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Thread: What if Defenders Could Still Hit a Baserunner for an Out?

  1. #1

    What if Defenders Could Still Hit a Baserunner for an Out?

    A mid-19th c. rival of baseball (then NY style) had a rival - the "Massachusetts Game." The Massachusetts game allowed defensive players to hit the runner for an out. They also allowed overhand pitching and no catching one hoppers for an out, which didn't make it to pro ball until after the first pro league - the NA.

    So, what would baseball be like if you always could hit the runner for an out (to this day)? More equipment? Injuries? Change in strategy?

    Crazy hypothetical, I know.

  2. #2
    Might have fewer disqualifications of pitchers. Then any fielder can get their "revenge" on the other team - within the rules - without leaving it up to the pitcher to throw at other hitters.

    Barry Bonds used to say that he never wore a cup during a game. He didn't want to play 1B since he'd have to wear a cup. My guess is that Barry would wear one if he knew the other team could fire the ball at him when he was on the bases....unless he was relying on 'roids to sufficiently shrink his target to such an extent that it no longer posed an injury risk to him.

  3. #3
    >>>unless he was relying on 'roids to sufficiently shrink his target to such an extent that it no longer posed an injury risk to him.<<<

    "Use the Force Luke, let go...use the Force..."

  4. #4
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    The question leads to some questions off the top of my head:

    Would the ball have stayed soft or would it have firmed up similar to the modern baseball?

    Would baserunners eventually have to use body armor to protect themselves from injuries?

    Would the ball be live once it hit runner number 1?

    How do you stop stolen bases?

    What rule changes would have to happen to make this version of baseball the dominant brand?
    "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
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  5. #5
    1. It would hurt pretty bad to get hit with the tightly wound modern ball.
    2. Probably
    3. I'd assume so, making it risky strategy and used rarely.
    4. The same way they do now and always did. You can still tag a man or tag a base. Hitting the runner is just added as a way of making outs.
    5. Not sure. The hypothetical was operating under the assumption that this part of the Massachusetts Game made it to the NA in 1871 and was in the rules since.

  6. #6
    The bit about one hoppers is not quite right. This was the "bound game," as contrasted with the "fly game". The amateur NABBP adopted the fly game for the 1865 season, after talking about it since 1857. This was for fair balls. Foul bounds were outs until the 1880s. This mostly has to do with the catcher playing further back than today, with balls hit backwards into the dirt being potentially caught.

    As for throwing the ball at the runner (which went by various names such as "burning" or "plugging" the runner), this was the norm in pre-modern baseball, not merely in the Massachusetts game. There is a story that Rube Waddell in his first professional game threw the ball at the runner, since this was still how it was played where he came from. Replacing it with tagging was the great innovation of the New York game. The problem with the counterfactual is that a decent argument can be made that tagging was a big part of why the NY game was generally adopted throughout the country. But accepting the counterfactual at face value, this would have necessitated a softer ball. This in turn would change the entire tenor of the game, since a soft ball would rule out all those towering home runs.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by rrhersh View Post
    The bit about one hoppers is not quite right. This was the "bound game," as contrasted with the "fly game". The amateur NABBP adopted the fly game for the 1865 season, after talking about it since 1857. This was for fair balls. Foul bounds were outs until the 1880s. This mostly has to do with the catcher playing further back than today, with balls hit backwards into the dirt being potentially caught.

    As for throwing the ball at the runner (which went by various names such as "burning" or "plugging" the runner), this was the norm in pre-modern baseball, not merely in the Massachusetts game. 1. There is a story that Rube Waddell in his first professional game threw the ball at the runner, since this was still how it was played where he came from. 2. Replacing it with tagging was the great innovation of the New York game. 3. The problem with the counterfactual is that a decent argument can be made that tagging was a big part of why the NY game was generally adopted throughout the country. But accepting the counterfactual at face value, this would have necessitated a softer ball. This in turn would change the entire tenor of the game, since a soft ball would rule out all those towering home runs.
    1. Wow, I never heard that before. He was in north-central and western PA and the NL was around his entire life. Amazing they still played like in places just 4-5 years before "modern" baseball. It may just be lore tho.

    2. It is really hard to find out prevailing attitudes on things like this from back then. The Massachusetts game also placed the batter between home and first. Did people hate getting hit so much that taking plugging the runner out of the game was the clincher in NY-style v. MA-style.

    3. Very interesting.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by bluesky5 View Post
    Did people hate getting hit so much that taking plugging the runner out of the game was the clincher in NY-style v. MA-style.
    How the NY game came to displace all other forms is a Big Question. The answer is not settled, and in any case doesn't lend itself to a board post format. One note, though, is that it wasn't really a NY vs. MA game question. The Massachusetts game was the normal game in the eastern third of Massachusetts by 1860, and was played occasionally as far away as Pennsylvania. The NY game, by way of comparison, in 1860 was played throughout the country, with clubs in places like Portland Maine, San Francisco, St. Louis, New Orleans, and even Macon Georgia. The notion that the Mass game was equally widespread is a myth created by modern writers who don't understand what they are looking at. (For example, the frequent claim that the Mass game was played in New Orleans comes from a writer who misunderstood a box score of what was actually the NY game.)

    The competition was actually the innumerable indigenous local variants, some of which were developing into organized adult games but most of which were schoolyard boys' games. In some cases existing clubs playing the local form switched to the NY game, but in most cases we are talking about new clubs. There was a general trend in the late 1850s to organized athletic activity: the question was what form this would take. One element was that tagging rather than plugging was held to be more suitable for adult play, if only because adults could throw the ball harder than boys, making plugging dangerous. So the NY game was peculiarly suitable for men looking to form some sort of athletic club.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by rrhersh View Post
    How the NY game came to displace all other forms is a Big Question. The answer is not settled, and in any case doesn't lend itself to a board post format. One note, though, is that it wasn't really a NY vs. MA game question. The Massachusetts game was the normal game in the eastern third of Massachusetts by 1860, and was played occasionally as far away as Pennsylvania. The NY game, by way of comparison, in 1860 was played throughout the country, with clubs in places like Portland Maine, San Francisco, St. Louis, New Orleans, and even Macon Georgia. The notion that the Mass game was equally widespread is a myth created by modern writers who don't understand what they are looking at. (For example, the frequent claim that the Mass game was played in New Orleans comes from a writer who misunderstood a box score of what was actually the NY game.)

    The competition was actually the innumerable indigenous local variants, some of which were developing into organized adult games but most of which were schoolyard boys' games. In some cases existing clubs playing the local form switched to the NY game, but in most cases we are talking about new clubs. There was a general trend in the late 1850s to organized athletic activity: the question was what form this would take. One element was that tagging rather than plugging was held to be more suitable for adult play, if only because adults could throw the ball harder than boys, making plugging dangerous. So the NY game was peculiarly suitable for men looking to form some sort of athletic club.
    Interesting.

    Makes sense.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by bluesky5 View Post

    So, what would baseball be like if you always could hit the runner for an out (to this day)? More equipment? Injuries? Change in strategy?
    Hitting the runner for an out reminds me of kickball, where it is still allowed. The obvious difference is that a kickball will generally not hurt, especially because you don't get credit for an out in kickball if you hit someone above the shoulders.

    (I'm curious if the MA game allowed a player to be hit in the head or if that was a restriction)

    In kickball, the better teams rarely try to hit runners with the ball. It is less reliable and the ball can go anywhere. A baseball is less likely to take a big bounce after hitting someone, but I also imagine it would be difficult to actually hit someone moving, and the risk of missing someone would outweigh the benefits - I'd imagine professional teams would rarely try to hit someone as opposed to the current rules of tagging and keeping control of the ball.

    I can see catchers hitting a runner in the back on the way to first if the runner if he in his way, particularly if there are no one else on base or already two outs, but I really don't think it would be used much intentionally. There would be changes to plays at the plate, for example, like when a runner kicks the ball out of the glove of the batter or the cather drops it in a collision - I'd imagine the catcher wouldn't have to maintain control if the ball hitting the player suffices.

    I think if the rule stayed in place when the professional leagues that we now know formed that it would have been taken out before modern day anyway, but your question is what would happen if it were still here today - I don't think the game would be that different since I really don't think defenses would use it that often, although they may have had to use a softer ball which of course would change everything

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