The Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional team in 1868, and thus they felt like they should dress like a professional team. That apparently meant wearing nickers instead of pantaloons. While only mildly less fun to say, they only covered the player's knees, thus making it more comfortable for them. It also showed off their trademark, the red stockings. Remember, this is before teams named themselves after ferocious animals, and instead named themselves after intimidating clothing. Nothing puts fear into a man's heart like baggy pants and red socks. The red stockings apparently worked, as the team went undefeated their first professional year, playing a total of 57 games.
Apparently one day in 1882, somebody decided that they couldn't remember for the life of them which person belonged to which position. Sure, some stood near bases and some stood in the outfield, but which ones were the basemen and which were the outfielders? They attempted to remedy this conundrum by giving the players color coordinated uniforms that let everyone know what position you played. A collective sigh of relief was heard from baseball fans, as they could now pick out which player was the pitcher. For example, shortstops would wear a solid maroon shirts, while the first baseman would wear scarlet and white striped shirts and caps. Only the color of the player's stockings told the teams apart. The uniforms were derisively called "clown costumes" and were dropped mid-season. It was tried again by a few teams in 1888, but they quickly remembered why it was a stupid idea in the first place.
Finding that straw hats just weren't practical, baseball players needed something that would protect them from their greatest enemy: the sun. The first use of the rounded top baseball cap would be by the Brooklyn Excelsiors in 1860. The "Brooklyn style" hat really caught on in 1900, and all the teams were wearing the cap with the bill on the front. Many different designs floated around, but in the 1940's they finally had the latex rubber to make the firm bill on the front, instead of a floppy or less durable firm bill. The bill itself has gotten longer, as evidenced by the picture on the left. I guess short bills were fashionable back then. Though early hats didn't have them, the baseball cap has almost always been used to help identify the team, either with the teams mascot or with a letter.
The rules of the game have evolved over time, just like the uniforms. In the Knickerbocker rules of the 1850's, a person could be called out if the other team caught their ball after the first bounce and the base-runner didn't have to touch each base in order. Starting in the 1860's the pitcher could no longer take a step forward when pitching, he had to keep both feet on the ground. 1864 marks when they removed the bounce rule, and made foul fly catches an out. Batting averages start in 1865 and batters have the privilege of asking for a low or high pitch. "Um yes...could I please get a fast ball, but make it go right down the middle...thanks." -Every batter under those rules. These were just the Knickerbocker's rules mind you. The National league and Major League rules went about these changes. A base runner was out if hit by a batter's hit ball. The catcher became the only person who could register an out if they caught a foul fly. Overhand pitching became legal in 1884. That's right, before they had to throw underhand. All restrictions on a pitcher's delivery were removed in in 1884 along with the privilege of calling for high and low balls. In 1887, you had to get five balls to get on base, and also in this year they started the rule that if you are hit by the pitch, you get to take a base. In the 1891, you could substitute anyone at any point in the game. And the last major rule change was the counting of foul balls as strikes in 1901. All the ridiculous rules you just read and don't see in the game now have been disallowed.
Baseball gloves weren't used for quite awhile in the early years. Players were real men and would catch the balls with their bare hands, though this is probably why they allowed outs on the bounce catch. Not many guys would probably want to catch a high fly ball. Early gloves provided little padding and were really suited for catching, but for batting balls out of the air so they could be picked up easily. By the 1890's the modern baseball glove with better padding was a mainstay for every team, though the glove kept going through changes in the early 20th century to be a perfect ball catching tool.
You may of noticed that there are no New York Knickerbockers, at least in baseball, anymore. There were many teams that started off in the 1800's and didn't find there way into our modern game. By 1875, the National Association of Base Ball Players was pretty weak. It didn't really have a strong authority on what went on in the different clubs due to the unsupervised scheduling, unstable membership, dominance by one team, and an extremely low entry fee ($172 a year in 2011 dollars). This made it so many clubs didn't feel the need to actually listen to the NABBP. William Hubert, the manager of the Chicago White Stockings decided that he would go to a few clubs and talk to them about starting a new league that was stronger and only involved teams from large cities. Once Huber had gotten St. Louis to agree, they all formed the National League in 1876. Here were the starting teams:
- Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs. Weird, right?)
- Philadelphia Athletics (expelled after 1876 season)
- Boston Red Stockings (they were the dominant team in the N.A. They are now the Atlanta Braves.
- Hartford Dark Blues (the most depressing of the teams. So depressing in fact that they folded after the 1877 season.
- Mutual of New York (expelled after 1876 season)
- St. Louis Brown Stockings (folded after 1877)
- Cincinnati Red Stockings (expelled after the 1880 season)
- Louisville Grays (folded after 1877 when four of their players were banned for gambling)
The National League didn't have a monopoly on leagues though, as another would sprout up called the American Association. It only lasted from 1882 to 1891, but still heavily competed with the NL for dominance in the baseball world. The two leagues even took place in an early version of the World Series for seven out of the ten years the AA was in function. The AA was made up of the "river cities" or the lower class cities that didn't make it in the NL and were looked down upon. The AA decided that they would let their paying customers have more fun than the NL would and offered cheaper tickets and alcohol to be sold at their playing fields. The AA became known as "The Beer and Whiskey League" by the NL and it's supporters, though the AA didn't seem to mind. I'm only going to list the teams that were later enveloped by the NL, as the others are defunct teams:
- Baltimore Orioles (not the current ones)
- Cincinnati Red Stockings (current Cincinnati Reds)
- Louisville Colonels
- Pittsburgh Alleghenies/Pirates (current Pittsburgh Pirates)
- St. Louis Brown Stockings/Browns (winningest team, current St. Louis Cardinals)
- Brooklyn Atlantics/Grays/Bridegrooms (they couldn't make up their minds on a team name, current L.A. Dodgers)
- Cleveland Spiders
- Washington Senators
Then came the American League in 1900. Known as the Western League at first and functioning as only a minor league, they struggled until Ban Johnson took over and made them into a formidable major league. One early difference from the NL was the AL's use of the designated hitter, something that they still have in practice today. Here were the AL's starter teams:
- Baltimore Orioles (NY Yankees)
- Boston Americans (Boston Red Socks)
- Chicago White Stockings (Chicago White Sox)
- Cleveland Blues (Cleveland Indians)
- Detroit Tigers (they got their name right the first time)
- Milwaukee Brewers (Baltimore Orioles)
- Philadelphia Athletics (Oakland Athletics)
- Washington Senators (Minnesota Twins)
- Brooklyn Superbas (L.A. Dodgers)
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Boston Beaneaters (Atlanta Braves)
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Chicago Orphans (WORST NAME EVER! Now Chicago Cubs)
- Cincinnati Reds
- New York Giants (S.F. Giants)
The next post will focus on the golden age of baseball and some of the stars that caught everyone's attention.