1864 Winter Meetings: To Fly or Not and Other Monumental Changes
This article was written by Eric Miklich
This article was published in Baseball’s 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900
Dr. Joseph Jones of the Excelsiors club, former president of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), walked to the front of the room as he was being announced by the outgoing president, Colonel Thomas Fitzgerald of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia. Jones, now the chairman of the Committee on Rules and Regulations, approached the lectern to the sounds of people shuffling and low murmurs, which soon consumed the room. Standing behind the lectern, he unfolded a piece of paper and quickly glanced at the delegates seated before him in the smoke-filled room. The crowd became silent when they sensed he was going to speak.
“I have the tabulations of the voting for the clubs belonging to the National Association of Base Ball Players to officially adopt the fly game,” he said in a loud and strong voice. Looking at his notes again, he could sense both eager and desperate stares from delegates urging him to reveal the results. “By a vote of 25 to 22,” Dr. Jones said, pausing briefly for effect, “the noes have it.”
There was an instant of silence, then the room exploded with cheers, jeers, groans, yeas, sighs, claps and boos. Immediately numerous discussions of the announcement overtook the attendees. Jones, understanding he was no longer in demand, exited the platform to join one of the verbal scrimmages.
The annual NABBP meeting was held in New York on Wednesday, December 9, 1863. The Lecture Room of the Mercantile Library Association at Clinton Hall remained the venue, as it had since 1860. Fifty-five delegates from 28 clubs attended.1 The highlight of the meeting was the discussion and voting on the adoption of the fly game; however, three changes specifically aimed at hindering the pitcher were added to the playing rules. Those did not receive the attention they should have.
According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Mears Baseball Scrapbooks, the following clubs and delegates attended. Emphasis of the printed roll call was placed on the acceptance or rejection of the fly game. The symbols designating ballots cast were as follows:
* Against the fly game
+ For the fly game
New York Clubs
- Active: J.S. Page*, H.A. Rogers*
- Eagle: P.J. Cozans*, S.F. Baker*
- Empire: R.E Selmes+, Thomas Miller+
- Gotham: W.H. Van Cott+, A.J. Dupignac+
- Henry Eckford: Dr. Bell+, W. Dalton+
- Jefferson: J. Ross Postley+, E.W. Kirby
- Metropolitan: E.H. Brown*, J.P. Lacour
- Mutual: S. Burns*, A.H. Williams*
- Mystic: C.H. Glover*, W. H. Kelly*
- New York: G.T. Hewlett*, W. Browner*
7 in favor, 11 against, 2 not voting
- Atlantic: P. O’Brien*, F.J. Boughton+
- Constellation: E.W. Richardson*, W.L. Foster*
- Eckford: F. Pidgeon+, W.A. Brown*
- Enterprise; W.H. Murtha*, W. Dick*
- Excelsior: Dr. Jones+, J.B. Leggett+
- Hamilton: E.R. Wilbur+, C.J. Bergen+
- Olympic: L. Fern*, A. Melville*
- Resolute: A.A. Rogers*, F.H. Cowperthwaite*
- Star: M.M. Kelly+, H. Chadwick+
8 in favor, 10 against
- Athletic of Philadelphia: Col. Fitzgerald+, E.H. Hayhurst*
- Eureka of Newark (New Jersey): J.B. Dawson+, C.E. Thomas+
- Hudson River of Newburg (New York): J.W. Miller Jr+
- Keystone of Philadelphia: J. Duffy*, H.D. Mullholland*
- Knickerbocker of Albany: G.H. Turner+, R. Headlam+
- Monitor of Goshen: B.R. Champion+, E. Dikeman*
- National of Washington (DC): C.C. Walden+, A.P. Gorman+
- Newark of Newark (New Jersey): E.H. Dawson+, F. Pell*
- Union of Morrisania (New York): W. Cauldwell+, D. Milliken+
12 in favor, 5 against
The fly game, requiring that a fair ball be caught before hitting the ground for the batter to be retired, was a concept initially proposed by one of the oldest clubs in New York, the Knickerbocker Club, at the first baseball convention, on February 25, 1857. The Knickerbockers regularly used the rule when they played intrasquad matches. Other area clubs also experimented with this alternative style of play. The Knickerbockers felt that the rule would require sharper talent, and thus elevate the overall skill level in baseball matches; however, the idea was voted down in 1857. No Knickerbocker delegates attended the 1863 convention, the first time ever that the club failed to appear at a baseball convention in New York. Although the two were not associated, the Knickerbockers were acutely aware of the change in the “gentlemanly” approach and the evolution of the game.
Matches between the top clubs, most of them from Brooklyn and New York, drew large crowds and could be more competitive than the Knickerbockers preferred. Player movement between clubs suggested “endorsements,” while the grandfather club favored amateurism. Ironically, the Knickerbockers may have been the first club to lure a player. Louis F. Wadsworth, regarded as the finest first baseman in the game, began with the Gotham club in 1852. As the Gotham club consistently lost, Wadsworth turned up with the Knickerbockers. He returned to the Gotham club in 1858, partly because of internal conflicts between old and new Knickerbocker philosophies and partly because the Knickerbockers were becoming less competitive. Did the Knicks pave the way for the Excelsiors’ approach in procuring Jim Creighton or George Flanly, the Atlantics’ promises to Joe Start or the Eckfords’ in capturing Joe Sprague? Baseball would move forward with or without the patriarch of the fraternity.
The Eagle reported, “When the question of the adoption of the fly game came up for action it elicited considerable discussion. In which Messrs. Cozans, Kelly, Page and Judge Van Cott took prominent part.”2 P.J. Cozans (Eagle) and J.S. Page (Active) argued against including the rule. M.M. Kelly (Star), perhaps urged by Henry Chadwick (Star) and Judge Van Cott (Gotham), were for the fly game.
The clubs in favor of adopting the fly game were Union of Morrisania, Excelsior, Empire, Eureka of Newark, Knickerbocker of Albany, Jefferson, Henry Eckford, Star, Hamilton, and Gotham.3
Clubs whose votes were split were Atlantic, Eckford, Newark, Constellation, and Athletic. “Messrs. P. O’Brien, Pidgeon, Col. Fitzgerald, Dawson and Foster, being in favor of it,”4 the Eagle noted, adding, “There were four absentees who would have voted for the fly game had they been present, and had Messrs. Boughton, Brown, Hayhurst, Pell and Richardson joined their brother delegates, the fly game would have been adopted.”5 According to the Eagle, almost all of the clubs opposed to the fly game “belonged to the muffin fraternity, whose fun the fly game would put a stop to altogether.”6 Could the adoption of the fly game have meant that a further separation between the top clubs and the rest of the clubs would widen? Absolutely, since the best clubs to this point held a superior talent advantage.
As per Mears, “Of the above (referring to those attending the convention) five were absent at the taking of the vote on the fly, the vote being 25 against to 22 in favor.”7 That may have been the case; however, those absent are not identified. No indication of why Kirby (Jefferson) and Lacour (Metropolitan) did not vote was given in any of the sources used.
There were no reasons why the two top clubs in America, Eckford and Atlantic, should have been internally split in their feelings toward permanently adopting the fly game. Another top club, the Mutual, was staunchly against it. The talent these nines possessed was certainly capable of adopting to the style of play. Already clubs periodically agreed to play matches under the rule. Reports of their games had been sprinkled in the New York and Brooklyn newspapers since 1860.
While the voting officially shelved the fly game in NABBP games for the 1864 season, three rules handicapping the pitchers were added, in an effort to curb the trend of speed pitching and close the gap between pitching and hitting. Wrote the Sunday Mercury, “All present were convinced of the absolute necessity of putting a stop to the swift and wild pitching in vogue, and substituting in its place a delivery in which, imparting a bias or twist to the ball, and giving more scope to the judgement of the pitcher, are made the prominent objects in the view, rather than the speed of the ball, and the unfair method of trying to intimidate the batsman by pitching the ball at him rather than for him.”8 Speed pitching, not necessarily accurate pitching, was becoming more common. Players like Dick Thorn (Gotham), Bernard Hannegan (Union of Morrisania), and the game’s best pitcher, Joe Sprague (Eckford), continued to lead the way. Sprague was the most successful, leading his club to a 10-0 record and a second consecutive Silver Ball Championship in 1863. When the Eckfords faced the Unions on July 30, 1863, Sprague outdueled Hannegan, 8-4, striking out nine batters to Hannegan’s one, in one of the season’s lowest-scoring matches.
In another rule change, a second 12-foot pitching line was added to the playing field one yard behind the line instituted during the 1857 convention. (That line was 45 feet from the center of home base.) The pitcher was to wholly start and end between the lines. As the narrative of this rule reveals, it was to slow down those who were emulating Jim Creighton. This was the first instance of the rules directly changed due to the style and influence of a specific player. Creighton, who had died late in the 1862 season, was a pioneer in the art of speed and control pitching. The rule change could also be viewed as an attempt to curtail the Eckford club, which had won 20 straight matches from 1862 through 1863, and its pitcher, Joe Sprague, who had built a 19-game personal winning streak. Both accomplishments were unmatched in baseball history through the 1863 season.
The 1864 season would also be the first to officially empower umpires to call balls on pitchers who repeatedly delivered unhittable balls to the batters. As with called strikes on batters, pitchers first received a warning from the umpire. Umpires were instructed to call balls on a pitcher when he repeatedly delivered balls not within a batter’s striking zone. A batter received first base after the pitcher was issued a warning and three called balls. Since each umpire had a different interpretation of how many unfair balls pitched in a row constituted “repeatedly,” there was no standard in the number of pitches it took to announce a ball on a pitcher or a base on called balls to a batter. When this mark was attained, all baserunners were allowed to advance to the next base whether or not they were forced to.
These three rules were certainly important in the development of baseball; however, the language that allowed baserunners to advance one base after the batter received first base on called balls was intended to make pitchers be more accurate. Giving a batter first base on called balls and awarding all runners another base would be effective only if umpires actually called balls regularly. Batters received their bases on balls at relatively minuscule rates thought the 1860s.
Beginning in 1864, a pitcher would be required to have both feet on the ground at the time he delivered the ball to the batter. This change was another measure in line with slowing the speed of a pitched ball. Previously, some pitchers hurled themselves at the batter in an attempt to gain velocity.
The importance of the pitcher as a weapon was not fully understood nor was it accepted. Henry Chadwick, the pre-eminent baseball reporter, preferred that the pitcher’s role be reduced to feeding the ball to the batter. At various times newspapers agreed with Chadwick (perhaps simply because he wrote the articles) that the pitcher should deliver the ball to the preference of the batter in spite of the rules agreed upon for the 1864 season.
Efforts for a call to reduce the effectiveness of the pitcher can be seen in this article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
The main question is, what is a fair ball? According to the rule, as it now reads, a fair ball is one pitched as near as possible over the home base and for the striker. The sentence “for the striker,” however, includes a variety of balls greatly differing from each other. Thus for instance, a fair ball for one striker would be one pitched about six or eight inches above the base, while a fair ball for another striker would be one as high as the hip or even the shoulder. In cases like these, when the batsman has indicated where he wants the ball-and this he should be made to do the moment he takes the bat- due allowance should be made for accidental inaccuracy of delivery. It is in cases like these that the words “repeatedly” and “after warning” contained in the rule specially apply, and not to balls which under no circumstances can be fair, such as ball pitched over the head of the striker, out of the reach of his bat; or on the ground before reaching the home base; or on the side opposite that he strikes from; or beyond the reach of his bat in front of him, or so close to him as to cause him to move to avoid being hit, provided, in this latter case, that the strikers stand sufficiently to the right or left of the home base as to allow balls to be pitched over the base without hitting him. Every ball included in this last catalogue is unquestionably an unfair ball, and should be so considered, and the penalty inflicted every time the rule is thus infringed.
Pitchers can avoid the delivery of these unfair balls whenever they choose to sacrifice their efforts for speed to that of the accuracy of delivery and also by attending to their pitching more and watches the base less. In reference to this latter point of play, all pitchers should follow example of the Excelsior players in 1860. The pitcher and catchers of the Excelsiors had regular signals whoseby the pitcher knew when to throw to the bases. This is the only right plan to pursue in playing this point of the game.
— Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 13, 1864
With interpretation comes controversy, and this opinion piece was no exception. The author details the striking zone based on where a batter calls for the pitcher to deliver the ball. This is a very specific description from a period when only 40 rules were defined. This stipulation was not an NABBP rule and would not become a written rule until 1871, when the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players commenced its first season. Based on the rules agreed upon at the 1863 conference, this interpretation was not to be used by NABBP member clubs; however, it may have been used by many of the hundreds of clubs throughout America.
The article continued to attack a trend that grew each season since 1859. The author called for the pitcher to devote more attention to delivering the ball to where the batter preferred as opposed to trying to retire him, and to reduce his attention to what went on around him.
Clearly what was accepted or identified in the article as effective pitching was not the same as would be defined today. Attempting to actually force batters to hit the ball where the pitcher (and, subsequently, the defending club) wanted was not the purpose of the pitcher, according to the mindset of early baseball men.
There were some section movements as a new rule was inserted. Section 16 in the 1862 rules became Section 17 in the 1864 rules. Sections 17 and 18 in the 1862 rules became Sections 19 and 20 in the 1864 book. A new rule was added as Section 18 in 1864, paired with Section 17, which addressed how baserunners could advance on fair and foul batted balls. Prior to the 1863 convention, the playing rules stated that runners were to return to their original base after a foul ball, although the ball was considered live once settled in the hands of the pitcher, regardless of where he was on the field. A 21st century observer could surmise that once the pitcher held the ball and the runners were touching their base, they could advance at their own risk, which may well have been the case through the 1863 season. The delegation approved a more specific wording for foul balls. The 1864 rules stated that baserunners were allowed to advance on foul balls if they were touching their original base when the ball was settled in the hands of the pitcher anywhere on the playing field. These two acts needed to occur simultaneously. A thinking pitcher, running after a foul ball, needed to decide if he should catch the ball (on the fly or the first bounce) when a runner or runners were on base, because of where he would be in relation to the baserunner’s next base of advancement. He would also have to decide, if a teammate attempted to make a play on a foul ball, when he would accept the ball.
As for the convention, it was called to order at 8 P.M. by Colonel Fitzgerald, the outgoing president. He revealed that he had declined re-election of “the honor that was to be offered to him, as he was in favor of rotation in office.”9
After the reading of the minutes from the 1862 convention, the treasurer’s report disclosed a positive balance of $159.44.10 Next, the Committee on Nominations recommended admitting the Active Club of New York and the Monitor Club of Goshen.11 The Mercury reported that the Monitor Club did not submit credentials within the required time.12 The Association, which in seeking to build up its numbers almost never rejected a request for membership, deferred to past practice and ruled: “According to the previous action of the Convention in such cases, the error was overlooked and the club admitted to membership.”13
The outcome of a dispute between the Empire and Mutual clubs, first addressed at the 1862 convention, was announced. The matches that Messrs. Dewey and Ward participated in for the Mutual Club were declared null and void. Both had played for the Empire Club on 1861 and it was determined that they were ineligible to become members of the Mutual Club. The report was submitted and placed on file.14 (See the article on the 1862 NABBP convention for a more detailed explanation.)
Besides submitting its proposed changes, the Committee on Rules and Regulations also endorsed the scoring system appearing in Beadle’s Dime Book of Base Ball.15 The committee was commended for the way it handled its duties for the 1863 convention.16 A single scoring system was proposed, the intention being to formulate a more accurate yearly tabulation for Beadle’s publications.17
The Association also updated its constitution. When a complaint was made against a player or club within the required three days of and incident, it now had to be done in writing and sent to the recording secretary as well as the player or club in question.18
In another change, the recording secretary was required to forward all charges to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The committee was to issue a decision within 15 days. The secretary was then required to publish the results of the Judiciary Committee one time in two leading newspapers, the Sunday following the decision.19 A two-thirds majority vote was necessary to overturn a decision at the next annual meeting.20
Changes in wording were implemented to give the Judiciary Committee jurisdiction over disputes like the one between the Mutual and Empire clubs the previous convention, and that had to be settled by a specially appointed committee. Article 10 was changed from “on nominations” to “and a Judiciary Committee of five members…”21
Turning to the election of officers for 1864, the delegates approved the following:
- President: E.H. Dawson (Newark)
- First vice president, F. Pidgeon (Eckford)
- Second vice president, A.J. Dupignac (Gotham)
- Recording secretary, J. Ross Postley (Jefferson)
- Corresponding secretary, J. Seaver Page (Active)
- Treasurer, P.J. Cozans (Eagle)
The vote to elect Dawson, Pidgeon, and Page was unanimous. In the election for second vice president, Dupignac defeated J.W. Mr. Miller of the Newburg club, and in the election for treasurer, Cozans defeated E.H. Brown of Metropolitan.22
A number of clubs were in default of membership fees and were removed from membership. “Most of them have ceased to exist, the majority being merged into other organizations,” the Eagle reported.
The Eagle’s list: “Putnam, Exercise and Powhattan of Brooklyn; Social and Alpine of New York; Liberty of New Brunswick; Adriatic of Newark; Equity, Winona, Benedict, United and Olympic of Philadelphia; Quickstep of Bergen, N.J., the New Rochelle Club, Baltic of Bellville, Continental of Jersey City, the Eaglewood Club, Union of Elizabeth, Bowdoin of Boston. Excelsior of Baltimore, and Flour City of Rochester. The Baltic, Charter Oak, Continental, Harlem, Independent, Knickerbocker, Union of Brooklyn, and Victory of Troy, all of which were represented at the last convention, failed to send delegates this time.
“Unless they are represented next year, they will cease to be members of the Association, and therefore not eligible to play in matches with Clubs that are,” the Eagle wrote.23
According to Mears, the following clubs identified as being in arrears were reported as playing matches in 1862: Powhattan of Brooklyn, Alpine of New York, Olympic of Philadelphia and Bowdoin of Boston. As for those failing to send delegates to the convention, the Charter Oak, Harlem, Independent and Knickerbocker all played matches in 1862.
It was reported in Mears that the Jefferson, Metropolitan, and Hamilton of Brooklyn had not played in matches for one or two years and it was not known if they were still in existence.24 It is extremely odd that such remarks were made, as all three clubs had representatives at the 1863 convention. In addition, Postley (Jefferson) was re-elected recording secretary, and Brown (Metropolitan) and Wilbur (Hamilton) were appointed by the president to the Judiciary Committee and the Printing Committee respectively. In fact, box scores for the Hamilton club in 1861 appear in Mears. The publication listed results for the Jefferson club in 1861 and 1862; however, no results for the Metropolitan club were found in 1861 or 1862.
The lack of attention on the part of the active clubs failing to pay their dues and the inaccuracies in the NABBP’s inactive list bring into question the importance of the “ruling body” and their awareness of their membership. Perhaps clubs felt it was not necessary to pay dues to a third party in order to schedule their own matches.
The president made appointments to the following committees.
- Nominations — Dr. Bell (Henry Eckford), C.E. Thomas (Eureka of Newark), and W.H. Murtha (Enterprise).25
- Rules and Regulations — Dr. Jones (Excelsior), P. O’Brien (Atlantic), F. Pidgeon (Eckford), W.A. Cauldwell (Union), H. Chadwick (Star), S. Burns (Mutual), A. Rogers (Resolute), J.S. Page (Active), and C.C. Walden (National of Washington).26
- Judiciary — Judge Van Cott (Gotham), Dr. Bell (Henry Eckford), D. Milliken (Union), T. Miller (Empire), and E. H. Brown (Metropolitan).27
- Printing — P.J. Cozans (Eagle), E.R. Wilbur (Hamilton), and J. Ross Postley (Jefferson).28
Fifty dollars was allocated for the printing of 500 copies of the rules and regulations. After it was mentioned that some clubs did not receive the books due them,29 recording secretary Postley replied that the Association had not received the addresses of some clubs’ secretaries.30 Clubs that did not receiving guide books were promised a refund.31 Fifty dollars was agreed upon as the salary for the recording secretary.32
The convention was adjourned and the 1864 convention was scheduled for the second Wednesday in December.33
The 1864 membership of the National Association of Base Ball Players remained anything but national. Relatively few states had representative clubs and all of the clubs were from the East Coast. Without at least establishing satellite outposts in the more active parts of the country, the NABBP could never become the governing body initially hoped for. The 1864 season would have been an ideal year to begin expanding as clubs from the East Coast began to tour more often, led by the Athletics of Philadelphia.
The Association’s clubs padded their schedules by continuing to play non-Association clubs without the fear of penalties, and the NABBP did not discourage it. Other than being the center of rules discussions for their membership, what was the purpose of the NABBP?
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mears Baseball Scrapbooks — Vol 4; 1856-1868
The Sunday Mercury
Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times
1 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1863.
7 Mears Baseball Scrapbooks — Vol 4, 1856-1868.
8 The Sunday Mercury, December 13, 1863.
9 Mears Baseball Scrapbooks — Vol 4, 1856-1868.
10 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1863.
12 The Sunday Mercury, December 13, 1863.
15 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1863.
17 Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, 12-19-1863.
18 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1863.
19 The Sunday Mercury, December 13, 1863.
20 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1863.
21 The Sunday Mercury, December 13, 1863.
22 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1863.
24 Mears Baseball Scrapbooks — Vol 4, 1856-1868.
25 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1863.
30 Mears Baseball Scrapbooks — Vol 4, 1856-1868.
32 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1863.
33 Mears Baseball Scrapbooks — Vol 4, 1856-1868.