The Knickerbocker Rules, and the Long History of the One-Bounce Rule

From SABR member Larry McCray (via John Thorn’s blog at on October 6, 2011:

If a ball be struck, or tipped, and caught, either flying or on the first bound, it is a hand out.

The famous Knickerbocker rules of 1845 may not be comprehensive enough to fully define a playable game, and may not even be baseball’s first written rules, but they did indeed survive, and they give us the first coherent picture of the roots of the New York game.

At first taken as evidence of the Knickerbocker Club’s knack for inventive genius, the 13 playing rules have recently been freshly reconsidered in an evolutionary context, and their reputation for originality has taken several hits. At this point, it appears that only three rules that endure today lack clear precedent in prior safe-haven ballgames. These are (1) the tag-out rule, which supplanted the “plugging” of base-runners to put them out; (2) the characteristic “90-degree” territory defining fair hits; and (3) the three-out inning. The three-strike rule, for example, was already in use in predecessor games—as was the dropped-third strike rule that freed the batter who whiffed to run the bases. (Such familiar modern icons as the nine-inning game, the nine-player team and the ninety-foot basepath came along more than a decade later.)

It seems ironic, when discussing rule innovations, that what may have been early game’s most contentious rule (the issue remained unsettled for four decades) was perhaps actually the most ancient aspect of ballplay. The basic fly rule for putting batters out seems to have been a part of ballplaying since, at least, the earliest accounts of English stoolball and cricket, centuries ago.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: October 6, 2011. Last Updated: October 6, 2011.

© SABR. All Rights Reserved