A 159-year-old document that helped establish the modern rules of baseball will be on the auction block this spring and may bring an historic price.
Drafted in New York City during the game’s infancy, the “Laws of Base Ball” outlined the rules and guidelines by which players and clubs would follow when playing in “match games of base ball.” Many of its proposed elemental rules, from setting base paths at 90 feet, to settling on nine players per team, to fixing the duration of the game at nine innings, owe their genesis to the document that was drafted during a convention of New York area baseball clubs in 1857.
The groundbreaking 23-page document is among the big ticket items in SCP Auctions’ Spring Premier online auction starting on Wed., April 6. Auction officials believe “the Magna Carta of Baseball” could sell for more than $1 million.
“No earlier baseball manuscript of this significance has ever come onto the open market,” said Major League Baseball’s official historian John Thorn, who has penned a special entry on the historic find at his “Our Game” blog.
“1857 was the year that baseball made its great leap forward, and these are the documents that reveal what it was like to be present at the creation.”
Authored by Daniel “Doc” Lucius Adams, who was then serving as President of the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club (KBBC), the manuscript rules of the game were first drafted for presentation at the historic convention, attended by representatives from 14 different teams.
Prior to 1857, interpretations of the game varied by region. That was largely ended in 1857 by the hand of Adams. SCP Auctions Vice President Dan Imler added: “Baseball was a rudderless ship on a shoreless horizon until Adams grabbed the wheel and set its course for all time. Over the last century and a half the ‘Laws of Base Ball’ has proven to be the most vital doctrine ever produced in the evolution of the game. More than any other initiative Adams’ ‘Laws’ elevated the game and enable it to grow into an American institution.”
The document was last sold for $12,650 in 1999 at Sotheby’s, but according to the New York Times, that was before Adams became tied to authorship. The original purchaser is the one consigning the item to SCP’s Spring Auction.
A few foundational documents have sold at public auction in recent years including Naismith’s 1891 Original Rules of Basketball (sold for $4.3 million) and The 1859 Original Rules of Soccer (sold for $1.4 million).
“It is difficult to put a value on an object of such singular importance but we feel it is worthy of a substantial seven-figure price,” Imler stated. “We have previously sold a Yankees jersey worn by Babe Ruth for $4.4 million dollars, but if not for this document we may have never known Babe Ruth.”