The rules varied year by year in the 19th century making it a difficult task interpreting their meaning, thus leading to many different interpretations of how the game was played across the country.
After many years of research of the rule books and game accounts here is a list of some of the major rule differences for the two main years we play 1864 and 1884.
Take our video rules test
Take our rules test filmed by the Baseball Hall of Fame starring the New York Mutuals. This video can also be seen at the Hall of Fame in the 19th Century Base Ball section.
Pitching was done in an underhand manner and must be delivered below the waist.
Home plate was round.
The striker (batter) would receive a warning before the umpire would call strikes or fair pitches and then he would receive 3 strikes.
The strike zone was shoulders to one foot off the ground and any reachable ball was a good one.
Foul balls were not strikes
Uniforms usually consisted of a hat, long pants, and a bib type shirt.
The ball was the same size and weight as a modern baseball but the stitching was done in what was called a lemon peel manner (see picture).
Wherever the ball first struck the ground determined whether the ball was fair or foul.
Catching the ball on one bounce was considered an out and the base runners may advance at their own risk.
Players did not use gloves.
All runners advanced on a walk even if they were not forced.
A runner could not over run first base or else he risked being tagged out.
Bases were 90 feet and the pitching distance was 45 feet.
Home plate was round.
Leading and stealing was allowed.
1884 American Association Rules
Pitching was done in a side arm manner with ball being delivered below the shoulder.
The batsman would request a high zone or a low zone from the umpire. A high zone would be from the batters belt to his shoulder and a low zone would be from a batters knees to his belt. If the batter does not request a zone then it is called a fair zone meaning knees to shoulders.
The batsman would receive three strike before being called out.
Foul balls were not strikes.
Any ball not pitched in batters requested zone is a ball. Seven balls is considered a walk.
Home plate was square.
Any ball in foul territory caught on one bounce is considered an out.
Catchers wore two garden type gloves, a chest protector, and a mask.
Most players did not wear a glove.
Bases were 90 feet and the pitches box was 50 feet from home and the box was 4 feet by 6 feet.
Uniforms consisted of a hat, knickers, and a shirt (some laced, some with a bib style).