That Great American Pastime

ROCKWALL, TX (April 16, 2014) Baseball has long been known as the America’s National Pastime. Not necessarily an American invention, but certainly an American experiment, or even evolution.

Abner Doubleday is usually credited with the invention of the game, but it actually seems to have developed from “Rounders,” a game still played in England today. Controversy abounds to this day as to the original inventor of the game, but this sport has developed and changed through the years and there are records of baseball mentioned in America in the late 1700’s. 

The great game of baseball we know today would hardly be recognized from when it was played in the 1800’s. Rules have changed and evolved over the years and even today baseball powers continue to make rule changes that affect the way the sport is played and watched. 

Being a “baseball purist,” if there is such a thing, I see most of the recent changes as having negative effects on the game. I know the Designated Hitter rule was added to beef up the offensive production and keep fans’ back sides in the bleachers, but to me, it takes away from the strategy of the game. The decision to let the pitcher bat or not in a critical situation is taken away with the DH rule.

Then there is instant replay – You know, there is no crying in baseball and I’m thinking there should be no instant replay in baseball! 

Today a starting pitcher is considered successful if he can pitch 5 innings, a “quality start.” Give me a break – tell that to Whitey Ford, Juan Marichal or Bob Gibson. The early pitchers took the mound with the intention of pitching a complete game. Of course today we must have our long relievers, short relievers and a closer. (The closer can only throw a few pitches on a given day, don’t you see. Then he cannot be used 2 days in a row; his arm might be too tired. You’ve probably heard the announcer, “He threw 12 pitches in relief last night and is unavailable for relief in today’s game.”) 

One story from Casey Stengel’s career was that he went to the mound to pull the pitcher out of the game. The pitcher told him, “I feel fine.” Mr. Stengel’s immediate response was, “Well, you’re making me sick!” 

The early days of baseball certainly had some odd rules and mode of play that I’m sure made sense back then, but seem strange today. 

For instance:

. Foul balls were not considered strikes.

. Games were played until one team scored 21 “aces” or “counts.” We call them runs.

. Pitchers were “feeders,” only could pitch underhand and were expected to serve up a pitch that the hitter could unload on.

. Hitters would tell the pitcher whether he wanted a high pitch or a low pitch and the pitcher would oblige.

. It took 9 balls to be issued a walk. A rule made in 1877 was that a hitter was exempted from a time at bat if he walked.

. The “called strike” came out of the First Base Ball Convention, 1858. But the ump couldn’t simply declare, “Strike!” He had to first issue a warning that would go something like this, “I ask you to pardon me for intruding, my good man, but that one seemed to me to be a very fine pitch. Be advised that I will call any similar pitch a strike, of which you get three. Does that seem fair?” Unless the batter swung and missed, the umpire could not call a strike on the first pitch.

. Instead of the grief we give the umpires today, they were honored with utmost courtesy by the players, often sat under an umbrella in an easy chair, were provided the choicest bits of food and the largest glass of beer.

. “Patching” or “plugging” was an integral part of the game. This meant that one way to get a base runner out was to throw a ball directly at him while on the base paths. (Sounds more like dodge ball.)

. A hitter did not necessarily have to run the bases in the counterclockwise manner we know today. The batter could run the opposite direction, clockwise, if he chose and other batters in the inning had to follow suit.

. An out was made if a fielder caught the ball on the fly or on one bounce, fair or foul.

. Catchers in the 19th Century would stand behind the batter 5 to 10 feet. The pitchers would call the pitch he was going to throw. If he called a fast ball, the catcher would move back another 5 feet or so. It wasn’t until 1901 that the catchers were compelled to remain continuously under the hitter’s bat. In these years catchers wore none or very little protective gear. The first catcher’s mask was worn in 1877.

. This picture shows probably the most bizarre baseball invention. James Bennett patented this “baseball catcher” in 1904. The object – protect the catcher’s hands from touching the ball until he must throw it back to the pitcher. The ball was to be “caught” in the chest protector and ejected at the bottom. (Not sure how he would throw a runner out at second base, but why worry about such trivial things? You must protect those lily whites.)

. Baseballs were expensive and hard to come by. It was common to play an entire game with the same ball. (Today a ball is thrown out if it touches the ground behind home plate.) 

America has been enamored with this favorite of sports from its earliest inception, whenever that may have been. Changes come and go, but the great American pastime keeps on drawing and entertaining fans and filling the young with aspirations of becoming a Major League star. 

By the way, did you know that baseball is mentioned in the Bible? Yep…Genesis 1:1, “In the ‘big inning’…” Eve stole first and the prodigal son came home. Sorry, just couldn’t resist. 

By Blue Ribbon News special contributor John Adams of Rockwall. John is in telecom sales and also serves as an Associate Pastor at Poetry Baptist Church. He is active in the Rockwall Breakfast Rotary. Visit his guest columns at and his blog at