From: <>
To: "19th century committee" <>
Subject: [19cBB] Stealing / leading . . .the great debate!
Date: Wednesday, April 03, 2002 10:39 AM

The inaugural NEVBBL (New England Vintage Base Ball League) season is about to begin. There are currently 7
teams in the league with two divisions: 1884 & 1861

The 1861 division had a HUGE debate over stealing/leading and I thought the 19th century committee could shed
some light on the subject. The league decided to go with stealing but only after the ball is pitched and with no
leading. I think this will be more of a custom than a rule (I hope NEVBBL umpires do not send forgetful base runners
back to their bases if they violate the agreement!). I guess time will tell.

Thanks in advance,

Kevin Faria
1884 Providence Grays

The following is a paraphrased e-mail from John Simmons, co-founder of the NEVBBL.


The rules debate was quite contentious, particualrly the free stealing
rule. Several teams started with the position that stealing was NOT allowed.
Other teams argued it is crystal clear from the Chadwick rules and Beadle's
Dime Player notes that stealing was an integral part of the game. These
teams were able, after some debate, to convince the others of this. So we
actually got stealing into the rules which was a HUGE success! Of course,
we had to give in on the leading rule as a compromise.

As far as leading goes, it is actually a working theory of mine that has
SOME historical basis. Likewise, an interpretation of the rules themselves
favor the "no leading" rule. The theory is, at best, a working theory and I
am planning to seek out more evidence one way or the other. the theory, if
you are interested, goes like this (and I cut and pasted this from my first
email on the topic which I sent during the great debate):

My Theory: Although not prohibited by the rules, leading was simply not the
order of the day. Runners held their bases at least until the pitcher
started to pitch, and they may have held their bases until the ball was
actually released by the pitcher.

My thinking: I think we all agree the Chadwick Rules make it plain that
stealing was allowed - the written evidence in the Beadle's Dime Player is
simply insurmountable. However, the rules say very little (actually they say
nothing) in regards to leading. Although no rule against leading, I am not
100% convinced that players would freely take leads from their base.

In 1907 Henry Chadwick wrote a letter supporting the theory that base ball
derived from an old English children's game called Rounders (see, Early
Innings, Sullivan, Dean A., p. 288). The game of Rounders is still played
today by club teams worldwide. The rules of Rounders can be found here: Under these rules, once a runner
has made his "post" (i.e. base), he "can move on as soon as the ball leaves
the bowler's hand." In other words, he must stay on the post until the
bowler pitches the ball. Taken in the base ball context, I believe a case
can be made that runners in early base ball would have innately fallen back
on this rule of Rounders, or at least a colorable interpretation of it.
Thus, the custom may have been that base runners would not have tried to
steal until the pitcher pitched.

A reading of Chadwick's beadle's Dime Player helps support this position. In
"The Positions on the Field" the Catcher is advised as follows: "When a
player has made his first base, the Catcher should take a position nearer
the striker, in order to take the ball from the pitcher before it bounds;
and the moment the ball is delivered by the pitcher, and the player runs
from the first to the second base, the Catcher should take the ball before
bounding, and send it to the second base as swiftly as possible, in time to
cut off the player." Perhaps this is a strained reading, but it does seem
that there is an order to the events that Chadwick is describing. Pitch
first, the player runs.

Next, look at Chadwick's advice to the pitcher "while in the act of
delivering the ball": "When in the act of delivering the ball, the Pitcher
must avoid having either foot in advance of the line of his position, or
otherwise a baulk will be declared; this penalty is also inflicted when he
moves his arm with the apparent purpose of delivering the ball, and fails so
to do. He should be exceedingly cautious and on the alert in watching the
bases when the players are attempting to run, and in such cases should
endeavor his utmost to throw a swift and true ball to the basemen. When a
player attempts to run in to the home base while he is pitching, he should
follow the ball to the home base as soon as it leaves his hand, and be ready
at the base to take it from the catcher." This passage cuts in favor of a
slightly different custom - the runners would not try to steal until the
pitcher was in the act of delivering.

The balk rule does not preclude the "no lead" theory, and may support it
somewhat. The rule essentially says that when the pitcher draws back his
hand as if to pitch - he better pitch it (see Section 6 on the rules). For,
if he does not pitch it, what is the penalty?? The runners are all awarded
one base (see Section 7)! In other words, it seems to me that all the
runners are waiting for the pitcher to start his delivery so that they can
then try to advance. Once the pitcher does start his delivery, to stop the
delivery (and perhaps try and put out a would be base stealer) is so unfair,
that the runners are awarded a free base. While certainly not the strongest
of my arguments, I believe the balk rule reflects (or at least peacefully
coexists with) the "no lead" theory because it implicitly denotes the act
which would cause the runners to try and take a base

Obviously, no leading would make stealing quite a bit more difficult, and
would help address some of the concerns voiced by the group. I think, at a
minimum, the theory deserves some attention and further discussion.


John Simmons