Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reflecting on the Genesis of Baseball

John McGraw:  "I had trained myself to think up little and big things that might be anticipated by the rule changers...With us, only the written rule counted...and if you could come up with something not covered by the rules you were ahead of the slower-thinking opposition by at least a full season." (quoted in David Voigt's The League That Failed, 63).

In early baseball it was customary to use a single ball in a match unless it was lost or entirely demolished.

The replacing of balls was largely responsible for ushering in the home run era.

A coin toss decided who batted first.
In a 1921 Sporting News article about Candy Cummings noted, "In (Candy) Cummings' days ball clubs at the start of the game tossed up for their raps by playing 'hand-over-hand' on the bat." (Sporting News, December 29, 1921.)

Foul Ground.  The concept of foul territory is one of baseball's distinguishing characteristics.  David Block pointed out that most previous bat and ball games had no foul territory at all and that in the two exceptions, trapball and rounders, a foul counted as an out.

Tagging.  Early versions of the game allowed fielders to retire base runners by throwing the ball at them and hitting them before they could reach a base.  Ergo the phrase, "the runner was tagged by the fielder with a wicked toss."  This tactic was known as "soaking," "patching," and "plugging."  Historian David Block observed that "without a doubt, this rule is the Knickerbockers' single greatest contribution to the game of baseball." (The one that made for a defensive player tagging a runner with the ball in hand or with the ball in glove hand.)

Jim Brosnan commented on the injunction against deception in the balk rule. "Deceive is a most ponderous choice of words. What in hell do they think a pitcher is doing when he throws a curve?  If deceit is, in truth, a flagrant violation of baseball morality, then the next logical step is to ban breaking balls, and let the hitter call his pitch."  (Jim Brosnan, The Long Season, 86).

Brosnan was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Went to school there.  It was in Cincinnati that he had his finest major league season.  1961, as a reliever, he won 10 and lost 4, with an ERA of 3.04.  He also saved 16, his highest total.

In 1958 he was traded by the Chicago Cubs to the St. Louis Cardinals for Alvin Dark, the same "Swamp Fox" who played for the New York Giants and managed the San Francisco Giants in the 1962 World Series. (The one where Bobby Richardson snagged McCovey's liner to end the series.)

On June 8, 1959, Brosnan was traded by the Cardinals to the Cincinnati Redlegs for pitcher Hal Jeffcoat.

In an up and down season, when the Giants are scuffling to stay at or around .500 I need to venture away from the orange and black and dig up tasty morsels of yesteryear.

Kevin J. Marquez