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Welcome to Dirtbags Baseball blog! I was introduced to Long Beach State baseball in 2002 when my nephew, Neil Jamison, joined the team (and university) as a freshman. I started the blog in March of 2004, and generally discuss the team, current players and those that have moved on to professional baseball - as Neil has done in the San Diego Padres organization. Living in San Diego County, and with Neil moving to the next level, I won't be attending as many Dirtbags games. But, mostly from a distance, I'll remain a Dirtbags fan. I welcome tips on stories and information concerning the Dirtbags (current, past and future). I can be contacted at


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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hey Lucy, Splain Thees To Me

Eric Sorenson throws this little tag on the end of his college football 10 questions column at this week:
And if there was a question No. 11
Is that old dropped-third-strike call the dumbest rule in baseball?

A: No, it's the dumbest rule in all of sports.
No argument here! So where the heck did this rule come from, anyway. Here's a clue in this L.A. Times piece that followed the controversial call by home plate umpire Doug Eddings last week, extending the White Sox 9th inning and leading to the defeat of the Angels:
The term "legally caught" appeared when a Branch Rickey-led committee recodified the rule book for the 1950 season.

As written then, Rule 6.05 (b) states, "A batter is out when a third strike is legally caught by the catcher," disallowing a ball that bounces, is trapped or becomes lodged in the catcher's gear or uniform.

Jim Gates, head librarian at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, said the rule's origin dates to at least 1858, though at that time catchers were positioned 25 feet behind the batter and wore no protective equipment, and therefore a legal catch could be made after one bounce. "For consistency's sake," Palermo said, "baseball is resistant to change what it does... We're starting to tinker with some of the dynamics of the game."

The 19th-century principles that led to Rule 6.09 (b), which fundamentally declares that a batter becomes a runner when the third strike is not caught, did not so much allow a batter to reach base as require him to attempt it. Until 1883, according to Gates, no rule existed that obligated a batter to leave the batter's box.
Interesting. But it still doesn't answer the ultimate question. Why? The rule doesn't seem to have any logical relationship to the dynamics of the game. It's not like other 19th century rules didn't change. While looking for some explanation of why this rule was originally adopted, I came across this interesting piece by Jim Porter at on the evolution of pitching rules:
As most of you probably know, no other element in baseball has undergone such drastic change as that of how the pitcher delivers the ball to the batter.

The change really began in the 19th century, when the earliest rulesmakers decided to change how runners are put out on the bases. They ended the practice of allowing the defense to strike a runner with the ball to retire him. This led to the development of harder baseballs, which could be thrown at much higher velocities. Thus was planted the seed which boosted the pitcher to a dominant role on the diamond, which is still evident in today's modern game.

In early baseball, the rules inarguably favored the strikers. After all, baseball was modeled after cricket, an offense-dominated game. The rules which favored the strikers included:

1. Batters dictated the type of pitch they preferred to hit. They could choose among three types: A high ball (between shoulders and waist,) a low ball (between waist and knees,) or a fair ball (between shoulders and knees.)

2. A strike was only registered when the batter swung and missed. Three misses and he was out.

3. There was no such thing as a base on balls.

Conceivably, the batter could stand there all day long until he got a pitch that met his liking.

The first Major League Code of 1876 brought in the concept of the base on balls. That year, it took nine balls to entitle the batter to a free pass to first base. That number dropped thusly:

1880: eight
1882: seven
1884: six
1887: five
1889: four - where it remains today.

The concept of "called" strikes came into baseball in 1887. Prior to this time, a strike was only registered if the batter swung and missed. But the rule changed to allow the batter two swings and misses, and if a third strike was called, the batter was entitled to a fourth strike (either called or swung and missed,) before the batter was put out. It was the following year that only three strikes were allowed regardless of how they were registered.

So, by this time, baseball's most famous rule was established: four balls and three strikes.

In the Major League Code of 1876, pitchers delivered the ball from 45 feet. The rule stipulated that the ball must be delivered, "to the bat with the arm swinging nearly perpendicular at the side of the body, and the hand in swinging forward must pass below the hip." If the pitcher delivered overhand, or made any outward swing of the arm (sidearm,) a foul balk was called. After three foul balks, the game was forfeited. (Seems much easier to swallow the one base award for a balk in today's game, eh coaches?)

In 1883, pitchers were first allowed to deviate from the underhand motion, and swing their arms up to shoulder height. By the following year they were nearly unrestricted provided that they faced the batter. This lack of restriction led to the overhand delivery we see in today's game, and as a result, pitches delivered at higher velocities. It also put more strain on pitchers' arms and affected their endurance. The relief pitcher was also born.

There were other changes that had a significant effect on how pitchers delivered the ball. In 1845, the pitcher's area was a 12' x 4' area. This allowed a pitcher enough space to get a running start, or what was called, "walking in the box."

By 1876, the box was shrunk to 6' x 6', 6' x 4' in 1879, and 5-1/2' x 4' in 1887.

The concept of a pitcher's plate or rubber first appeared in the game in 1893. That was nine years after the overhand throwing motion first appeared in the game. Historians guess it took that long for pitchers to develop consistent enough mechanics with this new style in order for it to come into such popular use in the game. It was also in 1893 when the distance between the pitcher and the batter was extended to 60' 6". (There is speculation that it was truly supposed to be 60', but a worker misread the blueprint.)

The fact that these three changes (the overhand motion, the development of the pitcher's plate, and extending the distance to 60' 6") coincided was certainly no coincidence. The overhand delivery was gaining in popularity, and batters were quickly losing the edge they had enjoyed since the game's inception. So, the rulesmakers, in order to bring more balance to the game, decided to outlaw walking in the box - - or getting a running start - - during the pitcher's preliminary motion. For, it was in 1893, that we find the origin of the rule in 8.01(a) allowing a pitcher one step back and one step forward in their wind-up position. Since pitchers could no longer get a running start, and since the distance away from the batter had been extended, pitchers now had to "wind-up" from their position on the pitcher's plate to even come close to approaching the velocities they had achieved before when they were allowed to walk in the box. And the wind-up was born.

Just to round out the rest of the story...

By the turn of the century, baseball clubs began to realize the advantage their pitchers gained by pitching from an inclined surface. It had become necessary in 1904 for rulesmakers to establish a maximum pitching height, which was 15" with a gradual slope to each base line. The rule remained, "no more than 15 inches" through the 1940's. Mounds varied since there was no minimum height, just a maximum. By 1950, the rules mandated a specific height - 15 inches. That remained in effect until 1969 when the height was lowered to 10 inches, and a specific slope was mandated. This was to create more offense in the game, which was good for TV and box office sales.

posted on 10/19/2005 by Jeff Agnew

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