1901 – Bob explaining a few differences between 1871 and 1971

I’d prefer not comping to recent players if I could. But if I said “Charlie Bennett, while in Detroit, hit like Fred Carroll, but fielded like Pop Snyder” or “Jack Glasscock hit like Ed McKean, but fielded like Hughie Jennings”, no one today would know what the heck I was talking about. Only by saying something like “Bennett was the 1880s version of Freehan” or “Glasscock was the 1880s version of Barry Larkin” am I able to communicate what the player was like. (And I think those are pretty good comps, by the way.) 19th century pitchers, I’m not really sure one can comp them with any real degree of confidence – it’s just too different a game.

To give you an illustration that the game is “just different”. By 1871 rules: Top of the first, the leadoff hitter gets a single, the second batter pops up to third, the third batter pops up to short, and while the fourth batter is at the plate, the runner on first gets thrown out trying to steal second. So who leads off for the team in the second inning?

Or how about this one from 1871? The batter hits the ball; the ball bounces to the catcher who fields it cleanly. What’s the call, fair or foul?

Or one more from 1871. The home team is leading going into the top of the ninth inning, and all three batters are retired. Is the game over?

Answers to the three 1871 questions:

1. Who leads off the second inning?

Hard to believe now, but the hitter who would bat first in the second inning is the number two hitter. The rule at the time was that the leadoff hitter for the next inning was the batter after whoever made the last out of the previous inning. In this case the leadoff hitter made the third out, therefore the number 2 hitter leads off. Bizarre, isn’t it?

2. Is it fair or foul?

Depends. If the ball hits fair and then goes foul, it’s one of those quirky fair-foul hits that Ross Barnes was famous for. The runner has to be put out by tag or throw to first. If, however, the ball hit the ground in foul territory, the batter is out. In 1871, a foul ball caught either on the fly or on one bounce, was an out. Equally bizarre, doncha think?

3. Is the game over?

Depends. The home team didn’t always bat last. So if the home team bats first, and they make their three outs in the top of the ninth, the visiting team gets their licks in the bottom of the ninth. But even that’s not the end of the answer. If the home team decides to have last bats, the rules at the time allowed the home team to bat in the bottom of the ninth even if they were ahead, and have technically won the game. I’m not really sure why this was done. My guess is that it is a remnant from the gentlemanly game of the early ’60s and that “everybody gets to play” mentality. Just as bizarre, ain’t it?

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