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The Rusie Myth- what really happened.

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  • The Rusie Myth- what really happened.

    There have been a lot of posts lately in a variety of different discussions at this site about the rule changes of 1893. Again and again, people claim that the reason for moving the pitching distance was the fear of Amos Rusie’s fastball, although nobody has offered any credible evidence to back it up. Was Rusie the reason the distance was changed?

    The answer to this is a resounding no.

    Here’s how I found out: I went to the on line archives of the Brooklyn Eagle and did some searches. I would suggest to anyone here that they do the same for any years of the late 19th century, because it’s amazing! The weekly base ball notes column brings it all to life (note: search for base ball as two words). Here’s the link and the here’s what I found:

    The largest online newspaper archive. Used by millions every month for historical research, family history, crime investigations, journalism, and more.


    November 7th, 1892 Brooklyn Eagle

    “…The Sporting Life of this week gives several columns of space to the subject of a radical change which has been proposed in the games [baseball] in the form of a new diamond. The inventor of the new form of field proposes to go back to the old Olympic club days of 1833 in Philadelphia, when they played base ball with four bases outside of the home base…”


    November 14th, 1892 Brooklyn Eagle

    “The most practical suggestions in regard to amending the playing code of rules governing the league…are those advocated by Mr. Lester of Philadelphia…Mr. Lester briefly says: “Place the pitcher in the center of the diamond, abolish outs on foul balls and make the calling of strikes and balls even four to four.” He also suggests that the base lines of the diamond be extended three feet in length, making ninety-three feet instead of ninety, as now, the measurement of the four sides of the diamond. He says that the distance required for the flight of the ball from the bowler’s hands until it meets the bat in front of the “crease” [in cricket] is sixty feet, and the thinks that should be the distance of the flight of the base ball from the pitcher’s hands to the bat. In fact, his amended rules are intended to equalize the batting and pitching forces to an extent likely to greatly improve the game and to do away with the wretched, wearisome “pitchers games” which are now possible under the existing code of rules.
    Mr. Richter of the Sporting Life…says: “…the batsman is at such close range now it is largely a matter of guesswork or luck to his the ball fairly, and the pitchers advantage of distance and speed is such that every ball not accurately gauged and fairly met is bound to go foul…The pitcher is such a a dominant factor in the game that he is always in demand, hence there are no longer amateur pitchers.”


    November 16th, 1892 Brooklyn Eagle

    “The magnates of the league have all arrived in Chicago…the talk in the hotel lobby last night largely pertained to the revision of the playing rules…it was noteworthy that the consensus of opinion was decidedly in favor of placing the pitcher further back, with a view to improving the batsmen’s opportunities for skillful play in teamwork at the bat. That the opportunities for wearisome pitchers’ games will be reduced under the revised code goes without saying, but the magnates, while doing away with the flat bat, do not favor the removal of skillful bunting or doing anything against sacrifice hitting. The ball is now regarded as perfect, and any increase in its elasticity in order to make it lively would be a great drawback to fielding and an encouragement to fungo hitting. In fact, anything calculated to promote the old slugging style of batting would be a blow alike to fielding and base running skill, the two most attractive features of the game.”


    January 1st, 1893 Brooklyn Eagle

    The Portland Oregonian “The development of the art of twirling the ball has reached the stage that something must be done to bring the batting up to its former standard. While the pitchers have improved in effectiveness it has resulted in the impairment of the batting. Gradual changes as to the pitching have served to make the game lopsided. This can be obviated by the simple method of lengthening the distance between the batsman and the pitcher. The distance is now 50 feet., and the experience of the past two or three seasons has demonstrated the fact that the pitcher occupies a too important position, and to the exclusion of the remainder of the team. This is all wrong and robs the game of that interest which has kept it before the public and caused it to be recognized as the national pastime.”

    Mr. W.R. Lester, in his argument favoring the enlargement of the diamond and the placing of the pitcher in the center, says, very pointedly: “Let us take a leaf from cricketing experience. Through generation after generation the cricketers had not found it necessary to change the distance-66 feet-between the wickets. The bowling and batsman’s creases take off 6 feet, so that the flight of the ball from the bowler’s hand to the bat is through a distance of 60 feet. This, experience has amply demonstrated, is the shortest distance in which the average eye can take note of the force and direction of a ball thrown with the full power of a strong arm. Why not use this knowledge in the interest of baseball?”

    Chris Von Der Ahe: Even if they [the ballplayers] endorse any of the Lester suggestions they stumble across some technicality that wouldn’t arise once in ten thousand games, and they will chew, chew, chew on the little technicality and never pay the slightest heed to the important questions. Moses would throw up the sponge if he was asked to make up a set of laws to satisfy ballplayers.”

    Editor Richter of the Sporting Life says: “The centering of the pitcher not only reduces the batsman’s chances of injury from wildly pitched balls by giving him more time to get out of the way, but it also does the same thing for the pitcher. The increased distance will make sharp line hits less dangerous for the pitcher, will make it possible to field more ground and bounding hits, and especially reduce the number of split or broken fingers now so frequent among pitchers who won’t shirk, owing to the shortness of the pitching distance. Less injury to pitchers means not only a saving of pitching material for clubs, but direct economy in money through continuous service of pitchers and the avoidance of defeats due to laying off of valuable but injured twirlers.”


    January 28th, Brooklyn Eagle

    Mr. Richter says: “In considering the advisability of relegating the pitcher to the center of the diamond there is one feature that should recommend it apart from its pleasing effect upon the spectators, and that is the direct and forcible bearing it will have on the artistic side of the game and the development of its scientific and team work possibilities. Under the present system the batsman has no time to consider or execute strategic points of play, to practice old tricks or evolve new ones, his entire time being taken up by haphazard attempts to hit the ball at all and frantic efforts to avoid being struck and injured. Hence the game has practically stood still, so far as science and team work in batting is concerned, and the only thing new evolved in recent years has been the miserable, unsatisfactory and unpopular system of flat bunt sacrificing at the cost of base running and the robustness and athleticism of the game.
    At the meeting of the Eastern league in Boston this month the league changed the playing rules of the game, forgetting that the national league is the only professional league that can change the rules, no minor league being allowed to do so.”


    January 17th, Brooklyn Eagle

    The New York Clipper almanac for 1893 is out and it contains Al Wright’s interesting baseball records, which include a record from base ball events from 1833 to 1892 inclusive…”



    February 18th, Brooklyn Eagle

    “The committee of rules of the league have sent a circular to the papers giving a brief explanation of the most prominent changes in the playing rules of the game which they will recommend in their report…
    First- No enlargement of the infield now in use
    Second- Removal of the pitcher from his present position to the center of the infield, abolish the pitcher’s box and substitute therefore a boundary plate, covering a twelve inch space, to which the pitcher will be confined.
    Third- Abolition of the flat bat.
    Fourth- a lucid definition of the balk ball…
    …John T. Brush
    C.H. Byrne
    H.R. Von Der Horst
    …While they do not advise the adoption of the Lester plan of enlarging the diamond field, they do suggest the placing of the pitcher’s position in the center of the field”


    February 27th, 1893 Brooklyn Eagle

    “The new pitching rules…will be adopted by the league at their schedule meeting on March 7, as a majority of the club magnates have already approved of them. The rule simply places the pitcher eight feet further back than where he stood before, and it makes him keep his foot on a twelve inch line, just as he did on the back line of his box in 1892, which was 55 feet 6 inches distant from the home base. So the difference is not much.”


    March 9th, 1893 Brooklyn Eagle

    “Then, too, the rules were finally adopted as reported by the committee, WITH ONE EXCEPTION [caps. Mine- Buzz] and that was that the pitcher will now deliver the ball to the bat from a standpoint five feet six inches further back than he did before. The committee recommending eight feet and the convention adopting five feet.”


    And finally, from March 11, 1893 Brooklyn Eagle

    Buck Ewing:

    “The public wants to see more batting done, and many suggestions have been offered to accomplish this, such as making the ball harder, changing the base lines, etc.: but the proper thing would be to place the pitcher in the center of the diamond and there would be better batting done…I tell you that the pitcher is too close to the batsman and that in most cases is the secret of the pitcher’s success. The diamond is all right as it is, but move the pitcher back to the center of the diamond and then the batting will be better. It will eventually come to that.”

    As reported by Henry Chadwick

    Well, there you have it. The pitcher was NOT moved back to the center of the diamond (67 feet if you do the math), but those five feet certainly made a difference! And I think we should all take note that the move was not a distance of over ten feet, but rather one of exactly five feet.

    A very important note here- Amos Rusie is not mentioned in the Eagle one single time from October 1892 to April 1893, so I find it very hard to believe that he, in any way, was important to the proceedings. I seem to recall that is was John McGraw who first made the claim that the move was because of Rusie, and that he did so years later, but I have no real evidence for this, just a memory from my teens.

    What blows me away is that in only three hours of research I found TWO references to organized baseball in 1833! Although we know now that the Philadelphia Olympics were most likely playing town ball, it is interesting that they were remembered 60 years later and referred to as a baseball club (I guess it’s only us who make a difference between the two sports), but man, it would be so cool to find that New York Clipper Almanac that has baseball records from the 1830s!

    I plan on digging around some more, since the archives go back to 1841. It would be nice to find reference to a full account of an early game, since the earliest I’m aware of (that isn’t just the mention of the name of the sport) is that Canadian letter about a supposed game in 1838. Since the guy who wrote the letter was born in 1831 and the letter was written in 1888, it’s kind of suspect (Doubleday syndrome), but maybe there’s something out there we just haven’t found yet.
    "Here's a crazy thought I've always had: if they cut three fingers off each hand, I'd really be a great hitter because then I could level off better." Paul Waner (lifetime .333 hitter, 3,152 lifetime hits.

  • #2
    Buzz, great job on digging up this information. It also serves as a great primer for anyone doing historical research. Never trust anyone's recollection's decades after the fact.
    Buck O'Neil: The Monarch of Baseball


    • #3
      The idea that the rules were changed due solely to one man's performance has always been fairly silly.

      The best sources for this era, by the way, are The Sporting News and The Sporting Life. These were weekly papers devoted to sport, with a heavy emphasis on baseball.

      With any newspaper accounts, including today's, you need to keep in mind that everyone has an angle. This is especially true when the reporting is of internal meetings. "What" questions are easy: what rules changes were made. "Why" questions are problematic. This particular instance seems straightforward: there was general agreement that pitching had come to dominate hitting in an undesirable way. But often we see early baseball history taking press releases as revealed truth. Come to think of it, we often see modern baseball journalism do the same thing.


      • #4
        Those were some pretty drastic changes talked about in November:
        -moving bases to 98 feet
        -moving pitcher to middle of diamond
        -abolishing the bunt
        -calling foul tips as strikes
        -placing a $30,000 payroll cap

        The Washington Post reported that NY's John Day was the only magnate opposed to pushing the pitcher back. Day actually ended up severing his ties with baseball in February 1893.
        Last edited by Brian McKenna; 02-12-2008, 01:59 PM.


        • #5
          Here is a good indication of Nick Young's frame of mind:
          Attached Files


          • #6
            That Brooklyn Eagle websitte is awsome! I read tom of articles on there about the draft riots, immigration, early Mafia in New York and stuff about slavery from as early as 1841! It's really cool to read what people where thinking and talking about back then, when all that historical events where actually happening. The paper was surprisingly progressive for it's time, more than other newspaper articles from the time I have read before.
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            • #7
              Originally posted by bkmckenna View Post
              Those were some pretty drastic changes talked about in November:
              -moving bases to 98 feet
              -moving pitcher to middle of diamond
              -abolishing the bunt
              -calling foul tips as strikes
              -placing a $30,000 payroll cap
              One thing to keep in mind is that there were a lot more proposals for rules changes discussed in those days than you see made today. Nowadays any such discussion would be purely theoretical. Major changes to the playing rules simply don't happen anymore. In the 19th century this was much less true. Putter around the sporting newspapers and you will find a wide variety of proposals: ten men/ten innings games; change the bases from a square to a parallelogram (to widen fair territory); etc.

              It is a bit like reading modern sports writers talk about possible trades. Trades actually do happen, and occasionally they are really big trades. But they happen a lot less often than sports writers speculate about. So imagine someone a century from now reading old newspapers and being amazed at all those incredible trades being discussed.

              In practice, the vast majority of rules changes from the mid-1860s onward have to do with just a couple of areas: legal pitching delivery, the distance from the pitcher to the batter, adjustments to the strike zone, and the number of balls and strikes for a walk or an out. These are all about the relation between the pitcher and the batter, which took several decades to work out. Other changes were the elimination of the fair/foul rule, the elimination of the foul bound, and the institution of the foul strike. I'm not suggesting that these were minor changes, but nothing really fundamental like the ten man/ten inning rule could garner much support.


              • #8
                They even considered amending the foul-strike rule after its adotion by the NL in 1901. When you think about it, the fact that the first two fouls are strikes is purely arbitrary.

                Years ago (1970's), I went out to the ball field and did some measuring and found that it was indeed just five extra feet from the pitcher's starting point and the plate. Now, how many times have I read something by some so-called expert who repeats the extra 10.5 foot error when it was only five feet more?


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