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Rules Modified to Specify Nine Innings, 90-Foot Base Paths, Nine-Player Teams, but not the Fly Rule

Salience Prominent
Tags Post-Knickerbocker Rule Changes
Location Greater New York City
City/State/Country: NYC, NY, United States
Game Base Ball
Immediacy of Report Contemporary
Age of Players Adult

"The New York Game rules are modified by a group of 16 clubs who send representatives to meetings to discuss the conduct of the New York Game. The Knickerbocker Club recommends that a winner be declared after seven innings but nine innings are adopted instead upon the motion of Lewis F. Wadsworth. The base paths are fixed by D.L. Adams at 30 yards - the old rule had specified 30 paces and the pitching distance at 15 yards. Team size is set at nine players." The convention decided not to eliminate bound outs, but did give fly outs more weight by requiring runners to return to their bases after fly outs.

Roger Adams writes that the terms "runs" and "innings" first appear in the 1857 rules, as well as the first specifications of the size and weight of the base ball.

Follow-up meetings were held on January 28 and February 3 to finalize the rule changes.


New York Evening Express, January 23, 1857; New York Herald, January 23, 1857; Porter's Spirit of the Times, January 31, February 28, March 7, 1857; Spirit of the Times, January 31, 1857 (Reprinted in Dean A. Sullivan, Compiler and Editor, Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 [University of Nebraska Press, 1995], pp. 122-24).

The text of the March 7 Porter's Spirit article is found at http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2016/04/04/the-baseball-convention-of-1857-a-summary-report/.  In addition to the complete text of the 35 rules, this article includes commentary on 8 or 10 of the Convention's decisions (chiefly the consideration of the fly rule).   The coverage leaves the impression that the Knickerbockers supported a rules convention mainly to engineer the adoption of a fly rule and thus to swing the game into the cricket practice for retiring runners.   

For other full accounts of the convention, see Frederick Ivor-Campbell, "Knickerbocker Base Ball: The Birth and Infancy of the Modern Game," Base Ball, Volume 1, Number 2 (Fall 2007), pages 55-65, and John Freyer & Mark Rucker, Peverelly's National Game (2005), p. 17.

See also Eric Miklich, "Nine Innings, Nine Players, Ninety Feet, and Other Changes: The Recodification of Baseball Rules in 1857," Base Ball Journal, Volume 5, Issue 1, Fall 2011 (Special Issue on Origins), pages 118-121; and R. Adams, "Nestor of Ball Players," found in typescript in the Chadwick Scrapbooks. (Facsimile contributed by Bill Ryczek, December 29, 2009.)


In a systematic review of Games Tabulation data from the New York Clipper, the only exception to the use of a 9-player team for match games among senior clubs was a single 11-on-11 contest in Jersey City in 1855.

The rules were also amended to forbid "jerked" pitches. Jerking was not defined. See Peter Morris's A Game of Inches (2006), p. 72.

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Supplemental Text

Seven innings vs Nine innings

John Thorn 

...this is the historical background to why we have nine innings. 

Lewis (Louis) F. Wadsworth jumped from the Gothams to the Knickerbockers on April 1, 1854. He was already renowned as a first baseman, so he joined the Knicks not for purposes of camaraderie but to improve their chances of winning against other clubs. Even though at that time only the Eagles and the Gothams had organized, it was clear that activity was bubbling in Brooklyn and in Manhattan for the 1855 campaign.

Wadsworth, along with Adams, DeBost, and others, backed a motion in an 1856 Knickerbocker meeting (see Club Books pp. 252-255) to permit non-Knicks to join in with Knicks in their intrasquad games at the Elysian Fields if fewer than 18 Knicks were present (9 men to a side had been the standard for match play to this point, and Wadsworth and his allies thought that it more important to preserve the quality of the game than to exclude those who were not club members). Duncan F. Curry counter-moved that if 14 Knickerbockers were available, the game should admit no outsiders and be played shorthanded (by match standards).

The Curry forces (which included James Whyte Davis) prevailed, 13-11. Just as Chadwick would later match the innings in his proposed model to the number of men on the field (i.e., 10), the Knicks were now resolved to recommend a seven-inning game to replace the old custom of playing to 21 runs, which had recently produced a highly unsatisfactory 12-12 tie game, called on account of darkness. But this was one of the most heated and divisive votes in club history, so at this point Ladd suggested that a committee be formed to cooperate with other clubs to decide upon the proper number of players for a match. This motion carried  unanimously, and Wadsworth moved that Chairman Drummond appoint the committee. The committee appointed was Curry and Ladd; Ladd declined, and Adams took his place, thus placing one seven-inning advocate alongside a nine-innings advocate, as the Knicks pointed toward their next meeting, at Smith's Hotel on 462 Broome Street, December 6, 1856, for the purpose of considering a convention of all the clubs. The Eagles had come to the Knicks requesting their aid in conforming the rules as far back as 1853, and the Gothams had agreed to work with the Knicks toward this end on April 1, 1854, the same date on which Wadsworth was proposed for membership in the Knicks.

The hotheaded Wadsworth had offered his resignation to the Knicks on 7/31/56, then withdrew his resignation on 8/26/56 (he had previously rebelled while a member of the committee to revise the player uniform, resigning and unresigning within two days in August 1855). Curry resigned on 12/6/56, the very day of the meeting at Smith's. The Knicks proceeded to endorse a concord with the other clubs on the vexing point of how many innings should constitute a game and other issues, such as recommending a baseball field for Central Park, settling the "doubtful point, as to the position of the Pitcher," and debating the merits of the fly out vs. the bound catch. They also established a three-man commission to enlist the attendance of other clubs at a convention for the purpose of standardizing the rules. The three were Wadsworth, Adams, and Grenelle.

In the Knicks' 1/31/57 Report on the Convention, Wadsworth was named the Knicks' representative on the "Committee to Draft a Code of Laws on the Game of Base Ball, to be Submitted to the Convention." Also on this committee, as it turned out, was Thomas Tassie of the Atlantics (I mention this for those who will recall the 1877 meeting of Curry, Tassie, and Will Rankin that raised Wadsworth's role in providing a diagram of the playing field, then recanted that view, replacing Wadsworth with Cartwright).

Prior to the convention of 2/25/57, which later came to be termed the first National Association meeting (although that name wasn't applied until the convention of 1858), Section 26 of the rules was adopted by the Committee, on the recommendation of the Knicks, making the game "seven innings." In the convention, however, on motion of Mr. Wadsworth, the aggregate modified the Knicks' recommendation to "nine innings." Clearly, in enlisting the support of other teams, Wadsworth was following his own lead rather than that of the Knicks' majority.

On 3/7/57, the Knicks voted to adopt the by-laws of the convention but to accept the new playing rules only for matches against other clubs. On 3/14/57 the rules were formally adopted. After the rules were read, Mr. Stansbury moved that the Knicks play no more matches with other clubs. His motion was tabled. Last, Wadsworth moved to alter the Knick Rules and By-Laws to incorporate all the new changes from the convention. His motion carried, and the exclusionary clique of the Knicks, as originally headed by Curry, was finished.

Wadsworth's victory was Pyrrhic as far as his own future with the club was concerned. Made to feel uncomfortable, the Knicks' "ringer" failed to appear for a game on 6/8/57 with the Eagles, though he had been named to play. Six days later he resigned for the final time, and by the following month he was again manning first base with his accustomed panache for the Gothams.