Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame Has Connection with Historical Baseball Discovery

logo2The recent unearthing of a document outlining baseball’s early rules shares some history with a document in the possession of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. The recent finding is an important one, a document entitled “The Laws of Base Ball”. Published in 1857, it outlines the rules of the game, incorporating many features fundamental to today’s game, including 9 innings to a game, 9 players to a side, and 90 feet between bases. The document was authored by Daniel L. “Doc” Adams, a player and executive with the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and its predecessor, the New York Base Ball Club. It provides tangible evidence that Adams was the man responsible for defining the game as we know it today. Until now, such honour has been bestowed upon Alexander Cartwright, known accordingly as “The Father of Baseball”. Cartwright is an inductee in the Cooperstown Hall, and his plaque credits him with the inventions now known to be due to Adams.

The game in 1857 was still in its developmental stages. It had been up to that time largely a gentleman’s pastime, played by young men in clubs as outdoor exercise. Through the late 1850s and 1860s, as teams and their backers became more competitive, the influence of professionalism increased, until some teams became completely and overtly professional in 1869. A key juncture in this development occurred in 1858 with a set of three games known as the Fashion Course Games.

The Fashion Course Games were held at the Fashion Race Course in New York, a horse racing venue with an enclosed, horseshoe-shaped grandstand. The games were the first all-star games, pitting selected players from the various New York-based teams against their counterparts from Brooklyn. The fact that the organizers had to pay rent for use of the grounds posed a problem, however: how to cover the costs? The solution was a bold one: charge admission. The venue’s enclosed shape, with controlled entrance and egress via gates, facilitated the collection of admission fees, so the bold experiment was tried for the third and final game in September of 1858. It was a smashing success, as thousands paid without complaint to witness the match. The game provided the first evidence that baseball might prosper as an economic enterprise.

The third Fashion Course match of September 10e, 1858 represented another first, in addition to the all-star concept and the paid admission. Batters had been able to specify whether they wanted a pitch delivered high or low by the pitcher. If such a pitch were fairly delivered, and in the requested zone, but the batter did not offer at it, there was no penalty. In an effort to remedy this situation, the umpire was authorized to then call a strike on the batter. The third game of the series was the first in baseball in which the “Called Strike” rule was applied (three times). The umpire who called these strikes? Doc Adams.

So what does all this have to do with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame? Two years ago, a volunteer at the Museum was cataloguing the books portion of a large collection donated by the family of Harry Simmons, a long-time minor and major league administrator in New York and Montreal. Inside one of the books was a single sheet of paper, a photocopy of a hand-written page. The copy was of a rudimentary, but detailed, scoresheet. Closer examination revealed that it was the scoresheet from the third Fashion Course Game of September 10e, 1858. But where had the copy come from? And whose hand-writing was it?

To determine the provenance of the scoresheet, the volunteer took it to the 2015 session of the Society for American Baseball Research’s annual 19e Century Committee Conference in Cooperstown. He presented it to the assembled experts, and learned that the hand-writing was that of Henry Chadwick, baseball’s premier early historian. The page had been copied from a scrapbook in the Henry Chadwick Collection at the New York Public Library. The scrapbook, or at least certain pages of it, had been stolen some years ago, and has yet to resurface.

The presentation of the scoresheet was met with considerable excitement. One of the attendees was John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s Official Historian, who commented:

“The Harry Simmons Collection at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame has researchers whetting their lips. The 1858 scoresheet is, we suspect, just the tip of the iceberg of priceless material about the early game. Not only did the three-game Fashion Race Course series constitute the first all-star games, but the last game also marked the first time that an umpire–in this instance the celebrated Doc Adams–called a strike on a batter unwilling to swing at a pitch over the plate.”
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So the tapestry of baseball is woven of innumerable threads, but many of these wind through the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.