Are You A Baseball Fan… Five Must Knows For All Baseball Fans

I’m going to bust out some of my favorite posts from the past. Not because I’m lazy or too busy. Mainly because the information is so interesting that even when I re-read the articles I always come away wondering something different which drives me to research more into it.

So enjoy some posts from the past over the next few days.

Originally posted on Aug 22, 2010:

Between practicing your moonwalk and trying not to get caught on Chatroulette, you may consider yourself an avid baseball fan even though you duck from an incoming foul ball and let it hit the only girl you had a shot with. You may know who won the past five championships, or who owns the home run record, or how the Oakland A’s GM has changed present day baseball (It’s soon to be a movie as well). But here are Five must knows that many baseball fans may not know, but should know.

5. Baseball is just using what Mother Nature gave us:

Pine Tar and Delaware River Rubbing Mud

Delaware Rubbing Mud

Delaware River Rubbing Mud


Have you noticed how many baseballs are used in One Major League game? Numbers vary, but the Pirates report more than nine-dozen per home game. And more than 900,000 Rawlings baseballs a year for all 30 big league clubs. But, have you ever observed the condition of one of those 4,548 foul balls you caught (seriously, check out the “baseball collector”. He may need a girl friend… or a job. Who am I kidding, I’m jealous). That’s right. A “new” baseball isn’t even close to those smooth, slippery, white, shiny Rawlings baseballs given to you by your Little League Umpire. Instead, they are dirty, dingy, gritty baseballs with 0 pitches on them. You may be asking “Seriously, they come out of the box in that condition?” The answer is: No. The MLB has a contract with a family owned company out of New Jersey to purchase aged mud from the Delaware River. This Lena Blackburne mud is then applied by some pour bum / sap the umpire attendant at the baseball stadium to EVERY baseball. The umpire attendant can only pray that the game doesn’t go into extra innings and has to rub another 100 baseballs.

It’s believed that the mud rubbing story begins back in 1920 when Ray Chapman got beaned in the head and became the first MLB player to die from a baseball game related injury. This tragic incident led officials to search for a solution to baseballs slipping from a pitcher’s grasp and heading in a wayward direction. They tried chewing tobacco, shoe polish, crazy glue infield dirt, etc. Pitchers didn’t mind these solutions as they roughed up the cover of the baseball allowing the ball to have more drag resulting in more movement. But officials weren’t pleased with the results. Cue Lena Blackburne, a manager for the Philadelphia Athletics. He decided to cure and age some mud from his favorite fishing hole and rub it onto some baseballs. Before he knew it, every MLB team was requesting his “special” mud. For the entire story, click here. (seriously, why can’t I be making my living selling mud I found on some river bank)

Pine Tar
Some of us may remember seeing the “Pine Tar Incident” on the local news. Well others of us may remember seeing the highlights a years later. Well even others may not even have the slightest idea what the “Pine Tar Incident” was or what Pine Tar even has to do with baseball. With recent advancements in batting gloves (they can even wick moisture away from the hands), pine tar has become almost irrelevant in the new age of baseball. But there are still some players out there that bat “au naturel” (ie. no batting gloves): Jason Kendall, Jorge Posada, Vladimir Guerrero are just a few. Pine Tar used to be extremely prevalent in baseball locker rooms. It was liberally applied to bat handles just above the batter’s grip. The purpose: leaving excess pine tar above the player’s grip allowed him to apply some Pine Tar to his grip to increase his grip during his at-bat. However, a rule prior to the mid-80’s stated that pine tar could not extend past 18 inches from the knob of the bat (Brett’s was 23 inches). After the game, the American League president overturned the call and the game was finished later that year. And after the season, the rule was revoked (there still is rule 1.10(c) but the bat is simply removed from the game for any substance extending past 18 inches from the knob of the bat). There are several speculations on how this rule came to be. Some sources say it was to protect the batter (Pine tar would accumulate on balls hit in play allowing the pitcher more grip and snap to increase ball movement). While other sources attribute the rule to a cheap owner (Calvin Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators) who was sick of paying for replacement baseballs that accumulated the pine tar (how upset would he be now having to buy at least 6 dozen balls a game). No matter the rules, Pine Tar is a tradition in baseball that I hope never dies.

4. Records that won’t be broken

Mark Spitz said “Records are meant to be broken”, but he forgot to mention that there are some records that physically can’t be broken. Every sport has them and most of the records that can’t be broken typically come from the early era of the sport. For example, no one will beat Cy Young’s record of most career wins with 511 wins which was mounted during the 1890’s. Let’s put that record into perspective. No pitcher in the 2009 season won 20 games; and in the current era of baseball, a pitcher would have to win 20 games for 25 seasons and he would fall 11 short of the record. That fact alone is the reason why the coveted pitcher’s award at the end of the season is named “The Cy Young”. Now that doesn’t mean all the unbreakable records came from the 19th century. Most are familiar with the name Nolan Ryan. The “Nolan Express” is in the midst of a bidding war on ebay purchasing the Texas Rangers (and recently won), but Nolan Ryan is known most for his ability to make the ball miss a batter’s bat. His 5714 career strikeouts will never be touched by another pitcher (Mark Reynolds could potential top that as a batter).

Other pitching records that will never be touched:

  • In 1904, Jack Chesbro won 41 games in a single season for the New York Highlanders.
  • Cy Young has 749 complete games while throwing a total of 7356 Innings Pitched. The current active complete games leader… Roy Halladay with 57.
  • Speaking of Innings Pitched, Ed Walsh pitched a staggering 464 innings in 1908. That’s almost twice what the league leader throws in the current era.
  • The 2010 season may be the year of the no-hitters, but Johnny Vander Meer’s 2 consecutive no-hitters is even more impressive than the 2 (should have been 3) perfect games thrown by Braden and Halladay in 2010.
  • As impressive (if not more) than two consecutive no-hitters is having Walter Johnson’s record of 110 career shutouts. This record won’t be broken unless a pitcher always gets to pitch against the TB Rays on their off days (the Rays have almost been no-hit 7 times in 2010)

In my opinion, a pitcher’s dual is an exciting game to witness. But a good ol’ fashioned slug fest between two teams usually means more baseball gets to be watched and fans seem to be more involved. You don’t see any fans sitting in the stands with signs reading “Sub 1.00 ERA” for Josh Johnson or Ubaldo Jimenez. Or signs reading “perfect game” for Armando Galarraga (I believe that’s a no-no in acknowledging you are witnessing a no hitter and jinxing the pitcher, see un-written rules section below). You do see “600” signs every where these days. A-rod finally got his, while Milwaukee should just take down theirs as they jinxed Hoffman. There was a lot of commotion recently on unbreakable hitters records with the 1998 home run chase between Sosa and McGwire chasing Roger Marris’ single season home run record. Then there was the talk about Hank’s unbreakable career home run total which Bonds beat (and A-rod will get shortly). But there are some truly remarkable batting records that will never be broken. Here are a few:

  • Let’s start with one we are all familiar with. Cal Ripken’s 2632 consecutive games played. The current active streak belongs to the fattest vegetarian, Prince Fielder at 294 consecutive games for the BrewCrew.
  • Carl Crawford is the current active leader in career triples with 99 and he’s only 28 yrs old. But even on that pace, he has to play almost 30 seasons to catch Sam Crawford’s career record of 309 triples. Unless they bring back the Polo Grounds, I don’t see this record being broken for a while.
  • George Brett (mentioned earlier for loving pine tar) amounted an amazing 0.390 batting average in 1980. And is the last player to even challenge a 0.400 season batting average. Rogers Hornsby’s record of a 0.424 batting average in the 1924 season is completely safe.
  • Joe Joe Dimaggio is one of the greats. And he has solidified his immortality with his 56 game hit streak in 1941. Players seem to be celebrating 2 game hit streaks these days.
  • Contrary to what some people may think, Eddie Gaedel and his one and a half inch strike zone was not the toughest player to strikeout. That honor belongs to Joe Sewell with 114 career strikeouts in 7132 at-bats. In 2009, a total of 51 players had 114 or more strikeouts. Mark Reynolds almost doubled that with 223 (a single season record itself) in 2009 and hes on pace for 228 K’s in 2010.
  • Recently (on July 30), the Rockies did the unthinkable against the Cubs by scoring 12 runs with two outs in one inning with 11 consecutive hits. But even more impressive for a single inning feat is Fernando Tatis’ 2 grand slams in a single inning in 1999. And both were against the same pitcher (Chan Ho Park). That will never be repeated… ever.

3. Unwritten Rules

Dallas Braden's New Fasion Line

You all know the rules of baseball or you probably wouldn’t be reading this post. But what some may not know is that there are several “rules” that are observed by players which are not included in the official rule book. These are the unwritten rules that most players respect. Some fall into the baseball basics, like left and right fielders conceed any ball the center fielder calls. Some are out of superstition and well known, such as “Don’t talk to the starting pitcher who is actively pursuing a no-hitter.” In fact, you aren’t even suppose to udder those words if you are a fan watching the game or the game may end like this or this.

But there are many more rules that are part of the ‘unwritten code’ among baseball players. One was brought up recently this year and sparked a lot of controversy (and a new t-shirt line). While Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s was on the mound facing the New York Yankees, A-rod made an out at third base and proceeded back the first base dugout. The shortest route: across the pitcher’s mound. However, that is a big no-no. No player is ‘allowed’ (by the unwritten code) to set foot on the pitcher’s mound during the inning. And Braden made sure A-rod knew he broke the rule (Braden then proceeded to pitch the first perfect game of the 2010 season during his next start).

Most players/coaches say that new unwritten codes are written each day (some say they didn’t know about the one A-rod broke), but there are several that are well known by most all players. One is to never try to break-up a no-hitter by bunting for a base hit. This also happened recently as Evan Longoria tried to bunt for a single in the 5th inning while Dallas Braden still had an active perfect game going (this is the same perfect game mentioned earlier… this guy was the center of controversy earlier in 2010). And Longoria and his coach defended the choice. I do, however, have some issues on this ‘rule’. Does this mean the first few batters in the first two innings can not attempt to bunt for a single? Isn’t the leadoff batter suppose to have the team’s speed and his goal is to successfully make it to first base, so can he bunt in his first at-bat?

Other well known ‘codes’ are:

  • Don’t swing at the first pitch after a pitcher has given up back-to-back home runs
  • Don’t swing for the fences on a 3-0 count
  • Don’t taunt the pitcher that just gave up the home run you hit (Prince Fielder learned this one after the bowling pin incident)
  • Pitchers stay in the dugout at least until the end of the inning in which they were pulled
  • When hit by a pitch, don’t rub the mark
  • Relievers take it east when facing other relievers
  • Don’t walk between the pitcher and catcher (or Umpire) when walking into the batter’s box

The list continues. There is even a book published (just bought on the Kindle) on this topic as well as several other articles on what the most well known are (some strategic codes, others superstitious codes). Yahoo’s Sports Blog also has several good articles I recommend reading.

2. Waivers Isn’t a Fantasy Baseball Term

Fantasy sports has come a long way since their beginning (Check out the ESPN 30 for 30 film on the first Fantasy Baseball Rotisserie League) when scores had to be computed by hand and mailed out to all the participants. Now that Al Gore invented the internet, the fantasy business has boomed with a reported 15 million people playing fantasy football in 2003 and reportedly being an estimated $4 Billion industry. What ever sport or format you play (baseball rotisserie is my personal favorite), you would have heard of the waiver wire.

The most common form of the waiver wire is players dropped by one fantasy team can not be picked up immediately. The player must pass through a waiting period (typically 2 days) where any team (except the one that dropped the player) can put in a request for the player. After the waiting period, the team that has the highest waiver priority that put in a request for the player receives the player. The waiver priority is typically the reverse order of the draft order (last pick gets 1st waiver priority, etc) and a successful request moves your team back to the end of the line. But there is also another popular setup where the waiver order is the reverse order of the leagues standings. The great thing about fantasy waivers is that it wasn’t created by fantasy sports. Waivers is a real process and is accomplished in a very similar matter in Major League Baseball.

Baseball waivers is a complicated process that many fans just don’t understand. It’s a process that allows MLB teams to execute trades after the trade deadline. A process that allows teams to cut payrolls. A process to allow teams to block competitors from making that team more competitive. And surprisingly, most MLB players end up on waivers before the end of August.

So what is the general rules for waivers:

  • A Player put on waivers can be recalled from waivers only once in August (either no teams put a claim in on the player or a deal couldn’t be worked out with the winning waiver claim team). If he is put on a second time, he will not be coming back to that team again.
  • Any team (and multiple teams) can put in a request for a player on waivers. But similar to fantasy, the team with the worst record in the same league (AL or NL) gets to be the only team to make a deal for that player. If no team in the same league put in a request, the team with the worst record in the other league that made a waiver request for the player gets the only shot at acquiring that player.
  • If no team puts a claim in on the player on waivers, that player can be traded to any team
  • Any team can put in a claim for any reason. If the team wants to block an opponent from acquiring the player on waivers, they can put in a request. But beware, if the team placing the player on waivers is simply trying to dump the players contract to save some cash, the team with the successful waiver claim could get stuck with the player’s entire contract

For a more in depth waiver analysis, check out Jayson Stark’s column on ESPN.

1. The Original Rules

Baseball is a simple game. You get 27 outs. Score the most runs in those 9 innings and you win. Don’t record three strikes against you, don’t hit a ball that can be caught before it hits the ground, and don’t let the ball beat you to first base otherwise you are one of these outs. Well, maybe there are a lot more rules than that (there are only 136 pages of official rules). But did you know that the original rules consisted of only 20 different rules. And some of them were strictly due to courtesy (Rule 1: Members must strictly observe the time agreed upon for exercise, and be punctual in their attendance).

The rules have evolved a lot over the course of baseball history. The original rules were that a game did not consist of 9 innings. Instead, the first team to score 21 runs (aces as they called them) won. Unless they had more “hands” (aka innings) than the other team, in that case, the other team got another chance to score more than the team who scored 21 runs first. Can you imagine how long a game could last? The Cardinals and Mets just played a 6 hour and 53 minute extra inning game in April 2010. The game was scoreless through 18 innings, tied at 1 after 19, and finally the Mets won in the 20th inning by a score of 2-1. Another interesting rule was pitcher’s could not “throw” the ball; they had to “pitch” it (their position was named pitcher for a reason). This means that prior to 1884 pitches were delivered to the batters underhand in a horseshoe type motion. That’s just wrong. Another rule was that foul balls were considered mulligans, not strikes. This allowed batters to foul off pitches just waiting for the perfect pitch. I wish adult softball leagues had this rule, but instead I get to hit 2 foul balls and have it be considered a strikeout.

Another original rule that allowed for loop holes in strategy was if the 3rd strike was dropped, the runner MUST run to first even if its occupied. This allowed a catcher to intentionally drop a 3rd strike, and if bases were loaded, pick it up, step on home, throw to third, and then throw to second for an easy triple play. The rule quickly changed to not allow a runner to advance to first on a dropped 3rd strike if first base was occupied.

Then there was the ability to steal back first base. Yes, ‘Back’ first base. Similar to the strategy today, if a team had runners on first and third, the player on first would steal second trying to draw a throw down to second so the runner on third could score. If the player did not draw a throw by stealing second, he could attempt to steal back first base to try and draw a throw to allow the runner on third to score. This is no longer legal after you have successfully advanced a base and the play is considered dead. Unlike the case of Lloyd Moseby who stole second base… twice… in one play (check out the video here).

Another loop hole in the rules was the ability for a batter to declare himself out on a ground ball to remove the force out with a runner on 1st. This effectively eliminated double plays. Just think, the Minnesota Twins would not be in the playoff hunt this season without their 109 twin killings (aka double plays).

Rules have changed since then trying to make the game fair for all. But there are some rule changes that never made it into the rule book. In 1893, there was a fear that the game was becoming too much a pitcher’s game (they were still 100 yrs away from the steroids era). So it was proposed to move the pitcher mound to 63ft 8 inches or 65ft 9 inches; and changing the count from 4 balls and 3 strikes to 4 balls and 4 strikes.

Here are the original twenty rules.

And those are what I believe to be five must knows for the want to be baseball fan. Hopefully, you read something new and interesting this post. If you didn’t learn anything new, then you truly are a baseball fan.

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2 Responses
  1. Great stuff! Our readers would love this on State Street.

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