In accordance with the short season, Major League Baseball is going to implement some new rules for 2020. The most publicized wrinkles are adding the designated hitter to the National League and placing a man on second base to start the 10th inning. These changes have been met with derision and scorn from traditionalists, but most fans have simply shrugged their shoulders.
I am among those who don’t mind the new rules, mainly because I understand how much the game has evolved in spite of the romantic notion that it’s remained the same for well over a century. As a teacher of American history, I’m acutely aware of the role baseball has played in the fabric of the United States since the Civil War. It has long reflected changes in society, technology, and race. And throughout baseball’s own history, the rules have changed several times.
So if you think bringing the DH to the Senior Circuit or starting extras with a runner on base are abominations, take a look at the other rules that have changed since 1863.
- The game used to be played to 21. The first team to get 21 “aces” or runs would be declared the winner.
- Runners could not lead off or steal.
- Pitchers had to keep both feet together and pitch underhand until 1883.
- Until 1887, the pitcher had to ask the batter where they would liked to be pitched.
- Baseball wasn’t even called baseball for most of the 1800’s. Depending upon where you lived, the game might be called round ball, town ball, goal ball, baste ball, old cat, or barn ball.
- Batters were called “strikers” who eagerly wished to hit “aces” or home runs. Outfielders were called “scouts.”
Outs were “hands out.”
- You could throw the at runner, hit them, and they would be called out.
- Ground rule doubles were actually home runs as late as 1930. As long as the ball did not touch a player, it was ruled a homer if it left the field of play on a bounce or in the air.
- The spitball was outlawed in 1920. In fact they would rewrite spitball rules about every 10 years.
- In the 1800s, umpires were chosen from the crowd before the game. Pretty sure a lot of fans think they could do a better job than Joe West et al.
- One side of the bat was allowed to be flat until 1893.
- Fly balls could be caught off a bounce until 1864, and foul balls on a bounce until 1883.
- In 1884, Six “called balls” became a base on balls. By 1889, that was reduced to the four we know now. Four “called strikes” were adopted for the 1887 season only.
- In 1893, the pitchers mound was moved from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches
- The center of the baseball was not made of cork until 1910
- There were no Black players prior to 1947.
- Starting in 1954, players had to start removing their gloves from the field of play. They used to just throw them on the side of the field.
- Minimum boundaries for fences were implemented in 1959.
- After Bob Gibson’s 1968 dominance, the pitcher’s mound was lowered 5 inches.
- Divisional play began in 1969, prior to which the top team in each league advanced to the World Series.
- Batting helmets weren’t required until 1971 and ear flaps wouldn’t be mandated for new players until 1983. Gary Gaetti, whose career began in 1981, was the last MLB player to wear a flapless until his retirement in 2000.
- The American League added the DH in 1973 to get more offense and add fans.
- In 1975, the ball began to be covered in cowhide as horsehide became more rare and expensive.
- The wild card was added to the playoff system in 1994, but started in 1995 because of the strike.
- Instant replay began in 2008. I had to do a double take on this one.
- A second wild card team was added to the playoffs in 2012.
These are just a few of the sometimes wild and almost always necessary ways baseball has changed over the past 170 years. Whether we like it or not, it is not a stagnant game and evolution is inevitable. Think about being opposed to batting helmets or having to draw six balls to walk. If you claim to be a purist, I think you’re just saying you just miss the way baseball was played in your childhood.
I seriously doubt you want to go back to a time when batters got to pick the location of a pitch and teams had to play until somebody scored 21 runs. Then again…
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