Playing Field and Equipment Rule Changes

Baseball Rules:
The Ball | The Bat | Fences | Uniforms
Mitts & Gloves | Benches | Pitcher’s Plate | Plate & Bases | The Field

The Highlights

1845 – While there are no restrictions on bat size or shape at the game’s inception, the ball is required to weigh three ounces. The pitching distance is to be forty-five feet.

1849 – The New York Knickerbockers introduced the first uniforms, blue and white cricket outfits.

1854 – The ball increases in weight to 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 ounces and is required to be 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter.

1859 – The first limitation on bat size is introduced: bats are to be no more than 2 1/2 inches in diameter (previously a bat like that used in cricket with a 4-inch-wide flat face had been commonplace).

1860 – Whitewash is used for the first time to mark the foul lines.

1863 – All bats are required to be round and of wood, but the dimensions remain unchanged. Length is still not restricted.

1865 – The pitcher’s box is introduced, replacing a twelve-foot line. The box is to be a three-by-twelve-foot space.

1866 – Another change for the pitcher’s box: it is enlarged to a four-by-twelve-foot rectangle.

1868 – The experimentation continues as the pitcher’s box shrinks to a four-by-six-foot box. The batter, too, faces a new restriction, as the bat finally has a length limit established: no more than forty-two inches long. The Cincinnati Red Stockings introduce knickerbocker trousers.

1869 – The pitcher’s box changes again, this time to a six-foot square.

1872 – The weight standards of the ball are refined (it is required to weigh not less than 5 or more than 5 1/4 ounces) and its circumference specified (not less than 9 or more than 9 1/4 inches).

1875 – The glove (unpadded) is introduced, by Charles G. Waite.

1877 – The bases must be canvas-covered. The required size of a base is fifteen inches square, which it is to this day. Home plate is relocated to what we now know as its final resting place, just within the diamond at the intersection of the first and third base lines.

1881 – The pitchers are moved back to fifty feet from the plate.

1882 – The three-foot base line is adopted.

1885 – Home base specifications permit it to be made of marble or whitened rubber. The bat may have one flattened side. (This change lasts a year.)

1886 – The pitcher’s box shrinks to four by seven feet. First and third bases are moved within the foul lines.

1887 – Home plate now can be made only of rubber; it’s not yet the shape we recognize, but a twelve-inch square. Yet another new size is specified for the pitcher’s box: 4 by 5 1/2 feet.

1893 – The pitcher’s plate (to be made of rubber) is introduced and the “box” abandoned; the rubber is twelve by four inches. Pitching distance, too, is changed, increased to the sixty foot, six inch standard it has remained.

1895 – The pitcher’s rubber is enlarged to twenty-four by six inches, where it is to stay. Bat maximum diameter changes for the last time, increasing to 2 3/4 inches.

1900 – The familiar five-sided, seventeen-inch-wide plate replaces the twelve-inch square.

1904 – The height of the pitcher’s mound is limited to 15 inches above the base lines.

1910 – The cork-center ball is adopted for regular use (it had been used in the previous year for occasional play).

1920 – Enter the “lively ball.” One explanation is a change in the yarn used. Australian yarn is put to use in this year, and it is said to be stronger than its American equivalent. Because the balls are wound tighter, their bounce and hardness are increased.

1926 – The cushioned cork-center baseball is introduced.

1934 – For the first time, both major leagues are required to adopt the same brand of baseball.

1950 – The pitcher’s mound is required to be a standard height: fifteen inches above the level of the base lines.

1954 – For the first time, the bat is allowed to be made of two or more pieces of wood laminated together.

1959 – Minimum fence distances are established for new ballpark construction (325 feet down the lines and 400 feet in center field).

1962 – Oversize gloves are banned for use by pitchers, infielders, and outfielders. Players are allowed to apply any grip-improving substance to their bats, though not for more than the first eighteen inches of its length beginning at the handle.

1968 – The pitcher’s mound is lowered to ten inches.

1971 – Protective helmets are required for batters.

1975 – The baseball may be covered with cowhide; before this, only horsehide had been allowed. Cupped bats are allowed.

1988 – Protective helmets are mandatory for catchers.