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  • Greatest Gameplay Change

    What do you think is the greatest gameplay change of the 19th century? Personally, I would have to go with the creation of the glove or the abolition of baters calling "high" or "low."
    "Allen Sutton Sothoron pitched his initials off today."--1920s article

  • #2
    Those are defensible if you limit the discussion to the 1880s and '90s, though even then I would probably go with the legalization of a full overhand delivery. If you really mean to include the entire discussion of developments in the 19th century, these aren't even close.

    The defining characteristics of the New York game are foul territory, three-out innings, and tagging runners and bases rather than plugging runners. Tagging in particular was widely regarded at the time as revolutionary. These characteristics are traditionally held to have been created in or around 1845, though there is evidence for them at least to 1837.

    In the late 1850s as play became more competitive there was a series of developments in pitching. Previously, the pitcher served the ball up like a modern batting practice coach. With competitive pressure, there arose swift pitching intended to strike the batter out or induce a poorly hit ball. The batter having three chances to hit the ball is an ancient feature of baseball, but early on the batter was not required to swing at any particular pitch, and the pitcher was not penalized for delivering bad pitches. Both pitchers and batters started abusing these privileges, so called strikes and balls were instituted to force the pitcher to deliver good pitches, and force the batter to swing at them. How exactly to balance these requirements (i.e. numbers of balls and strikes and defining the strike zone) took a couple of decades to work out, as did what exactly constituted a legal delivery. These were all implied by the rise of competitive pitching.

    Developments in batting and fielding are comparatively modest. The big change in fielding was the switch from the bound game (giving an out to a ball caught on the first bounce) to the modern fly game in the mid-1860s. Batting has been virtually untouched. The few major changes had to do with foul territory, with the elimination of the fair-foul hit for balls in the infield in the mid-1870s, and the institution of the foul strike at the turn of the century.

    The use of fielding gloves has the effect of reducing errors and expanding fielders' ranges. This is part of the great balancing act of offense and defense, but only one part. It isn't a fundamental part of the game. If we are considering equipment, more fundamental is catcher's equipment. With the invention of the catcher's mask in the late 1870s the catcher could move closer to the batter, with the implications on the stealing game that implies. The backstop also gradually moved closer to the plate. Look at photos of ballparks from that era and note the huge space behind the plate. Most important, there was a feedback loop between the catcher and the pitcher. Masks came in when they did because the pitchers' deliveries were moving upward to sidearm, and with them pitch velocity. The mask was added out of self-preservation. It, along with the other tools of ignorance, in turn allowed yet faster pitching as the deliveries moved yet higher. So catchers' equipment are necessary before we can have modern pitching.

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    • #3
      It is hard to limit this to one change and none of us were around back then to judge for ourselves. I can think of a few for pitching, hitting, and fielding:

      P1. Moving the distance back from 45 feet to 50 feet and then to 60' 6 inches. I'm not sure which move affected baseball the most.
      P2. Allowing pitchers to throw overhanded. I might be wrong but this seemed to eliminate one or two pitcher staffs.

      H1. Changing the batting order from P, C, IFers and OFers to whatever lineup you wanted. Imagine having your pitcher leading off and batting first today.
      H2. The numerous changes in what constituted walks and strikeouts and stolen bases. How long would a game last today if 8 balls was a walk? How does running from 1B to 3B on a base hit constitute a stolen base?

      F1. Gloves.
      F2. The Fair, Foul and One Bound Rules. The 1B and 3B not only had to guard the lines, but they had to be prepared to run into foul territory after balls. The pitcher probably had to chase after balls hit foul too.
      "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
      "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by TonyK View Post
        Changing the batting order from P, C, IFers and OFers to whatever lineup you wanted. Imagine having your pitcher leading off and batting first today.
        You hear a new one every day. This was never the rule, though I suppose some unimaginative team captain might have arranged the lineup this way. This is pure speculation, but this sounds to me like a myth created to explain the scoring designations of the various postions.

        Originally posted by TonyK View Post
        The numerous changes in what constituted walks and strikeouts and stolen bases. How long would a game last today if 8 balls was a walk? How does running from 1B to 3B on a base hit constitute a stolen base?
        This is purely a scoring issue. The presumption was that a runner would advance one base on a one base hit, so any further advancement was judged an extra accomplishment. This turned out to poorly reflect the reality, so the scoring rule was changed. Regardless, a detail of scoring is hardly fundamental to the game.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by rrhersh View Post
          You hear a new one every day. This was never the rule, though I suppose some unimaginative team captain might have arranged the lineup this way. This is pure speculation, but this sounds to me like a myth created to explain the scoring designations of the various positions
          I found one newspaper in the 1860's with every box score for the whole season going in the order of P, C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF, OF, OF. The reporter may have changed the batters around, but wouldn't that have made more work for them?
          "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
          "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by TonyK View Post
            I found one newspaper in the 1860's with every box score for the whole season going in the order of P, C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF, OF, OF. The reporter may have changed the batters around, but wouldn't that have made more work for them?
            What paper, and what season? At a guess, it may have been an editor's notion of tidiness. You need not believe me about this not being general practice. The Brooklyn Eagle is available free on the web. You can pull up box scores from the late 1850s onward and see for yourself.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by rrhersh View Post
              What paper, and what season? At a guess, it may have been an editor's notion of tidiness. You need not believe me about this not being general practice. The Brooklyn Eagle is available free on the web. You can pull up box scores from the late 1850s onward and see for yourself.
              Late 1860's from Central New York papers. Amatuer teams and Normal School teams. I can check some boxscores to find out more.
              "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
              "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by TonyK View Post
                I found one newspaper in the 1860's with every box score for the whole season going in the order of P, C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF, OF, OF.
                Curiously, that doesn't even match the scoring designations for the positions, whereby the SS appears between the infielders and outfielders.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by spark240 View Post
                  Curiously, that doesn't even match the scoring designations for the positions, whereby the SS appears between the infielders and outfielders.
                  I'm finishing a baseball project tomorrow and then I'll have time to recheck boxscores from certain years in the 1860's.
                  "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
                  "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    As a follow-up on the batting order issue, see
                    http://www.covehurst.net/ddyte/brook...anticcard.html
                    for an actual scorecard for a match from 1865 between the Atlantics and the Mutuals.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      That's a pretty tough call for me. I'd have to go with either the fair foul rule or moving the pitching mound back, but all the above mentioned were significant changes. I'd also add allowing substitutions, allowing a pitcher to come out of the game for reasons other than an injury and changing balls during the game to the list, but I'm not up on exact dates for those changes and some (all?) could have been 20th century changes.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by rrhersh View Post
                        As a follow-up on the batting order issue, see
                        http://www.covehurst.net/ddyte/brook...anticcard.html
                        for an actual scorecard for a match from 1865 between the Atlantics and the Mutuals.
                        On Sept. 1st, 1866, from the Binghamton Republican:

                        NATIONALS

                        C
                        P
                        1B
                        2B
                        3B
                        SS
                        LF
                        CF
                        RF

                        MARATHON

                        C
                        P
                        SS
                        1B
                        2B
                        3B
                        LF
                        CF
                        RF

                        The only difference between the two lineups is where the SS batted and that may have been how they interpreted the position number. As I've mentioned, other boxscores from this era flip flop the P & C, but leave the other hitters in the same order as above. If I have time I'll look up some more.
                        "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
                        "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by spark240 View Post
                          Curiously, that doesn't even match the scoring designations for the positions, whereby the SS appears between the infielders and outfielders.
                          Oct. 1, 1866:

                          Union Springs Frontenacs

                          C
                          P
                          1B
                          2B
                          3B
                          SS
                          LF
                          CF
                          RF

                          Syracuse Arctics

                          C
                          LF
                          CF
                          1B
                          SS
                          P
                          3B
                          2B
                          RF

                          It appears one team was using a 2-1-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 batting order and the other one wasn't.
                          "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
                          "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by rrhersh View Post
                            As a follow-up on the batting order issue, see
                            http://www.covehurst.net/ddyte/brook...anticcard.html
                            for an actual scorecard for a match from 1865 between the Atlantics and the Mutuals.

                            Another one from July 14, 1866:

                            Moravia

                            C
                            P
                            SS
                            1B
                            2B
                            3B
                            LF
                            CF
                            RF

                            Auburn

                            2B
                            C
                            P
                            LF
                            3B
                            1B
                            SS
                            RF
                            CF

                            There are more of these games where teams used a variation on the 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 batting order. This one was 2-1-6-3-4-5-7-8-9.

                            The fact that each team chose a different batting order method leaves me to believe the box score matches the official scorebook. What is interesting to me is the "weaker" amatuer teams were going by the 2-1-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 batting order.
                            "He's tougher than a railroad sandwich."
                            "You'se Got The Eye Of An Eagle."

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              My guess about how to interpret these is that the clubs involved had not developed any sense of an optimum way to set the batting order, and so a local custom developed of a default batting order based on fielding position.

                              According to Morris, by the way, the modern system of scoring, assigning numbers to fielding positions, wasn't settled until the 1880s. Earlier systems assigned numbers based on place in the batting order. In those days fielders were moved around during the game much more than is done today, while the batting order was fixed, making batting order the more reliable method. As the ideology changed, to mostly keeping players in place, the convenience of not having to check the line-up when recording playes came to prevail.

                              Richard Hershberger

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