Why Nine Innings?

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42 Responses

  1. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    Interesting, Richard. So is that 5/9 structure the origin of the “mercy” rule that would cut a kid’s game off after five innings if the game was embarrassingly lopsided? Or is that just something we did at our school?

    And once again, thanks for a quite enjoyable read.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Many of the high-level amateur baseball and softball organizations have mercy rules. Eg, in NCAA softball the rule is ahead by eight runs after five innings. The rule is applied in tournament play as well, except for the final championship series. It doesn’t come up often in tournament play, but you do occasionally see articles that start like this (from 2014): “Florida defeated Baylor 11-0 (five innings), on Thursday in the first game of the Women’s College World Series.”Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      I don’t know the history of the mercy rule, but I would guess that the choice of five innings as the critical point was influenced by the 9/5 rule, since the fifth inning seems like a natural stopping point in consequence.Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    The comments on the previous post timed out, so I’ll put this here. An addendum to that excellent post (as this one is too) is that Troy and Worcester held the record for lowest paid attendance (6!) until yesterday.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      I question the claim. Attendance records are *paid* attendance, not butts in seats. Single game tickets can be exchanged for later games, but what about season tickets? Are season ticket holders being reimbursed? I have not seen anything about this, and I looked. Assuming that they are not, then by the standard method they should be counted.

      But of course that “zero” makes for a much better story.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:


        all fans with tickets [to the effected games) …may exchange their tickets for any remaining home game this season on a “dollar for dollar” basis.

        This seems to apply universally to individual and season tickets (where ‘season’ can be a little as 13 games, per the MASN promos). From one point of view, they converted yesterday’s game and the swapped out home stand later this week to ‘vouchers’, valid till the end of June. Is the team still going to bank some unexhanged ticket value? Sure, no doubt.

        Interestingly, all I can find the offical rules about attendance is that it’s “as provided by the home club.” so it seems to me they can use whatever criteria they feel like (and change it up depending on what point they are trying to make with the business plan).

        Baseball-reference gives the attendance as ‘not available’. ESPN’s box score eliminated the line for attendence, usually between “time” and “venue” based on other games in the books for yesterday. So maybe you’re right, and this will be a 0* situation.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Until about ten years ago, this differed between the leagues: AL attendance was paid tickets, while NL was actual people in the stadium. This was bad PR for the NL, as it made them look less successful, so they switched to paid attendance as well.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Very interesting, and this is from someone whose interest in baseball starts when I enter the stadium, and ends when I leave.Report

  4. Avatar Chris says:

    This is the sort of thing for which the phrase “space awesome” was created.Report

  5. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    Looking forward to more of this. @richard-hershberger Do you have some book recommendations for early baseball history? If there was ever a sport that lent itself to more eloquent writing, I don’t know what it is.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      The baseball literature is extensive, but tends toward later eras. The best survey is Baseball: The Early Years by Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills. It is a half century old, and shows its age in places, but is a classic and still unsurpassed as a survey. The other good book to start with is A Game of Inches by Peter Morris. This ostensibly is a “baseball firsts” book, which is a genre amply represented with mediocrities. This one is different in that it is really an encyclopedia of mini-essays on a wide range of topics, and is well sourced rather than repeating the same tired myths. I keep it close at hand, and often refer to it when I come across some interest tidbit, in order to see what Morris has to say. Start with these two, unless you have already narrowed your area of interest.Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    I read it from beginning to end and enjoyed it. Since I experience professional or spectator sports as a terrible misfortune that happens to other people that’s high praise.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Here’s the front page image for this post, a box score from 1876, the first year of the National League:

    I wonder if it was at all clear back then that the Bostons would be around for 140 years (so far), but that would be the Philadelphias only year of existence.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Tries (AB), runs (scored), 1b. (hits), put outs, assists, errors?

      Interesting that Boston had 21 hits and only 22 bases, and it looks like all hits but Hall’s home run were singles for Philly, too. Small ball, probably as influenced by the 28 errors as the hits.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        @Chris: You read the column headings correctly. The “1b” is a hold-over from a discussion some years earlier working through whether they were going to consider what we now call batting average or what we now call slugging percentage, concluding to go with batting average. The “1b” signifies that this is the number of times the player batted and got to at least first base.

        The strong prevalence of singles seems atypical to me, but honestly I have never closely examined the question. I have looked at endless box scores from the era, but not looking for this. This would be an interesting project for a stats person (i.e. someone who isn’t me). (If someone who isn’t me is interested, I can point him to the source material).

        And don’t be too hard on them for those errors. They were playing bare-handed on questionable playing surfaces.Report

        • So the 6 tries for the Athletics’ 8-place hitter must be a typo.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            “So the 6 tries for the Athletics’ 8-place hitter must be a typo.”

            I assume so. Typos in box scores are a problem well into the 20th century. The second half of the century, at that. The Sporting News box scores often ran a couple of weeks late because they got them from multiple sources, checked for discrepancies, and chased these down when necessary.Report

            • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

              Actually, upon further consideration, this could be correct. The rule at that time was that the first batter of the inning was the guy next on the lineup after the guy who made the third out the previous inning. So suppose there is a man on first with two outs. The batter hits a ground ball to the second baseman, who steps on the back for the force. The same batter would be first up the next inning. This could result in peculiarities in the number of at bats. This was changed to the modern rule going into the 1879 season.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Where would today data be?Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            “So the 6 tries for the Athletics’ 8-place hitter must be a typo.”

            To the extent that they have been compiled by modern researchers, http://www.retrosheet.org is the place to look. To the extent that they have not, or if you want to see contemporary accounts, the best single source for the 1870s is the New York Clipper, which is available online (through, for reasons I don’t know, through the University of Illinois Library) at asesearch.courts.state.md.us/. If you want to drill down deeper, there are ways to do this, but they get complicated very quickly. Look in the Clipper first, and if you find yourself getting sucked in and are serious, contact me directly.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      A nitpick: the Athletics had been around since 1859, and continued through at least 1877, and arguably 1878. (Organizational continuity from one year to the next has a theological element to it in this era.) They were only in the National League the one year, but club identity was not tied to higher level organizations like they are today.

      To address your question, the Athletics were pretty clearly on their last legs by this time. Hope springs eternal, but summer is wonderfully clarifying. Going into the season they were hopeful of turning things around, but I doubt that anyone was completely surprised when things didn’t work out.

      Boston, on the other hand, was well run. They didn’t do that great in 1876, but this was because Chicago had hired away four of their best players, including their pitcher. They worked it out. So any informed observer would put the smart money on the Bostons being the surviving club.

      Notice the pitcher in that box score, “Josephs.” There is a story about him. His real name was Joe Borden. He used the pseudonym because his family didn’t approve of his wasting his life as a professional ballplaery He was the phenom the Bostons hoped would replace Al Spalding, basing this hope on his having pitched baseball’s first no-hitter the year before. It didn’t work out well. He was your classic fireballer with terrible control: the Nuke LaLoosh of the 1870s. Everything had clicked in that no-hitter, but this turned out to be the exception. So the team decided to release him. The problem is that they had signed him to a three-year contract. This was a novelty, designed to avoid a repeat of having their players poached, but they had been overly optimistic about things working out. So they started assigning menial tasks to Borden to induce him to agree to cancel the contract. But he cheerfully did whatever they told him to do, and took his pay: essentially he was a vastly overpaid groundskeeper. Eventually the club cracked and they negotiated a buy-out. A few years later the reserve clause was invented, and clubs no longer had this problem.Report

      • Oh, and in case it isn’t obvious, Boston is the National League team known today as the Braves. They and the Cubs are the only surviving charter member NL teams. Though, as Richard can no doubt describe better than I can, they both existed before 1876.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        That is an awesome story. Do you know how much this massive three-year contract was for? I’m willing to bet owners were as impetuous then as today, resulting in Borden earning hundreds of dollars for grounds keeping work.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

          “Do you know how much this massive three-year contract was for?”

          $2000 per year, which was not outside the reasonable range for a pitcher at that time. What is that equivalent to today? My rule of thumb for this era is to multiply by 20, giving us $40K. But it actually is a much better salary than $40K is today. That multiplier is based on stuff like the price of breakfast. Consider the difference in the price of an automobile and cell phone. Society has changed in ways that make a simple multiplier not terribly meaningful.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          The typical weekly wage for general labor was around 8-10 dollars a week, for skilled labor around 20 dollars, so one ratio could be $500 a year buys the same labor that $30K buys today, meaning a 2000 dollar a year contract back then is like paying $120K for a groundskeeper today. So, well below the minimum wage for any major league player nowadays, but significantly (though probably by a factor of 2, not 4) what the grounds crew staff makes.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            Oddly enough, we know what an actual groundskeeper was paid. We have the annual financial statements for the Philadelphia Athletics for several years in the early 1870s. They include the salary of the “superintendent.” His duties were more varied than a modern groundskeeper–think of an apartment building super–but groundskeeping was a big part of the job. The Athletics in 1872 paid their superintendent, Harry Painter, $535. He got a raise the next year, earning $582.50. He died early the next season, and his replacement seems to have come cheaper, their combined salaries being $462.50. The club also paid the burial expenses, $59.00, which was good of them.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I find this stuff endlessly fascinating.

        I imagine no hitters were hard to come by if that box score is at all typical.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

          “I imagine no hitters were hard to come by if that box score is at all typical.”

          No hitters are hard to come by today. The historical average is roughly one and a half per season, though we are in a pitching-dominated moment right now.

          The development of pitching is a huge topic. The very short bit is that this was a transitional period, with the pitcher’s delivery moving upward from underhand to, a few years later, full overhand, and not coincidentally the development of effective curve balls. Scores in the 1860s were routinely in the double digits, and occasionally in the triple, but they were coming down in the 1870s. The score in this game is unusually high for this late. Scores that look normal today are more usual by this time.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Interesting. I am deeply disappointed that 1860s baseball predates moving images.

            On no hitters: growing up, I attended many minor league games and 1 or 2 major league games every year, and watched many more on television, and I’ve never witnessed a no hitter except in break-in coverage of the last few at bats (I’ve also never seen a hitter hit for the cycle, a runner steal home, or an unassisted triple play, all of which I would like to see).Report

            • Matt Cain pitched a perfect game a few years ago. I caught most of it on TV. A group of people I worked with had gone, and knew so little about baseball that all they could see was a 10-0 game, so they left early.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I might have to slap each one of them.

                The closest I’ve come is a Nashville Sounds game in the late 80s that made it into the 7th. The first hit was booed, even though it was the home team that was being no hit.Report

            • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

              “I am deeply disappointed that 1860s baseball predates moving images.”

              This is indeed unfortunate. But a few years later we do get those marvelous posed “action” shots with the ball hanging on a string.

              Here is something to lessen your pain: newsreel footage of the 1924 World Series that the Library of Congress turned up last year:

              Notice the near absence of a pitcher’s mound. This is because Walter Johnson preferred to pitch from level ground, presumably because of his sidearm delivery. Here is an analysis of his delivery:


            • Avatar CK says:

              Managed to have seen a no-hitter or two over the years, though don’t recall whether I happened to watch the entire games. I think I saw an unassisted triple play occur on live TV. The cycle I’m pretty sure I’ve tele-witnessed, but, since it’s a thing that happens over the entirety of a game, it’s hard to preserve a certain, entire memory of it. You just know you watched the game, and heard the accomplishment being noted. Years later, can you be sure you really “saw” it, or remember what you saw? I’ve never tele-witnessed or been at a game for a home steal, but heard one occur live on the radio – I think. Or did I hear about it an inning later? Or did it occur in a game around the time I was listening to games on the radio, but not in a game as I was actually listening to it? The desire to have witnessed it, or to think of oneself as having witnessed it, may shape the recollection over time from an “almost” to an “actually.”

              I’m pretty sure I’d never seen a runner out on being hit by a batted ball. Television analysts – both veteran players – said they’d never seen it. Someone said it hadn’t happened in the majors in ten years. It happened twice yesterday, in the Angels vs the Giants and in the Dodgers vs the D-Backs, both times as the final out.

              Baseball is transcendently-obscenely weird, a serendipity industry. I mentioned in an email list that in another Dodger game recently, the same fan in the Left Field bleachers caught two home run balls. This also happened last night in the same game that ended on the runner hit by a ball:



  8. Avatar Ken S says:

    Am I reading the box score correctly?: There were 28 errors committed by the two teams, and only 9 of the 30 runs scored were earned runs?Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      Cut them some slack. You try fielding bare-handed. Fielding is hard, even with gloves. We forget this because we tend to watch major league games: the very best of the best. Also consider that we are the beneficiaries of a century and a half of development of basic technique of how to do this, including non-obvious stuff like practicing footwork. They hadn’t worked a lot of this stuff out yet.

      The old Baseball Encyclopedia (the “Big Mac”) has a graph showing the historical trend in errors from 1876 to the then-present. It is a thing a beauty, starting with an average of 12 errors per game (for both teams combined), rapidly declining at first, then slowly declining, with an asymptote of between one and two errors per game.

      The 28 errors in this game was unusually high, but not comically so (and the four errors by the catchers might actually have been passed balls, which would not be scored as errors today). Also keep in mind that what is and is not an error is subjective, and they had not yet arrived at a consensus. It is entirely possible that a different newspaper’s box score of the same game would have a different number.Report

      • An error is a play a competent fielder is expected to make that is not made. Fielders being less skilled would not in itself create a higher error rate, because less would be expected of them. What would create a large number of errors is a wider gap between the average fielder and the worst ones.Report

  9. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    (By the way, I also enjoyed this post very much, and am looking forward to future contributions of this type.)Report