Baseball Rule Sets (a guide)

   Baseball Rule Sets

There are many variations on the Rules of Baseball, but all of them have their roots in the Major League Baseball's Official Baseball Rules – sometimes referred to as the "Big Book." This all started in 1845, when Alexander Cartwright of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, published what he then called the "Knickerbocker Rules." In the beginning, there were just 20 rules. (For a history of the rules of baseball from 1845 forward, there's wonderful coverage at 19th Century Baseball.)

Of the many present-day variations on the Official Baseball Rules (OBR), most adhere rather closely to OBR, typically with minor modification to implement safety rules, or otherwise adapt the rules to their level of play. Even rule books for softball adhere rather closely, with the exception, of course, of pitching and base-running rules.

A few others, most noteably NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS, also referred to as FED), have amended, rewritten, and renumbered the rules pretty significantly. In fact, there are two distinct classes of rules: (1) rewritten, reorganized, and renumbered the rules by organizations to put their own stamp and identity (and copyright, I might add), like the NCAA and NHFS; and (2) those who basically use the OBR, but then add supplemental league-specific rules and ammendments. These latter deal primarily with safety, game length, and other age-specific issues.

Taxonomy of baseball rule sets

The diagram illustrates this division. Three groups, the NCAA, NFHS, and Little League, have each developed, copyrighted, and published their own rule sets. The remaining leagues and organizations use OBR, NCAA, or FED rules, but with supplementary, league-specific modifications.

The NAIA and NJCAA, for example, use NCAA rules but with their own minor modifications. Triple Crown uses (oddly) NFHS rules, but with modifications that largely bring them full-circle back to OBR (a stupid circle, in my view). Almost all other organized youth ball uses OBR, but each with their own, leage-specific modifications.


Some representative rule sets

Following are links to various rule sets. In some cases, where rule books are not freely available, the link takes you to the organization's site where you can get further information. Some, like Little Leage, are highly possessive of their rules, provide no online or downloadable version, and sell their rule books as a profit center. NCAA charges for the hard copy rule book, but you can download a PDF version for free. The same approach is used by NFHS. 

Organizations who use OBR, but with their own league-specific modifications, typically provide their rules supplement as a free download. Some organizations (Pony is one), include their rule modifications as part of their overall league manual and you'll normally have to pay for these. Check the sites.