Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Early Modern Baseball

The early uniforms were a bit different from the ones we have now. For example, the 1849 Knickerbockers wore blue woolen pantaloons, white flannel shirts, and straw hats. Not sure if straw hats would really fly these days, but it would sure be hilarious to see our favorite players forced to wear them. I also don't think that a layer of straw is going to protect your head when you have a ball thrown at it. The Knickerbockers lost the straw hats a few years later, probably upon realizing that it gave them little to no tactical advantage. The choice of color was no mistake by the Knickerbockers. Many early teams set out to associate themselves with well-established clubs or organizations, so they would copy their colors. For some reason, red was seen as a color that was used more by lower class clubs so it was generally avoided by up and coming teams. Wool was another sign of status for the Knickerbockers for it was seen as more high class than cotton. Cotton was cheap ever since the cotton gin was invented, so all the commoners wore it. Seeking to not be attributed to the working lower class, they chose to wear expensive and uncomfortable wool. Good thinking!

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)
This meant the end of the N.A. which folded and it's teams basically went to the status of the minor leagues. The National League was tested early when the Athletics and Mutual decided that since they sucked so bad and were so behind in the standings, they weren't going to make western road trips and instead play crappy local teams. Hubert expelled them for the insubordination and that's when everyone knew that the National League was for real. As you can see, most of the original teams were either expelled or folded in the first couple years. This didn't stop the league though, as they acquired new teams from Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Troy, Worcester, and Providence. In 1883, the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies joined the NL, both making it to our current roster, though the Giants are now in San Francisco.

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
What weakened the AA was not only the NL's dominance and habit of taking their good teams, but the extended competition from the third league the Player's League. The PL was very short lived, but had enormous talent, boasting future Hall-of-famer Roger Conner, Pete Browning, and Hardy Richardson. The competition from different sides and flakiness of their teams led to the AA's folding in 1891. By 1900, the NL was the only league left and they trimmed their lineup to just eight teams, half from the defunct AA. The teams from Cleveland, Louisville, Baltimore and Washington were booted. Louisville is the only one that never got a team back. The league was in trouble however. Conduct among players was something to be desired and fistfights were a common occurrence. I sort of wish this would happen sometimes in our current games. Some players need to be punched out. Players were even fighting umpires. It all came to a head when a fight broke out between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Beaneaters. While the players fought, a few fans started a fire which incidentally swept through Boston and destroyed 100 buildings. Players and owners constantly got in fights over the players $2,400 salary cap and many players would cause trouble in towns where recreational activities were forbidden on Sundays. A prominent outfielder at the time, Billy Sunday, quit the game and became a preacher because he was so sick of his fellow player's behavior. The fans seemed to have agreed with him, as attendance plummeted at the turn of the century.

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)
And just for you people who are curious as to the line up of the NL in 1900 it's:
  • 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)
As you can see, the teams from there all go on to become the teams we know now, with expansion teams coming in later. The AL enforced strict guidelines on their players, making a more friendly game. The NL at first didn't consider the AL to be legitimate but reality set in when they saw that talent and money were being split between the two leagues, causing less financial gain on their part. After two years of bitter contention, a new version of the National Agreement was signed in 1903. This meant formal acceptance of each league by the other as an equal partner in major-league baseball, mutual respect of player contracts, and an agreement to play a postseason championship-the World Series. The first modern World Series was played in 1903, between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a best of nine series with Boston prevailing five games to three, winning the last four. This was quite a comeback since they were down three games to one going into game five. With the new National Agreement, the modern MLB was formed and has become what we know and love today.

The next post will focus on the golden age of baseball and some of the stars that caught everyone's attention.

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