Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
Rough play

1880s-90s baseball was serious business


By Roger Weber


The late 1800s were a time of transition. Baseball was no longer Alexander Cartwright's game. It was becoming a major business, a serious pastime and attraction to thousands of Americans.


In the years leading up to the turn of the century baseball was pretty much solidified in its rules. A new ball was introduced into many of the leagues in the 1870s with a figure eight stitching pattern like is used today instead of the lemon stitch ball used before. The new ball was a little bigger and much easier to see, and players claimed it was easier to play with, especially for pitchers who threw curve balls, although much of the public didn't think possible that the ball would curve until the mid-1900s. As gloves became used widespread – the last holdout finally wore a glove in 1895 – the size of the ball was reduced. The ball is now nine to nine and a quarter inches in circumference and weighs around five ounces.


Once baseball started becoming news in the papers and not just a backyard amusement, bigger stars started playing. Jim Creighton batted .492 in 1871. In 1878 Paul Hines of Providence won baseball's Triple Crown. Baseball also became more aggressive as players left their positions to field balls and pitchers started doctoring the baseball. Early in the 1900s relief pitchers began being used, although seldom at first, which allowed starting pitchers to worry less about their arm durability and throw harder pitches. But there was also an increased intensity on offense. It was likely that base stealing was invented around the 1860s as well as the practice of sliding.


With this rougher style of play came a need to better enforce the rules. The American Association introduced a full staff of umpires that would move from city to city so not to be biased by feeling partial to the home team. Now umpires work in four man crews, rotating position every game, every fourth game taking the toughest job behind home plate. Until the early 1900s umpires would simply shout calls but with William "Dummy" Hoy, a deaf ballplayer, playing very successfully, Hoy's team's coaches would signal to him what the calls were. It may have also been Hoy who first asked for umpires to make the signals themselves.


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