From Protoball
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Prominent Milestones

Misc BB Firsts
Add a Misc BB First

About the Chronology
Tom Altherr Dedication

Add a Chronology Entry
Open Queries
Open Numbers
Most Aged

Clipper Article Favors A Bare Alley Between Pitcher and Catcher

Salience Noteworthy
Tags Post-Knickerbocker Rule Changes
Location Downstate NY State
City/State/Country: Newburgh, NY, United States
Game Base Ball
Age of Players Adult
Squinting at the new (1860) playing field laid out by the new Hudson River club in Newburgh, NY, the NY Clipper counseled:
"It is requisite that the turf be removed from the pitcher's base to the position occupied by the catcher, a space six feet wide or more being usually cleared for this purpose, in order to give the ball a fair opportunity to rebound behind the striker."

[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.)

Peter noted:  "Shieber's theory accounts for how how these dirt strips originated, but it doesn't explain why the alleys were retained long after catchers were stationed directly behind the plate.  I think the explanation is simple: since it is very difficult to maintain grass in well-trodden areas represented the groundskeepers' best effort to keep foot traffic off the grass."

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.



Edit with form to add a comment


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?


Edit with form to add a query
Submitted by Tom Gilbert, 12/7/2021
Submission Note Query to SABR's 19CBB listserve


<comments voting="Plus" />