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Clipper Article Favors A Bare Alley Between Pitcher and Catcher
|Tags||Post-Knickerbocker Rule ChangesPost-Knickerbocker Rule Changes|
|Location||Downstate NY StateDownstate NY State|
|City/State/Country:||Newburgh, NY, United States|
|Game||Base BallBase Ball|
|Immediacy of Report|
|Age of Players||AdultAdult|
[A] NY Clipper, 7/21/1860.
[B] See also Peter Morris, "Pitcher's Paths", A Game of Inches (Ivan R. Dee, 2010), pp. 392-393: [Section 14.3.10.], and Peter Morris, Level Playing Fields (Nebraska, 2007), pp 115-116.
In December 2021, Tom Gilbert asked: "I assume that this means that a groomed clay surface gave the barehanded catcher a better shot at stopping a bounced fast pitch than grass (which might cause skidding, bad hops etc.), a paramount defensive consideration in baseball 1860-style." But where did this habit come from?
Members of the 19CBB list-serve responded. John Thorn thought the bare alley came from cricket, which prefers a true bounce for balls hitting the ground before reaching the wicket. Steve Katz noted that no rule is to be found on the practice in the 1860 NABBP rules. Tom Gilbert added that some 1850's base ball was played on cricket fields may have suited base ballers too. Matt Albertson pointed out that the alley was actually a base path for cricket, so that grass may have been worn away for the whole span. Steve Katz found a Rob Neyer comment from 2011, citing Peter Morris' 2010 edition of A Game of Inches (which -- now try not to get dizzy here -- credits Tom Shieber's find from the 1860 Clipper, evidently sent out by Tom earlier.)
Tom Shieber (note to 19CBB, 12/9/2021) recalled:
"I believe I sent in the NY Clipper note about the path between catcher and pitcher to SABR-L back in the 1990s! I have never been particularly good about mining old SABR-L posts, but perhaps someone else knows how to do this if they want to try to track this down?
Anyway, I believe the theory I forwarded regarding the path was that if a baseball diamond was set up on an existing cricket pitch, the most logical way to do so was to put the pitcher at one end of the wicket, the catcher on the other end, and home plate ~45 feet from the pitcher. This works out quite well, as the length of the wicket was (and is) 66 feet. And, as noted, it allows for the area behind home to be quite level and give a true bounce to the ball so the catcher can more readily field his position. This is, of course, just a theory, but I believe it is the most plausible put forth. The theory that the path came about because pitchers and catchers wear it out by walking back and forth is clearly incorrect.
As noted, the theory does nothing to explain why the path remained well after baseball took off and baseball clubs began using facilities used primarily (or only) for baseball alone. While paths can be seen in images of baseball diamonds well into the 20th century, they were not universal. Many major league parks did not have such a path. My guess is that the path quickly became a “tradition” and that’s why it remained long after the cricket connection, though I certainly can’t say I am particularly satisfied with this theory.
That's what I recall. Best, Tom"
Peter Morris added that his 2007 book, Level Playing Fields:How the Groundskeeping Murphy Brothers Shaped Baseball notes how later field management practices dealt with grass that was disturbed by player foot traffic.
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Do we know if and when baseball's rules mandated these "battery alleys?" Do we know when they were rescinded? (It is said that only Detroit and Arizona parks use then today.)
Are there other explanations for this practice in 1860?
Can someone retrieve Tom Shieber's original SABR-L posting?
Can we assume/guess that the 1860 Clipper piece was written by Henry Chadwick?
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|Submitted by||Tom Gilbert, 12/7/2021|
|Submission Note||Query to SABR's 19CBB listserve|
|Has Supplemental Text|
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