Baseball 101: Doctoring the baseball

Doctoring the baseball is something that has existed pretty much as long as the sport itself has existed.  But what does it mean to doctor a baseball?

In short, to doctor the ball is to apply a foreign substance to the ball or otherwise alter it in order to put an unnatural spin on a pitch.  A doctored baseball, therefore, is more difficult to hit.  

The most notorious type of doctored baseball, of course, is the spitball.  As the name implies, the spitball involves applying saliva to the surface of the ball.  Other substances utilized in doctoring baseballs have included Vaseline (petroleum jelly), pine tar, sunscreen, and shaving cream.  Altering the baseball isn’t just limited to applying a substance to it, though.  Other forms of doctoring a baseball include scuffing it with sandpaper or an emery board or rubbing vigorously to create a shiny area on the ball (known as a shineball).

Doctoring baseball - Deadspin

Deadspin

Prior to being banned, doctored baseballs gave pitchers all kinds of advantages, and the practice was rampant.  In the period known as the Dead Ball Era, game balls were in short supply, which meant that dirty baseballs were commonly used throughout ballgames.  On top of this, pitchers slathered mud on balls to make them even dirtier and, thus, harder to see.  They rubbed wax, soap, or grease on them, or they would scuff or cut up a ball using sandpaper, or a tack, or anything else they could find.  As a result, pitchers could make pitches drop, fade away, or ride in on hitters all while using their same old throwing motions.  Thus, the Dead Ball Era was characterized by low-scoring games and a lack of home runs.

Then, in August 1920, Ray Chapman was killed when he was struck in the head by a spitball thrown by pitcher Carl Mays.  After the 1920 season, the use of the spitball was banned with the exception of a group of 17 existing spitballers, who were grandfathered in and permitted to throw the pitch legally until they retired.  With the league now cracking down on doctored baseballs and using clean balls throughout games, the live ball era was born.

The spitball hasn’t been legally used since Burleigh Grimes retired in 1934.  That’s not to say that baseballs never get doctored today, of course.  Doctoring pitches can help extend the career of an aging pitcher, helping him to maintain am edge on the mound.  There’s an old saying that says that it’s not illegal if you don’t get caught, and that mindset can be found all over the league.  

According to the Official Baseball Rules (8.02), the rules against doctoring a baseball are as follows: 

8.02 Pitcher Rules

The pitcher shall not –

(a) (1) bring the pitching hand in contact with the mouth or lips while in the 10-foot circle (18-foot circle in Intermediate (50-70) Division/ Junior/ Senior/ Big League) surrounding the pitcher’s plate; EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire, prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his/ her hands while in the 10/ 18-foot circle.

PENALTY: For violation of this part of the rule the umpires shall immediately call a ball and warn the pitcher that repeated violation of any part of this rule can cause the pitcher to be removed from the game. However, if the pitch is made and a batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a hit batter, or otherwise, and no other runner is put out before advancing at least one base, the play shall proceed without reference to the violation.

(2) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;

(3) expectorate on the ball, either hand or the glove;

(4) rub the ball on the glove, person, or clothing;

(5) deface the ball in any manner; or

(6) deliver what is called the “shine” ball, “spit” ball, “mud” ball, or “emery” ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub off the ball between the bare hands;

PENALTY: For violation of any part of Rules 8.02( a)( 2) through (6) the umpire shall: Call the pitch a ball and warn the pitcher. If a play occurs on the violation, the manager of the offense may advise the plate umpire of acceptance of the play. (Such election must be made immediately at the end of play.)

NOTE: A pitcher may use a rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to the bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to their glove or dust any part of the uniform with the rosin bag.

(b) Intentionally delay the game by throwing the ball to players other than the catcher, when the batter is in position, except in an attempt to retire a runner, or commit an illegal pitch for the purpose of not pitching to the batter (i.e. intentional walk, etc.)

PENALTY: If, after warning by the umpire, such delaying action is repeated, the pitcher can be removed from the game.

(c) Intentionally pitch at the batter. If in the umpire’s judgment, such violation occurs, the umpire shall warn the pitcher and the manager of the defense that another such pitch will mean immediate expulsion of the pitcher. If such pitch is repeated during the game, the umpire shall eject the pitcher from the game.

 


This day in baseball: Initial pitcher’s mound height set

On March 1, 1903, the rules committee set the height of the pitcher’s mound to a maximum of fifteen inches — prior to this, mound heights were not regulated. The maximum elevation would drop to ten inches in 1969 due to the previous season’s dominating pitching, which saw batting averages plummet to all-time lows.

Pitcher's mound dimensions - umpirebible.com

umpirebible.com


This day in baseball: Leave no equipment behind

On November 3, 1953, the rules committee chose to end the practice of allowing players to leave their gloves on the playing field. Outfielders and infielders were now required to carry their gloves with them into the dugout after each half-inning. Before the controversial change, left fielders, right fielders, first basemen, and third basemen would leave their gloves in foul territory, while center fielders, shortstops, and second basemen would drop their gloves at their position. Plays on the field would take place around the scattered leather.

The rule is outlined in MLB’s Official Rules:

3.10 Equipment on the Field
(a)  Members of the offensive team shall carry all gloves and other
equipment off the field and to the dugout while their team is at
bat. No equipment shall be left lying on the field, either in fair
or foul territory.

baseball glove on field


Baseball 101: The closer

A couple days ago, a baseball neophyte friend of mine asked me, “In baseball, what is a closer?”  And as I explained the concept, it occurred to me that I haven’t done one of these posts in awhile.

In baseball, a closing pitcher, more commonly referred to as a closer, is a relief pitcher who typically enters the game in the final inning.  Ideally, the closer’s team will be leading on the scoreboard at that point, and so the closer’s job is to “close” the game, getting the final outs of that final inning.

A closer’s effectiveness has traditionally been measured by the number of saves he earns.  A save is a statistic credited to a relief pitcher, as set forth in Rule 9.19 of the Official Rules of Major League Baseball.  The rule states that the official scorer shall credit a pitcher with a save when that pitcher meets all four of the following conditions:

  1. He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team;
  2. He is not the winning pitcher;
  3. He is credited with at least ⅓ of an inning pitched; and
  4. He satisfies one of the following conditions:
    1. He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning
    2. He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat or on deck
    3. He pitches for at least three innings.

Over time, closers have become one-inning specialists typically brought in at the beginning of the ninth inning in save situations.  They enter the game facing the high pressure that comes with having to seal those last three outs and, thus, a win for their club, which makes their role a rather essential one to a team’s success.

Mariano Rivera is MLB’s all-time leader in regular season saves with 652.

Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera


The story behind Rule 3.03

In the Official Baseball Rules, the first sentence of Rule 3.03 states, “A player, or players, may be substituted during a game at any time the ball is dead.”  It seems obvious to us today that substitutions cannot be made while the ball is in play, but this sentence was not included in the rule book for no reason.

The rule was created after a play by Michael Joseph “King” Kelly, a popular catcher-outfielder in the late-nineteenth century.  As Kelly sat on the bench one day in 1891, an opposing batter hit a high foul ball.  Kelly quickly recognized that the pop up would be out of the reach of all of his teammates.  As a player-manager, Kelly jumped up and went after it, crying out, “Kelly now catching!”

This clever bit of quick thinking allowed Kelly to make the catch, but the umpire refused to call the batter out.  Kelly insisted that the play was not against the rules, which at that time stated that substitutions could be made at any time.  The rules were changed the following winter to prevent this type of play from ever happening again.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons


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.


All over a little bit of pine tar

“Obviously I disagreed with the call, so I calmly went out there to question them.” – George Brett

The famous Pine Tar incident, 24 July 1983 at Yankee Stadium.  The video does a sufficient job of showcasing and explaining the event itself, so I won’t waste your time by reiterating it here.

But what is pine tar?  Of what use is it to a baseball player?

Pine tar is a sticky material derived from the roots and stump of pine trees.  When it was first created in Sweden, ropes and wooden ships were coated with it for the sake of waterproofing and preservation.  When used on a baseball bat, pine tar creates a texture that makes it easier to grip the bat and prevents it from slipping from the player’s hands in the hot, humid weather.  It also allows a hitter to get more “pop” out of the bat without having to utilize a death grip on the handle.  But does it really give a batter an advantage when it comes to hitting a baseball?  According to former American League President Lee MacPhail: no, it doesn’t.

In 1983, according to Official Playing Rule 6.06(a), “a batter is out for illegal action when he hits an illegally batted ball.”  And according to Rule 1.10(b), a bat “treated with any material [including pine tar] … which extends past the 18 inch limitation … shall cause the bat to be removed from the game.”  It was by combining these two rules that the umpires decided to rule the play an out.

In the case of George Brett, MacPhail overrode the call because the rule had more to do with economics than with any potential competitive advantage.  As he states in the video, “Pine tar didn’t help that ball that Brett hit go out of the ballpark.”  However, if pine tar gets on a baseball, it renders the ball unfit for continued use in a Major League game.  MacPhail argued that while the ruling was “technically defensible, [it] is not in accord with the intent or spirit of the rules. […]  The rules provide instead that the bat be removed from the game.  The protest of the Kansas City Club is therefore upheld and the home run by Brett is therefore permitted to stand.”  The rule has since been revised in the spirit of this interpretation and clearly states today that since no objection was made to Brett’s use of the bat prior to his hitting the home run, the play stood.

According to the official rule book of 2012:

Rule 1.10(c) Comment: If pine tar extends past the 18-inch limitation, then the umpire, on
his own initiative or if alerted by the opposing team, shall order the batter to use a different bat. The batter may use the bat later in the game only if the excess substance is removed. If no objections are raised prior to a bat’s use, then a violation of Rule 1.10(c) on that play does not nullify any action or play on the field and no protests of such play shall be allowed.

The image of George Brett charging out of the dugout, arms flailing, is one that no doubt will stand the test of time.  As New York’s Don Mattingly described it, “The sight of George coming out of the dugout is etched in my mind forever.  That roar symbolizes the way he plays the game, the kind of fire he has.”  Makes me wish I could have been there to see it in person.

Boxscores for the game can be found here: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1983/B07240NYA1983.htm

—————————————————————————

Sources:

“2012 Edition: Official Baseball Rules.”  MLB.com.  Commissioner of Baseball, 2011.  Web.  Accessed 13 March 2013.  http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/downloads/y2012/Official_Baseball_Rules.pdf

Hoefs, Jeremy.  “What Is Baseball Pine Tar?”  Livestrong.com.  Demand Media, Inc., 23 Mar 2010.  Web.  Accessed 13 March 2013.  http://www.livestrong.com/article/84132-baseball-pine-tar/

“Royals Hall of Fame Photo Galleries: The Pine Tar Game.”  MLB.com.  MLB Advanced Media LP, 2001-2013.  Web.  Accessed 13 March 2013.  http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/photos/gallery.jsp?content_id=27838192&c_id=kc