Most Wanted: Was it ever really "Ball nine, take your base?"

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Title Was it ever really "Ball nine, take your base?"

Are we misinterpreting the early base-on balls rule?

Protoball Sub-area Chronologies
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Over and over, in print and pixels, we are informed that the original number of balls for a free pase was 9, whittled down in the 1880s to the modern 4.  But was it ever really 9?  I can't find any rule that actually says so.  I am wondering if that figure was arrived at by interpreting, actually misinterpreting 1863's Rule 6.

The rule appears to imply that after one "unfair" pitch, the pitcher would receive a warning, and that if he "persisted" in this conduct by throwing two more, the umpire would penalize his unsportsmanlike behavior by calling one ball; and then this three-pitch sequence would be repeated twice more, for a total of nine before the striker trotted to first.  But was this actually how the rule was implemented?

It certainly does not seem consonant with Chadwick's commentary on the rule, which appears to contemplate a total of five bad pitches: 

In warning the pitcher before calling balls on him, all that is necessary is to call “ball to the bat;” and if two balls are pitched unfairly after such warning, “one ball” should be called, and if one unfair ball be delivered after that call, then “two” and “three” balls should be promptly called. A pitcher “repeatedly” fails if he fails twice in succession; and he “persists” in his unfair delivery if he pitch one ball after the first penalty has been imposed. (1865 Beadle's)

In other words, that after the first ball was called, ball 2 and ball 3 would follow immediately, without further warning or re-establishment of "persistence", and that the intent of the rule was that 3 called balls should be the penalty for 5, not 9 (or more), "unfair" pitches.


There are in addition press comments from the 1864 season, the first in which the called ball was in effect. Many of these are complaints that a given umpire was either too strict or too lenient (that sort of thing never, ever happens today), but of particular interest are the clippings from the

NY Clipper, 5/16/64

Bkn Eagle 6/16/64

NY Sunday Mercury 6/19/64

NY Clipper 7/9/64

NY Sunday Mercury 7/24/64

Scale of Effort Mini-task
Submitted by Bill Hicklin
Submitted on 2020/05/01
Assigned to