How did the players get where they did?

Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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11 Responses

  1. Burt Likko says:

    Richard, as always I love the baseball history.

    If you take requests, then how about how the strike zone got to be the shape it is? It could just as easily have been much smaller, or much larger. Or it might not exist at all. Wasn’t there a variant of the game in which the pitcher was friendly to the batter?Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Burt Likko says:

      You are going large with this question. We tend to think of the 19th century game as constantly changing. There is considerable truth to this, but most of these changes, and after the Civil War nearly all the big ones, were really about the relationship between the pitcher and the batter. These collectively altered the underlying nature of the game. We today see the duel between the pitcher and the batter as the centerpiece. That would have been ridiculous in, say, 1860. Then they saw the centerpiece as being contest between the batter and the fielders, with the elite opinion giving primacy to the fielders, while the hoi polloi even then enjoyed home runs.

      The evolution of the strike zone is part of the bigger story of the evolution of the pitcher-batter duel, and that in turn is the story of the evolution of baseball from how it was played in the Civil War era to how it was played by the turn of the 20th century. I have not seen a proper treatment of this. I think that anyone who knows enough to understand the question tends to recoil at the magnitude of sorting it out.

      I will try to break this down into manageable pieces and write about it eventually.Report

  2. Note: this was actually Kazzy’s question (and a good one); I just relayed it.Report

  3. Chadwick won. These days, pretty much all baseball games are played with 10 men on a side except in the National League.Report

    • Well, I don’t think the DH is what Chadwick was talking about. As @richard-hershberger describes it, seems like the worship of symmetry and decimal numerology as inherent goods.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I took Mike’s comment as a humorous potshot at the DH.

        I don’t think decimal numerology was Chadwick’s motivation. He developed an ideology strongly favoring low-scoring games. He published lists of “model games” for years past when this seemed sensible to most people. He considered a 1-0 game nearly orgasmic. So originally I think it was simply that a right shortstop would lower the score. As it happened, scores came down in the 1870s. The problem was that this happened without following his advice, so it didn’t really count. The rule proposal had taken on a life of its own, at least in his mind.Report

    • Ken S in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      The very first rule in the Official Baseball Rules, published by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, rule 1.01, is still “Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players each.” You can look it up. (

      Does that mean that the DH is not a player? Or perhaps the pitcher and DH are each half a player?Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    I’m interested in attempting to determine if the current alignment is truly “ideal”. At least as a base alignment. I think the proliferation of “the shift” is telling us that it might not be quite as ideal as we think.

    With advanced ball and player tracking technology, I would think it’d be possible to say, “With today’s distribution of balls in play — both in terms of direction, frequency, and type of hit — and assuming players of average defensive skill at each position, the following arrangement would be ideal…”

    Of course, that might only be so useful given all the assumptions baked into that and all the variables in the real world… but imagine if we learned definitively that 2 outfielders (or 4!) yielded fewer runs to the opponent than the current 3? How would the game respond?

    Would it be like the NFL and going for it on 4th down? A handful of forward thinking coaches sometimes bucking conventional wisdom to gain a statistical advantage? Or like the NBA and the corner 3? Which most teams have overwhelmingly embraced in response to evidence of its statistical superiority?Report