Evolution of the Bases and
Foul Lines

By Eric Miklich


he first written mention of the dimensions of the bases was mentioned in the 1857 playing rules. It was specified that the bases were to cover one square foot, made of canvas, painted white and filled with sand or saw-dust. All bases were to be fastened to the field at each corner. Third and first base were to be turned so that a line from home would go through one of the corners and exit the other and the center of the base would be 30 yard from home base. At this time it was not written that foul lines were to be drawn on the field. Second base was to be set so that the 30 yard mark from third and first would rest in the center of the bag and the base was to be placed so that one side would be parallel with the front line of the pitcher's line. The bases had a "belt" that wrapped around the center and then through a metal loop which was attached to a wooden spike that was driven into the ground. The metal spike was concealed underneath the base.

Beginning in 1860 a Foul Ball Post was to be placed 100 feet from both third and first base in line with home base. The post was used to help the umpire judge whether a batted ball landed in fair or foul ground. In the narrative of the Beadle's Dime Base Ball Player Henry Chadwick suggested that the correct size of the bases should be 17 inches by 14 inches. It is not known if bases these dimensions were ever used.

Not until 1861 was it stated that "a line connecting home and first and home and third" must be marked by the use of chalk (generally only white) or other suitable material. This line was not identified as a foul line but it was used to judge a fair or foul ball.

When the National Association was formed in 1871, it adopted the same rules used by the National Association of Base Ball Players regarding the bases and foul lines. Added was the rule that no fence could be erected within 90 feet of home base, unless it was to mark the boundary of the ground. If a pitched ball touched that fence, without hitting the batter and passing the catcher, all base runners advanced one base.

The Foul Ball Posts were moved to the limits of the ground starting with the 1874 season but the foul ball lines were not extended.

When the National League was formed in 1876, they also continued to use the same base rules as the National Association except the rule regarding the catcher's fence was omitted.

How the bases were laid on the field changed for the 1877, season. The center of all three bases still rested on the 30 yard mark. First and third bases were turned so that one side of either first or third would be parallel with one side of Home Base. Half of the base would be in foul ground.. Second base was turned so that one corner faced the home base. The dimension of the base changed to 15 inches by 15 inches. A 15 foot and a 50 line extended toward third and first base from behind Home Base. The 15 foot line was marked to aid the umpire in keeping the coaches the correct distance form the infield and the 50 foot line was marked to keep the players from the infield.

In 1878, foul lines were now to extend the length of the field from the catcher's fence. A Triangle-like shape was now visible behind home base, named the catcher's area and it was written that the batter, catcher and umpire were the only ones to occupy this area.

The NL, in 1880, named the 15 foot line the "Coaches Line" and the 50 foot line the "Player's Line." These lines were now required to be extended to the limits of the grounds. The American Association of Base Ball Clubs, which began operation in 1882, used the same layout of the bases, Foul Ball Lines and Foul Ball Posts as the NL.

The National League, in 1882 and the American Association in 1884 added a line three feet to the left of the first base foul line that started 45 feet from home base and ended at the center of first base. All runners running to first base were required to stay inside this are when running to first base. The Union Association used the same layout of the bases, Foul Ball Lines and Foul Ball Posts as the NL and AA for their only season in 1884.

When the National League and American Association used the same rules starting in 1887, two changes took place. Third and first bases moved seven and one half inches, toward second base, so that they were entirely in fair ground. Also the 30 yard mark fell upon the back rear corner first and third base. So no only were the bases in fair ground they were now also inside the 30 yard box on the diamond. The runner's line, outside of the first base Foul Ball Line now extended 3 feet past first base.

In 1889, a rule was instituted that stated that a batted ball hit over a fence less than 210 feet from home base entitled the Batsman to two bases.

The Players' National League of Base Ball Clubs followed the rules as the NL and AA for their only season in 1890 except that they did not require a 50 foot Player's Line to be marked on the field.

When the National League and American Association became the National League and American Association of Base Ball Clubs in 1892, the distance for a batted ball to be ruled a double was increased to 235 feet from home base.

Beginning in 1894, the NL and AA required that the Player's Line end 75' from Home Base.

The Field Continued Continued.