Jan. 22, 1857 – RULES

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – If you’re a regular reader of this website you’re aware of my belief that baseball (or “base-ball” as it was referred to in the mid-19the century) evolved. It was not “invented” one sunny afternoon in Cooperstown, New York. Here is another example of how the game came to be.

A convention of “Base Ball” clubs from the New York area met on this date in 1857 and made some decisions that would turn out to be monumental in the “evolution” of the game. Although the Knickerbocker Club of New York was instrumental in organizing the convention, the decisions made by those gathered did not go as the Knicks had hoped.

  • There was a general concensus to change the rule that the winner was the first team to score 21 runs (which back then were called “aces”). The group decided a game would last 9 innings. The Knickerbocker Club wanted 7.
  • There would be 9 players on a side. The Knickerbocker Club wanted 7.
  • A fielder would have to catch a batted ball on the “fly,” not one bounce, for an out. The Knickerbocker Club wanted the rule changed to “on the fly.” The convention kept it at “one bounce.”

There were other rules established that the Knickerbocker Club agreed with:

  • The distance between the bases would be 30 yards (90 fee
  • The pitching distance would be 45 feet from home base
  • Five innings would determine a complete game

All the above changes remain in place to this day, except the pitching distance and the “fly” rule.

A number of other rules evolved over the years, such as the infield fly rule, what constituted a foul ball and whether it counted as a strike.

How many strikes for a “strike out” and how many “balls” for a walk varied from time to time before settling on 3 strikes and 4 balls in the late 1800s. At one time a batter wasn’t awarded first base until 9 balls were called.

Contributing Sources:
Baseball in the Garden of Eden
, by John Thorn, Simon & Schuster, 2011
Baseball Chronology

19th Century Baseball

Jan 21, 1942 – “Rajah”

COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK – Rogers Hornsby was elected to the Hall of Fame on this day in baseball history. Hornsby was one of the greatest hitters of all-time, probably the greatest right-handed hitter. He finished with a .358 lifetime average. Only Ty Cobb, a left-handed hitter, had a higher lifetime average at .366.

Hornsby’s most productive years were with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1915 to 1926. He helped the Cardinals win the 1926 World Series. He hit .424 in 1924 – the 6th highest batting single season average ever. No one has come close to .425 since. Only three players have hit over .400 since 1924. One of them is named Hornsby.

Hornsby had a monster season for the Chicago Cubs in 1929, hitting .380 with 149 runs batted in and 156 runs scored. Hornsby also played for the New York Giants, St. Louis Browns (today’s Baltimore Orioles) and Boston Braves (today’s Atlanta  Braves).

“Rajah” as he was called, played all infield positions but was mostly a second baseman. He was a two-time National League Most Valuable Player. Hornsby and Ted Williams are the only players to win the Triple Crown (most home runs, runs batted in and highest average in one season) twice.

Rogers Hornsby was born April 27, 1896 in Winters, Texas. He died in Chicago January 5, 1963. He was the fourteenth player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Contributing sources:
Chicago Tribune, January 21, 1942 
More on Rogers Hornsby

Jan 20, 2017-BASEBALL/POLITICS

On this inauguration day let’s reminisce about baseball and politics. Feel free to add your own connections.

Remember former New York Governor, and presidential candidate, Mario Cuomo? He had a promising baseball career cut short by a fastball. He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1951 and assigned to their Brunswick minor league team. Later that first season he was hit in the head by a fastball. It was so serious doctors advised he give up baseball, which he did, and went on to finish law school

Former Kentucky Senator and Congressman Jim Bunning is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a dominant pitcher for most of his 17 years in the majors. His best years were with the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. He finished his career with a 224-184 record, 3.27 ERA, and is one of the few to throw no-hitters in both leagues. Bunning was a congressman from 1987 to 1999, and in the US Senate from 1999 to 2011

Talk about term limits, Connie Mack managed, and owned, the Philadelphia Athletics (today’s Oakland A’s) for 50 years – 1901 to 1950. His grandson, Connie Mack III, was a Republican congressman from Florida from 1983 to 1989 and U-S Senator from Florida from 1989 to 2001.

Contributing sources:
Jim Bunning stats

Jan 19, 2006 – HE’S BACK

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETS  In the lingering euphoria of their first World Series championship in 108 years, will the Chicago Cubs be unable to remember the past and therefore be condemned to repeat it? The past being, then Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein walking away from the Red Sox a little over a year after he assembled a team that won the World Series after an 88-year drought.

Epstein slipped away from Fenway Park October 31, 2005 – Halloween Night – in a gorilla suit to avoid the media. The Red Sox reportedly offered him a three-year contract worth $4.5 million. Epstein said it wasn’t “the right fit.”

As Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

On this day in baseball history, January 19, 2006, it was announced that Epstein would return to the Red Sox. A joint statement from Epstein, owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and President Larry Lucchino read, “Ironically, Theo’s departure has brought us together in many respects… we now enjoy the bonds of a shared vision.”

The Red Sox won another World Series in 2007, but that shared vision got a little blurry. Theo left the Red Sox again for the Cubs in 2011. The shared vision seems to be pretty clear on the northside of Chicago – at least now.

As Santayana wrote in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

Contributing sources:
Los Angeles Times, Epstein returns to the Red Sox, January 20, 2006
ESPN.com
Fivethirtyeight.com

Jan 18, 1950-STAR ACCEPTS CUT

CLEVELAND, OHIO  After seasons winning 24, 27, 25, 26 and 20 games, then dropping down to 19 and 15 wins, future Hall of Famer Bob Feller not only accepted but suggested a 25% cut in pay from the Cleveland Indians.

At $80,000 Feller was the highest paid player in the majors a few seasons earlier. His pay was cut $20,000 in 1950. Of course, this was before the days of free agency. The owners pretty much dictated salary terms. Players could accept them or go work for a living. Feller seemed resigned to the pay cut. While negotiations were going on he told the Associated Press that he was “not altogether unhappy. We seem to agree on almost everything.”

It turned out Feller had some good years still in him. He went 16-11 in 1950 and startling 22-8 in 1951. Like many other ball-players he missed some of his most productive seasons, 1942, ‘43 and ’44, to serve in the military during World War II.

The Van Meter, Iowa native finished his career with 266 win and 162 losses, a .621 winning percentage. He led the American League in wins six times. Bob Feller was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1962.

Contributing sources:
Los Angeles Times (AP),
“Bob Feller’s Pay Check Gets Scalped,” January 19, 1950
FoxSports, Dan Graf, January 18, 2016

Jan 17, 1970-OWNER’S DEFENSE

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – Baseball great Willie Mays spoke out in favor of major league (MLB) owners on this date in baseball history, and he was still playing at the time.

The San Francisco Giant outfielder told Joe Garagiola in an interview, “If players control the game it is going to be bad. Owners must make some money, too.”

Mays comments were in reference to Curt Flood‘s refusal to report to the Philadelphia Phillies, the team he was traded to by the St. Louis Cardinals. Mays didn’t criticize Flood’s refusal to report, only saying, “That’s a personal thing. For myself I want to stay in San Francisco, but if the Giants traded me I would go.”

Curt flood refused to report to the Phillies in protest of baseball’s reserve clause which put the player’s future totally in the hands of the team that held his contract. Flood sued and the case went all the way to the United State Supreme Court. While he lost, it paved the way for free agency.

By the way, Willie Mays didn’t finish his career with the Giants. He was traded to the New York Mets in 1972.

Contributing source:
 Jack Hanley, The Daily Review, Hayward, California, January 18, 1970

Jan 16, 2003-HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA • MLB team owners voted unanimously on this day in baseball history to have the annual all-star game be more than an exhibition. Starting with the 2003 contest, the league that wins the all-star game will have home field advantage for the World Series.

Fifteen of the previous seventeen World Series champions (before the 2003 rule change) had home-field advantage. The two leagues had been alternating home field advantage since it began in 1903.

The move was precipitated by an embarrassing situation at the previous year’s all-star classic in 2002. Commissioner Bud Selig was forced to call the game, being played in his hometown of Milwaukee, in the 11th inning with it tied 7-7 because both teams ran out of pitchers.

The thinking now is that won’t happen again because the teams will be playing to win not just to get everyone in the game. Teams will be urged to save pitchers and other position players for the eventuality of the game going into extra innings.

*As a postscript, since 2003 the American League has had home field advantage 11 times to the National League’s 3. But the National League has been on the winning side of the World Series 8 times to the American League’s 6.

** Postscript #2, As of December 2016, the owners changed the home-field-advantage rule again. Starting with the 2017 post-season, home field advantage for the World Series will not go to the league that wins the All-star game. It will go to the World Series team with the best regular season record.

Contributing sources:
MLB All-Star game

Jan 15, 1981-GIBSON INVITED

NEW YORK, NEW YORK A feared and fearless pitcher was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on this date in 1981. St. Louis Cardinal righty Bob Gibson became, at the time, just the 11th player voted into the Hall in his first year of eligibility. Gibson said, “That didn’t affect me until I saw the guys who made it in their first year.”

They were Al Kaline, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Warren Spahn and Mickey Mantle (players like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb aren’t among the 11 because they were already voted into the Hall in its inaugural year of 1939).

Bob Gibson won 20 or more games 5 times. His best won-loss year was 1970 when he went 23-7. But his most dominant year, as far as he and most observers are concerned, was 1968. He went 22-9 with a 1.13 ERA and 13 shutouts. Two of his 9 losses were by scores of 1-0.

His ERA was the 3rd lowest in the modern era (since 1900). He won the Cy Young award and was National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1968.

The Omaha native pitched in 3 World Series. The Cardinals won two of them – 1964 against the Yankees and 1967 against the Boston Red Sox. He was MVP in both. His World Series record was 7-2.

Some little-known facts about Bob Gibson; He went to Creighton University on a basketball scholarship, averaging 22 point per game his junior year. Before he joined the Cardinals he played one year for the Harlem GlobeTrotters basketball team.

Contributing source:
Chicago Tribune Wire Services, January 16, 1981, “Gibson in Hall, no one else comes close.”
More on Bob Gibson

Jan 14, 1963-APARICIO: MAGICIAN

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS  Luis Aparicio was a Hall of Fame shortstop, a 13-time All-Star, a 9-time Gold Glove winner, a fan favorite everywhere he went, so why was he traded so often? “Little Louie” as he was called, was traded on this day in 1963 along with Al Smith, from the Chicago White Sox to the Baltimore Orioles for Hoyt Wilhelm, Dave Nicholson, Pete Ward, and Ron Hansen.

Aparicio was traded three times, but one of those was back to the White Sox, the team he started his career with. There was never a hint of Aparicio being anything but a team player.

When he retired in 1973 Aparicio was the all-time leader in games played, assists and putouts by a shortstop. He was the American League stolen base leader nine years in a row. He helped the White Sox get to the World Series in 1959 and helped the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series in 1966.IN AN

In an 18-year big league career the Venezuelan born Aparicio never played any position other than shortstop?

Luis Aparicio was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

Contributing source:
Baseball-Reference

Jan 13, 1958-SILENT PARTNER

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – On this day in 1958 it became known that former Chicago White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver personally appealed to the Commissioner who banned him from the game to get reinstated. The New York Times reported that Weaver met with Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis the previous week, but since it was not a formal appeal, it was not publicly disclosed.

Weaver had been kicked out of major league baseball for life for being part of a conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. Despite he and seven other players being acquitted of taking bribes from gamblers (mainly because their confessions were mysteriously lost), baseball banned them anyway for associating with gamblers. The evidence was that Weaver refused to take part in the plan but never spoke up about it either.

Weaver hit .324 in the series and played errorless third base, which lent credence to his declaration that he wasn’t involved, but Commissioner Landis wouldn’t budge. This was the first of several unsuccessful attempts by George “Buck” Weaver during his lifetime to get his named cleared. He died in 1956 at age 65.

Contributing sources:
The New York Times, January 14, 1922
1919 World Series stats, box scores