Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bring back the pitcher's box. And get rid of the stupid mound.

When baseball was climbing out of its primordial slime a pitcher's box was born on flat earth.  In the beginning there was no mound.  The pitcher was required to release the ball from behind a line that originally was 45 feet to some undefined part of home plate.  Most modern fans know that the current distance is 60 feet, 6 inches but do not know that the distance is measured to the back of the plate, not the front as common sense would generally suggest.  So today's pitchers are even closer to the batters than we realize.

In 1863, you know when the Battle of Gettysburg took place during the Civil War, the pitcher's box was defined as 12 feet (parallel to a line between first and third base) by three feet (parallel to a line between home and second base).  The shallowness of the box eliminated the running start and pretty much any significant windup.  Remember, pitchers then were required to pitch underhand, which has the benefit of putting much less stress on the arm and shoulder than throwing overhand at 90 miles per hour (MPH) along with a multitude of trick pitches.  The idea was to put the ball in play, not stand around watching the pitcher and catcher play catch waiting for the batter to either strike out or walk.

In 1867 the box was redefined as 6 by 4.  In 1869 the box became 6 by 6.

The Pitcher's Area
By Eric Miklich

The pitcher's area became a pitcher's box for the 1874 season. For the first time the rules specifically stated that the pitcher's position was to be marked by a 6 foot by 6 foot box. Each corner of the box was required to have a 6 inch by 6 inch flat iron plate placed in each corner. The pitching distance, still 45 feet, was specified for the first time to be from the front line of the pitcher's box to the center of the home base, which rested on the intersection of the third and first base foul lines...

In 1877, home base was moved entirely in fair ground ...

The back line of the pitcher's box was moved two feet closer to the front line for the 1879 season making the Pitcher's Box 6 feet by 4 feet...

In 1881 the NL increased the pitching distance from the front of the pitcher's box to the center of home base to 50 feet...

More fiddling occurred over the years.  The pitcher's box died in 1893.  Why?  Beats me.  The configuration became pretty much what we have today with a distance of 60 feet 6 inches but still on flat ground.  No mound.

So there was a pitching area from 1863 through 1873, then a pitcher's box from 1874 through 1893.  But no mound.

Whitey Ford 1953
By Bowman Gum
via Wikimedia Commons
Let's consider two lefthanded pitchers.  Hall of Famer Whitey Ford was listed as 5 feet, 10 inches tall.  Randy Johnson SIX feet, 10 inches tall.  Both were required by rule to pitch from the same distance.  But Johnson could step forward and release the ball much closer to home plate than Ford.  In what galaxy is that fair?  All pitchers should be required by rule to RELEASE the ball from the same distance, not start from the same distance.

The pitcher should be required by rule to stand far enough behind the release line so that he accomplishes this.  It would be similar to the restrictions of the batter's box.  A tall batter like 6 foot, 6 inch Dave Winfield had to deal with the same size box as did 5 foot, 5 inch Freddie Patek.  Why is it different for pitchers?

Why Is There a Pitcher's Mound in Baseball?
Dan Peterson

According to baseball historian Bill Deane, the idea for a mound was claimed by an 1880s pitcher, John Montgomery Ward. From 1903 to 1968, baseball rules limited the height of the mound to 15 inches ...

the mound was lowered to ten inches in 1969

Interesting but it doesn't explain why there is a mound.  Ward wasn't even a pitcher most of his career.  He pitched in almost 300 games but mostly played other positions from 1878 to 1894.

Why are pitcher's mounds higher than the rest of the baseball field?

The elevation on pitcher's mound was made in order to return some advantages to pitchers that was lost due to extending the pitcher position.

By elevating their delivery point, pitchers can gain momentum as they stride down towards the plate. This forward motion adds speed and a downward angle to the ball, making it more difficult to hit.
off course there are another speculations like this one:

That the mounds evolved as a matter of grounds-keeping practice, for better drainage and water absorption. After overhand pitching was legislated in 1884, pitchers undoubtedly found the mounds to be an advantage: the downward weight-shift and momentum enable them to generate greater velocity on their pitches.

That's what I had long thought, that it was a practical grounds-keeping function, but much more mundane.  When a hole needs to be filled, extra dirt is brought to the hole.  The next logical step is to bring extra extra dirt in order to eliminate trips.  While you're at it, why not put some of that extra dirt on top of the old hole.  This hole will appear again soon when the pitchers resume digging in.  So now the starting point for the pitcher is a little higher.  Hey, we pitchers like it up here.  Add even more dirt.  One team copied another and finally it had to be regulated, hence the mound.

But that doesn't make it a good idea.  Even in slow pitch softball, are there leagues in which the league batting average is .500?  In football we expect passers to complete half their attempts.  In basketball we expect the same of shooters.  In baseball we insist on a 70 percent failure rate for batters.  What the heck?  Are we baseball fans stupid?  We not only go along with all sorts of silly illogical, unfair stuff but we embrace it.

100 years of stupid rules is enough.

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