Baseball's Dead Ball Era: 1900 to 1919
by: FR Penn
early part of the Twentieth Century saw the rise of
an age that has come to be known as the Dead Ball Era
of baseball. The Dead Ball Era reportably spanned the
Progressive Reform Age leading up to the Roaring Twenties,
which ran from 1900 to 1919. During this time, professional
and semi-professional ball clubs relied heavily on defense
and pitching, and scoring was at a premium.
Pitchers dominated the pace of the games, and several
legendary pitchers established their lasting legacy
during this period. Some of the most notable were Cy
Young, Walter Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander.
In part, these fellows and several others were responsible
for a lack of offensive production during this period,
but there were other reasons as well.
"Dead Ball" also describes the baseballs
actual condition, especially in the latter stages of
the games after it had been manipulated, defaced and
altered, which was standard practice at that time. Baseballs
were considered expensive, and at three dollars each,
generally only one ball was used per game. The hardness
and aerodynamics of the ball were poor by modern standards
and thus the sphere was detrimental to a hitters
In general terms, even though the ball was "dead"
by most accounts, it actually did not provide a huge
advantage to either offense or defense. The ball could
not be hit for great distance, but the poor condition
of the ball decreased the speed while increasing the
movement of the pitch, thus making it somewhat easier
for the hitters to make contact. Hit balls did not generate
the tremendous speed off the bat as in todays
game. This benefited the defenders in the field. Balls
were only replaced if they were hit into the stands
and lost. There were not many long-ball hitters and
"short game" strategy was common, although
some sources say that strategy as a whole was lacking
in the Dead Ball Era, which may have further added to
a lack of offensive production.
The "foul-strike" rule was installed in 1901
in the National League and 1903 in the American, whereas
hitters were charged with their first two strikes on
foul balls. The new rule benefited pitchers and cause
offensive output to decline further. It also remained
legal to throw "spit balls", and although
illegal, defacing the ball in some way was a very common
practice. Consequently, as you might expect with these
conditions, hitting a soft, wet, and usually defaced
ball resulted in may singles and fewer doubles, triples
Dividing pitching responsibility among a larger bullpen
also became trendy, as did the sacrifice bunt. Both
of these strategies had a detrimental effect as well
on a hitters overall performance. Strangely, there
were some legendary record setting hitters from this
era, most notably, Ty Cobb. Hailing from Georgia, his
nickname was the "Georgia Peach," Cobb was
best known for his pinpoint hitting accuracy and his
never-say-die stubborn character. He set the record
for career batting average at .366 and for runs scored
with 2,245; both marks still stand to this day. He also
finished his career first in hits; this record stood
until the mid-1980s when Pete Rose broke the record.
In 1936, Ty Cobb became the very first inductee of baseballs
Hall of Fame, earning 222 out of 226 votes.
During the "Dead Ball Era", managers relied
on defensive strategy much more than offensive strategy.
It was said, "you could shake a tree and find a
bat, but finding a glove was a whole different matter."
Offensive skills were not highly sought after by managers.
The focus was on defense. Some critics argue that "dead"
baseballs probably were not the cause of low scoring,
given there was no change in the ball's construction
between the high scoring 1890s and the low scoring 1900s.
The 1894 season saw the highest offensive totals in
runs scored ever recorded in the National League. The
construction of the ball was changed in 1911 in an attempt
to make the ball livelier and to increase scoring. The
balls were corked for the first time. And yet, the Dead
ball Era continued for another eight years-until 1919.
In 1908, an incident occurred in the National League
that has come to be widely known as the "Merkle
Incident." It occurred during a regular season
meeting between the Giants and the Cubs, In a tie game
with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, runners on
first and third, a single hit by Al Bridwell apparently
won the game for the Giants as the runner scored from
third. However, Fred Merkle was on first and ran to
the clubhouse instead of advancing to second base, partly
because the fans were mobbing the field at the Polo
Grounds and partly because it was not entirely customary
in that era to run out game winning hits. The Cubs
second baseman, Johnny Evers later claimed to have alertly
retrieved the ball and tagged second base. By a strict
interpretation of the rules, Merkle was forced out at
second, and the game winning run nullified. Because
of the pandemonium on the field, none of the umpires
saw Evers make the play. Since an official protest was
registered, the League ordered the game replayed at
the end of the season only if it was necessary. It turned
out that it was necessary when the Cubs and Giants ended
the regular season tied for first place. The Cubs won
the replayed game and then went on to win the League
pennant and then the World Series. The Chicago Cubs
have not won a World Series since.
Even though it wasnt brought to the medias
and publics attention until 1920, no article on
the Dead Ball Era would be complete without mentioning
The White Sox of 1919, or as they have become widely
known: the "Black Sox". Many of the White
Sox players felt they were underpaid. This was in light
of a new trend where owners in both leagues offered
the best players much higher salaries than they had
been previously paid. At the same time, White Sox Owner
Charlie Comiskey felt cutting costs was the best response
to a poor showing by his team in 1918. As a result,
a conspiracy ensued by eight of the starting White Sox
players to throw the World Series.
Many observers of the series suspected this was the
case and a long running controversy eventually led to
a Grand Jury investigation. Eddie Cicotte was the first
to come forward and admit his part in the conspiracy,
followed by "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. All eight
of the "Black Sox" were suspended from baseball.
Even though there was no law against conspiring to throw
baseball games, and all 8 players were eventually acquitted,
they were all ruled permanently ineligible.
About The Author
This article was written by FR Penn sponsored by http://www.stubhub.com.
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