This article was written by William J. Ryczek
This article was published in the Baseball’s 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900
Someone was missing from the 1874 National Association convention, and his absence underscored one of the major weaknesses of the three-year-old organization. The absentee was the president of the NA, Robert Ferguson, who during his two years in office had taken little interest in the management of the association, treating his appointment as more ceremonial than functional. Ferguson was an infielder and the captain of the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn who also happened to be one of the best umpires of his day. It would have been presumptuous to expect him to devote a significant amount of time to league affairs, and perhaps he wasn’t expected to. Management of the NA was a group effort, and the concept of a strong leader had not taken hold.
On March 2, 1874, the fourth annual convention of the Association took place at Boston’s United States Hotel, located at the corner of Beach and Lincoln Streets. Built in 1824, the U.S. had been one of the city’s leading hotels for 50 years, a somewhat remarkable span in an age when fire was a constant danger. Daniel Webster lived there for a spell, and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner entertained writer Charles Dickens there when the latter visited America. The U.S. Hotel was good enough for Webster, Sumner, and Dickens, but apparently not for Ferguson, whose unexplained absence left the Atlantic club without a representative.
The delegates representing the various clubs were:
- Athletics (Philadelphia) — D.F. Houston
- Baltimore — Charles A. Hadel
- Boston — Charles H. Porter
- Chicago — Nicholas A. Young
- Hartford — Gershom B. Hubbell
- Philadelphia — David L. Reid
- Mutuals (New York) — Alexander V. Davidson
In Ferguson’s absence, Nick Young called the meeting to order and nominated Porter of the host city to act as chairman. Porter delivered a gracious welcoming speech and the convention then admitted the Hartford club to membership in the Association. Chicago was also a new club, having been absent for two years after the Great Fire, but apparently it had been admitted earlier.
After the demise of the Middletown Mansfields in 1872, Gershom Hubbell had opined that there would never again be a professional club in Connecticut. Just two years later, however, in conjunction with former Mansfield president Benjamin Douglas Jr., Hubbell had raised $5,000 and established a team in Connecticut’s capital city.
Half a continent away, the reorganized White Stockings of Chicago returned to the Association. Young, who had already been involved with the management of teams in Washington and Baltimore, and Gassette were the primary movers, but it was another stockholder, William Hulbert, who would determine the course of Chicago baseball, and that of the major leagues, in just two years.
After Hartford’s admission to the fold, the reports of the Judiciary and Championship Committees were read and accepted. The former committee had nothing significant to report, although not from a lack of material. The Philadelphia White Stockings held a sizable lead in the 1873 pennant race at midseason, until several of their players signed with the new Chicago club for 1874, long before the end of the season. Abetted in large part by suspiciously bad play on the part of the lame ducks, the White Stockings blew the lead in spectacular fashion. Although the signings violated NA regulations, the matter was not brought before the committee.
A second incident involved the absent president. In July 1873, Ferguson was umpiring a game between Baltimore and the Mutuals when he became embroiled in a dispute with Mutuals catcher Nat Hicks and hit him with a bat, breaking Hicks’s arm.
The Judiciary Committee had not received a complaint in either instance, and no action was taken. The former Philadelphia players joined Chicago without incident and Ferguson’s apology to Hicks after the game apparently absolved him of liability. Life in the NA went on. The concept of a league was still relatively new, and perhaps each team lacked confidence that justice would prevail, or possibly they anticipated that they too might transgress at some point, and wanted the NA to stay out of their business.
The report of the Championship Committee, consisting of Harry Wright of Boston, David Reid of Philadelphia, and Hicks Hayhurst of the Athletics, was perfunctory, declaring the Red Stockings of Boston to be the champions of the previous season, and thus entitled to fly the championship banner in 1874. The process of reaching a decision, however, had been anything but routine. In the wake of Philadelphia’s collapse, Boston clearly had the best record in the league (43-16), four games in front of the White Stockings (36-17). But the actions of the Championship Committee, with representatives of the two top contenders among its members, became heavily tinged with partisan bias.
Reid challenged Boston’s right to the pennant on the basis that they had used an ineligible player during the second half of the season. The player in question was veteran utilityman Bob Addy, who had been released by Philadelphia midway through the season and returned to Rockford, where he had played for the old Forest City Club in 1871. On the Fourth of July, Addy played in a pickup game, a seemingly innocuous affair that took on great significance in the eyes of David Reid.
The NA had a rule stating that no man could play for a team within 60 days of playing for another club, a rule intended to prevent the “revolving” that had been prevalent in prior years. It was clear to most observers that the rule was intended to cover games played by regular teams, and that the informal combination with which Addy played in Rockford would not render him ineligible to play with the Red Stockings. Reid dug in, however, and refused to sign a resolution declaring Boston the champion. Wright expressed his frustration and finally persuaded Hayhurst to sign, creating a 2-to-1 majority and giving his Red Stockings the championship.
Once the reports of the Judiciary and Championship Committees were complete, the delegates nominated a slate of officers, each of whom was elected unanimously. Porter was chosen president, Hubbell of the Hartfords vice president, Young treasurer, and Houston secretary. Young, Porter, Reid, Hadel, and Hubbell were selected for the Judiciary Committee and Houston, Davidson, and Hubbell for the Championship Committee. Apparently newcomer Hubbell was popular, and he would have been a busy man had any of the committees actually transacted meaningful business.
“The names of the gentlemen appointed should insure a thoroughly impartial adjudication on all questions likely to come before them,”1 the Clipper stated, although the prior committees had not covered themselves with glory. Despite a number of untoward incidents during the 1873 season, the Judiciary Committee received no complaints, and the actions of the Championship Committee were marked by parochialism fueled by a technicality.
The most interesting business of the convention was the discussion of rule changes proposed by journalist Henry Chadwick. Inheriting the mantle from pioneer Daniel (Doc) Adams of the old Knickerbocker Club, Chadwick had become the foremost expert on the rules of baseball. Before each convention, he drafted his recommendations and circulated them among the various clubs, so that they could be presented for discussion at the meeting.
As usual, Chadwick had prepared his missive, covering eight rules and 107 sections of the code, for which the convention honored him with the following resolution:
Resolved, That the secretary be instructed to tender to Mr. Henry Chadwick of New York the thanks of this Association for his efforts in behalf of our national game, and that he be furnished with a certified copy of the amended rules, as adopted, for publication in his book.2
Chadwick was not accorded the honor, however, of having his most cherished recommendation adopted by the convention. Over the past year, Chadwick had become convinced that baseball would be a better game if it were extended to 10 innings and each team had 10 players, the 10th most likely playing a second shortstop position between first and second base. Alternatively, the extra player could be positioned in foul territory to guard against fair-foul hits.3 Chadwick’s third suggestion was to station the 10th man behind the catcher in order to eliminate passed balls and wild pitches, which were numerous, and foul tips, which were outs if caught on the fly.
Chadwick compared the change to a 10-inning, 10-man game to the evolution from the bound rule to the fly game, approved at the 1865 convention. Everyone agreed that the fly rule was an idea whose time had come and that it modernized the game and enhanced the skill level.4 It was good precedent, and as the years went on, Chadwick compared every rule change he advocated to the fly rule, even when it bore no resemblance whatsoever.
Prior to the official adoption of the fly rule, most of the top teams had played that way by mutual agreement, even though it was not sanctioned by the official rules. The bound rule was used primarily by teams of lesser ability. At several conventions, the fly rule had been proposed but voted down, with much of the opposition coming from teams whose players were less skilled. The 10-man, 10-inning game was not played on a regular basis by any teams, and did not have the popular support the fly game had when it was finally adopted as an official rule.
Ten is a round number in the decimal system, and Chadwick was so enamored of baseball that perhaps he felt that the more innings were played, the better. The reason he wanted 10 players was more obvious, for Henry Chadwick believed that the best games were those in which the fewest runs were scored, and it was reasonable to assume that an extra fielder would result in fewer runs.
Chadwick was the country’s foremost baseball reporter, and throughout the winter he peppered the columns of the New York Clipper with articles about clubs of 10 rather than nines, dreaming of a succession of the 1-0 and 2-1 games he so admired. He assumed that the delegates, as they had in previous years, would yield to his wisdom and approve all of his recommendations.
The men in the United States Hotel thought otherwise, and for the first time, the delegates repudiated Chadwick on a major issue, voting down the 10-man, 10-inning proposal. Alex Davidson, the representative of the Mutuals, introduced the measure and cast the only affirmative vote. The other six delegates felt that nine men and nine innings were sufficient.
Chadwick did not take his defeat gracefully. An allegedly confused correspondent to the Clipper inquired what would happen if one team showed up with nine players and the other with 10. Chadwick sorrowfully informed the man that for 1874 (leaving open the possibility that the delegates would see the light the following year) each team would have but nine players. He suggested that the amateurs might adopt the 10-man, 10-inning rule at their coming convention.5 Throughout the spring, Chadwick continued to stress the advantages of his proposal, but it was a lost cause. Teams would play with nine men in 1874 and are still playing with nine today.
The defeat marked the end of Chadwick’s reign as baseball’s chief rule-maker. He played a minimal role at the 1875 convention, and when William Hulbert formed the National League the following year, Chadwick was left out in the cold.
A second proposal that was voted down was that a team leading after the top of the ninth inning have the option of forgoing their final turn at bat. Then the delegates moved in a more positive direction and voted affirmatively on a number of rule changes. They began by establishing a six-foot by three-foot batter’s box in order to fix the striker’s position. Confining the batter to a defined place, the Boston Post opined, would prevent the “fair-foul.”6
The prohibition against gambling was strengthened. Any player wagering on a game in which he was a participant was subject to permanent expulsion, while anyone betting on a game in which he was not directly involved was to be suspended for the remainder of that season.
The definition of a “pitch” was clarified by affirming that the pitcher’s arm must swing perpendicularly to his body. While the arm position dated back to the Knickerbocker rules, the “snap throw,” legalized in 1872, enabled pitchers to throw with greater speed than if they were strictly held to a stiff-wristed “pitch.”
While the manner in which the ball was delivered was more clearly defined, the rule on calling balls and strikes remained as clear as the proverbial mud. Chadwick reported the regulation as follows:
“All balls out of reach of the bat are to be called “wide” and three wides give a base. In calling balls, the umpire is not required to call until three balls — not over the base or called for — have been sent in. These do not include ‘wides,’ however, as they are called separately. Thus, the umpire may have called two wides and two balls, after which the first wide or called ball gives the base.”7
There was only one umpire per game during the NA era, and it was difficult, without a ball-strike indicator (which did not make its appearance until 1875) to keep track of balls, wides, and strikes. But the solitary umpire was also required to make all calls on the bases and in the outfield, as well as be certain that players adhered to the rules while running the bases.
It would have taken a highly skilled, full-time umpire with superhuman peripheral vision to perform all of these duties, but the men who filled the position were unpaid volunteers, usually members of a nonplaying club but frequently an officer or a member of one of the competing clubs. With so many responsibilities and complicated rules like the calling of balls and strikes, it was no wonder that umpires were often beleaguered and in the midst of controversy.
It had always been felt that paying umpires would compromise their integrity, but at the Boston convention it was agreed that they could accept remuneration as long as half came from each team. They were also given help — of a questionable nature — by permitting them to take testimony from spectators if they had not seen a play clearly.
The role of umpire was more tolerable with compensation, and Mr. Houston suggested being nicer to them as well. His motion “[that] the secretaries of the various clubs be recommended to issue requests to members and others to abstain from any demonstrations of approval (not that there were many of those) or disapproval in regard to the decisions of the umpire”8 was accepted by the delegates. It would have little practical effect, and the duties of the umpires continued to be as arduous as ever.
With the business of the convention completed, the delegates adjourned to the hotel dining room, where they partook of a meal provided by Nicholas A. Appolonio, an officer of the Boston Club. There were speeches, toasts to the health of the delegates, and a salute to the press, in the person of C.R. Bryam of the Boston Journal. At 9:00 P.M., after a full day, the convention came to a close.
The end result of the gathering was the election of new officers, perfunctory committee reports, and a few rule changes, although not the one Henry Chadwick so ardently desired. The plight of the umpire was addressed, but not made appreciably better, although the poor fellows would now be paid.
Perhaps the best news from the convention was the fact that there were only eight teams in the field for 1874, and other than Baltimore all appeared to have sufficient financial backing. Each would make it through the season, the first time in its four years that the slate of NA entrants survived intact. The West, in the form of the Chicago White Stockings, was again represented in major-league baseball, and the Red Stockings and Athletics planned a trip across the ocean to show the English the American game of baseball. The outlook was good for the coming year.
Besides the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author also consulted the following:
The Inter Ocean (Chicago).
Ryczek, William J. Blackguards and Red Stockings (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1992).
1 New York Clipper, March 14, 1874.
3 Before 1877 any batted ball that first landed in fair territory was considered fair, even if it crossed into foul territory before passing first or third base.
4 Before 1865 the rules declared that a batter was out if his batted ball was caught on the fly or on the first bound. In the 1840s, when baseball first became popular, catching the ball on a single bounce required a fair amount of skill, but as players had more practice, it became much easier and the rule became arcane.
5 New York Clipper, March 21, 1874.
6 Boston Post, March 3, 1874.
7 New York Clipper, March 14, 1874.