“Why I No Longer Go,” by John MacLean

Here’s a great piece out of Spitball magazine about a disenfranchised, disillusioned fan.  I love going to ballgames, but sometimes, I too get annoyed or overwhelmed by all the extra entertainment provided.  Rather than relying solely on the game to keep our attention, clubs bombard fans with music, mascots, kiss cams, and other such distractions in order to ensure that everyone is having fun.  Oftentimes, I wish the game would stop being about profits and would go back to just being about baseball.


To tear the old place down was the last straw,
But they had long since changed the game for me.
I didn’t spend enough to pay my share
Of salary and profit for the club,

And, so, somehow, membership was revoked.

I had for years parked on the South Bronx streets,
And bought a hero sandwich up the block,
And sat with homemade scorecard through all nine,
Without the need to buy a bobble head.

But worst of all, I still contributed
To silence that once hung across the park,
A hammock on those lazy summer days,
When you’re content to let the whole world slip.

Then came fake bugles, mechanical cheers,
Loud music danced to by Cotton-eyed Joe.
You couldn’t hear the elevated train
For all the noise the cartoon subway made.

Forget the bat’s crack or the leather’s pop.
They couldn’t trust that I would stay awake,
And so they filled the once expectant space
Between the innings with crowd pleasing din

The way they do it in the minor leagues.

The Dead Ball Era

“Smoky” Joe Wood (Wikimedia Commons)

The Dead Ball Era, as the name suggests, was a period in baseball history characterized by low-scoring games and a lack of home runs.  This age in baseball began in 1900 and lasted until Babe Ruth came onto the scene as a power hitter in 1919.  Prior to Ruth, the game was more strategy-driven, featuring hit-and-run plays and base-stealing over hitting for power.  In 1908, the lowest-scoring year, teams averaged only 3.4 runs per game.  “Small ball,” as it’s known today, relied more on speed and quickness than on brute strength.  Players like “Smoky” Joe Wood, Eddie Collins, and Sam Crawford flourished during this time.

Many baseball fields of the age were much larger than modern ballparks.  Chicago’s West Side Grounds, for example, measured 560 feet to the center field fence.  Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston measured 635 feet to the center field fence.  By comparison, most ballparks today don’t measure much more than the requisite 400 feet to dead center, which makes a huge difference for a player’s ability to swing for the fences.

Huntington Avenue Grounds (Wikimedia Commons)

The state of the baseball throughout the game also contributed to the lack of home runs.  The same ball was used throughout the game — unlike today, when even a tiny smudge on a ball calls for a new replacement.  As the game would go on, the ball would become dirtier and dirtier, making it more difficult for hitters to see and hit.  No doubt the extra dirt also contributed to the dynamics of the baseball’s movement.

Speaking of which, during the Dead Ball Era, pitcher could still legally throw a spitball.  “Doctoring” the baseball in this way would alter the physics of the flight of the pitch, causing it to break or move in unexpected ways and making it more difficult to hit.  Naturally, pitchers took advantage of this concession.  And it wasn’t just the spitball: the emery ball, shine ball, mud ball, so on and so forth.  Got any creative ideas for defacing a baseball?  Give it a whirl and see what it does!  The umpires won’t stop you.

On top of low-scoring contests, during these years, professional baseball also experienced turbulence through the births of baseball organizations outside of the National League.  In 1900, the American League, which had been a minor league prior to this year, declared itself a Major League.  Refusing to continuing recognition of the terms of the National Agreement, the AL now moved teams into cities already claimed by the NL, such as Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore.  By 1902, the NL realized it would be better off accepting the American League, rather than fighting against it.  A three-man National Commission was created to resolve the disagreements between the two leagues.  Major League Baseball prospered and the World Series was born.

The birth of the Federal League in 1913 threatened this new-found prosperity.  It launched an anti-trust lawsuit against the AL and the NL, which drained the two leagues of resources.  Like the AL before it, the FL moved into already-established Major League territory, seeking to carve out its own place in Major League Baseball.  In the end, however, the level of play in the FL did not match that of the other two leagues, and FL teams merged into the other Major Leagues.

The outbreak of World War I also proved detrimental to baseball.  Baseball became viewed as a frivolous, non-essential activity, and seasons were shortened due to the wartime atmosphere.  Attendance at ballgames dropped and the leagues lost money.  The resulting drop in player salaries made them more susceptible to the promises of gambling, and created an environment in which things like the Black Sox scandal could take place.

The end of the Dead Ball Era came with the end of the factors that contributed to its existence in the first place.  The elimination of the spitball in 1920 had a profound effect on players’ ability to hit the ball, as pitches became less lively.  The death of Ray Chapman in August 1920 changed the rule about the same baseball being used throughout a game, and clean baseballs became a staple in order to ensure the safety of players.  Naturally, clean baseballs were also easier to hit.

Additionally, the rise of Babe Ruth as a power hitter resulted in a change of attitudes in baseball.  Ruth proved that a man could be successful in baseball by hitting home runs, and that the game was no longer restricted to “small ball” play.  From 1900 until Ruth’s emergence, there were 13 seasons in which the league leader in home runs collected fewer than ten dingers.  In 1919, Ruth hit 29 home runs — a league record.  Other players followed his lead, and baseball scores steadily increased as the years went on.

Frankly, the title “Dead Ball Era” seems a bit unfair to me.  In today’s game, fans have come to expect home runs.  If a player isn’t at least collecting extra-base hits on a regular basis, he receives little or no recognition.  However, it seems that a game driven by strategy would be much more captivating than the slug fests of today’s contests.  Bunting, the hit-and-run, and base stealing would have their due as meaningful parts of the artistry of a baseball game.  Baseball would be more like a chess match and less of a display of muscle and power.  Furthermore, because they were so rare during the Dead Ball Era, home runs, when they did happen, were surround by a greater sense of excitement than they are today.


“1900-1919: The Dead Ball Era.”  Historic Baseball: Bringing Baseball History to Center Field.  Web.  Accessed 24 February 2014.  http://www.historicbaseball.com/fea/era_deadball.html

“Deadball Era.”  Baseball Reference.  Sports Reference, LLC, 2013.  Web.  Accessed 24 February 2014.  http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Deadball_Era

“The Faces and Voices of Baseball’s Deadball Era.”  World News, Inc., 2014.  Web.  Accessed 24 February 2014.  http://wn.com/dead-ball_era

Hannon, Tom.  “The Dead Ball Era.”  The Baseball Page, 2012.  Web.  Accessed 24 February 2014.  http://www.thebaseballpage.com/history/dead-ball-era

Baseball 101: Balk

A balk is an illegal motion made by the pitcher that can take place when there is one or more runners on base.  While a number of moves may result in a balk, the typical cause is a desire by the pitcher to catch runners off balance.  Most of the time, the pitcher is pretending to pitch when he has no intention of doing so.

A pitcher is restricted to certain motions and pitching positions before and during a pitch.  If a pitcher violates any of these motions while runners are on base, the umpire may call a balk.

Examples of a balk include:

– a pretended throw to first or third base or to the batter with one foot on the pitcher’s rubber
– a pitch in which there is either an insufficient or too long a pause after the windup or stretch
– dropping the ball while on the rubber, even if by accident, if the ball does not subsequently cross a foul line
– while on the rubber, making a motion associated with the pitch and not completing the delivery

For a more complete look at what constitutes a balk, you can refer to the Official Rules here.

The penalty for a balk is an advance of the runner(s), with each runner being awarded the next base.

“Talkin’ Baseball” (Chicago White Sox version), by Terry Cashman

And now presenting Terry Cashman and White Sox baseball!  I’m not sure why, but I particularly enjoyed this one, and I’m not even a Sox fan.  It’s probably because the White Sox (both Chicago teams, really) have such an interesting history.

Remember to click here for all “Talkin’ Baseball” videos.  The collection continues to grow!