The Attempt to Eliminate the IBB
In 1920, baseball’s rule makers took the first step to eliminate the spitball. They also made an attempt that year to abolish the intentional walk.
Much like baseball fans today, crowds in the dead ball era hated watching their favorite club’s best hitters get walked intentionally. While strategic from a managerial standpoint, the fans hated it – it was called the most unpopular play in baseball by the New York Times â€“ and the rule makers wanted to appease the crowds. So when all of baseball’s heavyweights met in Chicago on February 9th for the annual rules meeting, the first thing the Joint Rules Committee brought up was to rid pro baseball of the intentional walk.
The committee also stated the penalty for giving the batter four wide ones. It would be treated just like a balk, with the runners on base being entitled to advance to the next base. The umpires argued against the rule vigorously, saying that they could not enforce a rule when there was no guideline for it. Washington manager Clark Griffith then cracked that the umpires couldn’t even enforce the current rules strictly enough. Veteran NL umpire Hank O’Day told Griffith that if he enforced the rules to the letter of the code, the managers would be ejected most of the time. This was one of the many quarrels between the pair on the day over rule issues. O’Day continued and said the way to solve the problem at hand was for the managers to get together and agree to fine all pitchers who issue a free pass $100.
While O’Day and Griffith had their dust up, the committee had come up with the guidelines for the rule. Before, when teams gave an intentional walk, the catchers would stand outside of the catcher’s box and give the pitcher a target way off the outside part of the plate. Now, catchers would have to remain in the catcher’s box when they stood up to issue a walk and could only move outside of it when the pitcher released the ball, much like what we see today. The rule, as worded in 4.03a of the major league rulebook, is stated as:
â€œThe catcher shall station himself directly back of the plate. He may leave his position at any time to catch a pitch or make a play except that when the batter is being given an intentional base on balls, the catcher must stand with both feet within the lines of the catcherâ€™s box until the ball leaves the pitcherâ€™s hand.â€
O’Day made one last objection for the umpires. He said that if a catcher stepped out of the box in a close game for a pitch-out and the penalty resulted in a game-deciding run, the ballpark would â€œtake on the appearance of a Wild West show.â€ Still, the committee voted and enacted the rule for use, starting with the 1920 baseball season. The first month of the season featured no intentional walks before May, the catchers figured out a work-around and began doing what the modern-day backstops do: stand inside the catcher’s box until the pitcher releases the pitch. The rule put in place that day in February is still in the Major League Baseball rulebook, although it has never really done what it was intended to do: stop the intentional walk.
The other rule changes put in place that day by the Joint Committee:
Baseball took it’s first step in banishment of the spitball and any other defacement of the ball by the pitcher. For the 1920 season, the American League was to allow two designated ‘spitballers’ per team and the National League would allow any pitcher to throw it, as long as they were designated by their club before the game. The full intention of the league was to fully ban the pitch in the following season but during the next rules meeting in December, the leagues agreed to allow the pitchers who used the pitch in the previous season to be ‘grandfathered’ into the rule. Burleigh Grimes threw the last ‘legal’ spitball in 1934, although others would later be caught or admit to using the spitball when the pitch was illegal.
Umpires were given full authority on game postponements and delays when the weather would not co-operate. Previously, the home team manager had some authority on when the game could be called due to rain but now, the umpires had full say on the matter.
There was much discussion on the definition of the balk. While the wording of the rule was not changed, umpires agreed to watch the pitchers more carefully for the upcoming season. (The number of balks per game was the same for the 1919 and 1920 season.)
Balls that were hit over the fence in fair territory but ended up in foul territory in the bleachers were now to be called home runs instead of foul balls. This rule appeased sluggers on the Yankees and Giants, who had many ‘hooking’ home runs called foul in the years before at Polo Grounds.
The fine for a manager who failed to tell the umpire about a lineup change was increased from $5 to $25.
There were also many scoring changes made at the meeting. The scoring on the walk off home run had been changed. The rule read: â€œ…if a batsmen, in the last half of the final inning of any game, hits a home run over the fence or into the stand, all runners on the bases at the time, as well as the batsmen, shall be entitled to score, and, in such event, the final score of the game shall be the total number of runs made.”
Other scoring changes included that all statistics in protested games were to be recorded and kept as final. Uncontested stolen bases were not to be the credit to the runner and instead would be chalked up as ‘defensive indifference.’ Catchers who allowed the batter to achieve first base after a dropped third strike were now to be given an error on the play. The first baseman was also to be given an error when he failed to touch first base in ample time when he received the ball.