Behold Baseball's "Magna Carta"

USA TODAY, July 2018 | Go to article overview

Behold Baseball's "Magna Carta"


THE HANDWRITTEN "Laws of Base Ball," which historians have called the "Magna Carta" of the game after they were decided at a convention in 1857, are among the artifacts featured in "Baseball Americana," on view through July 2018 at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The exhibition explores baseball's past and present and how the game has forged a sense of community for players and fans across the country.

The founding documents of baseball that would shape the modern game as our national pastime were ironed out in January and February 1857 at a convention called by the Knickerbockers Base Ball Club in New York. Corrections were made by hand as the details were negotiated by metropolitan-area ball-clubs, including whether there should be seven, nine, or 12 innings to a game.

The convention established a uniform set of rules, many of which still are in use today, including nine players on a side, nine innings to a game, and 90 feet between bases. Long thought to be lost, the original "Laws of Base Ball" manuscripts were saved by an heir of a Knickerbocker delegate to the convention. They resurfaced in 1999 and sold at auction, but their significance was not understood. They were sold again in 2016, and the buyer is lending the documents for their first major exhibition.

In addition to the extensive baseball holdings of the Library of Congress, "Baseball Americana" also features items from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, including Babe Ruth's shoes and his 1921 agreement with the New York Yankees; Dottie Key's uniform from the Rockford Peaches; and Ty Cobb's 1908 contract with the Detroit Tigers. A wide selection of baseball gloves, bats, balls, cleats, and catchers' masks from past and current professional players show how the game has evolved over the centuries. …

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