ash, maple, willow, pine, spruce, cherry, chestnut, and even sycamore! Major league batters took a liking to ash, and it became the material of choice – until Barry Bonds began breaking records with a maple bat.
The league finally implemented a standard set of rules in 1870, which limited the length of the bat to 42 inches and the maximum diameter to 2.5 inches. The next major change happened in 1884 when Pete Browning, Louisville Eclipse’s declining star, broke his slump with the use of a bat crafted by woodworker “Bud” Hillerich. This instance marked the birth of one of the most popular bats in baseball history: the Louisville Slugger.
Minor changes have occurred to the modern-day bat since the 19th century, but advancements to the grip have been made with the thanks of new technology. Most notably, the ergonomic knob was created by graphic designer Grady Phelan, which features a slanted knob to prevent the player’s hand from rubbing against it.
The Glove: As history tells, the first baseball players took the field using their natural mitts – their bare hands. Since the idea of using bare hands seemed manlier, players could be measured by the number of calluses and broken bones amassed over time. The earliest noted gloves consisted of a pure leather material with open holes for the fingers.
As time passed, so did the “manly” stigma, and the development of the glove hit the ground running. Extra padding was added to ensure protection, and shallow webbings were placed between the fingers to assist in catching. The next remarkable change occurred in 1920 when the leather webbings were removed for a system of straps between the index finger and thumb – creating a deeper pocket.
Nowadays, gloves are specially crafted for pitchers, catchers, infielders, and outfielders. It goes without saying that the modern-day glove ranks among the most iconic pieces of equipment in the sport of baseball.
Threads of History
1849: The first uniforms are crafted by utilizing wool as the primary material – aligning early baseball clubs with organizations of higher status. During this period, cotton is the cheaper fabric of choice but is often associated with the unfashionable working class thread.
1882: This season may win the award for the boldest experiment in baseball uniform history. The written rules of the game state that a different color must denote each position. For instance, first basemen resemble candy canes as they play ball in scarlet-and-white-striped hats and shirts. No matter the team or positions, the rules call for each player to wear a white tie, belt, and pants.
1888: Several 19th-century baseball teams introduce pinstriped uniforms in an attempt to enhance player aesthetic. Although introduced in the late 1870s, laced-front shirts are the style of choice through the 1890s to keep the players’ uniforms on.
1897: Up until this year, a few teams continue to don shield-front uniforms – an 1870s nod to volunteer fire company outfits. The Boston Beaneaters give a final attempt during the 1897 season to revive the shield-front uniforms, but the shields are fully phased out by the turn of the century.
1912: A throwback uniform that is first worn by the Chicago Cubs in 1909 features the use of the soon-to-be favorite “standing” collar, which is worn in a military-style.
1929: The Cleveland Indians are the first major league team to incorporate integers on their uniforms. Some sports fanatics credit the birth of uniform numbers to the then-reigning World Series Champions, the New York Yankees in 1929. Despite speculation, by the mid-1930s, every team playing in the league welcomes numbers onto their uniforms.
1930: Collarless uniforms become the league’s “industry standard.”
1938: Script lettering hits the mainstream as the Brooklyn Dodgers debut uniforms displaying “Dodgers” in script writing across the chest.
1939: For the first time in baseball history, all clubs don the same centennial patch on their uniforms. The patch is introduced to celebrate the sport’s 100th birthday by its supposed founding father – Abner Doubleday. The rectangular patch uses a red, white, and blue color palette reminiscent of the American flag.
1941: The league watches as clubs begin riding the wave of a new fashion trend – the sleeveless uniform. First featured by the Chicago Cubs in 1940, the sleeveless uniforms provide players greater freedom of motion when throwing, catching, or hitting the ball.
1943–1954: The so-called “lipstick league” is created by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley with the goal to keep ballparks buzzing during times of war. Although women athletes in baseball date back to the 1860s, the league’s first tryouts are held in 1943. The ladies of the league wear a one-piece, short-skirt tunic with satin shorts, knee-high socks, and a traditional cap.
1951: For the first time in baseball history, the Springfield Cubs take the field debuting player numbers on the front of their uniforms.
1960: The 1960 season marks the first appearance of names on the back of player uniforms. The Chicago White Sox are the first squad to add names to their uniforms, which is quickly adopted by the rest of the teams in the league – except for the New York Yankees.
1970: The league witnesses a bold change in fashion as the Pittsburgh Pirates adopt brand new uniforms made of a blend consisting of cotton and nylon fabrics. The innovative fits feature a pullover buttonless shirt as well as beltless pants.
2001: Major League Baseball helps America heal after the tragic events of 9/11 by mandating that every team wear U.S. flag patches on their hats and uniforms for the remainder of the season.
2016: Today’s on-field uniforms are made fully from polyester fabrics – a durable material that is hydrophobic in nature. Since the uniforms endure harsh climate conditions upon teams facing off in different regions, the decision of utilizing polyester has been a wise one.
Are you preparing for the upcoming season? Be sure to gear up with only the best. Make your way over to Fanatics today, where you’ll find the trendiest baseball fan gear, ranging from past trends to modern-day threads.
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